My December 2019 Retrospective

Summary

(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.)

Results

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.

Time

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

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

Commentary

Positioning

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 (hiredthought.com). 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

Summary

(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.

Results

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.

Time

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

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

Commentary

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

Summary

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

Comments

  • 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

Comments

Did not spend much time on this.

Axova App

Time spent: 69:33

Revenue: N/A

Comments

Spent most of my time on this client project

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Time spent: 6:39

Revenue: $100

Comments

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

Pingcoin

Time spent: 6:20

Revenue: $0

Comments

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

Discussion

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

Comments

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

Comments

  • Spent time reviewing the logo concepts

Axova (Pocket Revolutions Client Work)

Time spent: ~90

Comments

  • 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

Comments

  • 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.

Pingcoin

Time spent: 1:37

Revenue: $0

Comments

  • 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

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

<Private>

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.

How I came up with a name for my agency

Background

As of this writing I am in the process of founding a product design & development consultancy in Basel, Switzerland. To register your company with the commercial registry you need a name. As a brand you need a name that works well for your business.

As eager as I was to rush the process and get started with actual business, I knew that picking the right name could end up making a big difference.

This was complicated by the fact that I am founding the company with a friend who is financing the whole endeavour. I wanted us both to be happy with the name, but as we discovered, our brains work very differently from one another.

How I started

Before I started brainstorming I suggested a name that I had already come up with beforehand:

Product Nerds

I thought it communicated the right things. I’m focused on digital “products” and ”nerds“ conveys that we’re good at what we do.

My friend saw things differently.

As he’s not familiar with the world of digital products the word “product“ to him conjured up imagery of a classical factory-produced product. And nerds, for a German speaker, doesn’t have the same expert/funny connotation as it does in English. In German a nerd has a derogatory charge (one of the dictionary translations translates back to English as “asshole”). So although I still like the name, it became clear it was the wrong name for this situation.

Then, I just started brainstorming lists of words. I tried to seed my brainstorming with words that sounded nice and which I thought were related to my industry, such as “prototype”. And then I started looking up the latin translation for certain words. Why? I’m not sure, I think I thought it sounded professional. I documented my process in Figma and here you can see a screenshot.

Opus is Latin for work and cura is the Latin word to heal. I thought that they sounded cool together and my friend is also the founder of a NGO that helps children in Thailand (healing work I guess?) so I thought it was fitting. Then I tried to combine it with prototype and I arrived at Protocura.

I thought that was pretty cool. The people I asked responded luke-warm. My friend didn’t like it that much. He thought it sounded like Prokura, which in German means something like having signatory power in a company. Not quite the what I wanted to convey.

So I decided to read a book on the subject. I decided to read “Hello my name is awesome” by Alexandra Watkins.

I read a book on coming up with a brand name and here’s what it taught me

The book was illuminating. First of all, it made me realize I hadn’t put too much thought into what a really good name sounds or looks like. Luckily the author had several of her own that she had come up with. One of my all time favorites?

Gringo Lingo — as a name for a language school in Latin America.

What an amazing name.

In her book Alexandra Watkins tells us to stay away from Latin names, as well as trying to sound cool by sticking stuff to the end of names e.g. -ly and -r.

Interestingly Alexandra emphasizes that getting the .com domain name is actually not THAT important. Getting the right name is key, and you can come up with a clever domain name after that if the .com isn’t available.

I was doing the opposite, for every name checking if the .com was available.

Once I dropped that requirement, new options started opening up.
In her book Alexandra presents a framework and a process for coming up with a name. Her framework is as follows.

