It’s nearly New Year’s Resolution time again. Time for the dieting and fitness industry to start pumping out messages about changing your life for the better. And time for us normal people to try, and in the main, fail, to alter multiple things about our lives based on these aspirational reminders.
I used to be something of a cynic about this annual cycle. There’s an implied life-dissatisfaction built in to the idea that we should make a firm resolution to change something about ourselves each year. So, because many of us are unhappy about multiple things about our lives, the approach that we take is to attempt to change multiple things at once in January. It rarely works!
Yet over the past few years I’ve begun to enjoy the annual challenge of doing something new, and attempting to stick to it. Here are two of the resolutions I’ve made over recent years, and they’re things I’ve actually managed to stick to for a whole year:
Be useful on the internet
One year I decided that Stack Overflow was one of the most useful and helpful resources for people working in tech. At its most basic it is a question-and-answer service. People are stuck on something, and other people attempt to unstick them. In the process the results of the unsticking process are left online for others to learn from, and as you can imagine the amount of time this one little service saves us software people (and it now works for lots of other areas, not just programming) can be measured in person-years.
So I thought for one year my new year’s resolution would be “Don’t be a leech”, and I spent a fair amount of time answering questions there. I didn’t manage to stick to it every day, but a general feeling of “be useful on the internet” now sticks with me, which was the reason I did it. To alter my own behaviour and attempt to be generally more helpful to others. Now, when I see someone asking a question on Twitter and I know a good pointer, I’ll often reply.
Ignore the news
This year I became frustrated with how much of my attention I was giving to things that were useless and stressful. Information that demanded attention but no action. Horrific stories that leave you thinking about awful things and not concentrating on the things that matter. Namely, news stories.
I wrote about this in my first Medium post earlier this year, so have a read to understand why I’m not talking about ignorance.
It’s about stronger connections with actionable information, filtering out negative influences and directing your energy towards things that you can really change in the world. The results of my little experiment, using myself as a single point of anecdata, are positive.
I’ve not read a single article in the free commuter paper that my fellow passengers stick their noses into each day. I’ve turned off the radio at half past the hour, and on again four minutes later, multiple times every day for a whole year. I’ve not watched any of the mainstream news channels, and I’ve only very rarely read something in a newspaper unless it has some industry relevance for me.
Yet I still feel informed. I’m actually more aware of industry trends and global shifts, I’m still aware of roughly what’s going on. Those extra hours each day where I would have been worrying about something I can’t affect, are now filled with reflection, thinking about the process of building my company and tinkering. And if you’ve read any of my other writing, tinkering is pretty important to me.
A creative rhythm for a year
My wife, Emily, this year gave herself a challenge—to take a photograph every single day of the year.
She’s stuck to it, and only on a couple of occasions didn’t manage to shoot with her SLR.
She even took one on the day of the birth of our daughter!
I’ll leave her to write a piece about what she’s learnt doing that, but the observation I’d make is that she’s found the process of having a creative rhythm to the year to be beneficial, not just in the act of taking the photograph and improving her practice, but in that it’s a long, rhythmic project that is in many ways akin to daily meditation or exercise.
One of the hackers I work with at Makeshift, Tanja, was talking to me about the project that she is doing, and there are many similarities. Each day she “free writes” seven hundred and fifty words. They’re crucially not published, but over time the service she uses, 750words.com, provides some insights into her style, her mood, topics she is thinking about, and it enables her to self-reflect over a long period of time. It’s a daily ritual that takes around fifteen minutes, and I’m tempted to make this my next annual resolution.
A higher resolution
I quipped to friends recently that there are “New Year’s resolutions” and then there are “higher resolutions”—decisions to undertake a whole year of activity as an attempt to adjust ourselves and our behaviour by undertaking something that sounds hard. Something that will require a degree of mental energy and effort to achieve. Sometimes by making a quick joke about an idea, a bigger truth can emerge, and I think that perhaps it holds true here.
For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be thinking about things that might be up there as projects that I can be doing every day (and I think it has to be every day), that build on some aspect of my behaviour that I want to develop, and that might release or change something about myself over subsequent years. Here’s a few ideas. I thought I’d share in case others were thinking similarly:
Draw something every day
I’ve noticed recently that I’m always drawing in meetings. I use it to think and to concentrate, sometimes to remember a key theme. I’ve been doing a lot of drawing with the kids over the last few years, particularly monsters, so a project to do a daily drawing, to photograph it with my camera phone and upload it to my instagram seems achievable.
I’ve already started sharing a few. They say that the best CEOs have an ability to draw—perhaps working on my sketching skills will enable me to communicate ideas more rapidly? Perhaps I’ll come up with a theme or observations about startup life? Who knows.
Make up the bed-time story
This year the ratio of “made-up” to “read from a book” stories at bed-time has been about 10:1. Most nights I make up a story for the kids, on the spot, with no preparation.
Tonight it was a spooky story about pirates and how they are scared of “Davey Jones’ Locker”, but little kids aren’t because they can swim!
It’s improv, it’s fun, it’s like not being able to prepare for a talk where you’ve been given the slot because a co-worker has fallen ill, and the kids really appreciate it.
This year I’ve put a few recordings on Soundcloud of the stories that I made up. Perhaps I should record some more, and make it a project? The kids enjoy it, and have been asking to listen back to them.
I sometimes think it’s sad that some of the best stories just evaporated and all I can now remember are the titles!
Publish tiny thoughts
This is the highest risk one. This is the one that scares me. That I could give myself the challenge to write something publicly, every day. There are a few people I’ve seen who do this. They tend to have a book or a speaking gig they want you to go to. I don’t! Well, I of course want people to sign up to the apps that we build at Makeshift, so perhaps it does make sense commercially.
The main question here would be: is it possible to write something of interest to others, that’s insightful and interesting, every day of the year?
I wrote two experimental posts: “The ideas won’t run out” and “A tiny act of feminism”, just to see how it felt. I’ve had a good reaction from writing these shorter pieces, yet I’ve found it hard to repeatedly put out small thoughts on the web. It feels so risky!
I’ve really enjoyed suddenly finding that I can write things that people read, and as a result we’re building a new thing at Makeshift to help us write and publish as a company. I might do it on that platform, but as Stef, not as the company. So this would be about sharing observations and things I learn along the way, without feeling like it’s the company talking.
But what scares me is that saying “I’m going to write every day” could be a very, very hard thing to stick to, when life is busy with a family and a crazy meta-startup in progress.
Do something you can
If you’re considering a daily creativity project like this, a big consideration is starting with something you’re already tinkering with, but challenging yourself to repeatedly make it part of your every-day.
Just like our new Makeshift poster, “Do something you can” is a good starting point!
I’ll be deciding over the next couple of weeks what my resolution will be, hence writing this piece.
I’d love to hear your suggestions—what other projects do you know of that are based on the promise “I’m going to ___ every day”?
What are you going to try to stick to next year, if anything?