Category Archives: life

On this page:
  • What to do during open days
  • The ingredients of your life
  • Woohoo, closure!
  • Anticipating experiment outcomes
  • Getting the hang of exercising
  • Nudging the balance toward work

What to do during open days

September 1 is Labour Day in Canada, so it’s a holiday. Aside from that, I usually try to keep my consulting to a reasonable number of hours, so sometimes I’ll end up with a weekday I’ve promised to devote to things that are not work. I find that I tend to get caught up in work sometimes, especially when I’m programming. Then it’s hard to think of what I’m missing out on. Other times, I settle into comfortable routines. A list of activities helps me notice things I haven’t tried in a while.

So here’s an incomplete list of things to do on these “open” days…

2014-08-28 What to do during open days - #leisure #experiment

2014-08-28 What to do during open days – #leisure #experiment

  1. Cook something more elaborate than usual
  2. Write a lot
  3. Reflect and plan through drawings, blog posts
  4. Combine sketches in blog posts
  5. Graze books, skim for ideas
  6. Read a book deeply
  7. Catch up on e-mail and other correspondence
  8. Sleep in or nap
  9. Play with/work on Emacs things
  10. Clean, declutter, donate, tidy up
  11. Practise drawing
  12. Do paperwork
  13. Help J- shop or sort out stuff
  14. Take care of chores and errands
  15. Learn or improve a skill
  16. Package e-books and resources
  17. Make outlines and lists
  18. Shop for things we need or want
  19. Work on little projects around the house
  20. Enjoy the sunshine in a park
  21. Have a massage
  22. Study languages
  23. Analyze time
  24. Watch a movie in a theatre
  25. Help Hacklab move/market
  26. Hang out at Hacklab
  27. Spend time with friends
  28. Treat ourselves to a restaurant meal and try something new
  29. Check out events
  30. Volunteer
  31. Read fiction
  32. Spend time with cats
  33. Get a head start on work
  34. Watch a movie at home
  35. Go for a long bike ride

The ingredients of your life

You can make many different recipes from the same basic ingredients by choosing different subsets of the ingredients in your pantry, combining them in different proportions, and using different techniques.

Isn’t life a little like that, too? It’s easy to think to yourself, “Ah, this is the recipe that I am used to.” But it might be good to take a step back, take a look at the ingredients in your pantry, and see what else you can make with them.

2014-06-23 Potential

2014-06-23 Potential

I’ve become quite comfortable using some combinations of ingredients to make things that people like. I’m in my “web development – social business – automation” phase in consulting, which is quite a bit different from the “visual thinking – drawing – social media” combination I experimented with. That’s also different from the “workshop facilitation – community management – backend development” combination I used at IBM, or the “teaching – writing – experimenting” combination I used while teaching. But there are so many more ingredients to try and recipes to explore.

Some people like focusing on a small set of ingredients, learning how to discern quality, developing their favourite versions of recipes and their preferred brands and types for ingredients. (There’s some heated discussion around the best flour to use for pizza, for example; the answer depends on the kind of pizza you like, which is itself a matter for experimentation.) I like getting reasonably good at using the ingredients I have, but I also really like collecting new ingredients that turn out to be surprisingly useful. I get a kick out of having just the right spice at hand, or a good enough substitute.

Like spices, your ingredients can spoil or get dull if they sit unused. So it’s good to try different things out, creating more opportunities for you to discover new favourites. Sometimes you try something and decide it’s not for you. Sometimes you get a hint of something you might like, and you try different variants to find something that fits. Sometimes you find a new comfort food, or something that takes you right back home, or something that tickles your palate in just the right way.

It’s surprising to find out you have lots of ingredients in your pantry, especially if you’ve gotten used to only working with a few. I’m looking forward to learning more combinations and developing a deeper appreciation for things, and to picking up even more ingredients. How about you? What are the ingredients you can use when making your life? =)

Woohoo, closure!

Several of my long-running open loops wrapped up in the last few days in a combination of personal milestones and external results. It feels great closing off all these background processes and resolving uncertainties.

Looking back, I don’t remember all that much hard work. More like kicking things off, then being patient for a while. (Isn’t a fuzzy memory a wonderful thing?)

In other news, Hacklab is finally moving. Technically, the vote was on Aug 11, but it still feels coincidentally close to all of these changes. =) Other people did all the hard work for that one, so I can’t claim any credit for it, but it also feels like a threshold-crossing.

2014-08-23 Closure

2014-08-23 Closure

The ends of things and the beginnings of new ones are good opportunities to stop and evaluate. What new opportunities are available? What can I do based on the resolved uncertainties? What other areas open up for exploration?

