Do you have a "stop doing" list?
One of my new year resolutions is to clear out some junk. I don't own much to begin with, but one of the things I do have a lot of is books. Especially, the dozens acquired during my college years. I was re-reading one of them, "Good to Great", before sending it on its way. I am not a big fan of it, but it has some really good points, and can help you to take a critical analysis of some large companies. However, a little hindsight shows some fatal flaws in the book. I'll save my criticism, if you want to read some, check out this business pundit article.
That said, Good to Great has some good advice. Halfway in, Jim Collins asks us:
"..you have a 'to do' list...do you also have a 'stop doing' list?"
Wow, here it is the beginning of the new year, and I am thinking a stop doing list would be great. It's cliche, but it is time to do more by doing less. My 2010 consisted of moving from a serene and laid-back job to a highly stressful one, within the same organization. I took on a lot of responsibilities at my main job, often working 50-60 hours a week while others were barely coming in for their 40. In addition though, I was busy ramping up my consulting services. This ended up adding 20-30 more hours to my work week. I was also busy contributing back to the open-source Drupal project. This added another 10-20 hours a week of work. Finally, towards the end of the year, I began work on a startup idea that I had been kicking around, and began to put 5-10 hours a week of work in on it. Somehow, I had gone from having negotiated a 3 day workweek in 2009, to now working an average of 80 hours a week, and sometimes 100+ hours. Something, had to give. I began scaling down consulting work towards the end of the year, and this arrives at the first item on my list:
- Stop doing consulting work
- Stop buying books until I have read most of the ones I own
- Stop receiving e-mail alerts for non-important issues
- Stop accepting new projects
- Stop worrying about dollars and cents
- Stop talking on the phone, and instead talk via Google Voice
- Stop browsing Reddit and Hacker News so much
- Stop looking at daily updates of web traffic, stocks, etc.
- Stop involving myself in politics
- Stop visiting dating sites
Consulting work is an important source of income for many hackers, and certainly not something to be taken lightly. However, when one has a full-time job and wishes to start a company, choices have to be made. Some startups get by on consulting revenue in order to fill in losses until they can become profitable. This won't be the route for me though, as I have plenty of savings to burn through in addition to the income from m primary job. Plus, consulting work, while sometimes rewarding, was usually terrible. I charged too little, and often fell into the trap of over-promising. Besides that, it's stressful. At least at my primary work, there is a chain of responsibility for failures even though it is still stressful to be in charge of certain things. As a consultant, if something breaks, you are expected to fix it, like yesterday. There also seems to be an endless supply of work requests, all with a deadline of asap. This leads to a lack of satisfaction over completion, because projects just continually evolve instead of finishing. I can say though that my clients were very good about paying me on-time and without hassle. Unlike other contractors, I never had any trouble in regards to that, fortunately. Another subtle drawback of consulting is that it can give people the idea that you have mixed motives. This may only be important when working on open-source projects and such, but it is disheartening to be passionate about something and then have someone accuse you of only having an interest in it due to the consulting work. So, while consulting went ok for me and I have some happy customers, I will be giving it up for the foreseeable future. If I ever need to, I am sure I can pick it up back up some day.
I'll admit it, I have a love affair with Amazon. I buy a lot of books, as you can see here are 9 random ones (and songs) from the 100 or so I have bought over the last couple years:
Now that I have a Kindle, I purchase books at even more accelerated rate
So, I'm going to buckle down and read through a lot more books before purchasing any more. I have been putting it off but getting through Knuth will probably be the hardest and most rewarding.
Well, this one is a no-brainer. We all know e-mail can turn evil and start consuming much of our time. There are about a dozen e-mails I receive daily that are digests from blogs and other sources. These were great reading at first, but have proved tedious over time. Much of the time, I am just deleting them before reading them now, but even stopping work to delete an e-mail can be quite a distraction. So, as much as possible, I will stop reading non-important e-mail in 2011.
I'd love to be a maintainer on a few more Drupal modules, or put up some more Drupal sites for the community. I'd also enjoy wandering through some new technology. Especially, I've been eying the Kinect and reading through the developers' mailing list. Unfortunately, projects take time, lots of time. I'd love to be a master of all new technologies, but that is impossible. Instead, I will focus more on the things I do best. I can dabble with new technologies in the future when I have more time, and dabble I shall. This 'stop doing' point came after a colleague mentioned to me last year that he has to restrict his bandwidth to only work on certain projects. Otherwise, he said, he is not much of a help to any project.
