Category Archives: calendar

2015 in review

In 2014, I wrote that I was looking forward to:

  • Improving my technical skills:
    • Getting even more deeply into Emacs and taking advantage of the many useful packages that are available
      • 2015: Got a little more used to nifty packages such as Hydra. Also organized a number of Emacs Hangouts, and started publishing weekly Emacs News
    • Writing shorter, better-tested code in Javascript and Rails
      • 2015: Picked up Jasmine for Javascript testing, refactored lots of my code into smaller functions, and played around with more NodeJS. Haven’t done a lot with Rails.
  • Writing with even more resonance and helpfulness: digging deeper into the things I’m learning and sharing them with other people in ways that help and engage
    • 2015: Wrote a number of other-directed posts in the first half of the year, and then fell off a figurative cliff writing-wise. Mostly just focused on taking notes for myself these days.
  • Successfully taking on more uncertainty with even better safety nets and equanimity
    • 2015: Pretty much all about this!

2016-01-02c 2015 in review -- index card #yearly #review output

I remember being a lot sleepier and more fuzzy-brained this year than I’d ever been, and yet the year turned out pretty awesome. My long-term preparations have been paying off: the programming and data analysis skills I use for consulting, the paperwork-handling processes that support my business, the savings that cover expenses and reduce stress, the philosophical framework that supports equanimity, the 5-year experiment that gives me flexibility of time, space, and activity.

2015 was more challenging than 2014. Possibly as difficult as 2005/2006’s homesickness and transitions, although of a different kind – like the low of a cold, but longer and more severe. Even writing took a dive, as it was hard to concentrate and follow thoughts through. I’ve been getting better at weathering these times, I think. I have the space to take it easy. More video games this year, mostly ones that W- and I play together. More cooking, tidying, walking, and sleeping, too.

A lack of energy forced me to strip things down to their essentials and give myself permission to be selfish enough to minimize anything that drained me, even other people’s wants or needs. It was a little odd swinging from hanging out at Hacklab and having deep conversations with friends in the first half of the year to hermit mode (even from friends and family) in the second half of the year, but I’ve loved the quiet and freedom of this little world of ours. I might gradually reach out more someday, especially as I learn to push back when I need to, and as I slowly regain that appreciation for other people’s interestingness. In the meantime, W- has been wonderfully supportive, and it’s been great to have the slack from our earlier preparations.

Despite this pulling-inward, there was also plenty of expansion this year. In sewing, I broke past some kind of wall that frustrated me before. I think picking a simple pattern and repeating it has helped me turn sewing into a relaxing way to make things I like more than the things I could buy. I learned how to laser-cut fabric, which was a fun way of adding even more geekiness to our everyday life. I swapped out my wardrobe for home-made things, often from fabric from the thrift store.

In terms of technical skills, I’ve gotten deeper into Javascript, NodeJS, and Emacs Lisp. I participated in two hackathons. My team’s meeting visualization won third place at one hackathon, and my library search results visualization hack won at the other. I’ve also switched back to Linux as my main OS, keeping Windows around for Quickbooks and other business-related programs. It’s fun being able to script all sorts of stuff again. The Emacs conference in August was a lot of fun, and I’m glad people figured out an excellent way to support both in-person and virtual participation – not just attendees, but even impromptu presenters.

I’ve been doing 1 to 1.5 days a week of consulting, gradually moving more of my tasks to other people in the team. I think I’ve been able to let go of more of my anxiety about this 5-year experiment; things seem to be working out nicely, so I don’t feel as worried about working on some grand plan or getting externally-validated stuff done. Instead, I’ve been focusing on working my own things, getting things ready for the next stage with plenty of personal projects and DIY skills, taking it easy when I need to. (We tiled part of the basement floor ourselves!)

I figure that this fuzzy-brain state might be a new normal, so it makes sense to figure out how I can make the most of it instead of being frustrated by it. That’s why I’ve been working on simplifying life, streamlining routines, automating what I can, and making checklists or documenting processes for things I need to do by hand. On the plus side, my internal observer makes the fuzziness more manageable, and I’ve been making my peace with the idea of growing slowly outwards from a small life.

