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tl;dr I tried an experiment two weeks ago of being transparent with my roadmap and ran into some problems, such as menu accuracy. This hindered me from my goals. I also personally felt it was a mistake to be transparent with my roadmap; there are arguments for and counterarguments against sharing your goals. I also encountered unexpected costs of context switching and did some personal reflection.

It’s been a little tough too, and slow (given the holidays), to make progress on both my projects equally.

Rather than make my roadmap transparent (which I’ll go into why this failed), I will instead post my weekly goals vs. what I accomplished both at the end of the week, rather than at the beginning.

I. Roadmap expectations vs. reality
II. Unexpected costs of context switching
III. Sharing goals or don’t share goals?
IV. Slow weeks, taking some time to reflect

Another reason people don’t work on big projects is, ironically, fear of wasting time. What if they fail? Then all the time they spent on it will be wasted. (In fact it probably won’t be, because work on hard projects almost always leads somewhere.)

But the trouble with big problems can’t be just that they promise no immediate reward and might cause you to waste a lot of time. If that were all, they’d be no worse than going to visit your in-laws. There’s more to it than that. Big problems are terrifying. There’s an almost physical pain in facing them. It’s like having a vacuum cleaner hooked up to your imagination. All your initial ideas get sucked out immediately, and you don’t have any more, and yet the vacuum cleaner is still sucking.

You can’t look a big problem too directly in the eye. You have to approach it somewhat obliquely. But you have to adjust the angle just right: you have to be facing the big problem directly enough that you catch some of the excitement radiating from it, but not so much that it paralyzes you. You can tighten the angle once you get going, just as a sailboat can sail closer to the wind once it gets underway.

If you want to work on big things, you seem to have to trick yourself into doing it. You have to work on small things that could grow into big things, or work on successively larger things, or split the moral load with collaborators. It’s not a sign of weakness to depend on such tricks. The very best work has been done this way.

– Paul Graham, Good and Bad Procrastination

I. ROADMAP EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY

I was making good headway with the transparent roadmap I set forth last week but soon realized there were some flaws.

When I called restaurants, I did some spot checks with the prices to see if they were accurate on location-specific menus versus the menus online. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t completely accurate. This was a little alarming, but I guess not too surprising if a restaurant in question has multiple locations (but not quite a national chain restaurant).

So I’m revising my approach now to manually go collect menus first.

I’ve put together restaurant listings in queue for Cusoy and this week plan to collect as many menus as I possibly can in person so they are accurate.

II. UNEXPECTED COSTS OF CONTEXT SWITCHING

This probably won’t come as a surprise, but it’s been difficult for me to work on both Cusoy and B2B SaaS the same day.

I had a conversation with a friend that this context switching should be easier than, say, going to work as a barista in a coffee shop and then coming home to work on a software product.

But I’m finding that’s not necessarily the case. It actually probably is easier to context switch in that situation.

It’s taken me this time to realize that it doesn’t make sense for me to work on both everyday, and that it’s better to designate certain days for Cusoy and others for B2B SaaS.

Jeff Atwood mentions in The Multi-Tasking Myth that with each additional project you add to your workload, you lose a significant percentage of your time. And by the time you add a third project on, almost half your time is wasted in task switching.

We typically overestimate how much we’ll actually get done, and multi-tasking exaggerates our own internal biases even more. Whenever possible, avoid interruptions and avoid working on more than one project at the same time. If it’s unavoidable, be brutally honest with yourself – and your stakeholders – about how much you can actually get done under multi-tasking conditions. It’s probably less than you think.

Bryan Braun also muses on Multitasking and Context Switching (emphasis mine):

For some tasks, context switching can be incredibly expensive. That research paper I mentioned is the perfect example. Interrupting your paper to take a phone call doesn’t require moving anywhere or preparing anything but it can take a lot of time to get back into the flow of writing the paper. This is because as you write you need to remember what you have already said, what you still want to say, how the paper is flowing, if you have forgotten anything, if you are postponing specific arguments, what examples you still want to use, if you need to find more sources… and the list goes on. The more information you have to keep in short term memory, the harder it is to get back to the level of high performance.

It’s really useful to know which of your tasks are “context switching expensive.” For me, it’s things like writing a paper, doing a long math or engineering problem, programming, or comparing several complex things (like mutual funds, for example). For tasks like these, I can be much more effective if I absolutely ensure that my environment is distraction free. I’m fine with keeping my phone on silent and disabling chat or email notifications if it means I can really get stuff done. I also don’t start these tasks unless I have enough time blocked out to make some serious progress. It doesn’t make sense for me to start programming some complex features for a website if it takes me 30 minutes to get up and running and I only have 40 minutes of time available. It’s better to box out huge chunks of time.

