Saturday #3 of 52

This post is more than a year old. The information, claims or views in this post may be out of date.

2019 is officially back in full swing – it’s been a rollercoaster of a week, and looking at the work that lies ahead of me I’m legitimately worried I might be working too much again. As it stands, I need to put at least a half-day of effort in tomorrow (breaking my own no-work-on-weekends rule) if I want to stay ahead of my current workload.

This is reflected in my habit tracker for the last week, where I was only able to stick to one of them reliably!

Captured from – highly recommended!

The worst part: I wasn’t nearly as productive as I’d have liked. I lost a lot of time with constant context-switching, being knocked off-course by incoming requests, and proper analysis paralysis. In other words, the back-to-work blues.

As my work’s gotten back to full swing, I’m having to re-engage my planning brain (to make sure I don’t go crazy), and I’ve had to adopt two strategies to stay on top of things.

A daily Inbox Zero habit

An inbox is basically a task list of indeterminate length. Until you actually go through the emails in there and map out the time it takes you to do things, there’s no way you know how much work you’ve really got on your plate.

So for that reason, I’ve focused on reducing both of my inboxes (work and personal) to zero every night. It’s become my new ritual for closing out a day, since it usually results in a list of to-do’s for the next morning – meaning I don’t have to think about how to start my day.

Even without Inbox Zero, it’s usually a good idea to end your day with a brain dump of everything you know you need to do the next day. It saves time and maintains momentum between “breaks” (ie eating and sleeping for the night).

I’ve found that most useful when paired with the second strategy:

Task Time Planning

Task lists are sweet little lies we tell ourselves – potentially days worth of work hidden behind one-line items. They get much more concrete when you do two things:

  1. Estimate how many hours a task will take you
  2. Add all of them up and try to fit them into your workday

So that’s what I did on Wednesday evening. I took a few hours to go through my inboxes, and eliminated everything in there:

  • Archived any emails that I didn’t need to respond to
  • For tasks, I noted down the task outside the email, then archived the email
  • For meeting invites, I made sure they were either on my calendar or rejected with an explanation

And then for each task that came in, I gave some thought to the hours it would take. I ended up with around 60 hours worth of work planned out (a solid week of effort plus overtime), and that was before I factored in all the other work I had planned elsewhere!

Most of my work runs in cleanly-defined contracts (I call them “obligations”), which mean I get to put together a table like this – charting hours per project per workday, with weekends hidden:

Freelancers can be really busy people!

And now it becomes really clear how busy I am! After I sat and charted out all my obligations (retainers, contracts, ad-hoc work, internal allocations for product development, marketing and admin) I found that I’ll only be back to “normal” at the end of February!

But I also felt relieved that the situation had been managed. Just having a plan – and some visibility into your immediate future – makes things a lot more manageable.

And then, finally, there’s the Eisenhower Matrix, an idea which has genuinely helped make the world a better place:

Borrowed from Develop Good Habits.

Urgent is usually pretty easy to discern: Things that have to be done right away, or a bad thing might happen.

Important is a little bit harder – it implies that there’s a reason beyond the completion of the task itself, which is undertaken as part of a larger plan. Developing a good sense of what’s important is, itself, quite important 🙂

In my case, I have a relatively clear idea of where I want my working life to go. I know that long-term, the sustainable path is to develop and market products (not services), so that I can generate value without constantly investing effort. I’ll likely always be doing some sort of consulting work, but it would be nice if I didn’t have to do it – that would let me pick the best projects and truly do my best work within them.

So even though they don’t address any burning needs at the moment, spending time working on “unprofitable” product development is really the smarter move over the long term. The work won’t be urgent for a while, but it’s important to do it every day.

Between those strategies, I finally felt like I had regained control over my workload by Thursday morning. Consequently, those were the two most productive days of my week.

Then there were another few wins, thankfully unrelated to work:

The Noscript Show is now syndicated everywhere
We’re finally on iTunes, which also means we’re on Pocket Casts – apparently making the show even more accessible. I also managed to put up a basic website with all the pertinent info in one place:

Laravel Quickstart has backup!
I think there’s been enough idea validation here to move on to the next phase – designing the prototype and outlining the functionality for the first Quickstart. That’s begun with the help of a frontend developer, who I won’t name in public without approval 🙂 Between us, we’re hoping to get the first version of this out a lot quicker!

