Little Stones for 2019

December 31, 2018 by Gabe | [mmd] |

I haven't made a New Year resolution in over 20 years. As a young idealist I rebelled against the arbitrary Roman calendar. As an old-ish man I understand the convenience of the New Year resolution. For many of us it concludes what might be a long period of down-time where we can contemplate all of the ways we are not happy. Humans are kind of broken that way.1

During vacation I often eat too much, watch a lot of bad television, and have copious amounts of time to trip over that damn Bowflex. It's only natural that at the end of this time I start to think about how I want my life to not be about those things. But, I resist the urge to set goals and instead start thinking about outlines and small stones.

Stones

I live in New England. We have tiny stone walls criss crossing the fields and forests. There are thousands of miles of two foot tall Hobbit walls just outside my door that attest to our history as really poor farm land. When I first moved here it really struck me that every single wall was made in a time before the Bobcat excavator. Stone by stone each farmer marked the boundary of their aspirations. That seemed like a nice analogy for making and achieving goals so I revisit this idea often.

I start by marking out a rough limit for my goals, realizing that this isn’t the real work. The real work is going to be moving stones. One small stone at time. First, I have to pick the stones to move then I have to actually do some work. The stones must fit together to make something I can sustain. Having a goal of losing weight is immature and mostly unachievable. Having a goal to buy smaller plates is a manageable stone I can move.

I've enjoyed reading David Seah's Groundhog Day Resolutions over the years. There’s an uncomfortable kind of honesty happening in those posts that feels familiar. It’s rare that we get to see beyond the curtain of anyone’s public projection and David is brutally honest. For nearly a decade David has written about goals and failures in a very frank way. I’ve found it helpful to disconnect from the goal setting in a way that allows me to be critical.

I don’t keep a schedule for goal setting. I usually start thinking about resolutions around the end of the calendar year and the end of the summer. Both of these are pretty convenient times. I’m pretty good with overall trajectories of my goals and I think this is partly due to a modest commitment to journaling and reviews.

Journaling

In all honesty, I'm terrible at journaling. It's more aspirational than it is functional. I feel better when I write down how I feel because it provides some objectivity when I re-read what I write. I'd like to blame my failures with maintaining a journal on my tools but the reality is that I just haven't found the motivation I need. Plus, I'm pretty cynical about self-help and a part of me sneers at the exercise. But, I want to get better at journaling and my first stone will be to find a method that I can maintain.

Day One is a beautiful app with a huge number of features. But, it's also full of bugs. A lot of bugs. It crashes on iOS regularly. The syncing service is extremely fragile. I've lost journal entries and photos. While the Day One customer service is exceptional, I've had my account corrupted and required a restore more than once. I'm also skeptical of their security based on a recent access issue:

Each journal record in the database has a “accountID” field, which determines which account has access to that journal. Since all journal data was successfully restored but some user accounts were not, there were journals in the database owned by accounts that no longer existed in that database. (e.g. “My Travel Journal” might be owned by account 123456, even though that account no longer existed.) New user accounts are created with sequential IDs. Since the restored cluster did not contain the newest account IDs, new accounts created on May 8 were receiving lower IDs than expected, which overlapped with existing accounts in the original database. As a result, those new accounts had IDs matching some of the existing journal records, and received access to a few existing journals.

That's one hell of an error!

I use the Day One end to end encryption which may have been a safe guard for the 106 people impacted by this defect. But, I continue to have niggling suspicions which impacts the quality of my journal entries. I assume undisclosed defects are much more extensive than the publicly acknowledged defects, so I avoid using names in my journal. I avoid adding specifics. I avoid writing anything that is sensitive. That diminishes a lot of the value of journaling.

So one goal I have for 2019 is to do whatever I need to do to get better and more consistent at journaling and reviewing these journals. I either need to trust Day One encryption and write more expressively, or find an alternative that I like and stick with.

Reviews

Reviews are the worst. They feel like a huge waste of time when I'm doing them, yet I know they are one of the most important parts of every project. All too often I'll finish a weekly review and feel hopeless because nothing got done and I still have so many other areas of my life that need to still be reviewed. In 2019 I want to be more effective at reviewing.

I started on this goal several months ago and it's based a little on Getting Things Done Review and a little on Retrospectives. I've been attempting to apply GTD reviews with more consistency. The first stone I laid for this habit was to make reviews part of my morning time block. Every workday I get 6 a.m. to 7 a.m for reviews. My calendar is blocked and I do not allow anything to take that time.2

The retrospective is a Friday activity. I take 30 minutes to write down how the week went. I do this in my journal. I try to be honest in my failures. Only I see these but my purpose is to learn from what I’m doing wrong and apply that in my regular reviews.

More Notes

Maybe it’s related to the “too many inboxes” problem but I’ve struggled with writing down things I will need. I’ve always been a information pack-rat in the past, yet somehow this year my notes have become thinner and less frequent. About two months ago I decided to get better.

I now have a morning task to review the day’s meetings and create a note stub for each one. That small investment of time and planning has helped a lot. I feel better prepared for meetings and my notes have improved slightly. It’s still a work in progress but the stones are moving in the right direction.


  1. I try very hard not to be prescriptive, because I know I’m just another dummy on the internet. I have no advice for anyone else but these are my personal insights. 

  2. I work with teams in several time zones, so it's not as easy as you might think to block off an hour before the sun rises. 

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