2014-08-23 So, what's next

2014-08-23 So, what’s next

The biggest change, I think, is that I can lean in more in terms of business if I want to. I’m curious about other business models, and may explore them after this consulting sprint. Maybe along the lines of Software as a Service, perhaps focused on something useful and nifty involving the Web? I also want to get even better at making the most of leisure time for learning, thinking, writing, drawing, and sharing, so that probably means a lifestyle-business-type balance.

I’ve also been thinking about how I want to celebrate progress and milestones. It’s good to celebrate the little things and reward persistence/patience. On the other hand, it’s also good to treat these things as normal and part of everyday life. I don’t see going out for dinner and/or a movie as a special treat. (Such a homebody!) I’m not keen on parties either (although taking specific people out for lunch or dinner as a way to thank them can be nice). I like rounding off accomplishments with reflection, writing down lessons learned and looking ahead to what’s next.

Sometimes I look further back to get a sense of the journey that’s taken me to this spot. For example, the road to citizenship here in Canada started with wanting to go for a master’s degree and reading research papers while in Manila, meeting my future research supervisor in Tokyo, studying at the University of Toronto, dealing with homesickness, making friends, dealing with distance, and building a life with W-. With savings, I can remember what it was like to come to Canada with just the research assistantship and some cash from my parents. With taxes, I can trace my learning back to the first tax return I filed, the first correction I got from the CRA (who helpfully pointed out that I’d forgotten to apply the education tax credit, so my refund was bigger than I expected), and how I learned to prepare slightly more complex tax returns (including the ones for my business).  I remember planning my projects and experiments, too, sketching out the different uncertainties and what I might do in various scenarios.

So I guess that’s the kind of celebration that suits me well. I like taking a moment to say to myself, hey, actually, that worked out. I learned a lot–and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Anticipating experiment outcomes

I’m almost half-way through this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement. Every so often, I like reflecting on the possible outcomes and whether I want to influence things one way or another. (Totally unscientific here!) Thinking about this will also help me figure out what I need to try so that I can properly discriminate among the options. Here are some of the ways this experiment could work out.

  • A. “I want to go back to a regular job.” Let’s say that at the end of five years, I’ve learned what I want to learn to have a smoothly-running, wonderful life, and I want to go back to working within someone else’s business so that I can take advantage of its scale and infrastructure. I’d rebuild my network and dust off my resume, likely working my way back into a technical position in a team I enjoy working with. Life would be pretty similar to what life was like at IBM, except perhaps I’d be fitter, cook better, and write more.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Possible job satisfaction, scale, learning experiences, team I like; also, if W- downshifts to part-time or takes a break
    • What would a typical week look like? Work, cook, read, write. I might use the extra cash to outsource chores or buy conveniences. Hmm, danger of lifestyle inflation here?
  • B. “I want to keep freelancing.” Let’s say that I like the flexibility and usefulness that consulting a few days a week gives me. I’d probably expand my consulting practice slightly so that I don’t have to worry about being classified as a personal services business. During my free days, I might continue to do the kinds of things I’m doing now: writing, learning, tinkering with stuff.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Happy clients, continued growth; also, if W- downshifts to part-time
    • What would a typical week look like? Much like my current weeks, but maybe consulting for different companies for a good balance.
  • C. “I want to build a lifestyle business.” This would be if I’m curious about building other types of businesses. Maybe I’d learn more about web marketing, for example. I’d still keep it low-key so that I can do other things with the rest of my time.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Curiosity about businesses that go beyond time-for-money exchanges; commitment to make products or automated services
    • What would a typical week look like? Responding to people’s questions, creating new things, improving old stuff. Occasionally learning new skills and trying them out.
  • D. “I want to ‘lean in’ in terms of business.” This would probably be the next stage after building a small lifestyle business that’s focused on products or automated services. Assuming I’ve got the rest of my life sorted out, I might channel my curiosity and energy into building the business so that I can help more people and apply what I’ve been learning from business books.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Finding a good market that I really want to help
    • What would a typical week look like? I’d probably learn how to manage a small team, do lots of research and customer service, and make stuff happen.
  • E. “I probably don’t have to work, at least for a while.” Stock market growth and savings might mean that I’ll have lots of flexibility, so I could choose to work or not. Depending on our circumstances, I might decide to focus on building up skills, making our lives easier, learning things, and sharing whatever I can. It’ll be an interesting challenge figuring things out. I’d like to get really good at writing. I’d still be open to going back to work (even in a non-tech job) if the market plummets or W- needs me to cover things.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: ~3% withdrawal rate, good cash buffer for market corrections, productive things to do with my time, questions to explore
    • What would a typical week look like? Read, write, garden, exercise, cook. Occasionally get together with other people.

