Learning to Think


I’ve had a few setbacks in my life, but I never gave up — Harry S. Truman

Even the best of intentions, motivations, plans, hard work and experiences can and will fail you. Failing isn’t hard. Building on your failures and keeping yourself moving in your chosen direction is what is most important.

A comfortable life is nice, but a lot of living happens away from what you are used to. I can say, “I really tried that and it didn’t work, so I did this next.” Can you say the same?

You’re Doing What? On Purpose?

I’ve recently been challenged by a friend to state my purpose. This is a really interesting question to ask yourself. What is your purpose? Do you know? Are you able to articulate it to others? Are the things you do in line with this purpose? What outcome do you expect from the actions you have made? I had to pause because I couldn’t state my purpose.

I know what I am doing and what outcomes I expect, but why am I doing this? I know what I am Doing, but who am I Being? What drives me? What makes me tick?

Here is the exercise I’ve come up with to explore my purpose:

  • Who am I? What makes me, Me?
  • What do I do with myself? What do I love and not love?
  • What have I done that I feel good about? What am I proud of?
  • What are my values and principles? What do I believe in?
  • Based on the above, what is my purpose?

I’ve been through this exercise before, but I believe that my purpose has changed. It must be time to do it again!


Sometimes you’ve just got to take a break. After a long day at work, I am not going to do anything productive tonight. Pizza for dinner perhaps?

The Dollars

Part of getting my house in order is doing a review of my finances. I believe that you should always have a good idea of where you stand on money. I’ve done alright for myself over the years and consider it a blessing. Given that I will probably need to spend some of my hard earned cash on my new ventures, I want to make sure that I’m always on stable financial ground.

Currently, I have assets in traditional checking/savings accounts, a Roth IRA, an IRA rollover from an old 401k plan, a handful of mutual funds, and a small brokerage account with some fun money. I’m not a rich man, but I’ve invested when and where I can. I’ve always taken advantage of 401k matches and I’ve tried to keep my contributions high. In my twenties, my contributions were over 15%, but not as much in more recent years. I’d like to maintain 15% as a goal.

I do have a mortgage, a car payment, some credit card debt, and probably a home equity line coming in the near future. My student loans were paid off ten years ago. I can live with the mortgage payment, but I’d like to get rid of the credit card and auto loan. I’m well on the path to doing this, I just need to finish what I have started and get them taken care of.

Going through the dreamlining exercise this week was interesting. It made me really think about how much money I really need to make to have the life I’d like to have. I’d like to be financially golden by the time I am 60, but I’d also like to have a lot of fun between now and then. These two things do not have to be at odds with each other. If I stick with my 15% investment goal, keep life simple, and calculate my dreamline costs and make good choices, I should be able to make all this happen.

Enough about my personal finances. Now it is time to think about the income side of the equation.


I have telecommuted for the last nine months and done freelance work from home for much longer than that. I have a nice work space set up that is segregated from the rest of the house. I am able to focus fairly effectively on the work at hand without getting too distracted by things at the homestead. My work area has a reasonably sized L-shaped desk, two laptops and a large LCD, a large white-board, a large cork-board, and four two-drawer file cabinets arranged as another work surface. There is a couch for casual thinking and an aquarium for some color. The lighting leaves a bit to be desired, but it is a quiet and effect place to work.

Currently, my work area is covered with books, gadgets, toys, index cards, water bottles, guitar parts, and whatever random things I collect over time. This all really needs to go away. I need to be more organized. I need more space to doodle. I need to be able to file things effectively. I need room for a printer.

My electronic life needs a good scrub down as well. I’ve been eliminating as much extraneous information as possible lately, but I still have RSS feeds, multiple email accounts, social media, and numerous websites to monitor and maintain. It can be a bit distracting, if not outright overwhelming.

Here is my plan:

  • Set up a full GTD/43 Folders system
  • Purge office area
  • Purge all information sources
  • Perform a full GTD collection process
  • Make Inbox:0 a goal

Hopefully, doing these things will set me up for staying highly organized and productive. I’ll have to consider what issues may come up as I work out of the office, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’ve been trying to read more about entrepreneurship. I reestablished some social bookmarking tools to help me keep track of everything I’m reading so I can come back to it as needed. I will be sharing more of what I am reading later.

Startup Constraints

Now that I’ve got a first draft of my goals, I can see how they fit in with my ideas. I need a day or two for the goals to ferment, so I will be writing down some high level descriptions of my ideas over the next two days so I can sit them side by side to see if there are any superstars. Ideally, I would like to boil everything down to three goals and three ideas. The goals will be pretty static. With the ideas, I will need to force one to the top and drop the other two for the time being.

One of the things I’ve always been fairly resistant to is the idea of timeboxing. Every project has three main constraints: time, money, and scope. Unless you have some kind of magical money fountain, you have a fixed amount of cash you can spend. That leaves time and scope for you to play with. Common wisdom says that of the three constraints, you can control two. If you control scope, the amount of time will automatically be determined. If you control time, scope will be determined for you.

