January 2014

Year in review: 2013

January 1, 2014 - Categories: yearly

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

Click on the image for a larger version:

2014-01-01 2013 in review

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

By the numbers:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a habit of drawing with colours

January 2, 2014 - Categories: drawing

If I don’t think about colour, I tend to not use it. I draw with whatever’s handy: blue pens, black pens, anything I’m carrying around. So one day I talked myself into being okay with this. (Click on images for larger versions.)

2013-11-21 I've decided to stop caring about pen colour

Figure 1: I’ve decided to stop caring about pen colour

I think this is just me compromising with myself, though. I think there’s more that I can do, more that I can learn.

On the computer, different colours are just a click away, so I use them. Here’s something I coloured in while waiting for the speaker to get through a very long line of people who wanted to talk to him. It’s nowhere near as colourful as the graphic recordings on OgilvyNotes.com or @agentfin’s sketchnotes, but I like it.

20130611 How to Live an Amazing Life - C.C. Chapman - Third Tuesday Toronto

Figure 2: How to Live an Amazing Life (C.C. Chapman, Third Tuesday Toronto)

Actually, colour is a lot of fun. It goes a long way towards making the sketches more approachable, less intimidating, easier to visually distinguish. That’s handy when I’m looking at my Flickr photostream or through my print-outs. Besides, the coloured sketches feel more polished. They make me feel better. (Then I worry that they become intimidating… So maybe the mix is all right – coloured sketches and plain ones, all jumbled up.)

How can I colour more? How can I make it part of my workflow? How can I practise and get good enough at it that it becomes a habit?

2014-01-02 What would it take to make colour part of my workflow

Figure 3: What would it take to make colour part of my workflow?

After drawing that, I started experimenting with switching pen colours. Red and black are classic combinations. This one was fun to do, and it didn’t take that much more thought compared to a plain black one. No post-processing, too.

2014-01-02 Google Helpouts - Imagining an ideal session

Figure 4: Google Helpouts: Imagining an ideal session

Drawing on the computer still produces more confident lines and colours, though. Maybe it’s the pen width, and the ease of switching between background highlights and pen colours?

2013-11-29 Helpers Helpout 02 - Communicating with Clients Before and After Helpouts

Figure 5: Helpers Helpout #2: Communicating with customers before and after Helpouts

So… Hmm. How can I make drawing with colour more habitual?

  • When I draw on paper, I will keep red and black pens handy. I think that will prompt me to use red for highlights, and red is more vivid than blue. If I’m working at a table, it’s easy to slow down and switch. I can use that as thinking time.
  • When I draw on paper, I’ll try staying with the density of figure 4 versus figure 1 – write fewer words and leave more space. I might also try out 0.5mm or 0.6mm pens (currently on 0.4mm) to see if that gives me a different feel.
  • When I process scanned sketches, I will colour at least one of them each day before moving them into my Flickr sync folder. That usually gets me to colour the rest.
  • At least once a week (probably every Thursday), I’ll draw on my computer instead of on paper. I’ve been minimizing the number of events and presentations I do and focusing instead on my own content, so I’ve been drawing on paper more than on my computer. Setting aside some time to work on my computer will encourage me to keep tweaking the workflow, and I like the feel of my computer-drawn images more.

Did you teach yourself to use colour? How was that process for you?

Update 2014-01-03: Here’s a related post about different colouring styles I’ve used

Thinking about routines after an extended trip

January 3, 2014 - Categories: life

An extended vacation is a great opportunity to examine the routines that you take for granted. You stop doing some things and postpone others. It’s surprising how flexible day to day life is, how much you can put on hold.

We were away for a month. For a month, I didn’t schedule appointments or conversations. For a month, I postponed e-mails and decisions. For a month, I had no library books on the go, no projects to work on, no focused topics for learning and exploration.

Now we’re back home and slowly returning to our normal life. I started cooking in bulk again, freezing 14 chicken curry lunches to save us time in the weeks ahead. The cats are back from the boarding place, so there’s that 15-30 minute daily commitment to pet care. I have quiet time for myself again, truly discretionary time. What routines and activities do I want to restore? What do I want to put back slowly, carefully, intentionally? What do I want to lessen or reconsider?

2014-01-01 Routines I put away for the trip and which ones I want to put back

Click on the image to view a larger version.

I drew during the vacation as an aid to thinking, but not as much as I did at home. I’m back to my normal rhythms of drawing and writing, although it will take me a little time to ramp up to the same kind of buffer I enjoyed. I like this and will do more of it.

Being picky and guiltless about e-mail seems to work out fine. I answered almost all my mail, although some replies took weeks. The world didn’t end.

Work feels less urgent, too. Good transition. No emergencies. I’ll work on this for another couple of months, and then we’ll plan again from there.

Less time reading, perhaps. I reviewed the list of new business books from the library and didn’t feel called by any of the titles. There’s so much I want to learn, but maybe I’ll try more targeted searches – reading specific books or websites, perhaps, instead of just picking through what’s new.

Sometimes I look at how little time I’ve spent directly writing code and wonder if I’m slipping into that vicious cycle of rustiness and impostor’s syndrome. I remind myself that I’ve felt that way about Emacs and Rails and WordPress before, and still there are ideas and projects that lead me back. I don’t have to waste energy on second-guessing myself. I’ll come back to this in time. For now, I’m focusing on learning how to share what I’m learning. When I return to focusing on coding, I can use these skills to share even more. The important thing is for me to keep that confidence that I can learn what I want to learn – as long as I have that, I can pick things up again.

I miss biking. I want to set up a winter exercise routine to get me through those cold and dangerous months. Maybe something I can do at home, so I have no excuse. We have weights, I have an exercise partner, I should be able to make this work.

A vacation is an excellent excuse to disrupt routines, since people automatically understand. I wonder how I can do this even during a staycation. Perhaps a vague “I’m taking a break and will get back to you in a month?” It’s useful to interrupt your life so that you can see what you take for granted and be deliberate about what you put back.

Are you returning from an extended break? What have you learned about your everyday life?

Weekly review: Week ending January 3, 2014

January 4, 2014 - Categories: weekly

We’re back in Toronto and settling into regular life. I’ll resume consulting next week, although I might keep it to 2.5 days a week instead of sliding up to 4 days a week. I really like these days for drawing and contemplation. Anyway, we’ll see how things work out!

Blog posts

Link roundup

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (14.3h – 8%)
    • Earn (0.0h – 0% of Business)
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
    • Build (9.3h – 65% of Business)
      • [X] Set up test mailing list subscriptions
      • [ ] Reset the TF700
      • Quantified Awesome (1.1h)
      • Drawing (6.0h)
      • Paperwork (1.7h)
        • [ ] File T4 for myself
    • Connect (5.0h – 34% of Business)
      • [ ] Connect: Discuss Emacs chats
      • [ ] Connect: Have lunch with Carsten
      • [X] Connect: Draw notes for easy ways to track time
      • [X] Connect: Draw notes for staying on the time-tracking wagon
      • [X] Connect: Prepare plan for time-tracking workshop
  • Relationships (17.7h – 10%)
    • [X] Go on road trip: Banaue, Bontoc, Sagada, Vigan
    • [X] Pack for return trip
    • [X] Reset passwords for my mom
    • [X] Set up lock screen password for my mom
    • [X] Set up offline e-mail for my mom
    • [X] Replace vacuum
  • Discretionary – Productive (6.4h – 3%)
    • [ ] Reflect on how to ask good questions
    • [ ] Reflect on what I do with my time and what my balance will be like for the next two months
    • Writing (6.4h)
      • [X] Write annual review
  • Discretionary – Play (1.8h – 1%)
  • Discretionary – Travel (48.8h – 29%)
  • Personal routines (25.0h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (9.6h – 5%)
  • Sleep (49.3h – 29% – average of 7.0 per day)

Monthly review: December 2013

January 5, 2014 - Categories: monthly, review

It's surprisingly easy to step away from everyday life for a month. We went to the Philippines to visit family and friends. It was an memorable trip: helping cook meals for the typhoon refugees at Villamor, talking about plans with family, hanging out with friends, taking care of paperwork, attending a friend's wedding, going on a 5-day road trip through Northern Luzon, getting lots of little IT things sorted out for my parents… It was wonderful being there for an extended period of time. It felt more like being home.

Blog posts


  1. 2013.12.01 Drawing for others and drawing for myself – note-taking versus note-making
  2. 2013.12.01 How do I see delegation fitting into my life over the next 12 months
  3. 2013.12.01 Show post-production notes
  4. 2013.12.03 2014 Changes
  5. 2013.12.10 December trip memories
  6. 2013.12.10 Neko memories
  7. 2013.12.12 Decision – HackLab
  8. 2013.12.12 Decision – Tacloban
  9. 2013.12.12 Plan – Getting started with Emacs Lisp
  10. 2013.12.12 Plan – The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving Time with Emacs
  11. 2013.12.12 Reflections on writing process
  12. 2013.12.12 Sharing plans
  13. 2013.12.12 Writing date
  14. 2013.12.13 Dealing with feeling scattered as a writer
  15. 2013.12.14 Conflicting thoughts about delegation
  16. 2013.12.14 Where do I want to go in terms of drawing
  17. 2013.12.17 Reviewing my investment decisions in 2013
  18. 2013.12.17 Why is my barkada my barkada
  19. 2013.12.18 Projects for 2014
  20. 2013.12.18 Should I continue with gardening in 2014
  21. 2013.12.19 December routines
  22. 2013.12.20 Things to bring to the Philippines – What was hard to find in regular supermarkets
  23. 2013.12.21 Pieces wanted for time-tracking course
  24. 2013.12.21 Plans for time-tracking workshop
  25. 2013.12.21 Things to do when away in my head
  26. 2013.12.21 Transforming your time data
  27. 2013.12.24 Hands – study

Planning a time-tracking workshop for Quantified Self Toronto

January 6, 2014 - Categories: quantified

Quantified Self Toronto is organizing a conference on self-tracking in February. Whee! I’ve promised to put together a small workshop on time-tracking, since a number of people are interested in collecting and analyzing their time data.

Here are some rough plans for the time-tracking workshop:

2013-12-21 Plans for time-tracking workshop

I need to figure out what pieces people need to learn and what I can fit into the workshop time. Some of the pieces may have to be for follow-up or individually-paced study. Here are the pieces I probably need to put together. It still feels too large for a two-hour course, so I’ll need to trim it even more – maybe make iOS, Android, and RescueTime/ManicTime more cursory mentions than in-depth explorations.2013-12-21 Pieces wanted for time-tracking course

Here are some thoughts on one of the pieces, transforming your time data.

2013-12-21 Transforming your time data


More pieces: Easy ways to track time

2014-01-03 Easy ways to track time

Staying on the time-tracking wagon

2014-01-03 Staying on the time-tracking wagon

I was offline during most of our trip to the Philippines, so it was a good test of how I could track without a Web connection to QuantifiedAwesome.com. I tried writing timestamps and activities in a small notebook that I kept in my beltbag, and I also tried using a timestamping application on my smartphone. (KeepTrack on my Android phone, if you’re curious.) The smartphone was much more convenient and less obtrusive, oddly enough. When I wrote timestamps down on paper, people commented on that as an unusual activity, but people are used to people checking their screens. Since I could easily backdate entries, I could postpone pulling my phone out until I wasn’t worried about safety or distractedness. When I got back online, I simply used the batch entry interface to add several days of entries at once.

I don’t have any iOS devices, so I might have a bit of a challenge putting together recommendations for people with iPhones. I’ve also gotten spoiled by the time-crunching capabilities I built into QuantifiedAwesome, so I’ll work on fleshing out  spreadsheet-focused analyses instead.

I’d like to put together some resources to help people get started during the workshop, with follow-up materials. I’ll also turn the info into an online course (most likely free). Would you like to help me make it happen? I’d love to hear from people who are doing similar things and have workflow tips/observations, and I’m also happy to test the material and do Q&A with people who want to apply the ideas to their life.

Planning my learning; It’s okay to learn in a spiral

January 7, 2014 - Categories: learning, plans

I’ve been coming to terms with the quirks of my learning preferences. =) I think I should be better at focusing, but really, I’m all over the map, so I should just learn how to make the most of the fact that I learn bits and pieces and then move on. It turns out that’s okay. In fact, people design curricula that way.

Learning in spirals

2014-01-03 Learning in spirals

I’m not the only geek who learns like this. It’s a pretty common pattern, apparently. Here are Sadique Ali’s thoughts on going through the spiral of learning. =) Good to see how other people deal with it! See HackerNews for interesting comments.

So what are the different areas I’m currently learning about? I started by listing the categories that came to mind. Then I wrote down what I was already comfortable with (celebrate your successes and starting point!). I wrote down the next things I wanted to explore. Then I picked ONE of those things and filled in more details for my current focus (or at least, what I’m likely to focus on the next time I come back to the topic).

2014-01-03 What are my current learning areas

This is great. It gives me “next actions” to focus on when I feel the urge to explore a particular category. Leaving myself a note about what’s next makes it easier for me to hit the ground running instead of spending time trying to figure out what to do. I can still change it, of course, but at least I have a reasonable default.

I have the freedom to follow my interests. I also nudge myself to explore specific topics further, because sometimes all you need is to sit down and start, and then you’re motivated to continue. The themes I’ve picked for each day influence me a lot. I don’t set aside each day exclusively for one topic, but I notice where the holes are when I haven’t thought about something in a while. My blog post calendar makes those holes visible, and that encourages me to pick either something I’m comfortable explaining or a question I’m curious about exploring.

What’s a good way for me to keep this table convenient and up to date? Hmm… Adding it to my mindmap or outline, maybe? That way, I can stash resources related to future topics. An Org Mode outline might be easiest to manage as it grows in size, since I can track status and export my notes. Here it is: http://sach.ac/my-learning

Do you learn in a spiral too? How do you make the most of it?

Dealing with feeling scattered as a writer

January 8, 2014 - Categories: writing
This entry is part 12 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

Maybe there are writers who sit down at their keyboards and type out their thoughts in one straight sitting. Maybe there are people who can focus on one project and see it to the end. I’m not one of those people (yet?) – I move from interest to interest, and somehow it works out anyway. It turns out lots of people are like this, too.

I was talking to a writer who felt scattered because she wrote about lots of different topics in bits and pieces. Here are some tips on planning, organization, writing, and improvement. Hope they help!

Click on the image for a larger version.

2013-12-13 Dealing with feeling scattered as a writer

I’d love to learn from your tips too! Please share them in the comments. =)

Exploring colours

January 9, 2014 - Categories: drawing

Because it’s good to experiment and play.

2014-01-03 Exploring colours

I think I’ll focus on black text with colour for emphasis when I’m drawing on paper, with some light yellow or light blue highlighting added on the computer if the sketch needs it, and maybe some shading too. I don’t like highlighting on paper, as the colour is uneven and I’m worried about the ink smearing. On the computer, I’ll use brand-based colours if I’m matching a logo and the colours make sense. If not, I might play around with non-black text, just because I can do that on the computer easily. =)

If I use colour for structure and black for text, the balance feels right (and it would be wrong the other way around). Maybe that means darker boxes (more prominent) and lighter text, when I’m working with non-black text? It makes the visual hierarchy jump out more than it would with a light structure.

Hmm… Drawing on paper with red and black is annoying because red scans as pinkish (maybe the scanner’s trying to correct for off-white paper?). Blue survives the scanner better. Comparison:

Blue   Blog
Red Sketch Blog

Okay, let’s see what it’s like with this as my default workflow!

Caring for things without caring about things

January 10, 2014 - Categories: life

sweaterShopping for and buying things is stressful for me. There are so many decisions to make, and so few things that fit my life well. When I look for shoes or clothes, it’s difficult to find simple, practical styles. When I look for gadgets or games, I wonder if I’ll really use them. I think about not only the hours of my life that the dollars represent, but also the need for storage, use, maintenance, and disposal. I try to postpone purchases until I understand what I need, and even then, I buy grudgingly. (Do I really need it? I’ve survived thus far, haven’t I? How do other people manage? What kinds of benefits do I expect? What are the costs? What can I learn from previous decisions? Can I wait a month or two for a good sale?)

I’d like to become the kind of person who cares for things without caring about things—to keep my things in order, but to not get so attached to them that I lose my equanimity. Time to grow up. Time to learn how to maintain what I have, and how to choose new purchases well. Time to embrace repair and modification. Time to embrace the hours of research as an opportunity to geek out about something, like the way that W- knows a lot about kitchen knives and shoes. Time to spend for quality (but not over-engineering, or more quality than I can use).

I want to know I can take care of nice things before I buy a lot of nice things. This can be a little difficult, because cheap things are often cheap because they’re not designed to be durable. I can practise some habits even before I upgrade stuff to see whether the habits are sustainable and useful.

For example, several of my sweaters have small holes in them. Moths? Cats? Rips? Laundry? Not sure. I’ve already frozen my sweaters to help kill insects; the recent ice-storm-caused power outage probably took care of the rest. Step 1: Stop tossing my sweaters into the washing machine, even on the delicates/hand-wash cycle, because of detergent and agitation. Instead, air, then hand-wash. Step 2: Hang up all my sweaters to air. Step 3: Prepare my own lavender sachets next year, when the lavender in the front yard flowers again, and clean all the drawers. Sand the cedar blocks, too. Step 4: Figure out my long-term sweater solution. (Still have to decide on the colour anyway, since black doesn’t work well with cats… Maybe browns and argyles? Maybe non-wool, even though wool is warmer?)

I’m gradually going to rotate out the things that I hadn’t taken care of so well, depending on whether I feel like upgrading them. But I’m also going to limit the things I care about upgrading. I don’t particularly feel the need to be part of the cashmere-and-pearls set. In terms of office wear, I can switch to blazers for now. Even moth-eaten sweaters are still warm around the house. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll learn how to felt.

Part of it is accepting that my life is a messy and imperfect one: ink stains on my cuff, scratches on my shoes, sweater pills on my shoulder due to cats digging in their claws. (“No, don’t go back to writing yet! Cuddle me more!”)

I can learn to optimize for durability, though. I can learn to spot things that are worth the cost. I can learn to get better at squeezing out more from the things I have, so that they wear out properly. A stitch in time, and all that. I’ll figure this out eventually!

HHO005: Make Your Listing Better

January 10, 2014 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

2014-01-10 Helpers Help Out 05 - Make Your Listing Better


Notes from the Helpout creation process:

Title: (This is the last thing you write!)


First sentence: What’s the primary benefit/outcome I can deliver in the Helpout itself?
Add a sentence about why this matters. “I”)

(IMPORTANT: You have to teach people how to get the most from your Helpout. Sample questions/topic help. People might not know the questions to ask. Help them define the real problem.)

Here are some topics we can cover depending on your goals: … (Put them in charge; give 4-5 prompts)
or: Common problems we can resolve:
(Use active statements or questions: “How do I…?”)

Ideas: Video with some topic info? (Good for paid Helpouts, for example)
Validate the decision to schedule the Helpout, don’t distract them. Lead them back to the Helpout (ex: embedded video)
A confused mind always says no. Focus on getting people to schedule.

Get a second look! Search for Ramon’s copywriting Helpout and ask for help. (Free right now!)

Technical details = message

What keeps coming up? What do people keep talking about all the time? What are people frustrated by? – see forums, other people, etc.
Write with empathy. Step into their shoes. Not about you. See from their perspective. Talk to a lot of your prospective clients. Go to events! People lie online. They don’t tell you what’s really going on. (Even with surveys.) At dinner tables at conference, you get truth. Give up attachment to what it should be.

Create personas for your three most ideal clients. Include pictures (ex: Google Images). What do they care about? What’s their background? You want to get to know these people like family. Look into their eyes (in the photo) when writing, so you’re clear.

Different order = different results. Don’t start with the title first!
Start with the description. Go ahead and be raw. Prompt the person to click and open it. Remember that people see a small box.


Three bullet points. Ex:
X years of experience in ____.
Author of such and such. (You should write a book or a video course or a special report or something.)
Training in something specific. What makes you credible?
Awards Clients? Be careful about saying who, especially if it’s a sensitive topic

Weekly review: Week ending January 10, 2014

January 11, 2014 - Categories: weekly

I survived hosting a podcast, interviewing a guest, managing a Hangout on Air, and drawing notes, all at the same time! Boggle.

Also, my citizenship exam has been scheduled for January 21. I should be okay (I typically get 90% on practice tests), but it's a good excuse to practise remembering trivia.

The next few weeks are probably going to be packed. That means I'll need to be extra careful about having enough quiet time for myself!

Blog posts


  1. 2014.01.05 Asking myself better questions
  2. 2014.01.05 How can I keep better track of experiments to try
  3. 2014.01.05 How can I learn to bring people together
  4. 2014.01.05 How can we improve our cooking
  5. 2014.01.05 How do I use my time
  6. 2014.01.06 Building a reputation as a speaker
  7. 2014.01.06 Canadian winter tips
  8. 2014.01.06 Extrapolating my futures
  9. 2014.01.06 Learn how you learn
  10. 2014.01.06 Learning how to think in sentences
  11. 2014.01.06 Time-tracking and multi-tasking
  12. 2014.01.06 Tracking time with Org mode
  13. 2014.01.06 Transforming timestamps and dates
  14. 2014.01.06 Why am I happier with selling my time at $5 for 15min vs 200+ per hour
  15. 2014.01.07 Map for learning Org Mode for Emacs
  16. 2014.01.08 Dealing with impostor syndrome
  17. 2014.01.08 Sharing what you're learning
  18. 2014.01.09 Ambition
  19. 2014.01.09 Blog ideas
  20. 2014.01.09 Building a review habit
  21. 2014.01.09 Organizing my sketches into collections
  22. 2014.01.09 Tips for organizing your Org-mode files
  23. 2014.01.09 What do I find challenging with podcasting
  24. 2014.01.10 Helpers Help Out 05 – Make Your Listing Better
  25. 2014.01.10 Post-production notes – HHO5 Make Your Listing Better

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (54.8h – 32%)
    • Earn (20.8h – 37% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [X] Follow up on cheque
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (21.3h – 38% of Business)
      • [X] Reset the TF700
      • [ ] Plan what I would do as my own client
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
      • Drawing (17.5h)
        • [ ] Make collection of 2013 sketchnotes
      • Paperwork (2.7h)
        • [X] File T4 for myself
        • [X] File payroll return
    • Connect (12.7h – 23% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Discuss Emacs chats
      • [X] Connect: Have lunch with Carsten
      • [ ] Talk to Globe and Mail about Quantified Self
  • Relationships (5.0h – 2%)
    • [X] Chat with Eric about friendship
    • [X] Help clean computer of viruses
    • [X] Replace vacuum
  • Discretionary – Productive (0.7h – 0%)
    • [X] Check on PH implications and cross-border planning
    • [X] Follow up on citizenship test
    • [X] Look for Audacity way to automatically remove silence – truncate
    • [X] Pick up books from Runnymede
    • [X] Reflect on how to ask good questions
    • [X] Reflect on what I do with my time and what my balance will be like for the next two months
    • [ ] Study for citizenship exam
    • Writing (0.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (0.8h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (23.6h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (17.0h – 10%)
  • Sleep (66.7h – 39% – average of 9.5 per day)

Some tips for learning Org Mode for Emacs

January 13, 2014 - Categories: org
This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series A Visual Guide to Emacs

When I learn something new, I always find myself wishing there was some kind of map to help me figure out where to start, how to track progress, and what to learn next. So now I’m making them. Here’s one for learning Org Mode, a popular outline/TODO/everything-else mode for the Emacs text editor. You can probably figure out the relevant manual sections to read based on the keywords, but feel free to ask in the comments if you need more help.

2014-01-07 Map for learning Org Mode for Emacs

Map for Learning Org Mode for Emacs

Here’s another short guide with suggestions for evolving your Org file organization:

2014-01-09 Tips for organizing your Org-mode files

Tips for organizing your Org-mode files

And here’s the one-page cheat sheet I made before helping someone dig into tracking time with Org. It’s a great way to measure your time on specific tasks.

2014-01-06 Tracking time with Org mode

Tracking time with Org Mode

Eventually I’ll get around to writing/drawing a book on thinking with Emacs. If you want it to happen, keep asking questions! =)

(Images are shared under the Creative Commons Attribution license, so reshare/reuse/remix away! Click on the images for larger versions.)

Adapt to your learning style

January 14, 2014 - Categories: learning, tips

Books are great, but they’re not for everyone. If you find it hard to get through a book, figure out what your personal learning style is, and adapt to that instead. Do you prefer listening to audio or watching presentations? The Internet has plenty of resources, and many libraries carry audiobooks and DVDs as well. Do you prefer doing things with your hands? Experimenting is getting easier and easier.

2014-01-06 Learn how you learn

That said, reading is a skill you can get better at. If you can become more comfortable with reading–or at least, with getting the most important points from a book or a summary of it–you can access a treasure trove of people’s knowledge through the ages. Here’s a sketch of mine from 2012 on How to Read a Book (Adler and van Doren)

Still, if you’ve got a choice of learning formats, why not pick one that follows your learning style? =) Good luck and have fun!

Share while you learn

January 15, 2014 - Categories: sharing
This entry is part 8 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

2014-01-24: Added text from images

Don’t wait to feel like an expert before you share what you’ve learned. The world needs more beginners.

Sharing what you're learning

Sharing what you’re learning

So there’s value in whatever you can share, even if you’re just starting out.

But you probably weren’t waiting for that reassurance. Maybe there’s something else holding you back. The more I think about this, the more I recognize (in myself and others) the fear, sometimes, of being less experienced and less knowledgeable than other people think you are.

I find myself adopting these coping mechanisms when the impostor syndrome intersects with my professional life:

Dealing with impostor syndrome

Dealing with impostor syndrome

With others, I minimize the chance of impostor syndrome by giving them as much information as they need to make their own decisions. As for me, I think the best strategy for me is to throw myself into being a beginner, to embrace that figuring-out, to be delighted by the gaps and the mistakes, and to share the journey – especially the detours.


Drawing in action

January 16, 2014 - Categories: drawing

People often ask me how much time I take to draw notes of someone else’s presentation. I tell them it usually takes me maybe a few minutes more than it takes the person to talk, since I just have to save and post it afterwards.

It may be easier to understand if you see it in action. Over at HelpersHelpOut.com, a few people and I run this weekly live show with tips and tricks for Google Helpout providers. (Small community at the moment!) Last Friday, I hosted a session on copywriting for your listing, with Ramon Williamson as the guest. I was a little worried about whether I could juggle managing the Hangout on Air, interviewing the guest, and drawing the notes all at the same time, since one of my co-hosts backed out and the other was missing in action. Plus I’d just come back from a month-long vacation and hadn’t fully caught up on the topics from the previous shows. Anyway, it worked out reasonably well:

Here’s the image:

2014-01-10 Helpers Help Out 05 - Make Your Listing Better

Helpers Help Out 05 – Make Your Listing Better

Show notes

People also often ask me if they can hire me to do this sort of thing for podcasts and videocasts. The answer is no, although I’ll be happy to refer you to other people you can hire. Me, I really like being able to add my own questions and learn about the things I’m curious about too. =) So I might consider co-hosting if it’s a topic I’m really curious about, but I’m not going to simply illustrate. I’d rather spend the time drawing my own stuff.

The guest on that show and someone else I had lunch with that same day both said they liked the fact that I draw simple stick figures. I don’t draw as well or as elaborately as other sketchnote artists do (see Sketchnote Army for lots of examples), and apparently this makes the sketches less intimidating, more “Hey, I can do this too.” Awesome! Well, now you know how it’s done. Rock on.

More behind-the-scenes notes:

Post-production notes - HHO5 Make Your Listing Better

Post-production notes – HHO5 Make Your Listing Better

UPDATE 2014-01-31: In case you’re curious, I used Google Hangouts On Air for the web conference, with the Q&A module, Hangout Toolbox, and Cameraman (for controlling the view). For drawing, I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on Windows 8.1 with a Cintiq 12WX display/tablet acting as a second screen. See how I set up Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for sketchnoting.

Canadian winter tips

January 17, 2014 - Categories: canada, clothing, life

Coming back to cold weather was not particularly fun, but I’m learning to deal with it. I’ve got the thermals, the sweaters, the jackets, the scarves… There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to figure out how to cope with winter. =) Anyway, here are some tips for people who are new to Canada or other cold places:

2014-01-06 Canadian winter tips

Canadian winter tips

If you like this, you might like my 2009 blog post with some more notes on what makes winter better.

