Time Spent On Planning

Last week, I shared a bit about my annual review. One of my thoughts coming out of my annual review was that I felt like it took too long for me to complete.

If I recall correctly, my review took me about 4 days to complete. Doing the math, this works out to be approximately 1% of the year.

In a conversation with Shirley, I started reflecting on whether my judgement was fair–is it really that bad to have spent 4 days on my annual retro and planning?

Reflecting on projects at work, we seem to spend significantly more time on project planning and project retrospectives. From this perspective, it actually feels sort of absurd if I put a constraint on project planning and retrospectives to be less than 1% of the time. At that point, I’d really be questioning if we’d put in the valuable effort into:

  • learning what worked previously and how we can do more of that
  • learning what didn’t work previously and what we can do instead
  • understanding the problem we want to solve
  • understanding why that problem is important to solve
  • understanding what we want to do to solve the problem
  • understanding how we’re going to execute on that solution
  • reflecting on potential challenges we may face and what we could do in response
  • (et cetera)

At the same time, this estimation for how much time I’m spending on planning and retrospectives isn’t complete. I do spent time throughout the year on my monthly and quarterly reviews which allow me to refocus on my annual vision, and also (along with my weekly reviews) learn from the past.

I’m also experimenting with including a transcluded block of my monthly vision in my daily note template. Ideally, this means I’m re-reading and re-presenting my vision each day; in reality, I do skip this on those days I feel the most flustered (probably the most important days I remain aligned with my vision though 🤣).

And that alignment with the vision is what’s truly important.

Maybe that’s why it requires more planning and retrospective time for work projects–alignment is more difficult to achieve when there are multiple people involved. Having multiple people creates additional complexity through different perspectives, motivations, expectations, communication styles, values, etc.

And maybe that means I should focus less on judging whether I’m spending too much time planning, or judging where the line for spending too much time planning is. Maybe I should stop the judgements and just reflect on whether this amount of planning is still effective, useful, and serving me.

My 2021 review

To me, it feels like 2021 went by super fast. At the same time, I realized just how much had happened this year when I did my annual review last week.

My annual review took me many days to complete.

The way my annual review is currently structured, I do:

  • A qualitative review of the projects I completed this year. I do this by reviewing an annual project note in Obsidian, and also my completed tasks in OmniFocus
  • A quantitative review of my finances
  • A quantitative review of how I spent my time
  • A quantitative review of select health metrics (eg. weight and body fat, heart rate variability, sleep, consistency in workouts/running)
  • A qualitative review of the core areas of my life
  • A visioning exercise for the upcoming year based on the giving yourself an A exercise from The Art of Possibility

I’d like my annual review to go faster next year. Also, I want to be review things closer to when they happened so I have more of the context fresh in my mind. To these ends, I’m planning on doing a smaller version of my annual review each month so that next year, my annual review should most involve drawing from the insights I had from all my monthly reviews that year.

One thing that surprised me this year–pretty much every single interaction I had with friends and family this year (eg. phone calls, meeting for food or projects, playing board games, going camping or hiking) got highlighted in my annual review. I think the reduced face time that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic has me really appreciating the time I do get to spend with other people.

I took a lot of new risks this year. I’ve put off getting my driver’s license for about 15 years now due to various excuses and anxieties, but this year I managed to pass my driving exam and get my novice license. I have a lot of anxiety around sports-related things and I tend to stick to things I’m familiar with, but this year I visited a bunch of new places to play volleyball which has given me new options to play in the future. And after years of thinking about it, I’ve finally stepped into the practice of coaching.

And I also stumbled upon some unexpected money. I thought that I had used up my mental health benefits earlier this year. However, I learned that this wasn’t the case when I did my annual review. I was able to submit claims for some additional therapy sessions and I got reimbursed almost $1000. It was definitely a nice Easter egg in my annual review 😻

#tweet365 Challenge

I’ve decided I’m going to participate in the #tweet365 challenge this year. This challenge involves posting at least one tweet on Twitter every day using the #tweet100 hashtag.

