2021 Q3 Review and Q4 Planning

Watching sunset with grandma

I gave myself a D this quarter. It was a tough quarter where I struggled against myself a lot. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, however, and am feeling ready to break through in Q4!

Here’s the lowdown:

  • 📈 Midana’s closed testing phase has grown to 100 users, and feedback continues to be positive, though scaling up testing proved more difficult than anticipated.
  • 💸 At least one Midana monetization pathway appears to be showing early promise with 25+% of users opting to potentially give up 10% of their lottery earnings in return for services. Scaling this pathway requires training users on a new behavior, however, and no revenue has been generated yet.
  • 🛠 I’ve been preparing Midana for launch to the general public. Last thing to do is overhaul the UI/UX to create a polished experience I can be proud of delivering. I’m targeting a launch date in November.
  • 🤕 I struggled to maintain a consistent level of productivity for Midana in Q3 despite having a launch date in sight.
  • 🙅‍♂️ I turned down a few potential opportunities for consulting gigs so that I can remain focused on delivering a quality product.
  • 🏝 I took 6 weeks off to spend time with family and friends in the States. My grandma turned 90 this year, and we celebrated with a trip to Hawaii. It was a lot of time off, but it was good to make up for lost time with family and friends.
  • 💉 I received two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while in the States. Feeling pretty safe now, especially since Taiwan has found its way back down to 0 cases per day.
  • 💩 A lot of my habits and data tracking fell apart this quarter. Strive is unfortunately also on hold as I re-strategize and as I focus on getting Midana out.
  • 🍟 I gained a lot of weight, and am now the heaviest I’ve ever been. Though I’m determined to get back on track.

Next quarter:

  • 💫 Taiwan is back down to 0 cases per day. Most restrictions have been lifted, and I expect to return to relatively normal life this quarter.
  • 🚀 I’m planning to launch Midana in November following release of my design overhaul, and ~2 weeks of feedback in public beta. Additional work to monetize the product will occur after general availability.
  • 🚫 I’m de-scoping work on Strive to focus on getting Midana out the door.
  • 💪 I’m actively working to rebuild my courage and discipline muscles! Also my actual muscles haha ;).
  • 🏃 I’ll be running a few races this quarter as part of my effort to return to a relatively active lifestyle.
  • 🚴 I plan to buy a road bike in Taiwan and casually get back into the triathlon scene.
  • 🙏 I’ll be spending more time in stillness this quarter. This means more meditation, more time with my phone silenced, and an earlier schedule to find calm resolve and quiet discipline.
  • 🍅 I’m going to play with the Pomdoro technique to encourage more consistent productivity and flow. I’m aiming for 12-16 pomodoros per day as a starting point, but have the intention to push myself when I can!

Table of Contents

Quarterly Review 🔍

Qualitative Review 🎨

Reflection 🤔

Q3 2021 was a tough quarter for me. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 📈 Midana’s closed testing phase has grown to 100 users, and feedback continues to be positive, though scaling up testing proved more difficult than anticipated.
  • 💸 At least one Midana monetization pathway appears to be showing early promise with 25+% of users opting to potentially give up 10% of their lottery earnings in return for services. Scaling this pathway requires training users on a new behavior, however, and no revenue has been generated yet.
  • 🛠 I’ve been preparing Midana for launch to the general public. Last thing to do is overhaul the UI/UX to create a polished experience I can be proud of delivering. I’m targeting a launch date in November.
  • 🤕 I struggled to maintain a consistent level of productivity for Midana in Q3 despite having a launch date in sight.
  • 🙅‍♂️ I turned down a few potential opportunities for consulting gigs so that I can remain focused on delivering a quality product.
  • 🏝 I took 6 weeks off to spend time with family and friends in the States. My grandma turned 90 this year, and we celebrated with a trip to Hawaii. It was a lot of time off, but it was good to make up for lost time with family and friends.
  • 💉 I received two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while in the States. Feeling pretty safe now, especially since Taiwan has found its way back down to 0 cases per day.
  • 💩 A lot of my habits and data tracking fell apart this quarter. Strive is unfortunately also on hold as I re-strategize and as I focus on getting Midana out.
  • 🍟 I gained a lot of weight, and am now the heaviest I’ve ever been. Though I’m determined to get back on track.

The struggle was pretty real this quarter. Despite being so, so close to a public launch of Midana, I found myself dragging my feet and having trouble maintaining consistent productivity. In my battle against myself, I experimented with a lot of new ideas and methods to keep myself moving.

One example is that I stopped tracking my time this quarter. I used to be fairly religious about tracking all my productive time in Toggl. Before I stopped doing this, I found that the clock felt rather arbitrary, and that I’d frequently feel stressed out and behind if my day didn’t go exactly according to plan and I still had a lot of time to track left in the day. I also commonly found myself despairing if, already fairly late into the evening, I still had a pretty large number of hours left to track. More often than not, I’d find myself giving up in that situation.