I’m the most curious about E (financial independence plus writing), but C (lifestyle business) that might eventually transition to D (larger business) could be interesting too.

Getting the hang of exercising

I’m slowly becoming the sort of person who exercises. Having decided that my capacious schedule can certainly accommodate 45 minutes to an hour of exercise, I’ve been going through these beginner-friendly no-equipment exercise progressions.

I like jogging with W-. Well, I jog and he speed-walks beside me, I’m that slow. =) It’s a good time to catch up, though. Sometimes, if he wants to take it up a notch, he’ll run quickly, and then he’ll double back until we meet up again. I just keep jogging along, occasionally slowing down to a walk as prescribed by the program. When we get home, I do the bends, crunches, leg raises, modified pushups, and jumping jacks from the Exercise Ladder I’m trying. We have a snack–often a parfait–and then I shower to freshen up and get ready for bed.

2014-08-12 Exercise notes - #exercise

2014-08-12 Exercise notes – #exercise

I might have to interrupt this routine, but that’s okay. I can pick it up again afterwards, even if I have to go back a few levels. It’s good to feel this adaptation process–eroding these little mental barriers, learning these tiny habits of breathing and pace… It makes future restarts easier, too, like the way you’re less intimidated by game levels you’ve already played through before.

Getting there!

Nudging the balance toward work

As an experiment, I decided to work a lot more last week than I normally do. I made work my default activity. If I didn’t have something particularly interesting in mind to write or draw or read, I’d log on to the network and check for requests, work on prototypes, and follow up on things I needed to do.

2014-08-13 Nudging the balance toward work - #experiment #consulting

2014-08-13 Nudging the balance toward work – #experiment #consulting

The result was a very productive week. I made a few interesting Javascript-y prototypes that we’re considering for use. On the the non-technical end, I worked on some marketing materials.  The momentum and focus felt great.

One of the things I realized about consulting when I was at IBM was that consulting is as much a learning opportunity for you as it is a way to create value for clients. At a little over two years, I think this is the longest I’ve ever worked on a single engagement. I want to make the most of what I can learn from this, while I’m immersed in the API and the environment and the experience. I’d like to get even deeper into building user interfaces, maybe even analyzing and tweaking performance.

2014-08-13 Discretionary work - #consulting

2014-08-13 Discretionary work – #consulting

These are skills I can build on that for future products, services, or consulting engagements. Because I haven’t been blogging or keeping copies of my code (didn’t feel right based on the IP agreement of my engagement), I’ll have to trust that the fuzzy recollections of my brain are enough for me.

My track record for remembering isn’t too good. I can only vaguely remember some of the details the projects I worked on at IBM, and I suspect I’ve completely forgotten at least one. (And t’s only been two years since I left!) But confidence and a certain sense of where things are or how I can go about doing things–those things stay with you, even if the specifics go.

Still, focusing on work makes me feel a little like I miss giving myself long stretches of time to tinker with non-work code, write blog posts, and figure out questions. It feels like my brain is a little buzzier, a little more tired. I usually sit down and write for an afternoon or two, when my brain is clear. In a few months, I’ll have plenty of time to follow my own interests, so I guess I can wait until then. But it’s good to know what I’m postponing so that I don’t get too used to not having it. From Daniel Klein’s Travels with Epicurus:

And Epicurus saw this opportunity for old age as one more benefit from leaving the world of commerce and politics behind us; it frees us to focus our brainpower on other matters, often more intimate and philosophical matters. Being immersed in the commercial world constrains the mind, limiting it to the conventional, acceptable thoughts; it is hard to close a sale if we pause in the proceedings to meditate at length about man’s relation to the cosmos. Furthermore, without a busy schedule, we simply have the time to ruminate unhurriedly, to pursue a thought for as long and as far as it takes us.

Incidentally, I really like this ability to change my work schedule on a week-by-week basis. This is the weekly variation in all the time I spent directly related to earning since I started this experiment in February 2012:

2014-08-15 14_11_02-Earn - quantified awesome

I started off working a lot, aiming for about 4 days a week. I tapered off a little to 2-3 days, and took a month off from time to time. Last week was more like the focused days of early in the experiment. I’ve gained a lot from learning to relax and use my time for my own interests, so we’ll see how that plays out against these desires to learn and create a lot of value.