February 2014

Weekly review: Week ending January 31, 2014

February 1, 2014 - Categories: weekly

It was a good week for reflection, learning, and working on my own things.

Blog posts



  1. 2014.01.27 Current curiosities
  2. 2014.01.27 Finding tasks to delegate
  3. 2014.01.27 How can I improve my animation workflow
  4. 2014.01.27 How can I improve my book-reading workflow
  5. 2014.01.27 More thoughts on drawing on paper versus computer
  6. 2014.01.27 Self-directed learning flow
  7. 2014.01.28 Book – Decode and Conquer – Lewis Lin
  8. 2014.01.28 Delegation and helping people build their skills
  9. 2014.01.28 Delegation and helping people learn
  10. 2014.01.28 Helpers Help Out plans
  11. 2014.01.28 Moving past learning
  12. 2014.01.28 Reflective learning
  13. 2014.01.28 Translating my curiosity into actions and experiments TODO
  14. 2014.01.28 Understanding coaching in my life
  15. 2014.01.28 What do I get out of delegation
  16. 2014.01.29 Reflecting on visual book notes
  17. 2014.01.29 Spice combinations
  18. 2014.01.29 Translating what I learn
  19. 2014.01.30 Confederates
  20. 2014.01.30 Inspiring people to learn Emacs
  21. 2014.01.30 On packaging and publishing
  22. 2014.01.30 Publishing – what's in my way, and how do I get past it
  23. 2014.01.30 Small steps towards publishing
  24. 2014.01.30 Thinking about my path to packaging and publishing
  25. 2014.01.30 Time to upgrade our Internet plan
  26. 2014.01.31 Getting good ideas out of your head – a path to publishing

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (47.5h – 28%)
    • Earn (13.5h – 28% of Business)
      • [X] E2: Draw TODOs for script 3
      • [X] E2: Resync trailer for script 1
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Deposit cheque
      • [ ] Work on prototype for conversation
      • [ ] E2: Animate script 3
      • [ ] E2: Send new script 1 and trailer
      • [ ] E2: Slow down script 2
    • Build (25.7h – 54% of Business)
      • [X] Build: Fill pipeline with other delegatable tasks
      • [X] Build: Rethink website design (esp. responsiveness)
      • [X] Replace sidebar mailing list subscription
      • [X] Tweak performance on server
      • [ ] Document process for setting up a public conversation
      • [ ] Plan and record a video for busting blogging excuses
      • Drawing (17.6h)
      • Paperwork (1.0h)
    • Connect (8.3h – 17% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Chat about blogging
      • [X] Connect: Handle lots of Helpouts
      • [X] Connect: Talk to Ramon regarding coaching
      • [X] Connect: Write blog post re: computer, asking
      • [X] Connect: Talk to Paul about publishing
      • [ ] Connect: Chat about Free Geek Toronto
      • [ ] Connect: Chat with Google regarding Helpouts and Hangouts
      • [ ] Connect: Chat with Mel about self-directed learning
  • Relationships (2.5h – 1%)
    • [X] Chat with Mel
    • [ ] Attend party at Beatrice
  • Discretionary – Productive (13.6h – 8%)
    • [X] Listen to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
    • [X] Reflect on life without deadlines
    • Writing (8.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (5.3h – 3%)
  • Personal routines (23.7h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (16.5h – 9%)
  • Sleep (60.4h – 35% – average of 8.6 per day)

Stepping up to publishing

February 3, 2014 - Categories: sharing, writing
Number of sketches in blog posts

Number of sketches in blog posts

A nifty thing about experiments is that you can often see their impact when you review, even if the changes are less visible day to day. For example, I’ve resolved to be my own client and spend less time consulting, more time writing–and to be more selfish about my writing (that is, to give myself even more permission to write about personal reflections while figuring things out). It’s been a little over a week since then, and I noticed something interesting. I’ve drawn roughly the same number of sketches, but the difference is that I’ve been digging deeper into my questions over a series of sketches instead of scattering my sketches over a wide range of topics. That makes it easier to write a blog post that ties together different questions. To be fair, there’s a large set from last week that I haven’t written up, but I like this workflow so far.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to move towards writing things that are useful for both me and others. Ramon Williamson and Paul Kripp nudged me to think more about packaging and publishing my notes – creating an interface for what I know. Since I have a large archive and perhaps an idiosyncratic way of describing things, searching for tips can be difficult. A good way to find things is to ask me: blog comments, e-mail, real-time conversations (free or paid). If I take the time to organize what I know–to draw those paths through the material, and to translate/update reflections into tips–people will find it easier to learn. It takes work and it seems like a distraction from going ever onward, but doing this allows me to help people learn faster, so then we can all get to the more interesting questions.

I was thinking about whom I get to talk to because of this writing and sharing. A lot of people come to this blog because they’re searching for something specific: Emacs tips, for example. A surprising number of people explore more and stick around, because it turns out we have a lot of common interests or they like what I share. I know what this feels like – I love coming across blogs I resonate with too. These people are my tribe. (Well, sans tribal leader; I think of us more as peers. =) ) A few people become part of my life as confederates: I know what they’re interested in and I’m comfortable reaching out to them if I’m trying to figure something out. Different kinds of sharing reach different kinds of people. I don’t expect casual readers to read through one of my long reflections. I can serve them best with tightly-focused tips.

2014-01-29 Translating what I learn

2014-01-29 Translating what I learn

How can I make it easier for people to come closer and take advantage of what I’m learning? For searchers, I think it’s important to make talking to me less intimidating. I like questions. Writing clear tips and arranging resources into maps or sequences can help, too.

For people who would like to be tribe members, making subscription easier might help. I’m switching over to using Mailchimp so that people can set up daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly subscriptions, and I’ve written about using feed readers. If you want to subscribe to a subset of my blog (for example, just learning tips), e-mail me and I’ll help you figure that out. =) More importantly, though, I can build relationships with people by offering and asking for help.

As for confederates, I find that a lot of these conversations evolve out of the questions I post and the feedback I share after applying people’s advice. I can ask more questions and get better at learning from people. I can also pay more attention and learn more about people’s interests: checking out their tweets or blog posts, following them for the serendipity of overheard conversations.

2014-01-29 Building people's capacities

2014-01-29 Building people’s capacities

One of the reasons to publish is to reach an audience that might not even know that this could be useful for them. I feel like this about a lot of books – I hadn’t thought of looking for the information, but I’m glad I came across it. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before you can get to that level of reach, though. I don’t think I’d ever be up for a book tour. I like being home. =) I suspect that a very wide reach might be more hassle than it’s worth, but that might just be anxiety talking, and Stoicism might help me get past that.

2014-01-29 Calibrating the right level of reach or obscurity

2014-01-29 Calibrating the right level of reach or obscurity

So really, what are my excuses for not having packaged and published more? When it comes down to it, I really don’t have a good excuse. Yes, it’s tempting to keep pushing on to new topics, new ideas, new experiments. But if I skip the sharing part – or do it in a superficial manner, sharing my reflections without integrating it further – then I shortchange myself. As SketchyMuslims indirectly reminded me by quoting me:

The time I take to share what I learn is the most valuable part of my learning process.

The learning machine: How I turn what I learn into blog posts (me – September 2013!)

It’s not enough for me to turn my reflections into blog posts. I need to work on them again and turn them into insights that I can share with people. Maybe I’ll use the “reflection” tag to indicate stuff I’m mostly writing for myself (although other people can chime in, of course) and the “tips” tag to indicate stuff I’m writing mostly for other people. That turns it into something trackable. For example, this is very much a me-thinking-out-loud sort of post.

2014-01-30 Publishing - what's in my way, and how do I get past it

2014-01-30 Publishing – what’s in my way, and how do I get past it

One way that I like dealing with my excuses is to convince myself of the selfish benefits of doing something. In this case: Yes, books are good for helping people learn. They are good for serendipitous learning. They’re better at surviving than blogs are. More than that, books let people physically interact with ideas – to highlight, add notes, dogear, pass on to others… I’d love to eventually learn how to build these resources to help people learn, so why not sooner rather than later?

2014-01-30 On packaging and publishing

2014-01-30 On packaging and publishing

Besides, I can get a lot of benefits out of putting together books. The immediate benefit is that I can save time explaining things, since I can set people on a path that guides them for the most part. The secondary benefit is that I learn more deeply by revisiting the topics and organizing them into paths. The tertiary benefit (and the most awesome one!) is that I can help people learn faster, catch up faster, so that we all get to the point of asking more interesting questions. If I can help people learn more, I can learn more from them. And there’s the totally awesome feeling that Paul Klipp shared with me: that of getting a physical copy of your ideas into your hands! (I should definitely check out CreateSpace.)

2014-01-30 Thinking about my path to packaging and publishing

2014-01-30 Thinking about my path to packaging and publishing

The path is straightforward, and there really aren’t any barriers in my way. It’s all about butt-in-chair time: devoting some time to reviewing, revising, organizing, packaging. Well, there are some things that can help.

  • Questions! Questions are awesome because they help me figure out what people might find useful, what sequence might be good, and what’s missing. Ask me questions. Comments, Twitter, Google+, e-mail, Helpouts… Don’t worry about asking questions about things I’ve already covered before – in fact, please ask, so that I can make those things more findable and understandable.
  • Confederates and tribe members! I learn a ton by talking to people who are actively trying to figure things out too. =)

That’s how you can help. As for me, there are lots of little things I can do every day to move things forward.

2014-01-30 Small steps towards publishing

2014-01-30 Small steps towards publishing

The goal: More coherent, logically ordered, clearly written, other-focused chunks (maybe 15-30 pages?) that people can read at their convenience.  Let’s make it happen!

A no-excuses guide to blogging

February 4, 2014 - Categories: blogging, sharing, writing

UPDATE 2014-02-05: Download the PDF/EPUB/MOBI: A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging (free, pay what you want)

What’s getting in your way when it comes to writing?

2014-01-31 Getting good ideas out of your head - a path to publishing

2014-01-31 Getting good ideas out of your head – a path to publishing

Here are even more excuses, and some tips for dealing with them. =)

Excuse: “I don’t know what to write about.”
Write about what you don’t know.
Pay attention to what you’re learning.
Figure out what you think.
Ask for feedback.
Deal with writer’s block
Find tons of topics
Excuse: “There’s so much I can’t write about.”
Focus on what you can’t help but sharing.
Excuse: “But I’m not an expert yet!”
Share while you learn
Excuse: “I don’t want to be wrong.”
Test what you know by sharing
Excuse: “I feel so scattered and distracted.”
Don’t worry about your strategy
It’s okay to write about different things
Plan, organize, write, improve
Excuse: “I have all these ideas, but I never finish posts…”
Turn your ideas into small questions, then answer those.
Excuse: “I don’t feel like I’m making progress towards my goals.”
Be clear about your goals and possible approaches.
Excuse: “It takes too much time to write.”
Make sharing part of the way you work.
Excuse: “I’m too tired to write.”
Figure out what you can write better when you’re tired.
Excuse: “No one’s going to read it anyway.”
Focus on selfish benefits.
Get other people to read your posts.

See also other tips for new bloggers, and other posts related to blogging and writing. (Plus this list of WordPress plugins I use, if you’re curious about tech!)

Feel free to comment or email with more excuses and tips!

How to develop your ideas into blog posts

February 5, 2014 - Categories: blogging, sharing, writing
This entry is part 13 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Do you find it easy to come up with lots of ideas for blog posts, but then find it difficult to sit down and actually write them–or spend hours drafting, only to decide that it’s not quite ready for posting?

I know what that’s like. On the subway, I jot a few notes for a post I want to write. At home, I add more ideas to my outline. Sometimes when I look at those notes, I think, “What on earth is this about?” Other times, I write a paragraph or two, and then my attention wanders. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot better at getting posts out there. I still have more ideas than I can write, but at least a few of them make it into my blog! Here’s what works for me, and I hope it works for you too.

Capture your ideas. Write them down somewhere: a text file, an Evernote notebook, a piece of paper, whatever fits the way you work. You don’t have to write everything down, but it helps to have a list of ideas when you sit down to write. I use Evernote to take quick notes on my phone, and I use Org Mode for Emacs for my outline.

“Oh no! Now I have this huge list of unfinished ideas!” Don’t be intimidated. Think of it like a buffet – you can choose what you want, but it doesn’t mean that you have to finish everything.

Pick one idea and turn it into a question. Pick the idea that you’re most curious about, perhaps, or something that you’re learning. Turn it into a question so that you have a focus for your writing and you know when you’ve answered it. Questions help you keep both your perspective and your reader’s perspective in mind. Remembering your question will help you bring your focus back to it if your attention wanders. Remembering your readers’ potential question will help you empathize with them and write for them.

