Why write at all?

An essay on why I hadn’t started writing in spite of being aware of the apparent benefits it has brought people whom I admire.

People I admire recommend writing

I was listening to the Indiehackers podcast episode where Rob Walling tells the story of how he got started as a bootstrapped entrepreneur.

What stuck with me was that he seemed to attribute much of his success to writing a weekly essay on his blog.

Among other things, he shares how his writing allowed him to grow an audience which he would later leverage to launch his book.th

One reason this part of the story stuck with me is because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.

Other entrepreneurs I admire (e.g. Nathan Barry, Chris Guillebeau, Brennan Dunn, Nat Eliason) have also emphasized a similar lesson about writing and it seems to go something like this:

When you write regularly, good stuff tends to happen.

They are not claiming there to be a direct relationship between writing and beneficial consequences, like, say, between caloric intake and bodyweight.

No, they’re saying that there is something about a regular writing practice which somehow results in you experiencing benefits you would have had a hard time anticipating beforehand.

What they are saying is that writing benefits you… somehow

Although Rob was able to leverage the audience he had grown in order to sell his book — he did not set out to write with the explicit goal of writing and selling a book.

The book emerged from his consistent practice of blogging in public.

Nat Eliason also touches on this topic in a recent essay while discussing the success of a Kegel exercise app he developed:

I didn’t make Stamena until I saw how much traffic my articles were sending to the app store for someone else’s app.

When you already know you have a stream of people asking for a product, making that product gets much less risky.

This logic is probably why so much passive income advice comes out to some form of “start a blog!” That’s not terrible advice, but most blogs don’t make money. The better advice would be “start a blog that talks about things people will pay for.”

Analogous to Rob’s story, Nat did not start writing articles on Kegel exercises so he could sell a Kegel app.

Instead, through his practice of regular public blogging, that opportunity emerged.

Opportunities emerge when you write a lot.

That seems like a fair enough statement, but is there anything else we can say about why that would be the case?

Is it simply due to an increase in your surface area on the internet?

I suspected that wasn’t the case and I tried to figure out if perhaps there is more to a regular writing practice that would warrant this consistent, yet somewhat nebulous advice.

What can be said about how writing benefits us?

Writing without publishing helps us refine our thoughts and edit them

One way we think about writing is as a process where words are chosen and transferred onto paper (or a screen) in order to communicate an idea.

In this mental model of writing the idea is clear, all that is left is to find the right words to accurately map it into language.

This, as I’ve discovered, is not a very accurate mental model of writing.

A more accurate, and more helpful, mental model is one where you start with an idea that is not entirely clear, and in your attempts to capture it with words, sentences and paragraphs, it becomes more refined in your mind.

Prof. Dr. Jordan Peterson stresses this point in some of his writing and in some of his talks.

He describes writing as formalized thinking and refers to it as one of the most important things you can practice in life, in general.

You can find out more about his ideas on writing in a quirky little word document, an essay-writing tutorial for his students, which has been floating around on the internet.

In it he says:

The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.

The act of writing, he says, helps you formulate your thoughts. But he goes a bit further:

Why is it important to bother with developing sophisticated ideas, in turn? It’s because there is no difference between doing so and thinking, for starters. It is important to think because action based on thinking is likely to be far less painful and more productive than action based upon ignorance. So, if you want to have a life characterized by competence, productivity, security, originality and engagement rather than one that is nasty, brutish and short, you need to think carefully about important issues. There is no better way to do so than to write. This is because writing extends your memory, facilitates editing and clarifies your thinking.

You can write down more than you can easily remember, so that your capacity to consider a number of ideas at the same time is broadened. Furthermore, once those ideas are written down, you can move them around and change them, word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph. You can also reject ideas that appear substandard, after you consider them more carefully. If you reject substandard ideas, then all that you will have left will be good ideas. You can keep those, and use them. Then you will have good, original ideas at your fingertips, and you will be able to organize and communicate them.

According to Prof. Peterson writing requires you to explore a topic and in doing so you are required to clarify and edit your thoughts.

You stand to benefit from clearer thoughts because actions rooted in clear thoughts will do more to bring you closer to your goals.

Writing is not like taking dictation from an internal thought stream.

This used to be my mental model.

It’s inaccurate and unhelpful.

Writing is thought-refinement through exploration.

Writing and publishing increases our surface on the internet

This is the most straight-forward benefit and the one that is the easiest to intuit.

As you write more you increase the amount of space you inhabit on the internet, through which you are increasing the odds that one of your ideas reaches someone and resonates with them.

As a result they may interact with your idea, spread it, or both.

Writing about something makes it available to you when you are speaking

Sean Wes talks about this in this podcast episode.

The best [podcast] improv comes from writing.This podcast, a lot of what we talk about and a lot of things I touch on are things I’ve written about before. Sometimes I go off of my outline but most of this is just off the cuff with just a few prompts. And because I’ve written about things before it comes to my mind and even if it’s improv it’s still good.

He says that because he wrote about certain topics they come to mind during the podcast and he can speak about them off the cuff.

Writing and publishing gives us the ability to iterate on ideas

Once you’ve refined your thoughts you can take the additional step to publish them and invite others to interact with them.

Through these interactions your idea might evolve.

Everything you write and publish can be seen as the start of a conversation.

Conversations about ideas can allow you to iterate and improve on those ideas.

Starting a conversation about an idea may also tell you whether or not the idea is worth iterating on at all.

Through iteration, ideas may lead to opportunities (business or otherwise).

Thinking of a published piece of writing as a prototype has the added benefit of lowering the internal barrier you maintain for yourself when it comes to publishing.

Publishing our writing keeps us honest

Prof. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind explains how the public nature of the academic review process helps balance out the individual biases held by the researchers taking part in it.

The governing dynamic is that we behave differently in public compared to how we behave in private.

If we believe we are being observed and that what we say or write will be scrutinized by others, we are more honest and by extension more scientific. Writing in public contributes to us being more honest and accurate in our thought processes. The more accurate our thoughts, the more helpful they will be in aiding us while we navigate reality.