And actually, I just thought of this now — but it might be easier to do context switch if you physically change your environments.

For Cusoy, I don’t really need to be at my desk at home to work on this. I could go to the local library or coffee shops all around to work on it.

Whereas for B2B SaaS, I have to be on the phone a lot and I don’t feel comfortable making calls with potential users and clients outside of my room where I can focus and concentrate on speaking with them.

III. SHARING GOALS OR DON’T SHARE GOALS?

So I had a hypothesis two weeks ago that sharing my roadmap and being utterly transparent in what I was doing in order to encourage accountability.

I actually don’t quite believe that anymore.

Perhaps what would be more appropriate are to share milestone goals with an accountability partner, but probably not announce your whole roadmap (even for just one week) publicly for everyone to see.

No sane company would ever do this, either — since things can often come up unforeseen and making promises you potentially can’t keep to customers and users will probably not end very well if you can’t make your deadlines.

I feel kind of foolish for trying it last time, but it was a last-resort attempt of trying to motivate myself. It was a hard time for me.

If you observe the services and apps you use yourself, none of them ever announce, “Oh on December 29, 2013 we’re going to release X feature, fix Y bug and offer custom support for Z” etc.

Nope.

No one does that. Ever.

And for good reason…

It’s just not smart to do that with a potential backlash from users if they don’t keep those promises. Things come up, things may take longer than usual, etc.

It seems that announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them, as Derek Sivers talks about in Shut up! Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them:

Shouldn’t you announce your goals, so friends can support you?

Isn’t it good networking to tell people about your upcoming projects?

Doesn’t the “law of attraction” mean you should state your intention, and visualize the goal as already yours?

Nope.

Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen.

Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.

In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a “social reality”, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.

NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book “Symbolic Self-Completion” (pdf article here) – and recently published results of new tests in a research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?”

Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.

Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”

You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

A related test found that success on one sub-goal (eating healthy meals) reduced efforts on other important sub-goals (going to the gym) for the same reason.

It may seem unnatural to keep your intentions and plans private, but try it. If you do tell a friend, make sure not to say it as a satisfaction (“I’ve joined a gym and bought running shoes. I’m going to do it!”), but as dissatisfaction (“I want to lose 20 pounds, so kick my ass if I don’t, OK?”)

… I completely agree! I never did announce my goals in my past publicly to others and did just fine accomplishing my admittedly “lofty” goals.

Derek even did a 3-minute TED talk as well on keeping your goals to yourself.

Though honestly, I think it might go either way. There’s no absolutely right or wrong answer — but just know that there’s been scientific research going both ways, actually.

For me, this doesn’t work. It may work for you, and it may not.

What’s most important is that you find out for yourself.

At the end of the day, it’s your own attitude and self-knowledge of yourself best to decide what works best for you.

IV. SLOW WEEKS, TAKING SOME TIME TO REFLECT

I have to admit, these past 2 weeks have been a little mentally and emotionally tough for me.

I didn’t make much progress with Cusoy as I had hoped, though with my B2B SaaS product I procured one potential software idea, only to dump it to the side a week later when others in the industry invalidated it — but in that process, I got two more interesting software ideas that are much more viable and without legal liabilities or very technical research.

So I’m really excited about that. Once I validate the revenue-first SaaS ideas with 5-10+ potential users, I’m going to charge ahead with a vengeance.

I spent the holidays here in California, not with my family back in DC. I already saw my parents for two weeks back during Thanksgiving and felt they were not very understanding or supportive of what I was doing and thus did not go back during Christmas.

When I was back in DC, I kept questioning myself and the limiting beliefs sprung forth more strongly than ever.

But back here in SF, I’ve become more serious and resolute in this and those limiting beliefs have disappeared.

Yesterday I sat down and mapped out my 2014 New Year resolutions and made concessions with myself in terms of what I wanted to accomplish vs. what was really feasible.

I’ve made SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) weekly goals, monthly goals, quarterly goals and yearly goals.

I know some people have made their goals public (albeit 2013 ones), but I am keeping mine private and perhaps will reveal them at the end of next year to see how far I’ve come.

…It’s hard sometimes, but I realized I can’t really have my cake and eat it too. I guess it’s called growing up for me and some emotional maturation.

It’s hard to watch your friends go out to eat frequently, go snowboarding in Tahoe, go golfing every weekend, etc. while I am holed up trying to get work done.

I want to have fun too!

But… that just meant I had to have honest conversations with myself: What do I really want? What makes me happy?

It’s frustrating, exhausting and lonely.

There are no shortcuts for hard work.

This is what I signed up for… and I know I have to sacrifice a lot in the short-term for my long-term goals of starting a successful, sustainable business.

Focus is the name of the game.

Happy New Year!

Here’s to a productive and amazing 2014 🙂

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