Break that question down into smaller questions until you can actually answer it in one sitting. For example: “How can you blog more?” is too big a question. In this post, I want to focus on just “How do you get past having lots of ideas that you don’t turn into blog posts?” Make the question as small as you can. You can always write another blog post answering the next question, and the next, and the next.

When you find yourself getting stuck, wrap up there. That probably means that your question was too big to begin with. Break it down even further. Figure out the question that your blog post answers, and revise your post a little so that it makes sense. Post. You can follow up with a better answer later. You can build on your past posts. Don’t wait until it’s complete. Post along the way.

I often run into this problem while writing technical posts. I start with “How do you do ABC?”… and get stuck halfway because of a bug or something I don’t understand. Then I turn my post into “Trouble-shooting XYZ” with my rough notes of how I’m figuring things out. I’d rather have written a complete guide, of course, but mistakes and false starts and rough notes are also useful in themselves.

Don’t think that you have to know everything and write everything perfectly the first time around. In fact, blogging can be more interesting and more useful when you do it as part of your journey.

Perfectionist? Take a close look at that anxiety. See if you can figure out what the root of that is. Is it useful for you, or is it getting in your way? There’s an advantage to being outwardly polished, yes, but there’s also an advantage to learning quickly and building relationships. One of the tips I picked up from the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Heath and Heath, 2013) was the idea of testing the stakes. Make a few small, deliberate mistakes. Ooch your way to better confidence. (See page 138 if you want more details.)

Tell me if this helps, or if you’re still getting stuck. More blogging excuse-busters here!

Thinking about the systems I can put into place to scale up sharing

February 6, 2014 - Categories: delegation

I waffle about whether I should scale back consulting and focus on making my own things, or if I should keep on consulting because the team clearly needs my help. Mostly I lean towards doing my own thing. Life is short. Although you can buy someone else’s time, you can’t actually buy yours. But actually it would be good for me to learn how to build processes and systems that will do the work that I want to do even if I don’t always have large blocks of good focused time. The time commitments of consulting and the mental distraction of other projects are great constraints to learn how to work around.

I want to figure out how to make sure that the things I would work on during core time still happen even if I’m not focused on them. Mostly I want to get better at packaging what I know, learning more from people, and learning more on my own. I’m really happy with the virtual assistant team that I’ve been putting together, and we’re going through my backlog of tasks at a steady clip. As I get used to delegation, I’m sure I’ll figure out a coherent process for pulling it all together, making sure that none of the effort is wasted because of my inattention.

2014-02-04 What systems do I need to put into place to do awesome

2014-02-04 What systems do I need to put into place to do awesome

What would wild success look like? I imagine that even if I spend some of the time thinking about other people’s work, I’d have enough notes and background processes that I could pick things up again easily when I come back to focus on my own work. It would be amazing to get that packaging and publishing process all sorted out, and the podcasting process too. For example, I might answer someone’s question in email or a Google Helpout. If I can capture that and send it through the process, maybe I’ll get a nicely formatted other-people-focused blog post at the end of it. Likewise, I might start with a series of sketches reflecting on a question I’m curious about. I can record a short video segment talking my way through the sketches, and then someone else could take that reflection, write it up as a blog post, and then translate it into tips that are useful for other people–another blog post.

2014-02-04 Thinking about idea development and possible blogging flow

2014-02-04 Thinking about idea development and possible blogging flow

I don’t want to delegate the core parts of sharing, but there are lots of non-unique things that I can gradually chip away through delegation or automation. If I can set up those systems to make it easier for me to get stuff out of my head and into multiple forms that other people can use easily, I think that might be worth the investment of time and money. Who knows? Maybe other people will find the processes useful too.

2014-02-02 A path for learning to delegate or outsource

2014-02-02 A path for learning to delegate or outsource

If you’ve been reading about my experiments in delegation and you’re curious about joining me on this adventure, maybe the path I’ve sketched above can help you get started. There are lots of small, well-defined tasks that you can easily outsource on micro-outsourcing sites like Fiverr.com. When you’re comfortable doing that, you might want to find an agency so that you can assign a number of tasks without having to hire specific people each time, and you might even move up to having your own assistant or team. I’d love to help you get to the point where you’re experimenting with it yourself. Then I can learn interesting things from the way you delegate and the processes that you have. Leave a comment with your questions or thoughts, or e-mail me at [email protected] .

Reflecting on wild success

February 7, 2014 - Categories: life, review

While cleaning out my blog drafts (150+ had accumulated over the years), I came across a post that I had started writing in February 2009. Part of the draft had been incorporated into this imagination of wild success, but the draft had more details I had never gotten around to posting. It’s been almost five years since then, so I thought I’d dust it off and see what had happened.

What would wild success look like? Thinking about this helps me figure out where I want to go and how I want to get there. The picture is still fuzzy and I know it’ll change over time, but it’s interesting to see what’s in it and what isn’t.

Here’s what a day in my future wildly successful life could look like:

Life is fantastic. I’m happy, I’m making a difference doing something I love doing, and I smile every day. I wake up at 5:00am to kisses, cats, music, light, and colors. I exercise a little in the morning, to help me wake up and get the day off to an energetic start. I have a delicious and healthy breakfast with loved ones – fresh fruits in season, steel-cut oats, fluffy pancakes, or other favorites. Then I clear the kitchen table, do my morning planning, and work on some fun, creative things: brainstorming, writing blog posts and articles, and developing prototypes and systems. I snack on nearby fruits and nuts throughout the morning. I may launch a new information product before lunch, or at least once a week. The payments start rolling in.

As it turns out, 5 AM is much too early for me. 8 AM is more reasonable. Yes to kisses and cats (technically, cat – only Neko is allowed in the bedroom). Reading this reminded me that I should set my alarm to some music instead of the chime that I set during my last system restore. Lights and colours are accomplished with bedside lamp and smartphone. I don’t bother with exercise unless I really need to wake up fast; with enough sleep, I usually wake up well-rested. Our breakfast routines have settled into plain rice and fried egg, occasionally with beef tapa; sometimes oatmeal or congee if we make a large batch. I work on the kitchen table because I like the sunlight, although I also like using the desk I’ve set up downstairs. I decided against the information-product route, at least for now; I’d rather learn, explore, and share for free.

We have a light and yummy lunch: leftover pasta, salad, soup, or something like that. Then I work on more routine tasks: testing code, editing and formatting documents, answering mail, following up with people. I also check on the status of my delegated tasks, and things are going well. Towards the end of the day, I wind down by doing chores. Sometimes we take a walk to pick up new books or groceries. We exercise, make dinner, and take care of other things. I spend some time connecting with others socially, too – writing on my blog, connecting with people online, calling people. The day ends on a happy and thankful note.

Routine tasks get deferred to low-energy time at some point during the week, now that I’ve learned to be less guilty about my inbox. Things are going well with delegation. =) Chores continue to be a great way to wind down, although I tend to do library walk after lunch so that I can get some exercise and sunlight. I’ve decided to not bother with making phone calls, although I’ll dip into social networks at the beginning and end of my day. Google Helpouts has become an interesting way to schedule interaction, too.

The income from investments covers my basic expenses, freeing me up to work on information products and experiment with things I’m interested in. I’ve figured out how to create and capture lots of value using the Internet, and I enjoy making little experiments and creating value. The money from that goes into my “retirement” fund (which is really just about freeing up even more of my time to work on larger projects), and into a few luxuries. Our lifestyles remain simple, and our expenses are minimal.

I crunched the numbers for last year, and I was surprised to find that my (theoretical) capital gains exceeded my expenses by a healthy margin. Yay! This and other things mean I can experiment with giving what I know away for free / pay what you want, which results in much less friction and much more happiness (at least for me). =) Our lifestyle is pretty much the same as it was in 2009, except that I buy a slightly wider range of groceries and I occasionally buy tools.

I visit the Philippines at least once a year, and I sometimes stay there for a while so that I can hang out with friends and try different experiences. When my friends are busy working, I work remotely, creating more things and trying things out.

It works out to every other year or so. Last time, we stayed for a month, which was much more awesome than staying for just two weeks. =)

I regularly give presentations to companies, universities, and other groups, and I have a good workflow for putting those online and helping people learn from them. I help organize virtual and in-person events, bringing people together for great conversations. I experiment with ideas for helping people connect and collaborate. Sometimes I coach people, too.

Semi. Writing and drawing is much more fun than giving presentations, and I have a good workflow for putting my sketches online. I help organize a couple of meetups in Toronto, and I’m getting pretty comfortable setting up online conversations. And yes, I’m experimenting with helping people connect through Google Helpouts, and a lot of those conversations look like coaching. Funny how that works out…

I enjoy playing some favorite tunes on the piano, drawing diagrams and pictures, and writing about life and technology. I enjoy sewing, and my wardrobe is full of clothes that make me feel happy and creative.

Nope on the piano and the sewing, but yep on the drawing and writing. My wardrobe is pretty much the same it was back then (aside from the addition of a few tech-fabric shirts and pants). It’s better-tracked, though! <laugh>

It’s amusing to unearth old notes and reflect on how things actually worked out, and how my tastes haven’t changed much over the years. What I’d sketched lines up closely with how I live, but that’s because my wants are small. I knew back then that I would probably do an experiment like this, and that helped me save for it. Here I am, learning things I hadn’t even put on my list. =) What will the next five years be like? I’m not sure yet. If it’s more of the same, that will be awesome; and if it’s different, I’m sure it will be awesome too.

HHO008: The Art of Copywriting (for Google Helpouts)

February 7, 2014 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

Helpers Help Out Show #8: The Art of Copywriting with Ramon Williamson

This is a weekly live podcast with tips for Google Helpouts providers. Join us at http://helpershelpout.com/live at the time of the show for streaming and Q&A!

Sketchnote page 1:

2014-02-08 Helpers Help Out 008 - Copywriting with Ramon Williamson page 1

Sketchnote page 2:

2014-02-08 Helpers Help Out 008 - Copywriting with Ramon Williamson page 2

Sketchnote page 3:

2014-02-08 Helpers Help Out 008 - Copywriting with Ramon Williamson - page 3


Weekly review: Week ending February 7, 2014

February 8, 2014 - Categories: weekly


Hmm. Way fewer sketches this week because I was focusing on packaging and delegation. Good work getting http://sachachua.com/no-excuses-blogging (PDF, EPUB, MOBI) out the door, though. Also, I was concentrating on planning my life. =) Now that the general direction is mostly sorted out, let’s get going!

Blog posts


  1. 2014.02.02 A path for learning to delegate or outsource
  2. 2014.02.02 Imagining a useful member’s area
  3. 2014.02.02 Learning on your own
  4. 2014.02.03 How to learn from business books
  5. 2014.02.04 How to create your own exercises for deliberate practice during self-directed learning
  6. 2014.02.04 Improving the way I delegate
  7. 2014.02.04 Thinking about idea development and possible blogging flow
  8. 2014.02.04 What systems do I need to put into place to do awesome
  9. 2014.02.05 Delegation and drawings – where does it make sense
  10. 2014.02.05 Notes on publishing
  11. 2014.02.06 What other excuses can I collect and work around
  12. 2014.02.07 Adjusting the balance
  13. 2014.02.07 Low-hanging fruit
  14. 2014.02.07 What are my motivations for questions

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (55.7h – 33%)
    • Earn (28.6h – 51% of Business)
      • [X] E1: Work on prototype for conversation
      • [X] E1: Add image links
      • [X] E2: Animate script 3
      • [X] E2: Send new script 1 and trailer
      • [X] E2: Slow down script 2
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Deposit cheque
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (20.5h – 36% of Business)
      • Delegation
        • [X] Build: Document post-podcast process
        • [X] Hire writers
        • [X] Delegate making my website more responsive
        • [ ] Document process for setting up a public conversation
      • Content
      • Packaging
        • [X] Compile blog posts related to busting blogging excuses
        • [ ] Plan and record a video for busting blogging excuses
        • [ ] Explore membership plugins / course plugins
      • Other
        • [X] Build: Tweak performance on server
        • [X] Build: File payroll return
    • Connect (6.7h – 11% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Chat about Free Geek Toronto
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Google regarding Helpouts and Hangouts
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Mel about self-directed learning
      • [ ] Connect: Chat with Naomi Fein about delegation and sketchnoting
  • Relationships (6.5h – 3%)
    • [X] Attend party at Beatrice
    • [X] Have Maira over (Sunday)
    • [ ] Work on project with W-
  • Discretionary – Productive (1.7h – 0%)
    • Writing (0.6h)
  • Discretionary – Play (0.0h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (18.8h – 11%)
  • Unpaid work (14.1h – 8%)
  • Sleep (71.3h – 42% – average of 10.2 per day) (!) Oh right, it was because I was sorting out some stuff in my head.