Adam Wathan touches on this in his Indiehackers interview. In it he explains how weekly interactions with his following keep him honest and keep him focused on making progress.

There is also something called the False Consensus Effect, a known psychological bias that affects all of us. What it comes down to is that we tend to overestimate to what degree others agree with our opinions. That is, until we publish those opinions and are able to observe those reactions (or lack thereof).

Writing and publishing persuades

Writing seems like it could leverage many, if not all, of the 6 principles of persuasion as identified by Dr. Robert Cialdini.

A valuable blog with a regular publishing schedule could contribute to the influence you wield through the principles of consistency, likeability, authority and reciprocity.

Increasing your influence may lead to opportunities or may give you the ability to seize upon them when they present themselves.

Writing regularly may help you hone this skill.

Writing will help you with your reading

Taylor Pearson says the following:

The more I write, the more I need to read. Last year I got really busy and stopped reading for a month. When I sat down to write an article, I couldn’t think of anything to say.

When I’m reading consistently, my ideas for new articles to write, new approaches to consulting engagements, or new things to do in my personal life turn into a torrent.

Was any of this really a surprise?

I was aware many successful people recommend writing.

I was aware a blog could probably increase the serendipity in your life.

I would have believed that there were probably multiple worthwhile benefits to a writing regularly.

Why, then, did I never start writing?

If it wasn’t a surprise, why didn’t I act on this earlier?

When I started writing this essay, I asked myself this question and no answer came to mind.

None. My mind drew a blank.

I didn’t have a clear reason.

Or perhaps I should say, I wasn’t clear on the reasons.

That is, until I started writing.

Through the process of writing this essay, answers to this question have emerged and have become clear.

This, as I’m coming to understand, is arguably the most powerful benefit of writing.

Writing is idea-refinement through exploration.

Here is what my exploration uncovered:

I never clarified my thoughts about why I wasn’t writing

Possibly the main reason why I wasn’t writing regularly is, ironically, that I never took the time to write about it.

Without writing about the question why I wasn’t writing, I never explored it in earnest, and never clarified my thoughts.

Now, after writing about it and organizing my thoughts on the subject, I am able to present them to you here.

I didn’t consider myself a “writer”

One of the first feelings I identified as potentially holding me back from writing is a feeling of not feeling like a writer.

Nathan Barry writes about this very feeling and perhaps it can be fully described as a manifestation of impostor syndrome.

Having said that, I never felt like I lacked the capability of being a writer — a feeling I believe is a prerequisite to impostor syndrome.

Being a “writer” was not part of my identity.

Productivity expert James Clear talks about how identity forms the basis of behavioral change.

Lasting behavioral change, according to James, comes from a change in identity.

Change your identity and your behavior will follow.

Keep your identity unchanged, as I did, and your behavior will remain the same.

I didn’t think whatever I would do would make an impact

I didn’t think anything I would write could have much of an impact, because my reach seemed severely limited.

This is another thing that Prof. Peterson invites us to reflect upon.

He makes the case that we are connected to millions of people just by two or three degrees of separation.

Without appreciating the results of this simple thought exercise, we’re likely to underestimate our potential impact.

I certainly was doing so.

I felt discouraged every time I discovered I didn’t understand a topic

A second feeling I identified is something that occurs when I choose to write about a topic and I erroneously (and naively) assume that I understand it.

When, through the process of writing and trying to pin down an idea, I realize I cannot, I become disappointed.

I can sense my internal time estimation for finishing the article (or essay) as quickly growing and becoming increasingly uncertain.

Before, I might have thought I could finish the article in an afternoon, now I’m not even sure another day would be sufficient.

(This has happened to me a lot while writing content for my men’s breakup advice blog and has happened multiple times while writing this essay.)

My inner talk shifts to: “Who do I think I am writing about something I don’t even understand?”, never realizing that uncovering and grappling with the unknown lies at the heart of what writing is.

Writing is exploring — not taking dictation.

If you consider yourself an explorer, unknown territory is the norm.

I tried to connect the dots looking forward

Let’s imagine we’re speaking with Rob Walling back in his early days, right before he committed to writing on a weekly basis.

Imagine we were trying to convince him to start a weekly writing habit with full knowledge of the exact results it would bring to him and his career in the future.

Now imagine the argument we could formulate in that situation:

“Rob, you need to start writing on a weekly basis because it’s going to lead you to launch a successful book (which you don’t yet know you want to write) to your audience (who you don’t yet know.)”

Even with perfect knowledge, not only does this seem like a strange argument to be making, it also doesn’t sound very convincing.

This reminds me of something Steve Jobs said during his famous Stanford commencement speech:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

The dots definitely connected for Rob, but he would only be able to make those connections looking backwards.

The serendipitous benefits of writing will only be apparent looking backwards.

This was never as clear to me as it is now.

How can I act on this now?

By writing about why I wasn’t writing, I’ve clarified why that was the case and why I should write going forward.

I want to write because I want to refine my thoughts on certain topics.

Above all, I am interested in improving the quality of my ideas and my ability to communicate them.

I want to write in public because I value accuracy and because I appreciate the power of iteration.

In writing this essay I’m also making a public commitment to writing and I’m also proving to myself that this is now my identity, laying the foundation for lasting change in behavior.

Lastly I have a new level of appreciation that any serendipitous opportunities that may come from my public writing won’t be seen looking forwards, only looking backwards.

My April 2019 Retrospective

After reading Results: The Agile Way, I’ve decided to switch up my retro format a bit so it’s more in line with the book.

What are 3 things that went well?

  • Brought the app for my client, Axova, to a presentable level and presented it. Now waiting for their dev to get in touch with me so he can set up an API to communicate with.
  • Finished editing and launched the first RBR podcast episode. Super happy about that!
  • Shipped a Submit Coin feature for Pingcoin which allows users to submit coin recordings themselves.

What are 3 things I need to improve?

  • Exercise more. Only averaged 2x a week this month.
  • Find a new client.
  • **Private**

Although I’m happy with the progress I made in launching the RBR podcast, the Axova app and the new Pingcoin feature, I haven’t gained any ground financially this month. Next month this will really have to take center stage and I’ll either need to focus on finding a new client, or something else.

