A truly great week

Fruits from asking and trying to answer a question: what's my personal "input metric"?

Although I have different interests than Jim Collins, I can tell by listening to his two interviews with Tim Ferriss that we are similar in nature. [0] He is a relative recluse with a strong independent streak, an interest in amorphous questions, and a penchant for systems. He seems strongly driven by intuition as well—just listen to him talk about how he met his wife.

Jim Collins has an input metric that he holds himself to: 1000 hours of creative work per year (or about 2.7 hours per day). It’s so simple, and it inspired me to think about what kind of input metric I want to aim for.

I knew I couldn’t just copy/paste Jim's metric. To convince myself about any metric, I'd have to do the work to discover that metric—even if I ended up in the same place. (Besides, I already put in 1000 creative hours a year, so the exact same metric wouldn't be meaningful.)

My first attempt at answering this question, which started about a month ago, was to create a quantity goal for a skill I wanted to sharpen: publishing 2 public pieces a week (which is “input” in the sense of the “output” being better writing). I quickly found I couldn’t keep pace; but that I was writing a lot more privately, and also throwing away a lot. I was unearthing many ideas interesting to me—and not succeeding, in my eyes, at making them interesting to others.

Unrelated to this goal, around the same time, at work, I started an experiment to teach coworkers at Retool how to build web apps using Retool, a low-code tool. This was one of several projects I kicked off this quarter, and the one that quickly became obvious I set the goal too low for. I aimed to average 2 one-off build sessions a week (in addition to 3 scheduled sessions a week with regulars), for a total of 24 one-off sessions. Three weeks into the quarter, I already exceeded that goal, and several one-off sessions were with people signing up a second or third time.

The teaching was, in fact, taking time away from writing. I fortunately kept my teaching hours mostly Wed-Thurs, with a few outliers, so I had focus time to build and write, and think, on the other days.

I didn’t mind that I was missing my original writing goals. I did feel bad when I didn’t get any writing done. I was content, even at the end of a day of 30-minute 1:1 blocks, when I felt tired.

I started to think about how to make these 1:1 sessions more generally useful. Which naturally led to thinking about… how to turn these into written (and other types of) tutorials.

I went out to answer one question, and accidentally answered another.

I still don’t have a metric. (And thus, the title of this post is not “my metric.”) Instead, I’ve stumbled into an ideal set of activities and rough percentage time buckets for each: not a metric, but parameters.

I am now pretty sure that:

  1. A dedicated 2 days/week of teaching feels just right. Talking to people/teaching 5 days a week is too much.
  2. I need time for reflection, time to build (in all its forms), time to make something that lasts for the longer-term. At least 3 days/week for this feels right, and up to 4-5 days.

There are still question marks, but this directionally feels a lot better than any schedule I’ve had in the past, and on an absolute level, it feels great.

In total, it took more than the past month to figure this out. About a year ago, I looked back on over eight years of working as a "software engineer," and found that teaching was a common thread—I’d always find a way to make it part of my job, in every job. So I tried a role where I was supporting customers all day, all week, which was way too much. I overcorrected and avoided talking to people. And now I’ve recovered, pulled a Goldilocks, and found the middle.

Maybe eventually I’ll find that metric. At the highest level, though, what this experience underscored is that the attempt to answer a question—and the question itself—can be the most important, fruitful thing.

[0] Jim Collins's two interviews on the Tim Ferriss podcast

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