2019 Q1 Review

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So those first three months went by pretty quick!

Towards the end of last year I set myself a bunch of goals for 2019 – a New Year’s Resolution, but with some measurable criteria. The idea was that I’d check in every quarter to see how I’m doing against those goals.

I’ve also managed to miss my last few weekly updates (with semi-legitimate reasons), so I figure I’ll do this all in one go: Catch up to where I am now, and look at where I thought I might be, this far into 2019.

On my March 17th update I set myself the task of analyzing the manifesto of the Christchurch Shooter:

For my part, I’m working through the manifesto myself, attaching commentary and context on a lot of the arguments within it.

I never ended up finishing that analysis. Load shedding carried on for the following week, and the disruptions were hard to deal with. I ended up rearranging my days around the times I’d have power, with all my devices constantly charged up so I could keep working in the dark.

An unanticipated side-effect of the loadshedding was losing all my connectivity. This was more emotionally taxing than I thought it would be.

My apartment has a fiber connection delivered via ethernet, and there’s apparently no backup generation for that. Fair enough – that’s why I have a Rain 4G SIM, but as it turns out, the towers themselves are not equipped to survive. Usually they would go down within 30-45 minutes of the loadshedding window starting.

That left my FNB/CellC/Vodacom-roaming setup, which routinely failed too. So most nights I spent a large portion of it trying to work offline (which is hard, being a web developer and all) while literally coding by candlelight.

Still, I carried on. By the end of the week I had a bunch of notes drafted and was ready to publish the first round of info on the site, when I learned that New Zealand had banned the manifesto.

I agonized over it for a while, and eventually decided not to go ahead with publishing anything. In the end, as much as I stand for the freedom of expression, I’m also pragmatic. Potentially painting a target on my back is not the smartest move here.

The next few weeks are pretty much a blur to me, even now. It turns out that work stress accumulates, and eventually takes over your life: I lost my routines and schedules, simply stumbling from one day to the next, constantly feeling like I was behind on everything.

(Not to mention, incredibly stressed.)

But then my leave arrived. Even though I had intended on finishing far more work than I did before my leave, it simply didn’t happen. I ended up eating into my leave for two additional days, trying to catch up, but didn’t get anywhere. And then I had to fly up to Pretoria, which physically removed me from my environment. That’s the only thing that actually ended up helping.

Right now I’m still technically in the middle of my “leave period” – the two weeks I set on the calendar (first in a year of freelancing) explicitly to relax and recharge. I haven’t been able to stick to all of it. As I write this, I’ve spent the last two days dealing with issues to the point where I may as well be back at work full-time.

This whole experience has helped, though. If nothing else, I’ve learned that I absolutely have to set guardrails for myself. Left to my own devices, with no structure enforced anywhere, I’m liable to continue working until it kills me.

The hardest part of that, for me, is disappointing customers. For the last year I’ve managed to do a lot of good work for a bunch of great customers, but being a one-man show is inherently unscalable. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen: I’d have to turn someone down that I really didn’t want to.

That happened this month. It was agony. I hate leaving work unfinished, and I hate disappointing people, but I ultimately have to honor my prior commitments first. I had to take the (very gracefully offered) out from one of my favorite clients. It really sucked.

Still, that was a necessary step, and it’s made a few things easier since. At the very least I can be sure I’m on the right track: Growth is sometimes uncomfortable (even painful), but that’s how you know you’re pushing yourself forward.

And then I turned thirty.

For the last few years, my birthdays have been relatively uneventful. I’d take the day off (usually) and go have a quiet braai at my dad’s place. This year, I learned that I share a birthday with a new (and really good) friend, so for my 30th I resolved to do it differently.

That ended up being 5 days in Pretoria. In no particular order, my 30th involved:

  • Flying up to Pretoria on a plane that wouldn’t start on the first try
  • Riding the Gautrain with half the carriages missing their aircon (stuffy, sweaty fun)
  • Met my NoScriptShow co-host and learned that I’m taller in person than he thought
  • Played some proper old-school video games (1980s NES titles!)
  • Met another internet friend and recorded a podcast episode as a group
  • Spent an evening getting moderately drunk with great conversation at what amounts to a secret hideout in Pretoria (never knew this place existed)
  • Started working on ideas for a movie that may or may not materialize, we’ll see
  • Spent my entire Sunday at a large (40+) family gathering of predominantly Tswana folks, had great food and fantastic conversation
  • Got pulled over and extorted by the Tshwane Metro Police on the way back to the airport Monday morning, and
  • Made it through airport security after they had called for boarding on my plane (first time ever)

Ultimately, a far more memorable 30th than I otherwise would have had, and I’m grateful for all of it. Even, in some weird way, the criminal cops: I can now honestly say I’ve now had that happen to me. Feels like I’m not a true South African unless the cops have fucked with me in some way.

