Category Archives: decision

An embarrassing failure is the result of a series of unfortunate decisions, and that’s a good thing

Failures can be caused by all sorts of factors, but an embarrassing failure exposes the unfortunate decisions along the way. This is a wonderful thing. While it’s easy to shrug off other kinds of failures as bad luck or bad timing, embarrassment is a clue that there are many things you can improve. It is that ever so human emotion when you know you haven’t been your best – and it points to what better looks like.

For example, last Thursday, I’d scheduled a 3pm call to talk about sketchnotes. I had noticed some power problems with my phone and had drained my battery several days in a row. I usually managed to squeak by with my backup battery, but I had misplaced it on Wednesday night, so I didn’t get to charge it. I tucked a USB cable into my backpack so that I could charge my phone off my computer – or at least I thought I did, as I couldn’t find that when I searched my bag right after settling in. I switched to low-power mode and that seemed to slow things down, so I figured that 70% charge would probably be enough to get me to the afternoon. After a meeting, I checked on my phone… and found it practically dead. I bought an overpriced USB cable from a nearby electronics store and plugged it into the computer. The cellphone was discharging faster than it could charge, though, even though I wasn’t using it. And then it was time for the call.

After a few attempts, I had to admit defeat and reschedule. Fortunately, the person I was going to talk to was very understanding, and we managed to sort things out over Twitter. Even with that resolution and my subsequent return to regular work, I was stressed. I could still feel that rush of adrenalin after trying to scramble some kind of a solution. Although I knew I could still do well, I also knew that stress messed with my brain and made me more likely to overlook other important things.

I also knew that this lingering stress was unnecessary. We’d rescheduled. The worst-case scenario would probably have been being perceived as a flaky unprofessional person, but that was temporary, bounded, and not part of who I was. I could do something to make it better. (Locus of control – useful thing to know about!)

So I made a list of many things I could have done to make it better, and that helped me clear my mind a little. I got back to work, focusing on some analytics that I knew would give me the pleasure of a few small wins. I was tired enough to leave my scarf behind and then to not be sure about whether I locked my cabinet (needing two extra trips up the elevator to retrieve one and confirm the other) – but at least I remembered before going on the subway. Glass half full.

I still went to fitness class, where W- met me with a bag of clothes and my shoes. It was a struggle to get through that class as well – oh no, more moments of suckiness! – but I got through it anyway. It’s important to learn how to do things even though you don’t feel like it.

Anyway, back to the good things about embarrassing failures: there are lots of things that I can fix, and I can prioritize them based on effort and benefit. Phone-wise, I found out how to use Titanium Backup to uninstall a large number of applications at once. My battery life has improved. I’ve ordered an extended battery, which should allow my backup battery to be a backup again. Routine-wise, I’ve created checklists in Evernote. Checklists are wonderful. Life-wise, I think it’s time to make myself a little more space – sometimes these are symptoms of trying to pack in a little too much.

20130118 phone

This is good. I’m learning to not beat myself up, and to celebrate the ways I can improve things and move forward.

Another step forward, perhaps, would be to be able to do this before embarrassing failure highlights the need – like the way defensive drivers (and cyclists, and walkers…) constantly scan for opportunities to go wrong and plan what to do. To balance that building of a strong safety net (several safety nets, in fact) with the ability to let go and fly – that will be a wonderful thing to learn.

Figuring out my guidelines for time

It’s tempting to estimate the value of the time I spend on various activities and to try to optimize this, especially if I start thinking about how many times I’ll repeat a routine or make the same decision.