Speaking of small chunks, I developed the habit of drawing index cards almost every day. Well, I eventually switched over to digital equivalents of index cards, since that was a lot of paper. It turns out that an index card has roughly the information density I can deal with on my tablet PC’s screen without zooming in. In addition to drawing a daily journal, I occasionally explore thoughts and chunk them up into larger blog posts. Drawing-wise, I tend to settle into a very simple and spare style, although maybe I should pay more attention to colour and other niceties. Despite their simplicity, the index cards have been handy for remembering little things about each day and building up thoughts over time.

Here’s how the time worked out:

Category 2014 % 2015 % Diff h/wk Diff in h/wk
Discretionary – Play 4.9 9.4 4.5 15.8 7.5
Personal 14.6 16.6 2.0 27.9 3.3
Sleep 36.9 38.0 1.1 63.8 1.9
Discretionary – Productive 7.8 9.0 1.1 15.1 1.9
Unpaid work 7.0 7.7 0.7 12.9 1.2
Discretionary – Family 4.0 4.0 0.0 6.7 0.1
Discretionary – Social 1.2 0.8 -0.4 1.3 -0.6
Business – Build 7.0 5.7 -1.3 9.6 -2.2
Business – Connect 4.2 2.4 -1.8 4.0 -3.1
Business – Earn 12.4 6.5 -5.9 10.9 -9.9

A lot more video gaming, as I mentioned: getting through the fuzziest of times by playing on my own, and then settling down into a habit of 1-2 hours in the evening with W-. I’m a little surprised that sleep increased by only two hours a week. It felt like longer. Then again, an average of 9.1 hours a day is definitely up from the 8.3 hours of a few years back. More time on personal projects, more time on personal care, and a little more time on cooking and things like that.

2016-01-02f Life these days -- index card #life #routines

Financially, the stock markets have been pretty low, and my home country bias wasn’t particularly helpful. I’ve continued saving and investing, since that’s what you do when the stocks go on sale like this. My expenses were a smidge over my projected ones – mostly sewing, Hacklab, and a few miscellaneous expenses – but still manageable and well worth it. The experiment is on track and working well.

I have no idea what next year will be like, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the skills and processes we’ve been building up will pay off. I plan to do even less consulting, and to explore more DIY skills and more awesomeness around the house. I’d like to continue contributing to the Emacs community, and maybe keep my technical skills sharp with more automation and scripting too. I’d love to continue drawing those index cards and gradually get back into the swing of sharing more notes. We’ll see how things work out!

2015-12-28d Imagining 2016 -- index card #planning

Previous reviews:

Monthly reviews

Year in review: 2013

I was half-tempted not to write this. Many people are coming out with their annual reviews and the usual flood of New Years Resolutions – why add another? I do another yearly review around my birthday anyway, which is a milestone that makes more sense to me. Someday I’ll figure out whether it makes sense to do multiple yearly reviews or just keep one, but in the meantime, I might as well. =) Besides, it’s easier to make a summary while you still remember.

Click on the image for a larger version:

2014-01-01 2013 in review

At the beginning of the year, I focused on consulting and sketchnoting. It was a lot of fun sketching different events. Then I experimented with focusing on my own content. That turned out to be lots of fun, so I shifted towards doing more of that while keeping consulting. Our month-long trip to the Philippines was a lot of fun too. It was great to spend all that time with family and friends.

By the numbers:


Hmm… My routines don’t change much, aside from the swapping between business and discretionary time. That’s great! It means I can plan for roughly 8.5 – 9 hours of sleep a night and roughly 10 – 10.5 hours of time each day that I can use for business or discretionary activities, or almost 72 hours a week. Somehow it balances out almost perfectly evenly over the long run.