I’ve decided to take on this challenge because I want to try establishing a bigger online presence this year.

One of the people who I’ve been following this year is Kevon Cheung. I’ve been pretty inspired by two of his initiatives I stumbled upon this year: Build in Public Mastery and Making Twitter Friends. To be clear, I haven’t participated in the former and I’m still in the process of going through all the emails from the latter. However, I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Kevon connects and engages with various communities on Twitter.

Last year I participated in Building a Second Brain and Linking Your Thinking. One of my takeaways from these courses was that it’s valuable to share your thinking and work with others early on. This can help improve your thinking and work as you can get early feedback from others. And connecting with people with similar interests can help improve your learning and thinking. By having multiple people sharing what they’re individually learning in similar areas, you can accelerate your discovery of resonating thoughts. In this way, it reminds me in a way of parallelizing your thinking, or dividing and conquering a problem. (And then after writing this, I realized the the term I was looking for is crowdsourcing).

Because I’m also diving into coaching this year, having a bigger online presence may also help me discover new clients. Some of the people I connect with may be interested in exploring coaching, and I may be able to help them explore in our areas of mutual interest.

When I publish something on my blog or newsletter, most of the people who see my writing are existing readers. I am extremely grateful that I have these readers, and I have great conversations with many of them on a regular basis. However, Twitter has some social functions (eg. retweets, likes) that help to quickly increase the visibility of online writing. Additionally, for many people it’s a lower bar to follow someone on Twitter than it is to sign-up for email updates from a blog or newsletter. Because of this, I’m hoping that I can increase the number and diversity of conversations I have with other people this year about the things I’m interested in.

My consistency with using social media is not great. Below is a visualization of the number of tweets I made each month in 2021. The spike in May/June was from when I was participating in Building a Second Brain, and I had many great conversations with people from my cohort (in fact, I’m still in regular contact with many of them still today). That being said, I’d like to be more consistent with my engagement online. I’m hoping by participating in #tweet365 I can eliminate having these months of no/decreased engagement going forward.

Graph of Tweets vs Month

Also, one of the themes I’ve picked up on from seeing posts from the Ship 30 For 30 course (I haven’t taken the course myself) is the idea of data-driven writing. Because tweets are so small, they can help isolate variables. You can get rapid feedback on the effectiveness of your writing. And tweets are free. So I’m curious about experimenting this year with this idea of data-driven writing.

As part of this, at least for a while, I’m planning on sharing the main body of my weekly newsletter in my blog. I still plan to produce my weekly long(er) form of writing, but I’d like to try focusing on this new experiment for now to get things started.

Diving into coaching

Over the years, I’ve experienced various forms of coaching (and coaching-like experiences) at work and in life. I’ve enjoyed talking through problems and exploring different perspectives with friends. I’ve done a bunch of learning about coaching through books and podcasts over the years.

It’s something I’ve wanted to try for years. It feels very meaningful to me to help other people realize their own potential.

I am not certified as a coach, nor do I have any formal training. However, the field of coaching is currently unregulated.

So I’ve decided to dive in.

My current plan is to start off offering coaching sessions for free. My goal here will be to gain experience, get feedback, and learn how to improve my practice.

As I gain experience and grow a track record of actually helping people, I will gradually increase my rates over time. But before I increase my rates, I want to make sure I’m actually providing value to my coachees/clients.

I do plan on eventually getting formal training and certifications in coaching–likely through multiple schools, as there’s already several I really respect and have been admiring for years.

The reason I’ve decided to dive in before that is because I know I have a bias towards learning over action. It would be easy for me to keep putting off my coaching practice because there’s always more to learn about coaching. By starting first, I can help ensure my learning is targeted and being put to good use.

It’s one of a few big experiments I’m planning on trying out in 2022 🙂 I’ll share the others in the near future.