Other winter notes: My insulated winter boots have sprung a leak. I still have a pair of leather boots and a pair of rubber boots (in bright red!), so I think I’ll make it through this winter. I shopped around for a replacement pair this weekend and didn’t find anything I liked, despite the sales. I was thinking about whether I should get a pair for when these boots wear out, but I’ll probably move away from wearing insulated boots and move towards thick socks and hiking shoes or regular boots instead. It’s also a good time to see if I can repair the boots I have. Oh well!

HHO006: Success Stories – Jeff Bond (and friends!)

January 17, 2014 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

UPDATE 2014-01-18: Stephan Bollenger -> Stephan Bollinger

2014-01-17 Helpers Help Out 006 - Success Stories - Jeff Bond v2

Click on the image for a larger version. Feel free to reuse/share it under the Creative Commons Attribution License. – Sacha Chua

Thanks to Jeff Bond, Graham Johnson, Ovais Absar, and Ramon Williamson for appearing on the show!

Check out http://helpershelpout.com/5 for Ramon’s tips on adding frequently asked questions to your listing.

Google+ event page <– more comments, link to Q&A


This week: Set up a custom domain for your Helpouts. You can redirect the domain to a particular listing, or you can click on your name in Google Helpouts to see the page with all of your listings and then link to that URL. Have you registered your own domain? Reply with a comment below!

Weekly review: Week ending January 17, 2014

January 19, 2014 - Categories: weekly

I've been really ramping up my delegation. =) (See the series of sketches regarding being my own client for the motivation.) Promising. One of my goals is to outsource practically all of the parts of my podcasting process so that all I have to do is suggest some names, prepare for the interview, show up, chat and take notes, and save the file somewhere. This will require me to actually trust someone else with my Google account, so we'll see how well that works…

Funny, I thought I'd been drawing less because I was spending the time focusing on specifying delegated tasks instead, but when I looked at the list of sketches, I actually still drew quite a lot. Most of that was from Wednesday's drawing sprint of thinking through some coaching-related questions before the session I have with Ramon Williamson in a couple of weeks.

Next week is my Canadian citizenship test. I think it will be all right.

Blog posts


  1. 2014.01.12 Being my own client – part 1 of 4
  2. 2014.01.12 Being my own client part 2 – Projects
  3. 2014.01.12 Being my own client part 3 – Emacs, blog
  4. 2014.01.12 Being my own client part 4 – buying back time
  5. 2014.01.13 Stuff I've tracked
  6. 2014.01.13 What kind of a good life do I want
  7. 2014.01.14 Increasing my delta – part 2
  8. 2014.01.14 Reflecting on semi-retirement
  9. 2014.01.14 Ways to increase my delegation-fu
  10. 2014.01.15 General questions for coaches, role models, and mentors
  11. 2014.01.15 Getting started with professional sketchnoting
  12. 2014.01.15 Google Helpouts – Would I consider setting aside more time
  13. 2014.01.15 How I free up time
  14. 2014.01.15 How do I feel about interactive sketchnotes
  15. 2014.01.15 My current strategies for personal and professional growth
  16. 2014.01.15 My why, goals, and vision
  17. 2014.01.15 Paying myself first with time
  18. 2014.01.15 The balance that works for me
  19. 2014.01.15 Thoughts on getting paid vs giving things away
  20. 2014.01.15 What's my 20 percent – Where are my moments of truth
  21. 2014.01.15 Where I am and where I want to be
  22. 2014.01.17 How can I assign 30 hours of work a week
  23. 2014.01.17 How can I hack podcasting
  24. 2014.01.17 Mapping a strategy for outsourcing podcast work
  25. 2014.01.17 Planning my post-podcast process
  26. 2014.01.17 Thinking about delegation goals

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (58.3h – 34%)
    • [ ] Build: Document post-podcast process
    • [ ] Build: Fill pipeline with other delegatable tasks
    • [ ] Connect: Chat about writing
    • [ ] Connect: Get in touch with people regarding Helpouts
    • [ ] Connect: Go to Quantified Self meetup
    • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Earn (19.3h – 33% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (21.4h – 36% of Business)
      • [X] Build: Draw headers for my mailing lists
      • [X] Build: Switch Mailchimp mailing lists to use straight blog feeds instead
      • [X] Build: Switch website to use straight blog feeds
      • [X] Plan what I would do as my own client
      • [X] Reset the TF700
      • Quantified Awesome (1.7h)
      • Drawing (11.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
        • [X] File T4 for myself
        • [X] File payroll return
    • Connect (17.7h – 30% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Confirm schedule with Jeff Bond
      • [X] Connect: Discuss Emacs chats
      • [X] Connect: Have lunch with Carsten
      • [X] Connect: Help Joel find computer
      • [X] Talk to Globe and Mail about Quantified Self
  • Relationships (6.4h – 3%)
    • [X] Chat with Eric about friendship
    • [X] Contact pptstar regarding copyright complaint from Papa
    • [X] Helped clean computer of viruses
  • Discretionary – Productive (8.5h – 5%)
    • [X] Look for Audacity way to automatically remove silence – truncate
    • [X] Study for citizenship exam
    • [ ] Prepare photocopies and documents needed for citizenship exam
    • [ ] Study for citizenship exam
    • [ ] Take citizenship exam
    • Writing (2.4h)
  • Discretionary – Play (0.0h – 0%)
  • Discretionary – Travel (0.0h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (19.9h – 11%)
  • Unpaid work (18.4h – 10%)
  • Sleep (59.4h – 35% – average of 8.5 per day)

Becoming my own client; also, delegation

January 20, 2014 - Categories: delegation, experiment, plans, quantified

When I started this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement, I fully intended it to be a learning experience in entrepreneurship. I wanted to learn how to create value. I wanted to learn how to sell, how to build systems. Mission accomplished. I have the confidence that if I need to work, I can help people and earn money in return. I can deal with the paperwork required by the government. I can negotiate and make deals.

The more I learn about freedom and space and creating my own things, though, the more I think that this should be my real experiment, not freelancing or entrepreneurship. It is not difficult to freelance. Millions of people do it. There’s plenty of information about entrepreneurship too; no end to aspirational books encouraging people to break out of their cubicles and follow their dreams. But far fewer people have the space to simply create and share things for the sheer joy of it. Even the authors of those books on freedom work for their rewards.

It’s an interesting experiment to try. I could focus on working on my own things, going forward. I’ve been winding up my commitments and avoiding new ones. I still have a little bit of consulting to wrap up eventually. I’ve been telling myself that the money I earn increases my safety net so that I can take those future risks. Besides, I like the people I work with. I like the feeling that I am helping them out and making a difference. (And there, taking a step back, I can see that the desire for a clear sense of accomplishment may be distracting me from more difficult self-directed work.)

Really, nothing can buy time. Probably even if I stopped consulting now — or if I had stopped a while back, or never started — I could still spend an appreciable amount of time making things happen. Postponing this doesn’t make me live any longer. It doesn’t mean that I have more core time, those hours when I’m alert and creative and happy.

I hadn’t noticed for a long time because I had set too low standards for myself. I set trip-wires to trigger reflection: if I missed a commitment or started misplacing things, I knew I was overscheduled, and I cut back. The rest of the time, it was enough that family life was happy, blog posts were written, sketches shared. It was too easy to meet these conditions, so I didn’t notice.

2014-01-12 Being my own client - part 1 of 4

What would I work on? Visual guides to complex topics look like the most unique contribution I can make, and there have been quite a few updates for my blog (both technical and written) that I’ve been postponing for lack of attention.

2014-01-12 Being my own client part 2 - Projects

Details help me visualize what that might actually mean:

2014-01-12 Being my own client part 3 - Emacs, blog

I should treat myself as a client and as a contractor. If I were delegating this work to other people, would I be happy with vague specifications and without milestones? I wouldn’t hire someone to maybe possibly think about something that could help people learn. I would spend the time to come up with a clear vision and the steps to make it happen, and then I would make regular progress that I would report on. The high-energy hours I have are best used for this long-term work; everything else can go into the non-core hours.

So I’ll keep my existing consulting commitment to Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus whatever non-core time I can spare to help them get over this hump, and then we’ll see if we’ll continue or not. In the meantime, any consulting of mine will be with the commitment to replace all the hours I spend earning with at least the same amount of time in delegated work (plus whatever time I need to manage the delegation). The end result won’t be as awesome as having the same amount of core time (and to be fair, my consulting involves non-core time too), but it should:

  • build up a good library of procedures so that I can either delegate tasks to other people or work more consistently when I’m on my own (plus the benefits of process improvement and sharing)
  • help me learn how to take advantage of other people’s time — and better yet, how their skills and experiences differ from mine
  • allow me to support people as they build up their own businesses and the local economy

In fact, just for kicks, I’m going to backdate the experiment–to replace my original 5-year experiment with it instead of starting just from this point onwards. Since I don’t actually have a time machine, an easy way to make that commitment is to calculate all the time that I have spent earning so far. Fortunately, this is yet another question that time-tracking allows me to answer. The numbers in the sketches below are a little bit out of date now; the current ones are:

  • 1874.4 hours spent earning since 2012-02-19
  • 208.1 hours delegated through oDesk so far
  • 55.1 hours spent managing the delegation (including documenting processes, interviewing, etc.)

So my ratio is about 1 hour of management to 4 hours of other people’s work. A ratio of 1.3 hours should be enough to account for delegating the work, managing the delegation, delegating the time to cover my management, etc. That means that if I want to replace about 1874 hours, my goal is to delegate a total of 2437 hours. So far, I’ve delegated 208, so I have 2,229 to go. (Ignore the math in the sketch; this is the updated version.) That’s a little more than a full-time employee. I’m not quite at the point of having streamlined, documented processes that can take full-time assistance over a year (or enough faith in my hiring abilities!), but I’ll work up to it. (My first goal: delegate as much as I can of this podcasting process.)

2014-01-12 Being my own client part 4 - buying back time

It’s a little scary delegating so much, especially since I’m normally quite careful about costs – but I think it will be worth it. In fact, I’ve been giving some virtual assistants raises to challenge them to think of themselves as people who can earn that. It’s a little scary projecting the expenses, but if I commit to it and then focus on making the most of it, I’ll gain more than I would if I kept waffling on the commitment. The work can start by replacing the routine, but it would be interesting to use it to support new projects someday.

2014-01-17 How can I assign 30 hours of work a week

As always, it helps to keep the end in mind.2014-01-17 Thinking about delegation goals

I’ve been ramping up my delegation through oDesk, and I’ve also experimented with micro-task-outsourcing through Fiverr (with quite good results!). We’ll see how it goes.

2014-01-14 Ways to increase my delegation-fu

It would be great to share processes with other people. Timothy Kenny gave me a glimpse of his growing process library. I’ve posted a number of my processes at http://sachachua.com/business, but haven’t updated it in a while. I’ll share more as I hammer them out. I wonder what my end-state would look like. Maybe I’d just share this Google Drive folder, and people can copy from it into their own libraries.

Anyway, plenty of stuff to figure out. =)

How to read blogs efficiently with a feed reader

January 21, 2014 - Categories: learning, reading, tips

Books tend to be better-organized and more in-depth, but these days, I get more current information and insights from blogs. Reading lots of blogs can take time, though. Worse, it’s easy to get distracted by the interesting links and ideas you’ll come across. Next thing you know, it’s two hours later and you haven’t even started working on your project.

Here are the tools and strategies I use to read blogs. I hope they help!

I subscribe to blogs I regularly read, and I read them using a feed reader. Some blogs are great for inspiration and serendipity. Other blogs are written by people I’d like to learn more about, and I don’t want them to disappear in my forgetfulness. Instead of subscribing by e-mail, I use a feed reader to organize the blogs I want to read in different folders, so I can prioritize which folder I want to read first.

You might not have come across feed readers yet, or you may already be using one without knowing what it’s called. Feed readers (also known as aggregators) are tools that go to all the blogs you’ve subscribed to and get a special version of the blog updates formatted so that computers can easily understand it. The tool then displays the information in a form you can easily read.


Many feed readers allow you to organize your subscriptions into folders. For example, I have an “AA Skill Development” folder for professional development blogs that I skim when I find myself with a moment of time. I add “AA” to the beginning of folders that I’d like to see first in the list, since the folders are alphabetically sorted. Organizing your subscriptions into folders is great because that allows you to quickly read through lots of similar topics together.

I read most blog posts on my phone, quickly paging through headlines and excerpts. I rarely read blogs when I’m at my computer. After all, I could be doing something more productive instead, and I don’t want to get distracted by the links. The Feedly app isgreat for this because it can synchronize across devices. Many feed readers even let you read while you’re offline, which is great for learning things when I’m on the subway. Lately I’ve been skimming through everything, newest posts first. It doesn’t take me a lot of time to do so, and it means that I don’t forget to read the folders down the list.

When I come across something I find interesting, I use the Save for later feature in Feedly. I can then follow up on it when I get back to my computer by checking my Saved for later folder. I usually save this for my weekly review. In fact, I have an If This Then That recipe that copies my saved items into Evernote, and I have an Emacs Lisp script that exports that list and makes it part of my weekly review. That’s probably the geekiest part of my setup, so don’t worry if that makes you gloss over. =)

You don’t have to read everything. You don’t even have to skim through everything. Feel free to use the Mark all as read feature, or to ignore the unread count.

Most feed readers can autodetect the feed for the site you want to subscribe to. For example, if you want to add this site to your Feedly, you can try putting in http://sachachua.com/blog and it should show you the recent posts. I write about a lot of different topics, so if you want, you can subscribe to just one category. For example, if you only want my learning-related posts, you can subscribe to http://sachachua.com/blog/category/learning/feed .

I like using the free Feedly reader, and there are many other options out there. I hope you find something that works for you!

Improving and delegating more of my podcasting process

January 22, 2014 - Categories: delegation, podcasting

I’m interested in videocasting/podcasting as a richer and more interactive way to get stuff out of people’s heads and into other people’s heads. I’ve come to terms with the fact that most people don’t write anywhere near as much as I do, but that they know all sorts of things that they might not have realized yet. Talking to people seems to be a good way to help them share that, because many people find it easier to answer questions than to share on their own. Likewise, podcasts recorded live make it easier for me to bring in other people’s questions (bonus: I learn more in the process!). So, podcasting, even though actually talking to people is hard. Maybe if I do enough of it, I’ll get desensitized to the anxiety and I’ll get better.

2014-01-09 What do I find challenging with podcasting

Along those lines, I’ve been doing a weekly show for Google Helpouts providers. It’s a community of maybe a thousand people, which is a tiny niche in the Internet. I used to have co-hosts, but they’re on hiatus for various personal/business reasons. I did my first solo show the other week, and my second was last week. So far, I have managed to survive. I like it because Google Helpouts is a new platform and everyone’s still figuring things out. I’m fine with talking tech and maybe a little online marketing/customer service, but other people know so much more than I do about business and education, so interviews are a natural fit. I’m getting settled into a decent workflow involving Hangouts on Air, the Q&A module, MP3s, and even drawing sketchnotes while the conversation progresses.

Sketchnoting is oddly calming. I had done it from the very first show, when I had a co-host handle all the niceties of reaching out to people, introducing them on air, and asking questions. For a kick, I tried seeing if I could do it even when hosting solo, and it worked out fine. You’d think adding one more thing to do during the show would drive me crazy from multi-tasking, but actually, drawing keeps me not-stressed-out enough to listen well, ask follow-up questions (since I have my notes handy!), and help people follow along with the conversation or catch up afterwards. Besides, it’s a good excuse to swap out my webcam image for the screenshare, so I don’t have to be “on” all the time.

So the interview itself is fine, and it will get better as I pick up more experience.

Then there’s all the rest of the processes around that. I typically stay up about two hours after the end of the show. I chat with participants off-air for 30-45 minutes (this is usually the most fun segment!) and then handle all the post-work, since I like it when the resources are posted right away. That way, I don’t have to go back and work on it again. Although it’s certainly possible to just let the video be automatically posted on my YouTube channel and be done with it, I like putting together the video, my visual notes, an MP3 download (for the people who prefer to listen to the podcast while, say, doing chores or walking around), and eventually a transcript. If I’m going to do something, I might as well use it as an opportunity to explore what awesomeness look like. =)

That said, wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to document my processes so that I can do them without worrying about missing a step, and so that other people could take care of making things happen? I’d love to worry less about identifying, inviting, and coordinating potential guests, too. Someday.

2014-01-17 How can I hack podcasting

Since many of the things I do involve my Google account, this probably means building trust carefully. I was thinking about what sequence of activities might make sense in terms of trust.

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

Come to think of it, I can improve my post-podcast process by parallelizing some of the tasks that take a long time to do. Maybe I’ll even figure out how to automate some of those tasks, like perhaps getting the ID3 information from a spreadsheet.2014-01-17 Planning my post-podcast process

Here’s a list that’s roughly in order of trust:

  • Typing
    1. If there are visual notes, type in the text of the images and send them to me.
    2. Create transcripts suitable for copying and pasting into the blog posts.
  • Tech
    1. Make sure the podcast shows up correctly in popular directories.
    2. Add the text from 1 and 2 above to the blog posts for greater searchability.
    3. Write the blog posts with the video, audio, images (if any), and additional resources; update the redirection in WordPress.
    4. Create the announcement in WordPress.
    5. Update the WordPress redirection information for the event.
    6. Download the video from YouTube and extract the MP3; add metadata and upload it to archive.org
    7. Create and share the Google+ event for the upcoming podcast.
    8. Copy the event to Google Calendar.
    9. Start and manage the Google Hangout. (Including starting the Q&A module, setting up the YouTube URL, etc).
  • Connecting
    1. Draft or send invitations to possible show guests. Coordinate acceptance and schedule.
    2. Do research on the scheduled guest. Compile a short report with their bio and possibly interesting questions to ask.
    3. Research and suggest potential guests, including reasons why.

The biggest risk, I guess, is that someone goes rogue with my Google Account. Goodness knows enough people have had that kind of problem with people breaking into their accounts. Working with assistants I pick myself (since I work with people who have a good reputation) and making an effort to be an excellent client could lower that risk. I’ve also separated my domain administration account from my regular e-mail account. At some point, I’ll just have to trust (and verify).

Thinking about my reading

January 23, 2014 - Categories: reading

I read widely and voraciously. Every month, I check the list of new releases at the library and request the titles that interest me. From time to time, I’ll pull other books off the shelves. When I have a new research interest, I borrow 7-10 books about it. Most of the time, I skim tables of contents and jump to the specific chapters I’m interested in. Few books deserve a close reading and lots of notes. For example, out of the twenty-seven books I lugged home a few weeks ago, I took notes on three:

Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (Ann M. Blair, 2011: Yale)
Loved the historical notes on note-taking, indices, and other good things. Learned a lot from this. Very geeky, though.
Epictetus: Discourses and Selected Writings (trans. and ed. by Robert Dobbin, 2008: Penguin)
Interested in Stoic philosophy.
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (Adam Grant, 2013: Viking)
Research validation for strategy of giving; role models to look up and learn more about? (ex: Rifkin)

I was thinking about why I read a lot of books and when it might make sense to adopt a different strategy. One of the nuggets I picked up from Too Much to Know was this viewpoint from Seneca:

Instead Seneca recommended focusing on a limited number of good books to be read thoroughly and repeatedly: “You should always read the standard authors; and when you crave change, fall back upon those whom you read before.”

Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (Ann M. Blair, 2011: Yale)

Restricting myself to a small canon feels slightly claustrophobic, but I can see the point of rereading, absorbing, enacting, experimenting, digging deeper. After all, the limiting factor is rarely knowledge. More often, our growth is limited by action and reflection. For personal growth, it’s not a matter of reading more books — although sometimes the right book can unlock some more understanding through a different perspective. I still like the way that reading lots of different books leads to interesting connections between diverse ideas, though, so I don’t think I’ll quite give that up. Maybe I’ll just reread particularly good books (or at least my notes of books!) more often, as I set up, go through, and review exercises and experiments associated with them.

Breadth and depth in reading

Breadth and depth in reading

Why do I read books, anyway? What do I get out of them? If I’m clearer about what I value, then maybe I can get better at choosing promising books, and also at understanding how I feel about various books. I had been looking forward to reading this social media book for a while, but I found myself a little disappointed in it. It was thorough and probably very useful, but it felt… dry. Another book was vibrant with stories, but didn’t translate into actions I was moved to take. Why do I read? What resonates with me?

I started by writing down different reasons, and then I ranked them in terms of importance. The results surprised me.

What do I look for when I read? - What are my goals?

What do I look for when I read? – What are my goals?

It turns out that I read primarily to find different approaches that I can consider or try out. This probably explains why books that proclaim the One True Method rub me the wrong way. I prefer books that lay out several strategies and describe the situations where each strategy may be more appropriate. I can use those strategies myself, and I can also pick up ideas to share with others. I can still read single-strategy books, but I have to do more of the comparison myself, and there’s always the suspicion of confirmation bias and cherry-picked stories.

On a related note, I like the way that books present a collection of ideas. When I search for information on the Net, I often end up with a zoomed-in view and little context. It’s understandable. That’s how I write on my own website – in disconnected chunks. With a well-structured book, I can learn from the related ideas that the authors include. That said, I prefer it if the authors actually worked on figuring out logical connections instead of throwing everything together in a grab-bag of miscellany.

Books are also handy for chunking ideas in a mental shorthand. For example, having read Taleb’s book, I can use the “black swan” as a mental shortcut for thinking about the certainty of unpredictable events. Reading books about communication makes it easier for me to see patterns and work with them. The danger is that I might oversimplify, smooshing real-life observations into these neat pigeonholes – but it’s probably better than not knowing what to even look for.

What kinds of books suit me well?

What kinds of books suit me well?

There are probably books that suit me better and others that suit me less. I can’t tell all these things from the titles and I refuse to be limited to bestseller recommendations, but I can get a sense of what a book is like from a quick read of a chapter. I’ll still read books outside this model once in a while, but it’s nice to know why some books end up dogeared and others skimmed.

As for closer, repeated reading, I think it comes down to being moved to action, identifying the triggers for change and the new actions I want to take, keeping notes on the experiment, and circling back to the book to check my observations against the author’s notes. There’s also this idea of not just being driven by my own questions (since I’m still learning how to ask good questions myself), but to very very carefully pick good teachers and sit at their feet (virtually, of course). Epictetus comes highly recommended throughout the ages, so he might be a good one to start with.

I’ve been reading all my life, and there’s still so much more to learn. =)

Simplifying with Stoicism: examining negative feelings

January 24, 2014 - Categories: reflection

The more I can master myself, the less I need, and the freer I am.

I dug into a collection of Epictetus’ discourses to learn more about Stoicism. While I’ve never been much worried about death and I’m unlikely to run into issues with jail, exile, or hemlock (!), I have a lot to learn about dealing with aversion and negative emotions. I live a happier and luckier life than most people do, and I wonder what it would be like with even more understanding.

How can I learn more about this through practice? I can start with negative feelings, then move to attachments, and then get even better at understanding what I do and don’t control.

Mapping a path to understanding Stoicism

Mapping a path to understanding Stoicism

When do I feel negative emotions? What situations disrupt my feelings? Mostly these emotions are directed at things or at myself: frustration with . I’m getting pretty good at not being perturbed by people, even though sometimes other people think I’m annoyed with them when I’m more annoyed with the situation. That said, I’m becoming less inclined to do the emotional work of reassuring people that it’s not about them, so sometimes I just take responsibility for what I can control and let them be responsible for their feelings.

Exploring negative feelings

Exploring negative feelings

Hmm. Frustration and annoyance tend to be outward-directed, while anxiety and embarrassment are internal. I can deal with frustration and annoyance by accepting that the world is what it is. Anxiety can be addressed by faith that things will work out, and embarrassment is just ego in disguise.

So what are those anxieties about, anyway? Let me dig into those further.

Recognizing potential fears

Recognizing potential fears

Come to think of it, there’s not much to be afraid of. I don’t have to worry about missing out. Life is pretty darn good even like this, and the rest is icing on the cake. Likewise, I don’t have to worry about falling short of expectations, since proper expectations are other people’s responsibilities. Messes and mistakes can teach me a lot. As for the fear that pressure or other forces might sway me into making bad decisions… Being able to recognize the warning signs will help me slow down, and mistakes are good for learning anyway.

The fear of falling short is at the root of the impostor syndrome, something I’ve written about a few times before. I remember reading about the impostor syndrome when I was in school, and recognizing myself in it. You might think that the validation of programming competitions, newspaper articles, and personal projects would boost my belief in myself, but that often made me feel even less like the image I thought people had of me.

Taking a closer look at the impostor syndrome

Taking a closer look at the impostor syndrome

But the impostor syndrome, too, might be ego disguised: part desire for validation, part aversion to embarrassment. If I can let go of both, I’ll be more free to concentrate on the things worth thinking about, and I can take better risks. So out to the curb they go.

As for the fear of missing out, of not quite doing enough… I’ve been thinking about how to learn more and how to increase the difference I want to make in this world. In particular, I want to get better at learning from people, which includes learning from coaches. I hear coaches are good for accelerating your growth. I’m careful about how I frame this to myself, because it’s much too easy to become unhappy with how you’re growing and to want more, more, more.

I realized that I could actually get a pretty good sense of what my life might look like in thirty to forty years, even if I continue in my current trajectory. My parents are in their sixties and I have other mentors around that age, so I know roughly what to expect. Assuming that my skills and tools stay roughly the same, I’m probably going to end up with an even bigger archive of ideas and notes. However, I already know what it’s like to have more notes than I can remember and more sketches than I can grasp. Even if I continue with the same strategies, things will probably already be wonderful. If I learn from experience, adapt to the changes in technology and society, and explore new ways of doing things, then it will be even better.

This means that I can probably let go of the fear of missing out, of not living up to my potential or not maximizing awesomeness. Life is already wonderful.

Extrapolating my futures

Extrapolating my futures

I like thinking through this in advance, when I can reason about them with a clear mind. When situations come up, at least I’ll have rehearsed some options. The real tests are when I’m tired or hungry or sleepy, or when something major happens. We’ll see. =) In the meantime, it’s good to look at the things I might unconsciously avoid looking at, to see what I can do to let them go.

HHO007: Setting up for success

January 24, 2014 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

Weekly review: Week ending January 24, 2014

January 26, 2014 - Categories: weekly

I'm almost two years into my 5-year experiment, and I'm starting to realize that self-direction is difficult, interesting, and well worth learning. I most likely have the space I need–more than the space, I need, actually–to explore this, so I should do that instead of getting distracted by the satisfaction and immediate feedback of working on other people's goals. So I've been cutting back on consulting and ramping up delegation (to retroactively buy back my time), but I still have a lot to figure out. Philosophy seems to be a good place to start learning about liberal arts versus servile arts, and other things.

In other news: I got 20/20 on my citizenship test, hooray! However, my lost passport means that the application needs to be manually reviewed, and my travel records will need to be requested from the border agency. That's okay. I can wait.