So now I’m back to normal, but with a few different ideas about how I’ll manage my time. For one thing, I’ll need to constantly combat my tendency to over-work. I keep telling myself that just a few extra hours effort will make a big difference, but by the third day I’m spinning out of control again.

I’ll also have to learn to be okay with losing. I hate losing, but if I keep trying to win these short-term battles I’m absolutely going to lose the war. My health has suffered in real ways from my workload, and I need to make a serious change.

Mostly I need to learn to be okay with not being the hero. That was something I realized when I had to let that client go: While I do take pride in delivering good work, there’s a dark side to that. When pushed, I’d sooner take on more work than I can handle, just in order to be the one that solves the problem. That shit has to stop.

I’m coming up on a year of doing freelancing – it’ll be official on the 1st of May. I can honestly say it’s been eventful, I’ve been pushed, I’ve learned a few things, but still have quite a way to go. The master plan has always been to build up some sort of cash buffer, to free up time to work on more sustainable income streams. I’ve got something resembling that buffer now, so it’s time for the next phase. I just have no idea how I’m going to do this yet.

Q1 Review

So now for the actual review on my stated goals:

1. Launch a SaaS

This is ultimately still “in progress”. Spending some time in the trenches at different sorts of businesses has given me a bunch of new ideas, and has helped me refine my understanding of how to spot opportunities.

The biggest thing I have to overcome is my tendency to see every problem as a software problem. There’s much more value I can add through more scalable means, like producing educational content.

I’ve also now got a few months of managing two actual SaaS platforms (one customer each) under the belt, and the experience has been informative. It’s a bit like looking after a sick animal – it needs constant attention and care, or it’ll throw up all over everything.

Mostly, it’s taught me that I need to build something that I can scale to multiple customers, then find a way to support without it killing me. It’s quite a challenge, but I think I might still manage it. For easier income though, I’m thinking that producing something educational might also be worth it.

2. Blog More

I set a fairly ambitious goal here: 3 posts per week for 2019. I did pretty well at first, but it became difficult to sustain that output.

By now, I should have published 51 posts, but I’ve only managed 12 posts. Most of those have been weekly personal update posts.

The problem here is that I don’t often have that many things I feel like I need to say. The weekly update is a decent format for producing something, and I’ve gotten feedback from a few friends that they look forward to reading it, but that wasn’t my intention in setting this goal. I wanted to be pushed to produce useful content.

I suppose the error there is that I need a clear topic to focus on. Last year I did a bunch of writing for an ICO blog, and having clear topics and deadlines helped me push the work out. It’s another reason I think an educational-content product might be smart: If I have a clear reason to churn out 500-word articles, I’ll be setting myself up much better.

But of course, the main thing has been work stress. I keep prioritizing other people’s problems above my own, and since those never seem to run out, I’m constantly putting out fires. It’s a personality flaw I’m working on.

3. Read More

I’ve actually managed to finish a book! Best Dick, by Mike Sharman. Even though half of the advice in there wasn’t applicable to me, it was quite an entertaining read, and I got a lot out of it.

I haven’t tracked all the time spent reading articles online (I do that quite a lot), but then this goal was more about books than anything else. There, I didn’t complete as much as I wanted.

For the next quarter (which we’re already a third of the way through!) I’m going to make more leisure time for myself where I can actually get through a few books. At this point it’s a question of mental health more than anything else!

4. Develop Routines

I have a simple routine that I’m supposed to complete every day: Take a blood sugar reading first thing in the morning. This is my log for that activity so far:

The pattern is actually pretty clear – I do very well on my habits until the work stress takes over, which then blows everything out of the water. When work calms down, my habits become easier to maintain. The most recent stats for April are entirely thanks to taking leave.

What’s supposed to be happening here is that my habits, routines and healthcare all take precedence over my work. Work is infinite, my time is not, yet somehow I keep ending up with work being the priority.

I did eventually realize that it’s basically my ego driving that, and I’ve now got a new angle of attack for solving this problem: I need to stop caring more about work, than my health. Seems rational and obvious, but when I’m in the thick of it, it’s very easy to forget.

That’ll be my biggest challenge this quarter: Keeping watch for the idea that I need to do just a bit more work and everything will be okay. That’s a seductive, destructive little demon in my internal pantheon, and if I don’t get rid of it, it’ll take me down eventually.

So I think that’s pretty much it – the major events of the last few weeks, a review of the quarter itself, and some ideas for moving forward. Onwards!

Published by

Wogan May

By day, I run a software development agency focused on business tools, process optimization, data integration and automation. By night, I build tools and platforms that serve online creators.

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