Planning a podcasting info resource
Moving even further away from software, I’ve been looking at putting together a podcast learning center of sorts. The idea would be to offer once-off flat-rate access to all the information (with the price increasing over time as more info is added), and the focus would be on getting first-timers to the point where they’re producing their first podcast successfully.

It turns out there’s a lot to know – and even more questions you don’t think to ask until after you’re in the thick of it, so I’m hoping I can put something valuable together that will save everyone some time!

Finished Ghost in the Shell season 1 again
I rarely count shows as a win, but there won’t ever be a day where I don’t recommend Ghost in the Shell to people. Just skip over ARISE, that was an unintentional mistake.

Next week will be a proper grinder of a week, so I’ll probably get a head start on it by clearing up some of the smaller work items during the day on Sunday. All things considered, it feels good to be back in the driver’s seat again.

The first product of the new year!

This post is more than a year old. The information, claims or views in this post may be out of date.

It’s officially game time.

After quitting my job last year (and going through an abyss of existential panic), I landed on something resembling a master plan: For the remainder of 2018 I took on every freelancing opportunity I could manage in order to build up an income buffer. Once that was achieved, the next step would be to reduce the time I allocate to freelancing, and dive into the world of product development.

Phase three, as such, will be to derive 100% of my income from products and SaaS services. It will probably take longer than I think it will, and I already think it’s going to take at least 2 years.

I didn’t have any timeframes in mind, but after the last quarter of 2018 I’m feeling comfortable enough to attempt my first build. I’ve been soaking up knowledge and insight over the last few months – time to start putting it into practice!

I initially decided to go straight for building a SaaS application (and drafted a convincing business case for it), but my thinking was shifted somewhat by an interesting Indie Hackers article.

At first, I’d discarded the notion of selling one-off products: That’s not a path to recurring revenue, which is what I ultimately need. However, there’s a bunch of upsides to going for one-off products.

For one, they’d be easier to build. I can draw up a spec, build, refine, document and release something without the pivoting and scope-creep that’s inevitable in a B2B SaaS application. And they could be a lot smaller and narrower in scope than a typical SaaS.

I don’t have to worry about hosting customer-facing services. While I’ve got no problem doing this (and am busy doing it right now), I definitely want to up my game on cloud providers before going public with a SaaS of any sort.

Once-off purchases of tools that save time are pretty easy to justify. I buy Themeforest themes all the time (I’ve spent thousands by now, I’m sure), simply because the dollar cost of the theme is a lot less than it would cost me, time-wise, to put together something similar.

They can be a foot in the door at other businesses. I’ve seen this (from a distance) several times – a company buys a product, is able to do 90% of what they need, and need help for the remaining 10%, which becomes a consulting opportunity.

They (typically) don’t expire. Stuff like PDFs, email courses, videos and so on technically don’t expire, and they can be sold for as long as they remain relevant. In my case that’s mostly true, though I will need to update the products at least every 3 months to stay current with framework and dependency changes.

With all of that in mind, I’m diving straight into building the first no, I’m kidding. Step one is idea and market validation, for which I’ve used the absolutely god-like to put together a landing page:

The product itself is pretty straightforward: A well-documented starter pack, using framework defaults and idiomatic patterns for common web applications.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to find ways to send traffic to that page – organic, paid, referral, whatever. If I feel comfortable that I’m going to do at least $500 in sales, that makes it worth my time to take on one of the smaller packages.

I’m intending on delivering high-quality quickstart packages though, so the first one will be an exercise in breaking new ground. The next few will hopefully be easier.

Or, it might turn out that there’s no demand for something like this, in which case I simply park the domain and move on to the next thing. This is idea #1 in a list of around 20, which keeps growing every week.

And of course, I’m going to be as transparent about this process as I dare. For one, it makes this blog a lot easier to maintain (the posts basically write themselves). Mostly though, it’s important to me that other people can learn from my experiences.

That’s one of the motivating factors behind this product: Among other things, I want the documentation to be good enough that it basically teaches people how to build good web apps, on top of giving them a solid foundation to start.

If you’re interested in following along, best thing I can suggest is to either subscribe directly to the blog (sidebar widget, top right) or follow me on Twitter, where these posts are automatically broadcast. And if you’ve got questions, I’d love to hear from you!