GHDR Review 5: Mid-Year Adjustments, Focusing Process

"Happy Groundhog Day"

THE JULY REVIEW

It’s summer, and it’s been hard to focus. Other than the muggy heat, I have been longing for simpler days and simpler goals; the ones I have on my plate seem overly-complicated, the product of the two-headed management ogre that, with one side barking out short-term orders and the other extolling me to consider long-term strategic impact of my actions, makes my daily existence rather unpleasant. Oh, the ogre means well—getting stuff done will move me closer to days where I will enjoy greater freedom—in the meantime it’s about as welcome as the thought of icy roads brownly-laced with mounds of dirty snow.

So it’s probably good that I have these monthly Groundhog Day Resolution reviews, as I was in danger of falling into a major rut. If you’re just tuning in, Groundhog Day Resolutions (GHDRs) are my version of New Year Resolutions, delayed by a month plus one day on February 2nd, and reviewed thereafter on March 3, April 4, May 5, up until December 12. The great advantage of GHDRs is the continuity that results from monthly review.

Anyway, today is the halfway point through 2013. I’m feeling a little lost, so it’s a good time to review the goals I had set in the beginning of the year, and compare them to how I am feeling now. Read onward!

Reviewing The Year Goals

Here’s the highfalutin thoughts I had at the beginning of 2013:

Mission Statement Feb 2:

I want to succeed by becoming as excellent as I can be, producing original works and seeding the world with them to see what comes back. To create, and connect, at the highest level I can.

Guiding Directives Feb 2:

  • Strive toward excellence and mastery in what I am doing.
  • Learn how to make wonderful things, by first learning how to make sucky things.
  • Share what I make and what I know with like-minded, self-empowered, conscientious, kind, competent people. That’s the primary audience.
  • Build the means for converting ideas into tangible, shareable goods and bringing them to market for the people who can use them. That’s the secondary audience.
  • Be fully present in every personal transaction, as conduit for the values expressed above.
  • Most of all: be visible and accessible, and be willing to fail on the world stage.

Wow, I was filled with such hope and cheer on Groundhogs Day! Halfway through the grind, I’m feeling a lot less charitable as the heat has shrivelled my heart into a blackish lump of impatience; I just want things to get done so I can start to do something more fun. So here is a revised version, which is more steeped in the experiences I’ve been writing about in the past five months:

Mission Statement July 7:

I want to be mentally stimulated and make stuff I can be proud of, and have both time and money to do this at the highest level I can.

Guiding Directives July 7:

  • Be a bright spot on the Internet. Don’t forget to have a gift shop.
  • Make stuff, constantly
  • Hang out with people who are also making stuff.
  • Build the platform, by any means, bit by bit, that helps show more stuff better.
  • See uncertainty as opportunity, and push through difficulty to see what is on the other side.

While the July 7 rewrite is fundamentally the same in its intention, it’s more action than people oriented. I’m already sharing with people, which is an important part of my whole creative endeavor, but this must be balanced with action. That means, as unpleasant as I find the idea, locking myself up in isolation and working through the uncertainty of turning new ideas into something that can sustain me. Fortunately, I have made a lot of progress in changing my mindset toward such work; more on that below.

Reviewing Last Month’s Progress

Now let’s look at last month’s goals, which are a subset of the year’s goals. They were:

  • Make international fulfillment a reality for July – almost ready!
  • Reorganize digital downloads section – didn’t happen
  • Refresh calendar products – didn’t happen
  • Connect with communities – happened

Making the international fulfillment (that is, receiving payment and shipping internationally) system work took up a lot of time, though in total it may have only been 5 or so full days of thinking and experimenting. But it’s really really close; I have 60 ETP notebooks in receiving at Shipwire’s Pennsylvania warehouse, and I have a rudimentary Shopify store ready to start selling things. There’s just a bit more photography and setup I need to get on, and then theoretically I’m ready to go. It isn’t apparent to me just how it will change my operation, and because of that it’s something of a chore to work on, but I am certain that something intriguing will result from this. It’s a matter of having faith in my abilities to respond when it does happen.

The other products, sadly, didn’t happen. Between client work and connecting with communities, my modest mental reserves were tapped out. Connecting with communities, which is sort of a lumping-together of social and entrepreneurial interests, is massively draining. I think I will have to cut down on this a bit, but I have to work-through the new commitments that have come from this. I’ve volunteered to do some work for one of the local non-profit Arts organizations, seeing if I can help them with some website-related organization. This is going to be a time sink, but in return I’ll learn something about how artists think and work in organizations.

The Nuts and Bolts

Here’s what I spent my time on, based on reviewing my Trello board(s), Calendar, and Email:

  • completed productivity reboot
  • reviewed productivity reboot
  • add Scrivener to workflow
  • blog post: 14 blog posts
  • downgrade health insurance
  • maintain gym routine
  • dealt with exploding Apple battery
  • added new gallery feature to friend photo blog
  • added blog template to friend painting blog
  • moved furniture in friend studio
  • made responsive website w/ twitter bootstrap
  • Skype consultations
  • attended artist organization meetings
  • volunteer for artist organization IT improvements
  • talked to amplify about fulfillment and merchify
  • reviewed shopify, shipwire
  • got accounting set up with CPA
  • figure out wholesale costs and fulfillment
  • 4 year review of profitability with Amazon
  • grew tomatoes
  • set up Taiwanese Food Page
  • Taiwan Food Blowout
  • spa day
  • fixed iPad sim card problem
  • visited, joined Museum of Printing
  • played Bioshock Infinite
  • IKEA trip
  • dinner with friends
  • two family visits over two weekends
  • got rid of chairs
  • helped take down trees with chainsaw

It’s worth mentioning that there was quite a lot of writing spread across several major pieces. Writing is how I think, and so writing blog posts helped set my focus and establish some peace of mind. If there is one that stands out most in my mind, it is the article about my productivity reboot conclusion, which details the insights I gained from 4-5 weeks of intense self-observation and reflection.