Here’s a quick checklist I can use so that I can avoid going down the rabbit-hole of over-analysis (or at least, mostly avoid it):

  • Is it stressful, error-prone, or getting in the way of work/relationship/life priorities? Eliminate, automate, or delegate.
  • Will building a system help me learn something new or make something more effective? It’s good practice even for myself. Must remember that I can’t always systematize something.
  • Does it have long-term value? Can I swap in a more effective activity?
  • Am I feeling the time pressure from higher-value activities? This hardly ever happens at the moment, because I’m pretty good at rationalizing the value I get from my chores, accepting that I can’t work at 100% intensity all the time, and deliberately choosing a time abundance mindset instead of a time scarcity mindset. I’m writing this checklist because this situation will come up someday, though.
  • Am I really going to get that value out of that? Buying and selling time usually involves a short-term horizon, and people tend to over-estimate the value they think they’ll get from having additional time now. There may be the opportunity to earn $X/hour, but am I really going to use that hour I’ve “bought” to earn $X or increase my skills by Y, and can I get that time in a more effective way?

This will help me remember the long game, where compounding interest can do something fascinating, and where it makes sense to avoid golden handcuffs of fixed or habitual costs – while investing in the things that do make a difference.

Decision: No Illustrator CS6 for now

I wanted to like Adobe Illustrator CS6. I really did. I’ve been looking for a vector drawing tool that could fit into my sketchnoting workflow. Illustrator CS6 handled my tablet PC’s pen input more smoothly than Inkscape did, creating neat curves while still letting me work with the tight circles I use for lettering. Vector-based drawing meant that I could resize and move things around easily. I liked using the Navigator to keep a bird’s eye view of the image while zooming in on details. I was excited by the possibilities of building my own symbol libraries so that I could drop in visual elements quickly.

But it keeps crashing on me, which is frustrating. Even though I’ve rigged up some AutoHotkey macros to make it easier to save (triggered by a foot pedal, no less!), I don’t want to deal with that kind of mental friction and re-work. So, no Illustrator CS6 yet, and by extension, probably no Creative Cloud subscription. It’s like the way I ended up ditching Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my Android tablet – it mostly works, except for when it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it frustrates me.

I tried CorelDraw, too, but the eraser tool there doesn’t work the way I want it to. Artrage Studio Pro has a sticker library that might give me the ability to clip frequently-used images, but it’s not as responsive as Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is, so it’s a little frustrating too. Oh, well. I guess I’ll stick with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for another year, and maybe use Inkscape to trace my drawings if I need to resize them.

I trust things a little more if I have backup plans. For example, I’ve messed up with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my tablet PC. One time, I accidentally moved my layer instead of zooming it. Fortunately, I’ve gotten into the habit of using Camtasia Studio to record my screen during the drawing process, so it was easy to go back in time and reconstruct the missing parts. Still annoying, but at least that was more my fault than the program’s.

It’s a little frustrating investing time into learning something that didn’t pan out, but knowing that these tools aren’t a good fit for what I want to do is valuable information as well. I’ll keep an eye out for other things!

Decision review: Art class (includes sketches)

As part of my resolution to spend more on learning, I went for one-on-one art classes in a nearby studio (Pamela Dodds’).

My first exercise was to draw shoes with lots of soft lines. The teacher said to focus on drawing each line in relation to each other instead of thinking about the whole shape. That makes it easier to defamiliarize yourself and draw what you see, instead of this preconceived notion of a shoe. I ended up making this shoe a little shorter than it actually was, but it was recognizably a shoe, hooray!


My homework was to draw more shoes.


Since I’m curious about translating abstract concepts to concrete images and vice versa, my teacher also suggested that I draw different kinds of shoes and the ideas associated with them.


The second class focused on negative space and chairs. On the left, you can see the chair I drew in class. On the right, here’s a chair that Leia (one of our cats) often likes sleeping in.


The third class was about lines, angles, and proportions. I started by drawing the scissors, then drawing the detergent bottle, and then finally by drawing the overlapping shapes of the coffee mugs.




At home, I practised by drawing the salt-and-pepper shakers, and by drawing the mouse.


My last session was one about faces and proportions (see above). Both of these were drawn from (rather odd-looking) mannequins. I like the profile likeness, although it was a little difficult getting the hang of the chin.