Blog posts


  1. 2014.01.18 Reflecting on the Helpouts experiment so far
  2. 2014.01.20 How could I get more out of my sharing v2
  3. 2014.01.20 If I were a master of delegation
  4. 2014.01.20 What do I want to be more intentional about learning
  5. 2014.01.21 Breadth and depth in reading
  6. 2014.01.21 Understanding more about how I learn and share
  7. 2014.01.22 Mapping what I'm learning – update
  8. 2014.01.22 Quantified Self Toronto – Sugar, Black Box, Photo Metadata, QS Sandbox, Data Theatre
  9. 2014.01.22 Recognizing potential fears
  10. 2014.01.22 Taking a closer look at the impostor syndrome
  11. 2014.01.22 Then what is blogging's place in my life
  12. 2014.01.22 What do I look for when I read – What are my goals
  13. 2014.01.22 What kinds of books suit me well
  14. 2014.01.22 Work and its place in my life
  15. 2014.01.23 Exploring negative feelings
  16. 2014.01.23 Mapping a path to understanding Stoicism
  17. 2014.01.23 What's challenging or different about self-directed learning
  18. 2014.01.24 A path toward improving my writing and sharing
  19. 2014.01.24 A path toward learning from people
  20. 2014.01.24 How can I do work that's more useful to myself and others
  21. 2014.01.24 What do I look for in blog posts
  22. 2014.01.24 Which parts of my writing process have I thought a lot about

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (47.8h – 28%)
    • Earn (14.1h – 29% of Business)
      • [X] E2: Add some white boxes for script 1
      • [X] E2: Redraw trailer for script 1
      • [X] Earn: E1: Consulting
      • [ ] E2: Draw TODOs for script 3
      • [ ] E2: Resync trailer for script 1
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (24.8h – 51% of Business)
      • [X] Build: Draw headers for my mailing lists
      • [X] Build: Switch Mailchimp mailing lists to use straight blog feeds instead
      • [X] Build: Switch website to use straight blog feeds
      • [X] Fix mailing list subject lines
      • [X] Replace sidebar mailing list subscription
      • [ ] Build: Fill pipeline with other delegatable tasks
      • [ ] Build: Rethink website design (esp. responsiveness)
      • Quantified Awesome (4.5h)
      • Drawing (12.3h)
        • [ ] Draw the next step for Emacs-related sketches
      • Paperwork (1.1h)
    • Connect (9.0h – 18% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Chat about writing
      • [X] Connect: Get in touch with people regarding Helpouts
      • [X] Connect: Go to Quantified Self meetup
      • [X] Connect: Help Joel find computer
      • [ ] Connect: Attend Visual Thinkers meetup
      • [ ] Connect: Chat about blogging
      • [ ] Connect: Handle lots of Helpouts
      • [ ] Connect: Talk to Ramon regarding coaching
  • Relationships (1.9h – 1%)
    • [ ] Chat with Mel
    • [ ] Attend party
  • Discretionary – Productive (15.3h – 9%)
    • [X] Prepare photocopies and documents needed for citizenship exam
    • [X] Study for citizenship exam
    • [X] Take citizenship exam
    • [X] trip home
    • [ ] Listen to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
    • [ ] Reflect on life without deadlines
    • Writing (8.2h)
  • Discretionary – Play (6.5h – 3%)
  • Personal routines (17.5h – 10%)
  • Unpaid work (16.6h – 9%)
  • Sleep (61.5h – 36% – average of 8.8 per day)

Other-work and self-work

January 27, 2014 - Categories: experiment, sharing

Since I decided to become my own client, I’ve been thinking about the things I think of as work and the things I do out of my own volition. Work is shaped by other people’s goals, priorities, and directions. When it comes to the things I do for myself, I am responsible for figuring all of that out. I haven’t truly delved into entrepreneurship yet, small publishing experiments notwithstanding. I haven’t said, “This is something I believe is worth making and selling,” and I haven’t matched that to people who need it. I’ll learn how to do that someday. First, I want to learn how to direct myself.

2014-01-22 Work and its place in my life

Work and its place in my life

In drawing these notes, I thought that this self-directed work – focused on my own needs and curiosity – might be more limited in effect, but also that it might benefit me more through compounding. When I choose my own work, I can build things up instead of getting pulled in different directions. (Or at least, if it seems like I’m scattering my attention over different topics of my own choosing, the logic might emerge later.) Everything I work on benefits both other people and me, but sometimes other people more than me, and sometimes me more than other people.

Or is that really what I’m balancing? In the margins, I poked at that assumption. Was it really a spectrum between other-focused work and self-focused work? What if other-focus and self-focus were actually orthogonal? What if you could do things that were very useful for yourself, but also pretty useful for other people? That sounded like a more interesting possibility. I’m probably not quite there yet, but if I get better at doing things that I find useful, I might also get better at making those things useful for other people.

I thought about whether I wanted to postpone that kind of self-exploration until after I wrap up my consulting engagement, but I decided that doing it in parallel was better. It is always tempting to postpone vague, self-directed work in favour of clearly-defined, other-directed paying work, but is it ever truly profitable to do so? I should use my uncommitted core hours for growing, even if it feels slow.

Something useful to myself AND to others… Blogging would probably be a good way to practise. I noticed that although the daily themes helped me make sure I didn’t overlook different topics, I sometimes found myself writing blog posts that were helpful for other people but didn’t make me learn as much. I hadn’t been challenging myself to learn something new either about the topic or about the way I could share. If I focus more on stretching my understanding, would my blog become less useful to others? What kinds of things could I write that might be useful for me now and later, and which might also be helpful for other people? Reflections, perhaps, if other people resonate with them and use them to think through their own lives. My notes on things I’m figuring out; solutions to technical problems; tips and other resources. Reviews, perhaps, as a summary of things I’ve shared and an update on things I’ve learned. I don’t know how helpful these things will be, although I’m encouraged by comments that seem to indicate they’re interesting to read.

Then what is blogging's place in my life?

Then what is blogging’s place in my life?

I think other- versus self-focus might be the reason why I find myself much more interested in new questions than in the connective work of filling in the gaps of a book outline for a potential audience. I get different pay-offs from different types of sharing. When I answer other people’s questions (things I know implicitly but haven’t explained yet), I get the satisfaction of thanks and interaction. When I answer my own questions a small step at a time, I get a kick out of learning something. When I make a map of unknown territory and start learning about it, I enjoy the thrill of learning. When I’m writing tutorials and I’m not sure if they’re going to be useful or if other people are already fine with perfectly good resources out there, it’s a bit more of a struggle. I’d rather not duplicate information or write for the sake of leaving my fingerprints on it. Might as well write about something unknown that I’m figuring out, or at least help a specific person who has already tried other resources and can tell me what’s missing.

2014-01-20 How could I get more out of my sharing v2

How could I get more out of my sharing?

So what does that mean? I’ll probably focus on the right side of the quadrant above – the things that I don’t know. Possibly my blog may become more boring; on the other hand, it might become more interesting. But even if it does get a little more boring, I have to get through the boringness in order to figure out how to be more useful. =)

How can I do work that's more useful to myself and others?

What can I do? I can share the questions that I’m asking, and maybe people will find themselves surprised by the insights they can share. I can show my work, and maybe people will consider reasons or approaches that wouldn’t have otherwise come to mind. I can connect the dots through links, because those will be handy later on.

I hope I learn to write with more depth of understanding, less fear of embarrassment; more clarity of thought, less attachment to fads and fancies; more initiative, less intellectual laziness. And then, eventually, to come full circle: to write with a focus on other people’s needs, but to be better at observing and celebrating the hidden fascinations of even familiar topics.

A conversation about writing, and reflections on taskmasters

January 28, 2014 - Categories: experiment, writing

I’m fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of systems that we build for ourselves over decades. I’m particularly interested in what people find weird about themselves and their systems; what they do the most differently compared to other people. When John Allemang picked my brain about a piece on the Quantified Self, I jumped at the opportunity to pick his brain right back. Here are the notes I drew to summarize the thoughts from our conversation:

2014-01-24 A conversation about writing

2014-01-24 A conversation about writing

It was reassuring to know that one could build a life on a variety of interests, accumulating notes and interviews along the way. I don’t have to specialize in a narrow set of topics. I don’t have to build expertise in a specific field. There’s a lot to learn about how to organize your thoughts and structure your words, but that’s not the only thing that experience gives you — it also gives you the confidence that you can do things. Where inexperienced writers let their egos and insecurities get in the way of good interviews and good writing, experienced writers can let go, confident that it will all come together somehow. It reminds me a little of trapeze practice. If you hesitate, if you cling to the bar, you’ll never get the thrill of flight. I wonder if I can fool my brain into believing I have all that experience to draw on–to compartmentalize that belief and use it deliberately.

It was also good to know that I don’t have to worry about remembering everything. Discarding details is essential. I sometimes imagine that I’d go through life with virtual file cabinets stuffed with clippings and drafts, but then I might drown in irrelevant notes and unfinished possibilities. I asked John if he had a process for managing his archives. He told me that he doesn’t particularly worry about it. It’s okay to discard. It’s okay to let go.

While the historian may bemoan the loss of evidence from these temporary notes, discarding has always been a central feature of effective note-taking. Discarding enhances the utility of notes that are saved by removing materials that have been superseded.… Discarding and forgetting are crucial to effective information management.

Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (Blair, 2010, p.65)

Talking to John gave me a clearer idea of what it might be like to be an experienced writer: to have the clarity of mind to focus on the story, and to have the confidence in yourself so that your self doesn’t get in the way of taking risks, learning, and sharing.

We talked a little about freedom and self-direction, which I’ve been curious about. John sounded skeptical; he values editors and deadlines. Reflecting on our conversation, I wondered what I’d be missing by writing outside the world of work. I’ve experimented with hiring editors. The editors I found on oDesk and other freelance sites gave me feedback on form, but they don’t fulfill the other crucial roles of an editor: choosing a vision for a piece, setting constraints, pushing back on fit, coaching improvement. Writing coaches may be able to do a little more of that, but I’m not sure if the client relationship throws off the dynamic.

2014-01-24 Being my own editor

2014-01-24 Being my own editor

I saw in this the same idea I had in becoming my own client – to see if I could enjoy some of the benefits of workplace structure by deliberately stepping into that role. Could I as editor challenge myself the writer to stretch with more difficult topics, more explicit constraints? How could I step outside my writing and coach myself to improve? (You can pay a writing coach, and I’ll experiment with that someday, but it also pays to coach yourself – no one could be more devoted and more consistent than you.)

Later that evening, thinking about deadlines and freedom and the liberal arts, I caught myself wondering if this path–easy and familiar as it is, falling back into the structures of the workplace–if this path is really the only way. After all, if I put on the hat of the client or editor or capitalist, and then remove that hat and put on the hat of the worker, am I setting myself up for internal conflict and waste? Wouldn’t it be better to be one self, doing the right thing at the right time?

Giving myself directions and deadlines might be useful for avoiding decision fatigue–the cost of making too many decisions–but it is also good to be able to adapt. I do this a little by thinking through scenarios beforehand, so I know what I can do with low-energy and high-energy opportunities. The specific actions I take are influenced by my TODO list, which helps because I don’t have to brainstorm good things to do each time. But I rarely commit to doing specific items, and I allow myself space to go off plan.

2014-01-24 Not about swapping one master for another

2014-01-24 Not about swapping one master for another

It would be easy to be my own taskmaster, to set up that rider and elephant dynamic (rational and irrational, logical and emotional). It’s understandable. It’s productive. Everyone has tasks. Everyone has deadlines. I can even use it to masquerade as normal in cocktail party conversations, griping about an unreasonable boss. (No need to tell them I’m imposing those conditions.)

It’s easy to adopt that structure, which is why I’m curious about alternatives. What does good self-direction look like? What would it mean to be good at that? Can I run fast without the whip?

2014-01-24 Why are we so attached to deadlines

2014-01-24 Why are we so attached to deadlines

I haven’t figured this out yet. It sounds promising, though. At the very least, it’s an experiment worth exploring.

So, three things:

  • I’m going to borrow the confidence I heard from John. I think that assuming more confidence will let me take greater risks in writing and learning.
  • I’ll consider using an editor or a writing coach to improve my skills. In order to make the most of that, I can clarify my goals and coach myself as much as possible. That way, I might be able to identify my questions and the parts where self-coaching breaks down. (Like when it comes to murdering your darlings!)
  • I’ll take a closer look at this instinct towards deadlines and taskmasters, rooted perhaps in a fear that I am not enough. Let’s try being plan-less, as paradoxical as that is. Here is where that confidence can help. I trust that it will all work out.

I think I’m coming close to the end of this research into other people’s writing systems, at least for now. I’ve seen a lot of common patterns. If I run across an interesting tip, I’m happy to pick it up. But I’m worried less about making a mistake now that I’ll regret in thirty years (such as not archiving every little note, or not having enough associative hooks for memory), and I’m not looking for the one tip that will make me an order of magnitude more effective. There’s still a lot to learn, but I can learn that through practice, observation, and small improvements.

Still, so much to learn, and (probably) decades ahead of me… Let’s see where this goes!

Ramping up delegation

January 29, 2014 - Categories: delegation

Committing to delegating 2,000+ hours turned out to be the key to blasting through those conflicting thoughts about delegation. I don’t have to think about whether or not I’m going to delegate. I have a box of 30-40 hours a week for a little over a year, and I want to fill it with as many good tasks as possible. It’s actually pretty easy to find things to delegate when I’m not arguing with myself about whether delegation is worth it. I’ve set up a backlog of tasks for people to work on while I document other processes.

2014-01-27 Finding tasks to delegate

2014-01-27 Finding tasks to delegate

It’s easier to figure out what I need to do if I imagine what awesomeness looks like. What would it be like if I were fluent at delegation? I’d have a process library with detailed instructions. That would be useful for assistants, but also for me (process improvement) and for sharing with other people who are curious about delegation. I’d also feel confident about choosing people and helping them grow, and I would have a consistent stream of work so that my assistants don’t have to worry about my sudden disappearance. We would track the status of these tasks so that important things don’t fall through the cracks. I’d be good at sharing my vision so that they could see the bigger picture. I would be confident about the return on investment, and I’d have a safety net for mistakes.

2014-01-20 If I were a master of delegation

2014-01-20 If I were a master of delegation

More specifically, what would this 2,000+ hour experiment look like if it succeeded? What would encourage me to continue delegating beyond the parameters I’ve set for it, beyond the budget I’ve carved out? Self-funding is the obvious answer: if I use this assistance to create resources that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and people value these resources and vote with their wallets, then it’s easy to keep creating. Even if I don’t have that sorted out, though, it might still be worth the additional reach. People often say that it’s better to spend on experiences than stuff. I wonder… It might be worth spending on scale, on other people’s capabilities. Like the way I have more stuff than I need, I haven’t even wrung out all that I can from the experiences that I’ve had. Scale sounds like a completely different category, one worth investing in.

2014-01-28 Delegation and helping people learn

2014-01-28 Delegation and helping people learn

What could get in the way of getting there? Trust is a big deal. It’s probably the biggest limiting factor for the things I can delegate. If I can get better at choosing people, trusting them, and keeping that safety net for myself, then I’ll learn more from this experiment with delegation. One of the things that I can do to make it easier is to separate my accounts so that I can see which tasks can be delegated at lower levels of trust. For example, I can share a Dropbox or Google Drive folder without granting access to the rest of my data, while other accounts (like Google) are intertwined with more of my digital life.

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

I can also think about a sequence of tasks that allows me to build up trust in someone. For example, I’d previously written about mapping a strategy for outsourcing my podcasting process. If I set up the right sequence of tasks, I can give people more and more work to do, and eventually remove myself from most of the process.

I’ve been thinking about sequences of tasks to help people build their skills. One of my assistants would like to improve his written English. Aside from assigning ESL exercises, can I come up with practical tasks that will help him learn on the job? How can I help him immerse himself in lots of good English and gradually improve his writing skills with feedback, while still meeting my own goals for delegation? Data entry and web research might be good starting points; then summaries, more complex questions, transcripts, and maybe writing…

2014-01-28 Delegation and helping people build their skills

2014-01-28 Delegation and helping people build their skills

While thinking about how I can organize tasks to help my assistants grow, I realized that I actually get a whole lot more out of delegation than the usual benefits listed in books and blogs. This is good. It means that I can transform the dollars, time, and attention I invest in delegation into things I can’t buy. Delegation is an excellent excuse to build and test a process library. I like the way that other people can take care of back-and-forth discussions as well as provide me with ways to work around resistance or things I don’t enjoy. (Doing something repetitive can be boring, but writing good instructions is fun like the way automation is fun… =) ) I can take advantage of other people’s skills, experiences, and perspectives, and their questions can help me clarify what I want. I get the satisfaction of helping people grow, and I grow as well through these uncommon experiments. Describing my processes and lessons learned is also a great way to meet people who are interested in delegation. The time leverage that’s supposed to be the main benefit of delegation is actually just a small part of the picture.

2014-01-28 What do I get out of delegation

2014-01-28 What do I get out of delegation

I think delegation will be worth the time I spend in ramping things up. I’m looking forward to building a massive process library that other people can learn from and use to build their own. I’ve met a few people who have process libraries of their own, but I haven’t come across any that are publicly shared. (Maybe people think of them as competitive advantages?) I think I’ll gain even more from the conversations than from holding these processes close, and I’ll eventually figure out how to make the processes even easier to search and access.

Who wants to pick my brain about delegation? Who wants to share their insights? Let’s figure this out together. E-mail me at [email protected] and we’ll set up a chat, or leave a comment with your thoughts!

Getting better at learning on my own

January 30, 2014 - Categories: learning

I'm starting to get the hang of this, I think. I had been feeling a little… lost? inarticulate? trying to figure out how I learn how to learn on my own. Of course I had been learning on my own since forever, teaching myself programming out of books and through trial-and-error, learning writing outside the classroom, picking up drawing and sketchnoting by following my curiosity. But I hadn't thought about it much until maybe 2013. I'm better at describing what I do and what I'm trying to figure out. I feel like I've learned a lot, but I'm learning even more now, so I'm still in the process of making sense of it all. =)

Sometimes it is easy to start with the challenges. I listened to those small, doubtful voices in my head, those knee-jerk reactions, and I wrote down the excuses they offered. They were surprisingly easy to prioritize for me. I simply asked myself which excuse made the least sense, dealt with it, and then moved up from there. Here is the list in order of importance, with the bigger challenges first.

  1. Action-focused learning takes time and reflection. No getting around this one! I just have to try things out. Life is short, and paying attention will help me make the most of it.
  2. No discussion / feedback. Not that teachers actually correct homework any more, although I suppose it would have been nice to be able to compare my answers with those in the back of the textbook. Anyway, I do get feedback from people and from results. I just don't get authoritative feedback. That's okay.
  3. Implicit / tacit knowledge. I have to pull insights out of other people's heads / lives / Emacs configurations.  At least I can leave things a little better documented.
  4. No curriculum / sequence / mental structure. This means I could waste time and effort learning stuff the hard way instead of in a logical sequence. Oh well, still better than not learning at all. Talking to people should help with this.
  5. Driven by curiosity – can have gaps. I could miss something important! But then it might not be important after all if it's so easily missed, yes? Besides, other people are learning other things, so we should get decent coverage.
  6. No textbook – many non-academic sources. C'est la vie. In fact, most of the interesting things I want to learn will probably never have a textbook, since textbooks require a certain audience size and class structure. I can learn how to learn from other people's experiences, and how to think critically.
  7. Have to define your own assessment. Projects and experiments can help with this. It's good to have clear goals that I can check off.
  8. Dispersed – time, focus. So what if I learn in a spiral or random-walk spread over time? If I take good notes, I don't have to lose so much to forgetting. Maybe I can experiment with sprints, too.
  9. Prioritization. In a class, someone else says what's important to learn or not. On my own, I might estimate value incorrectly, but that's okay; I can check with other people, and I can listen to why I'm motivated about something.
  10. No clear sense of progress. How do you know how fast you're going or how close you are? Does that matter? Perhaps I can check my progress by defining my own metrics.
  11. No cohort. Taking a class means having classmates – people you can talk to, people who are roughly at the same stage and with the same interests. I don't have a clear cohort, but I do bump into people with similar interests over time.
  12. Self-paced learning can be slow because I'm doing it at my own pace. But life is short, and keeping that in mind can give me that sense of urgency.

2014-01-23 What's challenging or different about self-directed learning

Looking at the gaps helped me see the ways I worked around them. Here's what that process looks like. I start with a general question, and then I read or talk to people in order to get a sense of what's out there. That gives me the vocabulary and the concepts I need to ask a better question, a more specific one. With that question in mind, I can then try things out in real life (everything has to come down to a change, after all). When I do this right, there's also reflecting and following up. There are challenges for each step, but fortunately, there are also ways I can get better at each of them.

2014-01-27 Self-directed learning flow

Fortunately, a conversation about English skills and delegation serendiptously led to a side-conversation about educational theory around reflective learning and experiential learning, which gave me even more ways to think about and understand my process. (See! The lens of literature is great for naming and finding the general elements in things that look idiosyncratic!) I have even more learning about learning ahead of me. In particular, I wonder if structured debriefing can make my reviews/reflections even better…

2014-01-28 Reflective learning

It seems all very circular, this learning about learning. Abstract. Ivory-towerish. I think it's a phase, like the way I probably had to think about typing when I was learning to type, and now I just type. I'll probably want to keep learning about learning, of course, and I can probably keep learning about learning forever, but I'll also learn a lot by applying it to something outside itself. I can practise by learning about something that isn't learning. Delegation, perhaps. Maybe Emacs, too. =)

2014-01-28 Moving past learning

In particular, identifying specific experiments or actions to take for the different areas I'm curious about will make it easier to actually do them, instead of just spending time planning. =) If I'm curious about whether strength and flexibility exercises can be an enjoyable part of my routine, I can borrow a yoga DVD and do a half an hour every other day for a month, and I can also try signing up for a class series. (I've already requested the DVD from the library.) If I want to learn from people, I can start by identifying the key topics and questions I'm curious about, sharing them, and connecting with people. If I'm curious about cooking with spices, I can choose two spice combinations and try them out.

2014-01-28 Translating my curiosity into actions and experiments TODO

Once I have a general curiosity about something, it's easy to do a survey. Once I do a survey, it's usually easy to pick a specific question and an experiment to try - if I slow down and make myself do so. Otherwise it's tempting to just skim through the books and feel like I know something, without actually having a proper opinion on it and without letting it influence my life. If an idea isn't going to change my life (at least in some way), it's still marginally useful as something to pass on to other people in case it could change their lives, but it's still a little bit of a waste. So: more experiments, especially for ideas that I think are valuable.

2014-01-05 How can I keep better track of experiments to try

And really, they can be tiny experiments – let's try this for one day, or let's try this three times. I just have to make sure I'm conscious of them. I might as well always have something on the go. I probably always have something on the go, actually. In that case, I might as well take credit for them, and properly reflect on what I'm learning.

So this is where I am now. More experiments, more notes, more tracking, more development of ideas over time… Looking forward to sharing those notes with you.

How do you make sure you translate ideas into action? How do you keep track of the little changes you make?

Learning from people

January 31, 2014 - Categories: connecting, learning, mentoring

If I want to learn about more than I can explore in my own life, I’ll need to learn from other people. The easiest way to learn is from people who are already teaching: books, courses, and so on. Although I could probably spend my entire life doing so, it might be interesting to go beyond what I can learn from books and classes. That’s because books and classes have to be written for a certain kind of audience, and learning is further restricted by the time it takes to create these resources and the kind of people who can do so.

I can learn from coaches and mentors as well. Coaches may have explicitly thought about what they want to teach and how they want to teach it, but they customize the approaches and tips for each person (at least good ones do). Mentors might not have thought about the topics as much, so if I want to make the most of mentorship, I should get better at asking questions as well.

An interesting challenge is to learn from people who might not step forward as coaches or mentors. Some people have thought a lot about what they do as they improve it, but they might not have realized that other people would find that useful, or they might not have gotten around to sharing. Finding them is probably the key challenge; once we make the connection, we can have a geek-to-geek conversation. Other people do good stuff without having thought about how they do it – unconscious competence. In addition to the challenge of finding them, there’s also the challenge of articulating how and why they do things, maybe through interviews and observation.

2014-01-24 A path toward learning from people

2014-01-24 A path toward learning from people

I’m pretty decent at learning from books. I’m working on getting better at tracking how I came across a book so that I can thank people, and so that I can see the book in the context of the great conversation. I’m also working on translating ideas into actions and experiments. Books are familiar and well-understood.

2014-01-27 How can I improve my book-reading workflow

2014-01-27 How can I improve my book-reading workflow

Coaching, on the other hand… I could probably make better use of coaching, if I find good matches. Essentially, I’d be investing in faster insights and more effective learning. Could be worthwhile. What would make me say, “Yes, that was totally worth it. I grew in ways I couldn’t have done alone. Let’s continue.”? Path-finding, I think – a quick way to sort through decades of experience and all these resources.

2014-01-28 Understanding coaching in my life

2014-01-28 Understanding coaching in my life

What am I generally curious about? Systems, paths, estimates of effort and reward, other people to learn from, blind spots…

2014-01-15 General questions for coaches, role models, and mentors

2014-01-15 General questions for coaches, role models, and mentors

So that’s for formal coaching relationships. For informal learning, like the conversations we have over years of blog posts and the serendipitous connections we make on Twitter, I’m curious about getting stuff out of people’s heads and helping them share that with other people. People are learning all sorts of cool stuff, but (a) few people slow down and write about them, and (b) sometimes you really do need someone else to ask questions, so if I share what I’m curious about, maybe I can connect with people who have spent some time thinking about these things too.

Mel Chua and I were talking about interview techniques, and she mentioned how instant replays are great for helping people break things down. You watch people do something, you do an instant replay as you try to explain what they’re doing, they say “No, no, no, I did it because ____”, and you iterate until both of you have a clearer understanding. Sounds interesting. I wonder how we can do that online… Timothy Kenny‘s approach is like that too, except not in real-time. He analyzes the behaviour, and then discusses the model with people to see if it can be corrected or clarified.

Anyway, that’s my plan for getting better at learning from people – more conversations, and then eventually regular conversations. I think that will help me get to a more awesome place than I can on my own. =)

2014-01-15 Where I am and where I want to be

2014-01-15 Where I am and where I want to be

Have you deliberately worked on learning from people?

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.

March 2014

Weekly review: Week ending February 28, 2014

March 1, 2014 - Categories: weekly

It turned out to be course selection time for Grade 11 and 12, so we spent the week discussing options. Intense stuff. J- does well in science, tech, and math courses, so we're leaning towards those types of courses. I'm setting up various (paid!) work tasks to give her a flavour of the kinds of skills people are looking for, too. If she can pick up computer programming skills through robotics and web development, she'll probably be well-suited for co-op and university programs.

That took just about all of our brainspace for the past week. I have to catch up on planning, writing, and creating. It was time well spent, though.

Blog posts


  1. 2014.02.24 Aha, a plan for the things I want to write #experiment
  2. 2014.02.24 Emacs tips – use Dired to manage files #dired #emacs
  3. 2014.02.24 Reminding myself of freedom #freedom #experiment
  4. 2014.02.24 Yes, but how do you make money #experiment #business
  5. 2014.02.26 Thinking about delegation and projects #delegation
  6. 2014.02.27 Art #goals #drawing
  7. 2014.02.27 Automation #goals #automation
  8. 2014.02.27 Delegation #goals #delegation
  9. 2014.02.27 Design #goals #design
  10. 2014.02.27 Development #goals #coding
  11. 2014.02.27 How can I make it easy to print collections of my sketches #packaging #sharing
  12. 2014.02.27 Learning from people #goals #my-learning
  13. 2014.02.27 Map for getting the hang of Emacs movement #emacs #map #guide
  14. 2014.02.27 Thinking of tasks I can assign to J- to help her build her skills #delegation
  15. 2014.02.27 Writing #goals #writing
  16. 2014.02.28 Are there ways for organizations to help me scale #experiment
  17. 2014.02.28 What outcomes do I care about #experiment

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (55.5h – 33%)
    • Earn (18.4h – 33% of Business)
      • [X] Deposit cheque
      • [X] E1: Apply wall
      • [X] E2: Re-record and re-animate new segments
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Figure out why MOVs stopped having audio
    • Build (22.5h – 40% of Business)
      • Drawing (7.2h)
      • Delegation (5.3h)
      • Packaging (7.7h)
      • Paperwork (1.2h)
      • [X] Create PDF for Sketchnotes 2013
      • [X] Delegation: Interview more tech applicants
      • [X] File federal annual return
      • [X] Invest time into technical delegation
      • [X] Make darker grid and release SVG
      • [X] Package Sketchnotes 2013 – http://sach.ac/sketchnotes2013
      • [X] Reflect on what difference I want to make in the world
      • [ ] Build – Emacs: Make a guide to Dired
      • [ ] Build – Emacs: Prettify baby steps guide to Org Mode
      • [ ] Delegation: Add more web research and other basic tasks
      • [ ] Delegation: Document process for setting up a public conversation
    • Connect (14.7h – 26% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Chat with Evan about visual thinking
      • [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] Have general hangout about learning
      • [ ] Connect: Talk to Brian Sharwood about Free Geek
      • [ ] Connect: Work on slides for blogging excuses – Denise
      • [ ] Connect: Talk to Mel about delegation
  • Relationships (3.8h – 2%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (6.3h – 3%)
    • [X] Go for eye exam
    • [X] Reflect on two-year mark for experiment
    • [X] Test org-clock-jump-to-current-clock
    • Writing (4.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (7.7h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (23.7h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (12.9h – 7%)
  • Sleep (58.7h – 34% – average of 8.4 per day)

Reflecting on what I want to contribute to and how interested people might (semi-)work with me

March 3, 2014 - Categories: experiment

From time to time, people ask me if I’d be interested in working with them to make something bigger happen. I’m getting better at saying no. I want to focus on learning how to direct my own life. Other-directed work is seductive. Clear tasks! Appreciation! My mind wanders back to it, thinking about whether it’s better to spend this hour doing something I know people want, or something that I think might help me and others grow.