Another significant milestone that is buried in the list above is successfully maintaining the 3 times a week gym habit (excepting holiday weekends). I’ve been doing a minimum of 15 minutes of high-intensity cardio on various elliptical-style machines, getting my heart rate up to a level that is on the edge of what I can maintain. As my focus has been on conditioning endurance, I haven’t paid attention to weight or adjusted my diet, but I have increased sustainable heartrate by about 25% over the 10-or-so weeks I’ve been going. I’m now at the point where I can start really sweating as I expand the routine. Resistance training, perhaps? Summertime sports?

Monthly Assessment

In hindsight, it’s been a pretty busy month, though I didn’t think so at the time I was living through it. I was very aware of the days where I didn’t get much done at all versus the days that I spent 8 hours hammering away at code. This perhaps was due to the increased amount of social connection I was doing. I need a lot of “alone time” after every excursion; this is detailed in this post about apportioning my day. They are enjoyable and rewarding activities, and are necessary for keeping a fresh outlook on the world, but they have a significant attentional cost.

I’ve been finding it easier to start less-attractive projects, thanks to insights regarding uncertainty and happy bubble time. By embracing uncertainty instead of pushing it away, I’ve found that I’m able to start projects much more easily; once in the moment of complaint and anxiety and really being there, my mind naturally looks for things to do. It’s the same thing I do when I’m working with other people, applied to myself. There is always a way. And looking for the “mentally stimulating” element of any project tends to make them more interesting. For me, that’s converting a chore into an experiment, and indulging my desire for the “best” information to drive the process of making. Additionally, I allow myself the time it takes to do that exploration instead of berating myself for being too slow.

Despite this improvement in project starting, I find that there’s still the problem of energy: I can only initiate reliably if I’m well-rested and able to focus my attention. At most, I’m able to initiate maybe 4-5 different tasks a day when it’ just me. On some days, it’s only one task. I’m not sure what is causing the variation, but I would guess it is the number of people I have to talk to about their concerns. I try to schedule meetings on one or two days a week, leaving the rest of the days open for my own work, but lately it’s been getting a bit out of control. I may have to let go of more opportunities until I can get the important product-focused goals out of the way. Since these tasks bring in money and the others generally do not, I think I need to focus on the money now so I can have the freedom later. As much as I hate to miss-out on opportunities, I can’t let them disrupt the handful of critical path projects. These are work that must be done.

A second problem I’m facing is the sheer number of tasks. To get anything done, I actually have to tune-out everything else and allow myself to work on only one things at a time. However, selecting which task out of dozens and dozens is an operating procedure I haven’t yet mastered. Technically, I do have a tool that provides a methodology for this; that’s the Concrete Goals Tracker (CGT), but it takes more time to come up with the guiding rules that make the tool effective in a particular context. That means I need to define the context and come up with the rules, which itself requires that I have a good grasp of the principles that lead to success given that context. The CGT in existence right now is geared toward freelancer designers looking for business; what I need to do is to create a list for a freelance product developer that has to balance a different set of priorities.

So let me summarize the above:

  • Limit meetings severely in July
  • Let more opportunities go by, and don’t fret about them. Particularly if they are very labor intensive
  • Design a task selection and execution system based on the current CGT.

These will be applied to the following monthly goals:

  • Make international fulfillment a reality
  • Reorganize digital downloads section to help increase digital sales
  • Refresh calendar products to maintain current product relevance
  • For community connection, shift from meeting new ones to getting some work done for the ones I’ve already met, and close off those projects.

I think that’s it for now, as far as “work” is concerned.

There’s still a lot of other things I could be doing, like playing video games and investigating programming tools, but these will happen anyway. There’s no need to schedule that time in as a whole separate project list, because such exploration is built-in to my daily operating rules as described here. What I know now is that it’s OK to get just a few of those major things done a day as a baseline.

This has me thinking about a new weekly tracking form; the structure comes from major goals and the many small tasks that they are comprised off, wrapped up with daily continuity that demonstrates a commitment to one’s dreams.


Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2013

Here are other posts about Groundhog Day Resolutions for the 2013 season.

  • 02/02 Kickoff - Setting 30 Products in 30 days.
  • 03/03 Review - The Aftermath of 30 Products in 30 Days; What's Next?
  • 04/04 Review - New Website, Increasing Opportunity
  • 05/05 Review - Winding down a long chain of external commitments, getting ready for a hopefully-productive month.
  • 06/06 Review - Reducing Friction from internal struggle, picking the winning attitudes and tasks that produce tangible assets.
  • 07/07 Review - Mid-year Review, Focusing Process
  • 08/08 Review - An unexpected vacation for me, Relaxed Progress Made
  • 09/09 Review - Slow progress made, but that's OK; I'm accepting the slow and mindful way!
  • 10/10 Review - After a month of experimenting with early rising, I realize that prioritizing my mission of creative independence might actually be what I need to do. Duh.
  • 11/11 Review - Not much progress made on Creative Independence, but I have attained a sense of surety and calm about what needs to be done--and how to approach it--while maintaining balance between external commitments and personal goals by accepting that they take time and that's OK.
  • 12/12 Review - The year ends without closure, but looking back I see that I've made progress. More importantly, I believe that I'm generally on the right path.