The most popular blog posts I published in 2013 were almost all related to Emacs, except for two visual posts and another tech post:

  1. How to Learn Emacs: A Hand-drawn One-pager for Beginners / A visual tutorial
  2. How to present using Org-mode in Emacs
  3. Emacs Conference 2013 Sketchnotes (also, PDF!)
  4. How to learn Emacs keyboard shortcuts (a visual tutorial for newbies)
  5. Emacs: How I organize my Org files
  6. Sketchnotes: Building my visual vocabulary
  7. Visual book review: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast (Josh Kaufman)
  8. How I use Emacs Org Mode for my weekly reviews
  9. Disabling touch on Windows 8 on a Lenovo X220 tablet
  10. Emacs Chat: Carsten Dominik

Overall, there were 210k unique visitors over the year, and more than half a million page views… Boggle. Although the tech-related posts are the most popular on my blog, I like writing about a variety of topics, so I’m going to let my curiosity take us where it will.

If you’re curious, here’s last year’s summary:

I thought I’d focus on regular exercise, healthy eating, business growth, great relationships, and continued happiness. Yay to all of the above! And onward…

Next year, I want to work on a smooth transition for my consulting project, and do even more drawing and writing on my own. I’m looking forward to sharing tips, answering questions, and learning from other people. Google Helpouts, podcasts, online hangouts, blog comments, and e-mail will help me collect questions and come up with thoughts, and I’ll draw and write and record what I’m learning along the way. Here we go!

Quantified Awesome: Adding calendar heatmaps to categories

It’s amazing how little tweaks give you a whole new sense of the data. I’ve been using Cal-HeatMap to look at my blogging history. I figured I’d build it into Quantified Awesome to make it even easier to analyze how I spend my time. 1.9 hours later, here’s what I have. All totals are reported for the past 12-month period by default (as of this writing, July 19 2012 to July 19 2013, including the day’s activities), but it adjusts depending on the filter settings.

Here’s me working on the Quantified Awesome system:


Instead of just a table of log entries or a summary of numbers, I can see the gaps and sprints in my activity.

Here’s the one for Discretionary – Productive:


Pretty consistent, actually.

and Discretionary – Play:


February must’ve been when I had a new video game to tinker around with. Plenty of opportunities to relax.

Here’s my Business – Earn graph:


and Business – Build:


I’ve been biking pretty regularly, mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays…


In contrast, I take the subway only if it’s winter or really rainy, if I’m going somewhere far or steeply uphill, or if my bike is flat (as it was yesterday).


Neato. I should definitely do this for groceries too, now that I’ve loaded my grocery receipts into Quantified Awesome! (No public link yet for that data, sorry. =) ) I also want to figure out how to speed things up enough so that I can do quartile analysis and then use that to colour the scale…

Calendar heatmaps for the win!

Year in review: 2012

I’d sketch this, but Adobe Illustrator CS6 keeps crashing on me and I’m tired of fighting with my computer today. Next time!

This year was about experiments. After building up my “opportunity fund,” I turned over my projects at IBM and left to start a 5-year experiment exploring what you can learn and build if you have the time and space to do so. I want to learn how to build businesses, and I want to share what I’m learning along the way.

Here’s how the year went!

January: Set things in motion for my next experiment by sending in my notice at IBM. Mapped out what I had learned. Started transitioning projects. Favourite post: Getting ready for my next experiment.

February: Made the leap! Set up a business mailbox, incorporated, and registered for HST. Favourite post: Thinking about how to experiment with business and what I might want to do

March: My first full month as a business owner! I immediately had consulting clients, which helped me hit the ground running. I drew a lot, too. (Monthly review) Favourite post: What I want from visual notetaking; imagining wild success

April: It was a lot of fun enjoying the benefits of a flexible schedule, paricularly in terms of biking. I also spent some time building my writing and drawing skills. (Monthly review)Favourite post: Why I’m temporarily unhireable

May: More client work than I expected! Sketched lots of presentations and events, too. Biked all month. Switched from community-supported agriculture to buying our own vegetables again. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Thinking about the next mini-experiment

June: Experimented with digital self-publishing by putting together a PDF of my favourite blog posts over the past ten years. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Experiment! Stories from My Twenties PDF

