2015 - Quantified Resolutions of a Computer Scientist

Happy New Year and welcome to my brand new blog. To kick off the year this is a post with my own take on New Year's Resolutions, which is two part Computer Scientist and one part pragmatist. Hopefully you will find it useful and be able to to take something from it, please let me know in the comments.

Introduction

I'll give a quick introduction of who I am and the point of this blog ahead of putting up an "about me" page.

My name is Chris Manson and I'm the CTO and co-founder of Blooie, a three year old "not so start-up" tackling the problem of communication on the internet. Currently we're focusing on providing a shop-floor like experience for e-commerce sites.

This blog will be a way for me to share some of my processes and experiences from the last 3 years of running Blooie and things I've learned being the CTO. If you want to keep track of these blogs you can follow me on Twitter or follow the RSS feed at the top of the page. If there are any topics you would like me to cover, don't hesitate to get in touch.

2014 - Resolution in review

I have never been much of a fan of New Year's Resolutions. What exactly makes January 1st the best day to set out your plans for the year? Maybe the arbitary nature of the resolutions is why I never liked them or perhaps it's because I know I'm not very likely to achieve them anyway.

Last year I only had one resolution: to write more blog posts. Looking at the numbers I think we can safely say that this hasn't been a huge success:

  • Blog posts in 2013: 0
  • Blog posts in 2014: 0

This could quite easily be written off as laziness on my part if it wasn't for one limiting task that I only got around to completing yesterday

overdue task to start a blog

Start a blog - Only 912 days late.

2014 has been a rollercoaster of a year for me. My task management has gone through many different incarnations, but that will be the subject of another blog at a later date.

A different take on resolutions

You can't change what you can't measure

  • Every computer scientist; but not W. Edwards Deming

This principle has has always been inspirational to me and it has helped me to see problems in different, often helpfully objective, ways during my career as a Computer Scientist and Programmer. I have always been a fan of numbers, graphs and statistics but the thing that resonates most with me about this principle is that it appeals to my inner scientist: Make a measurement, change something, observe the results and repeat. The challenge really comes when you try to apply this principle to the real world which is not essentially a closed mathematical system - Who knew!?

The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable […], but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

  • W. Edwards Deming

So what do we know? or more specifically, what can we measure? The answer, as with many things in Computer Science, is: "Everything; it just depends on how much time and effort you have to implement it".

There are some things that can be measured easily, and are already aggregated for us such as:

  • unread emails
  • number of uncompleted tasks

Some things that will have be recorded manually and "collected" such as:

  • times you go to the gym
  • times you walk the dog

There is also a third category of things we could just record manually or we could create elaborate hardware or software solutions to record for you e.g.

  • geotagging system to record the times you go to the gym
  • a small electrical circuit connected to your razor that breaks when you pick it up to shave.

Of course these are completely impractical but are often the most fun.

The challenge starts when we want to use any of these numbers to form strong, measurable resolutions that we can manage over time.

Step 1 - Decide which numbers

We all know a few things about ourselves that we would like to change, I would like to be better at emails and task management as well as planning and money management. I would really quite like to be fitter (standard) and have a better work-life balance (standard). None of these things are particularly defined so they are not possible to quantify, and manage, as of yet.

To help quantify these general ideas for resolutions I have been trying to think of things in terms of an overarching goal. What is the reason I want to do all these things? What do I really want to improve in my life and how will these goals help me achieve that.

This year I would like to be more efficient overall. I want to be more efficient at how i deal with emails and tasks, I want to more efficiently track my budget so i can hopefully track it better. I want to get fit so I can have more energy which in turn will help my efficency.

What kind of numbers can I track around these? Well, like i said things like email are quite easy to track automatically.

  • Number of unread emails
  • Time to respond to an email,
  • Number of emails it takes to resolve an "issue" or task

Task management can be quite easy to track if you're using a digital medium such as Asana, we could track

  • total number of assigned outstanding issues
  • time from creation to completion
  • time it takes to create actionables

Tracking fitness could be a bit harder, we tend to track outcomes instead of inputs such as weight or waistline instead of the number of times we go to the gym, miles jogged or kgs lifted.

Money management is also a bit tricky, not only do you need to be careful not to measure outcomes like total cash in the bank but you have to decide carefully what you can possibly measure e.g.

  • number of times I update my budget
  • how closely I stick to the budget on a monthly basis
  • my overall net wealth etc.

Step 2 - Research & to be continued…

I'm currently planning to spend a week or two getting a few numbers and metrics together to see what I can effectively track. Once I am confident I can track some useful metrics I should be able to make goals based on these numbers. I will not be creating any elaborate dashboard for these personal metrics (unless someone could recommend something quick and easy?) Tracking something simply with a spreadsheet is better than displaying it perfectly.

If I do end up with a tracking dashboard I will probably write a follow up blog post to report on my progress.

Conclusion

At the time of writing it is the 2nd of January and I have not decided on my resolutions, in fact I have only resolved that I will make some resolutions. I'm not sure if this is me just being late to the game or if I'm doing things the Right Way™. So often we fail at our resolutions because of a lack of planning so maybe it's better to take January as a time to plan, experiment and commit to a few resolutions for the rest of the year. I would love to know your thoughts on all this so share your opinions in the comments.

I will come back with a follow up blog to let you know some of the resolutions and goals I have decided upon. If you have any suggestions for me, let me know in the comments and I'll be sure to attribute you in the next post!