All-in on Roam [Retro Feb, 2020]

What is this and what am I trying to achieve here?

My goal is to build and run 1+ successful online (software) businesses. Until one of my side-projects is able to support me financially, I have decided to do product design & development consulting as a boutique agency (Pocket Revolutions) in Basel, Switzerland. These monthly retros cover my journey to success for my agency/consulting as well as for my side-projects.

High-level overview

Goals & grades

(Did I achieve my goals? If not, why not?)

(I’m experimenting with a different way of grading my goals. See a short elaboration here.)

Goal: PR website is client-ready

Status: Started
Grade for goal direction: F
Grade for estimated progress towards goal: Too ambitious
Grade for actual progress towards goal: B

Last month I was happy to report the launch of v1 of the Pocket Revolutions website, believing it would be enough to shift my focus towards lead generation. Based on some initial feedback I’ve received I had to conclude it wasn’t entirely client-ready. Mainly due to some cosmetic glitches I had ignored and the lack of any real content.

I spent the first portion of the month trying to resolve this. I was hoping to finish my intended improvements while leaving enough time to finish implementing tests for the Axova app. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to finish either.

With hindsight, I should have worked on the Axova app first, until it was finished as I had verbally committed to finishing it by the end of February. I had to call my client and tell him this wasn’t the case. This was quite painful.

This is a case where the goal I set (make the PR website client ready) was the wrong goal to set. (This happens quite often and is the reason why I’ve moved away from simple goal grades. More info here.) With hindsight, it seems clear that my time should have gone towards finishing the app first, and the PR website second. For this reason I grade the goal direction with an F (although I’m pleased with my progress there (B)).

Goal: Reach out to my network

Status: Started
Grade for goal direction: B
Grade for estimated progress towards goal: Too ambitious
Grade for actual progress towards goal: D

I reached out to some individuals. When I set these goals, I was feeling okay with the state of the Pocket Revolutions website. But some feedback I received during the month made me believe it was perhaps too minimal. So mid-month I adjusted my goals to include a slight expansion of the website. This caused the whole topic to take longer, and not get finished.

Check-in with yearly goals

(Note that these are draft versions of my yearly goals. As of this writing I haven’t yet completed my 2019 yearly retrospective or my yearly plan for 2020.)

  • 200k revenue with Pocket Revolutions – Not on track
    • Hard to say if I’m behind or on track at this point. My feeling is that the website needs to be client-ready (which it almost is) and I need to adequately display my first project on there (which is almost done) before I can shift my focus fully on to lead generation.
  • 24 blog posts – On track
    • 24 is an admittedly low figure considering I publish a monthly retrospective which I’m counting, but I’ve been burnt in the past with overly ambitious goals, so I’m aiming for 1 retro + 1 post per month. I’ve published a short post on goal grading this month and I’ve got another idea sizzling in the background – so I believe I’m on track.
  • Get involved with 5 apps – Not on track
    • Achievement towards this goal will likely go hand in hand with the revenue goal. New projects would be new apps and new projects would also lead to more revenue.

Time distribution

My main gig (design & development agency Pocket Revolutions)

In-depth update

Adding a case study section to the website

Last month I thought I had put together an MVP for my agency website (it being a one page website), but after some feedback from peers and friends I came to the conclusion that perhaps it was *too* minimal.

I decided to spend some time designing and implementing the pages for individual case studies where I plan to showcase the work I’ve done for clients. I only managed to do (most of) the designing part this month, as I switched back the focus to my first client’s app (more on that later).

Here’s a screenshot of the design so far.

Business cards

One of the things I’ve held back on was ordering business cards. It seemed like one of those conventional things you do when you start a business that doesn’t really do much besides make you feel good (along with spending too much time on the logo + name (which I also did by the way)).

Having no business cards started to feel silly, however, when I started visiting local meetups. After getting asked for my business card multiple times, and having received many others, I decided to bite the bullet and order them.

I thought I’d be able to ask the design agency I work with to design some business cards and print them within a week or two. With the back and forth it took much longer (6 weeks I believe). In the end I’m also not 100% happy with them – but I needed something sooner rather than later, to give out.

Also, it looks like something went wrong in the design or paper-cutting process, because the logo is not aligned. Ah well, better next time!

Learning javascript testing and Angular testing with Ionic

The main thrust for this month was implementing tests for my first client’s app. I had never written tests before.

That’s right 0 tests written.

My coin testing app Pingcoin is completely test-free. But the more I learnt about coding, the more it seemed like the right thing to do. I became particularly convinced after reading Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck.

I purchased Kent C. Dodds Testing Javascript course collection on the company credit card and decided to dive in. The course is okay, although it goes over some important basics and helped lay my foundations, it left out some critical topics for me. One was “what should you test?” and the other was “how do you test Angular / Ionic?”.

The former I was able to find some good resources on online. One blog post from Kent himself is particularly good on this topic.

With regards to Angular / Ionic, there’s not much of an answer – anywhere. Angular was allegedly architected in a way to make testing easy. I can see how that’s the case. For a basic Angular app, testing is straightforward. The only qualifier I would add is that it quickly becomes more complicated when you’ve got a handful of dependencies being injected.

Where it gets out of hand is with the combination with Ionic. There is little to no documentation on testing Ionic, very few blog posts written on the topic and many dead ends in the official support forums. Here’s an example of a community post about an issue I also ran into: there seems to be a bug with triggering click evens on ionic elements.

The Angular architects seem to have had testing in mind when designing the platform, the Ionic architects unfortunately seem to have treated it as an afterthought.

The result has been that it’s taken a reasonable amount of time to get up to speed with testing in javascript and testing in Angular specifically, but an unreasonable amount of time to get up to speed with testing in Ionic.

My side projects

In-depth update: Pingcoin

I’m happy to say that due to my focus on my main gig this month, I spent almost no time on Pingcoin. I received one 4-star review in the mean time, someone requesting I add a particular coin. Which, again, leads me to the conclusion that it needs to be easier to send me feedback through the app, because having your customers use your Play store reviews sections as a support desk is a nightmare!

In-depth update: Rapid Breakup Recovery

I recorded a new podcast with a long-term member of our Facebook community. I wanted to focus solely on the PR website and my first client’s app, but this was a commitment I had made the month prior. You can listen to it here:



After reading Nat Eliason tweets about Roam (specifically his reply to mine stating he’s going all-in) and watching a video of him pulling together an article, I became intrigued by this new knowledge management application.

Since then I’ve not only experimented with it, I’ve also gone all in with it.

With Roam I believe the founders have stumbled on something like a new interaction paradigm. Sort of like what Workflowy did with their project, but taking a much bigger leap than they did.

If you imagine the notes you make as your attempt at creating an external brain. Roam is both an update to the interface with that brain as it is that brain itself.

There are some core ideas at play that make it so interesting, and I plan to write a blog post about this as well this month.

One idea is that every unit of text is styled is treated as an entity (like blocks in Nothion). It is styled with a bullet point similar to Workflowy.

Unlimited indentations of child blocks can live underneath a parent block. Any block can be uniquely referenced or embedded into other blocks.

Within each block you can effortless label something with a #Tag

Once you do, your tag will become a hyperlink to a page dedicated to this tag. On this page you will find references to all other blocks mentioning that tag (if any). If it’s the first of its type, there will only be the reference you just created.

There is no top-down structure. This promotes a dynamic where the structure of your notes comes from the bottom-up through tags and the bi-directional links they create.

