Wrapping Up the Year of Groundwork

2020 has been a hard year for everyone. But I have been very fortunate. I was already working from home, my company does well in good and bad economic times, my D&D group was online already, and my daughter is not in school yet. So I know I have had it a whole lot easier than most people. In all honesty, I feel like 2020 has been one of my better years. If it wasn’t for the stress of building a house during a pandemic and living with my in-laws, I would feel pretty great right now. Not having to go to places like church or work events has reduced my base-level of anxiety quite a bit.

My theme for 20202 was the year of groundwork. I wanted to do things that would help me open doors in the future. A couple things I had in mind were release an iOS app and start freelancing a bit.

I think I did well in both of those areas. Though, at times I did feel like I was overextending myself at times.


My plan had been to release Focuses and then start doing some freelance work. Focuses took more of my energy than I was expecting. But in the late Summer, I set up an LLC as a first step. Right after I did that, a former coworker called me up and asked if I was interested in taking over some side-work of his. I was very lucky.


Focuses is probably my biggest personal success of 2020. It made me stretch and I learned a lot doing it. I'm proud of it. I feel like it was worth the effort I put into it, which was a lot—nearly 200 hours in 2020.

In addition to freelancing and Focuses, I also did a decent job of waking up early to work on side-projects, I read a lot of books (for me), and I exercised a few times a week. So in 2021, I’d like to keep going on the good habits I developed during 2020. But honestly, I don’t feel like I have much gas left in the tank. I need to be careful in 2021 to not completely burn myself out.

Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport

Using my phone less has been on my mind for quite a while now. For no good reason, I’m 100% addicted to Twitter. I always have my phone on me, just in case there’s a text I need to reply to immediately, or some fact needs to be Googled, or to waste time when I'm bored. I enjoyed Deep Work by Cal Newport, so I thought I would give Digital Minimalism a shot.

My summary is this: make it easier for yourself to make deliberate choices about how and when to use your phone and other technology. So much of my current phone use is just a reflex, and I want to change that.

I don’t think there is anything revolutionary in this book. But it was full of good, timeless advice and ideas, sort of like talking to your friend who listens to a lot of podcasts. It made me think and reflect. Who knew books could do that.

My Digital Minimalism Strategy

I didn’t feel like going through the 30 day purge like Newport suggests. But I took some time to evaluate what I could do anyway. Here’s what I came up with:

I’m also experimenting with a pocket notebook. So far I’ve been using it to plan my weeks and sometimes days. I also use it to record ideas and other thoughts. I’m still figuring out how exactly I want to use this, but it has already reduced my dependence on my phone.

There are two main things that cause me to pickup my phone often—podcasts and time tracking. I suppose I could use the Toggl website instead of using Timery, but the Timery widget just makes it so easy. I've also experimented with listening to podcasts on my Apple Watch. I actually like using my watch quite a bit—I don’t need to pick up my phone when I go somewhere else in the house. But it is not always reliable. The podcast I want to listen to is not always on my watch when I want to listen, so I often still use my phone. I use Overcast—because of it’s superior Smart Speed® and Voice Boost®—but maybe I should look into other options.

Anyway, I feel like all this is making a difference. I don’t feel the need to always have my phone on me. I feel more engaged when I’m just hanging out with the family. Overall, I’m on board with the idea of using your phone less. I’ll take another look in a couple months and see what I need to adjust and tweak, maybe to do the whole 30 day purge that he suggests. Perhaps, Phase 2 will be when I switch to a rotary landline for all communication—buttons would make it too easy to call people.

Farewell, Mornings

I like routines and planning. Routines is one of my ways of managing anxiety and stress. I like to feel like I know what’s going on and what’s coming up. But I have a 4 year-old. So I have to be somewhat flexible, and I’m always tinkering with my routines.

Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve been able to take advantage of my mornings more. Minus getting-ready-in-the-morning-time, I typically have between an hour and an hour and a half to myself while no one else is awake. I have loved this time. It’s when I’ve worked on my app Focuses and other side projects. Sometimes I take that time to read in the mornings or play a game. It’s when I’m writing this. It’s just some great quiet time that I get all to myself.

I’m not naturally a morning person. I’m more productive in the evenings. But mornings still work better for me. I work full-time and I also do some part-time contract work. After a full day of work, I’m dead and don’t feel like doing anything besides relaxing with my family. It never seems to work out well the occasional times that I trick myself into playing with a side project in the evening. I’m pretty obsessive, so often, programming gets my mind whirring and I can’t sleep, so I stay up far too late working on something. With a child in the house who consistently wakes up early, and my needing 8 hours of sleep to feel barely functional, staying up late is not a great option.

So that’s why I’ve landed on mornings. And it was great.

Wait, was?

Yup. Was. Well, maybe I'm being a little premature. My wife and I are expecting another baby in a couple months. We are, of course, incredibly excited, and it brings a smile to my face just to write it. But a new baby is going to change everything. If this baby is anything like our first, I won’t consistently have my mornings again for about 2 years. But that’s fine. Sure, I’m going to miss the regularity of have the mornings to myself, but sharing early mornings with a baby is much better.

I won’t get as much side-project type stuff done. That’s a given. And I’ll have to give up my oh-so-comforting routines in favor of the beckoning cry of a newborn. It will be a fun puzzle each day fitting in the baby’s needs and my wants.

So thanks, mornings. You’ve been great. And we still have a couple months, so let’s get some updates to Focuses out or something while we can.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Issacson

Overall, I liked this book. I give it a thumbs up 👍🏻.

I can't remember when I really became aware of Steve Jobs. I was aware of Apple growing up, and was envious of friends who had iPod Minis in iPod Socks. But Steve Jobs was never really on my radar. I didn't grow up idolizing him. Years later, I have learned more about him and grown to respect him and the company he built. Reading Steve Jobs gave me a much better understanding of who he was.

I'm a software developer. I write code. Some days, I like to pretend that I'm a designer too. I value well thought out details in the products I use and strive to put the same care into detail into what I build. I wish I had the time a resources available to get things just right every time, but that's just not realistic. The whole point of design is working within constraints. And eventually you have to ship.

One story that really resonated with me was how distraught Jobs was when he discovered the CD drive in the new iMac was a tray and not a slot. So close to release, there was nothing to be done expect to delay the release. Those around him convinced him that it wasn't worth delaying the release over. My wife and I are building a house right now. It seems like every day the builders do something that in my mind is incorrect, but it is too late or too expensive to change. It drives me crazy, and I know years from now I'll look back and think "I could've gotten this right." But ultimately, I would rather have a finished house than a perpetually incomplete house that will never meet my standards.

I doubt anyone else could've done what Steve Jobs did. But, of course, he didn't do it alone. He surrounded himself with people who could execute his vision. No one gets everything right the first time every time, not even Jobs. Hopefully we get a chance to try again and improve.

Focuses Roadmap

I had to cut myself off on adding new features to Focuses pretty early on. If I let myself keep going, I probably never would've released.

Here's a few things on my roadmap that I would like to work on.

There's more on my list, but these are probably the biggest. If you have any ideas, or your favorite feature is missing, let me know on Twitter, or use the contact form.