This is seven days late, but I have used the time to think more carefully about what it is I’m trying to define as a goal. After all, to have a resolution one must have an achievable goal.
After several days of this, feeling fogged and overwhelmed by so many competing theories, I have stopped to remind myself to take my own analytic medicine. The reason why I haven’t been able to make a set of achievable goals comes from the belief that the goals must be in alignment with my values, which then are used to create a set of constraints that ensure whatever goals I pick are well-suited to my skillset and personality. While that sounds like good thinking on paper, it turns out it might not be necessary.
In the last Groundhog Day Resolutions post on realigning my compass, I listed quite a few guiding principles/insights as part of the effort to recognize “good goals” for me. However, by the end of the day I still hadn’t come up with goals like, “make 10 cupcakes, sell them for $2.00 at next week’s bake sale.”
The reason why I’m blocked? Partly impatience with the entire process, but mostly it’s my tendency to want to have full understanding of something before I engage. I know that something’s missing, but to make progress despite this feeling I resorted to my “Acorn-a-Day” model of making progress. My Acorn system works by lowering expectations and collecting tangible results, which means progress is being made. If I’m lucky, I catch a whiff of a new opportunity and that provides enough energy to power through a more ambitious personal projects.
I love the Acorn analogy, but I have to remember that it’s a failure-mode process; while I’m not dead in the water, I don’t have the full power I know is available. And time is short: I am purposefully taking time to work on personal projects NOW before I become consumed on other projects later this year; I need to put the main system into place NOW, so I can continue to add to it throughout the year and achieve my goal of…well, I still haven’t really defined it, have I.
Authenticity in Identity
Objectively speaking, I know I tend to get wrapped up in thoughts about personal identity and value systems, primarily because there are so MANY options available. None of them had really hit home, though I’ve noticed that the same tasks–more content, more products, better experience–have been present in all the scenarios I was running in my head.
The particulars of my personal identity (“who I am”) and role (“what I do”) are important because it gives guidance to my writing voice. However, I’m missing key feedback to know whether I have focused: I don’t know how the audience relates to the identity and role that I’ve picked, and therefore I can’t directly assess it. If I can’t assess it, it’s difficult to feel confident about the choices I’m making with regards to communicating who I am, which leads to procrastination due to uncertainty. It also bothers me that I’m trying to adjust my voice to fit an audience, because it doesn’t strike me as being authentic.
After pondering this, I’ve come to a peculiar realization: establishing identity doesn’t matter. At first this seems counter-intuitive to me as a designer and writer, because having a clear grasp of identity makes effective characterization possible, which is a great way to engage an audience’s imagination. Secondly, I keep thinking about my “elevator pitch”, which sucks right now. I want people to grasp me quickly in a social setting so we can get on with a conversation to our mutual benefit. The unvocalized desire I have in both these cases is that I’m optimizing the communication to shape impressions to my benefit: I want to feel good about myself, establish a rapport with people, and feel like I have a place in the universe. That’s a pretty tall order, and it’s often unknowable.
While I do prefer to make deeper connections with people, I have to remember that this isn’t the way relationships really start. If you look at the first five minutes of any person-to-person interaction that is destined to blossom into a relationship, the pattern is the same: an initial simple interaction piques a deeper interest, which leads to the mutual discovery of shared values and interests. Over time, the deeper relationship forms. If it is based on truly compatible interests and values, and the participants are being honest with themselves and their peers, you have a genuine relationship. That’s the kind of relationships I try to form. I have sunk hundreds of hours into categorizing what my shared values and interest are, and so I am highly prepared to connect on that level. However, I don’t have control whether a person next to me has the same ones. The only control I have is whether my shared values/interests are OBSERVABLE and EASY TO ENGAGE.
Make sense? Let me put it another way: by focusing on explaining what people are seeing on my website, I’m literally letting the work speak for itself. The approach I’ve taken before is to develop a voice telling you what the work is supposed to be because I am an Artist-Creator-Writer-Programmer.
Goals without Values
With that out of the way, let me re-focus on describing what I want to do, without adding value statements or personal identity statements:
I have a single desire:
become a financially self-supporting creator of original, awesome goods.
The strategy to accomplish this is to improve the quality of davidseah.com and create products for sale. The website is already here, has some Google juice, and stores a mountain of unrefined material ready to be packaged.
There are three lurking pitfalls: what is “quality”, what is “davidseah.com”, and how are they related? Starting with “quality”, I note that the word itself is rife with personal associations:
- Quality meaning well-made and excellent. The kind of craftsmanship that stands up to scrutiny.
