Where I Am

Posted on Jun 25, 2020

I’m all over the place. I can see that by my notebooks. Each month I sit down and write down a list of goals I want to accomplish. This ranges from books to read to projects to complete to posts to write. All in all I typically manage to complete about 60-70% of what I set out to do. But lately I’ve not even come close. This past month my goal was to clean things up and organize and I accomplished nothing.

Instead I look at my open tabs, notes written down, books downloaded and realize there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. Looking back even more I realize that all to often my interests have shifted and therefore I don’t focus on what I initially set out to accomplish. What’s more, I don’t have any feedback loop for what my interests are currently. My journal doesn’t get the attention it needs, I don’t draft thoughts and research up here (which is it’s intention), I don’t complete projects because they become so cumbersome.

I’m not like this at work. I typically can buckle down, plan things out, and execute them in a efficient manor. My designs are fairly articulate and written down, and my code is concise and delivered on time. So why can’t I do that with my personal projects?

This may seem stupid, many people don’t have time for things outside of work. But I find this extra time extremely important. This is my time to learn, explore, and have fun. This time, in the past, has helped me a lot in my career because it allows me to learn new technologies and how to apply them. Learn about new programming languages and their paradigms which helps me be a better developer. To design new systems to learn patterns. I often find myself referring to my personal projects in my professional work because it has already been solved or revised.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is I am worried when I don’t accomplish things in my personal time because I’m afraid about it’s impacts on my professional career.

Breaking it down

If I look at the cause of my shifts in interest it typically follows this pattern. I come across an interesting article, talk, or podcast which leads me to look for more articles and eventually a book. The book then gets downloaded or purchased and maybe read. Sometimes a project idea comes from there and rarely gets built.

So there is a natural flow from discovery -> research -> exploration.

But along the way the work gets prioritized because I have other things that have been left unfinished and I feel need to get done but never do because I lost interest. Tim Harford has an amazing talk where he describes that this scatter brained type of work leads to more creativity. That shifting around is okay. So my ultimate goal should be to embrace this.

So how to I fix this?

My plan

What I have is a flow problem. I don’t harness my initial excitement and use it to its advantage. In a product development cycle I would say my lead times are too large, that my monthly planning and cycle is too big and isn’t meeting my personal demands. On top of that I’m not leaving my work in a state to be easily iterated or changed. My posts are maybe too long or my expectations of my projects too big. I also lack the tooling to help me keep track of what I am doing.

I’m going to agile my life a bit more.

First, I’m going to still do monthly plans but maybe make them more generic. Then each week plan out what I would like to accomplish while adding items to a backlog to check on the following week. I’ll probably use Trello to do my planning but hope to maybe build a more custom tool for the future.

Second, is organizing my resources. I want to be able to track links, books, etc based on subject for better referencing. This again I think will be done with tools that I can build.

Third, is to do my flow in smaller pieces. Discover, research, explore, and write. If I can keep the scope small I think I can create some artifacts come out fairly quickly and having a post about them may be helpful. I didn’t want this blog to be a series of tutorials and I don’t think that’s what it will be. Instead I will use it as more of a research write up where I compile my resources, write my examples, and a conclusion in the end.

This plan may require some refinement but I think it gives me something to start with.

Next steps

I’m off next week so I think I’ll take some time to wrap my head around all of this and get ready. My goal is to have a complete transformation in the next six months. To start this journey I’m going to be giving myself a goal of exploring six languages and six technologies (to me) in the next six months. These may include languages and technologies that I’ve explored in passing but never dedicated time to or something completely new. I will not list them here because in the spirit of my plan… I don’t know what will be interesting to me.

We’ll see how this goes.