Preparing for 2022, a new system

I often spend some of this week each year doing a retro on the previous year and planning what next year will look like.

Since the pandemic started, along with accepting the impairments I’m working with because ADHD brain gonna brain, I’ve seen my plans fall apart spectacularly, to the point where the idea of setting year-long goals feels like a mistake before I’ve even started.

Time to try something new

I’m currently in the process of creating a new system for myself. There are still some 2022 goals, but they’re based on work already in progress. I’ve shifted my perspective to looking at things on a quarterly retrospective cadence, with monthly check-ins to summarize what I’ve done.

I’ll also be picking my practice of weekly focus intentions back up along with the daily developer journal and personal diaries that have proven their worth over the long haul.

The biggest question I’m asking myself as part of this new goal system is this:

What if I assume there will be failures?

Having my brand of neurodiverse brain means I’m going to get pulled off track regularly. Rather than feel like a loser about it, how can I embrace failure as an accepted state and reap a different kind of harvest?

An example quarterly retro question that incorporates failure as a possibility:

Did I make progress on my goals?

If the answer is yes:

  • Do your goals still have momentum?
  • Do you want to change anything?
  • Does the next quarter have space for this?

If the answer is no:

  • What did you focus on instead?
  • Was it of use?
  • What goal did this apply to, if any? If it didn’t, is there a need for a new goal?

Value-based and sustainable goal setting

I do have a few 2022 goals. They are specific but broad and build on work that I’ll be doing anyway or already has so much momentum that it’s an easy win. For example, I’m working toward becoming a Level 4 software engineer. This is something already I’ve been working on for about half of 2021 and also has support from my manager and others. The work I need to do to get there will be more targeted in the coming year, but is generally a deeper version of what I do regularly anyway.

In addition to those sustainable goals, I’m shifting most of the goals I would usually list for the year to be “ongoing”, with no expectation of when they’ll be completed or how much progress I’ll make on them in the coming year. Things like “organize my digital life” or “publish a new book” are highly specific, but also take a lot of energy and focus. Getting one aspect of my digital life cleaned up or getting one story ready to publish in 2022 would be huge wins viewed through the lens of marginal gains.

As part of getting this all set up, I’ve stepped back and made a list of my values, based on a compiled list created by James Clear. I have a few more than the suggested 5 value limit (9 core and 9 secondary, to be exact), but it was interesting to think through what these values mean to me and how they manifest in my goals and work.

I also made a list of my particular interests, things that are always with me that I keep coming back to over and over that provide meaning and shape to my world. I even started a hobbies list because I find enrichment important. It’s satisfying to have a few things in my life (coloring, building models, watching baseball, etc.) that are there purely for the pleasure they bring. These lists form the core of who I am and what’s important to me outside of my career and work.

The new setup

There are a few tools I’ll be using to manage this system in the coming year:

  • Habitica and Trello integrated with Zapier to manage my daily tasks, task inbox, and nitty gritty planning. This gets reviewed and cleaned up weekly.
  • Obsidian as my digital notebook (dev journal, commonplace book, monthly summaries). This holds the majority of my daily thoughts, achievements, notes, etc.
  • A paper list of my values, hobbies and interests, pinned somewhere visible (this is also stored in my commonplace book to have it at hand)
  • A paper weekly focus journal based on PEMS (practical, emotional, mental, spiritual) plus project specific intentions with a post-week reflection.
  • A yearly calendar for mapping out holidays, vacations, and LSQ planning.

Once a quarter, I’ll be sitting down to review my progress and plan the next block. The first quarterly review will use the following:

  • A large pad to mind-map and scribble notes
  • Printed copies of the monthly summaries
  • My values, hobbies, interests lists

I’ll ask myself a few questions:

  • Are my values, interests, and hobbies still of use? Do they enrich my life?
  • Do I need to change anything about those lists? You can add or subtract, both are fine!
  • Is the work I’m doing still in line with my values and interests?
  • What progress have I made on my annual and ongoing goals? Are these goals still valid?
  • Did I get off track anywhere? If I did, do I need to change something or do I just need to lay new track elsewhere?

Asking these questions will ensure the work I’m doing is in alignment with what and how I want to work as well as what I want to work on, providing me the best chance of having the energy and focus I need to do good work. I accept that things may change and this cadence allows me to adapt and update my own expectations for myself.


My main goal with all of this is to create a system that is flexible and dynamic, a method that keeps me on track with my larger vision for my life while also allowing me to adapt my goals to my energy and focus rather than trying to adapt my focus and energy to my goals.

The best part is that every three months I get to assess the system itself and determine if it’s working or if there’s a change needed for whatever my reality looks like at that time. I look forward to trying it out and am very interested in seeing where I’m at come mid-March.