What did I not achieve and why?

I’ve been putting off setting my yearly goals since, well, the beginning of the year, because I felt tremendous resistance towards it and I didn’t feel like I had the right framework. I think after reading Results: The Agile way I’m ready to do it.

I didn’t find any additional clients because I didn’t spend much time looking

I didn’t participate in the local Basel incubator Startup Academy because so far I’ve not felt energized to go through with it.

I didn’t finish the Axova app yet because I’m dependent on their dev, who I’ve not been put in touch with yet because he’s busy.

Time Distribution

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Rapid Breakup Recovery

Key achievements

  • Published the first episode of the RBR podcast

Revenue

Ebook sales: $19

Total revenue: $19

Ebook sales have been down ever since canceling Drip and not moving to an alternative. This is a bit counterintuitive because my understanding of the analytics was that my free 7-day email course wasn’t generating much sales. Perhaps I was mistaken in that. 

Pingcoin

Key achievements

  • Launched a Submit Coin feature

Revenue

Total revenue: $0

Right now I’m waiting for people to submit coins and plan to add them to the database as soon as they do.

Monthly Planning for May 2019

  • One new client signed
  • All founding documents for the founding of my company sent to the attorney
  • ** Private outcome **

My March 2019 Retrospective

Introduction

I’ve started a digital product development agency to earn a living, get better at product design & development and to create space to develop my own products. (Working title: “Happy Path Studios”)

As of this writing I have two clients and both are interested in improving existing offline processes through the development of software. German-speakers like to refer to this as “Digitalisation” and it seems this would be a good focus for an agency.

This month I focused most of my time designing and developing the first version of an app for one of my clients, axova.ch, a solar-panel installation service provider.

March Goals

  • Yearly goals set
    • Failed. Did not take the time for this
  • Intercompanion podcast episodes edited and published
    • Failed. Did not take the time for this.
  • RBR podcast episodes edited and published
    • Failed. Did not take the time for this.
  • Accounting ready
    • 90% ready
  • Ionic course ready
    • Completed!
  • Taking part in the startup academy
    • 90% completed.
  • Finish onset detector
    • Failed. Did not spend any time on this
  • Finished Andy’s app
    • 80% ready

Even though I missed quite a few of my goals, I think it’s more a reflection of my difficulties in predicting what I want to be doing in the month to come. I’m very happy with my focus on the Axova app as well as with the progress I’ve made there. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that for any gains in the above categories. What I’m taking from this is that I need to be more careful when setting my monthly goals. I’ve overestimated in the past, but this month I also set goals I lost interest in.

Kaizen: Account for your tendency to overestimate what you can get done.
Provoking Question: How might I set goals at the beginning of the month I still support at the end of the month?

Time Distribution

Project Distribution
Axova App 39.9%
Learning 19.9%
German 14.1%
General (Business/Productivity/Alignment) 12.5%
Reading / Summarizing 4.7%
Personal (Administration, Bills, Chores, etc.) 2.7%
Language Learning Logistics / Research 1.8%
My Basel Startup 1.6%
RBR 0.9%
Product Discovery 0.8%
Following My Curiosity 0.6%
Pingcoin 0.5%

Total: 155:56:47 (~35 per week)

Most of the Learning was spent learning Ionic using Maximilian Schwarzmueller’s Ionic course on Udemy (which is great). This is the second developer course I’m taking on Udemy and I find myself surprised again how good the quality is. It seems like there’s stronger competition between course authors on Udemy vs. subscription platforms such as Pluralsight which results in higher quality courses. It’s also worth noting that you can find some courses on Pluralsight or on Oreilly’s learning platform that are also avaialble on Udemy. You’re just missing out on the super valuable reviews on Udemy.

I also spent some hours figuring out how to best learn German (Language Learning Logistics / Research) and then 14% of my time (1 hour every morning) learning German. I’m not sure if my approach is worth writing about yet, though.

Updates by indie product

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Spent almost no time on RBR this month, because I wanted to focus on the work for my client. This also means that I still haven’t filled the vacuum left by removing drip. In other words I haven’t had an automatic email sequence for my subscribers in a while.

Key accomplishments

  • None

Revenue

  • Ebooks sales: $38
  • Coaching calls: $0
  • Total March 2019: $38

Pingcoin

Spent almost no time on Pingcoin this month. I fixed one bug that caused the app to crash for users.

Key accomplishments

  • Reached 100 downloads on the Google Play Store.

Revenue

– $0

Total Indie Revenue March

  • $38

What went well

  • Created goals for the month
  • Created a wireframe for the app, got it approved
  • Learnt Ionic
  • Started coding the app

What did not go well?

  • Not following up on my Kaizens
  • Felt a bit less present this month
  • Missed one week of planning / retrospective
  • Came up with the idea to timebox tasks, but never did it
  • Feels like I’m not reading enough
  • Goals w

What should I do differently

  • Make Kaizen review more explicit

Kaizen

  • Make my reviews of Kaizen more explicit
  • Account for your tendency to overestimate what you can get done.

Provoking Questions

  • How might I set goals at the beginning of the month I still support at the end of the month?

My February 2019 Retrospective

You can find a description of the projects mentioned on my Projects page.

Key achievements

  • (Pingcoin) Met with a Swiss coin dealer to speak about a possible collaboration. To be continued.
  • (Learning) Completed the web developer bootcamp Udemy course
  • (My Basel Agency) Got a verbal go-ahead for my second client for my (still nameless) agency

Other/personal

  • I’ve decided I want to reach native level fluency in German. This will help me in running my business here in Basel, Switzerland. This will be reflected in my goals for 2019.