A name should be:

Suggestive – It needs to evoke something about your brand
Meaningful – It needs to resonate with your audience
Imagery – Visually evocative to aid in memory
Legs – Lends itself to a theme for extended mileage
Emotional – It moves people

Alexandra also provides some rules to avoid bad names:

Spelling challenged – Stay away from names that aren’t spelled the way they sound
Copycat – Don’t choose a similar name to a competitor
Restrictive – Don’t get locked into a name that you may outgrow down the road e.g. diapers.com
Annoying – Don’t choose a name that annoys customers
Tame – Uninspired names e.g. Cloud Net
Curse of knowledge – A name that only insiders get e.g. Eukanuba (pet food)
Hard to pronounce – e.g. Sur La Table

In additional to these rules, Alexandra has a whole process you can go through which she lays out in the book, which she calls your brand roadmap. I went through this process and you can view my brand roadmap in the presentation here.

Going through Alexandra’s process surfaced some good candidate names. Here are some of the names we arrived at that are worth mentioning.

Hello World Studios

“Hello World” is a reference to the output statement you usually learn first when learning a new programming language. It’s also an upbeat name, easy to pronounce. Unfortunately the .com was taken by a small German web development agency who didn’t reply to my emails.

Happy Path Studios

In UX jargon the Happy Path is a sequence of envisioned steps a user can take as they move their way through your product which leads to the desired outcome. This name checked many of our boxes but the “th” sound in English isn’t easy for German speakers to pronounce (one of our requirements) and it requires insider knowledge.

Flowability

A reference to the psychological state of “flow” in which someone feels in-the-zone and loses track of time. This may be what you want to design your product to accomplish. Also a loose reference to ”user flow”, a UX term for the conceptual path a user may take to navigate through your product. And lastly, also a loose reference to usability, another UX term which aims to capture how easy it is to use a certain product.

Studio Click

Because the agency would help make things “click” and also because my girlfriend was planning on integrating some of her photography work into what we were doing (and camera shutters *click*) and we wanted to reflect that in the name. (This, by the way, is an example of how the requirements for the name evolved a bit as we were going through the process.) Although the .com was taken, the .ch was available and it sounded authoritative. We almost went ahead with this name, mostly out of impatience. We decided to abandon it when my friend’s wife told us it was shit.

Finger Food Studios

A great name for a digital product agency. Finger food is a funny way of referring to apps as they represent software experiences that are accessible through our fingers. Unfortunately others came to the same idea and Finger Food Studios is an innovation studio in Canada. But I took this to mean that the process was working, we were coming up with good names.

More brainstorming was needed

Regarding brainstorming Alexandra has some very valuable advice: Do it alone and do it on your computer. The group brainstorms we had weren’t very productive. It was much better to do the brainstorming alone. Her brainstorming tips are really good.

Let starter words seed your imagination. After that, follow you curiosity. Type a word into google, try the urban dictionary, try a name generator. Some words might tickle your interest, save those, and move on.

Tools I used

  • Namelix (Great AI driven name generator. Can give you ideas for names as well as ideas for new seed words)
  • Instantdomainsearch (Great for a quick check of domain availability
  • Urban dictionary to find jargon related to my industry
  • Google searches such as “digital product jargon”
  • I used Figma to create artboards for each seed word and then put the words it seeded in the artboard. This lets you easily zoom in and out and the word clouds you’re generating in the brainstorming process.
  • Powerthesaurus. Probably the best thesaurus out there. Great for coming up with tangential words based on a seed word.

Some other notable strategies

Since the name needed to be pronounceable by German speakers, we tried starting with words that are known English words that have been adopted into the German language. These are so-called Anglizismen and there’s a nice list of them on Wikipedia. This gave some interesting seed words.

We also tried starting with so-called “compound words” in English, like finger food. These are words that consist of two separate words. This also gave some interesting seed words and led to the cool name: Finger Food Studios (unfortunately taken).

Plugging a word like “programming” into Namelix will surface a bunch of different words related to programming that go beyond synonyms. E.g. it will surface words like “syntax” and “modeling”.

Finally we landed on…

We finally landed on the name Pocket Revolutions inspired by this article.

How does it square up against Alexandra’s categories? Here’s my take based on the feedback we’ve received so far (bear in mind this subjective).
It’s suggestive because it evokes the idea that we’re doing something revolutionary, and that someone that works with us can start a revolution of their choosing.

