End Your Week with a Plan for Next Week

This is a follow up to my end-of-day tomorrow planning.

I run my weekly plan Monday-Sunday, so sometime on Sunday I’ll start to make my plan for the upcoming week.

The first thing I do is collect my WINS from my daily plans. At the end of each day, I tried to pick out something from the day that would bring me joy to reflect on later. Now (at the end of the week) is later.

Under that I put a BIG 3 checklist for the week. These are tasks I commit to do the following week. Each might take several days, so I need to break them down.

So, under that, I write the date of the next seven days on separate lines. I try to break down my Big 3 into tasks that need to be done each day that will eventually accomplish them. These will feed into my daily plans that week.

I’m not going to write a separate post for it, but I also have a monthly plan with a monthly Big 3 and biggest WINS. The entire thing rolls up to my yearly plan, which is a one-word theme and some high-level ideas of the kind of things I want to do that year. Months and years are not planned out as thoroughly as weeks and days—they are mostly a guideline to provide some direction.

Environment Hacking

I’m a big believer in changing your environment to influence your own behavior. I wrote in Self Control that I block social media, news, and other distracting sites on my work computers (I now do it on all computers and devices I use). This means I don’t need to expend any willpower avoiding those sites—it’s simply impossible to get to them.

I also use Due and my own app, Habits, to give me reminders to do things I want to do, but forget.

These apps are using what the Fogg Behavior model calls a Prompt. In this model, we add prompts to our environment for things we want to do more and remove them for things we want to avoid.

My blocking of social media is using the environment to impair my Ability, which is another variable you can affect by changing your environment.

Fogg covers this in-depth in his book Tiny Habits.

One of BJ Fogg’s insights is that you already have habits that are completely automatic, so he suggests using those as prompts for a new habit you are trying to build. You repeat to yourself, “After I do [some automatic habit], I will do [some tiny version of a new habit]”. For example, “after I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth”. In this case, the environment is your existing habit.

This works great, but I have some habits that I can’t easily tie to existing one (or at least I haven’t been successful at it yet). For these kinds of habits, I have been thinking of “habit totems” I can put into the environment to prompt me.

One example is that when I run, my arms tend to cross-over in front of my body instead of staying out at the sides. If I notice it, I fix it, but I can’t get it to be top of mind while running. So, I cut out a small arrow out of electrical tape and put it on my watch band.

This has helped a lot. I see this part of my watchband a lot during my run, and it leaves enough of an imprint to help me keep my arms out.

The difference is the habit totem is location-based, rather than time-based (like an alarm) or behavior-based, like another habit.

Yearly Themes

I’m a proponent of yearly themes to tie together a general direction for the year. I was first exposed to this idea from Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft’s Happier Podcast. It’s also a recurring topic on Cortex with Myke Hurley and CGP Grey. Here’s a video CGP Grey made about it:

My theme for 2021 is Hone. I am mostly fine with the things I am doing, but I just don’t do them enough. 2021 is about doing them more deeply and getting better at them.

I want to run more seriously, and since we might be able to race again in 2021, I’d like to try to set some PRs.

I am going to write more. My goal is quantity because I think that will be the best way to improve. To drive this, I am reading and note taking more diligently.

I have been sketching for years, but not often enough to improve. Now, I am setting aside at least a little time every day to sketch. One easy way to start this is blind sketching, where you look at the subject and not the paper at all. It lowers the bar enough to make it an anytime activity.

I became mostly vegan in 2019 for health reasons. My cholesterol is now normal, but I want to lower my oil and processed fat intake as well to see if I can get it even lower.

So, I am grouping this all together as HONE, which I interpret as sharpening via repetition.

Sprint-o-Mat 2021.1 is Available

i just released Sprint-o-Mat 2021.1 to the App Store.

Sprint-o-Mat is a watch-only app that lets you define, and then run, programmed running workouts. If you are using a training program for your running, you might be familiar with workouts like:

  1. Run 15 minutes to warm-up at a slow pace
  2. Then, Repeat 6 times
    1. Run 1/2 mile at your 5k pace
    2. Run 1/4 at a rest pace
  3. Cool down with a 10 minute run at a slow pace

Sprint-o-Mat comes with templates that you can use to define those runs. You can set individual paces and heart-rate zones for each leg.