This sounds to me much more like the brain works and would help explain why it feels like using a high bandwidth neural connection to your brain.

I’m very excited about Roam and expect to use it heavily in the near future.

Follow up on my battle with procrastination

After discovering last month (to my complete surprise) that I am a frequent procrastinator, I became very interested in the topic. I’ve cracked open a book on the topic (which has helped open my eyes even further), I’ve become more aware of my behavior and I’m trying to make more conscious, long-term decisions.

My task for this month was to focus on the website (which I would later regret) and then focus on finishing my first client’s app. It wouldn’t take long for this ideal scenario to fall apart. Before discovering that I am a procrastinator, I had made a commitment to record a podcast episode for one of my side-projects, RBR. As fate would have it, my interviewee confirmed our appointment at the beginning of the month and I felt like I had no way out. I hadn’t recorded a podcast episode in a while, so I could be sure to expect a significant time investment in re-familiarizing myself with podcast editing and the editing itself.

The recording + editing took me 6.5 hours, and I’m still not completely finished.

Lesson learnt: Be very, very careful with the commitments that you make.


In my quest to get a handle on procrastination I came across all standard recommendations: Get rid of distractions, write your todo list the day before, and – yes – the pomodoro method.

This silly sounding method, allegedly based on some Italian guy in the 1980s is based on just a few simple concepts.

  1. When you start your work you set a timer for 25 minutes.
  2. After 25 minutes you take a 5 minute break.
  3. After 4 sessions of 25 minutes you take a longer 15 – 30 minute break.

That’s it.

I had come across the method before but I had dismissed it out of hand. Why? Because it sounded like it was designed for people that had trouble focusing for 25 minutes. That was never my problem.

Now that I’ve tried it, I’ve come to a different conclusion.

Perhaps it helps people focus that otherwise have trouble focusing. That’s not what it does for me though.

What I feel it helps me do is turn my intellectual activities from a collection of full out sprints, into a better-managed marathon run. The forced breaks after 25 minutes, almost invariably come too soon – or so it feels. But probably thanks to them coming so soon, I rarely find it hard to complete a 25 minute stretch. As a result, I almost never find myself gassed out or brain foggy.

I also make sure that during the 5 minutes I don’t do anything besides making tea, drinking tea and looking out of the window (or going for a walk on my bigger breaks).

I suspect that stopping before your willpower is completely depleted, and sticking to a timeboxed short break in which you do nothing interesting, drastically reduces the odds of finding a reason to procrastinate.

I will write a post about this this month.

What I learnt

  • Writing tests is not a big deal and it’s rewarding work. Writing tests in Angular can get a little complicated. Writing tests for Ionic is a pain in the ass.
  • Pomodoro seems to be working for me, not as a way to focus for 25 minutes, but to ensure I don’t get distracted in between working sessions (and possibly also during).
  • Note to self: Be extra careful with commitments you make.

Grading goals with vectors

As with any aspect of a routine you keep executing on, you also keep iterating on the implementation details. I started off reviewing my goals by simply looking at whether I completed them or not. This was amounted to a binary analysis of my progress. Did I complete the task, yes or no? Any nuance or important context would be lost.

The binary analysis reflected how I was working with my goals. I would set them, have them show up as tasks in notion (now Roam), and I would tick them off when (or if) I completed them, at which point they would disappear from my list. The task was either pending or gone.

This works fairly well when you’re trying to keep track of what you set out to do, and how far you’ve come along. It’s not a very good system to reflect on what got done, and where you can improve.

I was inspired by Cory Zue’s retrospectives where he gives each goal a grade. This gives a much needed nuance – shades of grey if you will – to the simple binary method.


Perhaps you’ve done a lot of work towards a goal and you’re really happy with your progress, but you haven’t completed it per se. Such a case would show up as incomplete in the binary method, even though the outcome is quite positive. You can more accurately reflect this positive result by giving the goal a grade – a positive one in this case (e.g. A).

I like how grades give the goals more nuance without making it overly complicated. At risk of doing just that (adding more complexity), I’ve started experimenting with a 3-dimensional grading mechanism.

Although I value the simplicity and the added nuance, I was still facing difficulties grading my goals. To be more specific I was encountering the following problems:

Problem 1: I would set a goal and realize mid-month that it was the wrong goal to set in relation to my longer-term objectives. If I were to complete it anyway, is this an A because I completed it, or an F because it was the wrong goal?

Problem 2: I would set a goal and still be happy with it mid-month (e.g. it’s the right direction in the grand scheme of things) but I simply underestimated how much work was involved. If I only got 1% done, but that’s a good effort, is that an A for effort or perhaps more like a D for results?

One solution, in my mind at least, involved seeing this as a vector (or 2 vectors to be more precise). A vector is defined by a direction and a magnitude.

In the case of a goal, the direction is the direction of your goal. You can set a goal which is in service of your overarching goals. In this case both will have he same direction.

Then there’s the magnitude. If you set an ambitious goal, it would have a large magnitude, an easy goal a small one. You can map your actual progress along this same vector.

As with any solution, it’s important to connect it back to the problem is purports to solve. In this case the problem is the following:

Problem definition

I want to achieve my long-term goals (e.g. yearly), in order to do that I want to keep track of my progress towards my intermediate goals (e.g. monthly, weekly) and periodically reflect on whether I can improve my approach. Keeping track of completed / not completed goals does not give me any insight beyond whether the goal was completed. Grading my goals adds some important nuance (e.g. 90% completion would be an A, rather than “not completed”). Grading still falls short in two important areas: goals might be set in the wrong direction and goals might be set too ambitiously (or naively).

Solution: Goal vectors

Goal vectors is an attempt to solve that with grading the goal direction, the  goal’s magnitude (estimation of progress) and the actual progress that was achieved.

This leads to some different scenarios explained in the figures below:

In the above case we set a goal (yellow) which is perfectly in line with our long-term goals (blue). The only problem is that we haven’t achieved as much progress (green) as we had hoped. The lesson here would be to set a slightly less ambitious goal.

In the above case we’ve achieved just as much progress (green) as we had hoped (yellow), but the goal turned out to be the wrong one. It’s not in line with our long term goals (blue). The lesson here would be to more carefully consider our overarching goals.

In above case we’ve set a goal which is in line with our long-term goals, but it looks like it was much too easy. The progress we’ve achieved is greater than what we estimated. The lesson here would be to set more ambitious goals.

The above is just an idea I’m going to experiment with. Perhaps it’s too complicated to work in practice, but it’s where I’ve caught my mind repeatedly going to.

Finding out I procrastinate [Retro Jan, 2020]

What is this and what am I trying to achieve here?

My goal is to build and run 1+ successful online (software) businesses. Until one of my side-projects is able to support me financially, I have decided to do product design & development consulting as a boutique agency (Pocket Revolutions) in Basel, Switzerland. These monthly retros cover my journey to success for my agency/consulting as well as for my side-projects.

High-level overview

Goals & Grades

(Did I achieve my goals? If not, why not?)

My theme for January was “Pocket Revolutions website & getting out there!” by which I meant, I wanted to launch a first version of my agency’s website as well as meeting new people to find new clients.

(Goal) Pocket Revolutions website is online – Grade: B

I’m proud to say the Pocket Revolutions website is now online. It runs on Gatsby and is hosted by Netlify. Having said that, it’s a vastly stripped down version of what I had in mind. Keeping in the spirit of the lean startup (and cutting down my time to launch) I decided to publish a “skateboard” version of the website. I intend to periodically update it when I do get the chance. As a mastermind buddy of mine told me: “websites are always works in progress.” I completed the objective, albeit with reduced a scope, and decided to grade it with a B.

