Category Archives: decision

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!

Decision review: Got the Lenovo battery slice for my X220 tablet

I’ve been thinking about getting an Android tablet so that I can draw more at conferences and around town. My laptop’s fantastic for drawing and writing, but it doesn’t have the battery life to get me through a day of conference sessions.

Before taking the plunge, though, I considered the different options. If the main thing I want is the assurance that I’ll be able to draw and write for a full day, there are a few ways to do that:

  • Learn how to draw on paper. This is somewhat scary, but it’s useful, so I’ve bought myself another sketchbook for mindmaps, sketchnotes, and other sketches. I filled the last one over two years or so, and maybe I’ll fill this one faster!
  • Get another battery for my Lenovo X220 tablet, and swap out batteries when needed.
  • Get the extended battery slice for my X220 and enjoy way more battery life for some extra weight.

I decided to get the extended battery slice. More precisely, my business decided to get it, because I’m using it for sketchnotes, illustration (I do that professionally now, too!), writing, business correspondence, client meetings, and so on.

The battery slice is a large, flat battery that attaches to the bottom of the laptop. It extends my battery life by quite a bit, and is hot-pluggable so that I don’t have to interrupt my work. I haven’t tested its limits yet, but this power icon is pretty neat to see:


With this, I think I’ll be able to spend more time in libraries, cafes, parks, or conferences. Might be fun. =)

Work, extracurriculars, and measuring time: an epiphany

I remember now why I had stopped tracking time before. Breaking things down at the project level made me feel weird about my extracurricular interests at IBM, like the community toolkit and now the IBM comics. On one hand, I wanted to support our utilization goals and claim time as accurately as possible. On the other hand, I didn’t want to give up personal time, especially as I could use it to build more functionality into Quantified Awesome. I felt conflicted. I found myself slipping from the feeling of an abundance of time to the feeling of a scarcity of it, to be carefully portioned out among too many demands.

Today, brainstorming how to address my worst-case scenario considerations, I realized something: I’d been thinking about it the wrong way. It’s not extra time I’m donating or a hobby I might outgrow. It’s a live opportunity to test ideas with a massive, built-in internal market.

Comics on the intranet homepage? A fledgling artist couldn’t buy that kind of space. A community analysis tool that other people have come to rely on? Good practice in supporting disparate users and scaling up value.

No money might change hands, but a steady stream of thank-you notes helps my manager argue for a top rating, which often translates into a bonus.

So now I’ve got a couple of ways to rethink how this fits into my life.

I can promote these extracurriculars from the category “Work – Other” to “Discretionary – Other” or something similar, and budget myself four or five hours a week. It’s not work, it’s learning.

Alternatively, I can keep it under “Work – Other” and add an effective 10% overhead to my billable work. Many people have told me that I’m a fast developer, anyway, so scaling my output down to that of a somewhat above average developer will still mean that we do good stuff. The cognitive surplus goes into process improvement, self-development, and happiness, which is definitely worthwhile. I get stressed when I feel like I’m letting my other priorities slip, so spending time on them is important too.

These extracurricular interests can create a lot of value. I should adjust my measurements accordingly so that my measurements don’t lead to conflicting feelings.

How you measure affects how you manage.

Quantified Awesome: Squishing my excuses

I’ve been fiddling with Quantified Awesome, this personal dashboard that I’m building so that I can keep track of what’s going on in my life and use that data to make it even more awesome. For example:

  • Tracking my time helps me make sure work doesn’t tempt me too much, and that I make time for both personal projects as well as connecting with other people. It also helps me improve my time estimates: How much time does it really take to walk to the subway station? How instant are instant noodles?
  • Tracking library books reminds me before they’re overdue, helps me collect my reading history, and gives me a greater appreciation for where my tax dollars go.
  • Tracking my clothes helps me remember to wear different types of clothes more often, makes it easier to donate items I don’t typically wear, and encourages me to try new combinations.
  • Tracking the produce we get from community-supported agriculture helps us avoid waste.
  • Tracking stuff helps me remember where infrequently-accessed items are.

It turns out that other people are interested in this too. 21 people have signed up through my “I’ll e-mail you when I figure out how to get this ready for other people” page, and my mom wants to use it too. That’s awesome!

Now I have to go ahead and actually build it so that other people can use it. That’s scary.

And like the way I deal with other scary, intimidating, procrastination-inducing things, I’m going to list my excuses here, so that I can shine a light on those assumptions and watch them scurry away like the cockroaches they are and, if necessary, squishing them with a well-applied flipflop.