Then, when you are running, you get a visual display of where you are in the workout and haptics and dings when it’s time to switch to the next segment.

For example, yesterday I needed to run 8 miles at around 10:45 for a marathon training program I am doing. I broke it into a repeat of 8 1-mile runs. At mile 6, I took this screenshot

The outer ring is the entire 8-mile run, and the inner ring is the current mile. The white dots are pace runners. I can see at a glance that I am basically on pace.

The corners have more info. The top has total elapsed time and distance. The bottom has the segment name and my heart-rate.

Everything is green because I’m in the zones I set up.

At the end of the run, Sprint-o-Mat will save all the info to HealthKit so you can see it in Health or Activity on your phone. I recommend the RunGap app if you want to do more with the data (e.g. send it to Strava). I have worked with the developer to make sure Sprint-o-Mat saves the data in a format it can use.

In Icon-Last Development, I wrote about the evolution from the first version to this one and how it affected the icon. I have a few more articles coming later in January.

Sprint-o-Mat supports Apple Watch Series 3 to current, including all sizes from 38mm to 44mm, and it’s free. Take a look.

Use GitHub Profile Pages to Mirror Your Personal Site

In 2014, I wrote that a direct GitHub link to your profile was not good enough for a resume. At that time, the profile page was not customizable enough and was confusing for a recruiter or hiring manager to use to understand your portfolio.

My suggestion was to link to your-site.com/github instead (for example: loufranco.com/github). I recommended that you organize your open-source work more like a portfolio and highlight the most important work.

But, since 2014, GitHub has made updates to profile pages. Right now, I would say that they are finally good enough to use directly if you want. It’s just a README and you have total control of the text.

But, I decided to just mirror my personal page on it. The one big advantage of my personal page is that I have access to the analytics for it. I am not in the job market, but if I were, I could also put a contact form on it. My own page is also more customizable than a README.

GitHub profile pages will probably rank higher in search and are linked up directly in GitHub. So having something there is also important, which is why I mirrored my personal page.

My 2014 article had some advice on what should be on your profile page. I’ll be revisiting that soon.

End Your Day with a Plan for Tomorrow

I keep a physical daily journal in an A5 Dot Grid book. At the end of each day I draw a template for the next day and try to fill in as much as possible. For example: on January 18, I drew this for the 19th.

The red checklist at the top is three things that I must get done that day (The Big 3). This is reserved for my most important tasks. If I can’t commit to three, it’s ok, I can use one or two, but never more than three.

Then, below that are my time blocks for the morning and work-day. If I have meetings, I’ll put them in, and then I try to find a couple of big blocks to work on my Big 3. It’s ok for this to be a little blank the night before, but sometime in the morning it will be mostly filled in.

Under that I’ll keep a running list of tasks and notes for the day as a bullet journal.

This technique is a result of refinement over time derived from a combination of Free to Focus and Deep Work, both highly recommended.

I have a variant of this that I do at the end of the week that I’ll post about soon. One element of the weekly plan is to collect my WINS from the week before, so at the end of each day, I try to pick out one or two things I did that will bring me joy later when I reflect on them.

Icon-Last Development

I am about to release an update to Sprint-o-Mat. I decided to change the text-based UI to something more visual.

The point of Sprint-o-Mat is to guide you during programmed workouts. In my training, I do workouts like this:

  1. Warm up for 15 minutes at a slow place
  2. Repeat 4 times
    1. Sprint 1/2 mile at my 5k pace
    2. Rest 1/2 mile at a slow pace
  3. Cool down for 10 minutes at a slow pace

Sprint-o-Mat lets you define these runs and then guides you during them with haptics and a read-out. The current version’s running UI looks like this:

I had a few problems with this. First, this is hard to read while running. Second, it doesn’t emphasize the most important information. Finally, there were actually two screens like this that you toggled between with a tap (the UI was not opinionated enough).