(Goal) 4 new prospects – Grade: F

I found 0 new prospects in January and also did not follow through on the steps I set out at the beginning of the month. Although I reviewed this goal almost every day of the month, I completely forgot to review the sub-tasks I had come up with that would help me reach this goal. They were (1) Reaching out to 20 people on LinkedIn, (2) Reaching out to 10 people in my network and (3) Go to 8 meetups. Sadly this is a theme throughout my retros: I set goals that I don’t end up achieving, largely because (I believe) the steps towards achievement are largely unclear to me (e.g. What? Find 10 new clients, How? Undefined). The recurrence of this pattern this month led me to seeing for the first time a form of procrastination I was participating in of which I had no previous awareness. More on that below. Because I failed to find even one new prospect my grade here is an F.

Check-in With Yearly goals

Am I on track to achieve my yearly goals? If not, why not?

(Note that these are draft versions of my yearly goals. As of this writing I haven’t yet completed my 2019 yearly retrospective or my yearly plan for 2020.)

  • 200k revenue with Pocket Revolutions – Not on track

To get 200k in revenue I envision I would need to secure something like one or two $50,000 projects and one or two $100,000 projects. Currently I’m still working on generating prospects so a new project seems far away (but who knows :))

  • 24 blog posts – Not on track

To reach 24 blog posts at the end of the year I need to publish an average of 2 blogposts per month. I haven’t published any yet, so I’m already a bit behind here. This retro will be my first post of the year.

  • Get involved with 5 apps – On track

To achieve an involvement in 5 apps I need to get involved with 1 new app every 2.4 months. Being only one month into 2020 I’m still on track with this goal.

Time distribution

My main gig (Pocket Revolutions, a product design & development agency)

In-depth update

Launched v1 of the Pocket Revolutions website

I launched the first version of the Pocket Revolutions website. It’s only one page, it’s bare bones, but it contains the most important elements of an agency website.

Featured on the Help’n’Trade podcast

After visiting a local entrepreneur meetup I was asked to come on a podcast called Help’n’Trade which is connected to the similarly named platform. The platform aims to facilitate the barter (trading) of skills between individuals, thereby creating easier pathways to entrepreneurship. I’ve never been on a podcast before so it was exciting to take part in. You can listen to the resulting interview below. We ended up talking quite a bit about my counterfeit coin detection app, Pingcoin.

My Side-Projects

High-level overview

In-depth Update: Pingcoin

Turning a 3-star review into a supporter

I got a new review on the Play Store for Pingcoin, a 3-star review. Unfortunately it seems that Android users have become accustomed to using the channel of Play Store reviews as means for reporting bugs. There’s an option within Pingcoin to contact me directly via email, yet I get reviews like the following:

I promptly posted a reply, apologising for the inconvenience and encouraging the user to reach out to the pingcoin support email. I’m happy to say they reached out. I got to meet Tomasz, a young coin collector from Poland, and we were able to debug his issue via email.

The issue Tomasz was reporting was that the measured frequency peak seemed to fall within the allowed threshold, yet the verdict that was being displayed was negative. He was kind enough to supply a screenshot. As you can see below it seems that for the 3rd frequency the frequency should have been detected.

It turns out Tomasz helped me uncover two issues with Pingcoin.
For each coin I maintain an internal threshold for each frequency. If the frequency measured by the user’s device falls within the threshold, the corresponding frequency’s tolerance bar (initially red) will turn green.

The width of the tolerance bars is supposed to coincide with the width of the tolerance. Apparently this wasn’t quite the case. They seem to have been displaying slightly wider than they should. This is what was causing problems on Tomasz’ end.

His coin’s 3rd frequency fell outside my tolerance for the 3rd frequency, but, because the tolerance bars were drawn wider than they should, it appeared inside.

Why did his coin fall outside the threshold? This depends on the coin recordings the app uses for its predictions. Small changes in the coin’s minting process can produce small deviations in the frequencies.If it hasn’t “seen” any coins from 2020 and a user pings such a coin, it might fall outside the threshold. In Tomasz’ case, however, this wasn’t what was going on.

On doing some investigation I could see that Tomasz’ coin actually fell within the app’s threshold for that specific coin, had the thresholds been set correctly. I discovered this wasn’t the case for this coin. Luckily it was an easy fix.

The other thing I needed to fix was the fact that the threshold’s visual width did not map onto its actual width behind the scene. This too was easily fixed.

I promptly fixed both issues and got back to Tomasz and invited him to join the beta program. He agreed and deleted his previous review. He had this to say in response to testing the fixes on the Beta track:

Prototyping in Python

The biggest issue with the Pingcoin app right now is the fact that it too easily picks up spurious sounds, rather than only being activated by the sound of a coin. This problem is more pronounced on some devices than other, but it’s an issue across the board.

Although it would seem relatively trivial to come up with a simple algorithm which is able to detect the onset of a coin’s ping (this is called onset detection in the literature), every attempt I’ve made has only led to marginal improvements.

Part of the challenge is that the environment in which I was coming up with new onset detection algorithms was inside the Android code base itself. This is a problem where I want to easily plot information to get feedback on what the algorithm is doing, to easily swap in different approaches and to set up a robust cross-validation pipeline. Android and Java did not seem like the correct environment for this type of prototyping activity.

As such, I had the long-standing idea of creating this environment in Python, where many of the requirements I have are more easily met. With the caveat that it would require a lot of upfront work to set it up.

I’m happy to say that by devoting slightly over two days to this task, I now have an environment set up where I can easily load up coin recordings, plot their spectrograms and swap in onset detection algorithms. A result of one such algorithm can be seen below. Spread out across the y-axis you see vertical lines corresponding to coin strikes with the sustained “pinggg” sounds as horizontal lines starting at each strike. The red lines are the ping sounds that are extracted by the algorithm I’m using. Setting up cross-validation is the next step.

In-depth Update: Rapid Breakup Recovery

Moving to Gatsby

I transferred all of my WordPress posts from to a local Gatsby installation. I am tired of feeling restricted by the needless complexity of WordPress development and maintaining a WordPress site under source control. I’m familiar now with javascript and the node ecosystem, so Gatsby sounds like it will offer easier maintenance, easier customizability and also a cheaper hosting bill (if any!) Although there are ways to automate the migration process I opted to do it manually as the amount of posts I have is limited.

There are some tweaks that still need to be made to the theme, but after that I will be ready to launch a new version of Rapid Breakup Recovery. A version I will hopefully be able to iterate on more quickly.


I discovered I procrastinate with worthwhile tasks

I achieved my objective of getting the Pocket Revolutions website online, but I had to strip down the scope. I failed to achieve my second objective of finding 4 new prospects. When I look at my time expenditure (to find out the cause for this), one thing jumps out at me: I did not spend much time on prospecting activities (e.g. Networking 5%). When you don’t put in the time to find clients, you probably won’t find any (duh). Why didn’t I spend more time networking though? We’ll get to that later.

The plurality of my time went to development of the Pocket Revolutions website and is in line with my expectations. What is surprising, however, is that I spent 22% of my time on my side-projects Pingcoin and 10% on RBR, even though neither was represented in my monthly goals.