Monthly goals check-in

  • Writing (5/10)
    • Started writing longer pieces in my daily journal
    • No other writing
  • Financial independence (8/10)
    • Found two clients that have agreed to first project together for my Basel Agency
  • Full of love (7/10)
    • Did okay. Daily meditation, gratitude journaling, EFT
  • Seize every day (5/10)
    • No particular achievements here
  • Reading (6/10)
    • Finished the Startup Owner’s Manual
    • Finished Emotional Design
    • Started The Overwhelmed Brain
  • Explore my subconscious and integrate my shadow (7/10)
    • Daily journaling and shadow ritual
  • I am strong (1/10)
    • I broke my routine here after getting sick. Haven’t been to the gym since Feb 7.
  • Travel (N/A)

Time spent

Total: 167:55 hrs

The plurality of my time was spent on Pingcoin, which had been more or less my plan. I’m working on an onset annotator in javascript, but it’s taking me a bit longer than expected.

A considerable amount was spent on the Following my Curiosity category. This is mainly due to the 18 hours I clocked working on the antique map with 3D relief. This was not planned, but I felt such strong curiosity and motivation that I felt I had to work on this. I’ve been trying to make it a policy to trust my subconscious and let it pursue anything that gives me energy. Next step? No idea. I’m really pleased with the end result though.

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Ebook sales: $38
Coaching calls: $50
Total: $88
I removed Drip and thereby my 7-day email course. This has impacted my sales as I haven’t taken the time to replace it with anything else yet.

Grand total: $88

Overall

What went well

  • Clocked a lot of hours
  • Finished the web dev course
  • Got my second client

What did not go well

  • I have still not edited the RBR podcast episode and the 4 Intercompanion podcast episodes. I am struggling to balance my desire to focus with keeping existing projects alive. This month I tried to focus on Pingcoin (which you can see by the time that was spent there). However, in order to do so, I neglected other projects. I can’t help but wonder if I’m approaching this correctly
  • I still haven’t laid out my goals for 2019.
  • I’m behind on my personal accounting

What can I do differently

  • Do my accounting at the beginning of the month

 

Digitally rendered 3D elevation + 1798 political map of Switzerland

I came across the maps of Scott Reinhard on Twitter and I fell down the rabbit hole of the art of combining old maps with modern 3D elevation data. This is what I was able to create playing around with QGis, Blender 3D and Photoshop:

Inspired by the work of Scott Reinhard.

Thanks to Daniel P. Huffman for the tutorial that got me started, and to Andrew Tyrrell for his hint towards georeferencing.

Original map

Elevation data from Copernicus Land Monitoring Service.

Made with QGis, Blender3D and Photoshop.

My January 2019 Retrospective

Key achievements

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Recorded the first RBR podcast
  • Learnt about podcast editing and started the editing process

Intercompanion

  • No progress

Pingcoin

  • No progress

Other / Personal

I’m starting an agency!
While looking for consulting opportunities I hit it off with an investor in Basel who wants to work with me on developing an app and also help me bootstrap a product development agency. The app will be aimed at helping NGO’s do their bookkeeping and aid them in their relationship management of their donors. The agency will take on all kinds of digital product development assignments. Super excited about both the app and the agency.

Web Development Bootcamp
I made my way through most of a very long and thorough web development course on Udemy. I’m really enjoying the course and it’s filling in some missing pieces in my haphazard self-taught programming education. It also helped me settle on a tech stack (all JS).

Monthly goal check-in

I’m still in the process of writing up my goals for 2019. I’ve been using my 2018 goals until then as they’re still valid.

  • Writing (5/10)
    • Apart from daily journaling — no progress here.
  • Financial independence (7/10)
    • Found my first client who also wants to help me bootstrap a product development agency!
  • Full of love (7/10)
    • Did okay. Daily meditation and self-parenting.
  • Seize every day (5/10)
    • No particular achievements here
  • Reading (10/10)
    • Finished reading About Face, Atomic Habits, Hello my name is awesome, Ignore everybody and one chapter I selected from Midas Touch (as it came recommended)
    • Started reading The Overwhelmed Brain and listening to Big Magic
    • I’m still behind on summarizing the books I’ve read.
  • Explore my subconscious and integrate my shadow (8/10)
    • Consistently meditated, journaled, shadow ritual and did EFT when necessary
  • I am strong (physical strength)
    • Was consistent in going to the gym 3x a week following the 5×5 program
  • Travel (N/A)
    • Note: My travel goals have changed.

Time Spent

Total clocked hours: 150:51
Back at Chiang-Mai levels of clocked hours. This is probably also due to the fact that in January I was consistently clocking my time spent reading.

This month I spent the plurality of my time on Learning because I enrolled in a Udemy class on web development called the Web Development Bootcamp. It’s been a lot of fun and incredibly useful.

I spent around 18% of my time on Peter’s app which is the code name for the NGO app. This time was mostly spent doing research and understanding the problem space.

The “General” category is what I use for time spent on my morning routine, on my retrospectives etc. At this point it’s getting a bit unwieldy. I will look at splitting it up into different categories (e.g. work ON systems and work IN systems).

After general, the highest category is Rapid Breakup Recovery, which is mostly due to the fact that I spent time recording and editing the podcast.

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Ebook sales: $38
  • Coaching calls: $0
  • Total: $38

Grand total

  • $38

Happiness

41% good or rad (down from 48% last month).
I’m still not sure how to report on this. Although I have a lower relative amount of good moods, I logged 25 good moods in January compared to 24 in December. It doesn’t feel like this month was much different than the one before. I would like to get a daily average with a standard deviation, but that doesn’t come out of the box.

Overall

What went well

  • Found a first client for the development of an app who also wants to help me build a product development agency!
  • Found a new coach for both personal and business-related issues.
  • Web development bootcamp (24+ hours)
  • Reading and tracking reading. I tracked pretty much all of my reading and I did a lot of reading.

What did not go well

  • I waited a long time before setting my January goals and doing my yearly retrospective.
  • It’s taking a long time to come up with a name for the agency.
  • My monthly retro has slowly expanded and it’s been taking up more time. I believe it’s time to start automating certain elements of it.

What can I do differently?

