Category Archives: Personal

2013 Personal Goals

At the end of 2011 and this year, I gathered some lessons learned. Looking them over, I came to realize that while I had identified them, I hadn’t really learned them, in the sense that I wasn’t applying them on a regular basis.

This year, in planning 2013, I am keeping them front and center. Briefly, they were:

(1) Focus to make big gains (2) Center a goal around a purpose (3) Change tactics if the current ones are failing (4) Remove friction (5) Just Ship (6) Live the Dream

I think #3 is the most appropriate, because while I got a lot done in 2012, I fell short of my goals in a few areas. Looking at them, I can see that they weren’t focussed. So, for 2013, I am keeping things simple.

First, I am going to make quarterly resolutions, not New Year’s resolutions. This will allow me to have fewer goals to think about at one time without worrying that I am neglecting areas of my life.

Second, for at least the first quarter, I am going to concentrate on behaviors, not outcomes. So, while I am making a diet plan in order to lose fat, the goal is to stick to the plan and then reassess in April.

Like last year, I will continue to take a page out of Seven Habits and have physical, mental, social goals. I will consider having a quarterly review to be the spiritual/renewal goal.

Jan-Mar 2013 Goals

  • Physical: Exercise 5 days per week. Eat at most 3 non-Paleo meals per week (no wheat or sugar at all, but one glass of wine or tequila will be allowed)
  • Mental: Spend 10 hours per week on creation activities (art, code, writing)
  • Social: 25 hours of community service

There is more I want to do, but they will have to be in addition to these focussed activities, or somehow folded into them.

2012 Lessons Learned

This year I was somewhat more deliberate in my personal goals than I had been in past years. I tried to consciously apply what I learned last year.

  • Lesson #1: Focus allows you to make outsized gains in the area you focus on.
  • Lesson #2: A goal centered around a purpose is easier to achieve.
  • Lesson #3: Be willing to change tactics quickly if they aren’t working.

As the end of the year approaches, I am starting my post-mortem to plan for next year — here’s what I learned.

Lesson #1: Remove friction

I very rarely updated this site in 2012. I finally decided to bite the bullet and get everything into WordPress so that I could update from any machine, not just the one I had RapidWeaver installed on. I immediately got a bunch of benefits (1) the site has a mobile theme (2) I can update from my phone or iPad using WordPress apps (3) dealing with images and other media is a lot easier and (4) publishing is automatic and fast. Since the migration, I have maintained about a weekly update schedule.

Lesson #2: Just ship

I have a bias towards shipping, but sometimes I forget to apply that to my personal projects. I didn’t make my goal of three new apps, but I did ship PaleoViz after deciding it was good enough.

Lesson #3: Live the dream

I drove a 1992 Honda Civic and was often asked what my next car was going to be. My reply was “I don’t have a dream car — the dream is no car”. Well, after an unfortunate incident with a Jeep Cherokee, I decided to let the Civic get totaled and started living my dream. It’s been five months, and I don’t see going back. Now, I commute with a fifteen minute bus ride or five mile run or bike on a bike path.

It makes it easier that I have access to my wife’s car, but I’ve mostly lived without that. I’ve looked at zipcar for occasional needs, but cabs are cheaper for the ad-hoc ride not covered by our bus system. I haven’t taken a cab yet, though. My typical response to not having a car at my disposal has been to simplify my life, so that I just don’t need one.

In 2010, I cut out cable and went to Apple TV. It was a lot cheaper, and I watched less and better TV. Like that change, I also have less expense, and I prefer the result. The rides back and forth are fifteen minutes and give me a chance to prepare for the work day on the way in and decompress on the way home. On warmer days, I get extra exercise.

Like last year, I hope to apply these more consciously.

Bias towards shipping

A few weeks ago a colleague said that I had one of the stronger biases towards shipping that he had seen. I am pretty sure he meant it as a compliment, and I took it that way anyway. In my work, I am highly influenced by the Steve Jobs quote, “Real artists ship”, and I often say that our work as product developers is to ship and get better at shipping.

