Long post: you’ve been warned.
Back in May before I took an unplanned hiatus I wrote “There is so much to learn…” on my excitement about web development but also feeling very overwhelmed.
I said, “I’m in the process of clarifying my goals and developing a sufficient action plan, hopefully I’ll have the balls to write it out in a future blog post.” I’m being ordinarily courageous by even documenting some of the stuff I’m doing on here but I decided to take it a step further with the gentle (yet invisible push) of Brene Brown (whose book I just finished) and share in more detail my plans for the rest of the year.
Let me rewind for a bit. I’ve always been an obsessive planner. When I graduated from college without a job and moved in my with parents, I created a schedule to keep me focused in my pursuit of employment and purpose, which involved my part-time work, networking, and individual study (I was very uncertain about my life then – I guess not much has changed ha!). So when I decided for real for real that I wanted to transition careers, I knew I would need to do something similar, but I didn’t hop to it immediately. I crafted a loose curriculum I would follow in Excel and started hoarding resource links in my bookmarks, but I didn’t have a set plan outside of “in two months I need to have a portfolio and start applying for jobs.” You see how far that’s gotten me though??
It took the prompting of Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World to get me straight. It was suggested by Annyce Davis in her newsletter, so I checked it out of the library and read it the week after that bad interview.
I knew a lot of what he outlined in that book but had none of the research to back it up, so I’m glad I read it. Newport spent time studying the habits of not only successful people, but ones that had to quickly master hard subject matter and produce quality work within a set period of time (including programmers). He concluded that these folks were all committed to deliberate practice. The formula for this level of productivity is high-quality work produced = time spent x intensity of focus. So basically in order to quickly master new concepts/producing quality work you need to spend a lot of time concentrating and studying that subject. I’m sure someone would read that and think, “Duh!!.” Turns out that this is difficult for people like myself who’ve developed habits of living on Twitter and binge watching on Netflix when we could be using that time to do other activities. Not that those are not important, but if you have an important goal, you have to make sacrifices.
In the book he outlines different ways to implement that formula, based on your situation and time constraints. Given my current position (unemployed – hello??), I would be best suited for a hybrid bimodal/rhythmic approach. The bimodal philosophy “asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.” And the rhythmic philosophy suggests that “the easiest way to consistently start deep work session is to transform them into a simple regular habit.” I won’t go into too much detail on specifics in the book because then the post would turn into another book. My big takeaways were that there needs to be a strategy for execution and then maintenance.
I have time to spend in deep study right now. I committed to 5 days a week, spending 6 hours in deep work. I chose 6 hours mostly because I also decided to do all of this in the public library to limit at home distractions and the public library limits you to two daily 3-hour study room reservations.
He suggests modeling your program after the 4 Disciplines of Execution:
- Identify very important goals. Focus on a few because “the more you do, the less you actually accomplish.”
- Act on lead measures vs. lag measures. Lead measures are behaviors and activities that “ultimately” contribute to your very important goals. Lag measures are those wildly important goals. So if my goal is to be an Instagram Booty Model, I would focus on the activities that would lead to me being an IG Booty Model (daily fitness activity, social media activity) not just on the end result. Focusing on just the end result might deter you if you don’t see immediate progress, but if you focus on the lead measures and notice that you’re checking in at the gym every day and making “meaningful” social media connections with key IG Booty Model influencers, that will give you just enough of a boost to continue.
- Keep a scoreboard – create a system to track progress of lead measures
- Establish an accountability system
For myself that is:
- Junior Developer Role
- Lead measures: Completing tutorials and coding projects, spending 6 hours/5 days a week studying. Lag measure: portfolio
- Scoreboard: this blog & my weekly updates (and maybe #100Days of Code – more on that below)
- Still working on this but someone suggested attending meetups as a great way to build accountability
I’m still following the curriculum I included above and it is constantly changing based on new things I find or interests that are piqued from completing different activities. That covers the “execution” part but it’s the maintenance part that can kick your ass. I’m on week 3 of Deep Work and I’m sort of developing a habit of this. I make it to the library at 10am and spend that first hour bullshitting and by 11a I’m up and running/working on my “projects.” That means I’m really clocking between 4-5 hours actually working – which fits into what Newport discovered in research – most people max out on concentration at 4 hours.
In addition to my curriculum spreadsheet, I have a daily spreadsheet outlining specific things I’d like to work on, whether it’s a blog post, watching a Youtube tutorial, or finishing a course or project. At the bottom I type out any outstanding items that I can return to the next day or later in the week. I’m working on not keeping outstanding items there.
At the end of the day I’m exhausted. It’s kind of like having a job again, except I’m not getting paid. I try to spend the rest of my day doing no-coding related activities, like reading and maybe even catching up on Love & Hip Hop. In Deep Work, Newport talks about embracing downtime and includes research to support that as well. I won’t be at high levels of productivity if I’m working non-stop with no breaks. Living has taught me that LOL. So I’m glad that is sort of embedded in the deep work philosophy.
I’m learning that the difficult part is not reaching for my phone to check Twitter. I’m not active on Instagram or Facebook, I use Pinterest for recipes and shopping mostly, but Twitter is a huge time drain and a distraction. I wish I could leave my phone at home. So I’m thinking through how I may go about continuing to limit my Twitter activities and online browsing during the 6 hours I’ve allocated to deep work. I’m free to use it outside of deep work hours, but I’ve let my usage overlap. Newport actually outlines strategies for managing social media “addiction” in the book.
Getting a junior developer job in the next few months is kind of a huge priority for me so I’m thinking of up-ing the ante. That’s where #100DaysofCode comes in.
I think I first learned about this through the OurCode blog. I didn’t look into it more, but followed some of the blog post updates I received. She outlined her complete experience in this post. I’ve already compiled all the different resources I’m studying in a similar fashion but on Excel and I’ve wondered if I’ll ever get through it, so it’s very encouraging that she covered so much of that material, some of which I’m going through at the moment.
Since then I’ve seen #100DaysofCode everywhere and I’m starting to wonder if I should give it a try. Richard Littauer wrote about his experience w/ 100 Days of Code and shortly after reading the OurCode summary, I found this call-to-action challenge post. I’m tempted, but I have to weigh the pros and cons.
- Increased accountability
- Community support from other 100DaysofCoders
- Increase actual coding (some days I can read a shitload and code not a damn thing)
- I’m sort of already documenting, on a daily basis (via spreadsheet) and weekly. I feel like this might be overkill and overwhelm me but I’m still tempted
- I’m concerned I might not make it past day 1 because perfectionism and know-it-all-before-i-start-ism won’t let me.
I’ll continue to think through it. My initial thoughts were to align a start (if I were to start) with the first of the month, but the beginning of any month is very stressful for me (hello bills) so mid-month would be a better idea. If I do, of course I’ll probably include that here and add that to my weekly updates.
We’ll see, but right now, I’m still very excited about the future. I know it will be hard but I’ve come this far and I really don’t have anything to lose.