If you’re interested in learning more about my coaching practice, or are interested in signing up for a session, please check out my coaching page here.

The Queen’s Gambit and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Disclaimer: This post has spoilers regarding The Queen’s Gambit. It also touches on topics including substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.

I found The Queen’s Gambit to be a pretty touching series. I think part of the reason I found it to be so touching is because the series follows main character Beth Harmon as she slowly finds her needs fulfilled.

To illustrate this, I will use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s (original) hierarchy of needs is an idea in developmental psychology which describes how certain needs must be met before other needs can be met. (Though, more modern versions of this idea have changed the categories and acknowledge overlap between these categories as needs are met.) First are physiological needs such as food, water, shelter, and sleep. Second are safety needs. Then belonging needs, esteem from others, self-esteem, and then a state called self-actualizing (ie. a state where a person is realizing their full potential).

Early in Beth’s life, to me it’s unclear whether her physiological needs are met. Beth lives with her mother, Alice Harmon, in a trailer. At one point, Alice visits her ex-husband Paul and pleads for help, worried that she’s unable to support Beth. I don’t know that they ever reveal enough in the series as to whether Beth always had adequate food, water, etc.

In either case, her safety needs aren’t met in her early childhood either. Beth’s parents get divorced, Alice struggled with her own mental health and coping strategies, and in a scene where Alice goes diving in a lake, it is revealed that Beth is aware and fearful of her mother’s history with self-harm and/or suicide attempts.

I think Beth starts to realize her safety needs being met when her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley, admits that “Though I’m no longer a wife, except by a legal fiction, I believe I can learn to be a mother.” Here, Alma acknowledges that she hasn’t been a great mother, but that she’s willing to try to improve. Until this point in time, I’m under the impression that Beth didn’t feel very secure in the household–neither Alma nor her husband, Allston, seemed particularly interested in Beth, and Alma credited the desire for Beth’s adoption to be rooted in Allston (and Allston said the same thing about Alma). I imagine this could have left Beth feeling like there was a decent chance that she would be sent back to Methuen Home (an orphanage for girls).

It is around this same time where Beth starts to realize her belonging needs being met as she develops friendships with Alma, as well as Matt and Mike–twin college students she meets at her first chess tournament. Although she arguably has earlier friends in Jolene and William Shaibel at Methuen Home, I don’t know that she regarded them as friends until later on in her development. (I suspect that earlier on, she may have seen them as something like tools for survival.)

As Beth continues to dominate at various chess tournaments, she starts to realize esteem from others. She gains a reputation amongst other players and she’s featured in newspaper and magazine articles. When she plays in the Moscow Invitational, she also starts to see some of her fan base, as cheering fans surround her each day she finishes her games.

I think Beth starts to realize her self-esteem when she’s preparing for her game with Vasily Borgov in the Moscow Invitational. Although she struggles with it at times, she realizes that she doesn’t need pills, alcohol, or her other coping mechanisms to win against Borgov. She starts to see her ability to win using her own abilities and the relationships she has developed over the years.

Finally, I think Beth starts to reach moments of self-actualizing around the time of the Moscow Invitational. I think she definitely feels this when Luchenko acknowledges her mastery of the game, when Benny Watts, Harry Beltik, et al. support her over the phone with her game against Borgov, and when she is acknowledged by the Russian chess players who play outdoors in the closing scene of the series. Although there are also earlier opportunities to see her impact on others (eg. Jolene following her success through chess tournaments across the years, Annette Packer recognizing her representation of women in the game), I didn’t get the sense that Beth was able to really grasp her impact at those times.

All-in-all, The Queen’s Gambit shows the evolution of Beth Harmon from feeling stuck and powerless to being successful and having a positive impact on many people around her. I suspect I found the series to be touching because I also aspire to having more of my needs met.

Thinking beyond words

I use a tool called Obsidian to facilitate my thinking.

For the most part so far, this has largely taken the form of writing. I write my blog posts and newsletter issues in Obsidian. I also keep track of my notes from books, articles, movies, etc (and my associated thoughts) in Obsidian.