As I will detail in the side-projects section, my time spent in these side-projects was well spent, and upon first analysis I don’t regret spending it the way I did. What I do feel funny about is not being able to foresee this expenditure to begin with. Why, for instance, did I decide to spend time porting the RBR site to Gatsby this month? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question other than that it seemed a good idea at the time (yet somehow not good enough to surface during my monthly planning).

To some extent what I’m doing here reflecting on my results and time entires feels like an exercise in analyzing hours logged by someone else. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time of clocking these hours, nor do I remember precisely what I was thinking when I made a forecast at the beginning of the month.

This strikes me as a potential area of improvement. It would take minimal effort to write a short argumentation for my forecast as well as an argumentation for any deviation thereof. I could then include those in my retrospective and perhaps achieve more focus on my monthly objectives or gain more insight into the reasons for my deviations.

What feels like a red flag here is the realization that I have two conflicting beliefs. On the one hand I believe the initial objective is reasonable and worthwhile (i.e. get 4 new prospects), but I also believe the same about the unrelated work I ended up doing (i.e. port the RBR website to Gatsby). Critically, if I had to choose between the achievement of 4 new prospects (the initial goal) or the porting of the RBR website (what got done), it’s obvious – I would choose the 4 new prospects (the initial goal).

The moment I wrote the above paragraph it dawned on me that something was wrong. I was saying I was happy with how I spent my time, yet if I could choose between spending it the way I did, or spending it the way I intended, I would clearly and overwhelmingly choose to spend it the way I intended.

It seems I’ve identified a form of procrastination I participate which was completely invisible to me before: I avoid a planned task that is valuable and urgent by working on an unplanned task that is also valuable, but slightly less urgent.

The problem with the word “procrastination” is that I associate it with being lazy and/or avoiding something unpleasant. I don’t see myself as someone that does that. Hardly ever. Besides, on the face of it, there’s nothing about finding 4 new prospects that seems unpleasant to me. This led me to suspect there was more going on below the surface. I have some suspicions why I might have avoided this task unwittingly.

For one, although the objective is clear (find 4 new prospects), how I’m supposed to get there definitely is not. As I mentioned above, I forgot I had identified some sub-objectives to complete. When I include the sub-objectives, the goal of finding 4 new prospects feels somewhat clear and surmountable – without them, it’s completely blurry. Not difficult, mind you. It doesn’t feel difficult. Perhaps if I were to take a deeper look at it, the difficult aspects of it would emerge. On the face of it, however, it simply seems uninteresting, inexact, unimportant even – but not difficult.

Secondly, the reason procrastination never came to mind for me was that I wasn’t avoiding work. I was doing work and I was doing important, useful work. Every time I looked back at what I did, I could justify the time I spent, even if I deviated from the tasks I had set out to do.

A quote from Richard Feynman comes to mind:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

In this case I was fooling myself. I’ve been avoiding doing the tasks that are most valuable and most urgent in exchange for doing tasks that are also valuable but less urgent. The question that uncovered this self-deception was: “Would I choose this result if I could choose between it and the objective I had originally set?” The answer to that question was a clear no.

What I learnt

  • I discovered that I procrastinate by doing things that feel worthwhile both in the moment as well as after the fact – except when compared to the original task I set out to do
  • You can convert a bad review into a supporting user
  • The Pingcoin codebase probably needs some love

My December 2019 Retrospective


(I’m posting this retrospective in January of 2020. Although I conducted a retrospective for the month of November in 2019, I felt so demotivated about my progress that I decided against writing it up for public consumption. I’m revisiting this month to retroactively correct for that decision.)


Goals and grades

Yearly goals

Goal: 1 month of >10k CHF revenue [Financial]

Unfortunately, I’m not on track to achieve my yearly goal. The main reason, I still believe is that, given the path I’ve chosen, it’s going to take longer to get to $10’000 in monthly revenue.


I spent 19 hours learning Gatsby. Wow! That sounds like a lot. While doing it I didn’t realize it was adding up to so much time. What I do remember is that it felt much more difficult to learn than I had anticipated.

I’m really happy with my 11:25 hours reading. My Kaizen for this month was that I should focus again on tracking my reading time and I’m happy I was successful!

I spent 9 hours working on my positioning and strategy for Pocket Revolutions.

I spent nearly 10 hours on Pingcoin, mostly adding coins and coming up with a design for next steps.

Side projects

Rapid Breakup Recovery
Time spent: 6%
Revenue: $0
– Facebook group moderation

Time spent: 10%
Revenue: $0
– Laying the groundwork for onset detection



I’ve been thinking a lot about how to position myself with my agency, Pocket Revolutions. Working on the website this month has forced me to make certain decisions about what header to display and what copy to use. It’s been surprisingly hard to make a decision.

Initially I was planning on positioning myself as an app development agency. But then I came to realize that it would be better to differentiate myself from the other app development agencies out there. Lately, two things have been going through my mind:

  1. Position myself as a digitalisation agency
  2. Position myself as a digital product strategy agency

Towards the end of the month that which resonated the most was positioning myself as product strategist. This is what I would do if money wasn’t an issue. The challenge is: I don’t know if it’s feasible.

Found a new mastermind!

I’m currently in a small accountability group, but I’ve always wanted to be in a proper mastermind. I got lucky this month as someone I had reached out to in the past for coaching reached out to me with the offer for me to join a mastermind he was setting up. My answer was “Yes, of course!”

We’ve started meeting and will continue to do so every week. There’s 5 of us (3 USA based, 1 India and myself). Our businesses vary widely, but the atmosphere so far has been great.

Clothes make the man?

While reading Million Dollar Consulting the author stresses the importance of owning and wearing professional looking clothes. The lesson is that you need to treat yourself as a million dollar consultant to be a million dollar consultant.

I remember hearing the same lesson in the context of Benjamin Franklin (or perhaps some other historical figure) who decided to buy new clothes before making any sales in his new business.

Somehow hearing that lesson again, and having my girlfriend reiterate it, has now convinced me to buy a new wardrobe, even though I didn’t want to spend money before bringing in new clients.

Wardley mapping and Ben

I dug into Wardley mapping again, an incredibly insightful way to map out a strategic challenge and I came across the work of Ben Mosior ( I decided to reach out and we had a very fun Zoom call talking about product strategy, Wardley mapping and other things.

What I learnt

I consistently overestimate how much I can do and how much I am able to focus.
This is the 3rd month that I’ve set as a goal to finish the Pocket Revolutions website. On the one hand I’m underestimating the time it takes me to figure out the technical implementation. On the other hand I suspect I’m being overly perfectionistic. This is why for January I want to focus more on a bias towards action.

Reaching out to people that inspire you is feasible and fun!
I really, really enjoyed the conversation I had with Ben.

Goals for next month

My November 2019 Retrospective


(I’m posting this retrospective in January of 2020. Although I conducted a retrospective for the month of November in 2019, I felt so demotivated about my progress that I decided against writing it up for public consumption. I’m revisiting this month (and December) to retroactively correct that decision.)

Although I planned on focusing on the Pocket Revolutions Website, I spent a significant portion of my time setting up a forum for Rapid Breakup Recovery alumni (with mixed success) and binge consuming Seanwes’ material.


Goals and grades

Two F’s this month. Although I made some progress with the PR website, I wasn’t as focused on it as I could have been. This contributed to my not being able to finish this task this month.

The second objective I had set for November was to implement tests for the Axova app. I didn’t get to this objective as I didn’t finish the first.

Yearly goals

Goal: 1 month of >10k CHF revenue [Financial]

Unfortunately, I’m not on track to achieve my yearly goal. The main reason, I still believe is that, given the path I’ve chosen, it’s going to take longer to get to $10’000 in monthly revenue.


