2018 Goals Review 07: Winning in Hindsight

This month FLEW BY and I’ve been delayed in putting together my GHDR analysis. My impression is that it was a terrible month, but in hindsight I think I’ve reached an important milestone of acceptance that may reduce the frustration I have been feeling.

Super Fast Review of August

Last month’s review, I drastically reduced expectations of how much work I am capable of doing. I said I’d work on only two projects at a time each week, using a mental framework I dubbed “Themed Work Blocks”. I had hoped this would lead to improved focus and productivity, but it fell apart in the first week. My hypothesis was that unlike the previous month, I could not enforce my work blocks because I didn’t have control of my schedule. In the previous month, I shut out all distracting interactions with people and went into “crunch mode”, but last month was full of meetings and reactive scheduling that comes from that.

Since time blocking wasn’t working, I looked for another mental framework to serve as my anchor. I identified a concept I called the common good to shift my attention from “working in blocks” to “working for mutual benefit beyond the scope of a task list”. I thought this might work because I am value driven in my work, but need external reinforcement from people to be consistently productive. When external reinforcement is unavailable, that is when I seem to falter.

For week two, I rebooted “work blocks” to apply the “2 projects only” criteria with “the common good”, but I did not seem to succeed in maintaining focus. I was highly distracted, and perhaps did an even worse job. I tried further limiting my expectations during week three, designating 11AM to 2PM as my “core hours” and tracked success in my [core hour spreadsheet][acrual]. This had mixed results. On the plus side, I did rediscover a way to start difficult projects by valuing shallow work as being just as productive as deep work. You need BOTH for a project to work, but I had been considering shallow work as “unproductive” or “not real work”. However, I didn’t seem to be any more productive or focused.

General Observations

Here’s what I’ve observed about myself last month:

  • I am continuing to have difficulty focusing even on two projects at a time
  • I am continuing to have difficult starting complicated tasks (“deep work”) that I know will be tiring. However, I found that the “shallow work” approach to starting a project by skimming the material helps me get started; scheduling shallow work during my “core hours” seems effective, particularly if I can do it several times a week.
  • I liked having core hours. Not only did they add some structure to my day, they helped me maintain some momentum from day to day.
  • My core hours were only 3 hours a day, which seemed ludicriously low to me. That said, it seemed that the rest of my day was easily swallowed by other concerns such as household chores, stress decompression time, and social commitments.
  • I might actually be really stressed out, and more energy than I thought is going into maintaining calm and positivity.

Overall, it feels like I’m not spending enough time doing commplicated deep work. This is the work I think is necessary if I want to make meaningful progress on any of my big goals. To explain what I mean, let’s look at the last week of August’s #ACCOUNTABILITY list:

Tasks for Week of Sep 03
...
[X] simpler network addition
[X] invoice INQ
[3] 4x core hours 11AM to 2PM (start TUE)
[+] Email with Dad
[+] Local orgdev issues
[1] implement classroom session management 2X
[ ] skim SEEDS grant X2
[ ] define COMMON GOOD 1X
[ ] KM/SSG 2X
[ ] pineapple cakes 2X
...
[X] MON 1200 Labor Day picnic with friends
[X] MON review and post report 6.3
[X] TUE 1200 Jakob Accountability Meeting
[6] daily plank challenge 6X
[+] reorder ETP Notebooks
[ ] return soundbar via UPS
[ ] SUN write weekly report 6.4
[ ] SUN Groundhog Day Resolutions Review
...
/// NC September 15 delivery
/// TUE Schedule Brenda
/// Contest gas bill
/// Strong verbs. Short sentences

LEGEND: [ ]=planned [X]=planned+done [+]=reactive+done [~]=in-progress
LEGEND: !!!=late ///=remember { }=optional [-]=cancelled [?]=stalled
LEGEND: [.]=paused [:]=blocked [>]=deferred [/]=fail

My read of this list is that the “deep work” didn’t get done. These are grants, implementing a session management system, “self work” like defining “common good” and working on KM/SSG, and even the “fun” things like looking into making pineapple cakes. These are all multi-step exploratory projects or tasks, involving exploration of a problem space with no certain answers or guaranteed results. They promise to eat up my time without warranty or assurance that a quality outcome will come from my efforts.

Hypothesis: Am I Stressed-Out?