However, words aren’t always the most effective way to convey certain thoughts.

For example, I spend quite a bit of time playing volleyball each week. It only makes sense I’d also be doing some thinking about that.

So earlier this week, I made a couple notes on volleyball court positioning. This sort of thinking is best represented/aided with the use of diagrams.

I could use a program to create an image to represent this, but those files tend to be relatively large and can be difficult to correct or iterate over time.

So instead, I incorporated SVGs into my notes.

In editor mode, this looks something like this:

<svg width="300" height="300" style="background: white">
    <line x1="0" x2="300" y1="100" y2="100" style="stroke: red" aria-label="attack line" />
    <circle cx="50" cy="20" r="10" aria-label="OH" />
    <circle cx="150" cy="20" r="10" aria-label="MB" />
    <circle cx="250" cy="20" r="10" aria-label="S" />
    <circle cx="50" cy="175" r="10" aria-label="OH" />
    <circle cx="150" cy="275" r="10" aria-label="MB" />
    <circle cx="250" cy="175" r="10" aria-label="O" />
</svg>

But in preview mode, this gets rendered as:

I thought this was a neat addition to my notes.

I’m curious what else I will incorporate into my notes for other types of thinking in the future.

For instance, I anticipate that I will eventually have some notes on various board game strategies. I know that other people already use Obsidian for things such as tabletop role playing games, so I may have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of some giants.

Distinguishing Newsletter Content – Part II

Back in September, I was coming up to publishing the first issue of my newsletter. I published a blog post about how I was going to distinguish my newsletter content from my blog content.

One of the things that has shifted since my last blog post is that my newsletter is now weekly instead of monthly.

I was publishing my monthly newsletter as a survey of everything I had encountered over the past month. It was broad, but very long–the second issue was almost 4,000 words long.

I felt like this was too much for most people. The length was intimidating and it was hard to pick out the relevant parts for people’s unique interests.

With the shift to weekly newsletters, I’m going to be sending out shorter, atomic pieces. The plan is to have each newsletter reflect the results from a question I’d been investigating recently.

So where does this leave my blog?

I’m unsure.

There will probably be some combination of longer, developed pieces. There will probably be some personal updates. And there will probably be others posts that fall in between, or somewhere completely different.

The experimenting continues.

Exercise and fitness

I got asked to talk about what I do for exercise/fitness. Alors… voila.

Aerobic exercise

For aerobic exercise (aka cardio), I mostly do jogging following the MAF MethodNick Bare posted a video on this topic yesterday that talks a lot about this as well.

This method roughly involves improving your aerobic foundation by doing most of your training in heart rate zone 2. To calculate the max heart rate you want to train at, Phil Maffetone recommends this formula:

Max Heart Rate = 180 – Your Age

For the low end of the range, I do something similar to Nick Bare and I try to stick within 10 bpm of that maximum. So because I’m 30, my max heart rate is 150 bpm (180 – 30), which makes my target heart rate between 140bpm and 150bpm. That being said, I’m sure it would be about as effective to increase that range to 15 bpm or even 20 bpm.

(Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve started targeting a range of 135bpm to 145bpm. As Nick Bare points out in his video, this helps reduce the chances of accidentally exceeding my max target heart rate.)

As for tracking my heart rate, I use a Polar H10 heart rate sensor. I don’t trust the heart rate measurement produced by my watch 😅

On good weeks, I try to run for an hour almost every day. (This doesn’t include any time I’m playing badminton or volleyball.)

Anaerobic exercise

For anaerobic exercise, I mostly do weightlifting using the progressive overload method.

I have a 3 day (ie. chest/back/core, legs/biceps/core, shoulders/triceps/core) program that I follow twice a week. I gradually increase my weights each week for about 4 weeks, starting at 4 reps in reserve. After this, I have a deload week where I pretty much perform half the reps at half the weight.