  • I will be naming this category “What can I do differently” as opposed to “What should I do differently” to emphasise the fact that it’s not feasible to implement all improvement points in the next iteration. Points of improvement should be added to my backlog. I should select some of these points for the next iteration during my planning phase.
  • Do my retrospectives & planning within 2 days of the new month
  • Somehow I spent no time on the Intercompanion project. In retrospect this makes sense, I was focused on other things, but I’m coming to the realization that shifts in time spent on projects on the month-level (and greater) are difficult to be aware of.
  • Find time to summarize and ankify the books I’ve read
  • Start automating my retrospective / planning systems

 

My 2018 Retrospective

Key accomplishments

  • Launched a beta version of my (physical) coin testing app, Pingcoin.
    • Learnt basic Java
    • Learnt basic Android development
    • Learnt basic OOP
  • Completed 8 months at FIFA and saved enough money for a 10-12 month runway in Thailand (ended up coming back early after getting together with my current girlfriend :))
  • Spent 2 months in Chiang Mai working for myself
  • I got to the root of an anxiety I had around money. With no monthly income I would get very agitated about spending money and spending time away from my computer. With help from a friend I was able to narrow this down to a deep seated fear of failure. Once I understood it was about failure, it lost 95% of its grip over me.
  • Recorded 5 podcast interviews. I noticed I really enjoyed the process. I still need to do the editing though.

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Coaching calls: $810.51
  • Ebook sales: $1’045 (55 ebooks sold)
  • Total: $1’855.51

Goals check-in

Be present, full of love and surround myself with others that are full of love
Score: 7/10. I think I did okay here. Meditated daily.

Become financially independent
Score: 2/10. Although I worked hard towards this goal (I thought), I didn’t move the needle much. Need to fundamentally rethink my approach in 2019.

Be a strong man, in great physical shape and able to defend myself and my family
Score: 5/10. I didn’t do much exercise in 2018.

I do not postpone happiness & making an impact
Score: 9/10.

Travel the world and continually expand my frame of reference
Score: 8/10.

Explore my mind, my unconscious and integrate my shadow and become at peace with myself
Score: 7/10.

Read daily to expand my frame of reference and support my other goals
Score: 6/10.

Write daily to clarify my thoughts and to connect with other minds
Score: 7/10.

What went well

Goal setting

For the first time in my life I set yearly goals and I was fairly consistent in looking at them regularly (almost daily). There are many I didn’t reach (or didn’t do particularly well on), but overall I’m very happy with my progress. The goal-setting approach I used worked fairly well. I started by going through Jordan Peterson’s Understand Myself program and arrived at 8 goals. I then came up with some routines and procedures to support the achievement of those goals. My morning routine is the cornerstone of my day. I wake up as early as possible (initially I was consistently waking up at 4:30) and I meditate for 20 minutes. Then I go through a checklist which I consider my morning routine. It involves me reviewing my goals, doing some affirmations, journaling and an Anki card review session.

Anki review

After reading Michael Nielsen’s and Gwern’s blogpost on spaced repetition systems and Anki, I decided to try to incorporate it into my routine. Every morning as part of my daily routine I do an Anki review session where I review the cards that are due for that day (typically 1-10). Recently I’ve been using it for helping me remember coding concepts I’m getting introduced to. It’s hard to report on the results in an unbiased way, but I feel it’s very effective at refreshing concepts at the point where I’m just about to forget them. After several repetitions I usually end up remembering the card long-term.

Tracking Myself

As a consequence of setting goals and tracking my progress I’ve gotten into the habit of tracking more aspects of my life. I’ve been successfully tracking my time spent working using Toggl, my daily mood with an app called Daylio, my sleep with Sleep for Android and weekly and monthly retrospectives in Trello and on this blog.

Hustling before work

I didn’t track my wake up times, but many, many days I would wake up at 4:30, do a morning routine (including meditation) and I would be able to work from 5:00 to 7:00 before I would go to work. Waking up this early is great because you have zero distractions, you spend your best energy on your own projects (and not your job) and you do it when you’re fresh (as opposed to doing it after work). The downside is that you’re absolutely f*cked when you get back home from work and you really need to be in bed by 20:00 to get enough sleep. Waking up early is however the most effective strategy I’ve come across to hustling around my day job. That, and negotiating a 80% work contract.

What did not go well?

Goal-achievement

Although I had my goals written down, and I would visualise them and review them daily, there are still some I didn’t reach (e.g. $1000/month side income or going to BJJ training 3x a week). Why? I’m not entirely sure. But I think it has to do with not knowing I was off course and therefore not adjusting course. It seems that just writing a goal down and reading it daily works for certain goals (e.g. travel a lot, do fun stuff in your spare time) but not so well when there needs to be a clear, step-by-step plan to get you to the goal (e.g. $1000/month side income goal).

Coding was super slow

As part of the 24-hour startup challenge I attempted coding together an app in NodeJS. I assumed I could learn it on the fly. I assumed wrong. Even though I managed to code together an Android app in 2018, this doesn’t mean I can jump into any new technology easily. That may be an obvious statement to an experienced developer, for me it was a very valuable wake up call. In 2019 I want to be fast at shipping working software. I’ve already started taking a Udemy web development course after seeing @stephsmithio recommend it.

Achieving Financial Independence

Most of the work I did in the early mornings before starting my day job was done, ostensibly, with the goal in mind of achieving financial independence. I did not achieve this goal, so something about my approach needs revisiting.

Accountability Partner

I tried setting up a weekly call with an accountability partner on two occasions. The first partner and I lasted a couple of months and I found it very motivating and productive. At some point, however, he dropped out. The second accountability partner, a young lady running her own business, only lasted 2 sessions with me. I’m not sure why these relationships failed, but since I think it’s such a valuable ritual, I am looking for a new accountability partner in 2019.

Personal Network

I’ve heard it ad nauseam “your network is incredibly important for business”, yet I never invested in it or focused on growing it. Through college and my career so far I’ve come in contact with plenty of people, but these contacts never translated into a resource I felt I could leverage. I became painfully aware of my “lack” of network when I tried to find some consulting clients late 2018. I was working with a business coach to help me find my first clients and one of the first things he asked me was: “Who in your network can you call to find leads?” The truth was I could only come up with a handful of people I could call. If personal network is one of the factors that’s important in achieving success in business, then I would have to score myself very low on this dimension. This makes me want to turn this around in 2019.