2014-02-21 Untangling myself from client work #experiment

2014-02-21 Untangling myself from client work #experiment

But I have the space to explore more, and I need to learn how to use it. Sometimes, to remind myself, I flip through the spreadsheets of my finances and projections. I joke about this being an experiment with semi-retirement. I don’t know how close to the truth it is, since circumstances can always change, but I’m ahead of where I had hoped to be. If the numbers do work out, what difference would it make? Mainly the freedom to focus on things beyond what people are clearly willing to pay me for. People might be able to pay others to do the same work I would have done, but few people are in the position to do the things I can choose to do.

2014-02-24 Reminding myself of freedom #freedom #experiment

2014-02-24 Reminding myself of freedom #freedom #experiment

What do I care about, then? What do I want to work on building as part of this experiment? What outcomes do I want to support?

2014-02-28 What outcomes do I care about #experiment

2014-02-28 What outcomes do I care about #experiment

  • Emacs help is a self-serving interest. If I help more people learn about and get deeply into Emacs, I’ll benefit from a more interesting and more adaptable editor/platform/way of life. That’s why it makes sense for me to make visual guides, pair-program with or coach people, and record screencasts and Emacs chats. (On a related note, I also care about helping people with automation, scripting, data analysis, learning, and other topics I’m curious about.)
  • Other people’s useful knowledge and insights: People know all sorts of things, but they struggle with sharing. If I get better at asking questions and podcasting interviews, I can help people share what they know in a form that other people can come across.
  • Organized info: I want to take notes along the journey instead of waiting until the end – even if it means capturing detours and dead ends. Organizing, editing, and packaging those notes makes it much easier for people to catch up, though. I can add sign-posts to mark the trail. People can always wander through the side-trails if they want to, but at least they can choose.
  • Managed resources: I’d like to be able to confidently embark on the next experiment. Frugality and good decisions make that possible. Limiting commitments and needs will help a lot, too.
  • Delegation: I want to be able to delegate well, so that I can involve other people in making things happen without wasting people’s time or attention. I think it would be a good idea to build up a process library and paths for developing skills. It’s like applying open source principles to management and processes. I want to help my team members build their skills, and I also want to help other employers and potential employers delegate more effectively.
  • Community: I want to experiment with building communities based on generously helping each other, and I’m doing that by sharing as much as I can for free. I love how people reach out to me for questions and conversations.
  • Maps and resources: Topics can be intimidating to learn. I want to help people make sense of what they’re learning, and this is where drawing overviews and creating resources can help.

At least for the duration of this 5-year experiment, I don’t need a salary or a flow of clients. The only reason to work with an organization or enter into any new partnerships, then, would be to take advantage of the scale in order to do things that I can’t do as effectively on my own. So far, I’ve been referring all work to other people (except for previous commitments). Would there be reasons for me to connect with other people who are working towards similar goals, whether through a formal partnership or an informal relationship?

2014-02-28 Are there ways for organizations to help me scale #experiment

2014-02-28 Are there ways for organizations to help me scale #experiment

  • Money isn’t enough as a motivator. Yes, I can turn surplus money into delegated time or invest in learning, experimenting, and improving my tools (and there’s always using it for extra safety). Money is not a limiting factor, though.
  • Motivating needs, feedback: One of the benefits of working with clients or organizations is that people need stuff that I might not have thought of myself. They can also give me feedback on whether what I create works for them. This can be better than making stuff in a void and wondering if it will be a good fit for anyone else. That said, though, it’s tempting to focus on what people want instead of what I’m curious about that might turn out to be good anyway. I might be okay if I get a stream of ideas without any commitment to work on them, so I can choose the things that interest me.
  • Implementation support and leverage: This one is interesting for me. For example, I can help brainstorm a list of things that would be good to make (blog posts to write, videos to record, etc.). We can work on them, bringing different skills to the table. Or I might hand it off entirely; I don’t need to write the blog post or tutorial myself.
  • Mentoring and guidance: I can learn something from people who are further down the path (or who have traveled a different but relevant path). It takes a little translation to make sure I’m still following my dreams, though.
  • Co-authorship, co-hosting: This one is interesting for me too. One of my goals is to help people get stuff out of their head and into a form that other people can learn from. Asking people questions is one way to do this. I don’t always know who knows stuff I’m curious about, and it would be great to tap other people’s networks (especially if someone can go to the trouble of coordinating with guests, etc.). Talking to other people about the things we do differently will help us learn more, and there’s probably a book or two in there.
  • Audience and reach: Less interesting for me, mainly because I’m not focused on being more popular or reaching more people. I am, however, up for more confederates.
  • Bundling: This is related to audience and reach. Have people written about topics that complement topics I’m interested in? We can offer something more useful together, maybe.
  • Process / skill feedback and improvements: This is probably the most interesting for me. I’m happy to swap ideas about what could make something better. That helps me reflect on and communicate what I do differently, and I learn from other people too. I might pick up tips along the way, too.

So that points out a few possibilities for relationships:

  • Helping people who will try things out and share their experiences: For example, we might discuss a blog post. I’d show how I might do things differently or suggest some things to try. You give it a shot, and we discuss what that’s like and where you want to go next. Ideally, I’d work with people who blog about what they’re learning along the way, so those ideas get written up and shared too. If not, maybe they’re open to having the coaching in public, so I can just post that. At the very least, I can harvest the tips myself and put them into blog posts. I’m interested in scale, so helping people who help others might work out.
  • Brainstorming ideas and directing work: We might come up with a list of things that would be good to make. Then you or your team can make that happen, and I can give feedback. It’s kinda like the books I want to write or the things I want to fix. I don’t mind if other people get to it first, as long as it gets done.
  • Picking people’s brains together: We come up with topics of mutual curiosity, and you find someone who can speak about the topic. I’ll float the idea by my network too. We chat, and the whole thing gets recorded, transcribed, posted, etc.

I think I’ll do this on a free/pay-what-you-want basis as well, as an experiment. I want people to talk to me, because I learn a lot from the process. Comments, conversations, confederacies, and long-term relationships are awesome. If you’re charging people for stuff (directly, through sponsorship, etc.), it’s probably fair that you pass some revenue on as a way of indicating the value you perceive. That mostly translates into more experiments anyway, so you can indirectly encourage me to explore the kinds of stuff you’re also interested in.

Hmm. That might be a good way for me to focus on the stuff that I want to happen, while allowing other people to link up in case we can collaborate on shared goals. I’m not going to subsume my goals under anyone else’s, but if there’s low-hanging fruit that I can easily reach and pick for you while I’m on my way to what I want, I might as well – especially if it gives you a boost so that you can pick your own low-hanging fruit better. =)

So what this might look like in real life is:

  • Maybe you’re working on something that’s a great fit for an outcome that I’m working towards too, or you’re working on something that could benefit from short, commitment-less help from me.
  • Reach out with what you’re interested in. Pick something that we can discuss in 15-30 minutes. (As it turns out, you can cover a lot in 15 minutes.) I’ve committed to working on stuff that’s publicly available, so focus on things like blog posts, videos, resources, etc.
  • If it tickles my fancy, we’ll bounce around ideas or approaches.
  • Do something with at least one idea, and get back to me with your experiences and next questions. (And even better, a write-up about what you’re learning!)

That should be good for letting me give focused, specific help, while keeping my mind uncluttered so that I can focus on the things I want to do that are less common. =) Let’s see how it works out!

More notes on managing a large blog archive: 17 things I do to handle 10+ years of blog posts

March 4, 2014 - Categories: blogging, wordpress

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to manage a large archive to encourage discovery and serendipity, and to make it easier to fish out articles so that I can send them to people. I started in 2001-ish and have more than 6,500 posts. There’s not a lot of information on how to manage a large archive. Most blogging-related advice focuses on helping people get started and get going. Few people have a large personal archive yet. I love coming across other bloggers who have been at this for more than ten years, because information architecture is fascinating. Here’s what I do, in case it gives you any ideas.

  1.  I set up Google Chrome quick searches for my blog, categories, and tags. This means I can quickly dig up blog posts if I remember roughly where they are. (Gear > Settings > Search > Manage Search Engines):
    • Blog (b): https://www.google.ca/search?q=site%3Asachachua.com+%s
    • Blog category (bc): http://sachachua.com/blog/category/%s
    • Blog tag (bt): http://sachachua.com/blog/tag/%s
  2. I create pages with additional notes and lists of content. I use either Display Posts Shortcode or WP Views, depending on what I need. See the Emacs page as an example.
  3. I’ve started using Organize Series to set up trails through my content. It’s more convenient than manually defining links, and it allows people to page through the posts in order too. Read my notes to find examples. I’m also working on maps, outlines, and overviews.
  4. I’ve also started packaging resources into PDFs and e-books. It makes sense to organize things in a more convenient form.
  5. I converted all the categories with fewer than ten entries to tags. Categories can get unwieldy when you create them organically, so I use categories for main topics and tags for other keywords that might graduate to become categories someday. I think I used Categories to Tags Converter or Taxonomy Converter for this. Hah! Similar Posts reminded me that I used Term Management Tools. Awesome.
  6. I manually maintain a more detailed categorical index at sach.ac/index. This makes it easier for me to see when many blog posts are piling up in a category, and to organize them more logically.
  7. I set up short URLs for frequently-mentioned posts. The Redirection plugin does a decent job at this. For example, people often ask me about the tools I use to draw, and it’s great to just be able to type in http://sach.ac/sketchtools as an answer.
  8. I post weekly and monthly reviews. The weekly review includes links to that week’s blog posts, and the monthly review includes a categorized list. I’ve also set up daily, weekly, and monthly subscriptions based on the RSS feeds. This is probably overkill (more choices = lower subscriptions), but I want to give people options for how frequently they want updates. The weekly and monthly reviews are also helpful for me in terms of quickly getting a sense of the passage of time.
  9. I use Similar Posts to recommend other things people might be interested in. There are a number of similar plugins, so try different ones to see which one you like the most. I tried nRelate and the one from Zemanta, but I wasn’t happy with the way those looked, so I’m back to plain text.
  10. I show recent comments. People often comment on really old posts, and this is a great way for other people to discover them.
  11. I use post titles in my next/previous navigation, and I labelled them “Older” and “Newer”. I think they’re more interesting than
  12. I customized my theme pages to make it easier to skim through posts or get them in bulk. For example, http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/02 lists all the posts for February. http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/?bulk=1 puts all the posts together so that I can copy and paste it into a Microsoft Word file. http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/?org=1 puts it in a special list form so that I can paste it into Org Mode in Emacs. You can also pass the number of posts to a category page: http://sachachua.com/blog/category/drawing/?posts_per_page=-1 displays all the posts instead of paginating them. These tweaks make it easier for me to copy information, too.
  13. I give people the option to browse oldest posts first. Sometimes people prefer starting from the beginning, so I’ve added a link that switches the current view around.
  14. I have an “On this day” widget. Sometimes I notice interesting things in it. I used to put it at the end of a post, but I moved it to the sidebar to make the main column cleaner.
  15. For fun, I have a link that goes to a random post. I used to display random post titles in the sidebar, which might be an interesting approach to return to.
  16. I back up to many different places. I mirror my site as a development environment. I back up the database and the files to another web server and to my computer, and I duplicate the disk image with Linode too. I should set up incremental backups so that it’s easier to go back in time, just in case.
  17. I rated my posts and archived my favourite ones as a PDF so that I’ll still have them even if I mess up my database. Besides, it was a good excuse to read ten years of posts again.

Hope that gives you some ideas for things to experiment with! I’m working on organizing more blog posts into trails and e-books. I’m also getting better at planning what I want to write about and learn. If you’re curious about any of the techniques I use or you want to bounce around ideas, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] or set up a chat.

Do you have a large blog? How do you manage it?

Delegation update

March 5, 2014 - Categories: delegation

Since February 17, 2012 (the beginning of my experiment with self-directed work):

  • 1,976 hours spent earning by working on other people’s stuff – time I want to buy back
  • 300 hours delegated through oDesk
  • $50 spent delegating outside oDesk (so let’s say that’s ~4 hours)
  • 87 hours managing delegation (started tracking in October) – includes interviewing, documenting processes, giving feedback

I was at a 1 hour managed : 4 hours worked ratio when I started, but I’ve been spending a lot more time documenting processes and training people. It’s now at about 1:3.5. I think it will be worth it later on.

One of the questions I ask in order to push myself to delegate more is:

If I had spent the last two years focused on making my own things happen instead of working on interesting client projects part-time, what should I have accomplished already?

Similarly: What outcomes do I want to work on? If I work on other things, how can I fill in the gaps? For example, a visual guide to Emacs is eminently doable in two years of focused work. Ditto a more organized blog posts, lots of packaged PDFs and e-books, maybe even a paper book or two – and there are projects beyond those, and even more beyond those. I can’t do much to affect my lifespan, but I can learn how to make up for those hours.

Things I’m learning

I like this system of adding lots of tasks to my Trello board and leaving it up to my assistants to choose the tasks and workload they want. That way, I don’t have to feel guilty about underloading or overloading people, and they can choose things they’re interested in. I’m experimenting with different ways to share resources, too – Dropbox, Google Drive, Trello attachments…

I’m building up a respectable process library. There are, of course, small bugs in the instructions I write (sigh!), but every run makes things better. Feel free to build on what I’ve shared.

This week, I trusted someone with my Google account, and the world did not end. This is promising.

Things to improve

I want to make sure there are plenty of tasks in the pipeline so that people can build up their skills and fill up their workload. It’s a little challenging because I have to think and plan. The more types of tasks I identify and document, the easier it is to recognize delegation opportunities.

This probably means I need to make sure my assistants know how to read the due dates and filter Trello for tasks they’re interested in (task assigned!). Maybe at some point I’ll consider moving to something more structured. I remember liking Redmine. Hmm, it might be interesting to get stats on the kinds of tasks that end up languishing in the list and why. If I get this working smoothly, I should have just enough backlog to accommodate bursts of work, so I shouldn’t have a really long list. Hmm…

I want to fill in more process gaps so that things move towards completion. I don’t want to be the bottleneck. There’s little point in delegating a task if I’m going to sit on the results. I want to prioritize tasks whose deliverables don’t require a lot of extra work from me. It may mean writing tasks so that their outcomes can be published and shared easily (working out loud), and keeping track of what additional work can be done to push it forward. I really like the way that the podcast process has gotten condensed to just “Post show notes,” although transcripts are still a separate step at the moment. I’d like to get to that level of abstraction with other processes, while still being able to break it down into lower levels of abstraction in case I’m training an assistant with less experience.

On a related note, I want to show the big pictures for skill building. I want my assistants to be able to confidently justify higher rates for me and other employers. Oh! Maybe I can draw those process maps and find out where my assistants are in terms of skills. They can tell me what they’re interested in, and we can map out sequences of tasks to help them grow. This helps me grow, too.

2014-02-27 Thinking of tasks I can assign to J- to help her build her skills #delegation

2014-02-27 Thinking of tasks I can assign to J- to help her build her skills #delegation

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects #delegation

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects #delegation

So, what’s next for me?

  • Slant my tasks towards publishing. Share intermediate results, keep track of the next steps and the big goals.
  • Show the big picture in terms of processes and skills. Fill in the gaps.

Getting the hang of this!

New free/pay what you want resource: Sketchnotes 2013; also, Emacs Dired rocks

March 6, 2014 - Categories: drawing, emacs


Get your copy of the Sketchnotes 2013 collection

Since people found my collection of sketchnotes from 2012 handy, I’ve put together a categorized collection of sketchnotes from 2013 as well. Enjoy! =)

Behind the scenes

This was how I made the 2012 collection:

  1. Create a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. Fill it with high-res images. Resize and position all the images. Use AutoHotkey to save myself time and avoid going crazy.
  2. Create a spreadsheet with titles and page numbers. Add captions with liberal use of AutoHotkey.
  3. Create a manual table of contents and link to all the images. Mostly use AutoHotkey, except for the part where if you create a link to a slide number that consists of repeated numbers (ex: 55 or 66), you have to select it a different way, because typing “55” gets you #51 (and “555” gets you #52, etc).
  4. Save as PDF.

There was a lot of manual fiddling around involved in making that collection, so I’m experimenting with a different approach that may be useful. For Sketchnotes 2013, I wanted to see if there were ways I could simplify the packaging process while enabling people to do other things with the files.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I used Emacs dired-mode’s C-x C-q (dired-toggle-read-only) to go into editable mode, which allowed me to easily edit all the filenames to include #keywords. I used C-x C-q to save the changes.
  2. Then I used Emacs dired’s % m to select multiple files by regular expressions and R to move the files into a specified directory.
  3. Tada! Neatly organized files. I packaged it up as a ZIP and put it on Gumroad.
  4. Since Dropbox also allows you to share folders, I created a public link to the folder that had my organized sketches. That way, people can download a single directory if they want to, instead of downloading all 250+ MB.

It still might be interesting to make a PDF, especially if I can make one that can be published through something like CreateSpace. More packaging… =)

How I animate sketches with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Camtasia Studio

March 7, 2014 - Categories: drawing, process

Spoken words can be much more effective when accompanied with animation, so my clients have been asking me to put together short animations for them. Here’s my workflow in case you’re interested in doing this too.

Step 1: Draw the images and get them approved.

Make your canvas roughly the same size as your final image so that you can save frames if needed. The bottom layer should be your background colour (ex: white). You can use a grid to line things up, then hide the grid when you’re ready to export. Use one layer per scene in your animation.

Step 1: Draw the image - get it approved if necessary

Draw the image – get it approved if necessary

Step 2: Prepare for animation.

Hide everything but the first scene and your background layer. Add a white layer at 90% opacity above your sketch. This allows you to trace over your sketch while making it easy to remove the pre-sketch in Camtasia Studio. Using a translucent white layer allows you to fade your other scenes without adjusting the opacity for each of them.

Step 2: Prepare for animation

Prepare for animation

Step 3: Lay out your screen.

Zoom in as close to 100% as possible. Use TAB to hide the Autodesk Sketchbook interface and position your sketch so that the important parts are not obscured by the little lagoon controller on the left side. You can turn the title bar off, too. Set Camtasia Recorder to record your screen without that little controller – you can either record only part of your screen, or add a white callout afterwards.

Lay out your screen

Lay out your screen

If you need to create HD video, a high-resolution monitor will give you the space you need. My Cintiq 12WX has a resolution of 1280×800, and my laptop has a resolution of 1366×768. When I need to record at 1920×1080, I use my Cintiq as a graphics tablet for an external monitor instead.

It’s probably a good idea to turn audio off so that you don’t have to split it out and remove it later.

Cintiq buttons

Cintiq buttons

This is also a good time to set up convenient keyboard shortcuts or buttons. The Cintiq 12WX has some programmable buttons, so here’s how I set mine up:

  • Left button: Ctrl-z – handy for quickly undoing things instead of flipping over to the eraser.
  • Middle right button: TAB – hides and shows the interface.
  • Bottom button: Ctrl-Shift-F8 – the keyboard shortcut I set up my Camtasia Studio with, so I can pause and resume recording.

This makes it easier for me to pause (bottom), show the interface (middle right), change colours or brushes, hide the interface (middle right), and resume (bottom). That reduces the editing I need to do afterwards.

Step 4: Record!

Because the pre-sketch shows you where things should go and you’ve already fiddled with the layout to make sure things fit, it’s easy to draw quickly and confidently. Use TAB to hide or show the interface. When you’re starting out, you may find it easier to record in one go and then edit out the segments when you’re switching brushes or colours. As you become more comfortable with switching back and forth between full-screen drawing and using the Autodesk Sketchbook Pro interface, try the workflow that involves pausing the screen, showing the interface, hiding the interface, and then resuming the recording.

Step 5: Edit and synchronize in Camtasia Studio.

Save and edit the video. Set it to the recording dimensions of your final output, and set the background colour to white.

Use Visual Effects > Remove a Color to remove the pre-sketch. Now it looks like you’re drawing on a blank canvas. See my previous notes for a demo.

Now synchronize the video with the audio. You may want to add markers to your audio so that you can easily tell where the significant points are. Use the timeline to find out the duration between markers. Split your video at the appropriate points by selecting the video and typing s. Use clip speed (right-click on the segment) to adjust the speed until the video duration matches what you need.

Note that at high clip speeds, Camtasia drops a lot of frames. If this bothers you, you can render the sketch at 400% speed using Camtasia or Movie Maker, produce that as an AVI or MP4, re-import that media, and continue compressing it at a maximum of 400% speed each time until you get the speed you want.

If you need to cover up a mistake, a simple white rectangular callout can hide that effectively. If you need to make something longer, extend the frame. Because you can’t extend frames into video that’s already there, you may want to drag the segment onto a different track, and then split or cut the excess.

Produce the synchronized video in your required output format (ex: MP4, MOV…) and you’re done!

Hope this workflow helps you get into doing more animated sketches with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Camtasia Studio on a laptop or desktop computer. Do you use other tools or other workflows? Please share!

Weekly review: Week ending March 7, 2014

March 8, 2014 - Categories: weekly

Started working on our taxes. Also visited J-'s school to find out more about course selection and the coop program. Fascinating. =) Fiddling about with LaTeX, too.

Lots of podcasting and presenting next week. Let's see how this goes!

Blog posts


  1. 2014.03.03 How I work with knowledge – seek, sense, share #pkm
  2. 2014.03.04 A path for learning AutoHotkey #path #autohotkey #automation
  3. 2014.03.04 Do I want to accept more work – Under what conditions #experiment
  4. 2014.03.04 Paths for web design #learning #path
  5. 2014.03.05 About me – Sacha Chua #bio
  6. 2014.03.05 How can I make my active plans and experiments more visible #review
  7. 2014.03.05 My paths to learning #my-learning
  8. 2014.03.05 Start, stop, more, less #plans
  9. 2014.03.06 Our frugal life #finance #frugality
  10. 2014.03.07 Maps versus tables of contents #information #organization

Link round-up

  • What is your PKM routine?: I'm always curious about how other people manage what they know.
  • Financial Independence and The Cost of Raising a Family: Actual numbers for the win.
  • Foggy Wednesday (Day 3): I like David Seah's fogbrain reflections (insights, followup). He does a great job of stepping outside himself and watching what's going on. How does he do that? Must practice this myself. Coincidentally, I'm learning more about NodeJS and Express myself, so doubleplus good. =)
  • My Completely Unscientific GitHub Survey: It's good to check your assumptions against reality (and other people's perceptions). =)
  • Student Notetaking for Recall and Understanding: A Lit Review Review: More research I want to dig into (Robert Williams and Alan Eggert, Kenneth Kiewra, etc.). So maybe there's a research-backed reason for why I like these not-quite-high-level-gist-not-quite-detail notes and where I am on the sketchnoting spectrum…
  • Learning Problems: Incremental learning versus discontinuous / step-based learning. Also related: Mastery, the plateau, and sticking with it even though you don't feel any significant progress.
  • Writers write and innovators innovate: "The big gap isn’t between people and firms doing incremental innovations and those doing big disruptive ones. The big gap is between those that aren’t innovating at all in any form, and those that are." One of the things that encourages me to keep inching forward is the thought that it takes so little action to distinguish yourself from people who never take that first step. It's depressing (how can so many people be stuck?), but it's also encouraging (how can I help them get unstuck, and in the meantime, how can I make the most of these small steps?.

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (49.0h – 29%)
    • [ ] Build: Find a user-friendly RSS plugin for WordPress
    • [ ] Change Twitter background
    • [ ] Connect: Talk to Denise Bahs about upcoming session
    • [ ] Connect: Talk to other visual thinkers
    • [ ] Connect: Talk to blogging class
    • [ ] Connect: Talk to Meloney Hall's group
    • [ ] Connect: Record primer with Jordan
    • [ ] Connect: Record financial independence show
    • [ ] Connect: Hang out with FI community
    • [ ] Delegation: Document process for setting up a public conversation
    • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Earn (17.7h – 36% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [X] Figure out why MOVs stopped having audio
    • Build (22.2h – 45% of Business)
      • [X] Build: Create visual bio
      • Drawing (3.8h)
      • Delegation (4.7h)
        • [X] Delegation: Add more web research and other basic tasks
      • Packaging (2.3h)
        • [X] Create PDF for Sketchnotes 2013
        • [X] Build – Emacs: Make a guide to Dired
        • [X] Build – Emacs: Prettify baby steps guide to Org Mode
        • [X] Set up LaTeX workflow again
      • Paperwork (4.4h)
        • [X] File payroll return
    • Connect (9.1h – 18% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Talk to Brian Sharwood about Free Geek
      • [X] Connect: Work on slides for blogging excuses – Denise
      • [X] Have general hangout about learning
  • Relationships (14.8h – 8%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (9.2h – 5%)
    • [X] Call clinic to ask for summary of expenses
    • [X] Call the massage place to ask for a summary of expenses
    • [X] Download claim statements
    • [ ] Deposit USD
    • [ ] Follow up regarding transaction summaries
    • Writing (7.5h)
  • Discretionary – Play (3.9h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (25.9h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (5.4h – 3%)
  • Sleep (60.3h – 35% – average of 8.6 per day)

Monthly review: February 2014

March 9, 2014 - Categories: monthly, review

Experiment/plan updates

2014-03-05 experiment outcomes

2014-03-05 experiment outcomes

Experiment update: Focusing on more packaging/publishing this year. Also ramping up experiments with delegation.

2014-03-05 Goals for 31

2014-03-05 Goals for 31

Life as a 31-year-old: Need to work on more exercise. Maybe take my bike out again, despite the snow and ice?

Blog posts

Good enough, good, awesome: Thinking about what I want to get to

March 10, 2014 - Categories: learning, plans

You don’t have to be awesome in everything. I’m not even sure you can. Time spent one thing is time not spent doing everything else.

I like deliberately deciding that I’m going to be okay but not stellar in a particular field. Then I don’t beat myself up about the gap between what I can see and what I can do.

2014-02-27 Art #goals #drawing

2014-02-27 Art #goals #drawing

Drawing / Art
Goal: Good enough
Currently: Mediocre / good enough

I don’t need to draw realistic, impressive drawings. In fact, simplicity helps me make things less intimidating. As I tell people, I want to draw just good enough so that people think, “Hah! I can do better than this!”

Some ways I can improve are:

  • Practise lettering and playing with letter forms
  • Get better at showing visual hierarchy through space, size, weight, and decorations
  • Practise drawing everyday objects
2014-02-27 Automation #goals #automation

2014-02-27 Automation #goals #automation

Goal: Awesome
Currently: Good enough; better than people around me

Life is too short to waste time on boring, repetitive actions. Besides, it’s fun turning a task into a program or process. If I can’t eliminate time-consuming tasks, I may as well figure out how to automate them.

Some ways I can improve are:

  • Really dig into AutoHotkey and other tools
  • Learn more about Python for scripting
  • Explore Ruby gems for dealing with various APIs
  • Look into using Selenium to automate more browser actions

2014-02-27 Delegation #goals #delegation

2014-02-27 Delegation #goals #delegation

Goal: Awesome
Currently: Good enough; better than people around me

I also want to get really good at working with other people to make stuff happen. I think this involves having a great process library, building a team, breaking through my hang-ups and excuses, and setting up systems that require less attention. I’m particularly curious about using delegation to improve my skills by exposing and experimenting with differences.

2014-02-27 Design #goals #design

2014-02-27 Design #goals #design

Goal: Good
Currently: Mediocre / good enough

I don’t want to be awesome at design, but being good at it would be nice. I want people to feel like I’ve thought about them and taken their needs or interests into account. I want people to feel at home here.

There are lots of things I can experiment with in terms of improving my blog, so that’s one way I can learn more about design.

2014-02-27 Development #goals #coding

2014-02-27 Development #goals #coding

Goal: Good
Currently: Good enough; possibly falling behind to mediocre

I probably won’t be one of those rockstar build-worldchanging-framework-from-scratch developers, but good development skills can save me a lot of time and frustration. I like making tools, and I want to get better at that. Being more organized and professional about development will also pay off.