On writing personal decision records

I have a few things in my life that I am having trouble making decisions on. None of them are life-altering, but they’re small things that have some daily impact.

Workona is a great example. I’ve been using it for a couple months and really dig it. It’s going to a subscription model as it comes out of beta and I need to decide if this is worth it to me to pay for or scale back and use the free version that’s more limited.

As I’ve been doing over the last few years, I’m looking to the skills and process I’ve learned as a software engineer to tackle this problem. As an experiment, I’m going to try out making a form of architectural decision record for some of my personal choices.

As the choices I’m thinking about revolve around tools and productivity-oriented processes in my life, making ADRs seems like a natural choice. It likely seems a bit analytical, but for me it makes sense to get my thoughts down in a more concrete format. Having them stored in a notebook so I can come back to them later and see if my thoughts on things have changed would also be helpful.

Time to set up a folder in Obsidian and make some decisions. The first one is going to be pretty meta and common: an ADR on choosing to use ADRs.


A reclamation of that which I am not done with yet

As I think about writing zines again and creating a few games, I find myself thinking about visual language. I used to have a very defined graphic style, but I haven’t done much creative design work over the last decade. While there have been book covers and typography work, not much that was purely creative, bordering on art.

The zines and other personal projects I’m thinking of working on would benefit greatly from some more intentional design work. As a bonus, it’s a chance to stretch muscles that are long atrophied.

Part of me considered looking around and seeing what the kids are up to these days and trying to evolve my style to be more “modern” and up to date. But when I start thinking seriously about that, my heart is not happy. I like my old style and, as we’ve been saying often around my house, this is something I’m not done with yet. I still feel like it has value and use.

I might do some exercises, play with things a bit, and see if I can find all my old photoshop brushes and textures, etc. I want to see if I can reclaim this style, in particular:

It’s not what you see much anymore in today’s world, obsessed as designers nowadays are with minimalism. It’s still holding onto a piece of the early aughts grunginess, with my own spin on what feels “right”.

I opened up my Dribbble account for the first time in eons and I am pleasantly surprised by the work I found there. It may not be the cream of the crop, but I can see what I was reaching for at the time. I still find my voice in there.

I look forward to reclaiming this kind of work, reclaiming my visual voice, and seeing what I have left in the tank. I suspect it’s still quite full and that does make my heart happy.


Digital gardening for myself

On my habitual Sunday morning drive I spend a lot of time thinking. It’s my “out of the house” treat for the week, just me in the car going over hill and dale, waving to horses. I rarely even put music on. The only destination is my favorite convenience store for coffee.

This morning I was thinking about how pleased I am that I’ve got my notes and writing organization project well underway. Obsidian has helped considerably with that, as well as the surprisingly robust export tools of the various apps I was using before. While I still have a few questions to iron out (I do still like Scrivener for various things, organizing the actual structure of the folders), the bulk of the notes have been moved over. Now it’s down to organizing, a simple drag and drop between folders task.

Another phase of this digital organization project is looking at my bookmarks. So many times I run across something amazing or cool and I want to save it for later and share it out with people, but it just ends up lost among the 3,600+ bookmarks I’ve carried with me for literal decades now.

In thinking about woolgathering I reminded myself that I created the site to get back to curation, to go deeper into thoughts I have, and not for anyone else, but for myself. Sure, I’m sharing that stuff publicly, but the public aspect makes it handy to share out when I want to or am asked to. The important part of that site is that to me it’s not a site at all. It’s a Obsidian instance on my computer, with all that lovely interconnectedness going on.

So I’m embracing curation, I’m treating my digital garden like a garden. That includes pruning and cleaning and watering. In the end, sure I’ll have some things I can share with people, but that’s not really what it’s about.

I’m old enough to not be concerned about chasing followers. I frankly don’t care if anyone reads my newsletter or this post or anything else I produce. It’s really freeing that outside of my day job and Luna Station work, no one even cares what I’m doing. In this new internet, that’s a blessing.

So I’m grabbing my digital hoe and rake and I’m doing some spring cleaning. If you’re reading this, thanks for stopping by.

Sort, process, collate, enjoy

The sorting and cataloging of my stuff has begun. We’ve got to bring everything home from the storage unit (aka stuff I haven’t seen in 3 years) and I want to have the things currently in the house organized while it’s still manageable.

  • I have a LOT of reusable bags, backpacks and totebags. 😮
  • I have a lot of tschotches, which make my space feel personal and cozy, but I’m not ready to display yet.
  • I have so, so many bits of paper ephemera and journals and notebooks
  • We’re not even gonna talk about all my computer bits and bobs

There’s a lot more to come home from the storage unit. Mostly books, which have a clear place to go, but also toys from when I was a kid and some other things that…frankly, I don’t even remember what because it’s been too long.

To tackle this, I’m starting by sorting by category and that has me stepping back and asking what I want to have easy access to and what’s okay to shove a bit further back in the attic.