Gradually, as life moves along, my income has increased. It is now at the point where I should stop worry about dollars. Sure, I will always be cheap and thrifty. I wear shoes I found on a dumpster and clothes from Goodwill, along with other gifted stuff. My computers are recycled from others' throwaways. That said, I am no longer going to worry about if a burrito is $1 cheaper somewhere else, or if I could save $5 by going across town for something rather than somewhere close by. The point is, time has become worth a lot, and there is not an infinite amount of it. Plus, worrying about money is not the most happy-making habit in the first place. I'll still not own a car or make any big-ticket purchases, but if I want a $10 sandwich or $3 coffee that will put me in the right state of mind for hacking, then be damn sure I'm going to get it.
This one is easy because I hate talking on the phone anyways. However, I sometimes end up in long conversations on it. Now, Google Voice is available, and I can chat while continuing to surf. It makes for a great time to read Hacker News or Reddit. Are my conversations less meaningful? Perhaps, but I don't put much meaning into phone conversations anyways, as I much prefer in person interactions.
Ahh, this one is probably near the top of everyone else's list. Stop spending so much time at certain social networking sites. It will be easy to stop spending time on Reddit, I stopped going to it hourly in late 2009 after the influx of the general masses, and subsequently have lowered usage to be about once every other day. The noise-to-signal ratio is simply too high now. Lowering visits to Hacker News will be much harder. Ycombinator's Hacker News is an amazing resource. Asides from all the Apple fanboyism, most of the upvoted articles are filled with detailed analytical information and insight. The only problem is that the information is so good that it becomes overwhelming. It's seriously addictive. I'm going to shoot for lowering my HN viewing from an average of hourly to daily.
The watched pot never boils. We know this is untrue, but if we spend all of our time watching things, then when will the change actually have time to happen? Surely, you know someone who checks their stock market performance all the time. If the investments made were sound, then why should one need to check up on them? I now subscribe to the idea that investments should have set automatic stops. You know your entry and exit price as soon as you go in. You then set automatic triggers which will sell the stock when it hits one of those points. This way, stocks do not need to be watched. I'm taking this a step further though to analytics. I've spent too much time pouring over analytics in the past year. From now, I will shoot for checking out Google Analytics only once a week. Sure, analytics are still important to the sites I run, but not so important as to warrant daily inspection. Along with this, I will try to read the 'news' less. Henry David Thoreau had some great things to say about why he didn't read newspapers, the gist of which was 'new day, same news'. I'll still stay on top of world news, but I can't know everything that is going in the world, nor should I need to.
I come from a very political family, so this one is difficult. However, my horses in politics haven't been successful. I saw a couple dreams crushed in that respect in 2010. It's important to vote, especially on local ballot measures, but sometimes we can get too wrapped up in politics. My roommate spends 1-2 hours a day commenting on political blogs. To me, this is a egregious waste of time. However, I would still hold political debates with him and other friends on a regular basis. There will be no more of this in 2011. For politics, to each their own.
Ok, this one is a little personal. I've actually had ok luck with dating in real life. However, I've always maintained a couple profiles on dating sites just to see if I might happen to meet someone interesting that way. I've been contacted a number of times through sites, and have also contacted other people. Not one single time has this resulted in an actual date. Why is this? It seems that people have a tendency towards avoiding meeting in person. This seems natural, given the circumstances of meeting a stranger, but still, considering the effort put forth on both sides, you would think it would eventually result in a meeting. This isn't to say that all online dating pursuits are fruitless. I've had a couple actual dates from Craigslist before. They actually went ok too. However, contrast this with real life. I've had lots of dates, some have which have resulted in very meaningful relationships. These relationships formed because the person and I had shared experiences. In my opinion, nothing else can match that for bringing two people together. In business terms, my return on investment for time spent pursuing dates in person has been magnitudes higher than online pursuits. There will always be outliers of course, three relatives of mine are married to someone they met online, but for me the online dating game is over.
Ok, well that is already quite a list, and though I could add more, it's time to stop doing one more thing, stop writing this blog post :P
What's on your "stop doing" list?