My total productive time this month is a bit low compared to other months, but I went on a short vacation which accounts for most the discrepancy. The main surprise was the lack of focus on the PR Website. Instead of achieving a 50% on this topic, I only achieved 30%.

Something else worth noting is that I have no logged reading time in November. Although I did read less in November than usual, the lack of logged time is due to me forgetting to log my time reading. I find time tracking while reading to be the most difficult activity to time track. Next month I plan to do better.

Side projects

Rapid Breakup Recovery
Time spent: 15%
Revenue: $0
– Set up a forum for RBR alumni

Time spent: 5%
Revenue: $0
– Set up a Google collab notebook for onset detection


A forum for recovered men

For Rapid Breakup Recovery I run an Facebook support group where I, and a few others, help guys that are looking for support after breaking up with their partners. One of the challenges I’ve perceived is that members will join the group, benefit from the advice given, and then leave and never return. It’s a breakup recovery support group after all, and once you’ve recovered there’s little appeal to sticking around.

To address this, and to reward those few guys that *have* stuck around I thought of creating a forum for recovered guys. On this forum, I imagined, we would have the same principles of openness and honesty, but we could discuss a wider range of topics.

I had been playing around with this idea for a while, consistently agitated by the poor experience that Facebook groups provides. I was going back and forth in my mind whether to attempt to build the solution myself or to go with an off the shelf solution such as Discourse. I ended up doing the latter.

In the span of a few hours I spun up a Digital Ocean droplet and installed Discourse. I invited a handful of guys from my Facebook group, told them about the idea and encouraged them to participate on the forum. The response has (understandably) been luke warm. I’m happy I was able to set it all up that quickly however. In any case, that’s where some of my time went this month.

Binge consuming Seanwes

This month I discovered Seanwes’ content and decided to become a member of his site. I devoured his most recent book and 2 or 3 of his courses. I made copious notes doing so. I thought this was justified because a big part of what he teaches is being prolific online (which I want to do) and his style of teaching really resonates with me.

A meeting with a potential client with just an idea

I got put in touch with a woman that was interested in making an investment, or starting some kind of venture in the online clothing space. As my positioning is still evolving I agreed to meet and facilitate a strategy session. The session itself went quite well. We narrowed down what she wanted to achieve.

More writing without publishing

Another month where I was able to spend quite a bit of time writing (12:48), but alas, nothing got published again. Writing for myself is not the hard part. It is writing for other people that seems to be the challenge.

Goals for next month

Next month there is only one goal: Getting the Pocket Revolutions website online!

My September 2019 Retrospective


September was a month where I truly tried to focus on one thing: Finishing the first version of my first client’s (Axova’s) app. This was reflected in the main goal of the month (Finish Axova v1) as well as in the values I was targeting for September (Focus, Emotional control and Long-term thinking). The result is a [B] grade. I spent nearly 50% of my time on the Axova project, 50% being the highest measure of focus I’ve been able to achieve. (This figure is much higher when compared only to time spent on other side projects). The resulting grade is not an [A] because I didn’t end of finishing v1 (which admittedly has more to do with my estimation abilities).

September was another month where I spent a lot of time (20+ hours) doing generative writing in the mornings. Unfortunately this has again not resulted in published writing. As of this writing (mid-October) I’ve reduced my daily writing to 500 words and have included a 30 minute daily editing habit. I suspect the lack of an editing habit has prevented me from turning my writing into publishable content. With this in mind I’ve graded my goal of coming up with a plan for sticking with a publishing schedule as a [B], because although I did not come up with a plan, I did carefully consider the topic throughout the month.

Lastly, the Pocket Revolutions website, I need to refrain from giving this task a rating. Because my primary focus was on the Axova app and because this task was not finished, I did not get to the PR website. As of this writing I’ve released v1 Android with the client, and v1 iOS is in the works. This will free up the time I need in October to make a v1 for the PR website.

Having said all that, the logical corollary to focus is a lack of attention to other things. As such I’ve successfully neglected (I like that term! “successful neglect”) my other projects. I had 1 coaching call for Rapid Breakup Recovery and I added some submitted coins for Pingcoin.

Yearly goals
Reflecting on my yearly goal of raking in $10k/month in income, I am essentially at $0/month. Having said that, I have yet to send out Pocket Revolution’s first invoice and of all projects PR is the most likely to yield such an income in the short-term. So although I will probably not hit my target, I don’t feel like I should change course right now. A primary focus on Product Revolutions AG seems warranted.

Next month
Even though I was being mindful of my tendency to overestimate my monthly goals, I managed to overestimate my ability once again in September. In October I will try again to underestimate what I will get done.

Goals and Time Distribution


  • 45% time on Axova, is so-so. Wanted to focus.
  • Surprised still 6 hours on RBR (mostly FB group)
  • Spent 20 hours writing, that seems like a lot. I need to translate that into something.

Key Accomplishments by Project

Pocket Revolutions

Time spent: 1:45

Revenue: $0


Did not spend much time on this.

Axova App

Time spent: 69:33

Revenue: N/A


Spent most of my time on this client project

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Time spent: 6:39

Revenue: $100


Had 1 coaching call. Increased my rate to $100 / hour. Most of my time was spent on the facebook group.


Time spent: 6:20

Revenue: $0


Spent some time adding coins, which is okay. Spent some time working on an Angular admin interface for Pingcoin, which can be seen as a distraction.

Yearly Goals

Am I on track to achieve my yearly goals? If not, why not?

[F] — 10k / month revenue by December 2019 — Not really. I’m still at essentially 0 revenue. I haven’t found any new clients because I haven’t finished the first project with the first client yet.

What went well?

  1. Strong focus on the Axova app
  2. Themed days
  3. Charged $100 for a coaching session

What did not go well?

  1. Didn’t finish the Axova app
  2. Overestimated how much I can do in a month — again
  3. Building Android release

What should I do differently?

  1. Publish 1 article

Determine Kaizen

  • Underestimate your goals for October

My August 2019 Retrospective

Goals & Time Distributions

Did I achieve my goals? If not, why not?

Axova API (Backend for a Pocket Revolutions client) — Pretty much done. I’m mostly making smaller cosmetic tweaks now. One analogy that comes to mind is this idea of a painting where you start with the rough broader strokes, and quite quickly it starts to look like a mountain. But then you need to start filling in the details, which takes much longer. The problem is that with the painting you see the details — with an app, you often don’t.

Improved UI Implementation — Not done. Not really started because the other stuff was more important and not done.

Pocket Revolutions website is online — Not started. Did not finish the Axova app yet!

Even though I deliberately under-estimated my goals for August, I still didn’t reach them

This month I spent 32% of my productive time on my main focus: The Axova App (the app for my first client). In my experience with time tracking so far 50% is a good target to have for my main focus. If I fall below 50% I know I wasn’t truly focused on it. 50% may sound low, but it takes into account that I spend 14% on General tasks such as writing up this retrospective and 10% on writing.

The lack of focus on the Axova App this month is due to mainly 2 unplanned initiatives: Storehackers & My Timetracker. These are both side-projects that I felt compelled to work on.

I have had an ongoing difficulty in dealing with waves of motivation for working on ideas that are not part of my main focus. On the one hand I feel like I shouldn’t work on them. On the other hand I feel completely justified working on them, because:

  1. They’re not whimsical. These are product ideas that have occurred and re-occurred to me over a longer period of time.
  2. They scratch my own itch
  3. They are excuses for me to code more (which is what I want)

Project-Based Results

Yearly Goals

Am I on track to achieve my yearly goals? If not, why not?

