My June 2019 Retrospective

Time Distribution

Comments

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

12:28

Revenue

Ebook sales: 0

Total: $0

Comments

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.

Pingcoin

  • 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

12:11

Revenue

$0

Comments

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

3:27

Revenue

$0

Comments

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.

Comments

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

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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.