Now that I think about it, I might be more stressed-out than I think. If you were to meet me right now, I would probably appear outwardly calm and cheerful because I have a well-developed set of coping mechanisms and self-affirming life principles. What you might not see is just how much personal energy goes into maintaining that outward serenity.

This past month has been unusually high in stress, not just for myself but in the people around me. Some of it comes from the general weirdness in US politics and heightened levels of anxiety, which is triggering a sympathetic reaction in my friends. Some of my friends are going through some traumatic experiences, and one major support circle is going through a crisis that may destroy it. In my own life, I’m coping with my own ineffectiveness and deteriorating social connections while I am undergoing a major (if not THE major) personal life transition. Add to that the stress of completing a major project and also starting a new three-year commitment with a new team…maybe I am processing more than usual. I’d love to scream and let it all out, but I don’t think it would actualy do any good. So I hold it inside, and sometimes I spend a lot of time playing CONAN: EXILES to destress. I berate myself for spending so much time in such frivolous activity, but it probably is better than binge-eating (I’m on a diet) or taking up some kind of unhealthy vice.

A lot of this stress comes from just not knowing how things will turn out. As always, I am relentlessly optimistic that everything will work out. However, it’s difficult to maintain this position without an anchor or reference point as an external assurance that “I’m doing OK”. I tell myself that I’m doing my best and that I’ll figure it out, but I have been doing this for SO LONG…I have rarely heard it from others in a way that seemed reassuring in an authorative way. I’ve grown weary of reassuring myself, but I don’t trust assurance without credentials. I can accept the kindly assurance from those who are not “on the inside” of my struggles and feel the warmth of human connection, but it doesn’t help me alleviate my stress longer than the lingering warmth of a hug is forgotten.

If I can alleviate stress or find another way of assuring myself that I’m doing OK, maybe that will free up some energy that can go into doing the work. Let me give that a try.

Reframing my Goals

If I can alleviate stress or find another way of assuring myself that I’m doing OK, maybe that will free up energy for doing the work. First, let me look at my goals again by revisiting the accrual log spreadsheet; it has a “guidance” section with a summarized version of my Groundhog Day Resolutions goals.

Here’s what I started with in 2018:

  1. The Way of Dave – Be a better version of me, share and create my works!
  2. Work on the Neat Side Business – Making cool stuff, products, making money!
  3. Javascript Development – Get good at this, because it’s a highly useful technology and brings in money. Contracts for the next three years are already settled too.
  4. Share the Joy – Build community, connect with people, empower ourselves!

These aren’t concrete goals of the kind that you usually see on a resolutions list, like “lose 20 pounds”. I actually ALREADY lost 20 pounds this year, but it was the result of “The Way of Dave” when I experimented with the slow carb diet. These are really strategic goals that I believed would result in desirable but unpredictable benefit.

Takeaway I: Accepting that I’m Living my Goals

Here are three insights that seem relevant for reframing my goals:

  • I know that meaningful achievements are built on difficult uncertain work, but this knowledge doesn’t make it any easier because I dislike uncertainty in reward and commitment versus the quality of the outcome.

  • I seem to do my best work when I’m not thinking about time at all.

  • I seem to start doing that work when I’m unconcerned with efficiency or optimization. Getting to that state of mind as quickly as possible is my PERSONAL HOLY GRAIL of productivity.

I could debate whether these insights are accurate or not, but I think they’re true for me. It’s easier to just work with them. The CRAZY FOLLOWUP THOUGHT that comes from acceptance is that I might already be succeeding, and I don’t need to pin success on meaningful achievement as I’ve described it.

Let’s look at each goal one-by-one:

  • Scoring The Way of Dave: all of my writing this year on Groundhog Day Resolutions is a refinement of what my “way” is. My surprise journey into gender identity has come to closure, and I know what comes next. Although I have been craving more tangible results in the form of “projects completed”, my personal development this year has been (dare I say) outstanding.

  • Scoring The Neat Side Business: I’ve been displeased with my lack of progress, because I’ve been busy with Javascript Development and the Way of Dave. I can probably accept that it is just on the backburner.