Exercise

I did not do much exercise in 2018. I tried starting with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu again, but as I was living far outside of the city it was difficult to go to evening classes and still get back in time to sleep so I could wake up at 4:30. The silver lining on last year is that towards the end I started using the 5×5 workout app which helps you with a 3x per week compound lifting routine. The app is really a breeze to use and has helped me get into a steady routine of squats, deadlifts etc. 3x a week.

What should I do differently?

Revise goal setting/achieving system

In order to set goals I stand a chance of achieving and to make sure I adjust course when I’m off track I need to take a careful look at my goal setting / achieving system and revise it for 2019. Two questions that I’m asking myself are:

  1. How might I set goals in a way that I stand a chance of achieving them?
  2. How might I become aware I’m off-track for a certain goal and how might I effectively correct course?

Get better and faster at developing products

I want to be quick a coding together prototypes.

Try again to find an accountability partner

Working with an accountability partner was valuable. I should continue my search in 2019.

Exercise & Brazilian jiu-jitsu

Do compound lifts 3x a week and do jiu jitsu at least 3x a week (as soon as I can afford it). I have some mental blocks I run into when I try to go to BJJ consistently. In 2019 I want to overcome those.

Start building and strengthening my personal network

Learn how to build and strengthen my personal network and make this a primary focus for 2019.

Revisit my strategy for achieving financial independence

Aside from reviewing my general goal setting / achievement system I want to review my strategy for becoming financially independent. Some questions that I’m asking myself are:

  1. Do I need to focus more?
  2. Do I need to pick my projects better?
  3. Do I just need to continue and persevere?
  4. Should I put more importance on completing projects?

My December 2018 Retrospective

Key accomplishments

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Got a local WP environment running with a proper git setup
  • 2 new blog posts
  • Created a list of podcasts to outreach to for a RBR podcast tour

Intercompanion

  • Recorded 4 podcast interviews
  • Set up the Intercompanion website

Pingcoin

  • Fixed a bug which made the app crash on older Android devices
  • Made a nicer placeholder website

General

  • Did my November 2018 retrospective (first monthly retrospective)

Personal

  • Moved back to Switzerland and moved in with girlfriend
  • Imported all my accounts into my accounting software

Other

  • Reading: Finished Start With Why by Simon Sinek (terrible book)

Monthly goal check-in

  • Writing
    •  I only wrote 2 articles for RBR, but I was happy about their quality. Here I clearly set out to do too much.
      • 4 articles for RBR (failed, 2)
      • 1 article for Jesse MS (failed)
      • 2 articles for Intercompanion (failed)
  • Financial independence
    • I only made $161.75 in December, all from RBR. I believe that the problem is that the objectives I set (below) for the month were not unambiguously going to lead to revenue. Going forward I will maintain a yearly target that I will check every month.
      • $1000 income in December (failed)
      • Get up to speed with my accounting (failed)
      • Redesign RBR (success)
      • Outline a course (success)
      • Start a podcast tour (failed, only made a list of potential podcasts)
      • Launch Intercompanion podcast + website (failed, only launched the website)
      • Validate my positioning (failed)
      • Move from Drip to Intercom (failed)
      • Blog post about moving to intercom (failed)
      • Explore other opportunities (success)
      • Edit and publish old interviews (failed)
      • Create a consulting video (failed)
  • Full of love
    • Did well here, although not everything is reflected in these objectives.
      • Stay in touch with Indiehackers (success)
      • Stay in touch with friends (failed)
  • Seize every day
    • Found a gym and have been doing the 5×5 routine 3x a week
      • Figure out gym (success)
  • Reading
    • I’m trying to read more and more, but I haven’t come up with a workflow that works for me yet. Overall I’m surprised how slow my progress is through any given book. 
      • Come up with and stick with new reading / summarizing workflow (failed)
      • Read & summarize 4 books (failed, only finished 1)
      • Summarize past read books (failed)
  • Explore my subconscious and integrate my shadow
    • I was feeling very tense around money and sustaining myself in Switzerland. I explored this tension in my mind and I realized that  the worst possible scenario I could imagine would not be to run out of money, but to never actually be able to earn a reasonable amount of money. Speaking with one of my best friends he probed me further and helped me realize I was attaching feelings of being a failure to this scenario. The idea of never being able to make money has been making me feel tense because it makes me feel like a failure in the most profound sense of the word. Once I realized that, a lot of the tension disappeared. Now, I’ve probably landed my first client for my own product development business.
      • Daily reparenting exercise (success)
      • Daily shadow integration exercise (success)
      • Daily tapping exercise (success)
  • I am strong (physical strength)
    • Did well here
      • Stick with 5×5 routine
  • Travel
    • N/A

Time Spent

Total: 104 hours (-50.2%)

Wow. I was really surprised to see that I logged 50% less hours than in November. November was my most productive month in Chiang Mai and in December I had to move back to Switzerland, get settled in with my girlfriend and I spent considerable time away from my computer during the holidays.

I spent my 28.3% (up from 7%) of my time on RBR. I’m happy with this amount as I wanted to focus more on this project in December.

I spent 13.9% (up from 5%) of my time on Intercompanion. I’m also happy with this amount as I’ve decided to focus more on this strategy for establishing a consulting arm.

I’m still a bit unsure how to approach the time tracking results. I’ve started doing time budgeting (setting a time target per category) on a weekly basis. I will start doing the same on a monthly basis starting in January. 

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Coaching calls: $47.75
  • Ebooks sales: $114
  • Total: $161.75 (-19.5%)

Grand Total

$161.75

Happiness

I recorded 48% good moods (+3), 48% meh (+0) and 2% bad (-4). I continue to see an upward trend in my mood, albeit very slightly. I was interested to see how my monthly mood average would change going from being single and financially comfortable in Chiang Mai in November to being in a relationship and financially more strained in Switzerland in December. Even though my material quality of life has decreased, I’m happy my mood has remained stable.

Overall

What went well?