More tips for self-directed learning: deliberate practice

February 10, 2014 - Categories: learning, tips

Learning on your own can be really hard. Once you get past the basics, there aren’t that many books or courses about what you’re interested in. It makes sense. It takes effort to make a book or course, and authors and teachers tend to prefer larger markets. As you gain experience, you need more specialized knowledge, and it can be hard to find existing packaged information or people who can give you good feedback. People around you might not know what you’re talking about, and you might not be able to find mentors in the same city. Even figuring out what you want to learn and in what order can be challenging, especially if you’re learning about the intersections of topics instead of just one topic. Here are some tips I’ve picked up for learning on your own:

Look for inspiration. Find people who are doing what you want to be doing. Ask yourself: What do you like about their work? What do they do differently? How can you learn from them? They might never write a book or teach a course–they might not even recognize that what they do is worth teaching others–but you can still learn from their example. You can learn by watching them, and you can even reach out and talk to them.

Review your work. Try to find examples where you’ve already done what you want to do, even if it was by accident. Ask yourself: What did you do well? What did you like about it? What was different? What can you improve on next time? Look for ways to deliberately practise the skills you want to develop.

Make your own maps. If you’re learning about something that doesn’t have a clear outline or curriculum, it’s easy to feel scattered and discouraged. Make your own map. List your questions, and keep track of your progress as you answer them. Figure out what the next steps are. You might be able to ask mentors to help you make a better map. Mentors can tell you if there are easier ways to learn something, or if there are related topics that you would find useful. Make your own curriculum so that you don’t feel lost.

2014-02-02 Learning on your own

2014-02-02 Learning on your own

If you’re learning about things on your own, you’ll probably need to come up with your own ways to practise what you’re learning so that it becomes part of the way you work. Instead of being intimidated by the size of what you want to learn, break it down into smaller skills that you can practise. Look for ways that you or other people have done it well, and plan your own exercises so that you can learn how to do well consistently. Deliberate practice is the key towards building confidence and skill. Think about how you can practise that skill in a way that gives you quick feedback on whether you’re doing it right or wrong. You might be able to check your work on your own, or this might be something a coach or mentor can help you with. Keep track of how you do on these exercises – it’s great to feel your progress.

If you’re having a hard time with the exercise you’ve come up with, break it down into smaller pieces and try working more slowly. Improve your accuracy and consistency before you improve your speed. If you find the exercise too easy, take the next step. Think about the results you’re getting and adjust the way you practice. Good luck!

2014-02-04 How to create your own exercises for deliberate practice during self-directed learning

2014-02-04 How to create your own exercises for deliberate practice during self-directed learning

Reflections on learning to be an entrepreneur

February 11, 2014 - Categories: delegation, entrepreneurship, experiment

The other week, I focused on exploring ideas and becoming my own client. Last week, I focused on the systems I can set up in order to keep on sharing while I’m distracted by work or other needs. The other week felt happier and more self-directed, but on reflection, last week is great for long-term learning and growth as well. I just have to keep tweaking the balance. Some weeks might be more exploratory, and some weeks might be more focused on packaging things and building processes. I’ll probably spend more time on consultinfg going forward than I thought I would two weeks ago, but I can see the benefits of investing the extra income into building up my delegation skills and experimenting with business ideas. (Besides, my clients are nice, and I want to help them do well.)

2014-02-07 Adjusting the balance

2014-02-07 Adjusting the balance

Thinking about this balance reminded me of this conversation that I had with Ramon Williamson, who has been thinking about the differences between artists and entrepreneurs. He’s coming to terms with the fact that he wants to focus on just speaking and coaching, and he doesn’t want to deal with a lot of the other small things that are part of building a business. It’s like the way my dad focused on just photography while my mom took care of running the company. Ramon is looking for someone who can manage him. I think a lot of people are like that, even the ones who have been self-employed for a while. That’s why partnerships often make sense, and why people often struggle with self-employment or self-directed learning.

I think of entrepreneurship as learning how to build processes, then systems, then businesses. It turns out  actually enjoy doing this. I stayed up until 1 AM Sunday morning interviewing an applicant for a writing gig that I posted on oDesk. She seems fine, so I hired her and walked her through what I’m looking for. I’m excited about the possibilities. I briefly thought of agreeing to experiment with managing Ramon and using that as practice for developing my systems, but I’ve committed to doing public work that builds up my life brick by brick. So I’m going to invest in building up my processes and skills, but I’m going to do that with my own content. That will also encourage me to develop my “artist” side: writing, drawing, coding, sharing, and so on.

Does it always have to be a partnership between an artist and an entrepreneur, or can you do a decent job at both? It seems like artists need to partner with entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs with artistic bents can sometimes pull things off on their own. I think it makes sense for me to focus on developing those entrepreneurship-related skills first. It might mean growing slowly as an artist, but I think processes can scale up art so much. For example, becoming really comfortable with delegation will allow me to imagine things that I can’t do on my own. This seems to be something that lots of people struggle with. Most people I talk to have issues with trust, perfectionism, and other barriers. That means that it probably doesn’t take that much effort to get good enough to distinguish yourself, so if I can get to that level, that would speed up my growth even more.

2014-02-08 Artists and entrepreneurs

2014-02-08 Artists and entrepreneurs

People’s interests and skills are unevenly distributed. In some areas, it takes a lot of effort to get good enough. In some areas, a little effort goes a long way. It reminds me a little of how one strategy for playing role-playing games is to be a munchkin: to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses in a way that allows you to exploit the rules of the game. While that can lead to games that aren’t particularly enjoyable (unless you’re playing a game that makes fun of munchkinry), in life, a little of that strategy might be interesting. So, in the areas where I have unfair advantages–and in particular, unusual combinations of unfair advantages–I might be able to recognize opportunities for uncommon contributions.

This enjoyment of building processes and systems is one such unfair advantage. Coding is another, and delegation is almost like a people-version of coding. Frugality lets me take advantage of compounding interest. Reflective learning helps me take advantage of figurative compounding interest, which is enhanced by speed-reading my way through other people’s experiences and insights. Satisficing and optimism allow me to avoid the dangers of perfectionism and make it easier for me to experiment and trust. Self-direction lets me use these advantages to my own ends instead of being limited by someone else’s imagination or by a job description.

2014-02-08 Unfair advantages

2014-02-08 Unfair advantages

It is a handy combination of advantages. You should be out there, Ramon said. Joining the ranks of infopreneurs (many of whom seem to make their money by telling other people how to be infopreneurs). Making things happen. Living the life. I’m a little meh about the idea. I’ll grow at my own rate and at my own time. Plus, I like the free-and-pay-what-you-want model so much more than the buy-my-training-course-for-$X-hundred-dollars. I like the way it engages generosity and acts from abundance, both on my side (here is a gift!) and on other people’s. (Here is some totally optional appreciation! Make more stuff like this.) I’ll either figure out how to make that work, or I’ll eventually come around to setting prices. In the meantime, I can focus on building up those unfair advantages at the same time that I’m building up the things I want to make with them.

For example: delegation. I like framing my work as something that people can flexibly do more or less of, depending on their schedules and energies. It’s the same freedom I have with consulting, and I think it makes it easier for people who work for me as well. So it’s not a fixed “You must work 20 hours a week” thing, but rather, “Here’s a board with all the different tasks waiting for someone to work on them. Pick something you want to work on. You can work more hours on the weeks when you want to, and you can work fewer hours on the weeks that you need to. Just tell me if you need to be away for a while, so I can make sure that work gets reassigned.” I’ll check in with my virtual assistants to see if this is working for them or if they need deadlines or set times for focus and motivation. Eventually I might work up to asking for consistent time slots so that I have an idea of turn around times, but the system seems to be working so far.

I’ve been adding more people to my virtual team. There’s a range of rates (anywhere from $2-12/hour), and I’m working on gradually getting more of my assistants to deserve and totally justify higher rates. I proactively give them bonuses and raises, even. Instead of micromanaging who works on what in order to maximize cost-efficiency (approach A: different people for different skills; see diagram below), I’m experimenting with putting all the tasks on Trello and letting people choose from the tasks based on their skills and energy. If I’ve got good enough rapport with the team, then people might focus on the stuff that really justifies the value in their rate. I want to get to the point where people are generally cross-trained, so people can take the task and see it through end-to-end (approach D). I remember from Toyota’s lean method that this makes work better (versus the assembly line, where you only see your small part).

I’m also working on chunking higher-level tasks – the delegation equivalent of going up a level of abstraction, writing procedures that call other procedures. (See my list of processes) For example, I started with separate tasks to extract the MP3, add metadata, upload to archive.org, transcribe the audio, etc. Now I’m testing the task of posting show notes, which includes all of those. Maybe someday I’ll get to object-oriented programming!

2014-02-08 Delegation and task efficiency

2014-02-08 Delegation and task efficiency

I started by mostly working on my podcasting flow, but I’m also experimenting with delegating other processes to support learning or sharing. For example, how can delegation support my drawing? My process is pretty efficient at the moment (aside from some cross-referencing data entry that I don’t usually get around to doing myself), but if I batch things up more, maybe other people can help me tag my sketches and turn them into posts.

2014-02-05 Delegation and drawings - where does it make sense
2014-02-05 Delegation and drawings – where does it make sense

Writing is another good candidate, too. Podcasting and drawing help with writing, so it all comes together. I want to get even better at pulling stuff out of my head and out of other people’s heads, and getting those ideas into a form that other people can easily learn from. That’s why I’m experimenting with getting writers to help me pull out ideas from Q&As in transcripts and from all these thinking-out-loud self-reflections that may be a little too long and rambling for most people to make the most of. For example, a reader-focused tips post based on this might just focus on building systems and omit the role-playing games references. The end goal for that one would be to have a blog that mixes shorter, focused tips with long behind-the-scenes notes, and to have e-books (and maybe even physical books!) that flow well. That way, it’s good for people who just want a burst of inspiration so that they can get on with applying the ideas to their life, and it’s also good for people who like seeing the verbose tracing messages as I think and learn.

It’s a bit strange investing so much in the processes and output without yet building up the kind of audience and demand that justifies it, but I think it’s the Right Thing to Do to have transcripts and follow-up blog posts and all that jazz. If I grow sustainably and keep an eye on my finances, I’ll probably get to that take-off point right when I have the skills and systems to support it – and more importantly, the community. I figure it’s much easier to build great relationships with confederates/tribe people (Hi!) and provide useful resources for searchers while I’m not distracted by the mainstream yet, and I might not even bother with going mainstream. I’m just going to focus on you, and maybe you’ll find it so awesome that you’ll bring in a few people for whom this is also a really good fit.

That seems to be the general pattern of how I’m learning about entrepreneurship. I’m investing in the capabilities now rather than waiting for demand to completely drive it – almost like my own little MBA. Still cheaper than $80k+ for an MBA at Rotman, and you’ll get better value out of my “class projects” (like this free PDF/EPUB/MOBI of my No Excuses Guide to Blogging guide). At some point, we’ll figure out a proper business model. Maybe it’s sponsorship. Maybe it’s pay what you want. Maybe it’s membership, although we’ll need to find something that doesn’t involve just exclusive access to content, since I like making ideas as widely spread as possible. Maybe more of a coaching program? If you want me to sell to you, tell me how you want me to sell to you. (Comment, tweet, or e-mail me!)

2013-11-17 Should I sell to people more - If so, how would you like that

2013-11-17 Should I sell to people more – If so, how would you like that

(Although to be fair, there’s probably a lot of demand already out there. People have been asking me for an Emacs book for years. Look! I’ve started drawing maps and other Emacs tips. It will happen. I just need to sit down and share more raw material. This means you need to sit down and ask me questions about stuff I’m taking for granted.)

Maybe it’s a weird sort of entrepreneurship that I’m growing into, but I think it will be fun. How can I use what I’m learning to help you?

Focus and fluency: learning when you’re a fox

February 12, 2014 - Categories: learning, tips

One of the things that Ramon Williamson shared in our podcast on Helpers Help Out Episode 8:  The Art of Copywriting for Google Helpouts is picking the one thing you’re going to be known for and focusing on it. It makes sense that he emphasizes it so much, since another thing he likes saying is that your mess is your message, and focus is one of the things he’s been working on.

