Goals for 2019

As many do, I am attempting to affect 2019 by picking skills to improve, subjects to learn, ways I hope to improve as a person, and then deriving (hopefully) concrete milestones to benchmark that progress.

🔗 2018

Before I dive in, I want to briefly look back on 2018 and the goals I set for that year and how it worked out. I didn’t publish these anywhere generally accessible, but I did publish them to about two dozen people so I can say I called my shot. For brevity I’m going to only discuss the general goals and not the milestones.

🔗 Skills To Improve

I wanted to “consistently read quality non-fiction.” This is mostly a reaction against Twitter. I read a handful of non-fiction books last year but fell off the wagon around October. It was mostly a success in that I was able to actually do it and I think that the books I read were mostly “quality,” though at some point that becomes a no-true-scotsman. This strongly influences my primary goal for 2019.

I wanted to cook more. I would call this a failure. I probably cook once or twice a week, and that was a milestone, but I was intending to cook something I’d never cooked before once a week, and for some reason I find this exceptionally exhausting. Tabling this for 2019.

I wanted to get back into the habit of exercise, which was a success. I do a relatively brief workout two times per week. I might try replacing one of those workouts with a jog to the beach, which I love doing but takes up a lot of time. No longer a goal but a habit.

🔗 Subjects to Learn

Both of the subjects I set out to learn / improve on were related to my job. I’m not sure that’s good or bad.

First off I wanted to get some basic grounding in Machine Learning. I started this off before 2018 started, but that’s fine. The first of January isn’t magical. I basically took Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning Class and then didn’t do anything else. I’m ok with that for now but admit that I’m not exactly a machine learning lord.

Next I wanted to improve on my SRE knowledge. This is almost literally my job title, so while I am motivated to improve, I also already do a lot of the basic tenets of “SRE” so it’s incremental improvements. The main thing I did was finish the original SRE Book and started on the new SRE Workbook. I intend to finish the Workbook and then after that focus on the concrete stuff at work.

It’s happened countless times that I feel nervous or guilty about not doing something at work because I feel pressured for time, only for leadership to then make it a specific requirement later. I need to trust my gut more and act.

🔗 Ways to Improve

The goals here are basically general terms for being a better parent. I made them general but at least for the first goal it doesn’t even apply to any other sphere of life.

For 2018 I wanted to be more patient and less angry with my kids. I am not a zen monk, but I am more even keeled than I was when 2017 ended. I can take some credit for this, but a lot of it surely goes to my kids for being a little older and a little more mature than they were then.

The hardest thing for me is when Roman (4) is illogical and emotional. I know I sound like a robot saying that, but when a kid is sobbing and angry because the cat won’t make their breakfast, I think most people would be at least a little frustrated. I also think that I can give How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk some of the credit for the success here.

Another goal was to multitask when I needed to, but singletask when possible. This was a failure in that I gave up, but a success in that I think it’s just a bad idea. More on this for 2019.

🔗 2019

I’m structuring my goals for 2019 similarly to 2018.

🔗 Skills

The first skill I want to focus on is executive judgement. I thought that this was a general, widely accepted term but after doing a touch of research I can’t find evidence to back that up. I am happy to adopt a better term if someone suggests one. Anyway, when I say executive judgement I mean taking a step back and thinking about what I am doing from the big picture. Concrete examples of this are realizing that some book I’m reading doesn’t do anything for me, or that some blog post is not worth reading or finishing, or that I should change direction entirely. I think the main way this will show up in 2019 will be giving up on things I shouldn’t even be doing in the first place.

I think another way of thinking about this is: how do you make decisions? There are a few ways to make better decisions: rules of thumb, habits (ie avoiding decisions,) and finally, getting better at decisions themselves, which is what I’m aiming at. I believe that decisions made “by default” are probably reasonable, but suboptimal, and lead to things like reading twitter for an hour straight, or reading a long blog post about some new feature in Windows, etc.

The next skill I want to develop is monotasking. Really this is a very specific application of executive judgement. If I am bouncing back and forth between twitter, RSS, email, and actual work, I am not really getting anything done. I should close the three I am not doing and focus on one. I have had great success lately closing slack so that I can focus on other things. I need to make this a habit with more than just slack.

Finally, I want to spend more time writing. According to my git repo I wrote about 34 blog posts this year. That’s pretty good! I’m ok with that quantity, but I’d rather it be better spread out instead of having months long gaps between spurts of posts.

🔗 Subjects

When it comes to subjects I’m taking an about face and focusing entirely on stuff barely relevant to work this year. The fundamental goal here is to gain more knowledge in practical fields. So while it’s cool to know about astrophysics, I don’t expect that to be as useful as knowing how to build basic machines, recognize various plants, and understand cause and effect in history.