  • Setting monthly goals
  • Doing podcast interviews is fun and it’s a great way to build relationships with others in your industry.

What did not go well?

  • Achieving my monthly goal
  • I set too many goals / objectives for the month
  • Failed to catch up on my accounting
  • I set a goal of achieving $1000 in independent revenue in December and I fell quite a bit short of that. I even reviewed this goal almost every day, but I still didn’t reach it.
  • Failed to write and publish 4 articles for RBR
  • Looking over this retrospective I feel my time was spread over many different projects. Although I enjoy working on different things, I can’t help but think that I would accomplish more if I could focus.
  • Scheduling podcasts was a bit of a pain

What should I stop / not start doing?

  • Lower my estimates for the amount of tasks I think I can get done in a single month
  • Always have a podcast going

What should I start / continue doing?

  • I need to change my approach with regards to setting a monthly goal. Simply setting a goal and reviewing it is not enough for me. In other areas of my life when I set a goal I know more or less how I’m going to get there. In this case, I had no idea. I think revenue is still the right indicator to look at, but perhaps setting a 0-to-$1000 goal (without a clear idea how to get there) is not the right approach. Instead I will be setting a yearly revenue goal in my yearly planning and I’ll be checking in with that goal on a monthly basis.

 

My November 2018 Retrospective

This is my retrospective for the month of November and also my first public retrospective.

Time Spent

In November I logged ~209 hours.

Time distribution vs. Project (November 2018)
Time distribution vs. Project (November 2018)

I spent the plurality (37%) of my productive time on my Consulting project, in which I’m taking steps to set up my own consulting business. Another 5% was spent on Intercompanion, which is an initiative spun out of my Consulting project where I’ll be launching a podcast focused on Intercom Tips for Businesses.

I spent 21% of time on my participation in the 24 hour startup challenge and another 1% on Voicast, which is the product that spun out of my challenge.

7% on Rapid Breakup Recovery and 7% on this blog.

5% of my time was spent on Pingcoin, which is now in public beta on the Google Play store.

7% was spent on General tasks, such as my morning routine and this retrospective.

3% of my logged time was spent reading, but I wasn’t completely consistent with tracking this. The real number would have been a bit higher.

I tried to adhere to the policy of taking one day per week off (as in completely off my computer). This is surprisingly difficult, especially because certain activities on my computer feel perfectly relaxing (like taking on online course). Also, doing administrative work, such as my personal accounting, didn’t really seem like work to me. As you’ll see in the graph below, not every week contains a day of 0 logged time.

Time per day (November 2018)
Time per day (November 2018)

I tend to log close to 7 hours a day, with some days shooting over and some days falling short.

Revenue

In November 2018 I generated $200.9 in revenue.

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Coaching calls: $143.9
  • Ebook sales: $57
  • Total: $200.9

I ran a sale with my email list offering 3 hours of coaching for $100. Only one client took me up on this offer, which was a valuable wake-up call. My list is very cold, and I will probably want to purge it in December.

Grand total

$200.9 in November 2018

Happiness

Using Daylio I tracked 45% good, 48% meh and 6% bad moods in November. October was 40% good and September was 15% good, so I’ve seen an upward trend.

Overall

Overarching Goals

  • Become financially independent
    • Verdict: Good. Took the step to move to Chiang Mai for this purpose, even though I will be spending my time in Europe from December onward. I was very productive towards this goal.
  • Be full of love and surround myself with others that are full of love
    • Verdict: Neutral. Lived a fairly solitary life-style in Chiang Mai.
  • Maintain physical fitness be a jiu jitsu fighter and be able to defend myself and my family
    • Verdict: Neutral. Picked up a good 3x/week gym habit, but failed to go to BJJ training more than once.
  • Don’t postpone happiness & making an impact
    • Verdict: Good. Visited the Doi Suthep temple, did a meditation retreat, got a massage. Did some offline stuff for me.
  • Travel the world and continually expand my frame of reference
    • Verdict: Good. Lived in Chiang Mai all of November.
  • Explore my mind, my unconscious and integrate my shadow and become at peace with myself
    • Verdict: Neutral.
  • Read more to expand my frame of reference and support my other goals
    • Verdict: Good. Started reading more. Still working on
  • Write to clarify my thoughts and to connect with other minds
    • Verdict: Good. Wrote 2 RBR posts and multiple posts on this blog as well as a post on Indie hackers

What went well?

  • Time tracking went well. I was very consistent
  • My weekly retrospectives have been going well
  • Met some cool people in Chiang Mai that are also indie makers
  • Read more than last month
  • I did a lot of outreach to obtain consulting clients
  • This retrospective went quite well
  • Expense tracking — I tracked all my cash expenses for November

What did not go well?

  • I did not plan my month and I had no specific goals for the month
  • Spent a lot of time on the 24 hour challenge without producing anything
  • Summarizing the books I read
  • Did not spend much time on RBR
  • I did not secure any new consulting clients
  • I set out to write 2 RBR blog posts per week, but I discovered I cannot produce two quality articles in a week
  • Accounting — I did not do any accounting in November
  • Sleep tracking — The android app I was using isn’t reliable. Thinking about getting a fitbit for this purpose

What should I stop doing?

  • Don’t dive into a project like the 24 hour challenge while underestimating the work involved with learning a new skill set

What should I start/continue doing or do more?

  • Be more consistent with summarizing the books I read
  • Plan the next month
  • Create a reading-summarizing workflow and stick to it
  • Publish 1 high quality RBR article per week
  • Keep in touch with the people I met in CM

My 24-hour startup challenge retrospective

On the November 17 I participated in the 24-hour startup challenge where I live-streamed the (attempted) development of a product. The day itself turned into a disappointment for me as I wasn’t able to achieve much. My Macbook was very slow, my connection was poor, I underestimated the work involved and how fast I would learn and I simply didn’t end up achieving much of anything.

I felt quite disappointed and demotivated, but I thought it would be instructive for me to at least do a proper retrospective on the experience.

What went well?

