I fell off the wagon.
This was supposed to be the year of the quantified self. I set out to track every minute of my time across several dozen goals in thirteen categories.
The effort began strong. For three months I was off of social media, exercising super consistently, timing mostly everything, and on track towards my goals.
Then... something happened.
Between April and July — the tracking vanished. I returned to my vices, and if anything, I became more distractible than I've been in ages. Not a second of tracking, and all hopes of achieving my goals in the trash.
My leading theory is that it was moving-related. In February, I moved to Brasília for two months. In April, I moved back to the US, and by June, I was back in the Netherlands.
Brasília was in many ways a delight: great weather, amazing fruit, a sauna and gym two minutes from my door, and everything extremely affordable. Other things were less than great: the internet speeds (at least at first), my workstation (I appropriated a low-res TV for a monitor on a minuscule kitchen table), no AC.
These things seem minor, but they add up over time. If it takes 60 seconds to install a new package, you open up Hacker News and end up wasting five minutes. Each five session chips at your attentional capacity. The frustration builds and burns you out. DX matters.
Still, mostly I was on track.
What probably caused the discipline to falter was the disruption of coming back. Moves are great opportunities to change behaviors, but this works in either direction, and the asymmetry of habit formation means you have to be extra careful.
When you're moving a bunch in a short period of time, you have to be even more careful because Ego depletion1 comes into play. You exhaust your willpower and become more susceptible to developing bad habits with each successive move.
Seasoned digital nomads probably have their tricks to get around this, but that's not me yet. Lesson learned.
A few other problems at play:
- My Obsidian has again become a disordered wreck. I keep on trying to impose fragile top-down hierarchies on the notes, and it ends up breaking everything.
- In a related vein, I've come to the conclusion that using Obsidian for both task management and knowledge management is bad practice. Tasks should vanish when done. If they linger around they'll muck up your access to the more important persistent knowledge. I've moved to trying out Linear instead.
- Tracking was much too manual. I was tracking in Obsidian, which proved too unstructured (similar concern to "not using Obsidian for task management"), so I moved on to Google Sheets, which is a nightmare (as you know). This time, I'm going to give Airtable a shot (which takes inspiration & validation from the professionals).
- At the start of the year, I redesigned my website, because using Next.js for a static site was overkill, but then I went too far in the opposite direction (towards raw, uncut
html). The problem with this is that regularly publishing is the best for me to orient my review and tracking processes. When that output process becomes too unergonomic, it clogs up the rest of the pipeline. I'm now using Astro with a custom, simplified export pipeline (a successor to my previous solution & a set of plugins to recreate Obsidian-flavored markdown in the Unified.js ecosystem). This isn't public yet, but it will be when I've ironed out the kinks.
Whatever the reason, it's in the past, and every day is a chance to start fresh.
Let's try again
We've still got basically half a year left. What can we recover?
- 🛑 No more scrolling (YouTube, Reddit, Porn, etc.):
- Right. That failed miserably — I even ended up caving and finally getting on Twitter. 🤷♂️ I still agree with the intent but can't deny the value of being up to date with Hacker News, tech Twitter, and edu-Youtube.
- My idea of a solution was using Inoreader. There, the problem was that it was filling much too quickly and that much of it was low quality. This time around I need to be more diligent in removing feeds that don't serve me.
- I'm going to try again. This time, I'll allow myself a dash of Hacker News a day — call it part of the job requirements. Youtube, I'll get through Inoreader, and the rest, hopefully never. (I may relax this further, and allow myself some maximum amount of time per day on these trash platforms.)
- 🚪 Screen time:
- I'm scrapping the limit for desktop (because programming is my job).
- The main obstacle to actually tracking this was that I was manually copying the information every week. This is a perfect opportunity for automation (there is fortunately an API, but you have to call it on device). Until I get access to the data, I'm not going to require myself to track this, but the goal stands: Less than an hour a day as a baseline; less than two as a stretch.
- ⏲ Self-monitoring:
- Toggl was easy and intuitive; my main obstacle was that I had defined too many different projects and types of tasks.
- Time to simplify: Only three projects (work, personal, misc). Only a handful of allowed labels:
- Also, no more manual copying stuff over. I'm a programmer and should know better. Same for Apple Health information about exercise.
- 📚 Books (1 book per week):
- I'm a bit behind schedule. 19 books in fact. But that's ok, there's plenty of time to catch up. That said, I am scrapping all of the specific goals like read X books in French, Y by this author. I'll just read what I want to read.
- 🗃 PKM:
- I'm going to remove all specific goals and just commit to regularly maintenance.
- ✍️ Writing:
- I haven't been writing, but I have plenty of room to catch up with my goal of 6 articles.
- I missed M4-M7 & Q1, but whatever. For the rest of the year, I'm forbidding myself from including any quantitative result in my reviews that I haven't automated.
- 🗣 Languages:
- I'm scrapping this goal. It was too ambitious from the start. I do want to catch up again, but I have one or two tools I want to finish up before I actually start learning Chinese.
- My main goal in this category is to just catch up on Anki again & to have no overdue cards in any of my principal decks (General, French, Portuguese, Dutch). Stretch goal if I can work in Italian and German.
- 🏃 Moving
- Subjectively, I'm happy enough with my movement. I'm going to avoid setting quantitative goals until I've automated the information capture.
- 🍽 Fasting
- When I fell off the productivity wagon, I also fell off the IF wagon for the first time in 5 years (but I'm back again).
- This has fallen by the wayside but it's totally recoverable. I'm going to start committing to one day (Monday) a week for the rest of the year.
- 🌏 Diet:
- I was tracking meat & alcohol consumption. In hindsight, it required a bit too much input. I'm going to drop this until next year.
- 👓 Myopia:
- The initial progress I've made seems to have been undone by staring at the computer screen for ungodly amounts of time. We'll fix this at some future point
- 👥 Relationships:
- Mentorship & community: I'd actually say that I've achieved these goals though not in the way originally envisioned. I've found my mentors in the right software development streamers & my community in the right discords. 2022, eh? I'm crossing this off as completed.
- 💰 Money:
- We moved back to the cheap Netherlands, and I got a side-job for about one day a week, and we're golden. It's a lot easier if you decide you don't have to live in the US.