It’s meaningful and evokes imagery because most people understand the link with “pocket” and the the reference to a technological revolution.
It has legs as we’re thinking about calling ourselves revolutionaries and inviting clients to start their revolutions.

It’s emotional because aren’t all revolutions bursting with emotions?
Both pocket and revolutions are easy to pronounce for German speakers and they sound quite playful together.

One of the notable differences with the other names we came up with is that Pocket Revolutions really seems to convey a brand. My buddy said it best when he said [about the name]: ”that’s really a brand”. I feel the same way.

Some lessons learned

Finding a good name can be really, really hard

It really helps to know and feel what a good name looks and feels like e.g. Gringo Lingo or Key Values. It’s also worth realizing that working more or working harder doesn’t translate into progress. I would brainstorm for 3 hours and come up with a handful of mediocre names.

Brainstorming is best done alone and using your computer

Although you can bring some methods to bear, in general it’s a very random walk type of process. You need to let certain things inspire you and save the things that draw your attention onto a big canvas for later contemplation.

“Letting it go” doesn’t always result in ideas

In some other creative endeavours “letting it go” helps you come up with new ideas. Somehow your subconscious goes to work when you stop focusing on the problem you’re trying to solve. This didn’t happen for me in this case. All my ideas came while spending conscious effort on it.

(Note: Although the title says “I”, coming up with the name was ultimately a team effort and I would like to take the opportunity to give credit to my business partner. Extra credit goes to his wife for calling us out on the name we were peddling before.)

Let me know if any of this was useful. I’m @jessems on Twitter!

My May 2019 Retrospective

3 things that went well

  • Spent a lot more time writing
  • Succeeded in creating a mock api with Google Sheets
  • Found a new name for my agency

3 things that I need to improve

  • Do more German
  • Exercise more (did not reach 2 workout sessions per week on average)

What did I not achieve and why?

I set out to find one client last month, but I didn’t find any. To be honest, I didn’t spend much time looking. I spent my time coming up with a new name for my agency, writing a lot and learning some new technologies which I’ll be needing (like Angular and RxJs and Firebase).

I did manage to get all the documents sorted for the founding of the company. We decided to change the name last minute. The name of the agency will now  be: Pocket Revolutions.

Time distribution

The time spent on JesseMS was actually also time spent writing. So in total I spent a little over 20% of my time writing this month!

Pocket Revolutions

  • Changed the name of the agency (previously Studio Click) to Pocket Revolutions. I’m very happy with the new name. Post about the naming process is upcoming.

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Published 1 blog post
  • Started coding my own CMS for RBR

Revenue

Ebook sales: $38

Total: $38

Pingcoin

  • 5 coin recordings were submitted by users and were added to the app
  • First blog post about Pingcoin was published here

Monthly Planning

  • Sign 1 new client
  • Launch the Pocket Revolutions website
  • Publish a portfolio piece on Pingcoin

Pingcoin in Iran

After publishing a new feature for Pingcoin where users can submit coin recordings for addition into the app, I’ve seen users submitting coins every week. This is incredibly encouraging. The only drawback to this situation is that although the system is getting more coverage (e.g. more coins) it’s not getting necessarily more accurate (e.g. more recordings per coin). I’ve been thinking about how to solve this.

It’s worth noting that I’ve received two recordings from Iran so far from the Bahar Azadi coin. A young trader has reached out to me and has been kind enough to explain to me a bit more about the situation in Iran. For one they’ve recently been hit by a market crash which sent the value of the dollar and gold plummeting.

Two gold Azadi coins submitted by a user in Iran

 

He’s told me of the situation in Iran where there is a 8% markup above spot price for gold coins from the Iranian mint. This has given counterfeiters the incentive to mint their own coins of correct composition, to capture this markup value. One of his questions was whether or not the ping test would be able to catch these types of counterfeits.