It reminds me of the saying about the fox and the hedgehog: The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing (Archilocus). It turns out that Isaiah Berlin wrote an essay called The Hedgehog and the Fox about how Tolstoy was more of a fox but really, really thought that he should be a hedgehog, and how messed up that was. I’m basing this on Wikipedia’s summary–it’s on the Internet, so it must be true–since I’m still waiting for the library copy to arrive. It sounds fascinating.

2014-02-08 The fox and the hedgehog
2014-02-08 The fox and the hedgehog

Anyway. We are mostly told that we should be hedgehogs. Focus. Pick a niche. That’s the only way you’re going to be great.

Of course, I can totally hand-wave and say that Improvement is the key organizing principle unifying all the things I’m interested in. Learning is improving the way you improve. Coding is simply an idea frozen in a form the computer can understand. Delegation is about improving processes. Writing and drawing is about helping others improve. Rationality is about improving decision-making. But being interested in improvement is like saying you’re creative or motivated–so generic that it doesn’t say anything. I might as well ‘fess up to the fact that sometimes I’m curious just because I am.

I am a fox. I have many interests. I am getting better at making the most of my foxiness. I resonate with books like Refuse to Choose and Body of Work, and with this quote from an awesome polymath:

I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe.

Buckminister Fuller, I Seem to Be a Verb

If you are also a fox, a wide-ranging learner, maybe we can swap strategies and tips. For example, it helps that my interests tend to build on each other. (I’d use the word “synergistically”, but that’s so 1980s.) Taking notes helps me pick things up again, and it also lets me share along the way. Systems help me keep things going even when my attention is elsewhere. Self-acceptance makes a big difference – when you’re not fighting yourself, you have more energy for going forward.

My learning tends to be shaped by a strategy of picking low-hanging fruit. Things that require low effort/risk and give high rewards are easy choices. Do them first. For the next step, I like focusing on things that require low effort/risk (even if they give low rewards) over things that require more effort/risk with the promise of more rewards. I think it’s because the accumulation of these baby steps often brings you surprisingly close to where you want to go, making things that were previously difficult much more doable. Knowing this inclination, I break high effort, high reward tasks down into things that take less effort.

2014-02-07 Low-hanging fruit
2014-02-07 Low-hanging fruit

One of the interesting and challenging things about learning like a fox is that you’re a beginner over and over again. It can feel a little discouraging to struggle with learning something new while hedgehogs around you are comfortably settled in their expertise. It’s worth it, though. I love that moment when things start to snap together, when your knowledge starts to mesh, and then you can take advantage of more and more connections and then what you’re learning becomes part of the way you think. You become fluent. Maybe not Pulitzer-prize-winning fluent, but “I can say what I mean” fluent, which feels awesome.

This journey never ends, actually, since there’s always more to learn, always another plateau of mediocrity to get through. But it’s still so much fun. I’m working on getting even better at being a beginner so that I can get to that fluency faster. So that’s part of the reason I learn like a fox: I like the challenge of a new topic, and I love the ways ideas connect with previous knowledge.

2014-02-08 Learning and fluency

2014-02-08 Learning and fluency

What are the things I’m relatively fluent in, and what am I working on building fluency in these days? It’s good to celebrate how how far you’ve come, and it helps to be aware of what you want to learn so that you can deliberately learn. Hedgehog-me would probably have focused on programming, but fox-me has picked up lots of other interesting things, and I don’t mind the trade-offs. In my teens, I used to feel insecure about not being a Super Awesome Geek (e.g. Linux kernel hacker or Emacs core contributor), but actually, adding writing and drawing and tracking worked out really well, and the things I’m learning now will add even more to this life.

So I’m working on learning delegation, packaging, asking, connecting, animation, business… Lots of things to learn, and there’s even more beyond those topics. Can’t wait to see what it might be like with enough fluency in these topics to see how things fit together and to just do things. =)

2014-02-08 What could that fluency look like

2014-02-08 What could that fluency look like

What are you building fluency in?

A No Excuses Guide to Blogging (PDF, EPUB, MOBI – free!); also, notes on publishing

February 13, 2014 - Categories: book, writing
This entry is part 1 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

First, a quick announcement: A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging is now available as a free/pay-what-you-want e-book so that you can work your way through your excuses without having to click through lots of blog posts. =)

Mock-up by Ramon Williamson

Mock-up by Ramon Williamson

The cover I made for Amazon

The cover I made for Amazon

The PDF looks prettiest if you’re reading it on your computer or tablet, and the EPUB/MOBI version is handy for other e-readers. You get all three (and any future updates) if you grab it from http://sachachua.com/no-excuses-blogging, or you can get the MOBI version from the Kindle store (currently $0.99, but eventually they’ll price-match it to $0). The book is under Creative Commons Attribution, so feel free to share it with other people. =)

UPDATE 2014-02-13: Here’s a one-page summary!

2014-02-13 A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging - Summary of 10 blogging excuses and how to work around them

2014-02-13 A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging – Summary of 10 blogging excuses and how to work around them


– Behind the scenes stuff! – 

So this was about 8 hours of packaging after I’d identified the topics and asked an assistant to compile all the blog posts in a Word document. I edited the text to make it fit better in a collection, fiddled with the graphics, added more sketches, tweaked the layout some more, fought with section headers, and eventually created a PDF that I was reasonably happy with. I contacted a bunch of people on Fiverr about converting the DOCX into EPUB and MOBI. While waiting for a response, I decided to try doing it myself. It took me some time to clean up the messy HTML, but I’m reasonably happy with how the EPUB worked out. I had to tweak the EPUB table of contents in order to get it to pass the validator used by Lulu, but eventually I got it worked out with Calibre and Sigil. The MOBI was a straight conversion from the EPUB, although I wonder if I can get the background colour to be white…

2014-02-05 Notes on publishing

2014-02-05 Notes on publishing

So that was interesting and useful, and it would be good to do more. Here are some ideas for other “No Excuses”-type guides I might put together. Maybe self-directed learning and delegation, actually, since other people are covering the sketchnoting bit quite well.

2014-02-06 What other excuses can I collect and work around

2014-02-06 What other excuses can I collect and work around

There’s also this list of other book ideas, Thinking with Emacs, Tracking Your Time, Accelerating Your Learning with Sketchnotes, and this big outline. Lots to do. Looking forward to figuring out how I can get more of these out the door. =)

In the meantime… tada! http://sach.ac/no-excuses-blogging

From networking with people to networking around ideas: How I stopped worrying about keeping in touch

February 14, 2014 - Categories: connecting

I used to think a lot about how to keep track of the people I know, writing down notes about their interests in Emacs’ aptly named Big Brother Database (BBDB). I wanted to be the kind of person who could remember people’s goals and dreams, who paid attention to trivia from long-ago conversations. A little configuration allowed me to see my notes when reading or replying to e-mail from people, and I even wrote some code to track when I last contacted someone and filter the list of people so that I could focus on people I hadn’t talked to in a while. It was amusing to see a record and realize I’d actually known someone for years (these things sneak up on you before you know it!), and it was occasionally gratifying to be able to look up someone based on an interest I vaguely remembered them having and to make the connection with a book I’d just read or someone else they should meet.

I kept tweaking this system. Maybe there was a contact relationship management tool out there that could help me remember what was important to people’s lives or discover small-talk topics from people’s social media updates. Maybe there was an application that could help me act thoughtfully, beyond the usual flood of Facebook wall messages on someone’s birthday. Maybe there was a way for me to learn how to keep in touch. I asked people who networked for a living (mostly salespeople and politicians) how they managed to remember all these little details and reach out. They told me about spreadsheets and index cards, phone calls and e-mails: “Hi, how are you doing? Was just thinking of you. What’s up?” I was inspired by examples of super-connectors who somehow managed to remember everyone’s faces and names, asking after kids and pets and hobbies, effortlessly breaking through the limits of Dunbar’s number. (Or at least it seemed effortless; many worked very hard at this.) I tried out systems like Nimble and Contactually as a way to see people’s activity across platforms and remember to keep in touch. I tried ConnectedHQ (no longer available?) and Sunrise for people-related notes in my calendar. I followed Facebook and LinkedIn’s suggestions to greet people on their birthdays or job changes.

Still, those practices never quite felt natural. Maybe I’m just not a people person, at least not that kind. I never became comfortable with calling someone out of the blue, and I preferred posting stories on my blog instead of telling them one-on-one through e-mail or conversation.

I decided to try a different approach: I stopped worrying about keeping in touch. If people came into my life, great. If people drifted out, that was fine too. Instead of working on keeping those relationships going, I focused instead on being open to the conversations as they came up. Instead of reaching out so that I can hear about what people are working on and stay on their radar, I decided to focus on what I was curious about and be open to the people I’d bump into along the way.

Sure, I might have missed a few serendipitous connections with people who were quietly working on interesting things–but the world is full of other people who make it easy to keep up with them, like the way my blog makes it easy to keep up with what I’m interested in. I subscribe to a number of people’s blogs and I follow people on social networks. But for the most part, I care about ideas and conversations first, and then getting to know and keep in touch with people happens along the way.

It’s a very different form of networking, I think, than what I’ve read about in countless books. I still recommend books like How to Talk to Anyone (Lowndes) and Never Eat Alone (Ferrazzi) to people who are curious about building relationships with specific people or making the most of networking events. Me, I’m learning about how to talk to everyone. Instead of building a relationship with a specific person, I look for opportunities to help people around an idea or contribute to a group. Instead of asking a specific person for help, I ask in general, and people step forward if they’re interested. I don’t have to fear rejection, and no one has to look for tactful ways to say no; and if a request doesn’t get any takers, well, I’m where I would’ve been anyway.

In order to make that work, I need to make sure I have good ideas that people want to be part of, the confidence to share them, a platform for sharing them with, specific requests and ways people can get involved, and a way to celebrate how people are helping. I like that. It turns networking into something more than “I think you’re cool and I want to stay in touch” or even “You’re working on cool stuff; How can I help?” – it becomes “We’re all part of something bigger. Let’s make things happen.”

2014-01-05 How can I learn to bring people together
2014-01-05 How can I learn to bring people together

I’d been trying this approach over the past few years. Watching my dad do it was a real eye-opener. My dad works Facebook like a pro, posting ideas and stories and the occasional request. He has probably never taken notes on someone’s interests. He probably doesn’t spend time cataloging people’s goals and passions. As it turns out, he does take a few notes, and he asks my mom if he needs help remembering. (At least my sister says so!) Still, I don’t even know if it’s possible to remember all these little details about the thousands of Facebook friends that he has. If he got the hang of working with fan pages, he’d probably have even more fans. He might ask one or two people who come to mind, but in general, he shares and asks generally. And stuff happens!

2014-01-02 Making things happen

2014-01-02 Making things happen

I’m working on sharing, learning from people, asking for help, and making it easy for people to build on what we have in common. I’ll get there someday. It’s not so much that I want to keep in touch with a specific person; it’s that we’re both actively thinking about a topic, so maybe we’ll set up a conversation so we can exchange notes and learn together. It’s not so much that I want to have a wide range of skills in my roster of contacts; it’s more that I want to provide value to a wide range of people, and maybe some of them will want to help me when the opportunity comes up.

I was thinking about the way people are related to topics so that I can nudge myself to reach out more for questions and conversations. I like the idea of confederates: people who are actively learning about similar things, and whom I’m comfortable asking if I want a different perspective or I’m curious about what they’re learning. I don’t have any set schedule for reaching out to these people. If I learn something they might be interested in, I’ll mention it to them, but I’ll also open up the conversation to everyone who might be interested. When I started drawing out the map, I realized how lucky I was to have so many people I can learn from and who might find stuff I’m learning useful too. This is how I keep in touch now – through the exchange of questions and ideas.

2014-01-30 Confederates

2014-01-30 Confederates

So I might not build as close a relationship as you might with someone who takes the time to send you birthday cards or calls you up every quarter, but then do you really feel all that close to insurance or real estate agents who send you cards like clockwork? I don’t send “Hi, what’s up?” e-mails and I tend to not be very good at responding to them, but I’ll dive deeply into topics of mutual curiosity. My network is shifting to people who share what they know and what they’re learning. While that means I’m probably missing out on a lot of stuff that never gets shared beyond the small circles most people are comfortable in, there are so many good people out there focused on bringing everyone up–not just the people they’ve bumped into. It might also mean that I’m not as close to the people for whom these little gestures mean a lot, but it means that I draw closer to people who don’t have that need. It’s like the difference between someone who puts you on the spot when you forget your name and someone who helpfully supplies it at a hint of hesitation; someone who makes you feel bad for forgetting their birthday or anniversary or whatever, and someone who’s more focused on what’s good instead of what’s missing.