(In writing this, I realized I should replace one of my leg days and target another region. For a long time now, my goal has been to become less of a gym tyrannosaurus (in contrast to all the gym chickens people seem to more commonly referenced). Switching over one of those days will probably help with that balance a bit more.)

For tracking my workouts, I’ve been using Strong. In addition to tracking exercises and body measurements over time, it also provides a rest timer for between sets.

Stretching/mobility

I seem to suffer from early onset rigor mortis 🤣 So as a result, I’ve been trying to spend more time working on my stretching and mobility.

I try to get in at least one Pomodoro (25 mins) each day. To track this time, I’ve been using the Session app (I also use this app for balancing work and breaks).

For stretching/mobility, I usually do one activity per day. These activities may include static stretchingfoam rolling, yoga (I usually use the Downdog app), muscle stimulation (I use a Compex SP 2.0), or taking a hot epsom salt bath.

I’ll also apply heat pads sometimes as I’m working at my standing desk.

Intermediate Packet Example: Tear-Jerkers

In Building a Second Brain, Tiago Forte discusses the concept of intermediate packets. I thought it might be useful to share an example of an intermediate packet I created recently during my participation in Relating Between the Lines.

This intermediate packet is a list of tear-jerkers. It may be useful in future conversations with friends, in future classes online, for future blog posts, when I’m looking for connections for note making, for social media posts, etc.

Please let me know what I’ve missed 😉

Different PARA implementations in Obsidian

I use Obsidian for my PKM system. When it comes to implementing PARA in Obsidian, there are three different popular approaches: folder-based, MOC-based, and a hybrid approach. I’ll provide a quick overview of these approaches and some of their pros and cons here.

Basic structure

Above I have these three different PARA approaches implemented next two each other.

On the left, you can see the PARA structure implemented entirely with folders. Each project (ie. Participate in BASB13, Write blog post on animals that eat their mates, Write book chapter on spiders) is its own folder, as is each area and resource.

In the middle, you can see the PARA structure implemented as MOCs. Each project is its own note, as is each area and resource. The project note links to each of the project notes, the area note links to each of the area notes, etc.

On the right, you can see the hybrid PARA structure. There is a folder for projects, areas, resources, and archives. But then each project is its own note, as is each area and resource. And all the files belonging to a specific project, area, resource, or archive folder reside in some “5 Notes” folder.

The upper-left side of the above screenshot illustrates what the “Projects” note looks like for the PARA structure implemented as MOCs. This is an alternative to having the “1 Projects” folder that the other two approaches have.

The bottom-left and right sides of the above screenshot illustrate what the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” project might look like implemented as an MOC.

Each of these three approaches provide the focused context intended by PARA. This context allows you to see all the files related to one specific thing at a time, while hiding all the other files. This allows you to focus on what you’re interested in without getting overwhelmed by everything else in your PKM.

In the folder approach, the context is provided by opening the folder for a specific project, area, resource, or archive folder. In the MOC and hybrid approaches, the context is provided by opening the MOC for a specific project, area, resource, or archive MOC.

Completing a project

In PARA, when you complete a project, the project gets archived and it’s associated files get moved to the next most actionable area in your PARA structure.

Let’s suppose we complete the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” project.

In the folder approach, we can see that the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” folder has been moved from “1 Projects” to “4 Archives”. It’s old contents have been moved out of the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” folder and into the “Write book chapter on spiders” folder and the “Insects” folder.

In the MOC approach, the link to the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” MOC has been moved from the “Projects” MOC to the “Archives” MOC. The “Write book chapter on spiders” project MOC includes a link to the “Notes from ‘The Spider Encyclopedia'” note, and the “Insects” area MOC includes a link to the “Notes from podcast on praying mantids”.

In the hybrid approach, we can see that the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” folder has been moved from “1 Projects” to “4 Archives”. The “Write book chapter on spiders” project MOC includes a link to the “Notes from ‘The Spider Encyclopedia'” note, and the “Insects” area MOC includes a link to the “Notes from podcast on praying mantids”.