Ways to improve:

  • Do more documentation and testing.
  • Learn new frameworks or go deeper into the ones I know.

2014-02-27 Learning from people #goals #my-learning

2014-02-27 Learning from people #goals #my-learning

Learning from people
Goal: Good / Awesome
Hmm. Actually, I might downgrade this to “Goal: Good enough”…
Currently: Mediocre

If I want to learn more than I can fit into my own lifetime, I’ve got to learn from other people. Besides, other people know lots of interesting things, but they struggle to share those things with other people. Since I’m comfortable with writing, trying ideas out, and now podcasting, maybe I can help people get good ideas out into a form other people can learn from.

2014-02-27 Writing #goals #writing

2014-02-27 Writing #goals #writing

Goal: Awesome
Currently: Good enough

I want to help people learn faster and do more effective stuff. Writing is a good time-saver. If I get the hang of organizing and editing my writing, people can learn without wading through all the text.

Describing my personal knowledge management routines with Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share framework

March 11, 2014 - Categories: learning, podcast, process, sharing

I spend much of my time learning, making sense of things, and sharing what I’ve learned. I like connecting with other people who think about how they do this. I chatted with Harold Jarche about how he manages his 10-year blog archive. We thought it might be good to describe our knowledge management processes in more detail. Here are more details on mine!

2014-03-03 How I work with knowledge - seek, sense, share #pkm

2014-03-03 How I work with knowledge – seek, sense, share #pkm


One of the things I’m working on as part of this 5-year experiment is to be more proactive about learning. It’s easy to fall into relying on client requests or a serendipitous stream of updates to teach me interesting things. It takes more work to observe what’s going on and come up with my own questions, ideas, and experiments. I think learning how to do that will be more interesting.

I used to get most of my information through reading. I love being able to slurp a book and take advantage of someone else’s experience. I turn to the Web for more current or on-the-ground information. I read social network updates and blog posts to find out about things I didn’t even think of searching for.

I’m learning more about asking people. There’s a lot written down, but there’s also a lot of knowledge still stuck in people’s heads. Asking helps me pull that out into a form other people can learn from.

Trying things myself helps me test knowledge to see if it makes sense to my life. I learn how to adapt things, too, and I might even come up with my own ideas along the way.

Sometimes I get interesting questions through e-mail, comments, or other requests. Those are worth exploring too, since explaining helps me understand something better. I fill in gaps in my understanding, too.

(Make) Sense

Many of my blog posts are reflective. I think out loud because that helps me test whether I make sense. Sometimes other people help me learn or think my way through complex topics. A public archive is helpful, too. I can search my thoughts, and I’m relatively confident that things will continue to be around.


The main challenge I’m working on is getting better at “chunking” ideas so that I can think bigger thoughts. I’m comfortable writing my way through small questions: one question, one blog post. As I accumulate these posts, I can build more complex thoughts by linking to previous ones.

Sketches help me chunk ideas. Like blog posts, each sketch addresses one idea. I can combine many sketches into one blog post, and then use a sketch to map out the relationships between ideas.

I’m learning how to organize my posts into series. A better writer would plan ahead. Me, I usually work backwards instead, organizing existing posts and tweaking them to flow better. When I get the hang of series, I’ll be able to start thinking in chunks of short books.


I have a regular review process. I do weekly reviews of my blog posts, sketches, reading, and time. I do monthly reviews and yearly reviews, rolling the summaries upward.

I’ve written some scripts to simplify this process. For example, I read blog posts with the Feedly reader. If This Then That imports my Feedly saved items into Evernote. I have an Emacs Lisp function that reads Evernote exports and formats them for my blog, and then I annotate that list with my thoughts.

Archive hacks

Even with this review process, I can’t remember everything I have in my archive. Fortunately, I’m a geek. I like building and tweaking tools. I’ve written about the different things I do to make it easier to go through my archive. I can find things faster thanks to little things like having a browser search keyword for my blog. Recommendations for similar posts help me find connections that I might not have thought about myself.


One of the unusual things I’ve been experimenting with is delegation to a team of virtual assistants. I ask people to research information, summarize what they find, and draft posts. I can find things faster myself, and I can write pretty quickly. Still, it’s a useful way to learn about things from other people’s perspectives, and I hope it pays off.


My website is the base for all my sharing. Having seen so many services come and go, I don’t trust anything I can’t back up and control. I keep most things in a self-hosted WordPress blog. I also use Google Drive for easy, granular sharing (such as my delegation process folder), and Dropbox for other features.

I keep a copy of my sketchnotes in Evernote for convenience, and I share those notebooks as well. See my sketchnotes, sketchbook, and visual vocabulary.

Google Hangout on Air is great for recording podcasts and video conversations. The broadcast is available as a live stream, and it’s automatically recorded too. I’ve been moving more of my conversations to Hangouts on Air so that other people can learn from them.

I don’t want to clutter my main Twitter account with automated posts. I use @sachac_blog for blog post announcements. On occasion, I’ll post links or sneak previews with my main Twitter account, @sachac.

For free/pay-what-you-want resources, I use Gumroad. I like the way that it lets me offer digital resources while giving people a way to show their appreciation.

I’m also experimenting with paper books using CreateSpace. I’m looking forward to releasing some sketchnote collections through that.

How about you? How do you work with what you know?

Check out Harold Jarche’s post, too: What is your PKM routine?. Want to watch our conversation about large blog archives? See Youtube video below.

How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance?

March 12, 2014 - Categories: delegation

If you’re not used to delegation, hiring a virtual assistant can be daunting. It’s a concept that’s hard to grasp. How can I outsource my tasks? What kind of assistant should I hire? Where can I set up my virtual workplace? And this big question: Does it cost a lot to get started?

2014-02-13 How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance

2014-02-13 How much does it cost to start with virtual assistance

1. It takes less money than you think.

Hiring a virtual assistant will cost you money, but it’s not as expensive as you think.

How can hiring another living, breathing, employee to do tasks that you could have done yourself be cheaper? Let’s look at an economic concept called comparative advantage.

Comparative advantage refers to any entity’s ability to produce services or goods at a much lower cost. Imagine that you’re a blogger with several hours of interviews to transcribe. Yes, you may be a fast typist. Still, this task can eat up a lot of your precious time. You could spend that time writing or consulting instead. Hire an assistant. Even if he or she works slower than you, it can mean that you’ll be able to focus on tasks that have more value to you. Besides, with the right tools and a lot of experience, your assistant might even be faster.

You don’t have to make a full-time commitment or even a part-time commitment. You’ll find many freelancers open to one-off projects. For example, you can try data entry, editing, or basic bookkeeping. Take a look at Fiverr for ideas. For $5, you can get customized logo, proofreading for over 3,000 words of text, or a one-minute voiceover. I’ve used Fiverr to find people who can summarize my blog posts in tweets, type the text in my sketches,

If you want more supervision, you can hire your own assistant through a marketplace like oDesk. These sites have work trackers where you can check on your assistants’ progress. Whether you’re looking for the best skills or the best rates, you can work with people from all over the world. I outsource the most through oDesk. I like the management tools there, and I’m happy with the people I’ve found. There are many places to find freelancers, so look around.

2. It takes less training than you think.

You don’t have to spend hours on training. Most of the people that you’ll find on Fiverr or oDesk are already experienced freelancers. Just think about it – would they succeed selling their services if they weren’t?

Start with something simple, such as transcription and data entry. These kinds of tasks are pretty straightforward and simple enough to do with minimal instruction. Make sure that your instructions are clear and easy to follow. You don’t have to write detailed training manuals, either. You might start by demonstrating a task, and then have your assistant document the process along the way.

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

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

2014-02-10 Delegation as programming

2014-02-10 Delegation as programming – also mentioned at What the LEGO Movie and programming are helping me learn about delegation

If you want to get a head start, check out my process library and my delegation board for examples. I’d love to hear what you do with this!

3. It takes less risk than you think.

Trust takes time to develop. I can understand why you might hesitate at the idea of hiring an unseen assistant (a complete stranger!) to do work for you. No matter how small the task may be, it’s still your money and your time at stake here. Goodness knows I’ve had some interviewees and even virtual team members who gave me the heebie-jeebies. You can limit your risk by starting with tasks that don’t require a lot of access, and you can share more as you get to know your team.

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

2013-11-27 Trust and assistants

Many job marketplaces have safety systems and guarantees. For example, on Fiverr, you can dispute orders or get a credit refund if it doesn’t work out. One time, I paid for a Fiverr gig for transcription, and then the provider stopped communicating. Since the transcript was very late, Fiverr reminded me that I could cancel the order, and I did. oDesk gives you tools to resolve issues too. I hired a web developer and it turned out that he didn’t have the skills I needed. Because he was one of the contractors covered by the new oDesk guarantee, it was easy to get a refund.

Delegation is something you learn through constant practice. Like anything else, you’re going to make mistakes along the way. Protect yourself from big mistakes and learn from small ones. It’s all part of the learning process. Start small. Let your virtual assistants work with small tasks first before trying bigger ones.

If worrying about the cost was getting in your way, I hope this helps you get started!

I wrote this post with a little help from Marie Alexis Miravite, who spent maybe 2 hours on this. (See the task in Trello.) I spent half an hour editing it and adding more stories, sketches, and links. =) What do you think?

Drafting a baby-steps guide to managing your tasks with Org Mode for Emacs

March 13, 2014 - Categories: emacs, org

Org mode for Emacs is powerful and flexible, which can make it intimidating for newcomers. After helping several people with essentially the same problem–an unmanageably large heap of tasks–I thought about what might help people get the hang of the key features of Org Mode slowly.

Here are some general ideas. Start by writing your tasks down. Group them into projects. Once you get the hang of that, schedule your tasks. You might find yourself overestimating what you can do in a day, so reschedule or get rid of tasks as needed.

2014-02-08 A path toward taming your TODO list

2014-02-08 A path toward taming your TODO list

Here’s a visual overview of how you can apply that to Org, starting with simple outlines and moving on to scheduling.

2014-02-16 Org TODO basics

2014-02-16 Org TODO basics

I’ve started to put together an outline/draft for A Baby Steps Guide to Managing Your Tasks with Org Mode, which you can find at sach.ac/baby-steps-org-todo. Comments and questions welcome!

Frugal Fire 001: Introductions

March 13, 2014 - Categories: Frugal FIRE, podcast

In this episode, Jordan Read and I talk about our plans for a new Google Hangout on Air / podcast show around financial independence and retiring early. Check out the Mustachians community on Google+ for upcoming events. The next show is tonight (March 13, Thursday) at 8 PM EDT. We’ll be talking to Justin from Root of Good, who’s six months into early retirement. =) To subscribe to this podcast, add this feed to your reader: http://sachachua.com/blog/category/frugal-fire/podcast Download the MP3

Going fishing for three years

March 14, 2014 - Categories: experiment

People often ask me if I could draw for them, or write for them, or code for them. I refer all that business to other people. Here’s why.

2014-02-19 Teaching people to fish, selling fish, fishing for yourself #experiment #sharing #my-learning #teaching #confederates #community

2014-02-19 Teaching people to fish, selling fish, fishing for yourself #experiment #sharing #my-learning #teaching #confederates #community

You see, some people want to learn how to fish. These are the people who want to learn more about sketchnoting or Emacs or other things I’m interested in.

Many people want to buy fish. They don’t want to learn things themselves, but they can build on what they buy.

Most people just want to buy sushi. (Or fish and chips, or whatever.) Already prepared, no work needed, yum. They’re too busy to cook. They don’t want to know the details. They just want good stuff.

I want to learn how to fish for rare fish. The kind of fish few people bother with because you have to go into uncharted waters. Interesting, elusive fish, almost too smart to get caught. I want to learn how to ask good questions and share what I’m learning.

I want to be part of a community of enthusiasts who swap tips and stories. I want to find other people who have gotten bitten by that bug, and I want to help other people discover the joy of exploration. That’s why I’m not selling any fish. I’m focusing on learning how to fish rare fish, and teaching what I’m learning. My top priority is to learn how to fish. But I’ll take the time to teach you to fish because I want to be able to learn from you someday.

Sure, I might be able to learn a little while catching fish for other people. I know from experience, though–both mine and others–that it’s too easy to get used to that. You forget there’s a world beyond the fishponds. Better to force myself out there, while I can.

At least for the next three years (the rest of this 5-year experiment), I’ll be out fishing. That is, drawing, writing, learning, playing – somewhere out there, where few people get to go. What would wild success be like? Plenty of stories, maybe a few mementos, and a great community to keep exploring with.

2014-02-19 Imagining wild success for this experiment #experiment.png

2014-02-19 Imagining wild success for this experiment #experiment.png

Thanks to Evan Smith for the nudge to explore this metaphor!

(Note: I don’t know anything about fishing, and I’m not planning to add it as a hobby. But I do like cooking, though, which might explain some things.)

Tell me what you think!

  • What can I help you learn how to fish?
  • Are you looking for rare fish too? Let’s learn together!

Frugal Fire 002: Justin McCurry (RootOfGood)

March 14, 2014 - Categories: Frugal FIRE, podcast
Update 2014-03-24: Transcript now available!

In this episode, we interviewed Justin McCurry (RootOfGood) about retiring at 33. He’s been learning how to relax and enjoy life as a stay-at-home dad, and has mostly gotten the hang of it six months in. =) You can download the MP3 from archive.org

2014-03-13 Frugal Fire 002 - Justin - Root of Good

2014-03-13 Frugal Fire 002 – Justin – Root of Good

Other resources we mentioned:

Join the community on Google+: http://gplus.to/mustachians. For more information about the Frugal Fire show (including how to subscribe to the podcast), check out the Frugal FIRE page. (more…)

Weekly review: Week ending March 14, 2014

March 15, 2014 - Categories: weekly

Lots of talking to people last week. I think I'll keep this week fairly loose and unstructured, aside from the stuff that's already on the list…

Blog posts


  1. 2014.03.07 Maps versus tables of contents #information #organization
  2. 2014.03.10 Making more use of delegation #delegation
  3. 2014.03.10 Trying out goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality
  4. 2014.03.10 Trying out goal factoring part 2 #goals #factoring #rationality #delegation
  5. 2014.03.11 Deciding how to spend time #time
  6. 2014.03.11 Imagining a weekly Emacs course #weekly
  7. 2014.03.11 Reflecting on goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality
  8. 2014.03.11 Trying out goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality
  9. 2014.03.11 What do I want from financial independence communities #finance #community
  10. 2014.03.12 A buffet of goals #metaphor #goals
  11. 2014.03.12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview
  12. 2014.03.12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview
  13. 2014.03.13 Frugal Fire 002 – Justin – Root of Good

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (52.1h – 31%)
    • Earn (14.7h – 28% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (19.0h – 36% of Business)
      • [X] Build – Coding – Set up NodeJS conveniences in Emacs
      • [X] Build – Emacs: Upgrade Org to 8.x, finally
      • [X] Build – Emacs: Write a function that copies an HTML export to the clipboard
      • [X] Get Org to handle graphs
      • [X] Get Quantified Awesome to pick up categories from my tasks again
      • Drawing (5.6h)
      • Delegation (6.7h)
        • [X] Build – Delegation: Review and merge Maisnam's changes
        • [X] Delegation: Document process for setting up a public conversation
      • Packaging (2.7h)
      • Paperwork (0.7h)
    • Connect (18.4h – 35% of Business)
      • [X] Connect: Record financial independence show
      • [X] Connect: Record primer with Jordan
      • [X] Connect: Talk to Denise Bahs about upcoming session
      • [X] Connect: Talk to Meloney Hall's group
      • [X] Connect: Talk to blogging class
      • [X] Connect: Talk to other visual thinkers
      • [ ] Talk to Tom Marble about Emacs
      • [ ] Hang out with Andrew Burke
  • Relationships (6.6h – 3%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (13.6h – 8%)
    • [X] Practice goal factoring
    • [ ] Deposit USD
    • [ ] Follow up regarding transaction summaries
    • Writing (5.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (12.9h – 7%)
  • Personal routines (22.2h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (15.9h – 9%)
  • Sleep (68.0h – 40% – average of 9.7 per day)

Replay: Meloney Hall interviewed me about sketchnoting

March 17, 2014 - Categories: drawing, podcast, sketchnotes

Meloney Hall interviewed me about sketchnoting. I managed to listen, talk, and sketch while doing this. Boggle! Although talking interferes a little with writing words, so my notes become more graphical. Hmm, maybe that’s a way for me to experiment with more graphical notes… =)


You can download the MP3 from archive.org

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking - Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 2 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking - Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview

2014-03-12 Visual note-taking – Sacha Chua, Meloney Hall page 1 #sketchnoting #live #interview

See the event page for more details


Static friction and socializing

March 17, 2014 - Categories: connecting

When it comes to socializing, I have a high coefficient of static friction. I tend to stay in place. If I let too long go between get-togethers, I fall out of the habit of hosting them, the identity of someone who brings people together. I rarely ever want to go out. I drag my feet. I look for excuses to stay at home. I resist when invited, and only manage to make myself go because of social expectations.

When I’m there, though, sometimes it’s all right. Sometimes it’s awkward. But sometimes it’s fun and almost frictionless, and the time speeds by.

I should remember those times so that it’s easier to push myself to go out. The risks are small, anyway.

What makes some get-togethers feel okay? I like board games and card games. They create new situations for us to interact in and result in new in-jokes. They give my hands something to fiddle with. At the same time, there’s still space for conversation between rounds and during breaks. I find background conversations too distracting when I’m trying to work on something, so I prefer to work at home. Pair-hacking might be interesting, though. I like talking through complex things much more than conversations just about catching up. I like having a sense of accomplishment or learning.

The weather’s warming up, so maybe I’ll have a get-together sometime. Gotta ramp up to it again. Maybe I’ll check out Gamfternoon at HackLab.to. Maybe I’ll try going to more HackLab open houses. Maybe I’ll invite people over for a casual get-together. Daylight Savings Time kicked in, so I guess introvert hibernation mode is winding down… We’ll see!

Goal factoring, reflecting on what I can do with my time, and enjoying a buffet of goals

March 18, 2014 - Categories: planning, time

Lucas Baker came across my Less Wrong meetup notes while looking for more information about goal factoring, a technique for analyzing your actions and goals in order to come up with better alternatives. I hadn’t dug into it in much detail before, but since he was curious, I spent some time trying out goal factoring so that I could share more thoughts. Here are the resources I found useful:

I started by drawing different goals and their connections with each other. For example, I like learning more about tools and programming languages because that helps me build more tools and cool stuff, and that tickles my brain. It also gives me useful things to share, and that helps me make technical topics friendlier. Sharing also helps me connect with other people, which makes it easier for me to learn from different perspectives, which enables me to make better decisions. Many of my actions and goals support more than one goal, so I get a lot of value out of the time I spend.

2014-03-10 Trying out goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality

2014-03-10 Trying out goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality

I picked a set of goals and listed the actions that I frequently take towards those goals. I also brainstormed different actions that I could take or delegate. This was great because it helped me come up with more ideas for mini-projects or delegatable tasks. For example, a weekly Emacs tutorial might be fun and useful (and maybe I can even commission some of those). I can look into asking my assistants to interview me as a way of fleshing out particular post ideas, too.

2014-03-10 Trying out goal factoring part 2 #goals #factoring #rationality #delegation

2014-03-10 Trying out goal factoring part 2 #goals #factoring #rationality #delegation

One of the advantages of making a list of productive activities is that it’s easy for me to switch from one good thing to another depending on my interest or energy. Since “Tickle my brain” turns out to be a totally acceptable goal (at least for me), I can give myself permission to spend one or two hours a day on tech learning. That had been neglected because of my focus on other activities. It’s good to get back into tweaking my Emacs or learning more about NodeJS, though. I can get a little carried away doing this (flow can be dangerous!), so I limit my time. After about two hours each time (or maybe four, if I’m pushing it), I should resurface and check on the other activities I may need or want to do.

It’s good to decide how much time I want to spend on other activities, too. For example, I want to work on delegation daily so that my assistants get prompt feedback and so that I keep filling the pipeline with more task ideas. I want to work on consulting enough so that projects and tasks keep moving, but I don’t want it to take over peak creativity/attention time, so I move it off-peak whenever possible. Packaging (making PDFs and e-books, organizing and revising posts, recording and processing podcasts) takes time and isn’t as engaging as the other activities, but it helps me connect with people, so I should do that weekly. I’ll also see if I can delegate more packaging so that it gets done.

2014-03-11 Deciding how to spend time #time

2014-03-11 Deciding how to spend time #time

To make it easier to brainstorm delegation-related tasks, I pulled some out into a separate drawing. There’s a lot of room for growth. =) I’m slowly getting used to having assistants do web research, and it turns out to be surprisingly useful. I probably read much faster than they do, but I benefit from the different perspectives and search words they use, and it’s nice to ignore the fluff.

2014-03-10 Making more use of delegation #delegation

2014-03-10 Making more use of delegation #delegation

One of the templates for goal factoring encouraged you to analyze your current actions instead of getting lost in goals you think you should have. For my third attempt, I picked a few frequent actions and traced the connections to the goals they support. I brainstormed alternatives and compared the costs. The goals looked pretty similar to the first set, but a different perspective helped me identify other alternatives I can explore. For example, it might be a good idea for me to create a Trello board or update my public Org file with the things I’m curious about so that people can help me out.

2014-03-11 Trying out goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality

2014-03-11 Trying out goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality

What am I learning from this goal factoring exercise? It’s a good excuse to brainstorm and examine alternative approaches for reaching my goals, especially in terms of identifying low-hanging fruit. I’m already used to explaining how my actions contribute to multiple goals and how my goals are related to each other. I occasionally talk to people about my big picture (or as I like to call them, my Evil Plans). The way I define my goals seems to be a little different from the way most people define theirs. Instead of having big goals and strong commitments, I have a lot of small goals with hardly any commitment aside from curiosity. This approach seems to fit me better, although I’m probably missing out on extra productivity. I like making lists of lots of little goals or possible actions, because that makes the low-hanging fruit easier to pick.

2014-03-11 Reflecting on goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality

2014-03-11 Reflecting on goal factoring #goals #factoring #rationality

Reflecting on this led to exploring this metaphor of a buffet of goals. Influenced by Jim Collins’ Good to Great, I set myself Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs) in 2005. “S.M.A.R.T.” was an even more common acronym for goal setting, and I tried those too. The meaning of S.M.A.R.T. varied. My mom’s version was that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Ardently-desired, Realistic, and Timebound. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound makes sense too.)

Time-boundedness was something that never quite caught fire with me, though. I think it’s because I’d demonstrated “potential” at an early age (of the computer-whiz-kid sort), grown up with praise along the lines of “Wow, she can do all of this stuff and she’s only ___ years old,” and nearly got caught up in the insecurities of looking over my shoulder or ahead of me at people who were doing even more awesome things at even younger ages.  I remember consciously deciding, sometime in my teens, that I didn’t want age or speed to be special. People made a lot of fuss over precocity — but at the same time, it seemed that age became an excuse for them to not learn or try. I pushed back at that. I preferred looking up to late bloomers like Grandma Moses rather than the “30 under 30” lists.

Self-imposed time-based deadlines–“I will do ____ before I turn 35”–echoed that old conflict for me. If a goal was intrinsically valuable, I would do it already motivated by the knowledge that life is short (memento mori!); and if I wasn’t motivated enough to do it, I didn’t want to set myself up to feel like a failure just because I accomplished it at an older age instead of the goal I’d optimistically set.

So I’ve been moving away from goals with deadlines. I wrote a blog post about that in 2012, but I’ve been thinking that way for a while now, and I’m coming to a clearer understanding. I want to embrace my goals and move towards them as a whole, motivated person, not split myself into taskmaster versus slave. I want to move towards my goals out of interest and curiosity and wonder. Dates might work for other people, but not quite for me.

What do I replace that metaphor with, then? I think of having a buffet of goals stretching infinitely before me. I can choose the portions I want. I can enjoy a variety of tastes, textures, and cuisines. I don’t have to overload my plate or stuff my stomach. I can graze. I can go back for more. As I nibble, I can think about what else I want to try, or how I want to tweak things, or if I want to rearrange the dishes for greater convenience. I like it. It’s a fun metaphor. =)

2014-03-12 A buffet of goals #metaphor #goals

2014-03-12 A buffet of goals #metaphor #goals

So, coming back to goal factoring… What’s next? More goal analysis! As it turns out, it’s easy to combine Emacs Org Mode and GraphViz. I’ve started documenting my actions and goals in Org Mode. I hope org-babel will make it easy to slice the goals into different sets and produce intelligible graphs. You can check out the first attempt. It’s very rough, but it will get better over time. =)

Contemplating co-op: How can I get to the point of being able to offer a good high school co-op placement?

March 19, 2014 - Categories: delegation

J-‘s been looking into the co-op program at her high school. In preparation, I’ve been planning tasks that she can work on during weekends so that she can flesh out her resume and portfolio with useful skills. 

I think co-ops might be good for me to look into it too. J- can’t work for me because of rules against working directly for family members, but maybe I can give someone like her an opportunity to develop skills.

A high school co-op placement is about 4 months of afternoon work, or roughly 220 hours. It turns out that you can offer a co-op position even without an office environment. I would like to be able to give the right candidate a structured way to gain skills and apply them towards useful stuff. It’s generally unpaid, so it’s mostly low risk (although I like rewarding good work). Still, I want to make sure I have the kind of work that will attract good candidates, and I want them to be able to get a lot out of it.

What could wild success look like? Maybe I’d look for reflective self-directed learners who are interested in developing writing, tech, and design skills. I’d talk to students about their career goals and what skills they’d like to be able to demonstrate as part of their portfolio. I’d have a well-documented process library and a steady flow of tasks so that they always have something to work on. They would own a larger project, too. During the afternoons that they’re working, I’d be available in person or over Google Hangout / Skype so that they can ask quick questions. Every week, we’d discuss our progress and make a plan for what to do next.

We could work on open source or community contributions together, or I might go and look for client work so that students get the experience of working with other businesses.

I want them to feel great about the diversity of experiences they get to try, to work on things that have value, and to feel supported and guided (versus being left to their own devices, or being exploited for cheap labour, or feeling lost).

It would be an investment of time and attention on my part. I’m at about 1 hour management : 3.5 hours of delegation for my virtual team, and supervising a high school student will probably require even more attention and thought. What would I want to get out of it? I’d make more progress on projects I want to support. We’d flesh out more documents, tutorials and blog posts along the way, too. Anyway, if things shape up well and I get better at managing other people, it might be worth looking into.

Do you offer a high school co-op position (or did you have one)? What has your experience been like?

Emacs, Evernote (through enscript.exe), and Org links

March 20, 2014 - Categories: emacs, org

I've given myself permission to spend an hour or two tickling my brain with various technical ideas and prototypes every day. This means Emacs geekery is going to turn up on my blog more often. =) Here's a recent hack that I put together to make my weekly reviews a little easier.

I skim a lot of blog posts on my phone using the Feedly app. (See: How to read blogs efficiently with a feed reader.) I save the posts I want to follow up on or include in my weekly round-up. I have an If This Then That recipe that monitors my saved items and stashes them in Evernote with the roundup tag. If I come across other interesting pages while browsing on my computer, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to save those pages with the roundup tag as well.

In the past, I selected a range of notes to export from Evernote, saved them to a file, and used my sacha/evernote-extract-links-for-review function to extract the titles and URLs. I opened each of the pages with C-c C-o (org-open-at-point) to refresh my memory and follow up. I deleted lines that were no longer relevant. Since IFTTT had changed to rewriting the URLs instead of leaving the source URLs alone, I copied the original URLs and replaced the links that were in Org.

This is Emacs, though, and even that can be smoothened with a little scripting. Now I can use the code below to expand URLs and to open all the URLs in the region.

Link-related convenience functions

I picked this up from http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/AlexSchroederConfigOrientalibombus .