You don’t have to wish me a happy birthday, and you never have to apologize for replying slowly or not being in touch. Better to share your questions and ideas, and better to share that not just with me but with the world.

Weekly review: Week ending February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 - Categories: weekly

I focused on delegation this week. Good results for writing (although I made a mistake by not making sure that one of my assistants clearly understood the task). Not particularly keen on results so far for technical interviews, but maybe we'll figure something out. I've been learning a lot more about grilling people during technical interviews.

Lots of connecting, too! I've been encouraging people to set up meetings with me with http://sach.ac/meet . Along the way, I'm figuring out the things I like about conversations. I like helping people with Org Mode, especially if they've used it enough to know where they're getting stuck. I like talking to people who are actively learning about stuff, believe in themselves, and are focused on moving forward. I like it when people's questions and curiosities happen to mesh with my own. I enjoy talking to motivated beginners about Emacs, writing, and learning, and I'm getting better at harvesting topics for future blog posts. I'm a little surprised by a common characteristic I've noticed among conversations that left me feeling a little odd, so I need to think about that some more.

Oh, and quite a few upgrades to test. I usually spread upgrades out over time so that I can make more careful decisions and evaluate the changes, but I ran into several technical limitations that I think I might run into more if my current interests continue. So: larger drive, faster Internet upload speeds (should make those Hangouts better), and a better microphone. I'll consider it worth it if I end up sharing more. Restoring from my image backup worked fine, I messed up when migrating my document folder to the new drive – photoSync was still running in the background, so it deleted a number of the images I shared. Hooray for backups, though!

Anyway, I think this coming week will be a week of following up on things to reflect on and share. Also, if the Quantified Sandbox unconference is pushing through, I'll need to put together that time-tracking workshop. Must plan some recovery time. Let's see how it goes.

Blog posts


  1. 2014.02.08 A path to delegating more content
  2. 2014.02.08 A path toward taming your TODO list
  3. 2014.02.08 Artists and entrepreneurs
  4. 2014.02.08 Delegation and task efficiency
  5. 2014.02.08 Learning and fluency
  6. 2014.02.08 The fox and the hedgehog
  7. 2014.02.08 Unfair advantages
  8. 2014.02.08 What could that fluency look like
  9. 2014.02.09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline
  10. 2014.02.09 Imagining a course or membership area
  11. 2014.02.09 Living your dream
  12. 2014.02.10 Delegation as programming
  13. 2014.02.10 Thinking about object-oriented programming and delegation
  14. 2014.02.11 Delegation excuse – But other people won't do as good a job as I would
  15. 2014.02.11 Reflecting on building a value-filled life
  16. 2014.02.11 The LEGO Movie – Reflections on Master Builders
  17. 2014.02.11 Thinking about blog improvements
  18. 2014.02.12 Test-driven learning
  19. 2014.02.13 A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging – Summary of 10 blogging excuses and how to work around them
  20. 2014.02.13 How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (57.8h – 34%)
    • Earn (10.4h – 17% of Business)
      • [X] E1: Add image links
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Deposit cheque
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (31.7h – 54% of Business)
      • [X] Experiment with better microphone – clearer-ish audio, more convenient?
      • [X] Move to larger drive – AOMEI restore worked fine
      • [X] Set up a system for backing up my backup drive to the computer downstairs
      • Drawing (11.4h)
        • [X] Draw the next step for Emacs-related sketches
      • Delegation (11.4h)
        • [X] Delegation: Delegate some writing-related tasks
        • [X] Delegation: Interview tech applicants
        • [X] Build: Document post-podcast process
        • [ ] Delegation: Interview more tech applicants
      • Packaging (2.7h)
        • [ ] Make baby-steps guide for Org Mode and TODOs
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
        • [X] File payroll return
        • [ ] File federal annual return
    • Connect (15.7h – 27% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Chat about Free Geek Toronto
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Greg about Emacs
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Mel about self-directed learning
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Naomi Fein about delegation and sketchnoting
      • [ ] Connect: Chat with Evan about visual thinking
      • [ ] Connect: Check what's going on with the Quantified Sandbox
      • [ ] Connect: Hang out with Matthew and learn more about d3js at HackLab
      • [ ] Follow up on conversations
    • Relationships (10.7h – 6%)
      • [X] Work on project with W-
    • Discretionary – Productive (8.9h – 5%)
      • [ ] Deposit USD
      • [ ] Go for eye exam
      • [ ] Reflect on two-year mark for experiment
      • Writing (6.8h)
    • Discretionary – Play (4.9h – 2%)
    • Personal routines (16.2h – 9%)
    • Unpaid work (7.5h – 4%)
    • Sleep (64.1h – 38% – average of 9.2 per day)

Monthly review: January 2014

February 16, 2014 - Categories: monthly, review

January – back in Canada after December's trip. Lots of reflection on how I want the next few years to go. I'm writing this halfway through February, which is shaping up to be a month of packaging and delegation. Learning lots. =)


  1. 2014.01.01 2013 in review
  2. 2014.01.01 Cats
  3. 2014.01.01 How can I simplify life further
  4. 2014.01.01 More thoughts on delegation
  5. 2014.01.01 Routines I put away for the trip and which ones I want to put back
  6. 2014.01.01 Shoes
  7. 2014.01.02 Google Helpouts – 15 minutes or longer
  8. 2014.01.02 Google Helpouts – Imagining an ideal session
  9. 2014.01.02 Making things happen
  10. 2014.01.02 What would it take to make colour part of my workflow
  11. 2014.01.03 Easy ways to track time
  12. 2014.01.03 Exploring colours
  13. 2014.01.03 Learning in spirals
  14. 2014.01.03 Staying on the time-tracking wagon
  15. 2014.01.03 What are my current learning areas
  16. 2014.01.05 Asking myself better questions
  17. 2014.01.05 How can I keep better track of experiments to try
  18. 2014.01.05 How can I learn to bring people together
  19. 2014.01.05 How can we improve our cooking
  20. 2014.01.05 How do I use my time
  21. 2014.01.06 Building a reputation as a speaker
  22. 2014.01.06 Canadian winter tips
  23. 2014.01.06 Extrapolating my futures
  24. 2014.01.06 Learn how you learn
  25. 2014.01.06 Learning how to think in sentences
  26. 2014.01.06 Time-tracking and multi-tasking
  27. 2014.01.06 Tracking time with Org mode
  28. 2014.01.06 Transforming timestamps and dates
  29. 2014.01.06 Why am I happier with selling my time at $5 for 15min vs 200+ per hour
  30. 2014.01.07 Map for learning Org Mode for Emacs
  31. 2014.01.08 Dealing with impostor syndrome
  32. 2014.01.08 Sharing what you're learning
  33. 2014.01.09 Ambition
  34. 2014.01.09 Blog ideas
  35. 2014.01.09 Building a review habit
  36. 2014.01.09 Organizing my sketches into collections
  37. 2014.01.09 Tips for organizing your Org-mode files
  38. 2014.01.09 What do I find challenging with podcasting
  39. 2014.01.10 Helpers Help Out 05 – Make Your Listing Better
  40. 2014.01.10 Post-production notes – HHO5 Make Your Listing Better
  41. 2014.01.12 Being my own client – part 1 of 4
  42. 2014.01.12 Being my own client part 2 – Projects
  43. 2014.01.12 Being my own client part 3 – Emacs, blog
  44. 2014.01.12 Being my own client part 4 – buying back time
  45. 2014.01.13 Stuff I've tracked
  46. 2014.01.13 What kind of a good life do I want
  47. 2014.01.14 Increasing my delta – part 2
  48. 2014.01.14 Reflecting on semi-retirement
  49. 2014.01.14 Ways to increase my delegation-fu
  50. 2014.01.15 General questions for coaches, role models, and mentors
  51. 2014.01.15 Getting started with professional sketchnoting
  52. 2014.01.15 Google Helpouts – Would I consider setting aside more time
  53. 2014.01.15 How I free up time
  54. 2014.01.15 How do I feel about interactive sketchnotes
  55. 2014.01.15 My current strategies for personal and professional growth
  56. 2014.01.15 My why, goals, and vision
  57. 2014.01.15 Paying myself first with time
  58. 2014.01.15 The balance that works for me
  59. 2014.01.15 Thoughts on getting paid vs giving things away
  60. 2014.01.15 What's my 20 percent – Where are my moments of truth
  61. 2014.01.15 Where I am and where I want to be
  62. 2014.01.17 How can I assign 30 hours of work a week
  63. 2014.01.17 How can I hack podcasting
  64. 2014.01.17 Mapping a strategy for outsourcing podcast work
  65. 2014.01.17 Planning my post-podcast process
  66. 2014.01.17 Thinking about delegation goals
  67. 2014.01.18 Reflecting on the Helpouts experiment so far
  68. 2014.01.20 How could I get more out of my sharing v2
  69. 2014.01.20 If I were a master of delegation
  70. 2014.01.20 What do I want to be more intentional about learning
  71. 2014.01.21 Breadth and depth in reading
  72. 2014.01.21 Understanding more about how I learn and share
  73. 2014.01.22 Mapping what I'm learning – update
  74. 2014.01.22 Quantified Self Toronto – Sugar, Black Box, Photo Metadata, QS Sandbox, Data Theatre
  75. 2014.01.22 Recognizing potential fears
  76. 2014.01.22 Taking a closer look at the impostor syndrome
  77. 2014.01.22 Then what is blogging's place in my life
  78. 2014.01.22 What do I look for when I read – What are my goals
  79. 2014.01.22 What kinds of books suit me well
  80. 2014.01.22 Work and its place in my life
  81. 2014.01.23 Exploring negative feelings
  82. 2014.01.23 Mapping a path to understanding Stoicism
  83. 2014.01.23 What's challenging or different about self-directed learning
  84. 2014.01.24 A conversation about writing
  85. 2014.01.24 A path toward improving my writing and sharing
  86. 2014.01.24 A path toward learning from people
  87. 2014.01.24 Being my own editor
  88. 2014.01.24 How can I do work that's more useful to myself and others
  89. 2014.01.24 Not about swapping one master for another
  90. 2014.01.24 What do I look for in blog posts
  91. 2014.01.24 Which parts of my writing process have I thought a lot about
  92. 2014.01.24 Why are we so attached to deadlines
  93. 2014.01.27 Current curiosities
  94. 2014.01.27 Finding tasks to delegate
  95. 2014.01.27 How can I improve my animation workflow
  96. 2014.01.27 How can I improve my book-reading workflow
  97. 2014.01.27 More thoughts on drawing on paper versus computer
  98. 2014.01.27 Self-directed learning flow
  99. 2014.01.28 Book – Decode and Conquer – Lewis Lin
  100. 2014.01.28 Delegation and helping people build their skills
  101. 2014.01.28 Delegation and helping people learn
  102. 2014.01.28 Helpers Help Out plans
  103. 2014.01.28 Moving past learning
  104. 2014.01.28 Reflective learning
  105. 2014.01.28 Translating my curiosity into actions and experiments TODO
  106. 2014.01.28 Understanding coaching in my life
  107. 2014.01.28 What do I get out of delegation
  108. 2014.01.29 Building people's capacities
  109. 2014.01.29 Calibrating the right level of reach or obscurity
  110. 2014.01.29 Reflecting on visual book notes
  111. 2014.01.29 Spice combinations
  112. 2014.01.29 Translating what I learn
  113. 2014.01.30 Confederates
  114. 2014.01.30 Inspiring people to learn Emacs
  115. 2014.01.30 On packaging and publishing
  116. 2014.01.30 Publishing – what's in my way, and how do I get past it
  117. 2014.01.30 Small steps towards publishing
  118. 2014.01.30 Thinking about my path to packaging and publishing
  119. 2014.01.30 Time to upgrade our Internet plan
  120. 2014.01.31 Getting good ideas out of your head – a path to publishing

Test-driven learning

February 17, 2014 - Categories: learning

Mel Chua wrote a blog post about test-driven learning. When you’re learning on your own, you don’t have final exams to study for or a project that you need to submit, but it can be useful to think about objective criteria to show that you’ve learned something. Before you begin, figure out what success looks like. Define it so that it’s precise and objective. It has to be clear to you and other people when you’ve passed the test you’ve set for yourself. That way, you have a specific goal to reach for, and you know when you’ve accomplished it.

If you’re looking for ideas for tests, you might want to check out Bloom’s taxonomy, which gives you different verbs that demonstrate different levels of understanding. For example, you might start off by checking if you simply remember the concepts by being able to list them. The next level above that is demonstrating understanding, and after that, applying it to your own life. With more experience, you can analyze concepts, evaluate approaches, or create new things.

