Category Archives: planning

Use the weekly review to give yourself permission to do things you want to do

One of the habits I’ve formed through my blog is the practice of doing a weekly review. This is where I celebrate what I accomplished and get a heads-up on what’s next. I do this almost every Saturday, which turns out to be a great day for reflecting and preparing.

I also use the weekly review to make sure I spend time on things that I want to do. It’s easy to forget that in the endless ping-pong game of responding to other people’s requests, or to scatter your attention among lots of interests and not feel like you’re making progress in any particular one. Give yourself permission to work on something you want to do, and carve out space for it in your to-do list or calendar. I divide my to-do list into three categories: work, relationships, and life. The work category is easy to fill. Relationships take a little more thought, but other people make it easy by asking. Life, on the other hand—the skills I want to develop, the hobbies I want to explore—that requires me to step up and choose to do something instead of having my time filled by things that other people have chosen for me.

Lots of things are interesting, but I try to pick one or two things to focus on during each week. For example, I’ve been focusing on planting the garden and studying Japanese. I might explore other ideas during the week, but it’s good to make slow and steady progress in my focus areas.

I make that space by managing my commitments. It’s easy to get used to a hectic, time-starved status quo, and it’s gratifying as well—busy-ness helps you feel valued. For me, “normal life” includes time to breathe and time to play. I avoid being busy. When I notice I’m starting to make mistakes because my calendar is too full, I slow down and see what I can say no to.

I add “want-to”s to my to-do list instead of just keeping it to the “must-do”s, and I remove or change other tasks until things look like they’ll fit. It makes reviewing and planning more fun, and it gives me something to look forward to during the week.

Might be something that can help you establish that habit. =) Happy to hear your thoughts and to read your weekly reviews!

Related: On the practice of a weekly review

Squishing my excuses: idea edition

I’ve been trying to figure out what intimidates me about this new idea every month challenge. I guess it’s because each business idea feels like a fresh opportunity for the impostor syndrome. I deal with the impostor syndrome by being up front about what I can do, assuming people are responsible for their decisions, by offering a satisfaction guarantee.

Fortunately, other people are exploring that path, and I can learn from their experiences. I’m a little envious of the folks over at Ridiculo.us, who’ve not only set a goal of 12 projects in 12 months but have also figured out how to quickly whip up prototypes. David Seah is another person I look up to, and he’s been working on designing a new product every day. It’s clearly something you can still do solo if you’ve got the skills to back it up.

I’d be more comfortable with committing to make something new every month if:

  • I had more practice in creating and supporting stuff, which is a catch-22 because you don’t get practice in creating stuff until you create stuff, so I should just go ahead and do it.
  • I knew more people with well-defined needs that happened to match up pretty well with what I want to create, which is easier if I talk about the things I want to build.
  • I set aside a monthly business budget in terms of money and time, which is entirely under my control and therefore something I should just go ahead and do.
  • I clearly define the parameters of the experiment so that I have multiple ways to succeed or I get more comfortable with the idea of failure.
  • I brainstorm a bunch of ideas that I can work on even when I’m not feeling particularly creative, and I break them down into smaller steps so that I can reduce the time between coming up with an idea and testing it out.
  • I remind myself that this is about practice and experimentation. It’s low risk, and this is as good a time as any to try things out.

Managing uncertainty

I’ve been doing a lot more introspection lately. I think it’s a spill-over from stuffing Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality into my brain, and in the process, discovering LessWrong’s treasure trove of rationality materials. I’ve been slowing down to observe when I’m confused and then dissecting it, because I think it’s useful to be able to see and articulate what’s going on. (“Articulate” is an interesting word for this, actually; to express it, but also something about forming joints and rotating them…)

I am dealing with a lot more uncertainty than I’m used to. Which is good and proper and precisely on track, because one of the goals of this 5-year experiment is to get better at handling uncertainty. So I’m where I wanted to be last year: learning how to make decisions with less information, sketching out the probabilities and planning the scenarios. I used to get really stressed out by uncertainty and lack of control, and I’ve been getting a lot better at planning ahead and being nimble.

Things I am not certain about:

  • Timing: mitigated by conservative planning, creating plenty of buffer
  • Optimum actions: mitigated by focusing on satisficing instead of maximizing
  • Prices: mitigated by budgeting and price comparison
  • Side effects and their probabilities: mitigated by research and conservative planning
  • Not knowing: mitigated by research and analysis
  • How much I really want various things: mitigated by generally choosing among good options and by making forecasts/backcasts

What would being even better at dealing with uncertainty look like?

  • More spontaneity because I’d know that I can handle it, which means being able to jump on more opportunities
  • Better-documented decisions and decision criteria, so that open decisions don’t take up a lot of brainspace and I don’t forget important considerations
  • A better understanding of the decision space, mapping out the possibilities
  • Stronger foundations / safety-nets for the kinds of things I want to do

Seeing the futures

I often imagine different futures, sketching them out on paper or in those moments right before or after dreaming. It’s a good way of testing an idea to see whether I’d like it, and then working backwards from there to figure out how to get there from here. I also explore mediocrity and failure so that I can get a sense of what I want to avoid and what I could do to lower the risks.

