Saturday, January 16, 2016

Looking to 2016 with New Years Resolutions that Stick!

I can't believe its already 2 weeks into the New Year and I'm just settling on my resolutions. It isn't that they haven't been done, but I've been trying quite hard to marry them with the mentoring recommendations that I supply to people throughout the year. After all, how can I give people advice on how to achieve their goals when I myself am not following and helping to prove out the advice!

The advice I tend to give comes down to very basic time management. You have 168 hours in a week, 1/3rd of which is taken up by sleep and another quarter which is taken up by work. If you consider your time at work well spent and accomplished, then you are left with approximately two more work like things that you can deal with and make significant progress on. You'll also find that the majority of the time you can commit is on the weekends. The following graphs hopefully break this down by showing an average day, a 5 day work week and finally a breakdown with the weekends included. If your week doesn't look like this, great, build your own graphs for your commitments and you'll likely find a variation of the "Big 3" pattern falls out.

Looking at this graph you clearly can't see any way for 2 things to compete with work. We have a decent sized commute, a big chunk of sleep, a big chunk of work with little buffer. That buffer is your family time, exercise, decompression, etc... You have to figure out how to make functional for you to fit in time for your big accomplishments since it does represent a hefty chunk of your overall weekly buffer. Here is the same graph, but expanded to show the 5 day work week.

That buffer has now grown to 20 hours. This is now competitive with the 40 hours we spend at work assuming that the 20 hours is very focused. We are constantly bombarded with interruptions at work that we can avoid when working on our own projects during our buffer time. But we can do even better. Let's grow the buffer by adding in our weekend time.

We now have 50 hours (55 if you take away your fun time, which I consider playing games or watching movies or something like that). You could do one HUGE thing in that time or you could split the time and do 2 big things. I like to split this down into 40 (work), 30 (a big project), 20 (smaller projects). As an example, blogging on the weekends I roll up into my social, networking and mentoring projects which I try to fit into about 20 hours a week.

Some people will point out that you don't need 20 hours to accomplish something. That 20 hours a week for many months is a huge time sink. Remember I'm comparing the accomplishments you want to achieve to something akin to your work. Your work fuels your entire lifestyle and is hopefully something you really enjoy doing. I'm not preaching on how to be a better multi-tasker, I'm instead coaching on how to increase the probability of achieving a goal.

One more realization is that work is a constant. Its something you show up to 48+ weeks out of the year. Not every accomplishment will take a year of your time. I'm focusing you on achieving 2 additional goals AT A TIME since its better to have a 2 accomplished goals after 3 months with 6 more to go than coming up on the end of the year and trying to land 8 that you spread too thin. This means that you'll schedule more than 2 goals for the year and that each goal will probably have a duration less than a year in length. Examples might be buying a house or committing yourself for 3 months to a sports team in the spring.

This provides the frame of reference for understanding my resolutions breakdown.

My Resolutions

I'm choosing Health and Exercise, Work and Social Networking as my big 3 commitments for the year. Within these I have some breakdowns or sub-goals that make up the overall commitment. I want to go a step further though and make sure I haven't overbooked myself, that my goals are able to be accomplished. Given the 50 hour week buffer I should be able further break that down.

I also have some personal goals that have very fixed time constraints as well as some educational goals to keep my mind focused and fresh. Welcome to my 2016 New Years Resolutions!

  • Work
    • Make Significant Design and Implementation Progress on an HTML 5 Event Loop for EdgeHTML - See my blog on Promises.
    • Deep Dive into Telemetry Collection and Visualization for Web Browsers - See my progress in my blog on API Telemetry.
    • Accelerate the Identification and Removal of Legacy Code in EdgeHTML
    • Contribute 3 Articles to the IE Team Blog
    • Make Significant Contributions to WebVR and VR for the Web in general - See my thoughts in my blog on our WebVR Hackathon.
  • Health and Exercise
  • Social, Networking, Blogging, Mentorship
    • Achieve my Goals for Mentoring Diversity
    • Establish Consistent Mentors for Myself (Shooting for 4)
    • Mentor More Startup Entrepreneurs (Shooting for 3)
    • Do One Seattle Meetup per Month (JS, Indie Game Devs, etc...)
    • Do One Hackathon Quarterly (Ludum Dare?)
    • Try to Blog Once per Week (Consistency is King!)
    • Try to Kick Off One HTML 5 Focused Blog (Variety)
      • Maybe Make it a Video Streaming Channel?
Just because those are my 3 major areas doesn't make the next set of personal and educational goals any less important. It just means that the above 3 will trump many other things and that their activation energy is higher. I want to increase my changes of being successful and time (combined with effort) is a surefire way of doing that. Here are my more constrained resolutions!
  • Personal Goals
    • My Wife and I will Buy our Next House
    • Plan and Take our Japan Trip
    • Spend a Week and Visit New York!
  • Education
    • Natural Language Study through Duo Lingo and Other Gamification Based Applications
    • Read 1 Fiction and 1 Non-Fiction Book per Month and set up a Book List Page
    • Take a Data Science Course through Coursera or Udacity
    • Learn the R Programming Language
This is a mostly complete list of my publicly shareable goals. I still value some level of privacy so I can't be completely transparent. Keep that in mind, since you'll see me leaving some buffer in my year and will probably wonder, "What is he going to do with that?". Mostly the answer is, account for all of my mistakes, but some of it will be used for things I'm unable to share at this time.

Broad Strokes

To take a first stab, try to see what it looks like to fit your goals into a single weeks buffer. This is not what your final scheduling would look like, but it will help to give you an understanding of whether or not you might be over budgeted. It also helps you to realize what is the relative cost of this commitment versus your already existing sleep, food and work. If this is your first time breaking things down this way it will be enlightening. Here is my basic breakdown of the 50 hour budget based on overall goals (no sub-goal breakdown).

This is a moment to validate the data. For instance, is 6 hours a week proper for exercise? What about 5 hours for reading? I've added in 8 hours each weekend for games, television, hiking, etc... (though hiking may at some point overlap with my exercise goals instead ;-) To me the initial data looks pretty good and I have a nice buffer of 15 hours, or 30% of my original buffer time. This gives me a lot of flexibility. Once you are happy with your weekly breakdown, just scale it up to a full year.

Now is the opportunity to see if anything leaps out as absurd. For instance, does 250 hours of reading allow us to meet our goal? We want to read 24 books, at 10 hours average per book (I read big, technical books :-) then we can do 25. Okay, so those numbers hold water. Language learning might be a bit high, since it seems like more than I spent in high school learning Spanish. Then again, I want to kick my younger self's butt, so that seems pretty solid too.

These are all yearly goals for me. Things I'm going to continue doing throughout and not things that will be done in say 3 months and then replaced. So overall the numbers here look good. This also accounts for all but my personal goals around travel and a house purchase, which should easily fit blocks like More Fun (if buying a house can be considered fun) or the rather large 750 hour buffer.

From here I like to do one more breakdown, which I won't graph, but I'll fit it into a table instead. What if we took the sub-goals, decided on some metric and then computed our accomplishment? We could then compare that against the accomplishment we want to achieve. I'll do one example and then just leave you with the chart.

Let's take the 365 Mile Challenge from Zuckerberg. If I assume that I run 6mi/h on average and I have 300 hours of exercise available to me, then I end up running 1800 miles. That is way further than I need to go. In fact it is ~5x farther. Some more math tells me that I need to run 1 mile per day, 7 miles per week. That means I need a bit more than 1 hour (1 hour and 10 minutes) each week of running to achieve the goal. Using these figures I can then layer in swimming (1 hour weekly) and stairs (maybe 2 hours weekly) and determine that I'm well buffered for exercise and in fact that is good. I have time to stretch ;-) Let's see how this pans out for everything that isn't Work.