2014-02-12 Test-driven learning

2014-02-12 Test-driven learning

Inspired by Mel’s example, I’ve been thinking about how I can apply test-driven learning to the things that I’m currently focusing on.

For delegation, I can see the progress I’m making towards fully delegating my podcast production process. I’m looking forward to integrating delegation into how I create content, and how I work on tech. I think it’ll be interesting to get the point where I’m coaching other people on delegation, or when I’ve packaged guides and courses on how to do it more effectively. So, objective criteria might be:

  • I’ve successfully delegated “Post show notes” three times.
  • I’ve successfully delegated research, rewriting, and harvesting, each at least three times.
  • I’ve created courses on delegation for self-directed learners, bloggers, podcasters, sketchnoters, or other content creators. (Ideally, other people will have tried this!)

In terms of asking people and learning from them, I think a key step would be being able to list the current areas of focus that I have and the questions that I’m exploring. I’m getting pretty good at reaching out to people based on their Twitter updates or other incidental connections, and a step beyond that would be to make sure that these conversations are followed up with blog posts that explore the ideas in more detail. This is also related to my focus on learning how to connect with people. One thing that can help me connect with people more effectively is to organize people by topic. That way, I can focus on specific groups of people instead of letting my stream be overwhelmed by people who use social media for promotion. In particular, I’m curious about the idea of building relationships with confederates, learning more about what they are actively learning about and sharing whatever resources and ideas that I come across.

  • I’ve organized my Twitter into lists by subject. I regularly review each list for focused updates (one list per day), and I add people based on searches.
  • I’ve posted a question to my mailing list segment of people who are interested in the questions I’m learning about. (Start small!)
  • I have a dashboard showing me my conversations and ideas to follow up on, and I have turned several of those ideas into blog posts.

Packaging is straightforward to measure. I’ve published two free or pay-what-you-want resources in the past two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if I can sustain that rate until I get to 12 of them published. I’m also curious about creating courses that will allow people to track their progress, because I think will make that a lot more manageable for people to learn. Although these things are intrinsically useful and interesting, I also want to invest time in building an audience and reaching out to more people who can find these resources helpful.

  • I’ve created 12 free or pay-what-you-want resources, and I have a resources page that lets people find stuff they’re interested in.
  • I’ve tried out a course or membership plugin on my site, and I’ve converted at least one of the resources to a course.
  • I have a plan for outreach, and I work on it regularly.

Animation is similarly easy to measure. I created a number of short videos explaining things before, so all I have to do is make that a regular practice. Again, a target of 12 short videos seems like a good number.

  • I’ve illustrated a course with short animations.

In terms of business, it’ll be exciting to see where my third fiscal year takes me. It looks like I’ll continue consulting for the next year, so my assessment for myself might include maintaining profitability even with my increased delegation and re-investment, and developing systems around creating and sharing content.

  • I file my next corporate tax return with all my is dotted and all my ts crossed.
  • I’ve posted my analysis and lessons learned about delegation and reinvestment, and my plans for next year.

I’ve written about this before, and every time I do, I learn something new. Other things I’ve learned about testing what you’re learning: sharing is an excellent way to test what you know, projects help you review what you’re learning, and breaking new topics down into small steps makes spiral learning more manageable.

How are you going to test what you’re learning?

What the LEGO Movie and programming are helping me learn about delegation

February 18, 2014 - Categories: delegation

The LEGO Movie rocks. This post may contain minor spoilers, although I don’t think I give any of the big secrets away. =)

Many people need instructions, and many people who don’t need instructions can’t stand instructions. Regular people want to have somebody tell them what to do. Artists can’t stand having other people tell them what to do, and also struggle with telling other people what to do. Then there are people who might be able to combine both. They can create something unconventional. They can also tap the systems and processes needed to make that happen.

2014-02-11 The LEGO Movie - Reflections on Master Builders

2014-02-11 The LEGO Movie – Reflections on Master Builders

Watching The LEGO Movie made me think about master builders. In the movie, master builders can see parts and build crazy contraptions to adapt to changing situations. It didn’t matter if the part belonged to a different system. You could imagine unconventional ways to use these parts, and you could adapt your plans as the situation changes. You don’t hesitate, you build, and you inspire other people to make things. Maybe this is a metaphor for what I want to be able to do.

I want to be able to deal without having instructions and also be able to give instructions or take instructions. I want to have that ability to be creative, but also to have that ability to channel that creativity in ways that make it scale beyond me. I think that’s what Emmet (the hero in The LEGO Movie) becomes: this person who both works inside the system and outside the system.

Using The LEGO Movie as a source for metaphors makes it easier for me to identify specific skills I want to develop and plan how I can learn. For example:

  • See the parts and know how they can fit together: How do you learn this with regular LEGO? Practice. How do you do this with life? Also practice. Using other people’s instructions lets me take advantage of their experience. I can familiarize myself with the “parts” that I can work with. Research and reflection make it easier for me to recognize and name those parts.
  • See unconventional possibilities: You can boost your creativity through exercises. Free association, forced association, and breaking things down into their components can help. I can practice this by asking uncommon questions and exploring unusual approaches.
  • Quickly adapt as things change: Don’t build for yesterday, build for today (and a little bit of tomorrow, if possible). Don’t get stuck in the past.
  • Act, and inspire others to act: Yes, reflect and plan, but also act and learn. If necessary, act first, adjust later.

I’m comfortable with systems because of my experience with software development. Computers are nothing but instructions. You try to figure out how to express what you want in specific enough terms that the computer can understand and do them. I enjoy that. I find it to be a lot of fun to write programs that get the computer to do what I want. I get a lot of enjoyment out of writing and testing instructions as well. I’m curious about applying ideas from this structured world of computer programming to business. For example, what can programming paradigms help me understand about delegation?

2014-02-10 Delegation as programming

2014-02-10 Delegation as programming

When you’re delegating, you might show what you want and say, “This is what I this is what I’m looking for; please make something like it.” This is like programming by example. You might give detailed step-by-step instructions, and that’s like assembly or low-level programming. You might work at a higher level, writing instructions that refer to other instructions for more details. That’s like procedural programming.

But there are so many other different types of programming! For example, functional programming treats the instructions as a thing you can work with. Maybe there’s a way I can get people to improve or work with the instructions. Functional programming also tends to involve list processing. Maybe you do things in batches, and you think about how you can prepare the output so that you can use it as the input for something else.

Object-oriented programming is about thinking about the objects those processes belong to. Can you keep the information together so that you can see an overview? How can you use the idea of polymorphism? Maybe you might have a common process that handles several different types of objects.

Here’s how I’ve been thinking about applying object-oriented programming to the way I delegate. I’ve gotten most of my podcast/show process worked out. The next step might be to structure more of the work involved in following up after conversations. I can also work on getting a visual overview of the objects I’m working with and what state they’re in. Afterwards, I’ll look into the processes around packaging info, and then I might fill in the gaps for posts and then for sketches.

2014-02-10 Thinking about object-oriented programming and delegation

2014-02-10 Thinking about object-oriented programming and delegation

Back to programming paradigms. If you’re building up a virtual team, parallel programming might be useful. Parallel programming deals with synchronization and communication issues. It might be worth accepting a little less intra-process efficiency to improve communication efficiency.

Declarative programming might be the end-goal of delegation. You just say what you want, and people will figure out how to make it happen: what steps the team needs to take and in what order, and so on. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I want to get better at taking these ideas about systems and using them to learn more about how to create things. Like Emmet, my first ideas are going to be crappy. I think that learning to work with and without instructions is going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to learning how to become a Master Builder. Who’s with me? What can help you become a Master Builder of life?

Reflection: Two years into my 5-year experiment

February 19, 2014 - Categories: experiment, yearly

“Monotony collapses time; novelty expands it,” writes Joshua Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein. It feels like more than two years since the start of my 5-year experiment with semi-retirement, which is what I jokingly called this adventure into a self-directed life. So far, amazing. This year, I focused less on consulting and event sketchnoting, and I focused more on creating my own content. More than 500 sketches and three mini-eBooks later, I feel happy about this decision, and I’m curious about where else it can lead.

I’ve also been ramping up my delegation and systematization. Since I’m still doing a bit of consulting here and there, I think that these processes will help me get even better at making and sharing things even if my attention is divided–and that can come in handy later on. Let’s see how it goes.

2014-02-16 Two years into my 5-year experiment #experiment #review

2014-02-16 Two years into my 5-year experiment #experiment #review

I’d done a pre-mortem of possibilities for failure back in 2012, but I don’t think I wrote about the success criteria or vision. (That’s odd!) Somewhat belated, but here it is. This experiment is shaping up to be about whether I’ve got what’s needed for a good self-directed life. I think success for this experiment would be:

  • exploring uncommon questions and ideas
  • having a happy life at home
  • helping lots of people grow
  • having solid plans and a great foundation for next steps
2014-02-16 Goals and success criteria for my 5-year experiment #experiment #success

2014-02-16 Goals and success criteria for my 5-year experiment #experiment #success

So, how was this year different from last year? What might next year be like? What would wild success at the end be like?

2014-02-16 More detailed evaluation of 5-year experiment so far #experiment #review #evaluation

2014-02-16 More detailed evaluation of 5-year experiment so far #experiment #review #evaluation

The first year was about getting the hang of paperwork and consulting. This second year was about coming into my own. Next year will be a good year for growth and resilience, I think. If I can continue on that path, I think it’ll be interesting.

Free/pay-what-you-want resources for sketchnoting with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

February 20, 2014 - Categories: drawing

I’ve written about how I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my Windows-based Lenovo X220 tablet PC (which is a Proper Computer and everything, so I can run all sorts of other stuff in addition to drawing on my screen). To make things even easier, I’ve put together the light dot grid that I use for drawing consistently even when I’m zoomed in, a PSD that has the grid, and the brushes that I use to draw different widths easily.

You can download the ZIP of the resources from http://sachachua.com/sketchbook-resources. They’re best used with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (desktop version), but you can probably adapt them for use in other apps.

To import the brushes into your palette:

1. Open the brush palette if it is not yet visible.

Brush palette

Brush palette

2. Open the brush library by clicking on the icon of the three bars.

Show brush library

Show brush library

3. Use the radial menu to import the brushes. You can create a new brush set if you want, and then import the brushes into that.

Import brush set

Import brush set

4. Drag and drop the brushes into your brush palette (the long vertical one) in the order you want.

Brush set

Brush set

I use the first three pens for small, medium, and large widths. The largest pen is useful for colouring. I keep it there so that I can change the size easily without messing up the other three pens. I usually use the highlighter on a separate layer so that I can change my mind about highlighters afterwards, but if you need to highlight as you go, you can use the second highlighter (based on the Copic brushes) to highlight on the same layer.

Again, you can download these free/pay-what-you-want resources from http://sachachua.com/sketchbook-resources . Enjoy!

Thanks to Tom Diaz for nudging me to publish these!

Don’t be afraid of mistakes when delegating

February 21, 2014 - Categories: delegation, management


Is the fear of wasting time with mistakes keeping you from delegating? Worried you’ll spend more time explaining or fixing than getting stuff done? It’s hard to trust other people, and it’s easy to get frustrated when people don’t get what you mean. While it may seem that good help is hard to find, maybe seeing mistakes in a different perspective can help you get over this challenge.

I know what it’s like. I tend to assume that my instructions are clear, even though I know people can’t read my mind.  I tend to assume that my instructions are clear, even though I know people can’t read my mind. Even when you work with good people, people aren’t always going to know what you expect from them. Yes, the first few tasks are going to be frustrating, but hang in there. You could have a great team. Don’t let those initial frustrations get in your way.

A mistake isn’t wasted if you squeeze everything you can learn from it. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Remember: you’re learning about managing people at the same time that they’re learning to work with you! Let me tell you a story about the first task I gave a new assistant.

You see, I’ve been curious about how delegation can help with my writing and sharing. I recently hired a writer through oDesk. I wanted her to help me go through a transcript and pull out good Q&A opportunities for follow-up blog posts. That way, good ideas didn’t just languish in hour-long podcasts or long documents. I interviewed one of the candidates on Skype, and by the end of it, we were both excited by the possibilities.

oh-noI thought I sent my new assistant a link to the document that already had the transcript that another assistant prepared. I expected the task to take 30 minutes, maybe one hour at most. It’s a good thing I checked on her using oDesk’s automatic screenshots. I realized that instead of pulling Q&A from my existing transcript, she transcribed the audio file I sent. Uh oh. She had spent five hours doing the wrong task.