July: Lots of gardening and biking. Bought an Android tablet. Went strawberry-picking with the Hattoris! (Monthly review) Favourite post: Trusting myself with making time

August: Celebrated my 29th birthday! Bought a new phone, switched to a data plan. Hosted a get-together. Wrapped up consulting in preparation for a temporary break. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Thinking about what wild success at 29 looks like

September: Went to Palo Alto for the Quantified Self conference. Spent time with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. Went to Disneyland with them! (Monthly review) Favourite post: Weekly review: Week ending September 21, 2012

October: Back to consulting. September 30 was my fiscal year end, so I spent time figuring out my books and filing taxes. Lots and lots of sketchnotes from conferences, too. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Celebrating my fiscal year end; planning how to improve

November: Gave another presentation. Started helping out with Awesome Foundation Toronto. More sketchnotes from conferences and events! (Monthly review) Favourite post: Made my largest sketchnote ever! Painting the MaRS Lean Startup Day banner

December: Took another break from consulting in order to focus on building the business. Worked on laying the groundwork for marketing and sales. Came up with a name for my company: Experivis! Favourite post: Imagining sketchnotes as a business


I want to really dig into this idea of building conference/presentation sketchnotes as a business. It’s a good way to learn sales and marketing skills.

Life-wise, I’m looking forward to making exercise part of my routines, and to spending more time with W-. The biggest thing I have to learn, I think, is to keep moving forward even though the temptation is to get stuck in limbo; to somehow have a multiplicity of plans layered onto different possibilities, and to keep myself fueled and excited by them.

Buying time: Experimenting with scheduling

One of my business validation experiments has suddenly kicked into high gear. People love the sketchnotes I’ve been taking. Since they’re interested in illustration and event coverage, I’m happy to take advantage of that opportunity to learn more about business. I want to see where we can take this. In addition, I want to connect with way more people and find out how I can help them.

I’ve been investing more time into delegation as a way to buy time and share opportunities. One of the small processes I’d like to delegate is scheduling, which can be quite stressful for me. I often review my mail on the subway, and it’s difficult for me to look up locations or refer to notes. I worry about time zones and missed connections, so I want to make sure that there are calendar entries at the right time, with the right people, and with backup contact information. As I dig deeper into validating business ideas and connecting with people, I’ll be trying to set up appointments with so many people that I’d worry about dropping the ball, not getting back to people, or not following up in case people haven’t gotten back to me.

Software tools such as ScheduleOnce aren’t quite there yet in terms of completely handling the scheduling process. I want to be able to delegate appointment-setting to someone who can arrange times, suggest venues, make sure important information is included in the event description, and follow up as needed.

One of my friends was open to the idea of working as my virtual assistant, so I set her up on oDesk and gave her access to my accounts. It’s good to know people you can trust with your Google account. While you can delegate without giving full mail and calendar access, some things are just easier when people can find what they need. I did set up a separate email account for her so that she wouldn’t have to clutter her personal mail with all the requests.

Even though we’re just starting out, it’s such a relief to be able to forward her mail and know that she’s going to keep track of things. We’re not quite at a smoothly running process yet, but maybe we’ll get there in the next few weeks. I’d love to get to the point where I have a few keyboard shortcuts for templates that explain what’s going to happen (including details she’ll need in order to plan), and she’ll follow up and make it happen. I’d also like to be able to keep track of the people that we’re trying to reach and where we are in the process. She’s been busy catching up with other work this week, but I hope that as her coursework settles down and we work out the kinks in the process, things will run even more smoothly.

I’m also experimenting with automated ways to make it easier to arrange times. ScheduleOnce seems to be the most promising of the bunch. Doodle often gets timezones quietly wrong, and Tungle is just about to close its doors. I’m not completely sold on ScheduleOnce, but people seem to have the fewest problems scheduling with it. There’s so much more to setting appointments, though.

If we’ve got a lunch, coffee, or call coming up in the next month or so, I appreciate your patience as we experiment with the scheduling process!