My big cabinet holds supplies for various crafting and art projects, but I’m gonna reconfigure it to hold high priority stuff in general. For example, there’s no point in having a huge box of wool in there when I can have my backup hard drives stored there instead. The big wool box will be easy enough to pull out of storage when I want to work on that kind of project, where the drives I need very regularly.

A spreadsheet would be useful for keeping an inventory, but well-labeled boxes will do just fine for now. I want to be sure the physical items are organized. Digitizing can wait. Keeping like with like for once will also help so I need to acquire some smaller boxes. The last couple of moves happened under duress so there was a lot of “just shove whatever fits into the box”. Now is the time I can refocus on measured sorting and storage. It makes the piles of boxes in my spaces feel less scary.

The end goal here is to make sure that I know what I have so I can enjoy it and use it. Just like getting a shelf for my comic book boxes, making things more accessible makes them useful and enjoyable, otherwise, why have it? The stuff I have does “spark joy” when I have access to it. Time to make that access just a bit easier.

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020

Okay. The work week is officially over until late Monday morning. I can switch gears now as the 2019 shut down/2020 restart process is coming into view. I’m excited to review the last year and see what I’ve gleaned from this rotation around the Sun. I know I didn’t achieve many of my goals, but that’s not really the point of setting them, if I’m honest.

I’m slowly developing a process over the years, it follows this general pattern:

  • First, work through a couple yearly reflection workbooks to take stock
  • Based on what I learn from that, determine the practical and aspirational goals for the year
  • Then finish up by doing some practical maintenance

The maintenance tasks will help me konmari my life a bit and make even the aspirational goals more possible:

  • Close out all browser tabs across machines, bookmark/pocket the good stuff
  • Run backups on all current devices
  • Organize physical journals/notebooks so they’re easy to grab
  • Catalog current tools (everything from goodreads to what I use to send out newsletters) and determine what can be streamlined/left behind
  • Organize projects both current and future in Trello so I can pick them up and put them down at will without losing my place

This isn’t all going to get done in the next couple of days. It’s more of an all-January kind of deal. I may document some of this process, mostly for my own records, but in case someone else finds it useful, too.

Input / Output

I read through “Deep Work” by Cal Newport this weekend. Admittedly, most of it was a skim as I didn’t need the hard sell that deep, focused work for extended periods of time is the best way to get real, valuable things accomplished. For anyone that has been stuck in shallow work for their career, that stuff is probably really eye-opening.

For me, the second half is where I found the most value. That’s where the practical application advice lives and I took a fair number of notes as I worked my way through it. I’ve included them all below, in case they might be of use to someone else.

For now, I’ve started with getting up significantly earlier and spending the first couple of hours of the day in what I’m terming “deep work”. For me, that means solid time focused, without distractions from family or the internet. The work itself may not be particularly deep, but it will definitely move things forward in the work I’m doing as well as clear the way ahead for deep work to come.

I’ve set down some clarified professional and personal goals, as well as what activities will help me work toward reaching them.

I’m now assessing my network tools to see if any culling can be done. It’s possible that the focus and increased discipline I’m developing will be enough for now.

I’m also working with the questions: What does “deep work” mean to me and what does “shallow work” mean as well?


Deep Work notes

Be patient. It will take time to develop this as a skill.

Deep work pushes you cognitively to your limits. Fatigue is inevitable if you don’t train it like a muscle.


  • Where you’ll work and for how long
    You don’t want an open-ended slog.
  • How you’ll work once you start
    Setting a metric (words written, feature complete, etc) can be helpful.
  • How you’ll support your work
    Be organized and ensure the environment and tools you need are readily available.

Experiment with the ritual if it’s not working. It’s a big deal to develop deep work.

Sometimes grand gestures (renting a hotel room) can help.

Focus on the wildly important goals. Use a weekly review to keep yourself accountable.

Do a formal shut down of work at the end of the day.

  • Downtime aids insights
  • Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
  • The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

Shutdown should include setting up a list of the next day’s tasks.

Embrace boredom

The ability to concentrate deeply is a skill that must be trained.

Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.

Schedule in advance when you’ll use the internet (social media, entertainment, etc).

1. This strategy works even if your job requires lots of internet use.
2. Regardless of how you schedule internet blocks, you must keep the time outside them internet-free.
3. Scheduling internet use at home as well as work can improve your concentration training.

You must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.

Working like Roosevelt

High intensity bursts of focus can help you accomplish a lot. Set a timer.

Start with once or twice a week and use a specific goal and deadline.

Meditate productively

Walking to focus on a single deep problem or task.

Act mindfully but instead of clearing your thoughts, keep them focused singularly.

Once or twice a week for this at first.

Be wary of distraction and looping thoughts.

Stretches your deep thinking.