1 month of >10k CHF revenue — Hard to say. Revenue was $0 in August. But at the same time there is revenue that will come in from the Axova project.

120 hours of self-study German — This goal does not seem relevant anymore and I should probably change it formally for next month.

What went well?

  1. 5-star review for Pingcoin on the Play Store
  2. Meeting with Axova went well showcasing the app so-far
  3. Refactoring the Axova app went well

What did not go well?

  1. Sticking to my publishing schedule of 2 posts per week
  2. No revenue across all projects
  3. Overestimated how much I could do this month

What should I do differently next month?

  1. Figure out how to stick to a publishing schedule for RBR and Pocket Revolutions

Determine Kaizen

Figure out how to stick to a publishing schedule


On the one hand things look a bit bleak when I take my goal into account of having a $10k+ month this year. On the other hand, if I sign one client with my agency, I’ve achieved that goal.

Also, the $0 revenue for RBR seems like a negative result, but a lot of my time writing the last months has been for RBR. I have many draft articles and many snippets of usable content. Producing content has not been the problem — turning it into publishable content has. Simply saying: “I will publish an article on Thursday” has not worked for me. This is why next month’s Kaizen is to figure out how to come up with a publishing system that works for me.

That there’s no revenue for Pingcoin is not surprising. Here the goal is not to generate revenue but to iterate on the app until I have something that people are really, really happy with. There’s a big update which is overdue, which is to improve on the onset detection system. That is, to make sure the app doesn’t pick up random sounds as if they are coin “pings”. This requires me to build an onset annotator first — in order to generate reference data which I can use to optimize my detection algorithm.

Since writing the previous paragraph I’ve come to believe that I’m actually over-engineering my approach and I can probably get away with doing manual onset detection. This would mean opening up every coin ping recording, find the onset location and save those locations to a .txt file. One for each recording. This is tedious, and not sexy, but it’s not that big of a deal.

This touches on a general theme I’m noticing in my work: I get bogged down in non-essential tasks that seem relatively useful, but not greatly useful to my main goals. This is something that I’m digesting currently: How can I become more focused on only the few important tasks that need to get done. I believe it’s Warren Buffet that’s known for warning you about your good ideas because they are at the highest risk of distracting you from your great ideas.

My July 2019 Retrospective

Time distribution


Spent quite a bit of time writing, but not much new published material. It’s also unclear to me how much I’ve published in the month. This should be an easy to track KPI.

Overview by Project

Pocket Revolutions (Product Agency)

Time spent: 1.5


  • Spent time reviewing the logo concepts

Axova (Pocket Revolutions Client Work)

Time spent: ~90


  • Setting up an API to communicate between the app and the client’s in-house system
  • Connecting the app to the API

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Time spent: 6:03

Revenue: $19


  • Spoke with some veteran members about the idea to set up a support group for recovered men. Three responded positively. I’ll be setting up something shortly.
  • No revenue, mostly due to the lack of an email automation system.


Time spent: 1:37

Revenue: $0


  • Just some time spent researching onset detection.

Monthly Goals (did I reach them?)

Finish Axova App — Not quite. Although I do see a sustained focus for every week in the month, I didn’t end up finishing this task. I do believe I made considerable progress though.

Turn pingcoin into a portfolio piece — Wasn’t able to start because I hadn’t finished the axova app

Finish the PR website — Not able to start because I didn’t finish the axova app

I didn’t reach my monthly goals, but I was able to stay true to the monthly theme of keeping focused. I think the focus was beneficial, but it turned out to be more work than I anticipated. I spent 80 hours on Axova, which is an okay amount for the month considering I clock about 40 hours for a week.

Yearly Goals

Am I on track to achieve my yearly goals? If not, why not?

My yearly goals are:

  • 1 month of >10k CHF revenue [Financial]
  • 120 hours of self-study German [German]
  • **Private**
  • The first goal, it’s hard to say. If I find some clients for my agency work and I’m able to charge a decent amount.
  • The second goal feels like it needs to be changed. German hasn’t been a focus for the last several months now. And although I would like be more fluent, it doesn’t seem that important to me anymore right now.

What went well?

  1. Focus on Axova app went fairly well
  2. Switch to wacom tablet went fairly well
  3. Interactions with on Twitter based on my tweets

What dit not go well?

  1. I completed 0 out of 3 outcomes for the month.
    1. I am taking this to mean that I am being overly ambitious and I should scale down my desired outcomes. This seems to be a recurring theme throughout all my planning.
  2. Not publishing enough. It’s not visible to me how much I’m publishing.

What should I do differently?

  1. Underestimate your goals for August. Make sure what you set is what you hit.
  2. Make published articles a KPI that’s visible

Determine Kaizen

From the Could-do-differently backlog, determine your Kaizen for next month. A Kaizen is more process-oriented whereas a goal is more outcome oriented.

  • Underestimate my goals for August

My June 2019 Retrospective

Time Distribution


It’s interesting to see that I spent so much time reading (16%) without having planned for that. After reading about how Naval reads multiple books in parallel, I gave myself license to do the same. The books I started to read where:

  • Dig your well before you’re thirsty (Finished)
  • The overwhelmed brain (Finished)
  • Manufacturing consent
  • Content everywhere
  • You’re a badass at making money
  • As a man thinketh (Finished)
  • Can’t hurt me
  • Elements of user experience (Finished)
  • Refactoring UI (Finished)
  • Love and addiction
  • The controversy of Zion
  • A new male sexuality

I also spent a good deal of my time (13%) writing. This is because I’ve been consistent with my new writing habit, however, I haven’t been able to design my habit in such a way that it is leading to a consistent publishing schedule as well. This is undoubtedly the next step. I published a blog post going into a bit more detail about this.

Key Accomplishments

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Time spent



Ebook sales: 0

Total: $0


My time was mostly spent answering questions in the facebook group. This is time consuming and I’m not really seeing any immediate returns for it. It’s interesting to see the revenue dip to 0 now. As I’ve said in a previous monthly retrospective, this is primarily because I no longer have an email sequence set up. Since a convertkit subscription is less than $50 a month, it’s an obvious win. I just need to find the time to implement it. Instead of spending any more time on my current WordPress setup, however, I’ve decided to migrate the blog to GatsbyJS. The remainder of my time has gone to this migration.


  • Implemented a ping-tracking feature to collect data on incoming pings
  • Added incoming pings to the database
  • Did initial analysis of incoming pings
  • Did a usability test with my dad

Time spent





After doing a usability test with my dad it became clear that there are still some serious usability issues with the app. Having said that, I’m also seeing continuous usage in the Firebase analytics. Setting up analytics for incoming pings has allowed me to look at the distribution of the resonance frequencies of coins. This is something I need to write a separate blog post about.

Pocket Revolutions

  • Agreed with Axova to implement an API

Time spent





Our project with Axova will pick up now that we were able to agree to implement an API for them instead of waiting for their contractor to do it in their in-house system. This is good news because the project had been on hold for a while.

Monthly Goals

Did I achieve my goals? If not, why not?

Figuring out how to bring in clients short-term & long-term.

  • One new client signed
  • Pocket Revolutions website up and running
  • Pingcoin as a portfolio piece on the PR website

I did not reach any of the 3 monthly goals.