So, I changed it to this (just a single screen):

In this view, the outer oval tells you about your overall pace (the white dot is a pace setter) and the inner oval tells you about this particular segment. The center shows those two paces (overall and segment). If you want more info, the corners have details.

Based on this new UI, I changed my icon from:

To:

Once you use the app, this icon is a much better visual cue to it. It also evokes a track, which is a good symbol for sprinting. The original icon evoked sprinting more directly, but it has very little to do with the app otherwise.

This progression from app design back to icon is the opposite of how I did it for Fast-o-Mat.

Vague Tutorials Would Help with Coding Interviews

I think tutorials should be vaguer because “A [vague tutorial] would get the reader playing instead of reading and help them practice composing code instead of copying it.”

In a typical tutorial, all of the code is inline with the text, which tries to explain it line-by-line. In a vague tutorial, you’d get just enough information to write the code yourself. Some code would be given as a scaffold with blanks you fill in.

This is very much like how coding interviews work, so doing a series of vague tutorials would be good training for them.

This means that the sites that are doing training for coding interview (e.g. TopCoder and HackerRank) are to some extent vague tutorial writers. It’s interesting that they also gamify their sites (mostly via ranking), which gets at the theme of many of my posts, although I think gamification is not as good as playability.

In my last job hunt, I knew my target employers gave very hard data-structure/algorithmic style coding interviews, so I spent weeks on TopCoder (most failing) before I applied. The main things I got out of it was deciphering specifications under time pressure and iterative development. Both of these skills are invaluable when doing a coding interview, because unfortunately, tech job interviews are mostly auditions.

AR Opens up Playability Possibilities

Yesterday, I pointed out that Pokémon Go was a playable workout app, where playable means that the game design ideas are driving the app, as opposed to gamification, where it’s slapped on.

I was thinking more about this and realized how many apps may be turned into games via AR. Again, not with badges, but by making playing the point of the app.

Not just for workout apps, which I think will drive lots of AR games.

But for something really different: consider an app that wanted to help you to eat healthier by guiding you while grocery shopping.

We all know what that app would look like: a list of grocery items, maybe color coded with “healthiness”. You tap tap tap when you buy eggplant, spinach, and blueberries (“You got an anti-oxidant badge!”). You lose points when you scan that box of mini-donuts.

The AR version has zombies in the cookie aisle.

Interestingly, the produce section seems to have no zombies—better scavenge there. Cookie boxes emit a piercing sound when they are in your cart, drawing the dead towards you. Leave them behind to draw them away.

An art appreciation app could help me get more out of a museum by telling me a little about what I might see and then making a ad-hoc quiz show as I take in the art. Or putting me in a pub quiz later based on what I looked at.

AR could turn a tour guide app into a spy hunt game. Follow that lady in the black trench coat and see what she’s up to—she’s boarding the boat to the Statue of Liberty! It’s practically the plot of North by Northwest.

These would be games, which are fun, not gamification.

Pokémon Go is Playable, Apple Workouts is Gamified

Let’s say you are trying to develop an app where the goal is to get the user to walk more outside.

Pokémon Go does this by building an AR world where it is fun to go outside and find pokémon, and then it makes you walk in order to hatch them. It makes you go to new destinations to progress in the game. Walking is a byproduct that is not particularly rewarded outside of the game goals you achieve. For example, you aren’t given a badge just for walking a lot.

In Apple Workouts, I walk if I want to. I can tell the app or not. It tries to encourage me with alerts and badges (and filling my rings). It’s using positive reinforcement and the elements of games, but walking is not a game. They have layered on points, levels, badges, and competition.

This is what I mean about the difference between playability and gamification. I don’t think that Pokémon Go was actually trying to make a workout app. The walking mechanic is just what is available to an AR game—it’s the equivalent to the walking/running you have to do in any side-scroller.

Like Pokémon Go, the playable version of a thing is unlikely to resemble that thing at all. The gamified version is recognizable for what it is.