  • Scoring Javascript Development: I’ve made several breakthroughs this year and am continuing to grow stronger. This is challenging work for me and perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m unable to do much else. Maybe I should be OK with it. I’m fortunate to be working on interesting educational research projects, and I want the code I make to be as robust as possible. I am pretty pleased with how my Javascript work is developing, and see myself growing stronger and stronger.

  • Scoring Sharing the Joy: I have been spending a lot of time not only with the Discord Chat Room, but also with my friends and their projects. I am becoming much more comfortable being a less-edited version of myself thanks to grappling with questions like, “what does gender have to do with my identity?” and really determining what is important to me.

While I can’t point to any specific epic wins, it has been a year of epic personal victories. I may FEEL like I’m losing every battle, but somehow I am still enjoying the freedom to pursue my goals outside the traditional work structure. I feel I grow a bit more powerful every day.

Takeaway II: Minimum Effective Efficiency

That said, there are key concerns I think I have. Let me think of a few off the top of my head:

  1. Having physical and financial security as I grow old
  2. Not being bored and alone
  3. Not creating an awesome, memorable master work
  4. Not letting anyone down by failing to deliver on my promises
  5. Not being competent enough to do what I want to do

After reframing my goals in Takeaway I, I no longer seem to care about the last four. The first one, having physical and financial security, IS a big concern; it’s why “Neat Side Business” is on my goals list.

However, my fear seems to have evaporated regarding the other items because:

  • I’m NOT bored and alone. I have friends and community that accept me. It isn’t 24-7 interaction, but I don’t need that. If I can schedule 1 good in-person interaction during the week, that is sufficient. I am awash in community!

  • While I have not created any master works this year, I AM in the position where I can pursue it in my contract work. It’s a blessing that I shouldn’t discount. Today, I know very precisely what I love and why I love it, and I can articulate my beliefs. That is certainly part of the work.

  • While I am always anxious about letting people down, I DO know what I can deliver because I actively monitor my skill level. While people may misunderstand what I can do for them, I also recognize IT’S NOT MY FAULT unless I fail to negotiate to a mutual understanding. Fortunately, I also happen to ENJOY this kind of negotiation because I can walk away. It isn’t something that I worry about anymore.

  • On a related note, I do sometimes worry about being perceived as incompetent. However, knowing what I know helps me from being an incompetent boob! And that’s OK enough for most people. My pursuit of trying to create MASTER WORKS, though they haven’t yet come to fruition, also ensure that incompetent boobness is less likely to creep in.

It is quite mystifying that I am fine with this today when yesterday I wasn’t. Perhaps I grew so used to assuming I was screwing up that I continued to hold that mindset long after I had acquired a minimum level of competence. This has resulted in the following changes:

  • Before, I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting the BIG THINGS DONE because I associated notable concrete achievement with “proof I was competent and productive”. If I wasn’t making a ton of concrete every day, the assumption was that I must be incompetent and unproductive.

  • Now, I see that I am not necessarily incompetent or unproductive. I’m in a position to pursue all my goals and have the capability to do so, but it will take time because I have so much stuff going on even if I think I don’t. Instead of being frustrated with the lack of concrete achievement, I can instead draw serenity from knowing I HAVE THE ABILITY to do what I want, BECAUSE I’ve achieved a minimum level of competence to adapt and learn new skills, buoyed by my previous experience.

Reframing Statements

Here’s my working summary of how I’m attempting to reframe my assessment:

  • “Living the Goals” is just as valid as than “Counting Hard Achievements”, so RELAX and carry on.

  • “Having ENOUGH Ability and Freedom” is my current state of being. I don’t have world class resources at my disposal, but I certainly have enough to continue to “live the goals” and have a good life.

I think these help reduce my anxiety which may free more personal energy to actually do the work of improving financial security, which is still super important as I start to slide into my 60s (!). Everything else, though, seems pretty good!

Other Stuff that Happened

I’ve already talked about random stuff in the last three weekly reports, so for this review I’ll just mention the highlights of the past two weeks:


stuffing face with local corntomato harvestorange cat

I’m off my diet this week because it’s my last chance to stuff my face with local fresh corn on the cob (above left) and eat all the tomatoes I can stand. My tomato plant, despite suffering from some blight and fungus, has produced some nice fruit this year (above middle) after a lovely summer keeping me company on my deck.