FAILED: One new client signed

The main reason I didn’t reach this goal is probably that I didn’t spend time on it. I did read two books on the topic of networking (which isn’t counted in the above overview). I also did go to a Toastmasters event and met some people. One of my weekly goals was to get out of the office more and meet people.

FAILED: Pocket Revolutions website up and running

I’ve been researching different technologies that I could use to run the PR website. I’ve landed on Gatsby for Rapid Breakup Recovery and I intend to start using it for my personal blog as well as for the PR website.

I also spent some time researching what webdesign experts say about the process one should follow to design a website. Because I want to position myself as a technology expert I believe it’s important that my website is impeccable. So although I thought this task would be much quicker, it’s taking longer than expected.

Another reason it’s been taking longer is that in wanting to prepare Pingcoin and RBR as portfolio pieces for the website, I’ve dove deeper into them. I published some improvements to Pingcoin and I started migrating my RBR blog to Gatsby. On the one hand I’m splitting my time (as opposed to focusing), on the other hand I am polishing these projects up to serve as good portfolio pieces.

FAILED: Pingcoin as a portfolio piece on the PR website

Again, here I failed to turn Pingcoin into a portfolio piece, but I did spend considerable time on the project. Were these absolutely essential tasks? Probably not. But they are things that sooner or later needed to be done.


It’s somewhat confusing to see that I set out to find at least one client the past month and to publish my website, and I’ve not managed to do either. Not only that, but it seems that I haven’t spent that much time on these tasks directly. Why is that? What’s going on there?

(Bear with me as I think out loud. What follows is a recollection of how the month evolved for me. Incidentally this type of introspective writing is representative of the type of writing I do in my journal. You can read more about my writing habits here.)

At the beginning of the month I realize that to find clients (the goal of the month) I need to have a strong network. How does one build a network? I wasn’t really sure, so I started reading about it. I read two books on the topic and made some notes.

One of the things I realize is that I need to get out of the office more, so that’s what I do. I attend two networking events and meet some people.

At the same time I feel the pressure to start building my company website so I want to start with that. Then I realize I want to do a very good job at it, so I start reading about this topic.

Then I start looking at the projects I want to showcase as portfolio pieces and I see things that really need improving. So I jump in and start improving them case in point: Pingcoin.

Before you know it, it’s the end of the month and I don’t have any new clients, don’t have a website and haven’t turned Pingcoin into a portfolio piece.

Have I just been doing busy work?

I don’t think so, but I’m not 100% sure. I think what I’ve been doing is low pressure work. I improved several different areas and I did some careful research. I wasn’t sprinting towards the outcome I set. Instead I was carefully laying bricks.

Should I be sprinting instead of laying bricks? I think the answer is no.

Said differently, should I be pushing myself harder to just achieve the goals I set, or should I allow myself to get carried away with inspiration and curiosity?

In thinking about this I’m also reminded of Ray Dalio’s book Principles in which he says that you should distinguish between the “you” that designs your machine (your system to achieve your goals) and the “you” that works in it. I suspect that I’m allowing myself to get emotional and intuitive while I’m inside my machine. I’m then taking those emotions and allowing them to determine my strategy. As a consequence I’m not allowing my machine to behave very machine-like.

I think a better way of looking at the interplay between intuition and rational goal setting is that your intuition is sort of like the output of a finished process that was run by your subconscious. Your subconscious has a lot more processing power, a higher bandwidth for incoming data, access to more resources than your conscious faculties. And in general it has the capacity for coming up with answers that are much higher quality answers for your problems (taking more levels of your being into account). One challenge is that it is not always clear when it’s speaking or what it’s saying. It takes practice to get in tune with it and to dispatch questions to it to be answered.

The weaves of your subconscious also constitute your blind spots, your traumas, your pains, your limiting beliefs and a lot of neurological manifestations that will basically work against you achieving your goals.

It should be obvious that we should definitely be consulting this vastly more powerful processor with more resources, higher bandwidth and direct access to our bodies whenever we’re pondering difficult or impactful questions. But we probably shouldn’t be listening to it all of the time and in any situation. In other words, letting your intuition guide your weekly (or even monthly) strategy in the middle of the week is probably not the right thing to do.

Consult your intuition during the “machine designer” phases. This is where you’re zoomed out and you’re trying to objectively look at you the worker. This is also the perspective you want to have when you are designing the solution. However, I’ve come to believe this is not who you want to be when you’re doing the work. When you’re doing the work itself, have faith in the design. If you doubt it, make a note, and change it the following week. Don’t change it during the week. This will force you to be much more careful with planning, but it will be easier to determine whether or not a given design change produces the desired result.

(The above could be a good start for a new blog post. Agree? Let me know @jessems)

Yearly Goals

Am I on track to achieve my yearly goals? If not, why not?

1 month of >10k CHF revenue [Financial]

It’s hard to say where this money should come from, so it’s hard to say whether or not progress was made. Materially, no, no progress was made. In fact, reaching $0/month on RBR for the first time in a while actually constitutes regression. Having said that, 1 or 2 good clients with Pocket Revolutions would get me to $10k a month. My final verdict would have to be: MORE-OR-LESS

120 hours of self-study German [German]

It’s somewhat strange to see this goal up here. I spent 0 hours studying German this month. Even though I’m also surprised the actual number is 0, in May it was only 4 hours, 11:30 in April and 22 in March. So it seems I’ve slowly been deprioritizing this topic. I’m not too bothered by that. German does feel less important right now and perhaps I should deprioritize it as a yearly goal as well. I will be setting more conservative weekly goals for German and see how I feel next month. Verdict: NO


What went well?

  1. Spent a lot of time reading after identifying this as an area where I wanted to spend more time
  2. Spent a lot of time writing
  3. Published a Pingcoin analytics feature

What should I do differently?

  1. Turn more of my writing into published content
  2. Set goals that are more in line with how I truly feel about things (and don’t change them mid-week or mid-month)
  3. Get out at least once a week meeting people [track people met]

Determine Kaizen

  • Turn more of my writing into published content

Reflections on a new writing habit

Several weeks ago I became intrigued by some advice I kept hearing from many people I follow online. The advice was: write consistently and good things will happen. I suspected there was a profound meaning to those words which I wasn’t fully appreciating. So I decided to dig a bit deeper.

I laid out what I believed was the underlying meaning of what they were all saying in subsequent blog post. What I believe they were saying is that one should write regularly because writing clarifies our thinking (and consistently clarifying your thinking leads to all kinds of positive outcomes). Since then I’ve implemented a daily writing habit which I’ve been consistent with. In this article I’d like to take a moment and reflect on this new habit.

What have the results been so far?

For one, it’s been creating a lot of output. Since starting my habit I’ve written over 40,000 words. That’s not a trivial amount and a whole lot more than I’ve written in any period leading up to it.

Having said that, I haven’t *published* 40,000 words. And there’s a key discovery for me in this process:

Simply generating writing does not result in publishable content.

Duh, right? You still need to edit and you often discover that you also still need to do more research.

Editing and researching as needs that emerge from writing

To date, I’ve got about 8-10 draft blog posts now that have come out of this new writing habit. All of them still require significant editing. Some of them require more research. Both editing and researching are not covered by my habit, but it’s become increasingly clear that those steps are necessary. Since then, I’ve iterated on my habit by including blocks of editing and researching into my weekly calendar (with mixed results).