- Quality meaning useful. The kind of functional prowess that one can not do without.
- Quality meaning clever. The kind of solution that gets inside the design problem and cracks it open with insightfully-applied power.
- Quality meaning love. The kind of characteristics that get into your heart and make you happy.
That’s helpful in the abstract. To make it more concrete, I have to also know what “davidseah.com” actually is in the mind of people who come to visit. While I’d love to capture this in poetry, I’ll just state it without value descriptions like “excellent” or “useful”:
- It is a resource of productivity forms
- It has detailed articles on a wide variety of topics
- It describes ways to think about productivity and self-empowerment
Continuing, there are four reasons people come to davidseah.com.
- They got here looking for a process that solves a problem in the productivity or technical space through Google or third-party referrer.
- They got here looking for information about something I’ve written about through Google.
- They like the way I write about subjects I find interesting, including my personal posts, and subscribe.
- They monitor the website to spot new trends or aggregate news into other forms.
Again, I have tried to remove statements that try to justify why these things happen, because there’s the subtle thought that this bears well on me. Plus, it’s really speculation without running some kind of poll. So instead of guessing and speculating WHY (one of my favorite distractions), I’m focusing on just the WHAT, and optimizing that experience.
There is part of me that thinks that this is somehow all related to me as a person, but that’s a kind of thought trap that leads to paralysis and anxiety. If you have ever found yourself asking, “what will people think of me?”, you’ll invariably hold back. While it’s true that davidseah.com ultimately reflects on me, I think it will reflect better if I improve the experience for people getting here. It’s not about me at all then, at least not directly. In other words, asking myself constantly, “oh, does this reflect well on me?” helps me be careful with my image, which doesn’t produce anything but a fat head. Also, I can’t measure what people think of me, which just leads to more unproductive guessing. I can, however, measure rising web traffic. And making a better functional website, with good original content, is what drives traffic. I know I can feel good about that.
With that settled, there are four positive outcomes that align with my goal of becoming an independent creator:
- Visitor downloads something, bookmarks site as resource.
- Visitor stumbles upon other interesting things, bookmarks site as source of energy.
- Visitor shares a link to something they like with someone else, spreading word of mouth.
- Visitor finds something to buy and buys it.
The first three points are marketing, and the last point is monetization. The successful realization of any of these outcomes depends on the ease of the visitor’s experience. If they can’t tell whether they’ve found they’re looking for in 1-3 seconds, they’ll bounce away to the next result in their Google search.
I said earlier that my goal is to become a “financially self-supporting creator of original, awesome goods”.
The initial strategy was making useful things that people can use to improve some aspect of their workflow (done) and retain a core group of people who visit regularly (done). This describes my past five years of blogging, which didn’t start out as a “strategy” but is useful to reframe in this way for the purposes of planning the next stage.
The next stage is about building the website to a system for self-sufficiency.
- Create resource centers around the types of content available (in process). Concentrating resources in this way leads automatically to increased web traffic. It is measurable through web analytics.
- Old content that has value can be made more discoverable to improve the chance of new visitors stumbling upon something that speaks deeply to them, increasing the number of shared links with groups of like-minded people who find value in what they find here. This is measurable through incoming email, comments, and non-website referrer links coming into my web analytics package.
- New content will be written to strengthen the voice of the site, which centers around self-empowerment through the dissemination of knowledge and practical techniques. This statement is the functional side to the excellence and awesomeness website mission I came up with a few weeks ago. I think this will be measurable if I see an increase in comments and RSS subscribers (though RSS may be on the decline).
- Existing products for sale, advertising, and affiliate links that I believe are aligned with the core mission will be deliberately placed marked clearly in sections that I reserve for them. The website’s ability to work as a selling platform is measurable through click-through reports and revenue logged. I also may play with AdWords and affiliate marketing to learn how to promote specific pages on the website. This is all new stuff to me.
- Supporting documentation for existing products will also improve adoption and perhaps sales, because there’s a big need for it. The existing Printable CEO forms, for example, developed as personal experiments over the past five years.
- Finally, developing new products is the direct fulfillment of part of my goal. If I can consistently make $1000/month from all these activities combined, I will consider the goal fulfilled and will buy myself an iPad 2.
These are the main activities that I will focus on for 2011. In the meantime, my identity statement is now derived from the goal statement:
I’m an independent designer of productivity tools and other knowledge-based products. For example, I make cool-looking time-tracking forms, calendars, and daily planners that you can download from my site or buy on Amazon.com. I also write about empowering myself to be a better creative person, covering topics like design, programming, tools, and processes.
This year’s Groundhog Day Resolutions Posts: