I ended up with a solid 2 weeks of vacation in December 2020 around the holidays. I had always wanted to get into listening to audio books more - but some barrier had always blocked me. Reading books has always been a slow process for me - as a trait I think I inherited from my dad (a Yale Philosophy professor), when I encounter something interesting, I tend to dive in deep with it intellectually.
My dad actually has a very funny anecdote where he's offended religious ceremonies in the past - whereby a sermon or teaching will interest him, he'll actually get up and walk out of the room to go take a walk and dive deep with the interesting thought that was imparted. Not surprisingly, he had been approached following this by the speaker - asking if there was something that offended my father to cause him to standup and leave - to which my dad will inform them: "No, you just said something interesting!! You should probably be more worried if you don't see me standing up and leaving."
Anyways, this "hereditary" trait is actually very helpful for truly parsing and squeezing out meaning from important books, but it has the very unfortunate downside of taking me a long time to get through texts. Audiobooks seemed at first immeasurably worse - since I had no fluid control over the speaker's speed, I'd find myself constantly pausing - wanting to write something down (physical books have the added benefit of being a physical object, the same text is always on the same part of the page, which is hugely helpful to the human brain, and especially more visual learners), and then losing my place when coming back.
Something about my December vacation really opened me up more to the experience though. Between my many walks, and long drives out to the mountains to play with my young ones, and driving between our old and new house in the process of moving (a process that continued into January) audio books filled the void of these times - and also significantly enhanced them. I actually looked forward to our mountain trips almost as much for the drive (about a 45 minute drive each way => 1.5 hours of an audio book) as for the destination.
While retention did likely suffer, I still got a good amount of value out of these books (the extent to which I think has the potential to be life-changing... I hope - more on this later), which I think many of the lessons infiltrating the neural net of my subconscious, even if I couldn't consciously recall them on command.
Which is good. The better of the books I've read recently, namely:
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- So Good They Can't Ignore You also by Cal Newport
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
I'm planning to re-listen to in February!
In my start of the year update I highlighted the following tweet:
Zack DeRoseIn 2021:
+ I want to be a kind person.
+ I want to be a person that does what he says he's going to do.
+ I want to be an exceptional father and husband.
+ I want to be an athletic person.
+ I want to be an exceptionally productive person.06:57 AM - 02 Jan 2021
This is the bedrock of what I what to accomplish this year (the previously mentioned book, Atomic Habits, was very inspirational in highlighting the importance of identity in terms of meaningful change!)
Paramount goal of the year. My subjective impression is that I am a kind person by nature. I'm essentially a Labrador Retriever in human form: large, a bit clumsy - but entirely unphased by my own clumsiness, big people pleaser, friendly [, and unfortunately very food-motivated!]). I like this about myself! And while I do want to make 2021 a transformative year, I 100% want this dimension at least to be a fixed point, that I pivot the rest of my habits around. Plus there's nothing to say I couldn't get still better at being kind as well!
This is an aspect I struggle with - an unfortunate side effect of people-pleasing and being in a field that I absolutely love, with soooo much to explore - I always take on wayyy more than I can chew. I think in some objective measures, how much you say you'll do is immaterial in comparison to what you actually get done - but when you have commitments that you make with others, that's simply not an acceptable excuse.
Learning how to say 'no' is still a lesson I'm forcing myself to work through - and focus will be a big part of the rest of this update. Suffice to say though that while I do have some systems now in place to help me in this effort - there's still a long road to go.
Obviously, family is very important to me - but even more than "important" - being a father especially is one of my greatest joys. I legitimately look forward to the end of my workday everyday and the opportunity to play with my younger ones at the nearby park - and watching Dr. Who every night with our older children. Plus some other adventures we had along the way:
Last week was rainbows - this week it's weird, tiny pyrimids at the top of mountains.
Couldn't get a picture of this, but there was a giant F on the other side of this mountain (presumably for Florence, AZ). twitter.com/zackderose/sta…19:41 PM - 31 Jan 2021@wesgrimes ??) https://t.co/agJczCyUm6
My wife is nothing short of amazing - homeschooling the children while I'm working in addition to handling nearly all of the logistics of the relocation process that has mostly dominated our January. During the break where I would often take the kids to the mountains, she actually painted and decorated essentially the entire new house - the results have been amazing. Some highlights, plus some of the "help" she's gotten from our younglings:
We actually came up with our own set of "family identities" at the start of the year, and have been significantly altering our behavior as a result. Most noteably, we've all done really well at keeping our new house feeling 'new' - by increasing our cleaning habits and making them more regular. My mother just came to visit recently, and normally, this would have inspired a family-wide herculean effort of cleaning up to make the house presentable... This time though, aside from making up the guest bedroom for her, we didn't have any preparation. Feels great and a definite win I think!
In 2020, I managed to lose a total of 50 lbs. So far in 2021, I've put 12 back on. I'd like to ultimately lose another 50 lbs. this year as well, so I'm moving in the wrong direction.
I'm hoping to right the ship in February - hopefully losing what I gained back - but I won't commit to that just yet. To accomplish this, as part of my 'morning stack' of habits, I'm include a daily run (more on this later) - running was a dialy routine for us at our older house, but have not yet been able to really work it into my habits at our new house just yet. In addition, I'll be returning to the keto diet that had been working very well for me. I'm sure more will be required to lose another 50 lbs. again this year, but establishing these habits I think are solid steps for February.
We'll get into most of this shortly with the January 2021 Accomplishments, but in most areas for the month, I think I was on the whole, productive. Not exceptionally productive - "exceptionally" is a very high bar! - but productive. More importantly, I think January established a solid baseline for incremental improvement in this area, as well as kick-started habits and systems that I intend to keep growing throughout this year.
- Appeared on Nx Office hours, and Tech Talks with Santosh [which I thought went especially well!].
- Our family was able to sponsor a scholarship to beesoft labs
- Had several of my January blogs do very well on dev.to - much better than I had initially expected!
- Launched zackderose.dev - a proper 'portfolio' site to show the content I've been working on
- Very proud of my blog posts and ZDS shows this month. I feel like I finally lived up to the expectations I had for myself in terms of what I knew I was capable of accomplishing. There's still a looooong road ahead, and I'm very aware of many ways I could make this content better, but for now - I'll take the win!!!
Good news: I accomplished my goal of 4 blog articles, zds shows, and books read for January!!
Bad news: I completely botched my YouTube content goal, and fell short on my OSS aspirations.
In early February, I was able to release at least one of the YouTube videos I had planned for January:
That I feel like I was able to be proud of - there's definitely lots of space for improvement, but I'm looking forward to creating more and exploring that space more in the future.
A staple of my mornings is a morning coffee. Following James Clear's advice in Atomic Habits, I employed "habit stacking" to add onto that built-in ritual sitting down with my notebook and planning out my day.
The notebook and paper is actually a habit I've been purposefully using since November - each month I'll buy myself a little 1/2 inch 3-ring binder, fill it with notes/dividers/tabs. I find the act of drawing out solutions especially helps my brain to process things better. I rarely revisit my notes either (though I suppose I could) - but in general I'm writing to come back to my notes later. Rather my goals are to draw out thoughts as a way for my brain to better make sense of things and connect things after being 'fed' a visual image.
Speaking of drawing, I've been absolutely thrilled with the new fountain pen I acquired in December as part of Nrwl's holiday gifts! The richness of the ink, paired with the feel of the quill hitting the page is surprisingly satisfying. I've been using this pen nearly exclusively, and will need to reorder more if something ever happens to this one (I've already had to order a larger pack of replacement ink cartridges!!) - it's ruined all other pens for me!
Another aspect I'm looking to build into my system is this Timeular cube. Essentially, this works by connecting to your phone and tracking time you spend on tasks - by turning the cube to show a different side face-up you signify to the app that you're working on that associated task. While this is helpful for tracking my hours (important as a consultant!) and giving better/more accurate data on where I'm spending my time, I've found the ritual of taking that physical object and turning it, and having it on my desk where I can see it has been a great 'anchor' to setting myself into given tasks - plus the ritual of setting it on a side a the start of each task, and returning it to it's stand at the end of the day is a nice ritual && capstone to enrich my day.
Last piece here, creating videos is something that I've always really wanted to do - but the process of creating them has always had SOOOO much friction it seems. As a result of my conversation with Preston on ZDS though, I gave Camtasia a try (used to create the Ngrx video previously mention), and have been loving how much the friction has melted away!! Looking forward to experimenting with this tool more, but for now very enthused at the potential this could have for future video-work goals!
The largest theme for January I think was been the lack of focus making things more difficult for me than they otherwise could have been.
- 4 books and
- 4 blog posts and
- 4 Youtube videos and
- 4 ZDS episodes and
- 4 OSS PRs and
- Launching my personal site
Was entirely too much for one month (especially just getting started)! In some ways I'm okay with this - the goal was a stretch without being entirely outside of the reach of reality. To make this work though - I think I REALLY need to try and double dip in these individual goals where I could.
And I didn't AT ALL. It would have been very easy I think to writing a blog first and then make a video of the same topic - or in reverse to create a video and then write up a blog about the same topic - or at least a closely related topic. But looking over the items I did produce, it don't think there was hardly any overlap - with the one exception maybe being the launch of my personal site with the "Systemizing Router-Based Animations in Angular" blog post.
Going along with this, I'm going to look to cut out books and OSS from my goals for February entirely. I still intend to keep listening to audiobooks this month (I've already re-listened to Atomic Habits, and halfway through my second listen-through of So Good They Can't Ignore You, and fully intend to get through the last of the Three-Body Problem trilogy this month!), but I don't think these need to be up there with my "goals". I may create some other section on zackderose.dev to just track and share some of my reading habits!
Open-source contributions are something that I think is super valuable (and I'm especially super-appreciative for the people that do all this work!!!) but I feel like I need to cut some things out for now and focus on content creation for the moment. I hope to become more involved in OSS soon, and won't purposefully neglect OSS if I catch the urge, or notice some low-hanging fruit I could help with, but I won't be adding it to my goals for this month.
Building on my 'morning stack' of
wake up => coffee => schedule
I'm going to look to continue to stack on this to become:
wake-up => coffee => schedule => run => shower => 30 minutes of social media
At first, I'm actually starting with just 2 minutes of running. This is a strategy mention in Atomic Habit for establishing a new habit. A 2-minute run is in no way daunting - but the ritual of doing it each day can have some huge benefits in terms of establishing the habit, and giving me something to build that into in the future.
Further expanding on my 'morning stack' to a shower afterwards (more of a necessity than anything clever there!) to 30 minutes of social media is a way to reward myself for having completed the ritual. Mind you - I'm a bit cautious of this reward, but for the most part - it seems in-line with my goals/focus of content creation and building career capital, plus it's an activity I actually do look forward to, so seems like a good reward to give a try - but to keep an eye on to make sure that I don't fall into the pitfalls that come with social media.
So far, I've been able to keep this streak alive for 4 days as of my current writing, and I'll make it my goal to:
- have a streak of 15 consecutive days somewhere in this month
- never miss more than 1 day in a row (also straight from James Clear's Atomic Habits)
I'm hoping to have some indicator on my website for this shortly!
In addition, I hope to accomplish the following in terms of content creation:
- complete Kent C. Dodds' Epic React Experience
- create 4 blog posts
- create 8 youtube videos (ZDS episodes count!)
[Deadline for all these goals is March 5, after which I'll take another break for a week before setting my next batch of goals!!]
My intent for this month is to start over Kent C. Dodd's course (I had started in December and blown through the first two modules in one night....)
(I believe one was before midnight, and the other just after midnight)
I've come to realize that going through the content that quickly, I've actually missed quite a bit - and intend to go back and retake the initial modules, read all the side-material, and look for possible content creation opportunities as I go!
Also I intend to try and come up guests and conversations focused around my React learning for the February episodes of ZDS - the first which is already recorded and ready to post tomorrow [Monday] morning!!
I also intend to take full advantage of some of the really cool resources Kent has laid out - especially his discord server!!! - to bounce/seek out good ideas for articles/videos off folks, and to hopefully build some connections in that space!!
Very much looking forward to February and the adventure ahead!!
(And to share several pieces of really cool news as the month progresses!!!)
By the way if you've made it all the way to the end of this post - I would love to hear about your recent wins and/or your plans to systemize or build in your future!! Please leave a comment below or tweet at me - I'll do my best to respond to every comment/tweet!!
Thanks!! And godspeed!