I’ve read many art education books such as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and Drawing by Seeing, so that sped up the teaching and gave us a shorthand for discussions. For me, the art classes were more of a meditative space where I could deliberately practise techniques, with feedback from a teacher who could warn me when I was getting too close to the paper (and thus shifting my viewpoint) or who could figure out where I was a little bit off in terms of proportions.

It’s a very different style of drawing compared to sketchnotes. I’m usually just focused on getting the gist of an idea across in a very simple, iconic form. In terms of getting better at sketchnoting, I’ll focus on broading my visual vocabulary by sketching different terms of concepts instead of focusing on drawing more realistic images. Still, it was fun discovering that even though I hadn’t been practising much “proper” drawing, I was getting better at seeing things!

Decision review: Good decision to experiment with art class, although I’ll keep looking around for other classes and I’ll keep practising on my own.

Decision review: Logitech H800 wireless headset

imageThis is my Logitech H800 wireless headset. I bought it so that I could try dictating to my computer using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5. The wireless headset that came in the NaturallySpeaking box never quite fit on my ear. It was always falling off. The Logitech H800 fits me well, and the voice recognition software has no problems with it.

The headset turned out to be pretty handy for other things as well. Bluetooth support meant that I could pair the headset with my phone. I started listening to classical music when working on my computer. I listened to podcasts while I tidied up the kitchen, watered the garden, or went for a long walk.

The headset charges using a micro-USB cable, and can be charged while in use. This is great, because I always forgot to charge my previous headset in time for me to use it. We use micro-USBs for so many other devices, so we always have cables handy. The downside? Between listening to music over Bluetooth and using my phone’s GPS to track exercise, I need to remember to charge my phone at every opportunity I get.

The Logitech H800 headset comes with a mini receiver that’s small enough to stay plugged into a laptop all the time. Unfortunately, it’s not a Logitech unifying receiver. Now I have two of those slim-profile Logitech receivers plugged into my laptop (mouse and headset). That leaves one USB port for flash drives, charging, and other things I want to plug in. I haven’t gotten into the habit of carrying around a powered USB hub, but I’m close to it!

Decision: Better than I expected, although FutureShop sold the headset for quite a bit more than the Amazon US price. I picked it up at FutureShop because I wanted to test the fit before getting it, and it worked out fine.

Thinking about the time/money swap

I thought that once I went into business for myself, I’d do the same kinds of money vs time vs enjoyment calculations that other people have done, and I’d probably end up making similar decisions such as signing up for a housekeeping service, eating out more often, or having either meals or groceries delivered.

It turns out that even though I know that:

  • my time is worth $X-Y/hour
  • my earnings are flexible (I can work more hours and earn more money)
  • it’s possible to hire people to do some of the things I do for much less than X an hour

… I’m still pretty comfortable with doing many things myself. I think it’s because I enjoy those chores more than other people do.

For example, W- and I spent the Good Friday holiday doing our spring-cleaning. I moved my warm-weather clothes into my drawers and chose a few for donation. W- and I emptied the fridge and scrubbed the shelves. He made the glass doors all sparkly-clean.

Cleaning was social bonding time. We chatted, laughed, planned. It’s cheaper than therapy. I suppose we could hire someone to do it, but we would want to spend time together anyway, so it made sense to spend that time doing something useful.

Chores become fun when we do them together. Same with cooking. During our cooking sprints, the two of us chop and laugh and stir and joke. Picking up groceries is a good excuse to go for a walk together.

Because I get a lot of intangible value from doing these activities with W-, I’m not particularly drawn to the idea of outsourcing them so that I could spend more time on the business. I like the break from work, the space to breathe and play around with different ideas. I like the time we spend building relationships.

So yeah, it didn’t turn out to be a straight “I can earn $X/hour so I should outsource anything I can have done for much less than that amount” sort of decision. I’m happy to outsource accounting at least for this first year, and probably for later years as well – it can be complex, and I’m buying peace of mind as well as time. I’m investing more in tools that I like and webapps that I use. But I’m still looking for areas where I can practise delegation and management skills, and I haven’t quite found a good fit yet. No worries – maybe someday!