A productive start to the year

  • Motivations & Goals
  • Progress thus far
  • What I found to be useful techniques for progress
  • Future plans

Motivations and Goals

I’m getting older. Fast approaching the 30 milestone — 30 years old, and about 30 kg heavier than I was at the start of my twenties 😂. Last year was quite successful for my professional development, I led a huge project and mentored junior developers, gained 3 GCP certifications, and switched jobs.

I normally start to wind down my personal efforts for the year around 10th December, just before my birthday and Christmas break, and this normally gives me some time to reflect on what I’ve done the last year, and set some goals for the next year, so here’s what I’ve got so far, and how I’ve made decent progress in January.

Around the middle of last year, I realised I was about to hit a ceiling — I’m pretty decent at developing software for a business, but I was missing some of the fundamentals that Computer Science graduates might have. So I decided to fill in the blanks by following a curriculum from https://teachyourselfcs.com which I’ve really enjoyed so far. I also thought I might be missing out on some professional skills, like a deeper understanding of software estimation, agile methodologies, product management, and managing humans. Lastly, I decided I want to do some more blogging — I kind of like writing, some others have told me they enjoyed reading it, and I’ve got tons I’d like to write about, so that’s why you’re reading this. All this gave me plenty to work on.


So far in January, I’ve managed to read 3 books. I’m not a huge reader normally, and would’ve described myself as a sporadic reader, dipping in to something when I fancy it. But I’ve really blasted through these.

  • Computer Networking: A top-down approach. Super technical, and I learned loads about networking that I’d have missed out on otherwise, and now feel much more able to read about networking concepts in news, and have meaning conversations with networking experts.
  • Refactoring: Improving the design of existing code. Thought provoking work on refactoring, but I didn't personally love it. Still glad I gave it a whiz though. Not every book will be a winner, but if you don’t try, you won’t know — some people will think this one’s amazing.
  • Software Estimation: demystifying the black art. Absolutely amazing, can’t wait to write reflections on my experience about this content, and recommend this to a bunch of people and already planning to lend it to someone. 10/10 would recommend.

I’ve managed to publish 5 blog posts this month. A few people have told me they liked them, so that felt good, and I’ve got around 1,400 views in the last month, so yay for that.

I have not lost any weight. Despite removing the batteries from my scales, I’m aware of this because I am frequently nagged about it.

Useful techniques

Have a plan!

Last year I just browsed through stuff until I found something interesting enough to latch on to, like a certification. This year I wanted something more concrete. I got myself a really great app called Things 3 for iPhone and Mac. It’s a little expensive, but not subscription based, which I liked. Really enjoy using this, and it helps me plan things and keep on top of all my extra-curricular work.

I’ve set specific dates for when I’m planning to complete tasks, and I’ve got different tracks for teaching myself computer science, professional reading, and blogging — lining up nicely with my goals.

This has been super useful for keeping myself on target. I’ve found this helps me feel dedicated, rather than motivated. Being motivated it wanting to do stuff and feeling like you’ve got the energy to make a dent in your goals, but motivation comes and goes. This helps me stay dedicated — stuff gets done whether I want to or not. In the end it’s very worthwhile, because looking back, I’ve made plenty of progress towards my goals.

I’ve also mixed the targets so I’m switching between different tracks fairly often, to keep things interesting. I’ve estimated how long it’ll take me to get through content, calculated an approximate daily speed, and spread goals about 4 days apart to allow a rough moving average, and breaks every so often.

Finding the most productive time

I was once an early bird for a few months. I liked it because I felt productive, but ultimately it just wasn’t for me, I felt like there was an impending time pressure to finish up what I wanted before “real work” started for my employer. I find I much prefer to work in the evenings. I typically am sat down away from my normal work-day desk at another table, using a different laptop, before 10pm, ready to go.

Got my snacks (yeah, healthy banana chips, promise…) ready to go, and a clear target for how much progress I’m gonna make. Night time is quiet time. No TV, dogs are asleep, no BBC News alerts, just my book.

Getting through a massive book

As mentioned, I’m not a huge reader, but have been making great progress. I’ve found a book stand to be a huge help — I’m not leaning over the book or holding it uncomfortably. I also tend to daydream and drift off sometimes when I’m reading a paragraph. I might have read something interesting and started thinking about how that applies to my work, or just day dreaming about dairy milk.

Either way, a few minutes go past, and I’ve read about 4 paragraphs and not taken in a single word. So I started using a pointer. I’ve found this helps me notice this phenomenon faster, and re-calibrate. Less time wasted, less chocolate waisted!

Making Notes

I’m a big fan of writing notes, I find writing stuff down helps me remember it better, and process information that sticks. Last year I was either writing on notepads, or in specialised notebooks for a given topic. I liked the specialised notebooks, but they’re a bit of an effort to maintain. The notepads are convenient, but it’s throwaway, so I bought myself a reMarkable 2 tablet. It’s pretty expensive. At £400 it sounds great, but you need a pen at £100, and unless you want to carry around your new tablet without protection like a total maniac, another £100 for a folio. Expensive, yes, but overall I think it’s been worthwhile, it’s helped me be more organised, and make neater notes. It really does feel a lot like writing with a pencil, it’s quite satisfying. It’s got a few little tricks up it’s sleeve like casting to your laptop and syncing notes to devices, but I’m using the core writing functionality, and really like it.

Conclusion & Future Plans

I’ve got plenty to be getting on with! Thankfully though, I feel really well organised to meet my goals, and really confident that I’m going to hit them.

I’ve got lots of reading on professional topics, loads of CS fundamentals to cover, and plenty of concrete ideas to blog about. I’m planning to stick closely to my schedule, and hopefully in a few months when lockdown restrictions being to ease, it’ll have become a natural habit.

Enjoyed this? my next blog will be about some of the content I’ve studied recently in networking, and the bits I found most interesting. Follow me to get notified or something like that, or take a look through some of my recent blogs. Enjoy!