When I stopped tracking my time, I was trying to recreate the sense of calm, flow-like productivity that I sometimes experience when I try to get things done early on a Saturday morning so that I can enjoy the rest of my day guilt-free. There’s no sense of frenetic stress on those days—just the sense that each item I cross off my list is one less thing I need to worry about for the rest of the day.

I guess I didn’t want to feel like a robot for whom every minute needed to be productive, and for whom flexibility couldn’t exist because it might ruin a perfectly productive day or result in a smaller number on the timesheet. While I do think I’ve found my way to feeling less stressed out, ultimately, I still feel like I was mentally or emotionally blocked, and that I didn’t complete as much as I had hoped to.

Some amount of that was certainly video games. Despite identifying that video games posed a potential risk to my goals, I wasn’t able to reign that in nearly as much as I had hoped. I still played quite a bit, and I still spent quite a bit of my energy thinking about games and how to improve at them instead of applying that energy to my goals. Most of the evenings where I’d stare at the timer and feel overwhelmed by still needing to put in a 2-3 hour working session after dinner were days where I’d spent a little too much time playing games with friends in the afternoon.

Things didn’t go great on the personal side this quarter, either. I spent almost 6 weeks on vacation in the US this quarter, but even before that it felt like a lot of my core habits had fallen apart. Leading up to leaving, my diet fell apart. I still tried to stay consistent with exercise, but I was definitely less disciplined about it than I had been in the past. I stopped tracking things in Strive, likely out of a sense of shame for just how badly I was doing on everything.

In the confluence of everything, I started feeling pretty bad. There were moments this quarter where I felt disappointed in myself, where I didn’t feel like myself, and where I felt like I didn’t know how to get back to being myself. I felt a little like I was in a tailspin, moving a little bit further from the person I want to be with each passing date.

Fortunately, having just taken 6 weeks off, I’ve had a lot of time thinking about what happened and why I ended up where I did this quarter. I think it’s been a combination of a lot of things:

  • Lingering effects of lockdown. I developed some bad habits during lockdown, and even though lockdown was on its way to disappearing by the end of Q2 and before I left Taiwan in Q3, a lot of those bad habits stuck around.
  • Anxiety over leaving Taipei. It had been a long time since I left Taiwan. I’ve definitely become quite comfortable here, and my looming departure date definitely kicked up some fear and anxiety, especially given that I was about to jump on a plane for the first time while still unvaccinated for COVID-19. Even though I knew I was coming back, I think emotionally I couldn’t help but feel some of what I used to feel when I’d prepare to leave a place during my nomadic travels.
  • Anxiety over working independently. This is now one of the longer periods that I’ve worked completely independently. In the past, these periods usually get interrupted by consulting projects or something else. This time I’m sticking with it, and I’m willing to bet that, emotionally, I’m moving into some new territory as I settle more and more into that reality.
  • Becoming complacent without travel as a driver for challenge. In settling in Taipei, I think I’ve become a little complacent. I’m realizing that travel was a really important forcing function for pushing me out of my comfort zone, for offering new challenges, and for giving me sources of adventures and inspiration. In my life in Taipei, I don’t think that I’ve consistently re-created much of that. I’m beginning to wonder if the courage and discipline I built up over the years has languished in this complacency.

There are probably some factors external to me as well, like my relationship, the particular environment here in Taipei. I’m still thinking about a lot of it.

Ultimately, though, I lean heavily on the idea that I have agency over my life and my actions. If I feel like I’m failing, I don’t want to blame anything or anyone other than myself for it. At the same time, I know I’m human. I’m not perfect. I stumble and lose my way sometimes. I hope I can forgive myself for that.

Anyway, after I left Taiwan I spent 2 weeks in San Diego with my parents, lying low after getting my first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Then I spent 2 weeks with my family in Hawaii where we celebrated my grandma’s 90th birthday (she’s a total badass, btw—I can only hope to be so active and lucid at her age). I came back to San Diego to get my second vaccine shot, then drove north with the family up through Big Sur. I spent a few days in the Bay Area prior to departing for Taipei through SFO.

The good news is that, having really sat with myself to reflect on a lot of these things while on vacation, I think I’m starting to have a handle on what I’m going to do about all of it, and I feel generally pretty good about where I am now.

While on vacation, I also started getting back into exercising a little more seriously. I’m not going to lie, I’m in pretty bad shape right now—I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life as I write this, and my average mile on runs is embarrassing—but I think the athlete’s mentality has returned even if my athletic abilities haven’t yet.

I also started reading books again, primarily as a means to seek advice, perspective, and inspiration from collective wisdom. I had forgotten just how important reading and, perhaps more generally, learning is to my feeling inspired and motivated on regular basis. In 6 weeks of vacation I read something like 10 books. I’m glad to be building that back into my life.

