Category Archives: life

On this page:
  • Doing more consulting
  • Planning ahead for experiments
  • What to do during open days
  • The ingredients of your life
  • Woohoo, closure!
  • Anticipating experiment outcomes

Doing more consulting

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a lot more consulting than I originally planned. At this point, I had been thinking of keeping my twice-a-week schedule for a few months, and then tapering down to the equivalent of one day a week, and then eventually letting go of it entirely. That might still happen. In the meantime, though, my primary client needs some extra help. I still carve out time to work on my own stuff, but I’m willing to postpone some of the things I could be working on because I can see how a little extra work now could create a lot more value for the client. Besides, it’s a good excuse to learn more about some of the things I’m curious about.

2014-08-27 Why do the extra consulting - #experiment #business #consulting

2014-08-27 Why do the extra consulting – #experiment #business #consulting

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little about testing out this pace and observing what I ended up swapping out. It turned out that Harold Jarche had been thinking about similar things, and we chatted a little about it over lunch. (Yay lunch with people!) I mentioned I’d been fleshing out in more details the little things that tend to get put aside if I make work my default activity (at least until I reach 40 hours a week), and why I’m willing to make the trade.

2014-08-18 What am I really postponing or giving up - #experiment #business #consulting

2014-08-18 What am I really postponing or giving up – #experiment #business #consulting

On reflection, though, I can still make time for many of these activities or experiences if I use my time smartly. For example, I can still get enough sleep if I’m careful about morning meetings and late-night browsing. I can still work from home from time to time, which leads to afternoon walks to libraries and more relaxed evenings. I still exercise, actually, so that’s not one of the trades (it only feels that way). Deep reading and a feeling of leisure usually requires one of those open weekdays when I don’t have any work planned, but I get something similar to that feeling if I spend some time reflecting on what I’ve learned and drawing my thoughts.

2014-08-18 So if I'm going on a consulting sprint for 2.5 months - #experiment #business #consulting

2014-08-18 So if I’m going on a consulting sprint for 2.5 months – #experiment #business #consulting

Time is never static. Your day shifts in response to different priorities and stimuli. The stuff I’m learning and doing now is a good use of the time, but it’s also good to be aware of the flip side–even if it’s idealized, even if in reality some of those open days might be spent mostly napping and skimming books and wandering around trying to figure out thoughts. Knowing what I might be missing helps me mitigate those opportunity costs and remind myself: Yes, I am deliberately postponing this part and dropping that part and scaling back that other part, but it’s for this reason, so I should make the most of that opportunity. Then I can remind myself to re-evaluate things at a certain point, so that this new balance doesn’t become too routine. Otherwise you get used to the way things are, and then you wonder what you ever did with so much time in the first place. =)

Planning ahead for experiments

Experimenting doesn’t have to be about coming up with conclusive answers. It can be about reducing uncertainty and increasing understanding. For example, compared to where I was at the beginning of this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement, I’m more comfortable with business. There are fewer unknowns in my life. No, actually–there are just as many unknowns, I think, but I feel more confident about handling them.

The original questions for this 5-year experiment were along these lines:

  • Would I be able to build a viable business that fit my goals and needs?
  • Would this kind of lifestyle be a good fit for me (and by extension, for us)?
  • Would I use the additional time well?

If life continues along its current path, I’m reasonably certain that the answers will be yes, yes, and yes. So I’ve been thinking: what other uncertainties do I want to explore? What other unknowns do I want to learn more about? Does it make sense to structure those as experiments as well?

2014-08-29 Considering the time after the experiment

2014-08-29 Considering the time after the experiment

Thinking of these things as experiments seems to work well for me. Not the high school sort of experiment where we dutifully rolled marbles down inclines or mixed various chemicals to note their reactions, but rather a time-bound trial that you prepare for, observe, learn from, and reflect on. Before I started framing things as experiments, I usually limited myself to small ideas and occasional improvements. Thinking of this as an experiment helps me say to myself, yes, it will take a bit of time to really unfold, so don’t worry about evaluating it too early, and don’t worry too much about messing up because you’ll learn something along the way.

Anyway… What other experiments might I run after this? Are there experiments that would make sense in parallel? I’m somewhat curious about trying out different business models to see what they’re like. I’m curious about building an even more solid foundation for future experiments in terms of health, skills, and other intangibles. I’m curious about learning and adapting to a changing world. I don’t have a clear experiment yet, not like the way I delineated my current experiment, but I’m sure that will come to me.

In the meantime, I have two years left in this experiment. Having the basics covered means that I can try bigger and more interesting things. Maybe software as a service? I’ve been avoiding this because of the risks and the support commitments, but maybe it’s time to learn more about building products and services that people might find useful. I know where to find the markets for some of the ideas I’m interested in, and I know some people who’d be willing to give me feedback and help me build things for them and others. There are a number of other non-business things I want to learn more about, too.

2014-08-29 Tweaking my experiment

2014-08-29 Tweaking my experiment

I like looking at other people’s lives in order to pick up ideas for things to try in mine. It’s useful to look at the life paths for both typical people and exceptional people, since all those paths sketch out different possibilities. If I can imagine myself clearly at different ages and on different probable paths, I can get a better sense of what I want to do in the near future. It’s a little like bringing those possible future Sachas together so that I can ask them how they got to where they are, and maybe adjust my current path a little. It’s a strange mental image, I guess, but it’s handy for me. And there are tons of other people to learn from, too–role models from so many different walks of life.

2014-08-29 Re-planning my life - #experiment

2014-08-29 Re-planning my life – #experiment

Hmm. Let’s see how things work out…

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.