Quit social media

The craftsman approach to tool selection:

Identify the core function that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Apply the law of the vital few to your internet habits.

  • Identify the main high-level goals in your professional and personal life. These goals should not be overly specific.
  • For each goal, list the top two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. These can be more specific, but should not be one-time activities.
  • Consider the network tools you use. Ask if each has a substantially positive, substantially negative, or little impact on your activities.
  • Keep the tool only if it has positives that outweigh its negatives.

The Law of the Vital Few:

In many settings, 80% of a given effect is down to just 20% of the possible causes.

Stop using services for 30 days then ask:
1. Would the last month be better if I had used the service?
2. Did people care if I was using it?

If no to both, then quit using it.

Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself. Put thought into your leisure time.

Drain the shallows

Deep work should be built up. An hour or two, but likely no more than 4, with the remainder for more shallow tasks.

Schedule your day by blocks of time and adjust as needed. This isn’t about constraint, but thoughtfulness.

Quantify the depth of every activity.

Shallow work:

Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much value in teh world and are easy to replicate.

How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college grad with no special training in my field to complete this task?

Create a shallow work budget

How much time (by percentage) should be spent on shallow work?

30-50% in general.

Be conscious about accepting new obligations.

Become hard to reach after hours and during blocks of deep work.

Documentation, studying, and making things “easy”

I spent the last two days reading every inch of the React documentation.With that completed, it’s time to open up the Redux docs and start the process all over again.

This is not easy. Getting the focus together to read through these things is challenging, at least for me. They’re also complicated technical docs, even if well-written.

But I know from past experience that this is worth doing. No, I don’t expect to actually absorb all of what I’m reading. That level of studying would take a lot more that two days. I’m not being tested on this, so the purpose of the work is different than someone in school.

I just need to know where the information is so I can find it later. There’s a lot to be said for being exposed to information. What I can do is file the reference away in my brain somewhere. When an issue comes up while I’m working, it’s likely I’ll have some tendril of memory surface and remind me where I can find the information I need.

This kind of immersive exposure has a couple other benefits. I can come back and revisit the docs later and absorb a bit more each time. I can also use this experience as a stepping stone for deepening my knowledge as I seek out other resources that expand on the concepts. Better questions with more thorough vocabulary also becomes possible now that I’ve got a more solid foundation.

I’ve made things, if not actually easy and at hand, at least more within reach.

Insomnia and Getting Stuff DONE

Insomnia since 4am means I’ve gotten some stuff done and it’s not even 9 yet. I’m all prepped for my blog staff’s meeting later today, which means I got a bunch of small fixes done on the redesign and assessed the status of various projects for the next month or two.

Yesterday I finished my first little react project to the point where I’m calling it DONE as in Cult of Done and moving on to other things. I left a todo list on the readme so I can go back and clean stuff up later, but I’ve hit the law of diminishing returns for a learning project. Nothing I have left to work on there will help me learn anything new, or rather, anything I would learn I can do more efficiently as part of a different project.

You can fork that project, by the way, if you want to set up your own link directory. Check the readme for details.

Today I’m going to make a study day. I’m working through the documentation for React and Redux, which is going much smoother now that I have some experience under my belt. I might open Cuppa again and figure out next steps for that. It needs a real backend which will likely be in Node. MERN stack tutorials are in my future.

Last night I used Library Time to start poking at my next writing project. Notion seems like it will work for my needs, though I spent most of the time shuffling real pieces of paper around. I have a full binder of various attempts at wrapping my head around what this world looks like and who the characters are and what story I’m trying to tell. It’s been twelve years since I started the project and I’ve changed considerably (along with the rest of the world) in that time.

My first job is seeing what I have to work with, hence the paper shuffling. There’s a treasure trove of raw material. Somewhere in there is the heart of the story.

Career thoughts and being honest with myself

I seem to persistently waffle on my career. Yesterday it all felt so clear. A path from Individual Contributor to Tech Lead to Engineering Manager. Do it with Rails and JS. Be there in the next five years. I already have 8 years in the industry, this isn’t unreasonable.

Why does it feel so impossible and like the wrong track for me today? I had a lot of trouble focusing yesterday and that’s the likely culprit for my hesitation today. If I feel like I’m being productive, then I feel like I’m succeeding and getting somewhere. But by who’s definition of success and productivity?

For me, success in the day-to-day looks like flow. I’m feeling most productive and successful when I get a flow going. But that’s near impossible to come by with programming because of all the stopping and thinking and logic involved.

I need to recouch what success means here, without flow. Is it acquiring knowledge? Is it gaining understanding and facility with the language or framework? I think that may be a key. If that’s the key to getting good and being productive, by my personal standard, then how do I acquire that? How do I fit in that work along with everything else on my plate?

More importantly, how do I do so consistently and with joy?