I started meditating more on vacation. I was doing a half-hearted 10 minutes per day for most of this year, and I’m pleased to say that I’m now taking 20 minute morning meditations much more seriously. In fact, as I write this from a quarantine hotel in Taipei, I’m even doing 20 minutes of meditation twice a day. I’m re-discovering how powerful a tool mindfulness can be on my journey of self-actualization. In part, I have inspiration from books like Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty to thank for that. I also have my memories of Plum Village to keep as a reference.

Here are a few important insights from my recent reflections that I’d like to write down:

  1. My courage and discipline have regressed a bit. I’ve been OK about designing my life around courage and discipline in a macro sense, but reflecting on my day-to-day behavior, I realize that I’ve let fear and procrastination creep back into my life because I’ve lost the habit of recognizing when I’m afraid or uncomfortable and choosing to lean into rather than run away from those feelings.
  2. In trying to make my goals more focused, I de-emphasized a lot of the things that help me to practice courage and discipline, and which more generally inspire me. Those are things like reading, exercise, and meditation, all of which I reduced my commitments to at the beginning of the year for fear of creating an overwhelming set of goals that might distract me from the larger challenges. I hadn’t realized how important some of those things were to supporting my ability to deal with the larger challenges.
  3. It’s possible to become complacent even in discomfort. I think that, in a weird way, I’ve actually become comfortable, or maybe “familiar”, with the discomfort I experience at this stage in my entrepreneurial journey. I’m comfortable with my narrative as a struggling entrepreneur fighting a personal battle against his demons. So much so, in fact, that I think I’m afraid to evolve that narrative, because then I’d be stuck dealing with something new, scary, and unfamiliar. The discomfort you know is always less scary than the discomfort you don’t.
  4. I am, consciously or subconsciously, sabotaging myself to keep myself exactly where I am. As a corollary to insight #3, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to push past where I am. That part of me is probably scared of real exposure to failure. Or, maybe worse, real exposure to success. There’s a part of me that is scared of the responsibility of success. There’s a part of me that probably has a weird relationship with money, and somehow believes that having too much of it is bad or that somehow it’s supposed to be hard to make, and so conspires to keep it just out of reach.
    1. I realize now that video games are a part of this cycle for me. They aren’t the root cause—they’re simply an outlet for the part of me that is afraid, wants to escape, and potentially wants to sabotage because it’s scared it can’t handle the uncertainty that pushing through might bring.
  5. I am literally the only thing standing in the way of a breakthrough. I know that this isn’t really a question of ability, intelligence, or grit—I’ve been down this road for clients and employers and executed admirably. Rather, it’s always been a question of self-belief and readiness to let go of the limitations I place on myself.
  6. I’m ready to commit to a breakthrough. Finally seeing myself for where I am, I’m ready to take action to stop sabotaging myself. I’m ready to see for myself what lies behind the curtain rather than imagine demons that may not even be there.

To sum up, it really wasn’t the best quarter for me productivity-wise haha. That said, this is far from the quarter where I tap out and give up. Though it made me anxious to take 6 weeks off, I’m grateful that I got to make up for lost time with friends and family, and that the long break actually proved fruitful in terms of personal learning and insight. I’m feeling refreshed with renewed determination to get back to work for Q4 and start applying my learnings.

Midana 🚀

Things are going well for Midana, but they’re moving relatively slowly. I had initially hoped for nearly 1000 closed beta testers from the almost 5000 email addresses I had on hand. Getting those email addresses to convert—even the ones who left survey responses—proved more difficult than I anticipated. Ultimately, I ended up with a conversion rate of closer to 1 in 50 than 1 in 5.

Still, feedback has been good with the 100 users I have so far. There are a few clear power users, and I’ve received emails from people who are ready to evangelize Midana in key expat communities.

Nevertheless, progress has been slow due to vacation, and, I think, due to me being slow to get my head wrapped around the design (UI/UX) and implementation of certain new parts of the app. I’m finding that I need to be better about separating the design and engineering processes. It’s tough for me to be “designing on the fly,” trying to create a first-class experience for users while writing code and trying to implement new features. I’m starting to get into the practice of really outlining things in Figma before I start building.

I also found myself dragging my feet this quarter from a productivity standpoint, and feeling nervous about the idea of launching the app to a wider audience as is.

Ultimately, I took the time this quarter to step back and draw-up a full re-design of the app in Figma. While this could just be another detour to avoid pushing past my fear, I’m starting to realize that one of my blockers was feeling like the app didn’t exactly meet my professional standard. The existing design of the app is really more an outgrowth from the prototyping phase than anything else, and never really benefited from time taken to really think through how things should look and feel across both platforms.