That being said, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that in my personal projects. Back in January, I started an iPhone app to help me stay motivated to stick to the Paleo dietI blogged about that back then, and said:

I’ve been working on a way to do this (mostly to scratch my own itch), and will have more to say on that soon.

My plan was to ship in April. But, a trip to New Zealand and my duties at work left me with less time to devote to it. The project languished from March to about a week or two ago when I got a message from Apple that my right to the name PaleoViz would be revoked if I didn’t submit a binary.

With that kick in the pants, I went into full ship mode. Removing features, fixing bugs, finding what I hope are elegant solutions to thorny user interaction problems. The biggest decision I made in the bias to ship was to abandon having my own online photo sharing and am just using Twitter for that (for now). PaleoViz was reduced to its essence – a photo food journal app for paleo dieters.

I expect it to be approved by the end of August, if you are a paleo blogger and want a review copy, let me know.

Blogging follows doing

This year when I set my goals, I added in a monthly renewal on the last weekend of each month to reflect on how I was doing. I just completed one a few days ago.

On my physical goals related to diet and exercise, I am doing fine. My social goals like volunteering are also doing well. But, I am having a big problem on my goals related blogging/writing and personal programming projects.

I thought it would be easy to just write a blog entry to get out of the rut. When that failed, I thought, “start small — start with a tweet”. Even that was kind of difficult — I didn’t feel I had anything to write about. I could always tweet a new job opportunity in Western Mass. or link a jobs-to-be-done article, but in terms of an original tweet, I had nothing.

Looking over my previous non-linking, non-retweets, I did see a pattern — if I actually did something interesting, I usually had something to say about it. Armed with that, I decided to just tackle a couple of easy projects — the latest was upgrading my harddrive, which was worth a tweet shoutout to iFixit.

None of these things are worth a blog entry, so I have to get cracking on bigger things. The key for me is that I don’t think it’s worth opening up my CMS to blog until I have done something on one of my personal projects.

The other takeaway is that forcing myself to do some monthly reflection on my goals helped me to get out of a rut, so that’s something that has to stay.

Take a Picture of What You Eat

I recently discovered Time Management Ninja, and love the tips on it. A post from last month was about how taking photos can improve productivity:

Photos capture information that you cannot get via written notes. Taking pictures of an object or a document can provide more insight that simple notes.

The important thing is the ease of capture. Taking a photo is so easy that you’ll actually do it.

I just started keeping a fairly detailed food journal on paper. I have tried to do this on phones before, but they are just way too slow — even though the apps have access to tons of nutritional data, I really didn’t care about that — I just want to know a few things, like what it was, how much I had, and basically how healthy was it. A picture pretty much gives me the first two instantly, then I want to just tap a rating.

And, it’s effective. In 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss [1] cites a study that looked at photo food diaries:

Dr. Lydia Zepeda and David Deal of the University of Wisconsin–Madison enlisted 43 subjects to photograph all of their meals or snacks prior to eating. Unlike food diaries, which require time-consuming entries often written long after eating, the photographs acted as an instantaneous intervention and forced people to consider their choices before the damage was done. In the words of one participant: “I was less likely to have a jumbo bag of M&Ms. It curbed my choices. It didn’t alter them completely, but who wants to take a photo of a jumbo bag of M&Ms?”

The researchers concluded that photographs are more effective than written food diaries. This is saying something, as prior studies had confirmed that subjects who use food diaries lose three times as much weight as those who don’t.

I’ve been working on a way to do this (mostly to scratch my own itch), and will have more to say on that soon.

[1] Ferriss, Timothy (2010-12-14). The 4-Hour Body (p. 60). Crown Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Systems not Tactics

Today I was reminded about why I find Ramit Sethi personally motivating:

What you are seeing here is the game being played around you. Clueless people look at random tactics. They jump on the fad diet, the shiny budgeting software, the fanciest productivity tool. Smart people see behind it and realize any individual tactic is just a random tactic — but the SYSTEM of testing different approaches is profoundly important.

A lot of what he writes about is not just learning some technique, but implementing an automated system that forces you to apply something positive (even if not ideal).