(defun kensanata/resolve-redirect (url)
  "Resolve shortened URL by launching `curl --head' and parsing the result."
  (let* ((curl (shell-command-to-string
                (format "curl --silent --head %s" url)))
         (location (when (and (string-match "\\`HTTP/1\.1 301" curl)
                              (string-match "^Location: \\(.*\\)" curl))
                     (match-string 1 curl))))
    (or location url)))

(defun sacha/resolve-urls-in-region (beg end)
  "Expand URLs between BEG and END."
  (interactive "r")
      (narrow-to-region beg end)
      (goto-char (point-min))
      (while (re-search-forward org-bracket-link-regexp nil t)
        (replace-match (save-match-data (kensanata/resolve-redirect
                                         (match-string 1))) t t nil 1))
      (goto-char (point-min))
      (while (re-search-forward org-link-re-with-space nil t)
        (replace-match (save-match-data (kensanata/resolve-redirect
                                         (match-string 0))) t t nil)))))

(defun sacha/open-urls-in-region (beg end)
  "Open URLs between BEG and END."
  (interactive "r")
      (narrow-to-region beg end)
      (goto-char (point-min))
      (while (re-search-forward org-plain-link-re nil t)

Evernote-related extract

Evernote on Windows doesn't have the same kind of scripting capabilities that Evernote on the Mac has, but it turns out you can still do a fair bit of scripting with the enscript tool.

(defun sacha/evernote-export-and-extract (start-date end-date)
  "Extract notes created on or after START-DATE and before END-DATE."
  (let ((filename "c:/sacha/tmp/Evernote.enex"))
     "c:/Program Files (x86)/Evernote/Evernote/enscript.exe"
     nil t t
     "/q" (concat
           " tag:roundup"
           " created:" (replace-regexp-in-string "-" "" start-date)
           " -created:" (replace-regexp-in-string "-" "" end-date))
     "/f" filename)
    (sacha/evernote-extract-links-for-review filename)))

(defun sacha/evernote-extract-links-for-review (filename)
  "Extract note names and URLs from FILENAME.
     The file should be an ENEX export."
  (interactive (list (read-file-name "File: ")
  (let (list)
      (insert-file-contents filename)
      (goto-char (point-min))
      (while (re-search-forward "<title>\\(.+?\\)</title>\\(.*?\n\\)*?.*?href=\"\\(.*?\\)\"" nil t)
        (setq list
                (match-string-no-properties 1)
                (match-string-no-properties 3)) list))))
    (setq list
          (mapconcat (lambda (x)
                       (concat "- [["
                               (kensanata/resolve-redirect (cdr x))
                               "][" (car x) "]]: ")) list "\n"))
          (if (called-interactively-p 'any)
              (insert list)

Let's see how this new workflow goes. =) If you're curious, you can check out the rest of my weekly-review-related code in my Emacs configuration.

Living your dream

March 21, 2014 - Categories: life, reflection

It’s really easy to get caught up living someone else’s dream. It makes sense to want what other people want. You see the visions that other people paint for you and say, “Yes, that looks pretty good.” Sometimes being influenced by other people can be very useful. We surprise ourselves by reaching goals that we didn’t even know that we could try. Other times, we drift away from what matters to us. This is why it’s important to check in with yourself once in a while to make sure that you’re still going towards your dream.

I’m a person of small and simple dreams. I want to have enough, to know that I have enough, and to know that whatever I have is always enough. Of these three things, I think the last is the most important. After all, people do well with more and with less, and people do badly with more with less. Reading all these books about stoicism reminded me that having enough is one power that we always have, no matter what our situation is.

2014-02-09 Living your dream

2014-02-09 Living your dream

I’ve been thinking a lot about the motivations and values that underlie my questions. Safety is surprisingly important to me. I plan for different scenarios, and I look at other people’s lives to get ideas for mine. I want to make good decisions: decisions that consider the true range of choices, take potential consequences into account, and leave me with enough space for both mistakes and opportunities. With the basics taken care of, I can focus on doing well. Knowing my tools helps me make the most of them. Learning from other people and sharing what I know helps me grow. I like taking advantage of low hanging fruit, the little things that I can do to move things forward.

2014-02-07 What are my motivations for questions

2014-02-07 What are my motivations for questions

Just as motivations are behind questions, values are behind motivations. What do I value? When does my life feel like it’s consistent with who I am, and when does it feel inconsistent? I really like exploring the things that make me curious, especially if they lead off the well-worn paths. I like helping people learn. I like building things: a good home life, tools, processes, knowledge.

2014-02-11 Reflecting on building a value-filled life

2014-02-11 Reflecting on building a value-filled life

What kinds of questions can you ask yourself to check if you’re following your dream, not some dream that other people have given you?

Weekly review: Week ending March 21, 2014

March 23, 2014 - Categories: weekly

This week was about Emacs tweaking, screencasts/podcasts, delegating, and talking to people. Next week will be pretty busy too, but maybe I can come up with a better system to keep track of what’s going on day by day… =)

Blog posts


Hmm. I didn’t post any sketches to Flickr this week. I think it’s because my drawing time in the evenings got replaced by Emacs hacking and delegation instead.

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (36.9h – 21%)
    • ☐ Build – Emacs: Record Emacs Basics video on configuring your Emacs
    • ☐ Build – Emacs: Record Emacs Basics video on global-hl-line-mode
    • ☐ Connect – podcast: Record third episode
    • ☐ Connect – podcast: Register domain name for personal finance show?
    • ☐ Connect: Co-host Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup?
    • ☐ E2: Set up video 2
    • ☐ Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Earn (15.6h – 42% of Business)
      • ☑ Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (11.8h – 31% of Business)
      • Drawing (1.3h)
        • ☑ Change Twitter background
      • Delegation (5.3h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
        • ☑ Build – Emacs: Record Emacs Basics video for calling commands by name
      • Paperwork (0.7h)
      • ☑ Figure out how to get Tasker to work with Quantified Awesome better
      • ☑ Set up Quantified Awesome development environment again
    • Connect (9.6h – 25% of Business)
      • ☑ Connect: Hang out with FI community
  • Relationships (13.9h – 8%)
    • ☑ Get motion detection to work with Raspberry Pi
    • ☑ Help Andrew Burke with Emacs
    • ☑ Work on project F
    • ☐ Raspberry Pi: Learn how to do image analysis to detect changed areas
    • ☐ Work on project F
  • Discretionary – Productive (12.5h – 7%)
    • ☑ Follow up regarding transaction summaries
    • ☐ Consider how I want to distinguish between goals
    • Writing (1.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (4.2h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (26.6h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (10.6h – 6%)
  • Sleep (63.2h – 37% – average of 9.0 per day)


Emacs Basics: Using the mouse

March 24, 2014 - Categories: emacs, emacs-basics, podcast
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Emacs Basics

You can download the MP3 from archive.org.


I’m Sacha Chua and this is an Emacs Basics episode on using the mouse. The best way to use Emacs is to master the keyboard shortcuts, but when you’re starting out, don’t worry about them yet. You might find yourself using the mouse a whole lot more than you used to, but over time, you will learn more and more keyboard shortcuts as you get used to Emacs. So let’s say that you’re just starting out. What are some of the things that you can do right away to get the hang of using Emacs?

The Emacs tutorial is a great place to start. You can get to that by clicking on the Emacs tutorial link on the splash screen. If you’ve done the tutorial before, it will offer to let you resume at that point. If you don’t have the splash screen handy, you can also get to the tutorial from Help > Emacs tutorial. Go through this and you’ll learn a lot of the common keyboard shortcuts that will come in handy.

The toolbar and the menu will also give you quick access to a lot of common commands. If you’d like to create a new file or open an existing file, you can click on the New file icon located in the top left. You can specify the file, and if the file doesn’t exist yet, it will create it. To save the file, click on the Save icon. If you’d like to close a file, just click on the X mark. You can open the file again using the toolbar icon.

To copy and paste, use your mouse to select a region of text, then copy or cut it. Then you can paste it wherever you want. You could also search for text. Click on that search button and start typing what you’re looking for. It will highlight the search results. Press Ctrl+s to search for the next instance. Press Enter to stop searching.

The menus also offer a lot of other commands. For example, you can insert a file. You can save the current buffer with another file name. You can split your windows so you can see more than one file at the same time. If you’d like to close a window and go back to having one file across your entire screen, you just have to use File > Remove other windows. To switch between the files you have open, use the Buffers menu. Explore the menus for other options.

One of the interesting things in Emacs is that you can copy or cut multiple things and then paste them without having to keep copying or cutting each time. For example, if I copy this, then Paste will paste that. But you could also access the things that you copied or cut previously. Just click on Edit > Paste from kill menu, then select the item you want to paste.

There are lots of other tools that are available in Emacs. The availability of these tools may depend on what else you’ve installed. Again, for more information, check out the Emacs tutorial or read the Emacs manual.

Have fun!


Sketchnotes 2013 in print, yay!

March 25, 2014 - Categories: publishing, writing

Summary: You can now grab a print copy of Sketchnotes 2013 for $30 + shipping from CreateSpace.

2014-03-24 Sketchnotes 2013 in print, yay #publishing #packaging #createspace

2014-03-24 Sketchnotes 2013 in print, yay #publishing #packaging #createspace

I like organizing my sketches into collections so that people can flip through them easily. It’s a good archive too, just in case I lose files. I put together a PDF of my sketchnotes from 2012, and I recently put together one for my sketchnotes from 2013. For added flexibility, I started with a ZIP and shared Dropbox folder for Sketchnotes 2013.

Paul Klipp suggested that I look into CreateSpace as a way of making a paper version. CreateSpace is a print-on-demand publisher, so we can order copies one by one instead of stashing inventory. Paper is easier to flip through during casual moments, and it might be a good alternative. Besides, it’s handy as a personal backup, too. A lot of the sketchnotes are me thinking through stuff, so I’m not sure how useful they’ll be to other people, but you can check it out online for free to see anything is useful. =)

2014-03-24 17.15.56 2014-03-24 17.16.12

It turns out that CreateSpace’s pricing–even considering the cost of shipping–is cheaper than what it would take for me to get color prints at the local print shops, and the results are neatly bound and professional. My proof arrived today, and it looks decent. I had reduced my landscape sketches to a little less than half their size so that I could fit them two to a page. That makes reading easier because you don’t have to turn the page sideways. I was worried that the letters wouldn’t be readable, but they turned out fine. =D

End result: I can “back up” my sketches in a much more compact space, and you can get your own copy if you want. For comparison, here’s the stack of sketchbook pages I drew on and scanned.

2014-03-24 18.22.06

Sketchnotes 2013 ($30 + shipping)

Geekier details: LaTeX

I wanted to make a PDF collection, but I didn’t want to work with a gigantic Microsoft Word or Powerpoint file. I’d done that before with Stories From My Twenties and Sketchnotes 2012, and that was not fun. Anyway, I had folders of images to combine. At first, I tried using ImageMagick to tile the images into pairs and pad them with margins. That was pretty cool. Adobe Acrobat Standard allowed me to import the images and add page numbers. I created my own table of contents using Microsoft Excel, pasted that into Microsoft Word, and tweaked the numbers until they were correct. It was a tedious and error-prone process.

Marcin Borkowski suggested using LaTeX instead. It’s been years since I used LaTeX. I remember doing some of my papers in it, and they always looked so much better than anything I put together in Microsoft Word or OpenOffice. I didn’t want to deal with the potential hassle of setting up LaTeX under Windows or Cygwin. I’d gotten more used to using Vagrant and VirtualBox to run Linux-based virtual machines that shared folders with my Windows installation, and upgrading to a 1 TB drive meant that I had plenty of space.

One of the advantages of working with LaTeX is that it’s text-based and therefore easy to work with in Emacs. I wanted to break up the different sections into their own files. I started with a small category. That way, I could easily recompile a section of the PDF in order to figure out the right approach.

Because I was using Windows to look at the PDF, I often got annoyed by the preview pane file-locking that prevented me from deleting the file. I turned the preview pane off in Explorer and opened the PDF whenever I wanted to check it.

After looking up how to include images in LaTeX, I listed all the image files, redirected the output into a file, and used a keyboard macro to set up \includegraphics commands.

It’s a good thing I did that, because some of the files were facing the wrong way, and many of them were the wrong size. So I learned how to resize and rotate images like this:

\includegraphics[height=\textwidth,angle=90]{Business/2013-02-26 Creating value with social collaboration platforms}

A couple of notes:

  • \includegraphics displays filenames with spaces, which wasn’t what I wanted. Adding \usepackage{grffile} fixed it.
  • \includegraphics can’t deal with special characters like #. To be safe, I used M-x dired‘s editable mode (C-x C-q) to get rid of all the keywords I added to each filename for classification.

Since I had a lot of these commands, I figured it would be worth learning how to define my own command for them. LaTeX is like Emacs. You can define your own commands or override existing ones. This is great for making your code more manageable. For example, if I include the following definitions in my document preamble:


… that gave me new commands that I can use like this:

\sketchcw{Business}{2013-02-26 Creating value with social collaboration platforms}
\sketchccw{Business}{2013-03-04 New opportunities}
\sketch{Business}{2013-03-04 Sketchnotes of events}

I also wanted to include a table of contents that listed all the images, but I didn’t want to display captions since they would duplicate the title that’s already in the sketchnotes. At first, I tried to use captions and labels, but I found out that you can use \addcontentsline to adds lines to the table of contents without displaying anything in the text.

After I set up and successfully compiled a few files, I worked on creating a main document that combined everything. The subfiles package was straightforward to use.

The trickiest part was getting the chapter table of contents sorted out. In addition to having a main table of contents, I like having chapter-based tables of contents because that way, the list is closer to what you’re looking up. I eventually figured out how to use minitoc after much confusion with left-over minitoc data and chapters that were out of order. I ended up creating a Makefile to clean out all the auxiliary files and run pdflatex three or four times.

Here’s one of my early sketches trying to figure this out, back when I was using ImageMagick and Adobe Acrobat…

2014-02-27 How can I make it easy to print collections of my sketches #packaging #sharing

2014-02-27 How can I make it easy to print collections of my sketches #packaging #sharing

It’s great to be a geek!

Thinking about how virtual assistants can help me with learning and writing

March 26, 2014 - Categories: blogging, delegation

I’ve been challenging my assumptions about what I have to do myself and what could be better with help. It would be a waste of time and talent to limit virtual assistants to just data entry or transcription. People can do so much, and they can learn even more.

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects

2014-02-26 Thinking about delegation and projects

Writing is one of those tricky tasks. I can’t stand generic link-building, keyword-stuffing articles. You know, the ones bashed out by SEO robots or humans doing a reasonable simulation thereof. Hasty writers hodgepodge snippets from various places. They may change words just enough to avoid plagiarism, but how can they add anything to the conversation? They don’t have the experience you have. They can’t tell the stories you can. They have a surface understanding of your field.

Still, I’m curious. Can I outsource part of my writing without feeling like I’m breaking the promises of my blog? Can I use people’s strengths instead of bumping into the weaknesses of outsourcing?

I have a personal blog, not a corporate one. I have no problems filling every day with things I’m learning. People find my writing readable. I don’t need help… but maybe I can learn how to make the most of it anyway.

For example, I’ve started making myself delegate web research tasks. This is tough. I keep thinking, “It’ll take me five to fifteen minutes to do this research myself.” I read at a blistering speed, and the research process helps me reformulate questions. It’s faster. I don’t have to wait.

But it turns out that delegating research means I have to be clear about what I’m looking for and how important it is to me. I can learn from other people’s search keywords and summaries. And each little bit of knowledge leaves its traces on two people: the assistant and me. Before, I was the only one who learned from any research I didn’t capture as blog posts. With delegation, the two of us learn, and the summary becomes something I can share.

Example web research tasks:

So web research is one thing that might be worth delegating, even if I think I can do it faster myself.

What about drafting and writing? One of the challenges of writing is empathizing with people who are new. When I write while I’m learning, this is easy. I struggle with the same things people struggle with. But what about the things that people ask me about, the things that I already take for granted? This is where other people’s questions and words can help.

I’ve assigned people to write about a topic I’ve outlined or sketched. I like the way that my outline becomes something both recognizable and different. Here are a couple of examples:

I really like the way people go beyond what I might think of doing or asking on my own. For example, this Trello tutorial is funnier than I probably would have made, and I like it.

What’s beyond that? Maybe more conversation. Speaking can be faster than writing. I struggle with speaking because it feels so unstructured. I’m not used to dictation yet. Maybe I’ll grow into that, in time.

I’ve been practising through interviews and transcripts, but not a lot of people host shows. Maybe I can ask my assistants to interview me about topics. That way, we’ll get a recording out of it as well (for people who prefer to listen or watch). They may ask follow-up questions that I wouldn’t have come up with.

Writing through other people also helps me learn more about my individual style. When I edit their work and give them feedback, I get a better sense of how I say or organize things. Maybe the differences will inspire me to pick up tips from them, too.

$20-30 seems a lot for a blog post that I can write myself, especially if I also invest time to outline and revise it. Still, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of learning from other people’s perspectives. I like the way that I can assign topics of mutual interest, so that both my assistant and I grow through writing. It’s worth exploring.

What would wild success look like? During this delegation experiment, I think it would be great to get to the point where I can make a list of questions I’m curious about. Assistants dig into those questions further. They interview me and other people along the way. I review their drafts, experiment with the ideas, and enrich the drafts with stories and results. We all learn.

I think some of the promises of my blog are: I will post things that I care about. I hope some of them will be useful for you. I won’t clutter your feed reader or inbox with bland, impersonal articles that you could find everywhere else. I won’t resort to clickbait headlines. I’ll share what I’m learning.

Maybe delegation is compatible with those promises. We’ll see. Here are two posts I’ve written with some help:

What do you think? Can there be an authentic way of blogging with other people’s help?

Emacs tweaks: Export Org checkboxes using UTF-8 symbols

March 27, 2014 - Categories: emacs, org, tips
UPDATE 2014-03-28: Newer versions of org have the org-html-checkbox-type variable, which you can set to unicode. Use M-x customize-variable org-html-checkbox-type to see if you have it.

This snippet turns - [X] into ☑ and - [ ] into ☐.

(defun sacha/org-html-checkbox (checkbox)
  "Format CHECKBOX into HTML."
  (case checkbox (on "<span class=\"check\">&#x2611;</span>") ; checkbox (checked)
        (off "<span class=\"checkbox\">&#x2610;</span>")
        (trans "<code>[-]</code>")
        (t "")))
(defadvice org-html-checkbox (around sacha activate)
  (setq ad-return-value (sacha/org-html-checkbox (ad-get-arg 0))))

To find this code, I searched ox-html.el for [. Eventually I found org-html-checkbox, which is directly called by org-html-format-list-item instead of being a function variable that you can change. So that meant I needed to override the behaviour of org-html-checkbox through defadvice. You can see above how I wrap advice around org-html-checkbox and replace the return value with my own function. For more about advice, read the Emacs Lisp Intro manual.

To find the hex codes for the UTF-8 characters, I searched Google for UTF-8 checkbox and found BALLOT BOX WITH CHECK. I used the hex code so that I didn’t have to worry about encoding issues. I tested it by updating one of my weekly reviews. Tada!

Inspired by Grant from Wisdom and Wonder.

Visual book review: Conscious Millionaire: Grow your business by making a difference (JV Crum III)

March 28, 2014 - Categories: entrepreneurship, visual-book-notes

I don’t sketchnote every book I read or receive, but sometimes it’s good to take some time to think about a book even if I don’t agree with everything in it.

2014-03-26 Book - Conscious Millionaire - JV Crum III

2014-03-26 Book – Conscious Millionaire – JV Crum III

This sketch (like practically everything else on my blog) is available under the Creative Commons Attribution License, so feel free to download, share, remix or reuse it. =)

From the title (“Conscious” and “Millionaire,” oh dear), to the name-dropping of quantum physics as a way of justifying a “Law of Attraction,” to the membership site that will be $97/month ($9.97/month if you sign up early), this book clearly belongs to a genre of books I tend to avoid. Those kinds of books are great for a lot of people who need inspiration and push. I’m happy for them. Me, I prefer my business advice delivered with a different approach. But I agree with many things in this book, and I’m looking forward to going through the reflection exercises in depth.

I like how Conscious Millionaire focuses on building a business for profit and purpose. I’ve been thinking about this because of my experiment with semi-retirement. People want to pay me for things like sketchnotes, book notes, visual coaching, consulting, programming, writing, sharing, illustration… It would be easy to say yes, but that often distracts me from the things I want to explore. One way I compromise is through buying back all the time that I spend earning. My experiments with delegation are paying off. In many cases, these systems let me do more than I could do on my own. And in the rest of my discretionary time, I really like this casual, minimal-commitment, flow-based life. I work on whatever I want to whenever I want to, and I still get stuff done.

My expenses are covered by savings and investments, and I live generally unambitious sort of life. Or a differently-ambitious one, at least–I wanted freedom, so I got it. I actively avoid the hedonic treadmill of consumption. I’m not particularly interested in business for the sake of earning more. I am, however, interested in building systems for leverage so that I can make the world a little better. I think of building businesses as taking the kinds of results that people want from me and packaging the processes so that other people can benefit: customers, team members, other stakeholders, and so on. That would be worth spending time on.

So that’s what I’m getting out of this book: thinking about building businesses like those would be like, visualizing larger scales, and moving towards those visions with conscious, focused actions.

Before I dig into those reflections, there’s a section in here about people who don’t charge enough for their services. I want to explore that a little further.

Unfortunately, some amazingly talented and good-hearted people erroneously think they should not charge when they use their passion, purpose, and strengths to help others. … It results from thinking or believing that it is wrong to charge money whenever your actions express your purpose.

I have no qualms about charging high rates for my consulting. For everything else–especially things that can scale up over years, like books–I like using a free/pay-what-you-want strategy. It always pleasantly boggles me when people happily pay $15 for something they could get for free. Don’t worry, it’s all part of my evil plan. Mwahahaha. It means ideas spread and tribes grow. I figure that if people like all the free awesomeness, we can harness that good karma for something. In the meantime, I’m learning a lot from people in the process of sharing, and I love the feeling of interacting based on abundance instead of transactions.

Besides, the bottleneck for my scaling up isn’t time, or even money. If I earned a hundred times as much from online publishing, or scaled up my consulting to have a higher rate or more hours, what would change? I would probably delegate more so that I could help more people create opportunities for themselves. I can already do that with what I have. So I think the real bottleneck is understanding: learning more about what people need, learning more about what I want to share. You can’t throw money at that bottleneck. You can only get through by paying attention.

And that, I guess, is why Conscious Millionare might be worth reading. It’s peppered with lots of reflection topics and practical advice. If the community and the coaching takes off, that might be worthwhile as a way to compare notes with other people. Like all self-help books, you gotta get out and push. The one-page summary I put together (see the top of this post) might be handy for remembering key points, but you’ll get even further if you do the work. I’m looking forward to starting with those three-year visualizations, and then we’ll see where this goes from there. If you pick this up, tell me what you think too.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author, who is an actual millionaire from things that are not books about how to become a millionaire. He started with a trucking company, so that’s a point in his favour.

Weekly review: Week ending March 28, 2014

March 30, 2014 - Categories: weekly

I got my printed proof for Sketchnotes 2013 from CreateSpace, yay! I'd already started scribbling in the margins, and then Martina insisted on buying it from me because she wanted to go through it during her trip to China. So I've ordered two more copies (one for myself, and a spare), and I'm looking forward to getting them soon.

Lots of talking to people this week: Visual Thinkers Toronto, the Frugal FIRE show, assorted other conversations at HackLab and online. Ooh, and some forays into Python and image processing with simplecv… Next week, I'm sketchnoting a conference, so my schedule is going to be slightly off routine. Should be interesting, though!

Blog posts


  1. 2014.03.24 Connecting – Do I want to become more gregarious #connecting
  2. 2014.03.24 Determining a fair price for outsourced work #delegation #outsourcing
  3. 2014.03.24 How do I want to keep track of my goals #goal-factoring #planning #org
  4. 2014.03.24 Litter Box Cam with Raspberry Pi #raspberry #cats
  5. 2014.03.24 Sketchnotes 2013 in print, yay #publishing #packaging #createspace
  6. 2014.03.25 TED – Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering #visualtoronto
  7. 2014.03.25 TED – Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food #visualtoronto
  8. 2014.03.26 Book – Conscious Millionaire – JV Crum III
  9. 2014.03.26 Reflections on akrasia – acting against my better judgment #rationality
  10. 2014.03.27 Frugal Fire 003 – Dealing with Pushback – Jordan Read, Sacha Chua
  11. 2014.03.27 What got me started #my-learning

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (45.4h – 27%)
    • Build – Learn: Explore ManyCam
    • Build – Quantified Awesome: Fix 24h goals and range goals
    • Earn – E2: Set up video 3?
    • Earn – M: Set up M templates
    • Earn – M: Set up and print invoice
    • Earn – M: Sketchnote conference
    • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Earn (14.8h – 32% of Business)
      • E2: Set up video 2
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • Make collection of 2013 sketchnotes
    • Build (15.9h – 35% of Business)
      • Build – Emacs: Record Emacs Basics video on Emacs
      • Build – Quantified Awesome: Solve ENOENT errors with gems?
      • Build: Sketch out ideal outcomes
      • Reach out regarding Emacs Google Hangout?
      • Drawing (7.7h)
      • Delegation (2.4h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (14.6h – 32% of Business)
      • Connect – podcast: Record third episode
      • Connect – podcast: Register domain name for personal finance show?
      • Connect: Co-host Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup?
      • Connect: Talk to Marty Avery
  • Relationships (6.5h – 3%)
    • File taxes
    • Get motion detection to work with Raspberry Pi
    • Go to Gamfternoon at Hacklab
    • Raspberry Pi: Learn how to do image analysis to detect changed areas
    • Work on project F
    • install the libraries I need for simplecv
  • Discretionary – Productive (9.8h – 5%)
    • Consider how I want to distinguish between goals
    • Reflect on akrasia
    • Writing (5.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (11.2h – 6%)
  • Personal routines (24.5h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (7.4h – 4%)
  • Sleep (64.0h – 38% – average of 9.1 per day)

Emacs Basics: Call commands by name with M-x (with tips for better completion using ido or helm)

March 31, 2014 - Categories: emacs, emacs-basics, podcast
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Emacs Basics

Emacs has way too many keyboard shortcuts to memorize. Fortunately, you can call commands by name by typing M-x and the name of the command. M- stands for the Meta key. If your keyboard does not have a Meta key (and most don’t, these days), use Alt or Option. For example, on a PC keyboard, you can type Alt-x. Alternatively, you can replace Meta with ESC. M-x then becomes ESC x.

If you know the name of the command to execute, you can type it after M-x, and then press RET (the Return key, which is the same as the Enter key). For example, M-x find-file opens a file. M-x save-buffer saves the current file. You can use TAB to complete words. Use <up> and <down> to go through your command history.

What if you don’t know the name of the command to execute? You can use M-x apropos-command to search for the command using keywords. If you know the keyboard shortcut or you can find the command on a menu, you can also use M-x describe-key and then do the keyboard shortcut or select it from the menu.

If a command you execute has a keyboard shortcut, it will flash briefly at the bottom of your screen. For example:

You can run the command `find-file' with C-x C-f

Using TAB for completion can be a little slow. Here are two ways to make that and a whole lot of other things faster: ido and helm. To explore these approaches, you will need to add the MELPA package repository to your configuration. To set that up, add the following to the beginning of your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file.

(add-to-list 'package-archives '("melpa" . "http://melpa.milkbox.net/packages/") t)

Then use M-x eval-buffer to load the changes into your current Emacs, and use M-x package-refresh-contents to reload the list of packages.

Helm mode

This is what completion with Helm looks like:

2014-03-17 13_06_54-c__sacha_personal_organizer.org.png

Figure 2: Helm

Use M-x package-install to install the helm package. Then you can try it out with M-x helm-mode . After you start Helm mode, try M-x again. You can type in multiple words to search for a command, and you can use <up> and <down> to go through completions. Use M-p and M-n to go through your command history.

If you like it, here’s some code that you can add to your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file to load it automatically next time, and to tweak it for more convenience.

(require 'helm-config) 
(helm-mode 1)

Use M-x eval-buffer to load your changes.

If you change your mind and want to disable helm-mode, you can toggle it off with M-x helm-mode .

If you like how that works, you may want to (global-set-key (kbd "M-x") 'helm-M-x). If you do, you’ll be able to see keybindings when you call commands with M-x. Note that if you want to use a prefix argument (ex: C-u), you will need to do that after calling M-x instead of before.