One of the things about being a good manager is deciding that yes, the buck stops with you. I wondered where I’d gone wrong. Were my instructions unclear? Did something get lost in transmission? I talked to her to clarify what had happened. It turned out that she didn’t see the Trello card with my instructions, only the folder with the audio file. I hadn’t made sure she knew where to look for her current task. I hadn’t confirmed that she understood my verbal instructions, which turned out to be ambiguous.You might think that this would have been a complete waste of time and money, but it wasn’t.

You might think that this would have been a complete waste of time and money. It wasn’t. It was a great opportunity for both of us to learn more about delegation. Yes, we spent an hour together as I outlined my goals and made sure she understood where we were going to begin. There was a lot of information packed into that hour-long session. While she thought she knew what I expected of her, I never asked what she thought her task. She told me later that she had been looking forward to starting the project. But moving had tired her out and all the new information overwhelmed her. We both assumed we knew.

whyMistakes happen, and there’s always more than one reason. (The Swiss cheese model of errors is an amusing visual.) It’s good to ask lots of “Why?” questions to find the root causes so that you can do better next time. Every mistake points out several opportunities to grow. For example, next time I hire someone and give them their first task, I’m going to make sure I send them a direct link to the instructions. I’ll ask them to explain what they will do. I’ll check in with new assistants, perhaps staying on the line with them as they do the task for the first time. (Google Hangouts, Skype, and other screen-sharing programs make this easy.)

My new assistant offered to take that time off the record so that I didn’t have to pay for it, but I told her to keep it on. After all, the work that she did was useful too. I rarely assign duplicate work, but having that second copy makes it easier for me to see the differences between the way people do things. And hey, it’s no big deal in the long run, which brings me to the second reason why mistakes are great and you shouldn’t be afraid of them.

good-managementMistakes give you a chance to be a good manager. Contractors deal with many uncaring clients who blame them for all the mistakes that happen. Here’s your chance to be different, and to build a closer connection with someone whom you might come to trust even more. Take a thoughtful approach to solving problems and helping people move on. You might find it easier to engage and keep people who will bring more of themselves to the work. You can pay for grudging compliance with tasks and specifications. You need a special connection for creativity and initiative. A mistake is a good opportunity to connect as a human being. If it’s your mistake, ‘fess up. If it’s the other person’s mistake, be understanding. In both cases, be human.


What about situations where you keep getting the wrong results? Maybe there’s a mismatch of skills or expectations. I recently ended a contract with another assistant who couldn’t deliver what I was looking for at the time. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit. If you like people and they have other skills you need, see if you can work around their weaknesses and play to their strengths. If they’d be better suited to other teams or other kinds of work, then it’s good for everyone to move on. Think about how you’ll change your processes for interview, onboarding, or probation. You can get the benefits of that mistake too.

Don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from delegating. There’s so much to learn from them. Think of your inevitable mistakes as the tuition you’ll pay to learn how to tap other people’s skills. Good luck!

Author’s note: In fact, I asked Amanda Bassett to draft this blog post (based on an outline I gave her) as her second task. She more than made up for the flub with the first task. =) I revised her draft in real-time while she watched and added comments (hooray Google Docs!). I think that editing process will be a good blog post to share too. Learning as we go! – Sacha

HHO009: Charging 101 with Rachida Dukes

February 21, 2014 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

Helpers Help Out Show #9 – Charging 101

Guest: Chef Rachida

This is a weekly live podcast with tips for Google Helpouts providers. Join us at http://helpershelpout.com/live at the time of the show for streaming and Q&A!

Topics: Per-session and per-minute rates, refunds, and other charging-related topics

2014-02-21 Helpers Help Out 009 - Charging 101 with Rachida Dukes

For the event page, you may click here.

Weekly review: Week ending February 21, 2014

February 23, 2014 - Categories: weekly

This week, I focused on delegation and design. Lots of updates to my blog design, yay! =) Next week, I want to dig deeper into making useful technical resources, and to making sure my technical assistant has good stuff to work on.

Blog posts


  1. 2014.02.19 Actually, I enjoy web design and development #geek #web-design
  2. 2014.02.19 Imagining wild success for this experiment #experiment
  3. 2014.02.19 Teaching people to fish, selling fish, fishing for yourself #experiment #sharing #my-learning #teaching #confederates #community
  4. 2014.02.19 Website goals – #blogging #wordpress #web-design
  5. 2014.02.19 What am I looking for in terms of editing blog posts #editing #writing

Huh. That's weird. Really? Five sketches? And yet 9.6 hours tracked under "Drawing," and a generally relaxed week. I wonder what happened there. I think part of it was that I spent more time doing web design this week, and conceptualization got filed under drawing too. 

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (54.4h – 32%)
    • Earn (15.0h – 27% of Business)
      • [X] Deposit cheque
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] E1: Apply wall
      • [ ] E2: Re-record and re-animate new segments
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (33.6h – 61% of Business)
      • Drawing (9.5h)
        • [X] Draw the next step for Emacs-related sketches
        • [ ] Make darker grid and release SVG
      • Delegation (7.4h)
        • [X] Delegation: Delegate some writing-related tasks
        • [X] Delegation: Interview tech applicants
        • [X] Delegation: Interview more tech applicants
        • [ ] Delegation: Document process for setting up a public conversation
        • [ ] Invest time into technical delegation
      • Packaging (0.5h)
      • Paperwork (1.9h)
        • [X] File federal annual return
      • Coding (12.0h)
        • [X] Choose a responsive framework
        • [X] Build – Coding: Add trails to my website
        • [X] Build – Coding: Make sachachua.com more responsive myself
        • [X] Build – Coding: Set up my local dev environment again
      • [X] Experiment with better microphone – clearer-ish audio, more convenient?
      • [X] Make baby-steps guide for Org Mode and TODOs
      • [X] Outline "Baby Steps Guide to Managing Your Tasks with Org Mode"
      • [X] Flesh out "Baby Steps Guide to Managing Your Tasks with Org Mode" a little
      • [X] Move to larger drive – AOMEI restore worked fine
      • [X] Set up a system for backing up my backup drive to the computer downstairs
      • [ ] Build – Emacs: Make a guide to Dired
      • [ ] Build – Emacs: Prettify baby steps guide to Org Mode
    • Connect (5.8h – 10% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Evan about visual thinking
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Greg about Emacs
      • [X] Connect: Check what's going on with the Quantified Sandbox
      • [X] Connect: Hang out with Matthew and learn more about d3js at HackLab
      • [X] Follow up on conversations
      • [ ] Have general hangout about learning
  • Relationships (0.2h – 0%)
    • [X] Work on project with W-
  • Discretionary – Productive (14.7h – 8%)
    • [X] Go for eye exam
    • [X] Reflect on two-year mark for experiment
    • [ ] Deposit USD
    • Writing (7.5h)
  • Discretionary – Play (6.9h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (23.1h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (6.1h – 3%)
  • Sleep (63.5h – 37% – average of 9.1 per day)

Thinking about the design of my blog

February 24, 2014 - Categories: wordpress

I hadn’t tinkered with my blog design in a while, since I’ve been paying attention to other things. Since I’m delegating podcast- and writing-related processes, I thought I’d revisit technical delegation too. Before I can delegate, though, I need to know what I want. I listed a bunch of blog improvements I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

2014-02-11 Thinking about blog improvements

2014-02-11 Thinking about blog improvements

I created a Trello board with the tasks. That way, I can keep track of the tasks as I assign them to people or do the tasks myself.  Trello lets me attach files (upload, Google Drive, or Dropbox), which will be handy for sharing designs.

One of the bigger tasks I was thinking about was making my site more responsive. 10% of my visits come from people using mobile devices, many from iPads and iPhones. On computers, it might be interesting to see how I can tweak my site design to make better use of larger screens.

2014-02-16 Thinking about web design #blogging #web-design

2014-02-16 Thinking about web design #blogging #web-design

For narrow widths, I was thinking of moving the sidebar down, trimming the navigation, and maybe making search more convenient.

2014-02-16 Thinking about web design and columns for my blog - #web-design

2014-02-16 Thinking about web design and columns for my blog – #web-design

I’ll need to sort out a good single-column layout for mobile devices, anyway. Do I want to keep the same distraction-free layout for larger screens, stay with my two-column layout, or add a third column? Hmm… Three columns might be too much. It might be interesting to test one- or two-columns. I’d like to be able to give people the ability to switch to the other style if they prefer. We’ll start with what we have, though.

2014-02-16 Thinking about post or page navigation for my blog #web-design #wordpress

2014-02-16 Thinking about post or page navigation for my blog #web-design #wordpress

I’m also interested in improving the navigation and discoverability of the posts in my archive. @madwilliamflint nudged me to logically arrange my posts, and the Organize Series plugin seems to be a good fit. Organize Series lets me define a series and the order of posts within it. It adds links to the series and the previous/next posts, and it also creates an archive page that lists the posts in order. Neat! See the trails I’ve defined so far.

I spent 4.5 hours last Monday moving my theme from a 960-grid to Zurb Foundation, which did make it surprisingly easy to make the site responsive. I fiddled with some of  the graphics, too. Check out sachachua.com to see what the site looks like now. =) I’m pretty happy with it, although of course there’s more to do.

It was great thinking about the things I want to tweak about my blog. Although I’m still thinking about finding someone I can delegate design or development tasks to, having a list of blog tweaks encourages me to tweak the blog myself (which is fun). I had fun setting up the series. I’m looking forward to trying out the other changes – either doing them myself or getting someone to do them.

Thoughts? What would make this site easier to use for you?

Audio comparison: Blue Yeti vs headset, webcam microphone, video

February 25, 2014 - Categories: analysis, geek

You know how you sound lower-pitch to yourself and higher-pitch to others? (Science says it’s because of bone conduction.)

I sound high-pitch to myself. I’ve always sounded like a kid. Friends teased me about voice-acting for anime. I tried to avoid being self-conscious about it, but you know how sometimes that sneaks in anyway. I found it difficult to listen to recordings of my presentations or podcasts. I ended up paying other people to transcribe them.

As it turns out, this might be one of the things you can fix with money. Here’s a quick comparison of:

  • the Blue Yeti
  • the Logitech H800 headset I usually use
  • the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 I use for video
  • my computer’s built-in microphone

With the Yeti, I can deal with listening to myself. Hmm. That’s something. It’s not cheap, but if this is one of those rare occasions you can spend money to get around confidence barriers… bring it on!

I justify the expense by telling myself that this will encourage me to make more videos and screencasts. Let’s see how it works out. For recording and webcasts, I put the Yeti on a thick stack of fleece to help muffle the vibrations from the desk.

I know there are even fancier microphones out there. I think those will have to wait for a better setup, though. I’m fine with the quality of the Yeti, and I’ve learned not to let my expenses outpace my senses by too much.

If you’re thinking of getting your own, try getting it from a brick-and-mortar store so that you can return it if it doesn’t work out for you. Apparently, microphones do different things for different voices. Here’s an affiliate link to it on Amazon, if you’re inclined to get it online: Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone – Silver Edition. =) (I’ll get a tiny fraction of the purchase price, which is handy for buying the occasional book.)

Hope this helps! I’d love to hear (from) you.

WordPress: Make a sequence of posts easier to navigate with Organize Series

February 26, 2014 - Categories: wordpress

You might have a lot to say, but you don’t want to overwhelm the readers of your blog. It’s a good idea to break up your posts into several shorter ones. That way, people don’t have to scroll through an intimidating 10,000-word post. Sequences help with that. Write several blog posts and link them up so that people can follow the path.

I’ve posted many blog posts that belong in sequences. Some of them are presentations and transcripts that I’ve spread out across time to make it easier for people to digest. Some of them are blog posts that I’ve organized after realizing how they’re related. I used to link these posts by hand, updating each post with a link to the next one and linking each new post with the one before it. Creating one page that listed all the posts meant yet another page to keep up to date. It took time to set up these links, and I didn’t always remember to do so.

When I look at my website analytics, I find that most of the visits are to pages that are deep within my archive. Besides the suggestions from Similar Posts, I also want to give people clearer paths through the content. That way, they can learn on their own. I wanted to make it easier to manage those trails through my blog posts without needing to edit many pages.

Organize Series is a WordPress plugin for sequences of posts. I like the way you can adjust the order of posts in the sequence. I customized Organize Series so that it didn’t show the list of posts at the beginning of each post, but I kept the other defaults. Organize Series adds links to the next and previous post, and it also adds a link to a page with all the posts in the series. I like the way that Organize Series makes it easy for readers to see many posts on the same page.