For example, the video in the post explains how having a personal trainer forced him to meet his fitness goals because the cost meant that he would never miss an appointment, and the trainer’s advice was clearly better than him winging it. In his financial advice book, I Will Teach You to be Rich, he showed how to use automated savings and investment tools to make sure you save. Automating will beat your best intentions every time.

This resonates with me because, as a programmer, automating is second nature, but coming up with ways to automate your life are hard. Some things that worked for me:

  • CrossFit – It’s cheaper than a personal trainer, but not cheap. The payment is automated, so it motivates me to go, and the results have been amazing. Like a personal trainer, the workout regimen is also automated — just show up and do what they tell you.
  • Food Journaling with consequences– At my CrossFit box, I joined a club where we have to food journal or get punished with hard exercises. We also agreed to eat well, but journaling is the part that makes me stick to it, because we have to show our journal at the meeting. Sometimes I just pre-write the whole day in the morning, and just follow it — then my eating is automated — I can’t snack, because I didn’t write it down. Also, the meeting is automated, and the members hold me to my commitments.
  • (total self promotion) My iPhone app, Habits –It helps me remember to do some simple things like call my mom more regularly. I also useTraxItAll to track progress towards my goals. Finally, idonethis.com automatically sends me an email each day to ask me what I got done — I now have a nice calendar where I can see each day’s accomplishments.
  • Putting planning activities on my calendar – I made it a 2012 goal to spend time on the last weekend of each month to plan out the next. I put these dates in my calendar as if they are meetings, so I don’t schedule anything else.

Unlike a computer, we aren’t forced to follow our programs, but figuring out ways to automatically generating feedback, reminders, and motivation will help you stick to your plan.

2011 Lessons Learned

While looking over my 2012 goals, I realized that I hadn’t really thought about 2011. This year I want to practice regular renewal and recommitment to my goals. In the past, I achieved my goals more or less, but that wasn’t through a practice of recommitment. It was a chaotic result of my other obsessive behaviors. I am working to make this a more repeatable process this year by constantly evaluating where I am.

To that end, this is what I learned in 2011.

This year brought big changes in my professional life. Atalasoft was acquired, changing my job somewhat (more focused on product development, but with a more aggressive roadmap and bigger team). Having this focus has helped make sure we deliver our roadmap. Additionally, it has let me direct all of my energy at product management, which brought me to consuming the works of Horace DediuClay Christensen, and exposed me to the “Jobs to be done” framework, which has had a profound impact on my thinking. While trying to find out more, I met Bob Moesta, who generously spent an hour teaching me more details of the framework with plans to talk more about it.

Lesson #1: Focus allows you to make outsized gains in the area you focus on.

This year, I have found a purpose that has helped me improve my networking. Drawing from Seven Habits, I have long thought that the best “uses” of a network was to help people find each other for their mutual benefit, but I haven’t been good at thinking of ways to do that proactively.

Through my work with the local Regional Employment Board, my exposure to so many job seekers and employers, and my belief that high unemployment is the most important problem to help solve, I have set the broad goal of trying to make connections that result in hiring by myself and others. Additionally, I have blogged some practical tips about job seeking for programmers, and I tweet every good local tech job I see.

Lesson #2: A goal centered around a purpose is easier to achieve

My biggest goal of 2011 was to “get in better shape”, which I defined as having a BMI and health measurements (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) within normal ranges. I started the year trying out 4-Hour Body and trying to get back into running, but when that didn’t work, I finally joined Pioneer Valley CrossFit in June. In December, I got serious about eating better and adopted a paleo diet. I started 2011 at 180 pounds and ended at 153, with 80% of the loss after June. More than that — I am more fit than I have ever been in my life.

Lesson #3: Be willing to change tactics quickly if they aren’t working.

This year I hope that I apply these more consciously. What did you learn in 2011 that will make 2012 even better?

2012 Personal Goals

I was inspired by Heidi Grant Halvorson in the Harvard Business Review blog today to work on my 2012 goals:

Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.

This is similar to the SMART philosophy of goal making (good goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), which I try to follow.

Another influence on goal setting for me is Covey’s Seven Habits. The last one, Sharpen the Saw, suggests we work to increase our Mental, Physical, Emotional/Social, and Spiritual/Renewal capacity.