Iranian plaza where gold coins are bought and sold (image submitted by my new friend in Iran)

 

My answer is probably not, but I’m willing to do some more research with him. Like a musical instrument, the sound of a coin depends on its shape and its material. If you manage to mimic both, you will mimic the sound as well. Thus a counterfeit coin which uses the correct composition would sound the same as a genuine one. I suspect there might be some differences at the microscopic level (e.g. differences in crystallinity) between different minting processes, but whether or not these will be great enough (or predictable enough) to detect a difference, I don’t know.

I know from doing some research into the German Reich 20 mark coins, which were minted by numerous mints, that some differences were detectable between the mints. The distributions for each resonance frequency was centered on distinctly different frequencies. The problem, however, was that the distributions themselves overlap. So although there would be some coins which you could tell apart, many of them you would not. I would expect a similar situation for the Azadi coins.

Having said so much about the domain specific things within Pingcoin it’s worth making a meta comment about what’s going on here. My goal with releasing this feature was to initiate a user feedback loop. I wanted to get in touch with users. To better understand them and to iterate on the product. This is now happening and it’s great for more than one reason. For one it’s great because it’s satisfying and motivating on a human level. I am talking to people across the world that (apparently) value what I’m doing. That’s amazing. It’s especially nice to hear that my product is making a difference since it’s not an industry I’m deeply embedded in myself and because I had honestly given up on that hope much earlier. The reason I got this far has more to do with an unshakable compulsion to finish what I started, rather than some clear value-driven mission.

Secondly, it’s great because it’s teaching me more about my users, their use cases and the context of their use of my product. For instance, my Iranian friend mentioned that he trades coins in 10 packs and that trades happen quickly, making it difficult to do a manual test for each coin. This information will inevitably feed into the product and improve it. These two elements, motivation plus direction from the market, are what I was missing the last time I was working on this idea (2012-2013). It’s incredibly gratifying to find these here now.

It’s also interesting to note that my process for improving the app is quite slow. Even though I created the submit-a-coin feature as quickly as I could, I tend to think carefully about the problems I’m trying to solve and their solutions. I really let the problem marinate in my head and try to come up with various solutions in my head (which I also often sketch out). I’m not deliberately slowing down the product development process (perhaps because I’m not devoting 100% of my time to this idea), however, my sense is that it takes time to arrive at a solid idea. Often I’ll have a good idea with some drawbacks, followed by another good idea with some drawbacks, and then through the marinating process I’ll combine them into a super solid idea, without drawbacks. Reading Kolko’s while I’m doing this is also just perfectly on point:

Design is slow and not just because it takes longer. Because it’s reflective, contemplative, and methodical, design encourages marinating and stewing, exploring and dreaming.

-Well Designed by Jon Kolko

What’s marinating in my head right now is how to move to a situation where my app is getting progressively more accurate due to the data it collects. This is made difficult by several factors:

  • I don’t have access to many coins myself
  • I can ask users to contribute coins, but I am not able to verify whether these are authentic or not
  • I’ve asked dealers (who would be able to verify coins) to contribute to this cause, but so far they’ve not been very interested
  • Even if someone is interested, it could be a bit cumbersome to upload a 5MB .wav file every time you try to do a quick test
  • Even if you’re willing to upload a recording, I need additional information about the coin to be able to add it to my database (e.g. year of minting). This can be cumbersome to enter.

Meanwhile there are some usability issues that also need to be resolved, most notably the onset detection part of the coin testing flow (e.g. detecting the moment a coin gets flicked). This is also something that has been marinating in my head and for which a first solution is already fairly clear (a web-based onset labeller). More on that as I progress.

I remember the app being in a semi-finished state and feeling torn about whether or not to proceed with it. Initially I chose not to, but it kept bugging at me. Then I revisited it, but did not build a submit-a-coin feature (instead routing users to a web form with a recording option). It was only after seeing that users were trying to send me coin recordings that I realized it would probably be worth building the feature properly. I can only say, I’m glad I did.