I’m realizing that in terms of features and functionality, the app is more than ready to launch. I’d just like to make sure that things look and feel professional and that the app presents in a way I can be proud of before I push the big red button. Beyond that, I’m realizing that there’s value to really nailing down the core user experience before I start thinking seriously about tacking on more bells and whistles.

The current plan is to finish implementing the Midana re-design before leaving quarantine on October 27. Once the re-design is deployed, I intend to launch ad campaigns for the open beta of the product, allowing all-comers to try the app. After ~2 weeks of testing in open beta, I’ll launch the app on the app stores provided feedback from testing is positive and all critical issues have been fixed. I’m ideally aiming to launch in mid-November, end of November at the latest.

Quantitative 🔢

This review covers July 6, 2021 through October 12, 2021 for a total of 98 calendar days. Of that time, I was on vacation from ~August 24, 2021 until October 12, 2021 for a total of 50 calendar days.

Summary 💯

I’m giving myself a D this quarter. In complete fairness, I was out on vacation for much of the quarter, but I don’t feel like I made good use of the time that I had available to me. Many of my important habits and routines fell apart, and I stopped tracking many of the things I had been tracking in Q2.

Break Down 🧨

Habits:

  • Daily
    • Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
    • Go to sleep by 11pm
    • Get out of bed by 7:30am
    • Reserve the first hour after waking for self-care
      • Meditate for at least 10 minutes
      • Write in my journal
    • Reserve the hour before bed for self-care and relaxation
    • Aim to log 7-8 hours of work a day
    • Aim to minimize the need to log more than 8 hours of work a day
    • Plan tomorrow in the evening
    • Clear inboxes in the evening
    • Clear Anki reviews
    • Learn 8 new Chinese Anki cards
      • I was alright about this until I went on vacation. I added no new Chinese Anki cards while on vacation.
    • Add an average of 8 new Chinese cards to Anki
      • Upping this to match the learning rate so I never run out of new cards to learn!
    • Actively immerse in Chinese for at least 30 minutes
  • Weekly
    • Watch an episode or two of something on Netflix without subtitles for 30 minutes
      • I vaguely remember doing this for a few weeks early in the quarter, but don’t feel like I made it a habit.
    • Exercise at least 3 times a week
      • Exercise felt like it fell off leading up to vacation. It picked up again at points during vacation. This could have been better.
    • Make friends, relaxation, and extracurricular activities the priority on weekends
    • Plan my week on Sunday nights
  • Semimonthly
    • Host an online game event for one of my communities
      • Hosted an event for The Spike Lab.
    • Attend an improv workshop and participate in at least the bilingual groups
      • Didn’t start attending these despite my identifying this as at risk in Q2

OKRs 🎯:

  • Maintaining a healthy mind and body
    • Pick a set of dietary rules quarterly and stick to them ~80% of the time
    • Stretch: Reach ~10% body fat
  • Overcoming my fear of failure and working toward financial freedom
    • Free up time to work on my own projects
      • Stop consulting full-time by February
      • Wind down consulting to the bare minimum by start of Q2
      • Don’t take on more students for The Spike Lab unless I have to
    • Launch at least 1 of my own projects to the general public this year
      • This one is still on track, so long as Midana launches in November as currently planned.
    • Secure at least 1 paying customer for one of my own projects
      • This is possible, but not guaranteed given Midana’s current trajectory.
    • Launch Midana and secure paying customers for it
      • Reach 1000 users in the Midana closed beta.
        • Conversion rate to get people into the closed beta was much lower than expected. I ended up with ~100 users in the closed beta.
      • Test monetization pathways for Midana.
        • Prototype monthly subscription for receipt translation service.
        • Prototype taking a cut of winnings to allow users to throw away scanned receipts rather than keeping them.
        • Prototype taking a cut of winnings through automatic prize redemption via PayPal or other non-Taiwanese payment services.
          • This worked out! People seem open to doing this, though this isn’t actually producing revenue yet because it requires that users adopt electronic receipts, which thus far are not very widely used.
      • Launch Midana to the general public in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
        • Still on track to make this happen. Aiming for end of November, after pushing out a design refresh and doing ~2 weeks of testing in open beta.
    • Continue experimenting with Strive
      • Start automating quarterly reviews and using more data to evaluate how the quarter is going and how things should be improved for the next quarter.
        • Create a quarterly Strive report email to start automating Q3’s quarterly review.
      • Eliminate Strive’s dependencies on AirTable premium.
        • Set up my own server for generating and sending report emails.
        • Create data pipeline to automatically move data from AirTable to Google Big Query.
        • Create a prototype dashboard for exploring and analyzing data pulled from Google Big Query.
      • Experiment new Strive data visualizations for keeping users motivated and interested.
        • Prototype a “heat map”-style visualization to help users visualize how they’re performing over time.
      • Prototype Strive’s first automatic data integration.
      • Experiment with solutions for maintaining a fun and competitive feeling between players who don’t have the same habit load.
      • Sadly, I made 0 progress on Strive this quarter. Additionally, use of the system fell off as I fell very, very far off the cart in Q3. Hoping to re-visit some of this in Q4, but the focus will definitely be on getting Midana out the door.
    • For inspiration and tactical advice:
      • Read Make by Peter Levels
      • Read about other peoples’ experiences doing 12 projects in 12 months
    • Stretch: Launch 12 projects in 12 months
  • Overcoming my fear of rejection, deepening friendships, and expanding my network
    • Make at least 1 close friend in Taipei this year
    • Schedule some time to get to know the other The Spike Lab coaches
  • Learning Chinese
    • Reach an upper intermediate level in Chinese (B2, ~3000 words)
      • My last diagnostic puts me somewhere in the ~2600-2800 word range, so I’m feeling alright about this.
    • Successfully participate in an Improv activity in Chinese
      • I think it’s likely that I could do this if I tried a few times and got used to it, but I haven’t made that effort so far this year.
  • Embracing the experience of finally living somewhere for a longer period of time
    • Find an apartment of my own