I also was taking the week off because my house guest had a serious surgery and I have been making sure he is OK (he can’t move his arms). That means taking care of his squeaky cat (above right) too.


paving pass 1sunsetting wildstarname changes

We had to move our cars off the parking lot for a week, as the condominium management is resurfacing everything in a mammoth project. I’ve been enjoying watching the machines do their thing (above left), though it’s been quite dusty and noisy at times.

I was saddened to hear that Wildstar, a game I enjoyed for several years, is finally being shuttered. It’s been a bittersweet week; I have been reviewing my old screenshots and found a picture of my main character Sri posing with a celebrity NPC out in the desert (above middle), one of many goofy screenshots I took while developing her character’s backstory for roleplaying purposes. This led indirectly to my own gender exploration when I realized my character storytelling was REALLY close to my heart, and maybe there was something to it. I took a step to start “trying on” the name for myself by changing my Starbucks nickname to Sri (above right). I find it quite amusing.


Hawaiian 1Hawaiian 2Hawaiian 3

It turns out that my house guest likes Hawaiian Pizza, which is pineapple and ham. He’s quite opinionated about it, and I was curious enough to try to make it on my pizza steel. We learned that adding a tiny amount of sweet ginger jam to the tomato sauce, along with basil, is a big win. Using the local pizza place as a benchmark “5/10”, my house guest ranked our experimental pies as high as an “8”. If that isn’t a great way to wrap the week, I don’t know what is.

Wrapping Up

In summary: I seem to be doing fine. While I’m not completing projects as fast as I once had hoped I could, maybe my goals were unrealistic to begin with. I’m not standing still.

This is what’s working:

  • Accountability in the Discord every week
  • Weekly Reviews and Assessments
  • Focusing on just a couple projects, and not striving for 100% intensity or efficiency
  • Trying to maintain Core Hours from 11AM to 2PM
  • Opportunistically taking the time to explore ideas as they pop up
  • Sharing my writing and time, being present with my friends and communities both online and IRL
  • Striving to share useful stuff, be it a pull request, blog post, email, food item, or what have you.

I’d still like to deliver some big new projects, and I am still bad at mustering the kind of singular focus that I think would be AMAZING, but maybe that is OK. I’ll continue to try…I am on the path I’ve chosen, and that is a true blessing despite the constant stream of setbacks that occur. If there is anything to be thankful for, it is that.

As for my daily routine, I’m still going to hold to two main projects only, as this seems to be what I can handle currently. The immediate priority is an upcoming business trip and fulfilling a major deliverable that technically is late.

Here’s what’s on the docket:

  • Project 1 are the Javascript contracts, which are very busy this month. I’ll have to learn a number of new technologies for the newest project while finalizing the older one.
  • Project 2 is KM/SSG, my knowledge management system under development. While the code system isn’t working, I AM using the folder structure to keep my documents. I’m writing this post, in fact, in the folder hierarchy using Visual Studio Code as my editor.
  • Opportunistic projects and social interactions will be scheduled as they arise. I’ll strive to maintain core hours every day to make progress.

I think this seems like a reasonable plan. We’ll see how I feel in a week.


Groundhog by Pearson Scott Foreman Here’s this year’s calendar:

DATE HOLIDAY DESCRIPTION
MON 1/1 New Year’s Day Start thinking about resolutions
FRI 2/2 Groundhog Day Make your resolutions. Assemble your peer group.
SAT 3/3 March 3 Review w/ group.
WED 4/4 April 4 Review w/ group.
SAT 5/5 Cinco de Mayo Review w/ group. Think celebratory, spring-like thoughts!
WED 6/6 June 6 Mid-Year Review w/ group. Optional break for summer.
SAT 7/7 Tanabata Star Festival Private Review. Make Wishes. Rededicate.
WED 8/8 Chinese Father’s Day Private Review. Plan for future completion.
SUN 9/9 September 9 Review w/ group. Three months left.
WED 10/10 October 10 Review w/ group. Two months left.
SUN 11/11 Veteran’s Day Review w/ group. A Day to be Grateful.
WED 12/12 December 12 End-of-year Review. Break for Holiday Madness.



About this Article Series

For my 2018 Groundhog Day Resolutions, I'm challenging myself to develop "gathering-style productivity" as I pursue the year's goals. You'll find the related posts on the 2018 Groundhog Day Resolutions page.