Some draft blog posts sitting in my Scrivener folders
Some draft blog posts sitting in my Scrivener folders

I’m less surprised by the need for an editing step as I am about the need for a  researching step. Call me crazy, but I thought I could grind out more cohesive and valuable thoughts without having to defer to a book.

Let me give you an example. After talking to an old friend (a software developer) who was about to embark on a new project with German clients, I was reminded that individuals from different cultures often face challenges in working together. Working with Germans happened to be an area where I felt I had some experience, so I decided to write my thoughts on how to work with them (ze Germans).

I started off by writing from experience, but quickly I felt I was running out of ideas and my language did not feel very precise. I became interested in what research literature might be out there about this topic, e.g. cultural differences at the workplace.

Then I discovered there are (at least) two worthwhile books that have been published on the topic. I then began to realize that the insights I had intended to publish would likely appear trivial in comparison with the body of research that apparently existed.

There was still some value in my personal experience and in my anecdotes, but scanning through the literature on the topic made me realize that some of the conclusions I was arriving at were likely flimsy and heavily influenced by my own inherent cultural bias.

Not having the time to immediately devour these two books, I was left with a slab of text — not yet edited — and some open questions waiting to be researched.

Clearly, to turn this text into something coherent, valuable and readable, I would have to do some more reading and pass over it again. It made me realize that there are different stages in the process that are necessary to bring a piece of writing to completion.

The most useful mental model I’ve come across for thinking about this process comoes from a guy called Kevin DeLaplante on youtube, who, in one of his videos makes the distinction between writing to discover and writing to present. (I hope you follow my recommendations, because youtube’s own recommendations suck)

Writing to dsicover vs. writing to present

Kevin DeLaPlante's diagram of writing to explore vs. to present
Kevin DeLaPlante’s diagram of writing to discover vs. to present

We can think of the stages of writing a single piece of content as falling on a spectrum that goes from writing to discover to writing to present. In general, when we start with a new piece, we start off by writing to discover. In this stage we’re not evaluating what we’re writing. Instead we try to pull in different pieces of relevant information and try to explore our thoughts on the topic. At this stage we might not yet know how we think about a topic. The audience for this type of writing is you.

As you explore the topic a structure may slowly start to emerge but and you can start to knead and prune your piece. As your piece becomes more defined you simultaneously become more evaluative and you’ve entered the domain of writing for presentation. When you’re in the presentation stage, your audience becomes the person that is going to read your writing.

My daily writing habit puts me in a generative mode. I’m generating writing and postponing any evaluation to a later editing mode. Usually this means I’m on the side of writing for discovery, but occasionally I’ll know what to say and It will feel closer to writing to present.

My writing habit covers the generative step of the process but rather than resulting in publishable content on the first pass, it instead often surfaces areas that require me doing more research.

Interestingly, even within the act of generative writing (if we can call it that), I’ve found a noteworthy distinction between different modalities of generative writing.

Different modalities of generative writing

I sit down to write at least twice a day. Once for my daily journal and once for my daily 1000 words. Although the felt experience of both these routines is often similar, usually they are quite distinct.

During my daily journaling routine I simply try to empty my head and express my emotions. I start with a question such as “What needs attention?” and I simply let my fingers generate words. It’s often a dialogue with a wise version of myself and it’s almost always a very insightful process. It feels like this puts some daily grease on the hinges of the door between my subconscious and conscious mind.

A screenshot from my journaling app Day One and a typical entry

When I sit down to write my daily 1000 words, I usually manage to get into a different mode. I try to explore an idea and figure out what insight I have on a given topic and where my knowledge is lacking. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and it’s slow. Sometimes my fingers can barely keep up. Usually it’s very conceptual and it doesn’t veer far from the topics that pertain to my day-to-day challenges.

I’ve noticed that there’s sometimes overlap in these two activities. Sometimes the things I write in my journaling session are exactly the type of things I am hoping to write in a writing session. Sometimes the opposite also happens and a writing session becomes infused with emotions and self-inquiry. The common factor between both modalities is that I’m clarifying things that exist in some form in my mind.

I’m not sure yet if should insist on the separation. For now I try to keep my journaling as a place where I can express emotions and thoughts, empty my mind and have a therapy session with myself. In contrast, I try to keep my daily writing habit about the things I’m exploring in my projects, or meta-observations about how I’m progressing towards my goals.

Generating paragraphs and putting them into topical buckets

Before I start my daily 1000 words, I glance over my folders in my writing app (Scrivener) and see what pieces could use some more thoughts. Sometimes I’ll find a topic that resonates with me on that particular day, but often I’ll just start without a prompt of any kind.

After writing my 1000 words I take the resulting text (usually spanning 1 or 2 topics) and then I copy and paste it into a fitting folder inside Scrivener.

I maintain a separate Scrivener file for my agency, one for my coin testing app and one for my breakup advice website. Within each file I maintain folders for the topics I’ve been writing about so far.


Conceptual diagram of my daily writing and categorization process
Conceptual diagram of my daily writing and categorization process

But as I mentioned before, the texts that sit in my Scrivener are mostly unfinished pieces. In some cases they need editing, in some cases they need more research, but in most cases I don’t know what they need or if they’re even candidates for a standalone piece of content. It’s unclear to me.

What I’m working on right now is to see if I can turn into a routine the process of editing and the process of researching. The main worry I have is that together with writing these habits will take up too much of my time. Although I enjoy every bit of the process so far — I also need to get my agency up-and-running and make some money!

Another thing I’ve started to experiment with is to use my reading time to read books that help me with my writing research (something I understand Nat Eliason does as well). Up until now I was simply reading whatever I felt like reading. This has been made easier by following advice on reading books from Naval. After that I’ve given myself license to read more books in parallel as well as doing more skimming for new ideas.

I’ve experimented (and so far failed) with a weekly publishing deadline for this website as well as for Rapid Breakup Recovery. After failing initially I’ve introduced editing and researching blocks in my calendar for both (I’m writing to you during one of those blocks). I hope to share with you how this all pans out.

What do others say about their writing process?

As I’ve been designing and tweaking my own process I became interested in what other online writers were doing. How do they distribute their time between writing, researching and editing? There is no shortage of generic advice you can find which boils down to this:

  1. Write no matter what. Do it daily. Probably in the morning.
  2. Have an editorial calendar where you commit to publishing on set dates
  3. Brainstorm your ideas beforehand

There is however, surprisingly little specific advice on how to incorporate a researching and editing phase into your writing schedule. I only found Rosie Leizrowice who talks about her writing process in these terms. What I like about what she says is that she has a specific research phase for every article.

Based on that, the process I intend to move towards looks something like this:

  1. Braindump + generate article ideas
  2. Evaluate ideas (e.g. look for highest SEO potential)
  3. Plan ideas (editorial calendar)

Then, per idea, the following tasks should probably exist:

  1. Research, determine books to be read
  2. Outline
  3. Draft
  4. Edit
  5. Finalize
  6. Publish

This system seems like it could work for shorter articles, but what about the longer ones? This is one of the questions I’m pondering next.

In conclusion

I’m very happy with my new habit of writing 1000 words per day and I’m also very pleased with myself that I’ve been able to stick with it. Having gotten this far has made me realize that to translate the writing I’m generating into publishable content, I still need to introduce regular editing and researching sessions. Doing this much writing I’ve also started to appreciate nuances between the different modalities of writing, such as writing in my journal vs. writing my 1000 daily words. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to publish regularly, or how to approach longer articles, but I’ve got the feeling that with some more tweaks I’ll figure it out. I’ll keep you all in the loop on how things progress.