To that end, I developed these personal goals for 2012:

Mental

  • Publish 75 blog posts
  • Work 3 hours per week on personal coding projects
  • Publish 3 apps

Physical: work out 5 days/week, and

  • Be able to do 10 dead hang pull-ups
  • Be able to do 10 ring dips
  • Be able to bench press 155 pounds
  • Rx 30 workouts at CrossFit
  • Eat paleo food on 275 days

Social/Emotional

  • Do 100 hours of community service
  • Eat meals with 25 different groups of people

Spiritual/Renewal

  • On last weekend of each month, spend at least two hours alone somewhere outside and unpopulated. Look over goals and plan the next month.

Gift a story for Christmas

I have a friend that is very hard to shop for. One day, for his birthday, I tried to make a list of everything he likes. After an hour, I had this:

He likes to tell stories

He’s one of the more prolific and interesting story tellers I know. So, from then on, it was a lot easier to think of ideas — I just tried to find a way for us to spend a few hours doing something weird. Fencing lesson, new restaurant (with food he hasn’t tried), kayak to an eagle’s nest — every one of these things has made it into his story repertoire (enhanced for the listener’s pleasure, of course).

Probably, there’s a story-teller in your life to help with a new experience. Really, though, couldn’t we all use that?

Planning out a Blog

As I mentioned last week, I am participating in National Personal Project Month (NaPerProMo) along with Plan B Nation and others.

My plan is to write every day, but publish on a once or twice a week schedule. This will help me build up a backlog of posts, so I have something to post even if I don’t have time to write. I also post about once per week on my work blog at Atalasoft, and I’ll probably use those posts as jumping off points.

To help me get started, I spent the last two weeks planning out what I want this blog to be about. In the past, I have had a hard time coming up with anything to write about. I had focused on programming (specifically iPhone programming), but I do most of my writing about that in StackOverflow answers, and my posts were just elaborations on common questions.

I came up with this plan:

  1. Pick five categories that I can write about.
  2. Brainstorm 10-20 topics in each category. If I can’t think of that many, throw out or alter the category.
  3. For categories that don’t pan out, try to find a spin on the topics I generated for it, so that they fit in one of the better categories.
  4. Pick a week’s worth of topics and put them in a queue.
  5. Each day write the next one, and put another in the bottom of the queue.

The topics that I ended up with are:

  • Software Business: This is obvious, since this is what I spend the bulk of every day thinking about
  • Programming: I have been programming for a long time, I have some personal projects that I want to open-source, and it also naturally fits into what I know and think about. I intend to get away from the more technical posts that I typically write, and focus on high-level ideas and follow my projects’ progress.
  • Programmer’s Job Market: Ever since I became a member of my local Regional Employment Board, I’ve been thinking more about the labor market and how it’s changing for programmers.
  • Reviews (books, apps, etc): I read a lot about marketing, business, and other non-fiction topics. I don’t read nearly enough for book reviews to be a category, so I expanded it to apps and other things that I use.
  • Riffs: Tweets, Hacker News, other blogs, my own past blogs — these are all fertile ground for topic ideas. It gives me an opportunity to link to others, and make this blog part of a larger conversation.

Some categories didn’t work out. For example, I am a CrossFitter, and recently joined my gym’s Paleo club. I feel like I have interesting things to say about that, but they are neither my expertise, nor are they similar to other topics I will blog about. I will still be able to fit it in somewhat, because one of my programming projects is related to this.

I recently switched over to Trello for managing personal information, here’s what my plan looks like in it:

The first column is the queue of upcoming posts, and the next five are the five categories I identified with a list of topics. I color-coded each category, so that the queue would show that I was mixing between the categories. The final column is a list of finished posts.

I am obscuring the topics because I don’t want to commit to these just yet, and since I generated more than 50 ideas, I know that some of them will never be done. I saved a full snapshot to possibly discuss later.

I also decided to turn on comments as an experiment. I’ve been using Disqus elsewhere on this site, and the latest RapidWeaver supports it for blogs, so I turned it on for now.