Quarterly Planning 🗓️

Goal Modifications ✏️

Taiwan is back down to 0 cases per day! Life here is mostly returning to normal, with businesses re-opening and events starting up again. For the most part, this won’t affect my goals, but it will make it possible to return to my gym, and look to have more adventures outside again :).

Midana 🚀

To codify the plan for Q4, here are the goal modifications for Midana:

  • Launch Midana and secure paying customers for it
    • Reach 1000 users in the Midana closed beta.
    • Test monetization pathways for Midana.
      • Prototype monthly subscription for receipt translation service.
      • Prototype taking a cut of winnings to allow users to throw away scanned receipts rather than keeping them.
      • Prototype taking a cut of winnings through automatic prize redemption via PayPal or other non-Taiwanese payment services.
    • Launch Midana in public beta
      • Implement new designs for Midana “v2.0”
    • Launch Midana to the general public in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store by the end of November.

Re-iterating here, but the idea is to de-prioritize work on new features until the core app is stable, polished, and out in the wild. Current blocker to getting that out is implementing some new designs. Once that’s ready, I’ll launch the app for testing in public beta. After a few weeks of feedback and fixes from public beta, I’ll launch the app on the Apple App and Google Play Stores.

Ideal timeline has me done with the design implementations before I leave quarantine, then running a public beta for ~2 weeks before launching the app in mid-November. I’ve left ~2 weeks of buffer in here in case a) design implementation takes longer than expected or b) I need more time to iterate on feedback from public beta than expected.

Strive 👊

I’ve decided to de-prioritize work on Strive for the remainder of this year. There are a lot of interesting things I want to play with and explore here, but I haven’t done a good job of handling this as a “side project.” If I’m going to get to this, and I’d like to, I’ll need to push through whatever is blocking me for Midana first.

  • Continue experimenting with Strive
    • Start automating quarterly reviews and using more data to evaluate how the quarter is going and how things should be improved for the next quarter.
      • Create a quarterly Strive report email to start automating Q3’s quarterly review.
    • Eliminate Strive’s dependencies on AirTable premium.
      • Set up my own server for generating and sending report emails.
      • Create data pipeline to automatically move data from AirTable to Google Big Query.
      • Create a prototype dashboard for exploring and analyzing data pulled from Google Big Query.
    • Experiment new Strive data visualizations for keeping users motivated and interested.
      • Prototype a “heat map”-style visualization to help users visualize how they’re performing over time.
    • Prototype Strive’s first automatic data integration.
    • Experiment with solutions for maintaining a fun and competitive feeling between players who don’t have the same habit load.

Risk Mitigation 🛠️

Re-building Courage and Discipline 💪

As identified in my review, I think the biggest risk to my long-term success right now is the atrophy of my courage and discipline muscles.

I’d like to start looking for ways, both large and small, to challenge myself along these axes. It’s likely that this will return as a major theme in my 2022 goals, but for now I’d like to get started on re-building the habit of finding and taking opportunities to challenge myself.

Simply put, this means leaning into discomfort of all forms, but particularly:

  • Doing things that scare me.
  • Choosing the hard way over the fast, easy, or comfortable way.

Courage

Courage is the tougher of the two to tackle. One approach would be to create a list of things I’m afraid of, and then push myself to do one of those things each week. There’s a place for that, and it’s likely I’ll commit to this in 2022.

However, my focus in the moment is finding a way to better integrate courage into my lifestyle as a sort of habit or instinct that can be applied to situations on a micro, day-to-day level. I’m also looking to create lifestyle changes that cultivate a mental/emotional environment conducive to leaning into fear rather than running from it.

I’m going to choose adventure, inspiration, and mindfulness as focal points here. I’d like to push myself to get out of the house more on weekends, and to seek new experiences and potential challenges. While this may just sound like thrill-seeking, I think that this will naturally lead to opportunities to be courageous and step out of my comfort zone.

