Groundhog Day Resolution Review 9/9/2009: Life Operating Principles

SUMMARY: In the 8th “personal goals” review of 2009, I reiterate three guidelines and two mental stances that together, I believe, will be at the core of my ongoing pursuit of personal fulfillment. And, I am finally able to “productize” what I like do in terms that I think the general public will understand.


It’s time for another Groundhog Day Resolutions review! If this is the first time you’ve heard about Groundhog Day Resolutions (GHDs), the basic idea is that you make your “new year resolutions” on Groundhog Day February 2nd instead of rushing things on January 1st. It takes about a month to settle into the year and recover from the holidays. After making your initial resolutions, you review progress on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, and so forth. It goes all the way to 12/12, when it’s time to break for the holidays and not worry about your goals until Groundhog Day rolls around again.

In practice, my GHDs have been less about goals and more about finding direction. It seems like I’m getting closer to finding it; in last month’s review I reiterated three guidelines I’ve concluded lead to my personal sense of happiness and achievement:

  1. Communicating with a variety of people one-on-one, local and long distance, in person and over the internet, familiar and unknown, for the purpose of mutual inspiration.
  2. Creating tangible new things every day, and showing what I’ve made to other people.
  3. Being involved in dreams that are larger than myself, with people that I like and respect, and witnessing them come to fruition.

I also came to the conclusion that there were two seemingly-contradictory approaches I could take in putting the guidelines into practice. It turns out that both are necessary:

  • Just do it, and assess the effect it has is the action-oriented, metrics-based approach to productivity we’re familiar with.
  • Just be, and observe the change around you is the more happy-go-lucky approach that artists and [professional idlers][idle] practice just as effectively.

Finding that balance between being and doing was the underlying motivation for my recent series of posts Liveblogging the Productivity Doldrums. The takeaway from that series was the usage graph of my day, which helped me understand the context of my inefficiencies. I maintained the graphing for two more weeks after that post, and found the same patterns occurring. More importantly, I gained a deeper understanding of what contributes to flow in my day. For example, a good day is generally prefaced by a smooth launch out of the house to the coffee shop, where I can spend 30 minutes pulling the day together in my head without any computers around. Bad days are caused by staying up too late and spoiling the following morning. Meetings with people are energizing, but don’t allow me to focus on getting difficult work done. And getting difficult work done requires me “blanking my mind” so I start it.

So, on the meta-level, I’d say that last month was highly productive in converging on my general “life operating principles”.

what am I getting done?

The Pre-printed Emergent Task Planner Pads are getting very close to being printed, and I think I have Fulfillment by Amazon figured out. This is a key step in establishing a “design-produce-sell” system for myself to bring in passive income. I have no idea how well it will work, but it will be exciting to have this machinery in place.

I also have been talking to more people about a doing small websites, which has led to a number of epiphanies.

  • I have never considered myself a web developer, but in just about every meeting I’ve had this past month, I’ve been hearing the same story: there’s a real need for really tiny websites that are affordable for the really tiny startups. By “startup”, I mean people who literally are just starting, and they need two things: a website and guidance. Starting stuff up is daunting. I know how to put a website on the Internet, so if that’s something I can help people with, I want to do it for a fair price.

  • I took a deep breath and accepted that I am, for all intents and purposes, a web developer for the next couple of months. With that focus, I am going to be diving into a lot of the current best practices on the web and package it for tiny startups. It’s not like the fancy large-scale museum interactives I have tended to pursue, While doing that stuff is fulfilling in the end, it’s possible to be just as fulfilled by doing simple stuff very well.

  • I really like helping people get started with stuff, so that’s where I should put my energy. From the design work I do with The Printable CEO Series, to the tutorials and technical how-to guides I write, to the people that I encourage directly in my day-to-day interactions…it all boils down to I like being part of the start of the story. After that, I like to see people make their own way to their unique conclusion. So why not specialize in making startup kits? I’m already doing it…I just didn’t have a good name for it.


p>All these recent insights have helped clarify the design side of my business model. The passive income side, which is hinging on the establishment of my Emergent Task Planner store, remains largely unchanged.

being involved in dreams that are larger than myself

The third guideline I mentioned earlier, being involved in dreams that are larger than myself, is relatively new. I think this is the guideline that will ensure personal growth and productivity in the years to come.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to talk to Wally Krapf, the founder of innovative whiteboard and filing products company Magnatag, on a visit to Upstate New York. Wally is one of those cagey guys who can size up a person with just a few sharp observations, and after talking for a bit he told me that my biggest hurdle was to “get outside of myself.” This bit of advice has been driving me nuts for years, but I think that the decision to get involved in dreams larger than myself might be the general idea. By larger than myself, I mean involving more than just my dreams, yet aligned with them.

In the past I have been reluctant to collaborate on projects because I wanted to retain a majority of control. Ostensibly I wanted control so I could set expectations (I hate disappointing people), but it has acted also to dampen collaboration. I don’t feel bad about that because I also know that there is a difference between dream and opportunity. A dream, in my personal definition, is something that I would find very fulfilling. An opportunity, however, is just a set of circumstances that could if taken lead to a hypothetically useful change in one’s life—whether you really want it or not. I think a good bit of procrastination is born of having many opportunities but few dreams. I’ve been making use of opportunities to find my dreams. It feels like I’m getting closer.

It’s only a few months until 2010, which is the year I wanted to be in a place where I’m independent enough to travel and work anywhere in the world. I still actually haven’t planned that in detail, so I’m listing that concern here to pick up on 10/10.

past articles in the 2009 series