To be clear, the examples above are just that. I am having trouble making a list of specific subjects that I want to improve. If I had all the time in the world I’d try to get a passable grasp of:

  • human anatomy
  • plants
  • weather
  • knots
  • practical physics (building things)
  • history

When I get to the concrete goals later I’ll discuss this more.

🔗 Ways to Improve

One of the important things I’d like to get better at is “being present.” I know this is very in vogue right now, but I feel like it has less to do with it being popular and more to do with the persistent distractions that surround us. Arguably this is a reframing of monotasking. That’s fine.

Finally, I intend to use my planning system better, specifically by spreading out tasks in my contextual todo list. I’ve been slacking and just putting any and all tasks in the “anywhere” context (including articles retrieved via rss!) and that breaks the whole model. My plan instead is to try to avoid the “anywhere” context whenever possible. We’ll see how it goes.

🔗 Concrete Goals

My concrete goals are pretty distinct from the above general goals. I’m ok with that, but if it were at work I’d accuse whoever wrote them as justifying them rather than deriving them.

🔗 Monthly Learning Days

The idea here is from something I wrote on twitter a while ago. Basically, I can’t really go to conferences as much as I used to because of kids and some work travel that I need to do, so I hope to make private miniconferences comprised of recorded videos, blog posts, and tiny projects. They would be typically about a day but I’d like to leave open the option of three day ones maybe once or twice a year.

I would expect to spend about an hour planning each one, though having not done this before I’m probably way off on that estimate. Some example topics might include:

  • game development, maybe just by reading pico-8 cart code
  • music, possibly by just covering songs with my guitar or pico-8 tracker
  • recorded video from professionally relevant conferences (Go, Perl, Performance, SRE, etc)

Afterwards I’d like to write up a brief report, including the schedule, any important takeaways, etc. To keep this lightweight I’d like the report to be less than 500 words, preferably 250 words. If I am able to do this it will satisfy monotastking, executive judgement, and writing goals.

I want to do the first one of these very soon, maybe the second weekend in January, since I’m so excited about the idea.

🔗 Write 200 words/day, publish weekly

This was inspired by a tweet I saw by someone who has published some books. I don’t expect to write any books, but I do want to build a better habit of writing regularly. I had pretty good results from publishing OSS weeky, though it did end up “rote” which I think is bad, but I think that’s a tradeoff worth making, at least for a year or two. I do think that maybe “an edit cycle” can cout as the 200 words, since inserting links, coming up with social media posts, etc, can take a solid half hour.

🔗 Avoid mulitasking

I only will multitask when I have to, for example I can do dishes or pay bills when the kids are around, but I can’t read blog posts or program (unless it’s for a production incident.) Similarly, while it can be a bit of a relief to pull up twitter, slack, facebook, or RSS when I am feeling a little spent, I would rather finish what I’m doing and then spend time set aside for relaxing. This is to be more present and enforce monotasking.

🔗 Avoid Rote Reading

I read rss and have ended up mindlessly reading things that are probably not relevant to my life. If they are interesting, that’s fine, but they should have the appropriate priority. I intend to abandon articles sooner. I intend to skip, categorize, or deprioritize articles based on their title. I intend to track the quality of a given source and unsubscribe if it takes up too much overhead to skip articles. This is all to train executive judgement and recover a little bit of my time.

🔗 Write a sentance for each of Roman, Axel, Catherine, and general gratitude daily

I expect this to be fairly straightforward with benefits daily and down the road. I was doing this on and off for the boys for a while and would really like to keep up, if only to show them when they get older some of the silly or cute things they did. I am typically a grateful person, but putting it in words seems good.

🔗 Learn Knots

I’ve been learning various knots for a few months just because I think they are intersting. While I can tie a lot of them pretty well, I tend to not remember which I should use or remember how to tie them with slight changes in angle, rope, etc. So I intend to continue learning knots, and using varying kinds of rope and string and in different angles so that I can remember them when I need to.

A cool side note is that I got The Ashley Book of Knots for Christmas, which is fascinating and probably the most important reference on the topic. This is to satisfy the goal of learning more in practical fields.


We’ll see how this goes! I have been surprised at how well just making goals has worked for me in the past few years. Maybe I only remember what’s gone well, or decide that the stuff that went poorly doesn’t matter? We’ll see how this year goes. I have no illusions of monthly or quarterly updates, but probably will have another retrospective in 2020 if I think it’s worth doing.

Posted Sun, Dec 30, 2018

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