Inspiration and mindfulness are both part of the more mental/emotional side of courage. A healthy dose of adventure should lend itself to more inspiration in general, but I’m remembering that reading is a really important source of inspiration for me that I’ve been neglecting. I’d like to spend more time with books, perhaps in audio form while I exercise or do chores, or potentially as breaks from working (as an alternative to things like video games during my working day).

Revised habits:

  • Get out to do something adventurous every weekend
  • Meditate for at least 10 minutes a day
  • Meditate for at least 20 minutes, twice a day
  • Read a book every week or two

Discipline

For discipline, I’m going to use exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as focal points. Of course, there are other areas of my life that will require discipline, and I plan to look for opportunities wherever they may appear. I’m thinking about keeping a sort of “challenge journal” to help me get into the habit of spotting these opportunities, taking them, and celebrating the small successes.

With regard to fitness, I’m not aiming to do anything insane like an Ironman or a marathon, but I’d like to start training more often and more seriously. 3 days a week isn’t going to cut it anymore—I’m thinking something closer to 6. I’d also love to have a couple of events to look forward to and train for. For now, I’m thinking 5k or 10k races, and I’m also considering getting back into shorter format triathlons (Olympic distance and down). This time around, I brought all of my cycling equipment back to Taipei. All I need now is a bike ;).

I’m also going to be getting back on the diet train. I’ve had 6+ weeks of fairly unmoderated eating haha… and it’s definitely showing. I’ve been resistant to calorie counting in the past because it can be a lot of effort, but I think it is one of the more tried, true, and predictable ways of body re-shaping. Plus, the resistance I know I’ll have for it makes for good discipline training.

This idea is fairly extreme, but I am considering experimenting with fasting this quarter not only for potential weight loss impact, but also as an exercise in discipline. I’ll need to do some reading about this before I feel comfortable doing that safely, however.

Between increased exercised and reduced calorie intake, I should start peeling off pounds. This quarter, I’m hoping to get back to where I started Q3 at the very least.

Revised OKRs:

  • Buy a road bike
  • Exercise at least 3 times a week
  • Exercise 5-6 times a week
  • Read a couple books about fasting
  • Register for at least one race

Stillness 🙏

To help combat my tendency to find outlets to run away from my fears, I’m going to try to build more stillness into my life. This may seem counter-intuitive—if I’m failing to be productive, why am I prioritizing “being still” of all things?

Something I learned years ago at Plum Village is that when you stand still long enough, you are forced to face yourself. You’re forced to face whatever you’re running away from and deal with it rather than mindlessly finding an escape. Ultimately, my goal is to be able to deal with my fear without needing to escape to things like video games when I need to be working.

To this end, I’m going to take my meditation practice a lot more seriously. Until now, I’d been going through the motions of a 10-minute meditation every morning. I’m going to kick this up to 20 minutes, ideally twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, and I’m going to try to really take the practice seriously. I’ve actually already started to implement this—since leaving for vacation, I have been meditating about 20 minutes every morning.

The goal of meditation is to get good at accepting whatever is happening for me in the moment, to notice how it feels both in my body and in my mind, and to be OK with it rather than running away or trying to avoid it.

The more I do this, the more of a habit it will become. As I get better at it, I’ll begin to be more and more aware of when I’m off task or distracted because I’m avoiding something I need to do. Over time, I hope to develop the ability to automatically make a different choice in response to fear or other negative impulses.

In addition to meditation, I’m also going to try to structure my days so that they’re more conducive to stillness. One thing I know works well for me is waking up very early. I’m talking 5:30am early. It can be tough to maintain that kind of sleep schedule while balancing social commitments, which is part of why I don’t do it regularly, but I am naturally inclined to rising early and I find that plenty of time and space to myself before the world wakes up helps me feel calm and productive. I love the feeling when I have a super productive morning and then look at the clock to discover it’s still before 10am, and I still have the whole day ahead of me to do whatever I want with.

Ideally, a perfect morning for me will start at 5:30am. I’ll leave my phone on “Do Not Disturb” for the first few hours. I’ll meditate, journal, get some exercise, and settle in with some coffee or tea as I start my work day around 8 or 9am.

In my last few sets of reviews, I’ve struggled with establishing and maintaining a good routine. I think some of that is outside influence—like I said, it can be hard to maintain a schedule like this with social commitments. It also doesn’t help that my girlfriend isn’t exactly an early riser herself, so the mismatch in our rhythms tends to make it that much harder for me to maintain.

Still, I’m optimistic about this this quarter. Additional meditation should passively make it easier to start and maintain habits. I’m also notably planning to start leaving my phone away from my sleeping space. I’m sure we all do this, but I’ve noticed that having my phone next to my bed tends to mean that I’ll spend extra time on it before I sleep, which de-conditions my body to sleep when I’m in bed.