  • I wrote an article leading up to the challenge about the definition of startups. I believe it was well-received, it got some traction and I enjoyed writing it.
  • I was forced to get some practice doing self-promotion. This was a great benefit. I gained a handful of twitter followers and met other indie makers in the space.
  • I was forced to try to develop something and release it. In the end I failed to develop something meaningful, but this showed me that I was underestimating how difficult this would be for me and how much time it would take.

What did not go well?

  • In the end I wasn’t able to achieve much. I think it’s attributable to the following causes:
    • I underestimated how much time it would take to set up a development environment for the technology I intended to use. I never reached the point where I understood how to get debugging information on why my application wasn’t working.
    • I underestimated how much time it would take to get up to speed with a tech stack I had no experience with (node.js and AWS Lambda). I was much too overconfident and ended up spending hours going over tutorials.
    • Leading up to the challenge, I underestimated how long it would take to find and get in touch with a responsive market.
    • My internet connection was poor and unstable, which made everything about the challenge more difficult.
    • The Macbook I was using is a bit old and it could barely handle the live-streaming software which slowed down all other things I was doing.
    • The audio on my stream is not very good. I think the mic was picking up the Macbook taking off due to the extra load of the broadcasting software.
Me, struggling during the 24 hour startup challenge

What should I continue doing?

  • Continue to participate in events like this.
  • Continue to do retrospectives.
  • Continue to improve my development skills.

What should I stop doing?

  • Stop assuming you can reach a meaningful level of competence in a new language/skill in a very short amount of time. You can learn fast, but you’re underestimating how much there is to learn.

Insights & Provoking Questions

How might I leverage the honesty effect of streaming?

Streaming puts you in a situation where you assume you’re being watched, even with 0 real-time viewers. This changes your behavior and I suspect it keeps you a bit more honest than you otherwise would have been. I can’t prove this, but I felt like I needed to be careful with my words in constructing my arguments for why I was doing what I was doing. How might I leverage the honesty effect of streaming to become a more successful at efforts like this?

How might I methodically go through the product discovery process?

Below you’ll find three iterations I’ve done (after the fact) using the Lean Business Model Canvas. If you look through the iterations you’ll see that my idea has evolved somewhat. I’ve moved away from the thought of doing a productized service. I think a self-service app where you can enter your podcast feed and generate an Alexa skill perhaps makes the most sense. What would be the benefit over, say, a universal Alexa podcast player such as Anypod? Not much, provided the experience is good (and based on the reviews it seems to be okay). I think there’s one angle that’s worth exploring and that’s whether you can capture email addresses of listeners with Alexa. Many podcasts have CTAs with the goal of capturing email addresses. If Alexa can do that directly, that could be interesting. But here we enter the realm of solution-looking-for-a-problem which is always dangerous.

An overarching point needs to be made, though, which is that it’s difficult to come up with a way to methodically make your way through this process of product discovery. How do you surface and map out assumptions? Which do you test first? What areas can you ignore in the beginning? I’m not satisfied with the approaches I’ve seen so far online and I will keep my brain primed on finding a better solution.

How might I assess whether it’s worthwhile to continue with this idea?

The fact I was able to book 4 podcast hosts for interviews based on an email alone indicates to me that there’s potentially something there. I will conduct all the interviews and report back on my findings. My first interviewee told me that he’s come to expect SaaS apps to be almost free. He was interested in talking about an Alexa app, but he did not immediately see the benefit over the use of Anypod. He seemed most interested in getting discovered by more listeners, which would be a nudge towards going down the route of creating a universal player (aka an Anypod clone). I don’t see immediately see how I could create an unfair advantage over Anypod (although an in-app CTA which captures emails might be worth exploring). I don’t see a clear argument in favor of continuing with this idea at this point.

How might I maximize my rate of iteration?

My approach was to maximize my rate of iteration. I focused primarily on finding a market that would be highly responsive so I could iterate with them quickly. I assumed that building the application would not be the slowest link in the chain. In the end this is what bogged me down. (That’s not to say that the learning step would have been fast.)

Figure 1: The Build-Measure-Learn cycle with a conceptual shortcut going from Build to Learn.

My assumption was that the learning step would be the most time-intensive and thus the bottleneck to my rate of iteration. I did no anticipate that building would in fact be much of a hurdle. Seeing the other participants whipping out cool functionality within hours, I realize that I need to learn how to build apps fast in order to make sure this does not become the bottleneck to my rate of iteration. The two questions I’m asking myself now are:

  1. How might I rapidly build prototypal apps? (e.g. what tech stack is best suited for apps-as-prototypes?)
  2. How might I rapidly learn with a market for my prototype (e.g. what’s the best way to find a responsive, suitable market?)

I believe the first problem has been solved by any one of these amazing young developers that whip out fully functional apps within hours. So if I want to improve the Build component of my iteration strategy I need only learn what they’re using.

The second question, however, I haven’t seen approached by anyone. What I have seen is people iterating quickly within a market to which they belong, or a single market they’ve found themselves (perhaps by accident). I haven’t seen anyone iterate across markets quickly, or find markets based on their responsiveness. I’m also not entirely convinced of my approach here. Looking for responsive markets might not be the best way to maximize your rate of iteration. For instance, any market may be experienced as being responsive, provided you have enough warm contacts one phone call away. I need to reflect on this a bit more.

The rise of indie product development streaming

There was a lot of hype around the 24 hour startup challenge. A lot of people were streaming and I can only assume quite a few people were watching as well. While preparing my stream I slowly discovered the world of Twitch and all the gamers that have been streaming for years. They’ve really made inroads into this space and there are a lot of tools on the market and established best practices. I expect this to take off more. If your hardware can handle it, streaming an easy to step to make solo product development more exciting and more social. I think this will lead to more supporting software to be developed, like Twitch plugins specifically for developers. I also think that some indie makers are going to figure out how to make money while streaming like many gamers seem to have figured out now as well. Lastly, I don’t think the indie maker community has converged on solution for making watching streaming attractive. I don’t find myself compelled to watch anyone else stream and hour-long streams don’t seem very watchable to begin with. I expect some indie makers will start to figure this out as well, making their streams more fun and more consumable.