Resolutions Metrics Totals Achievements
Exercise 300 Exercise is well buffered!
Miles\h 6 1800 ~ 5x the 365 Challenge
Swims 1 300 ~ 6x the swims needed
Stairs\h 100 30000 ~ 300 Empire State Buildings
Reading 250 Reading is very tight
Books\h 0.1 25 ~ 10/h book average
Language 300 Language is extremely well buffered!
Duo Lingo Lessons\h 4 1200 ~ 3 Languages at 1200-1800 words
Social 500 Social is potentially overbooked
Blogs per Hour 0.25 125 ~ 2.25 times goal of 1 per week!
Mentor Sessions/h 1 300 ~ 2/wk for a 100 sessions target
Hours per Hackathon 32 15.625 ~ 4/yr is the target
Hours per Meetup 4 125 ~ 12/yr is target

There are some fun metrics in here. For instance, 300 Empire state buildings would be climbed over the course of 100 hours. Its okay since I'll be splitting that 6 hours of time between several different exercise resolutions. It does tell me that even once I break it down I'll be doing a lot of each of those. Which is good! I want to maximize my chances of success in my major goals. Health is an issue for me at this time and so to get in better health you have to not just do what an average, healthier person would do. You have to do a bit more, take a bit more time, avoid injury and build a sustainable plan.

At this level I start to show weakness in my initial plans as well. Look at my language learning. I doubt that I'll learn 3 languages in one year, but based on the lessons present in a Duo Lingo course, I would end up maybe doing a language every 4 months. That might mean that I can manage that goal more carefully, reduce the time and assign to somewhere else. It may also mean that I'm underestimating the relative complexity of the lessons so its better to look at this after 1, 2, and 3 months and see how things are going and adapt as appropriate.

We also see that Social is where I'm both putting a lot of my time, but its potentially still not enough. I have to ask myself, am I doing too much? Or do I need to allocate more time. Remember this is one of my major 3 commitments and that education was not. I am very likely to focus more time and more energy on this area. It is also one of the most complicated areas (it comprises many components and sub-goals) and so my estimates are more likely to be incorrect and there are things that I'm likely not accounting for. I'll certainly be reviewing this one very closely to see how I'm able to stick to the commitments I laid forth.


If you can take away one bit of information in this article, please take away the concept of the "Big 3". If you want to really make a dent in something you have to treat it with the same level of priority as you do your job or career. That commitment will present itself in both time, effort and accountability. You want to over buffer and leave yourself room to succeed. Don't expect that because this is something you are driven to do that it'll be any easier.

When fitting your resolutions into your schedule always use "primary time" and not "overlapped time". You could listen to books on your drive for instance and try to "double up", but you are really only cheating yourself. You should value focused and committed time over all else. You are free to double up, overlap and otherwise multi-task. Just don't do it for the things you want to make huge improvements on.

Simple math is often the best math. You can gain many insights with just a few sums and extrapolating over time. This kind of math is most often defeated by poor estimates but poor estimates can be countered by sufficient buffer.

Once you have a basic plan in place, set up time to retrospect and make sure your estimates were accurate. Time trumps all and the more time you have available to you the easier it is to correct a mistake. If you are off in the first month but can average the mistake over 11 months that is much better than figuring out in December that your 40 hour commitment is actually 80.

Finally, make plans to be done. If you have 8 accomplishments you want over the course of the year it is better to bank a couple in the early months than to try to sprint at the end to finish all 8. This is a classic multi-tasking mistake that people make once they become comfortable with their plan and estimates. Its probably the number one cause in software engineering when a features misses the check-in deadlines by just a couple of days. Buffers are built into plans so you finish early, not so that you can consume the buffer up front and then fit the last 2 days of programming into the last 2 days of the milestone. It almost never works out!

I'm putting it all out there for you guys, so if you see me slacking off let me know. There is no greater motivator for performance than a critical audience. I'm quite happy this year to have this set of goals, of varying diversity and to have confidence that I can achieve them all.

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