Having my phone next to me when I wake up also usually means that I spend a groggy first 10-20 minutes in bed just wasting time on my phone rather than getting up and getting started. I’ve been experimenting with leaving my phone charging on my desk and away from my sleeping area and so far it’s been helping a lot. I’m also no longer using my phone as an alarm, preferring the silent vibration alarm on my watch instead (which should also help me wake up without disturbing my girlfriend).

Being intentional about winding down for the day by meditating for 20 minutes will also start to help my body wind down and prepare for sleep. My experiments with this so far have also been positive, and I find that I’m usually easily in bed by 9:30pm, and waking up before my alarm. Granted, a lot of my recent experimentation has been while on vacation and while currently in quarantine. The real test will be seeing what happens when I try to apply these things during my typical day-to-day.

Regardless, I’m convinced that more stillness is a key. In a lot of ways, I think this is what I was driving towards when I chose to stop tracking my time—I wanted to experience less passive anxiety/stress, and generally more calm. I’d love for my productivity to come from a place of quiet discipline rather than a place of frenetic anxiety.

Revised habits:

  • Leave my phone charging far away from my bed each night
  • Leave my phone silenced until my morning routine is complete
  • Go to sleep by 11pm
  • Go to sleep by 9:30pm
  • Get out of bed by 7:30am
  • Wake up by 5:30am
  • Meditate for at least 10 minutes a day
  • Meditate for at least 20 minutes, twice a day

Productivity 🚧

Productivity is clearly continues to be a big risk this quarter. Many of the previous sections are aimed at addressing adjacent issues that no doubt affect my productivity. This section will discuss specific tactics for more directly improving my productivity.

Before that, however, I want to be clear: I don’t really buy into the productivity myth anymore. I used to believe that productivity was unequivocally good, and that being able to produce more work output in the same amount of time was pretty much the goal for anyone who wanted to succeed in the workforce. But the truth is I left the workforce and not in small part because I sensed that this particular definition of productivity is an endless treadmill, and one that has us treating ourselves more like robots than human beings.

For me, productivity is no longer about maximizing every minute. Rather, I think the purpose of productivity is to help me make consistent progress towards my goals. I don’t believe in productivity for productivity’s sake anymore, and I don’t believe working harder for the sake of working harder should be a badge of honor.

That clarification aside, I’m going to make some changes to both how I work and how I track my work.

First, Toggl and the timer aren’t coming back. I don’t think they’ve been serving their purpose well. For independent work, when the goal is time-based it’s too easy to fixate on how much time I’ve spent in my chair trying to get things done. The timer doesn’t require a focused state. It also doesn’t guarantee or understand outcomes. I’d still like the amount of time I’ve spent working to be a trackable metric so that I can understand how other things affect it, but I don’t want to be obsessed with it to the point where it adds additional stress.

Instead, I think I’m going to play a little bit more with the Pomodoro technique this quarter. Here’s why I think that makes sense:

  • The Pomodoro technique requires a series of focused sprints, where I really commit to a task or set of tasks, and try to get them done as quickly as possible. It requires focus and intention rather than simply turning on a timer, and I think that this will lead to better flow and increased efficiency.
  • It’s more approachable to commit to ~25 minutes of work at a time than it is to expect myself to sit down and somehow crank 8 hours of work in a day. Once one chunk is done, it’s not hard to renew that commitment to another, and then another, and then another. When training for an Ironman, I’d often mentally break up my workouts in this way to keep myself sane and motivated.
  • If I’m strict about sticking to the Pomodoro cadence (i.e. short break timings), I’ll be forced to just move from task to task without stopping to think about how daunting the tasks may be or how little I want to do some of them. Otherwise, I sometimes find myself procrastinating between large tasks. Often all that’s needed is to just get started—the rest of the resistance tends to melt away after that.
  • Pomodoros still allow me to track high-level metrics about the time I spend working each day.
  • I can use the Pomodoro technique as a training tool for focus. Over time, I’d love to see if it gets easier to do more Pomodoros in a day, or even if it starts getting easier to approach longer Pomodoros.

In the past, I’ve been resistant to Pomodoros because it’s sometimes difficult to break software development into 25-minute chunks without losing flow. It also runs very counter to the “use every minute” ethos, which I did once buy into.

I think flow is still a valid concern, but so far I’m finding that the Pomodoro technique is creating more flow than it’s destroying. If I’m really into what I’m doing right now, I actually feel excited to pick it right back up again in 5 minutes. It doesn’t change things that much. If this starts to become a problem, though, I can consider longer Pomodoros for sessions of development work.

I’m going to start myself easy with a goal of 12-16 Pomodoros a day. As things start to feel natural and easy, I’ll challenge myself to do more.