My approach will be to fix time and money and then determine what my scope is. If the idea I settle on has 10 major features and I can only do six of them in the timebox, I will only do six of them and then bring it to market. I can add more later, but Time to Value is important to me. If I can not generate worthwhile value in that timebox with that money, I should be working on a different idea. I would like to know this as soon as I can. Failing quickly and moving on is better than a slow, long death.

I finished season one of Startup Junkies this afternoon. There were many things I got out of the show, most of which were just refreshers.

  • You have to have an idea
  • You have to keep trying until you get it right
  • You have to do it as inexpensively as you can
  • Cash flow is king
  • Keep things as simple as possible
  • Don’t be afraid to go big
  • You have to make tough decisions, make them as soon as you can so they don’t weigh you down
  • You are taking a risk
  • Have a sense of humor

Creating Goals

I spent a significant amount of time today trying to figure out what I want to do with myself. I have come up with an initial set of goals, but I’m still not quite happy with how they sit. There are really three things that I would like to drive for at this point in time:

  • Get out of debt
  • Be independent
  • Save cash for later

I have more specific definitions of what these things mean, but they are not important here.

I’ve also been working on filling out a Tim Ferriss style “Dreamline” that I can refer to as I meet my current goals. Dreamlining allows you to define your dreams of things To Have, things To Be, and things To Do. Once you define these things, you consider the time frame in which you would like to accomplish them and how much they will cost. Combined with your known monthly expenses (and a buffer for those unknown things that happen) you can calculate how much you need to make a month or a day to live your dreams right now.

Before I really embark on my dreamline, I would like to get some things cleaned up. This first set of personal goals are designed to build a solid base to work from. I plan to refine them this week and to start working on an action plan to accomplish them. They will probably end up falling into one of two categories. The first set of goals will be designed to correct some issues with my personal financial situation. They will include running down debt, increasing savings, and reducing costs. The second set will be things that need to happen to increase/replace income and build new things for the future.

This week’s agenda will include a lot of reading. I will be spending a little bit of time looking into social bookmarking tools to see if I can capture all of the information I am wading through without getting distracted. I will also be spending some time working on a short list of ideas and opportunities I would like to pursue.


I could go on an on about how great BarCamp was, but I’d rather sum up the value I received from it than get mired in the details.

Conferences are great opportunities to learn, network, and to challenge yourself. Most conferences have a general theme or purpose and activities to educate you about it. You will meet like minded people who you can interact with to share experience, knowledge, and wisdom. You can meet vendors and visionaries, employers and employees, and people just like yourself. You can make great contacts and friends by just talking with people. You can give as much as you get as well. Participating in group discussion is a great way to share your knowledge. Given the opportunity to lead a talk, do a presentation, or sit on a panel, you can push yourself to greater levels in your areas of expertise.

Earlier this week, I set several goals for this conference:

  • Meet some specific people at companies I have been observing
  • Look for local talent that I can tap
  • Meet other people who are starting new things
  • Do a talk and get feedback on both content and presentation skills
  • Share my knowledge and be a mentor

I believe I accomplished all of these goals in grand fashion. I met a couple different people who were starting up companies or working for themselves. We shared some ideas and exchanged some knowledge of local resources that could help all of us out. I met the CEO of one company and two leaders of other companies and picked their brains about their products and services. I met a college student who did an excellent presentation on a project he had done. He did everything from research to a business plan and came up with a really great idea that I think has lots of potential. He seemed really bright and really understood the industry well. We had a great conversation afterwards and once I have some solid ground to stand on, I’d like to get in touch with him to see if there is an opportunity to utilize his skills. I did a lightning talk on a time management method and got a lot of great unsolicited compliments about my presentation skills. Several people asked me questions afterwards and I shared some additional experience with them and gave them some follow up resources. One person stood out. We talked about the technique for a little while but quickly moved on to some of the details of what we were both working on. He was a younger guy in the process of starting up a business with his brother. I happened to have some expertise in one of the areas they were having challenges with, so I was able to help him out. It felt really nice to be able to give something back to the community in general.

Being around a large group of caffeinated, like minded people really brought a lot of energy. I was constantly making notes, talking with people, sharing the event on Twitter, and coming up with ideas for some of the great things to come.

In one word: Inspiring

Good Times at BarCamp

Had a great first day at BarCamp. Met lots of great people and had many, many inspiring conversations. More to come after day two.

Getting Busy

Today was very busy. There were a few project management twists at work that made for a hectic day. Getting ready for BarCamp tomorrow and having a full social schedule has made for a long week. I’m feeling good about keeping my GTD list up to date this week, but I need to schedule some time for writing updates to this blog. I’ll do a full review of the week when it is over.

I started watching Start-Up Junkies today. It follows a company called Earth Class Mail through their first phases. I think they’ve done a pretty decent job of capturing the ups and downs of being in that environment. From getting enough money to get things running without giving away your company to the individual heroism and meltdowns of the team members, it paints a pretty real picture. There are some other “related” shows on Hulu that I may have to check out.