Ido, ido-hacks, smex, ido-vertical-mode, and flx-ido

Ido is like Helm, but it takes a different approach. Here’s what this combination will get you:

2014-03-17 12_40_40-MELPA.png

Figure 1: ido, smex, ido-vertical-mode, and flx-ido

If you want to give this a try, remove or comment out (helm-mode 1) from your ~/.emacs.d/init.el (if you added it), and disable helm-mode if you still have it active from the previous section.

To set Ido up, use M-x package-install to install ido, smex, ido-vertical-mode, ido-hacks, and flx-ido.

After the packages are installed, add the following code to your ~/.emacs.d/init.el .

(ido-mode 1)
(require 'ido-hacks nil t)
(if (commandp 'ido-vertical-mode) 
      (ido-vertical-mode 1)
      (setq ido-vertical-define-keys 'C-n-C-p-up-down-left-right)))
(if (commandp 'smex)
    (global-set-key (kbd "M-x") 'smex))
(if (commandp 'flx-ido-mode)
    (flx-ido-mode 1))

Use M-x eval-buffer to load your changes, then try M-x again. You should now have much better completion. You’ll be able to call commands by typing in part of their names. Use <up> and <down> to go through the completion options, and use <left> and <right> to go through your history.

Try it for a week. If you like it, keep it. If you don’t like it, try the Helm approach.

Other tips

When you learn keyboard shortcuts, try to remember the names of the commands as well. You can do that with C-h k (describe-key). For example, M-x calls the command execute-extended-command. That way, even if you forget the keyboard shortcut, you can call the command by name.

If you forget the name of the command and you don’t know the keyboard shortcut for it, you can look for it in the menus or in the help file. You can open the help file with C-h i (info). You can also use M-x apropos-command to search through the commands that you can call with M-x.

Make your own cheat sheet with frequently-used keyboard shortcuts and commands to help you learn more about Emacs. Good luck!

Emacs Basics: M-x

Emacs Basics: M-x

You can download the MP3 from archive.org.

April 2014

Frugal Fire 003: Dealing with Pushback

April 1, 2014 - Categories: Frugal FIRE, podcast

Getting your family and friends on board; frugal versus cheap!

Also visit the Q&A page!


Frugal Fire 003 - Dealing with Pushback

Join the community on Google+: http://gplus.to/mustachians.

For more information about the Frugal Fire show (including how to subscribe to the podcast), check out the Frugal FIRE page.

Figuring out a fair price for outsourcing work

April 2, 2014 - Categories: delegation

How can you figure out a fair budget for delegating work? If you set your budget too low, you might get frustrated by lack of response or by the kinds of results you get. If you set your budget too high, you might waste effort and talent. I can't give you a price sheet. Besides, your needs will evolve over time. However, I can share some of the things I've been learning about budgeting for outsourcing or checking if people's times are reasonable.

If you're working with hourly assistance, you can ask people to track their times for specific tasks so that you can get a sense of how much something costs. You can also give a time limit and ask them to send you what they have at the end of that time. This will help you get a sense of their speed and the cost of the task. If you're working with fixed-cost services, you can translate things back into hourly estimates and compare that with your own experience. Pick one system of measurement so that you can compare your chioces.

2014-03-24 Determining a fair price for outsourced work #delegation #outsourcing

Instead of trying to nail down a single price, try to figure out a range that you're comfortable with. You can start by looking for flat-rate fees from companies or people who post fixed prices online. For example, Transcript Diva lists transcript rates and timelines for some of their competitors as well. For general tasks, services like Fiverr and Fancy Hands help establish a range of $5-15 for common tasks.

Another way to establish a limit for what you're willing to spend is to consider how long it takes you to do things yourself, and what else you would do with that time. Adjust based on people's experience. Beginners will take longer to do things than you will, while experienced people may do this just as fast as you can. Specialists who have invested in tools or training may do things even faster. Sometimes it makes sense to delegate a task to someone who isn't the optimal choice in terms of speed or cost, if they're more integrated with the way you work or if you want to help them grow. (Sketch: delegation and task efficiency; blog post)

Then experiment. Try delegating a small task to a lower-cost service to see if that will meet your needs. Try delegating a similar task to a premium service to see if it's worth the price. Try a mid-range service.

Think about the value you can get from the different types of results you have. If a service is expensive but it leads to a lot more income, it may be worth it.

Think of when you'd prefer to do things yourself, too. For example, even though it's easy to find inexpensive data entry assistance, I prefer to automate straightforward tasks because I get to learn more about automation along the way.

As you delegate, think about what was worth it, and adjust accordingly. Make your experiments a little bit bigger as you get used to the idea. Find your sweet spot, and then keep experimenting. Good luck!

More Emacs drawings: Dired, moving around

April 3, 2014 - Categories: emacs
This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series A Visual Guide to Emacs

Dired is the Emacs directory editor. You can get to it with C-x C-f (find-file) if you specify a directory. C-x d (dired) works too. Dired makes it easy to do batch operations on files. One of the niftiest features that you might not even think of looking for, though, is the ability to make a Dired buffer editable using C-x C-q (dired-toggle-read-only). Then you can use replace-regexp, keyboard macros, and all sorts of other ways to change filenames. When you switch back out of editing mode with C-x C-q, the files will be updated.

Here’s a cheat sheet for working with Dired.

2014-02-24 Emacs tips - use Dired to manage files #dired #emacs

2014-02-24 Emacs tips – use Dired to manage files #dired #emacs

Also, bjonnh suggested making a cheat sheet for movement commands. I use the M-b, M-f, C-M-b, and C-M-f shortcuts a lot when working with Emacs Lisp. C-a and C-e are great too.

2014-02-27 Map for getting the hang of Emacs movement #emacs #map #guide

2014-02-27 Map for getting the hang of Emacs movement #emacs #map #guide

If you use evil-mode because you’re used to Vim shortcuts, this cheat sheet won’t be useful to you, but maybe I can make an evil-mode cheat sheet someday.

In other news, I’m slowly becoming the kind of person who can understand SmartParens. I’m getting the hang of slurp and barf, but the rest of it still boggles me. Someday!

Experiment update: Mid-term pre-mortem check

April 4, 2014 - Categories: experiment

In the early days of my 5-year experiment with semi-retirement, I brainstormed ways it could fail. I worried that I might end up too distracted to make useful stuff, or that I’d end up being incapable of pursuing my ideas, or that I’d mess up somewhere–paperwork, people, products–and botch the whole thing. I worried that I’d finish the experiment with nothing to show and no compelling story for the gap I’d have in my resume. I worried that W- would get tired of this exploration.



I feel less worried now. Part of it was realizing that I can plan for only so much safety. Part of it was learning how to choose what I’m going to focus on, how to select my projects without managers and track my progress without annual performance reviews. (Well, I still have annual reviews, but they’re self-driven.) Part of it was trusting that I can handle things, a confidence which grew after each small step.

Looking back, I can see the things I found mentally challenging in the beginning, and how I worked around them.

  • The career gap doesn’t look all that scary now. I know lots of other people who have managed it. They’re fine, and I’ll be fine too.
  • Self-direction turned out to be good to learn, and it seems like I can come up with useful projects.
  • Paperwork? There were a few stressful hours as I learned more about the tax code – I amended my first corporate tax return a number of times – but I think that doing my own books was worth it. Besides, Canada Revenue Agency is surprisingly approachable. Hmm.
  • Opportunity cost? “Wasted potential” only

2014-02-21 What did I find challenging when I started #experiment

2014-02-21 What did I find challenging when I started #experiment

If you’re starting your own experiment or you’re well into one, I’d love to hear about some of the challenges you faced and how you worked around them!

Weekly review: Week ending April 4, 2014

April 6, 2014 - Categories: weekly

Blog posts


  1. 2014.03.29 Litterbox analysis #quantified
  2. 2014.04.01 01 – Why is it that people don't vote – Findings from Samara's Democracy Talks – Alison Loat
  3. 2014.04.01 02 – Who doesn’t vote – Findings from the 2010 municipal election – Myer Siemiatycki
  4. 2014.04.01 03 – What systems can we change – Municipal electoral reform – Desmond Cole, Dave Meslin
  5. 2014.04.01 04 – Mobilize to Vote 2(tpse)
  6. 2014.04.01 05 – Mobilizing Mount Dennis tenants to vote for landlord licensing – Judy Duncan
  7. 2014.04.01 06 – Voter contact workshop – Graham Mitchell, Michal Hay, Jesse Boateng
  8. 2014.04.01 07 – Election day planning and pulling the vote workshop – Graham Mitchell, Michal Hay, Jesse Boateng
  9. 2014.04.01 Figuring out more about what I want to do #planning
  10. 2014.04.01 How do I feel about snippets versus longer podcasts #podcasting #decision
  11. 2014.04.02 Evaluating my sharing #sharing #decision
  12. 2014.04.02 Imagining learning sprints #my-learning
  13. 2014.04.02 On thinking about a variety of topics – a mesh of learning #my-learning
  14. 2014.04.03 Dealing with the fog of work #experiment #fire
  15. 2014.04.03 How can I delegate even more effectively #delegation

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (57.9h – 34%)
    • Earn (28.2h – 48% of Business)
      • E1: Load people into comm
      • Earn – E2: Re-render video 3 if necessary
      • Earn – M: Set up M templates
      • Earn – M: Set up and print invoice
      • Earn – M: Sketchnote conference
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • Earn – E2: Set up video 3?
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (22.0h – 37% of Business)
      • Build – Learn: Explore ManyCam
      • Build – Packaging: Review new cover for Sketchnotes 2013
      • Build – Quantified Awesome: Always default to creating a note field
      • Build – Quantified Awesome: Fix 24h goals and range goals
      • Build – Quantified Awesome: Fix display of totals in daily summary
      • Upgrade Linode Ubuntu install
      • Make it easier to cross-link Org
      • Stop loading d3js
      • Record session on learning keyboard shortcuts
      • Drawing (5.1h)
        • Draw "A" page for Emacs ABCs
      • Delegation (1.8h)
        • Get web development delegation off the ground
      • Packaging (4.6h)
        • Check on print copy of Sketchnotes 2013
        • Fix spine for Sketchnotes 2013
        • Put together print for Sketchnotes 2012
        • Review Sketchnotes 2012 digital proof
      • Paperwork (4.6h)
        • File payroll return
    • Connect (7.7h – 13% of Business)
      • Emacs chat prep: Iannis
      • Reach out regarding Emacs Google Hangout?
      • Emacs chat: Iannis Zannos – music
      • Invite bbatsov for an Emacs Chat
      • Talk to Tom Marble about Emacs
  • Relationships (3.6h – 2%)
    • Attend W-'s family thing
    • Cook something during the week
    • File taxes
    • Go to Gamfternoon at Hacklab
    • Help Eric with focus
    • Raspberry Pi: Learn how to do image analysis to detect changed areas
    • Write blog post about Raspberry Pi litter box cam
    • install the libraries I need for simplecv
    • Check results for project F
  • Discretionary – Productive (7.7h – 4%)
    • Encode litter box data
    • Go for an hour-long walk
    • Reflect on fog of work
    • Reflect on learning sprints
    • Update evil plans so that it has a little bit of margin
    • Writing (1.0h)
      • Write about discretionary speed
  • Discretionary – Play (3.2h – 1%)
  • Personal routines (19.9h – 11%)
  • Unpaid work (16.6h – 9%)
  • Sleep (61.6h – 36% – average of 8.8 per day)

Emacs Basics: Customizing Emacs

April 7, 2014 - Categories: emacs, emacs-basics, podcast
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Emacs Basics

Hello, I’m Sacha Chua, and this is an Emacs Basics video on customizing Emacs. Emacs is incredibly flexible. You can tweak it to do much more than you might expect from a text editor. This week, we’re going to focus on learning how to tweak Emacs with M-x customize and by editing ~/.emacs.d/init.el.

You can download the MP3 from Archive.org


You can change tons of options through the built-in customization interface. Explore the options by typing M-x customize. Remember, that’s Alt-x if you’re using a PC keyboard and Option-x if you’re on a Mac. So for me, that’s Alt-x customize <Enter>. In the future, I’ll just refer to this as the Meta key, so remember which key is equivalent to Meta on your keyboard. (Review – Emacs Basics: Call commands by name with M-x)

After you run M-x customize, you’ll see different groups of options. Click on the links to explore a group.

For example, people often want to change the backup directory setting. This is the setting that controls where the backup files (the files ending in ~) are created. You’ve probably noticed that they clutter your current directory by default. To change this setting, select the Files > Backup group. Look for the entry that says Backup Directory Alist. Click on the arrow, or move your point to the arrow and press <Enter>. Click on INS, or move your point to INS and press <Enter>. Fill it in as follows:

  • Regexp matching filename: .
  • Backup directory name: ~/.emacs.d/backups

Click on State and choose Save for future sessions. This will save your changes to ~/.emacs.d/init.el. When you’re done, type q to close the screen.

You can also jump straight to customizing a specific variable. For example, if you want to change the way Emacs handles case-sensitive search, you can use M-x customize-variable to set the case-fold-search variable. By default, case fold search is on, which means that searching for a lower-case “hello” will match an upper-case “HELLO” as well. If you would like to change this so that lowercase only matches lowercase and uppercase matches only uppercase, you can toggle this variable. I like leaving case fold search on because it’s more convenient for me. If you make lots of changes, you can use the Apply and Save button to save all the changes on your current screen.

Not sure what to customize? You can learn about options by browsing through M-x customize or reading the manual (Help > Read the Emacs Manual or M-x info-emacs-manual). You can also search for keywords using M-x customize-apropos.


The Customize interface lets you change lots of options, but not everything can be changed through Customize. That’s where your Emacs configuration file comes in. This used to be a file called ~/.emacs in your home directory, and you’ll still come across lots of pages that refer to a .emacs file (or “dot emacs”). The new standard is to put configuration code in your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file, which you can create if it does not yet exist.

What goes into your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file? If you open it now, you’ll probably find the settings you saved using M-x customize. You can also call functions, set variables, and even override the way Emacs works. As you learn more about Emacs, you’ll probably find Emacs Lisp snippets on web pages and in manuals. For example, the Org manual includes the following lines:

(global-set-key "\C-cl" 'org-store-link)
(global-set-key "\C-cc" 'org-capture)
(global-set-key "\C-ca" 'org-agenda)
(global-set-key "\C-cb" 'org-iswitchb)

This code sets C-c l (that’s Control-c l) to run org-store-link, C-c c to run org-capture, C-c a to run org-agenda, and C-c b to run org-iswitchb. You can add those to the end of your ~/.emacs.d/init.el file. They’ll be loaded the next time you start Emacs. If you want to reload your ~/.emacs.d/init.el without restarting, use M-x eval-buffer.

Emacs Lisp may look strange. Don’t worry, you can get the hang of it even if you don’t think of yourself as a programmer. You can start by copying interesting snippets from other people’s configuration files. Start with small chunks instead of large ones, so you can test if things work the way you want them to. If you need help, StackOverflow and other Q&A resources may be useful.

As you experiment with configuring Emacs, you may run into mistakes or errors. You can find out whether it’s a problem with Emacs or with your configuration by loading Emacs with emacs -Q, which skips your configuration. If Emacs works fine with your configuration, check your ~/.emacs.d/init.el to see which code messed things up. You can comment out regions by selecting them and using M-x comment-region. That way, they won’t be evaluated when you start Emacs. You can uncomment them with M-x uncomment-region.

Emacs gets even awesomer when you tailor it to the way you want to work. Enjoy customizing it!

Emacs Chat: Iannis Zannos – Emacs and SuperCollider

April 7, 2014 - Categories: emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

Emacs! Music! Iannis Zannos shares how Emacs can be used for all sorts of awesomeness with Org Mode and SuperCollider.

Check this event page for details and comments =)

Transcript available here!

Notes from Visual Thinkers Toronto: Sketchnoting with others

April 8, 2014 - Categories: drawing, meetup, sketchnotes

In March’s meetup for Visual Thinkers Toronto, we listened to TED talks, practised sketchnoting/graphic recording, and compared our notes. Here’s how I drew the talks:

2014-03-25 TED - Bran Ferren - To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

From Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering

2014-03-25 TED - Jamie Oliver - Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

From Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food

I liked how one of the participants added extra pizzazz to the visual metaphors from the talks, exaggerating the words to make them even more memorable. For example, with Jamie Oliver’s talk, he turned the part about labels into a quick sketch of a Can of Death. Other people drew with more colours

It was interesting to see different levels of abstraction for the same topic. Someone made a poster that focused on the key message of the talk. Most people captured 5-10 points or so. I drew with the most detail in our group, I think. I like it; that lets me retrieve more of the talk from memory. I liked how other people switched between different colours of markers. Someday I’ll get the hang of doing that. In the meantime, highlighting seems to be fine.

Try sketchnoting those talks or other presentations you find online. I’d love to compare notes!

Raspberry Pi LitterBox Cam and quantified cats

April 9, 2014 - Categories: cat, geek, quantified

We have three cats. One of our cats occasionally poops outside the litter box. We had our suspicions, but we couldn’t pin down who or why. Territorial issues? Finickiness about box hygiene? Sickness? Fear or surprise? What could we do to reduce the frequency of incidents?

We decided that a litter box webcam was an excellent first project for the Raspberry Pi computer that W- just bought. The Pi is a tiny, quiet, inexpensive Linux server. My webcam worked without hassles, and Motion was easy to set up for motion detection. We set it up to capture videos when the computer detected motion. I watched the videos and encoded the data, tracking which cat and which litter box. I figured that exploring this would be a good excuse to work with the Pi and learn a little more about computer vision.

2014-03-24 Litter Box Cam with Raspberry Pi #raspberry #cats

2014-03-24 Litter Box Cam with Raspberry Pi #raspberry #cats

You might think that watching litter box videos would be boring and somewhat icky. It was surprisingly informative. I had no idea that Luke sniffed so many litter boxes before settling on one. Leia usually checked out one or two boxes before doing her thing, but if all the other boxes were used (even if one of them was used only by her), she sniffed everything and then circled around in indecision before finally pooping in the middle of the basement floor. (Watching her try everything made me feel somewhat better.) The two cats cover, but Neko never does. (Territorial dominance marker by the smallest cat?)

We collected a week of baseline data, which showed that box 1 was twice as popular as box 4 and 5. W- hypothesized that it was because box 4 and box 5 were near the furnace, and the strange noises from the furnace might startle the cats occasionally. Leia pooped outside the box twice, both times sniffing all the boxes before going in the middle.

We took to calling Leia our little data-generator.

2014-03-29 Litterbox analysis #quantified

2014-03-29 Litterbox analysis #quantified

Since the cats often left a little bit of extra food in their bowls and the vet had suggested they needed less food or more exercise, we decided to try reducing the amount of food we gave them. That change seems to be going well.

We also moved box 5 closer to box 1. That led to box 5 being much more popular than it used to be, which was a pleasant surprise. If Leia likes box 5 a lot more now that it’s away from the furnace, maybe it’ll be easier for her to find a clean box to poop in.

Preliminary cat litter box results

Preliminary cat litter box results

We set the camera up to capture 2 frames per second in order to save space. Watching it in real-time eventually lost its novelty, so I looked up how to speed up the AVIs.

for FILE in video-*.avi; do
  if [ ! -f "fast-$FILE" ]; then
    ffmpeg -i $FILE -vf "setpts=0.10*PTS" -r 30 fast-$FILE

I also started looking into how to use SimpleCV for computer vision and image processing. I had a hard time getting SimpleCV set up in my Ubuntu virtual machine, but the Windows version worked fine after a lengthy install process on my computer. After much learning, I figured out how to identify changed areas, get the largest share over a certain area threshold, find the centroid of that shape, and plot it back on the image. The real challenge is figuring out some kind of visual output that makes sense to me when I look at it. The image below is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not quite what I need.


The Raspberry Pi camera module arrived, so we swapped that in and eventually got everything working again after some SD/power-related grumbling.

It would be great if I could get Python to automatically figure out which cat is in the video, distinguishing between multiple cats and flagging it for manual review if the motion detection got confused. Even better if it can track the path that the cats take!

On the other hand, the speeded-up AVIs are now fast enough that the bottleneck isn’t waiting for the video to play, it’s me typing in the description of the path (since I track not only the litter box they use, but any other litter boxes they check along the way). Maybe this is fine.

While watching me encode data, W- said, “Isn’t this something you can have your assistants do?” It’s data entry, sure, but I feel embarrassed about assigning people to watch our cats poop. <laugh> Besides, I’m learning a lot from the encoding process. We’ll probably treat it as a time-limited experiment.

Pretty cool! =) Next steps: Collect more data, try more experimental changes, learn more about image processing…

Anticipated questions/responses:

  • That’s so geeky. You’re weird. Yup.
  • You have too much time on your hands. I like spending my time learning things, and getting better at computer vision and data analysis will come in handy. =) Better than watching TV or reading forgettable things. (See also: Too much time on her hands)
  • Just get a self-cleaning litter box. We got a Litter Robot because that was the best-reviewed of the self-cleaning litter boxes, but only Neko likes using it. We’re not into fancy litter boxes that require cartridges or special litter. It’s hard to tell if Leia will take to a new automated litter box, and returns/refunds for used litter boxes would be a bit weird. We can probably figure out something that works with our current setup, or maybe with an additional regular litter box. We still need to clean daily anyway, so it makes sense to try low-cost approaches first.
  • How about tracking both input and output? Too much work at the moment, and not enough interest in the data. (Weigh the food bowls? Weigh the boxes? Distinguish between cats?)
  • What about rigging up an automated water sprayer / Nerf gun to fire when cats poo outside the litter box? That will just make them poop outside the furnace room. It’s much easier to clean the furnace room than the carpet, so if they’re going to poop outside the litter box, that’s as good a place as any. We don’t want them to get any negative associations.

Digging into my limiting factors when it comes to interviewing people for podcasts

April 10, 2014 - Categories: kaizen, podcasting

The world is full of interesting people, the vast majority of whom don’t share nearly as often as I do. If I interview people, I give people a more natural way to share what they’ve learned in a way that other people can easily learn from. I also get to learn about things I can’t find on Google. Win all around.

I am better-suited to interviewing than many people are. I’m comfortable with the tech. I have a decent Internet connection. I have a flexible schedule, so I can adapt to guests. I use scheduling systems and can deal with timezones. I’ve got a workflow that involves posting show notes and even transcripts. I am reasonably good at asking questions and shutting up so that other people talk. I often stutter, but no one seems to mind. I usually take visual notes, which people appreciate. I’m part of communities that can get more value from the resources I share.

So, what’s getting in the way of doing way more interviews?


I feel somewhat self-conscious about questions and conversations. The Emacs Chats have settled into a comfortable rhythm, so I’m okay with those: introduction, history, nifty demo, configuration walkthrough, other tidbits. Frugal FIRE has a co-host who’s actively driving the content of the show, so I can pitch in with the occasional question and spend the rest of the time taking notes. It’s good for me to talk to other people out of the blue, but I don’t fully trust in my ability to be curious and ask interesting questions.

Hmm. What’s behind this self-consciousness? I think it could be that:

  • I don’t want to ask questions that have been thoroughly covered elsewhere. — But I know from my own blog that going over something again helps me understand it better, so I should worry less about repeating things. Judgment: IRRATIONAL, no big deal
  • I worry about awkward questions and making questions that are really more like statements. What are awkward questions? Closed-ended questions or ones that lead to conversational cul-de-sacs. — But the people I talk to also want to keep the conversation going, so between the two (or three) of us, we should be able to figure something out. And really, once we get going, it’s easy enough to ask more. So I’m anxious about being curious enough, but once we’re there, it’s easy. Judgment: IRRATIONAL, just get in there.
  • I worry about not being prepared enough, or being too forgetful. — But when did I ever claim to have an excellent memory or to be great at doing all the research? Maybe it’s enough to have the conviction that people have something interesting to share, and help them have the opportunity to share it. (And possibly warn interviewees about my sieve-of-a-brain in advance, so they’re not offended if I confuse them with someone else.) Judgment: IRRATIONAL
  • I’m not as used to the flow of an interview as I could be. It’s similar to but not quite the same as a regular conversation, which is something I’m not as used to as I should be. Oddly, it’s easier when I’m occupied with taking visual notes, because I can use my notes to remember interesting things to ask about (and the other person can watch it develop too). So maybe I should just always do that, and then the drawing is a super-neat bonus.
  • I hesitate to ask questions unless I have an idea of what I’m going to do with the answers. Why are the questions interesting? What do we want to explore? Who am I going to share this with, and why? I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on Emacs Chats, so that makes it easy to keep going, but the one-offs can be harder to plan. Maybe I should just become more comfortable with asking in order to explore. Besides, I’m good at rationalization, so I can make sense of it during or after the conversation. And the kinds of interviews I do are also about letting people share what they think would be useful for other people, so I can follow their lead.

Really, what’s the point of being self-conscious when interviewing people? After all, I’m doing this so that the spotlight is on other people, and listeners can survive inexpertly-asked questions. Hey, if folks have the courage to get interviewed, that’s something. Like the way that it’s easier to focus on helping other people feel more comfortable at parties, I can try focusing on helping guests feel more comfortable during interviews.

And it’s pretty cool once we get into it. I end up learning about fascinating Emacs geekery, connecting with great people, and exploring interesting ideas along the way. Well worth my time, and people find the videos helpful.

So I think I can deal with some of  those tangled emotions that were getting in the way of my interviews. (Look, I’m even getting the hang of calling them interviews instead of chats!)

What’s getting in the way of reaching out and inviting people on? I should be able to reach out easily and ask people to be, say, a guest for an Emacs Chat episode. I have good karma in the community, and there are lots of examples now of how such a conversation could go. How about Quantified Self? I’ve been thinking about virtual meetups or presentations for a while, since there are lots of people out there who aren’t close to a QS meetup. What’s stopping me?

  • I generally don’t think in terms of people when it comes to cool stuff or ideas: This makes it difficult for me to identify people behind clusters of interesting ideas, or recognize names when they come up in conversation. Still, it shouldn’t stop me from identifying one particular idea and then looking for the person or people behind that. If I discover other things about those people afterwards, that’s icing on the cake. Hmm… So maybe I should update my confederate map (time to Graphviz-ify it!), interview those people, and then branch out to a role model map. Oh! And I can apply Timothy Kenny’s idea of modeling people’s behaviours beforehand as a way to prepare for the interview, too. Judgment: CAN FIX
  • It would be easier to reach out if I’ve already written pre-psyched-up snippets I can add to my e-mail. Aha, maybe I should write myself an Org file with the reasons why this is a good thing and with snippets that I can copy and paste into e-mail. There are a lot of blog posts and podcast episodes on how to get better at requesting podcast interviews, and there are also resources for getting better at interviewing itself. I can change my process to include psyching myself up and sending a bunch of invitations. Judgment: CAN FIX
  • I’m slightly worried about pre-committing to a time – but really, Google+ events make it pretty easy to reschedule, and I haven’t needed to reschedule most things for my part. Judgment: IRRATIONAL.

All right. So, if I want to learn from people and share useful stuff, I can work on being more actively curious about people, and at inviting them to share what they know. I don’t have to ask brilliant New York Times-y questions. I just have to start from the assumption that they know something interesting, and give them an opportunity to share it with other people.

Why would people take the time to do interviews? Maybe they find themselves explaining things to people a lot, so a recording (plus visual notes! plus transcript!) can save them time and give them something to build more resources on. Maybe they’re looking for other people to bounce ideas off. Maybe it helps them understand things better themselves. I shouldn’t say no on their behalf. I can ask, and they can decide whether it makes sense for their schedule. Right. People are grown-ups.

Okay. What changes can I make?

  • Write an Org file psyching myself up with a condensed version of the reasoning above, and include snippets to copy and paste into e-mail invitations.
  • Map topics/questions I’m curious about, and start identifying people. Identify the tactics I think they use, and model those.
  • Trust that the future Sacha will sort out the questions and the flow of the conversation. And hey, even if it’s super awkward, you don’t get to “interesting” without passing through “meh” first. So just book it, and be super-nice to guests for helping out.

Hmm. That actually looks doable.

Have you gone through this kind of mental tweaking before? Any tips?