Aside from the Pomodoro technique, I’m going to try to get into the habit of silencing my phone during work sessions so I’m never pulled away by messages or emails.

Underwhelming, but I think that’s kind of it! I’m going to leave the rest of the structure of my day relatively flexible, but I can imagine feeling pretty good about getting started around 8 or 9am, doing a set or two of Pomodoros in the morning before lunch around noon, and then settling back in to do another couple of sets of Pomodoros before dinner.

With an emphasis on stillness, I’m less overall worried about things like video games taking over my time. I am going to make an active effort to limit my exposure to video games during the work day, but in general whatever I want to do during my Pomodoro breaks is fair game so long as I’m strict about returning to work when the time is up.

Revised habits:

  • Aim to log 7-8 hours of work a day
  • Aim for 12-16+ 25-minute pomodoros each day

Summarized Habits and OKRs 🎯

Green for additions, red for subtractions.

Habits

  • Daily
    • Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
    • Go to sleep by 11pm
    • Go to sleep by 9:30pm
    • Get out of bed by 7:30am
    • Wake up by 5:30am
    • Reserve the first hour after waking for self-care
      • Meditate for at least 10 minutes
      • Meditate for at least 20 minutes
      • Write in my journal
    • Leave my phone charging far away from my bed each night
    • Leave my phone silenced until my morning routine is complete
    • Reserve the hour before bed for self-care and relaxation
      • Meditate for at least 20 minutes
    • Aim to log 7-8 hours of work a day
    • Aim for 12-16+ 25-minute pomodoros each day
    • Aim to minimize the need to log more than 8 hours of work a day
    • Plan tomorrow in the evening
    • Clear inboxes in the evening
    • Clear Anki reviews
    • Learn 8 new Chinese Anki cards
    • Add an average of 8 new Chinese cards to Anki
    • Actively immerse in Chinese for at least 30 minutes
  • Weekly
    • Watch an episode or two of something on Netflix without subtitles for 30 minutes
    • Exercise at least 3 times a week
    • Exercise 5-6 times a week
    • Make friends, relaxation, and extracurricular activities the priority on weekends
    • Get out to do something adventurous every weekend
    • Plan my week on Sunday nights
  • Semimonthly
    • Host an online game event for one of my communities
    • Attend an improv workshop and participate in at least the bilingual groups
    • Read a book
  • Monthly
    • Host an event for friends in Taipei

OKRs 🎯:

  • Maintaining a healthy mind and body
    • Pick a set of dietary rules quarterly and stick to them ~80% of the time
    • Buy a road bike
    • Register for at least one race
    • Read a couple books about fasting
    • Stretch: Reach ~10% body fat
  • Overcoming my fear of failure and working toward financial freedom
    • Free up time to work on my own projects
      • Stop consulting full-time by February
      • Wind down consulting to the bare minimum by start of Q2
      • Don’t take on more students for The Spike Lab unless I have to
    • Launch at least 1 of my own projects to the general public this year
    • Secure at least 1 paying customer for one of my own projects
    • Launch Midana and secure paying customers for it
      • Reach 1000 users in the Midana closed beta.
      • Test monetization pathways for Midana.
        • Prototype monthly subscription for receipt translation service.
        • Prototype taking a cut of winnings to allow users to throw away scanned receipts rather than keeping them.
        • Prototype taking a cut of winnings through automatic prize redemption via PayPal or other non-Taiwanese payment services.
      • Launch Midana to the general public in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
    • Continue experimenting with Strive
      • Start automating quarterly reviews and using more data to evaluate how the quarter is going and how things should be improved for the next quarter.
        • Create a quarterly Strive report email to start automating Q3’s quarterly review.
      • Eliminate Strive’s dependencies on AirTable premium.
        • Set up my own server for generating and sending report emails.
        • Create data pipeline to automatically move data from AirTable to Google Big Query.
        • Create a prototype dashboard for exploring and analyzing data pulled from Google Big Query.
      • Experiment new Strive data visualizations for keeping users motivated and interested.
        • Prototype a “heat map”-style visualization to help users visualize how they’re performing over time.
      • Prototype Strive’s first automatic data integration.
      • Experiment with solutions for maintaining a fun and competitive feeling between players who don’t have the same habit load.
    • For inspiration and tactical advice:
      • Read Make by Peter Levels
      • Read about other peoples’ experiences doing 12 projects in 12 months
    • Stretch: Launch 12 projects in 12 months
  • Overcoming my fear of rejection, deepening friendships, and expanding my network
    • Make at least 1 close friend in Taipei this year
    • Schedule some time to get to know the other The Spike Lab coaches
  • Learning Chinese
    • Reach an upper intermediate level in Chinese (B2, ~3000 words)
    • Successfully participate in an Improv activity in Chinese
  • Embracing the experience of finally living somewhere for a longer period of time
    • Find an apartment of my own

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