  • Excuse #1: Idiosyncrasy. The way I work might be really weird, and other people may not be able to figure out what to do.
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? “I have no idea how this works!” I end up with lots of crufty special cases because I can’t figure out how to reconcile different ways of working.
    • What’s the best case? I adapt the system to the way other people work, and I get inspired by what they do. I build a lovely, flexible web app and API.
  • Excuse #2: Risk. I’m fine with loading my own data into an experimental system, but if I mess up and delete other people’s data, I’ll feel terrible. Also, they might trigger bugs.
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? Catastrophic data failure, nothing saved.
    • What’s the best case? Regular backups help me recover from any major mishaps, and careful coding avoids more common mistakes.
  • Excuse #3: Support. I’m going to spend more time handling bug reports and feature requests, and less time building little things that might be useful only for me.
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? People get annoyed and frustrated because I’m currently focused on other things, like my work.
    • What’s the best case? I get the system to become mostly usable for people, and I use my discretionary time to build more features. People’s requests inspire me to build more stuff and create more value.
  • Excuse #4: Documentation. I’ll need to write documentation, or at the very least online help. This means confronting the less-than-intuitive parts of the system. ;)
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? I describe what currently exists, get frustrated because I want to improve it, and end up cycling between updating documentation and improving the system.
    • What’s the best case? I describe what currently exists, and end up improving it along the way. I build online help into the system so that it’s easy to change. There’s a blog that helps people learn about updates, too.
  • Excuse #5: Offline access. A web-based time tracker might be of limited use if you don’t have web access often. I’ve been working on an offline HTML5 interface, but it’s still buggy.
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? Early testers try it out, but get frustrated because of the lack of offline access.
    • What’s the best case? I figure out the HTML5 offline thing. Someone else might be interested in building a native app, and we work together on fleshing out an API.
  • Excuse #6: Impatience. If I bring people on too early, they might get annoyed with a buggy system, and lose interest.
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? People give it a cursory try, and give up in annoyance.
    • What’s the best case? Early users are extraordinarily patient. We figure out a minimal viable product for each of them – the simplest thing that could possibly support what they want to do. Over time, things keep getting better and better. Also, I build a decent export interface, so even if people move on to a different system, they’ll still have their data.
  • Excuse #7: Privacy and control. A bug might accidentally expose people’s information, which is not fun. I also don’t want to have to police the system for objectionable content, considering the thumbnail uploads.
    • What’s the worst-case scenario? Someone’s private notes get accidentally published.
    • What’s the best case? People sign on knowing that I might have bugs, and don’t save any super-secret or inappropriate information on the system.

Okay. I think I can deal with that. So, what are the smallest, least-intimidating steps I need to take in order to get closer to opening up?

  • Write a quick test to make sure that people’s data will stay private. We’ll make people’s accounts private by default, although mine will stay mostly-public.
  • Make a list of things that people should be able to do right now. (Not including new functionality!) Gradually write tests to nail down that behaviour.
  • Make a list of things that people may want to do some day. Eventually set up an issue tracker.
  • Enable Devise’s invitable feature so that I can set up accounts for people easily.
  • Doublecheck backups.
  • Bring one person on. Then the next, then the next…

It will still be better than nothing, it will be a good learning experience, and participation is purely voluntary anyway.

One step at a time.

Comparing Plan B Organic Farms with Cooper’s Farm CSA

After two seasons with Plan B Organic Farms, we’ve discovered a range of new recipes and learned that we can survive an invasion of beets. This winter, we decided to experiment with a different community-supported agriculture program. We chose Cooper’s Farm because they offered delivery, which will be handy when it starts snowing.

Plan B Organic Farms has a depot a block away from our house, and offers a box of organic produce for $25 a week. Cooper’s Farm offers delivery for $24.86 (including the delivery fee).

We received our first delivery from Cooper’s Farm this morning, neatly packed in a box. In total, the produce weighed 10.19kg, for a cost of $2.44/kg. Here’s the breakdown:

carrots 1476g
cabbage 3494g
onions 1380g
potatoes 1468g
sweet potatoes 651g
tomatoes 844g
turnips 878g

In comparison, here’s today’s box from Plan B Organic Farms (total: 5.85kg, $4.27/kg):

lettuce 355g
broccoli 734g
cabbage 1923g
tortillas 270g
onions 516g
acorn squash 989g
blueberries 170g
tomatoes 393g
apples 416g
garlic 83g

During the fall season, we received an average of 6.57kg from Plan B Organic Farms (stdev = 1.12kg), composed of 11 different types of produce on average. The fall shares included some imported items (kiwi, avocado, etc.) to add variety.

Plan B Organic Farms produce was generally good, but occasionally of poor quality: squishy tomatoes, apples with soft spots, and so on. Still, it helped us get more vegetables into our diet, so it was worth it. Cooper’s Farm CSA has been okay so far (except for one potato that we ended up chucking), although the produce required a lot more scrubbing.

It looks like Cooper’s Farm CSA gives us more local produce for our buck, but with less variety. We’ll see how the rest of it goes this season!

Decision review: Decision review

In September, I wrote about how I could get better at making decisions. I switched to organizing my decisions in a separate text file for ease of review, and I planned to ask myself the following questions after a quarter:

  • How many decisions have I written about?
  • How many decisions have I reviewed?
  • How many notes have I published?
  • How have I used my notes to help improve my decision-making?

Well, that quarter has passed, so let’s see how things turned out!

Since my blog post about decisions, I’ve posted nine entries in my decision category. Here’s how that breaks down:

  • described 1 pending decision
  • described 5 current / near past decisions
  • reviewed 2 decisions from a year ago
  • reviewed 1 decision from four years ago

There are eight decisions in my file that I haven’t published. Some of them are still being fleshed out, others are small, and a few are for private reference.

I find that the most helpful time is to write about decisions while I’m considering alternatives instead of long after the decision event, although I often wait to publish my notes until I have preliminary results. Decision roundups like this nine-decision review are fun to write, too, and my text file makes it easier for me to see which decisions are current and which ones I’ve archived.

I like writing about decisions. Formally describing the alternatives I’m considering helps me identify and test more of them. The same goes for assumptions. Writing down my reasons for a decision lets me go back and review them, and it also helps me calibrate my decision-making once I figure out the results.

Many of my decision-related posts have led to conversations where I’ve either helped someone else make a better decision or I’ve received tips from other people – and often both, and often within a few days of posting. Score one for sharing decisions.

Good decision. Would make again.