Thanks to Daniel Reeves and Bethany Soule for the nudge to write about this! Yes, I should totally pick their brain about Quantified Self, applied rationality, and other good things. Check out their blog at Messy Matters for awesome stuff. Oh, and Beeminder, of course. (Look, I’m even using Messy Matters as a nudge to play around with more colours and brushes! =) )

Emacs Chat: Tom Marble

April 10, 2014 - Categories: emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

Emacs Chat: Tom Marble – Invoicing with Org and LaTeX; Clojure

Guest: Tom Marble

Tom Marble’s doing this pretty nifty thing with Org Mode, time tracking, LaTeX, and invoice generation. Also, Clojure + Emacs, and other good things. Enjoy!

For the event page, you may click here.

For the transcript, you may click here.

Want just the audio? Get it from archive.org: MP3

Check out Emacs Chat for more interviews like this. Got a story to tell about how you learned about or how you use Emacs? Get in touch!

Working fast and slow

April 11, 2014 - Categories: experiment

When it comes to personal projects, when does it make sense to work quickly and when does it make sense to work slowly? I’ve been talking to people about how they balance client work with personal projects. It can be tempting to focus on client work because that comes with clear tasks and feedback. People’s requests set a quick pace. For personal projects, though, the pace is up to you.

It’s easy to adopt the same kinds of productivity structures used in the workplace. You can make to-do lists and project plans. You can set your own deadlines. I want to make sure that I explore different approaches, though. I don’t want to just settle into familiar patterns.

2014-04-07 Working fast and slow #experiment

2014-04-07 Working fast and slow #experiment

I work on personal projects more slowly than I work on client projects. When I work on client tasks, I search and code and tweak at a rapid speed, and it feels great to get a lot of things done. My personal projects tend to be a bit more meandering. I juggle different interests. I reflect and take more notes.

Probably the biggest difference between client work and personal projects is that I tend to focus on one or two client tasks at a time, and I let myself spread out over more personal projects. I cope with that by publishing lots of little notes along the way. The notes make it easier for me to pick up where I left off. They also let other people learn from intermediate steps, which is great for not feeling guilty about moving on. (Related post: Planning my learning; it’s okay to learn in a spiral)

Still, it’s good to examine assumptions. I assume that:

  • doing this lets me work in a way that’s natural to me: what if it’s just a matter of habit or skill?
  • it’s okay to be less focused or driven in my learning, because forcing focus takes effort: it’s probably just the initial effort, though, and after that, momentum can be useful
  • combinations of topics can be surprisingly interesting or useful: are they really? Is this switching approach more effective than a serial one or one with larger chunks?
  • a breadth-first approach is more useful to me than a depth-first one: would it help to tweak the depth for each chunk?

2014-04-02 On thinking about a variety of topics - a mesh of learning #my-learning

2014-04-02 On thinking about a variety of topics – a mesh of learning #my-learning

One of my assumptions is that combining topics leads to more than the sum of the parts. I took a closer look at what I write about and why. What do I want from learning and sharing? How can I make things even better?

2014-04-02 Evaluating my sharing #sharing #decision

2014-04-02 Evaluating my sharing #sharing #decision

Emacs tinkering is both intellectually stimulating and useful to other people. It also works well with applied rationality, Quantified Self, and other geekery. I can align sketchnoting by focusing on technical topics and  on making it easier to package things I’ve learned. Blogging and packaging happen to be things I’ve been learning about along the way. Personal finance is a little disconnected from other topics, but we’ll see how this experiment with the Frugal FIRE show works out.

If I had to choose one cluster of topics, though, it would be the geek stuff. I have the most fun exploring it, and I am most interested in the conversations around it.

What does that mean, then? Maybe I’ll try the idea of a learning sprint: to focus all (or almost all) my energies on one topic or project each week. I can work up to it gradually, starting with 2-4 hour blocks of time.

2014-04-02 Imagining learning sprints #my-learning

2014-04-02 Imagining learning sprints #my-learning

Because really, the rate-limiting factor for my personal projects is attention more than anything else. If I experiment with reducing my choices (so: Emacs basics, Emacs chats, open source, Quantified Self), that will probably make it easier to get the ball rolling.

2014-03-28 Identifying rate-limiting factors in my work #kaizen

2014-03-28 Identifying rate-limiting factors in my work #kaizen

So I’m still not adopting the taskmaster approach, but I’m reminding myself of a specific set of areas that I want to explore, gently guiding the butterflies of my interest down that way.

We’ll see how it works out!

Monthly review: March 2014

April 12, 2014 - Categories: monthly, review

Last month, I:

  • had fun with Emacs
    • coded numerous little Emacs conveniences
    • learned how to make graphs in Org Mode: see http:sachachua.com/evil-plans
    • integrated Emacs Org Mode with Quantified Awesome
    • helped lots of people with Emacs
    • started the Emacs Basics video series
    • set up more Emacs chats
  • and geeked around with other things
    • started playing around with the Raspberry Pi, motion detection, and image processing with simplecv
    • learned more about NodeJS
    • upgraded to Ubuntu Precise, Ruby 2.0
    • went to Gamfternoon at Hacklab
  • drew a little
    • finally updated my Twitter background
    • lined up another sketchnoting gig
    • put together the print version of Sketchnotes 2013, yay LaTeX!
  • and took care of other stuff
    • filed our taxes
    • delegated more writing

In other news, I really like the new monthly review code I’ve added to Emacs: http:sachachua.com/dotemacs#monthly-reviews

Here’s the snippet:

(defun sacha/org-review-month (start-date)
  "Review the month's clocked tasks and time."
  (interactive (list (org-read-date)))
  ;; Set to the beginning of the month
  (setq start-date (concat (substring start-date 0 8) "01"))
  (let ((org-agenda-show-log t)
        (org-agenda-start-with-log-mode t)
        (org-agenda-start-with-clockreport-mode t)
        (org-agenda-clockreport-parameter-plist '(:link t :maxlevel 3)))
    (org-agenda-list nil start-date 'month)))

In April, I want to:

  • Record and set up more Emacs chats
  • Make open source contribution part of my routine (mailing lists, patches, sharing)

Blog posts

Weekly review: Week ending April 11, 2014

April 13, 2014 - Categories: weekly

Updated: Fixed links, thanks furansui!

A lot of coding this past week – moving stuff to Github, fixing bugs, making things a little more convenient… Two Emacs chats, too.

Started gardening again. =D Yay weather warming up!

Next week:

Blog posts


I think my focus on sketches is inversely proportional to my focus on code. They probably tickle the same part of my brain…

  1. 2014.04.07 Working fast and slow #experiment

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (40.7h – 24%)
    • [ ] Build: Find a user-friendly RSS plugin for WordPress
    • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • [ ] Explore converting ClojureBridge tutorial to Org
    • [ ] Explore membership plugins / course plugins
    • [ ] Record session on learning keyboard shortcuts
    • [ ] Write about planning for reasonable safety
    • Earn (16.7h – 41% of Business)
      • [X] E1 Unpinkify
      • [X] E1: Check for subscribers
      • [X] E1: Load people into comm
      • [X] Earn – E2: Re-render video 3 if necessary
      • [X] Earn – E2: Set up video 3?
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (20.8h – 51% of Business)
      • [X] Check that all my WordPress installations are up to date
      • [X] Get Emacs to show me a month of completed tasks, organized by project
      • [X] Improve Emacs Beeminder
      • [X] Make it easier to cross-link Org
      • [X] Package miniedit for MELPA?
      • [X] Run Hello World in Clojure from Emacs
      • [X] Sort out cache slam
      • [X] Sort out task templates and captures so that refiling, jumping, and clocking is easy
      • [X] Stop loading d3js
      • Drawing (1.5h)
      • Delegation (1.2h)
        • [X] Post Emacs tutorials links
      • Packaging (7.4h)
        • [X] Fix cover for Sketchnotes 2012
        • [X] Annotate my Emacs configuration
        • [X] Draw "A" page for Emacs ABCs
        • [X] Draft guide to getting started with Emacs Lisp
        • [X] Learn about bitbooks
        • [X] Review Sketchnotes 2012 digital proof
      • Paperwork (0.5h)
        • [X] File payroll return
        • [X] Plan my business and personal finances
    • Connect (3.2h – 7% of Business)
      • [X] Emacs Chat: Tom Marble
      • [X] Emacs chat prep: Iannis
      • [X] Emacs chat: Iannis Zannos – music
      • [X] Invite technomancy for an Emacs Chat
  • Relationships (12.9h – 7%)
    • [X] Attend W-'s family thing
    • [X] Check results for project F
    • [X] Get the Raspberry Pi camera working and get a top-down view
    • [X] Go to RJ White's semi-retirement party
    • [X] Set up the Pi camera again
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Use bounding rectangle to guess litterbox use
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Extract blob pixels and try to classify cats
  • Discretionary – Productive (18.0h – 10%)
    • [X] Flesh out story
    • [X] Write monthly report taking advantage of Org tasks
    • [ ] Blog about user-visible improvements, Beeminder commit goal
    • [ ] Experiment with calculating ve
    • [ ] Plant beets, spinach, lettuce
    • [ ] Ask neighbours if anyone wants to split a bulk order of compost with us
    • Writing (5.9h)
      • [X] Write about discretionary speed
  • Discretionary – Play (2.8h – 1%)
  • Personal routines (21.5h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (11.7h – 6%)
  • Sleep (61.2h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Emacs beginner resources

April 14, 2014 - Categories: -Uncategorized, emacs
Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s like to be a beginner, so I’m experimenting with asking other people to help me with this. =) I asked one of my assistants to look for beginner tutorials for Emacs and evaluate them based on whether they were interesting and easy to understand. Here’s what she put together! – Sacha

Emacs #1 – Getting Started and Playing Games by jekor
Probably the most helpful Emacs tutorial series on YouTube. Goes beyond the “what to type” how-tos that other tutorials seem bent on explaining over and over. Emphasizes games and how they help users familiarize themselves with the all-keyboard controls. 5/5 stars

Org-mode beginning at the basics
What it says on the tin. Essential resource for those who are new to Emacs and org-mode. Provides steps on how to organize workflow using org-mode written in a simple, nontechnical, writing style. 5/5 stars

Xah Emacs Tutorial
Though the landing page says that the tutorial is for scientists and programmers, beginners need not be intimidated! Xah Emacs Tutorial is very noob-friendly. Topics are grouped under categories (e.g. Quick Tips, Productivity, Editing Tricks, etc.) Presentation is a bit wonky though. 4.5/5 stars

RT 2011: Screencast 01 – emacs keyboard introduction by Kurt Scwehr
Keyboard instruction on Emacs from the University of New Hampshire. Very informative and also presents some of the essential keystrokes that beginners need to memorize to make the most out of the program. But at 25 mins, I think that the video might be too long for some people. 4/5 stars

Emacs Wiki
Nothing beats the original- or in this case, the official- wiki. Covers all aspects of Emacs operation. My only gripe with this wiki is that the groupings and presentation are not exactly user-friendly (links are all over the place!), and it might take a bit of time for visitors to find what they are looking for. 4/5 stars

Mastering Emacs: Beginner’s Guide to Emacs
The whole website itself is one big tutorial. Topics can be wide-ranging but it has a specific category for beginners.
whole website itself is one big tutorial. Looks, feels, and reads more like a personal blog rather than a straightforward wiki/tutorial. 4/5 stars

Jessica Hamrick’s Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Emacs
Clear and concise. Primarily focused on providing knowledge to people who are not used to text-based coding environments. It covers a lot of basic stuff, but does not really go in-depth into the topics. Perfect for “absolute beginners” but not much else. 3/5 stars

Jim Menard’s Emacs Tips and Tricks
Personal tips and tricks from a dedicated Emacs user since 1981. Not exactly beginner level, but there’s a helpful trove of knowledge here. Some chapters are incomplete. 3/5 stars

Emacs Redux
Not a tutorial, but still an excellent resource for those who want to be on the Emacs update loop. Constantly updated and maintained by an Emacs buff who is currently working on a few Emacs related projects. 3/5 stars

Jeremy Zawodny’s Emacs Beginner’s HOWTO
Lots of helpful information, but is woefully not updated for the past decade or so. 2/5 stars

This list was put together by Marie Alexis Miravite. In addition, you might want to check out how Bernt Hansen uses Org, which is also pretty cool.

Lion cut

April 15, 2014 - Categories: cat

From Sunday: We’d neglected brushing Leia’s coat until there were mats that were difficult to work out. I tried to comb them out with a dematter or snip them out with scissors, but there was only so much Leia would tolerate. So plan B: shave it all off!

2014-04-13 Lion cut

2014-04-13 Lion cut

We had been thinking about it for a few months, but we figured she probably wanted to keep her fur during winter. With warm weather on the horizon and the mats getting thicker, it was time. W- and I didn’t know what to expect. We looked up pictures of lion cuts on cats (hilarious!), watched videos (of which there are plenty on the Internet, which exists primarily for the dissemination of all things cat-related), and read forum posts (for example: my cat is shaved & depressed).

Then we took Leia to her first appointment with a cat groomer. Leia wasn’t too happy during the process. The groomer had to use the Cone of Don’t Bite Me. There was a lot of… err… expressiveness.

She cheered up all right afterwards, though. We made sure to reassure her with lots of cuddles, although it took us a good few hours before we could resist the urge to chortle whenever we looked at her.

Actually, no, still happens. <giggle> She’s tinier than I expected! I always thought she was the same size as Luke, but it turns out that was all hair. She’s actually the same size as Neko. Maybe even smaller. Boggle. And her head is so big! And she’s wearing boots!

Yep, should totally do this every year.

Reflecting on goal factoring and akrasia

April 16, 2014 - Categories: productivity, reflection

Following up on sketching my goals: I’ve been thinking a bit more about goal factoring. What do I want to be able to do with an overview of my projects and goals?

  • I want to make regular progress towards important goals, especially since I tend to move from topic to topic.
  • I want to translate abstract goals into measurable projects, and I want to translate those projects into actions.
  • I want to brainstorm alternative approaches that may get me to my goals faster, cheaper, or more effectively.
  • I want to see which actions or projects can support multiple goals.
  • I want to prioritize my projects and goals, putting things on the backburner as needed.

2014-03-24 How do I want to keep track of my goals #goal-factoring #planning #org

2014-03-24 How do I want to keep track of my goals #goal-factoring #planning #org

One of the benefits of writing down my goals is that I can look at the gap between plans and reality. An e-mail conversation with Daniel Reeves (Beeminder and the awesomely geeky Messy Matters) pointed me to the concept of akrasia, which is when you act against your better judgment (Wikipedia: akrasia; LessWrong: akrasia). In general, this happens because we value the present much more than the future. Short-term gains are more compelling than future ones. Immediate pains matter more than far-off sacrifices.

I haven’t thought a lot about akrasia yet. If I can understand the concept and identify my akratic actions, then I can change my systems or try other tactics to live better.

2014-03-26 Reflections on akrasia - acting against my better judgment #rationality

2014-03-26 Reflections on akrasia – acting against my better judgment #rationality

  • Sleeping: I could probably get away with sleeping less. That said, it’s good (and uncommon) to get plenty of sleep, so this might not be too bad. I averaged about 8.9 hours a night over the past year. If I manage to tweak this to get, say, 0.5 hours more core time per day, that would be amazing. On the other hand, I could be the sort of person who really does need that much time, and it’s still within the normal range. We’ll see how sleep works out with my changing routines.
  • Reading fanfiction during my commute when I could be reading nonfiction, learning Morse code, writing, or listening to podcasts… Actually, I’ve been doing more Morse code lately, so maybe this is not an issue. And I should probably have more mental downtime anyway.
  • Being glued to my phone: On a related note, W- has teased me about my being occasionally glued to my phone. (It’s funny when I’m trying to tidy up or make the bed one-handed.) This is more of an awareness issue.
  • Not doing enough strength/flexibility/endurance: Biking helps me with lower-body strength, but my arms are weak. If I don’t exercise to maintain my flexibility, I’ll lose it over time. I have plenty of energy throughout the day, although I suppose it’s good to build that up so that I have even more energy for bigger tasks. If I determine that mornings are the best time to exercise, then my lack of exercise is a combination of my desire to spend that time reading or writing (even though I already do this to the point of possible diminishing returns) and my dislike of how it initially feels to exercise.
  • Socializing: I often don’t feel like going out, although I conceptually know that connecting with people is a good thing. I suspect it’s because I feel more connected with people around ideas instead of history or circumstance, and connecting to people over the Internet tends to more reliably result in good conversations like that compared to going to events or get-togethers in person.
  • Crossing my legs: This is an awareness thing. I just have to notice it, and then I can gradually untrain myself. If I’m seated correctly, I’m fine. I tend to cross when I need a higher, slanted surface to draw on. More observations – maybe stochastic?

There are lots of other possibly akratic actions in my life. These came to mind first when I thought about things that I often do and that I can change when I pay attention to them. Still, looking at this set… I don’t have a strong desire to eliminate akrasia while the suboptimal results aren’t major hindrances. I’m fine with having a little slack in my life. Even when my actions diverge from my stated goals, I still learn a lot.

That’s an interesting meta-thing to explore, though. Am I too comfortable? I’ve experimenting with moving away from carrot-and-stick approaches to personal productivity (or taskmaster and slave) and more towards appreciative inquiry (let’s observe what’s working well, and do more of that). Most people want to become more machine-like in their productivity, reliably following their plans. The contrarian in me is curious about alternatives. I don’t know that life would be better if I worked with more focus or commitment. I know that it would be different, and there’s a possibility that following the butterflies of my curiosity also creates value.

So let’s say that akrasia (or at least how I understand it so far) tends to be effectively addressed with self-imposed deadlines, commitment devices, constrained environments, and so on. Writers sign up for NaNoWriMo. Entrepreneurs bet each other that they’ll complete their tasks. Dieters remove junk food from their cupboards. These constraints support progress (by adding enough incentive to get people started or to convert downtime into productive time) or prevent backsliding (by removing temptations and distractions).

What are the trade-offs I make for not using these tools against akrasia? Are there ways I can turn weaknesses into strengths for those approaches?

Commitment devices are good for keeping you focused. If I let myself follow my interests, then I don’t get to take advantage of momentum or compounding results. However, my habit of sharing along the way means that people can get value even from intermediate steps. Cross-pollination is valuable, too. On my personal blog, it’s probably a good idea to have variety instead of focus, so that people can find what they’re interested in.

Commitment devices are good for preventing backsliding. When you make undesired actions more costly (ex: eating junk food), you make desired actions cheaper in comparison (ex: nibbling on carrots). If I don’t tinker with incentives that way, then I’ll be more influenced by short-term effects rather than long-term effects. I am generally future-oriented anyway (ex: retirement savings, batch cooking) and I have fun connecting actions with long-term plans, so the disadvantages may be somewhat mitigated. I don’t have a sense of urgency around this, either. Perhaps I need to exaggerate long-term costs in order to make this more compelling.

Things to think about…

Have you reflected on akrasia? Can you share your insights?

Rethinking my time categories: the blurring of business and discretionary activities

April 17, 2014 - Categories: business, experiment, quantified, time

I track my time with medium-level categories (not detailed enough that I’m tracking individual tasks, but not so high level that it’s hard to make sense of the data). From time to time, I notice categories drift, or they stop fitting. Consulting is definitely business, but does working on Emacs really belong there? Why is coding classified under business but writing is classified as discretionary time? Most of my categories still make sense a year or two later, but some of them could use more thinking about.

What is business, anyway? I suppose it can include anything related to the earning of money, including support such as paperwork or delegation. Packaging (by which I mean creating e-books and other resources) is part of business, since I earn a small income from that (and pay taxes on it, too!). So is responding to e-mail. Technically, Emacs is related to money, because people have actually booked and paid me for help sessions online (http://sachachua.com/help). I consider programming-related activities to be part of maintaining my technical skills and network. In that sense, coding, web development, system administration, and other geek things are business-related. I distinguish between sketchnoting for client engagements and drawing on my own. Many of my drawings are more along the lines of personal or business planning. Perhaps I should track more under those categories now that I’ve established drawing as a way of thinking, and shift to using “Business – Drawing” when I’m specifically working on illustrations or improving skills.

Discretionary time includes the stuff I do just for fun and the things I learn about just because (Latin and Morse, for example). Probably the only weird thing in here is that I classify writing as discretionary time. It’s fun. Coding is fun too. Coding is more obviously valued, though, so I guess that’s why I consider it business time. And also, if I classify writing as coding time, I’ll tip over way too often into the “working too many hours a week” zone, when I’m not really doing so.

Maybe a better approach is to classify coding, drawing, and other fun things as discretionary time instead, even if they occasionally result in money. Benefit: I get to celebrate having more discretionary time and a lighter workload. (Yeah, it’s all mental anyway…)

Or maybe I need to take a step back and ask myself what kinds of questions I want to be able to answer with my categorical data.

In general, I want to make sure I don’t spend too much time working, because I want to force myself to work on my own projects. That’s why I track the time spent consulting, doing paperwork, and connecting with people (including responding to e-mail). I usually keep a close eye on my Business – Earn subcategory, since that’s the one that can creep up on me unawares. That’s fine with my current categories.

I also want to look for patterns in time use. How does spending more time on one activity (and less time on other activities) influence what I do and how I feel? How bursty am I when it comes to different discretionary projects? As long as I’m tracking at the subcategory level, it doesn’t really matter what the root category is.

Hmm. Since I’m not actually using the distinction between discretionary and business for reports or visualizations that nudge my behaviour, I can probably leave my categories alone if I remind myself that those ones have fuzzy boundaries. It would matter more if I wanted to set goals for investing X hours a week on business things (or, conversely, spending Y hours on discretionary non-business related things, which is oddly harder). Since I don’t care about that at the moment, I’m fine. Also, it’s easy enough to reassign the parent categories, so I still leave the door open for analyses at a later date.

As long as I can keep things clear enough in my head so that I feel confident that I can explain to any auditors that yes, my  business expenses make sense, I should be fine. I feel a little weird about not having a proper business plan for lots of things I’m working on. I mean, I can write them (or draw business model canvasses, more likely), but I prefer this pay-what-you-want model. Oh, hey, there’s an assumption there that I can dig into. People can (and do!) build metrics around freemium or pay-what-you-want models. Maybe I can figure out how to approach this in a business-like-but-still-generous way.

What would a more business-y way look like? I would float an idea to see if it’s useful. Then I would make stuff (and sometimes I’d make it anyway, just because). I might actually track conversions, and try things out, and reach out to people and communities. I’d publish little guides and videos, and maybe add a tip jar for smaller pieces of content so that people can “vote” for things they like more.

All things to do in due course. In the meantime, knowing that the path is there means I can leave all of this stuff still filed under the Business category, because it is. Even if it’s fun. Writing still feels more discretionary than business-y (even posts like this, for example), so I’ll leave that where it is. So no change, but I understand things better.

Do you track your time and have fuzzy boundaries between categories? How do you deal with it?



Started gardening – April 2014

April 18, 2014 - Categories: gardening

The weather finally warmed up last weekend. W- and I raked the back yard, and I started planting seeds that would likely survive just in case we get another frost. Spinach, peas, lettuce… I don’t know how well the seeds will do, but I want to get things growing again. I can’t grow anything indoors because the cats love nibbling on greens, so I’ll just have to buy my tomato and basil starts from the garden centres. In the meantime, though, I can experiment with seeds.

The soil feels better now than the sandy mix we started with, although there’s always room for improvement. We’ve added lots of compost to it over the years – mostly manure, but there was a year that our compost heap was active enough to steam. Toronto gives away leaf compost every Saturday, so we might check that out too. We’re thinking about ordering compost in bulk this year instead of getting bagged manure from the store. I’ll probably put in the compost around the time that we clear out the peas and get started with tomatoes, so I can get some sprouts going while waiting to sort all of that out.

What am I going to change this year? Here are my notes from October 2013:

Gardening notes

I changed my mind about irrigation. I think I’ll start by hand-watering the plants. It’s not that hard to do, and I’ve marked the rows a little more clearly now so I know what to expect. I probably won’t pay for a landscaping or gardening company. Maybe I can share more notes on our garden and ask folks for tips. I’m looking forward to growing more greens and herbs, and giving bitter melon yet another shot.

I planted the first batch of seeds this weekend, going through many of the leftover seeds from 1-2 years ago. After all, the seeds aren’t going to get any fresher, so I may as well plant them and see what sticks. Some of them germinate in a week, so let’s see if there’ll be any progress.

Yay growing things! (Well, eventually. =) )

Weekly review: Week ending April 18, 2014

April 20, 2014 - Categories: weekly

More coding, yay! Next week, I'm going to focus on writing more tutorials for Emacs. Also, lots of Emacs conversations. Emacs Emacs Emacs Emacs… =)

Blog posts


  1. 2014.04.13 Lion cut
  2. 2014.04.16 Book – Mastery – Robert Greene

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (24.6h – 14%)
    • Earn (14.7h – 59% of Business)
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [X] E1: Rename groups
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [X] Earn – M: Revise sketch
    • Build (5.9h – 24% of Business)
      • [X] Make sure all of my blogs are updated to WordPress 3.9
      • [X] Upgrade Linode
      • Drawing (3.5h)
        • [X] Sketchnote a book – Mastery – Robert Greene
      • Delegation (0.6h)
        • [ ] Brainstorm more tasks
      • Packaging (0.1h)
      • Paperwork (0.6h)
      • Emacs
        • [ ] Add more sections to Emacs Lisp tutorial
        • [ ] Invite bbatsov for an Emacs Chat
        • [ ] Record session on learning keyboard shortcuts
        • [X] Emacs: Get beeminder code to support time-today
        • [X] Emacs: Figure out why todo list does not filter by statu
        • [X] Talk to JJW about Emacs and Org
        • [X] Set up project view
        • [X] List TODOs by project
        • [X] Hook Beeminder into Gnus to track sent messages
        • [X] Figure out Org publishing
        • [X] Figure out why column view is hard to read
        • [X] Fix keymap in beeminder.el
        • [X] Get beeminder code to prompt for value
        • [X] Emacs: Track the number of tasks I have and what states they're in
        • [X] Chat with splintercdo (Janis) about literate programming
        • [X] Add colour coding to 2048 game for Emacs
    • Connect (4.0h – 16% of Business)
  • Relationships (6.1h – 3%)
    • [X] Go to RJ White's semi-retirement party
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Extract blob pixels and try to classify cats
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Use bounding rectangle to guess litterbox use
  • Discretionary – Productive (27.6h – 16%)
    • [X] Ask neighbours if anyone wants to split a bulk order of compost with us
    • [X] Update my unscheduled tasks and add time estimates
    • [ ] Prepare litter box analysis presentation
    • Writing (11.7h)
  • Discretionary – Play (7.3h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (26.0h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (12.8h – 7%)
  • Sleep (64.0h – 38% – average of 9.1 per day)

Emacs ABCs: A is for Apropos

April 21, 2014 - Categories: emacs

Sometimes one gets the strangest ideas. I’ve had this kicking around in my brain for a few weeks. Since you read and re-read books to kids endless times anyway, why not learn more yourself along the way? For example, Emacs is something that is worth repeated learning. You forget commands, you rediscover them, you dig into them more. I think it might be interesting to have kid’s books with technical subtext. While you’re saying the letters and helping kids learn to read, you can silently (or not-so-silently!) read the notes, and pick one command to try later. In this case: M-x apropos?

A is for apropos

A is for apropos

Here’s a list of interesting possibilities:

  • apropos
  • browse-kill-ring
  • customize / compile / calc
  • dired, debug-on-entry
  • edebug-defun, eshell
  • fastnav, ffap, fixup-whitespace
  • grep-find, gnus
  • help-with-help, helm
  • ielm
  • just-one-space
  • keyboard macros, kmacro-start-macro, kbd-macro-query
  • load-library, locate-library, list-packages
  • magit, make-indirect-buffer
  • name-last-kbd-macro
  • occur (and occur-edit-mode); org
  • package-list-packages, picture-mode
  • quick-url, query-replace-regexp-eval
  • regexp-builder, recursive-edit, recover-this-file,
  • savehist-mode, server-start, smartparens
  • tags-search, term, thumbs, tmm-menubar, type-break
  • undo-tree-visualize
  • vc-next-action, view-lossage, visual-line-mode
  • where-is, winner-mode, windmove, window-configuration-to-register
  • M-x (execute-extended-command)
  • yank-pop
  • zap-to-char

Crazy? Neat? =) What do you think?

Emacs Chat: Jānis Mancēvičs

April 21, 2014 - Categories: emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

Chatted with Janis Mancevics about literate programming and video game development =)