To see Organize Series in action, check out the series for A Visual Guide to Emacs. It links together three of the sketches I’ve made. I can add more posts as I publish them. You can also see the previous and next links in a post that belongs to a series, like this one for Adding Color, the second lesson in this Sketchnote Lessons series. Check out the rest of my series too.

The Organize Series plugin is free, and there are commercial add-ons. I haven’t bought one yet, although I find a few of them tempting. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to adding more series as I make my archive easier for people to use. Hope this helps!


  • If you have a self-hosted WordPress blog and you write sequences of blog posts, give Organize Series a try.
  • Curious about what I’m learning? Suggest some sequences for me to organize or write about!

Delegation: “How can I trust people?”

February 27, 2014 - Categories: delegation
“I don’t trust people with my accounts or info. I don’t want people to steal my secrets.”

Start by working with reputable contractors, and look for personal recommendations if you can. No matter how good the initial interview is, it’s a good idea to trust people gradually and to limit the risk from misunderstandings or malice. Part of learning how to work together is building your trust in your new assistant’s skills and ethics.

Break your tasks down into smaller tasks that people can do with limited access to your information. For example, if you’re delegating tasks related to updating website, you might ask people to take a look at specific pages and e-mail you text that you can copy and paste into your website. If they do a good job and you feel good about working with them, you might give them access to the website so that they can edit the pages themselves.

Here’s another example. I wanted to delegate parts of my podcasting process, but I didn’t want to give people access to my blog or my Google account right away. So I started with typing and transcripts. When that worked out smoothly, I moved to extracting and uploading the MP3. That was fine, so I gave my assistant access to my blog, and now I can just ask him to post show notes and stuff happens. I still haven’t given any assistant access to my Google account, but maybe someday.

2014-01-17 Mapping a strategy for outsourcing podcast work

2014-01-17 Mapping a strategy for outsourcing podcast work

Think about the smaller tasks that make up your process. Try delegating the low-risk tasks first. Plan how you can create a sequence of tasks that starts with clear instructions and limited access. As you become more comfortable with your assistant and with delegation, you can assign larger chunks of tasks, until you get to the point where they have access to everything they need.

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

Here are some ways to help you come up with a sequence of tasks:

  • Think about the accounts you have and the risk involved in sharing them.
  • Write the tasks down on index cards, sticky notes, or a piece of paper. Index cards and sticky notes are easier to move around, but you can draw arrows on a piece of paper if that’s what you have handy. Note which accounts are needed, and move the tasks until you come up with a good sequence.
  • You can also create a spreadsheet that has tasks as rows and accounts as columns. Mark the accounts that each task needs, and sort the tasks accordingly.

Make sure you use a password manager like LastPass or KeePass when sharing accounts, so you’re not e-mailing passwords around. I use LastPass to share account information with assistants. LastPass also lets me share a password without giving it, and to review who has access to the accounts I’ve shared. It’s not bulletproof, but it adds a little security.

What about guarding against mistakes or intentional actions? Think about ways you can limit people’s access to only the things they really need to complete the task. While e-mail is not a particularly efficient way to collaborate, it’s one way of limiting people’s access to your files and keeping a history at the same time.  Just e-mail them the information they need to work on, and ask them to e-mail you back.

Tools can help you give more specific access to your accounts or files. For example, you may not want to share your Twitter account because people can use Twitter to log on to many other services, not just twitter.com. However, you can use something like HootSuite, Buffer, or GrabInbox to give other people a separate login that they can use to post stuff as you without knowing your Twitter password. Google Drive allows you to share specific folders or documents with people, and you can give them viewing or editing privileges. Dropbox lets you share specific folders, too.

Limiting your accounts can help you trust people with them, too. For example, you might create a separate account just for your assistant, and give that account less access than you have. Alternatively, you can create an admin account and remove the administrative privileges from your account.

Backups can go a long way to make it easier for you to trust people with access to your accounts, since you know that you can recover your data in case people make mistakes or intentionally delete files. To guard against people modifying files maliciously (such as encrypting the data or replacing it with an incorrect copy), be sure to keep older versions of the files, not just the latest one. Dropbox has the ability to restore older versions of a file or undelete files, so you may find that handy. Google Drive can also keep older versions of files, and only the owner of a file can delete it.

Logs can also help you make sure assistants are doing only what they’re supposed to be doing. While logs are not fool-proof, they can help you catch suspicious activity. For example, you might regularly review your Google account history to see if people have logged in from locations you didn’t expect.

If you delegate, there’s always a chance that someone’s going to break your trust by accident or by design. Still, there are ways you can build that trust in people’s skills and ethics, and that’s important if you’re going to trust wisely. Good luck!

Reflections on infopreneurship

February 27, 2014 - Categories: entrepreneurship, experiment, writing

There’s a lot of information on how you can build an online business by selling what you know. Many people are looking for that dream. It feels a little weird to me, and I want to figure out why. I guess one of the things that rubs me the wrong way is that a lot of people talk about becoming an expert in some crowded topic, and building an audience somehow. I don’t want an audience. I don’t want students. I want peers and confederates: people who learn, act, reflect, and share.

2014-02-14 Reflections on infopreneurship and alternatives

2014-02-14 Reflections on infopreneurship and alternatives

Another thing that makes me uncomfortable is that there seems to be very little expectation of action. There’s a lot of talk about it. But when I go and follow up with people on the results of the advice I applied from them, they’re boggled that I actually did something. One person I talked to said that 80% of the people he talked to don’t end up doing anything. 20% is still a good number, but still…  Steve Salerno wrote in Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless that the people who buy new self-help books tend to be people who bought a similar self-help book in the past 18 months. I don’t want to give people something that just makes them feel like they’ve made progress instead of helping them actually do things.

I think part of my hesitation comes from this: People get stuck for lots of different reasons, but it’s rarely for lack of reading. I don’t want to pitch information as the magic pill, the silver bullet, the shortcut to making things happen.

When I read, I skip platitudes but dig into reflections and lessons learned. I like processes and workflows. I want what I share to be similarly useful. The stuff that helps me get unstuck tends to result in thoughts like this:

  • “Oh! That’s the name of what I’m looking for. Now I can dig into the details.”
  • “Hmm, what I’m dealing with turns out to be fairly common. I can try what other people have done.”
  • “Oh, I see, I was missing that particular piece. Let me try this now.”
  • “Interesting question! Let me explore that…”
  • “Okay, that’s less intimidating than I thought. I should just go for it.”
  • “I had no idea you could do that! Oooh…”

What can I write or draw to help people get those moments? How do I help people get unstuck – or better yet, how can I help them accelerate or expand their learning? And since I can code and tinker and dream… What can I make? Ideas are one thing, but tools are another. I’ll keep an eye out for places where people are consistently getting stuck, and I’ll see which ones lend themselves to automation.

2014-02-14 Building systems to help people do things

2014-02-14 Building systems to help people do things

As I explore packaging and publishing more, I want to focus on stuff that people can’t find in a gazillion other blogs and e-books out there. Keep me honest. =) I like making things free/pay-what-you-want, since it helps me act from abundance, widen the conversation, and make room for people’s generosity. I’ll also share the processes and tools I’m building for myself. If you find them interesting, tell me, and maybe we can find ways to tweak and expand them to accommodate your idiosyncrasies as well as mine. I like the conversations that grow out of this, too.

Some of my technical role models have published books (both self-published and traditional). I can see how that saves a lot of people time and helps people learn. They work on open source projects and commercial systems too. I think that’s the sort of information work I want: stuff that helps people do things.

Hmm… Aha! Maybe that’s it. If I focus on helping fellow geeks solve problems or try interesting things (mostly tech, some lifestyle?), then I don’t have to worry as much about wasting people’s attention. We’re used to trying things out and testing them against our own experience, and we’re used to telling people “Hey, that didn’t quite work for me” or “That saved me a few hours of figuring things out! Here’s something to make it even better.” =)

2014-02-24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment

2014-02-24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment

(No offense to life coaches, motivational speakers, and self-help authors. Hey, if it works for you, great. =) I don’t have the experience to give good, well-tested advice in that area yet.)

Technical guides, I think. My long-postponed book about Emacs. Short guides about Org Mode or automation or Evernote or information management. There’s a lot to write. These aren’t books people read for inspiration and the vague desire to do something someday; they address what people want to improve now. (Well, maybe Emacs is a little on the inspirational side. ;) )

It’s easy for me to connect with people who are already travelling similar paths. I can share my notes. I can reach out and ask questions. What about helping people who are just starting down those paths? Maybe that’s where packaging what I know can be useful, especially if I can help people accelerate their learning and diverge to follow their own questions. My selfish desire is to learn from other people’s perspectives. I don’t want to make people dependent on me, the way that people seem to become fans of one motivational speaker or another. I want people to learn from what I’ve learned, but I also want them to translate it to their contexts, test it against their lives, and add their own insights. I’m happy to spend extra time helping beginners who do stuff, think about it, and then go on to ask different questions.

2014-02-09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline

2014-02-09 How do I want to manage my learn-share pipeline

So, what would the processes look like if I figured this out? I’d have a good balance of thinking, learning, doing, and sharing. I’d be able to work top-down from outlines, anticipating the questions people might have. I could work bottom-up from questions and blog posts, too. I might not notice that I have enough to publish, so I could establish triggers to check whether enough has accumulated that it needs to be chunked at a higher level of abstraction: Q&A or sketches into blog posts, blog posts into series, series into short books, short books into longer ones. I’d harvest all the generally useful Q&A from e-mail and conversations to make sure they’re captured in the pipeline somewhere, even if it’s an item in my Someday list.


HHO010: Education with Laurie Flood

February 27, 2014 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

Helpers Help Out Show #10 – Education

Guest: Laurie Flood

This is a weekly live podcast with tips for Google Helpouts providers. Join us at http://helpershelpout.com/live at the time of the show for streaming and Q&A!

For the presentation, please click this link.

For the event page, you may click here.

What you’re really there to learn in computer science

February 28, 2014 - Categories: geek, teaching

You know that feeling of struggling to learn something that everyone else seems to have an easy time with? The one that makes you think, “Maybe this isn’t a good fit for me.” Or worse, “Maybe I’m not smart enough.”

That one.

Embrace it. Learn how to deal with it. This is the real hard work in a degree in computer science or IT or whatever. The rest is just implementation.

You see, there will always be more to learn. There will always be challenges to pick apart and overcome. If you’re not running into them, you’re not pushing yourself enough. There will always be those moments when you think, “How on earth do I even begin to learn how to solve this?”

You aren’t learning a computer language or a platform or a system of abstract concepts. You are learning a way of thinking. You are learning how to break down a big challenge into smaller pieces. You are learning how to try different approaches to understand and solve each small part. You are learning to set aside your worries and fears so that you can focus. You are learning how to adapt, even as changes come quicker and quicker. You are learning how to organize your thoughts. It just so happens that you’re organizing them in a way a computer can understand.

What can help you build your confidence? Start by building a small base of things you know well. Celebrate that. Expand through practice and curiosity. Ask for the help you need. If you don’t get it, fight on anyway. All learning feels weird in the beginning. It only becomes natural through repetition.

If you’re taking a course, learn what you have to learn, but leave yourself room to learn what you want to learn at your own pace. You don’t have to learn everything the first time around. If you know it takes you several tries to understand something, start before you take something up in class. That way, you’ll have better questions. Continue afterwards, too. Computer science lessons build on each other, like the way mathematics lessons do. They assume you understand the previous material. Practice and questions pay off.

There will always be people who have learned what you want to learn, or who will pick up things faster than you can. Most of these people are awesome. They know that your questions can help them learn even more, and they’re happy to pay it forward because people helped them too. Pay them back by writing about what you’ve learned and sharing that with them and others. Other people who are also learning will find your questions and answers useful, too. This is true whether you’re learning in class or on the Internet, so go ahead and share your journey.

There will always be some people who haven’t quite figured out their own insecurities – people who want to establish their position by putting you down. You can learn how to recognize what they’re doing. That makes it easier to ignore them. Don’t mind them if they try to make you feel bad for asking stupid questions. It just means they’re missing out on opportunities to learn how to ask and learn how to learn. Don’t partner with them. Look for people who help others up, not tear them down.

It is not easy to wrap your mind around new topics or break down a complex unknown. If you can get good enough at it, you may come to enjoy that excitement when a problem looks like it’s solvable. You’ll learn how to tell if you’re going in roughly the right direction. You’ll be able to celebrate even the tiniest progress. If you can do that, you’ll do fine.

Besides, the real world is little like the classroom. Even if you never get the hang of the artificial projects you do for education, you may find that you like working with technology. Don’t count yourself out just yet!

Sometimes I hear from students who find computer science intimidating. I hope this makes the big picture a little easier to see.