Pros and cons

(Including this screenshot here because it will be relevant to some of the points listed below.)

Monolocation vs multilocation

As you can see with the folder approach, files can only live one place at one time. For example, if we look at the “Notes from podcast on praying mantids” file, it lives in either the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” folder (ie. before the project was completed) or in the “Insects” folder (ie. after the project was completed).

In both the MOC and hybrid approaches, files can live in multiple places simultaneously. For example, if we look at the “Notes from podcast on praying mantids” file, it can be linked from the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” MOC and the “Insects” MOC at the same time.

Some people prefer having a file live in only one place at a time. This forces them to be very intentional about how that file is going to be used.

Some people prefer the ability for a file to live in multiple places at the same time. For example, suppose you have two projects on the go. You have a file that is relevant to both of these projects. If a file can live in each of these projects at the same time, this prevents you from having to decide which project will be most immediately actionable, and will also provide a more complete context as you jump between working on these projects.

Historical context

As you can see with the folder approach, after the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” project was completed, all the notes were moved out of that folder.

In both the MOC and hybrid approaches, the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” MOC still links to its original notes after it was completed.

For some people, historical context is important. If they’re reflecting on a project, they may want to know what resources they were working with when they came up with their final project. Or suppose they’re working on a project. They recall a resource that was useful for a previous project that would also be useful now. If they can reference that previous project for that resource, they can find it pretty quickly. Otherwise, they have to put in more effort to figure out where the file is living.

Clutter

As you can see with the MOC approach, all the files live together in the same place.

In both the folder and hybrid approaches, there’s a bit more structure offered by having separate folders for projects, areas, resources, and archives.

Some people prefer to navigate their files using a folder structure.

Others may be comfortable opening certain files directly, or finding files by first navigating to another note (eg. the “Projects” MOC).

Serendipity

For people familiar with Zettelkasten, you may be familiar with the idea of using your notes for serendipity.

These are the three graph views for each of the three approaches after the “Write blog post on animals that eat their mates” project is completed. The left shows the folder approach, the middle shows the MOC approach, and the right shows the hybrid approach.

As can be seen in the graphs, the MOC and hybrid approaches offer more links between your notes. These represent opportunities for a new connection between different ideas to be discovered serendipitously. Nick Milo recently published a great video on how to use the graph view for this discovery process.

Completeness

Part of the PARA philosophy involves the project completion process. When we complete a project, we look at all the resources associated with that project and then ensure that those resources are being appropriately applied to the rest of your PARA structure. (Resources should always be available where they’re most immediately actionable.)

In the folder approach, when you complete a project, a file gets moved to one other location.

In the MOC and hybrid approaches, when you complete a project, links may be created in multiple MOCs/notes. This can cause some people anxiety: what if I forget to add a link somewhere? What if I don’t add links everywhere they’re actionable/relevant?

I would argue that trying to be complete in your creation of links will be stressful and make your PKM system less fun for you; you may even stop using it because you feel like it’s not working or flawed. This is a case where we’re trying to create links just-in-case.

I’d argue a better approach is to create links just-in-time. That is, when you wrap up a project, link those related resources wherever most immediately jumps to mind. But don’t stress about forgetting things. If you encounter a note in the future that would benefit from another link, you can add it then. You can also use the graph view to discover links that may be useful to add (see the previous section, “Serendipity”). This will prevent you from disengaging with your notes due to unnecessary anxiety. (Random side note, we also call this approach the scouts rule in the coding community.)

Conclusion

In this blog post, I provided an overview of three different approaching to implementing PARA in Obsidian. I showed how completing a project differs in each of these approaches. Finally, I discussed some of the differences that you may encounter in each approach.

I hope this was useful! Let me know which approach you’re planning on trying! (And don’t stress too much about getting it right–you can always switch approaches in the future if the one you choose doesn’t jive for you 🙂)