On this page:
  • Tweaking the way I write
  • Woohoo, closure!
  • Weekly review: Week ending August 22, 2014
  • Anticipating experiment outcomes
  • Getting the hang of exercising - (1)
  • Nudging the balance toward work

Tweaking the way I write

Through writing, I want to:

  • Learn more effectively and efficiently by taking notes and chunking my thoughts
  • Understand and be able to articulate what I’m thinking
  • Keep notes for future reflection and time travel
  • Connect with people who have similar interests
  • Help other people save time

I’m pretty happy with how I’m doing this so far, although it would be even better if I could write more efficiently and effectively. What would that look like, and how could I move towards that?

I pick up a lot of information from reading and from trying things out. If I spend more time reviewing notes and experimenting with concepts, that will help me get more out of the time that I spend reading. Wouldn’t be neat if my personal stash of quotes (my digital commonplace books) linked each note with a blog post reflecting on what I found interesting about it, how I’ve applied it, and what it’s related to? I think that would be handy.

Sometimes I find myself particularly interested in an idea, and writing is easy. Other times, the spark isn’t quite there, or the kindling is scattered. I have a massive outline/list of things to write about. Sometimes it seems a little odd writing about stuff, though. Lackluster? But maybe giving myself different recipes for blog posts can help (a personal story, a book quote, etc.). I can also look at it as practice. I have years and years to write, and I can learn a lot when I practise deliberately and dispassionately.

For reflection and review, I can write regular snapshots of what’s going on in my life and what I’m trying to figure out. These usually give me enough anchors to remember more.

To make it easier to connect with other people, I can ask people if they blog, and I can post more of my personal stories on my blog.

I’ve been writing more selfishly rather than focusing on saving people time, but I’m sure that balance will shift at some point too. I tend to find it easy to blog helpful things when I’m immersed in projects or in answering people’s questions, so it’s probably just a matter of focusing on open source again.

As I write more, I’ll get faster, and I might even get clearer. :) I can build on what I’ve previously written. I’ll get a better sense of what I like and don’t like in writing, and I’ll experiment with the influences of other writers.

So let’s say that it takes me about an hour or two to follow a thought and write it down. I’m not really looking for speed here. I don’t need to be able to crank one out in fifteen minutes. It might be good to be able to work in small chunks (headline, outline, snippets) to take advantage of the moments that come up during a day. It would also be good to be able to work coherently – to build up to more complex thoughts, to untangle harder questions. That’s probably what better writing looks like for me. As for beauty form and flow, I can probably pick that up through analysis and practice, but it’s somewhat reassuring to know that people can think (and share) complex thoughts despite being inelegant writers. (Almost impenetrable, even!)

How do I want to change how I write? Well, I can use my phone more, writing instead of reading when I have a free moment on the go. If I feel a little blah when writing at my computer, I can open my book notes and expound on a passage. I can also pick something from my outline and sketch out the next level, tell a story, or look for ways to test it in life (and add a reminder to come back and write about the results). I can embrace the way that many of my blog posts are more like “here’s where I am, there’s where I’d like to go, here’s what I’m going to try” rather than fonts of wisdom. Hey, maybe it will be amusing (or even useful) looking back, forty years from now. We’ll see!

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.

Weekly review: Week ending August 22, 2014

A week of finishing stuff. =) Neat!

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (58.1h – 34%)
    • Earn (40.8h – 70% of Business)
      • E1: Go to work every day
      • E1: Meet up with Harold Jarche
      • E1: Work on second video draft
      • E1: Demo
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (11.1h – 19% of Business)
      • Drawing (6.4h)
        • Practise drawing faces
      • Delegation (2.1h)
        • Review proofread transcript
        • Review Emacs Chat transcript
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.6h)
    • Connect (6.2h – 10% of Business)
  • Relationships (5.7h – 3%)
    • Call R to adjust billing
    • Go to Emma’s party
    • Go to Hacklab’s party
    • Investigate dishwasher options
    • Call R to adjust billing
    • Cook at Hacklab?
    • Update Brock Health claim
  • Discretionary – Productive (3.7h – 2%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Help with Emacs
    • Draw and shade in picture of Neko
    • File health claims
    • Reread Latin textbook chapter now that I’ve picked up more vocabulary
    • Apply for Ontario photo ID
    • Writing (0.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (2.0h – 1%)
  • Personal routines (27.9h – 16%)
  • Unpaid work (14.1h – 8%)
  • Sleep (56.5h – 33% – average of 8.1 per day)

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.