For example, how might this 5-year experiment of mine turn out?

  • Awesome: My blog has plenty of detailed, open notes about trying different things. I’ve found an idea or two (or a business, even!) that fits me well, and I have the financial foundation to continue with even more experiments.
  • So-so: I have a fairly conventional consulting / freelancing story. It’s okay, but I missed out on pushing myself to do a lot more because of my safety net.
  • Darn: I’ve misjudged skill growth and finances. I reach the 5-year mark with little to show for it, and need to work a lot with my social network to get back into the job market.
  • I can influence this by being more deliberate about my experiments.

How about my relationship with W-?

  • Awesome: We consciously cultivate the relationship, sailing into our later years with plenty of stories and shared experiences.
  • So-so: We settle down into normality.
  • Darn: We forget to pay attention and end up drifting apart.
  • I can influence this by investing time.

Family?

  • Awesome: I’m close to both my family and W’s – I know people’s stories and interests, and I help out with whatever I can. I visit every other year or so, or more frequently if finances allow. I keep in touch through Skype and letters.
  • So-so: We keep in touch occasionally, but tend to be peripheral to each other’s lives.
  • Darn: The distance leads to miscommunication and fights.
  • I can influence this by investing time and setting aside money.

Friends?

  • Awesome: I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people whose company I really enjoy. I think they’re great people. I learn a lot by hanging out with them, which I do one way or another every week. I have conspirators for ideas and projects, and work with other people to make their ideas happen.
  • So-so: I practise the skill of making friends with people as people drift in and out of life.
  • Darn: I forget to pay attention to this and let my introvert hibernation urge take over.
  • I can influence this by investing time and setting aside money.

Finances?

  • Awesome: W- and I live frugally, with roughly the same level of expenses that we’re at now. We have a great safety net, though, so we don’t have to worry. I resist the potential wonkiness of irregular income (both fear and overconfidence) by stabilizing it with savings. I’ve learned how to build businesses, so I can jump on opportunities when I see them.
  • So-so: I dip into my savings occasionally, replenishing it with income.
  • Darn: Tax or legal issues, prolonged sickness, disability, or death chew into our savings.
  • I can influence this by being deliberate about spending and earning.

Learning?

  • Awesome: My learning is aligned with my goals in terms of topic and depth. I learn a little bit about random things and go deeper on a few topics, but I push myself to try things instead of being lulled by “knowing” things from books. I seek out specific learning opportunities. I’ve learned how I learn best, although I keep working on learning other ways too. I map out what I’m learning so that I can review it easily and so that I can spot gaps.
  • So-so: I drift a little, but in a general direction. I back up learning by trying things out.
  • Darn: I confuse reading about something or listening to something with knowing something, and spend way more time doing more of the former two. I drift a lot.
  • I can influence this by examining how and what I learn.

Playing?

  • Awesome: I play with things that teach me more about life, give me a new way of looking at things, help me relate better to other people, or improve the way I live.
  • So-so: I play the occasionally distracting thing, and then get back to regular life.
  • Darn: I get sucked in by game mechanics. W- gets annoyed with me.
  • I can influence this by reflecting on what and how I play.

Good to get a sense of what good looks like.

Imagining the next five years and planning 2013

One of the assignments in the Rockstar Scribe course I’m taking through Alphachimp University (affiliate link) is to sketch where you want to be in five years. This is my sketch.

20121228 5 years vision

What does that mean for 2013?

Work: I’m focusing on business idea validation, sales, and marketing this year. It’ll mean scaling down my consulting income, but I think the opportunity cost will be worth it. To keep building other market-valued skills, I may still do a little web development – primarily for my own projects, but possibly for others as well.

Relationships: I’m focusing on spending time with W- and friends, especially through exercise and cooking. I’d also like to organize things more at home, and to learn more kitchen skills.

Life: Regular exercise supports my goals here as well, and so does organization and decluttering. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into Emacs for planning and organization, too.

Learn: I’ll research and go to interesting events to sketchnote. I’ll also keep an eye out for good books to review.

Share: I’ve sketched out an editorial outline of things I want to write about, which may help me write with more deliberation.

Scale: I’m documenting many of my ideas and processes in a public manual, and I’ll add more as I learn how to scale up.

Onward and upward!

Sketching twelve business ideas

In Running Lean, Ash Maurya recommends that you document your “Plan A”s – sketch out many possible businesses and business models so that you can rank them. I spent some time on January 1 sketching different business ideas, which I’ve shared on my experiment blog. Here they are as a quick gallery.

I’m planning to print these out, prioritize them, and figure out how to derisk the most promising ones. Do any of them stand out to you as particularly interesting?

See my sketchnotes of Running Lean for more tips from the book, or check out my experiment/business blog for other business-related thoughts.