The Least You Can Do

Mom: “Ray, the least you could do is…”
Dad: “The least I could do is nothing.”

I often heard this dialogue between my parents when I was young. My mother would express displeasure about something that my father did/didn’t do. She would express a desire for a little more effort (usually in the form of some small gesture).

“Ray, the least you could do is…”

His response was always the same.

“The least I can do is nothing.”

It was my earliest introduction to my Dad’s personality.
It was sarcastic.
It annoyed my mother to no end.
And to a 10-year old weened on comedy, it was incredibly funny.

I was always looking for ways to inject the phrase into conversations. I even tried to mimic my Dad’s delivery, down to the smirk, head tilt and raised eyebrow.

As an adult, I would learn 2 things:

  • No one I dated would ever find it humorous/clever and no amount of nodding and winking would save me
  • The Least You Can Do is a powerful concept when used for good

On the path of 80 Hours to MVP, I found myself revisiting and repurposing that phrase. Instead of stopping at literal interpretation, I turned it on it’s head. By doing two simple things, I turned what was a joke into an effective approach for maintaining momentum in pursuit of my goals.

The first part is turning the phrase into a question. What is the least I could do? I find that asking questions keeps thoughts flowing and prevents me from getting stuck. For example, when I’m debugging, I ask myself questions to work my way through the current state of a problem to a viable solution. However, that alone would not transform the phrase into a powerful tool.

The second, equally important, part is adding an actual outcome. By providing a narrowly defined outcome, I can devise a pathway to completion. What is the least I could do to achieve the desired outcome?

I find this approach effective at both the macro and micro levels. In determining the success metrics that I defined in the Kickoff Interview, I have provided the macro version. I know what would make this endeavor successful in my eyes. The least you can do is the defining trait for the MVP.

Success requires consistent action. The difficulty is in the implementation and it’s easy to get stuck in the details. If you’ve spent too much time working through issues, frustration and discouragement can set in. Many projects are abandoned when some seemingly trivial tasks become more difficult and start to eat away at your time. It is at this point that you’re most susceptible to quitting.

You must resist the temptation to weigh your endeavors with the scale of frustration.

It is at this point that going back to the mantra of the least you can do proves effective at the micro level.

For example, in implementing the MVP for Puffin, I knew that I wanted reports on my activities. I knew implementing something robust would take too much time. Even implementing a chart library was going to eat into my development schedule as there was still a learning curve. So I asked myself, what’s the least I can do to get some metrics for my work activity? I decided that instead of providing a fancy chart, I could provide aggregate date (e.g.. total # of sessions, total time worked). In doing so, I had one of the solutions the app was designed to provide (how much did I work today?).

Another example of where I use this technique is in fitness. It’s hard for me to stay in shape on the road, since I tend to get tunnel vision on projects and am loathe to actually go to the gym. I solved this problem by asking what’s the least I can do to maintain a basic fitness level? My MVP of fitness is 30 minutes of HIIT training 3 times a week. And even when I’m struggling with motivation, I take it one level lower and focus on the least I can do to kickstart this workout. For me, the answer is usually a minimal action of few basic stretches/jumping jacks just to get my body warmed up. I then build on the inertia and add another small chunk and before I know it, I’ve completed 30 minutes.

Setting minimal metrics provides a clear stopping point as well. If I lack knowledge or experience in an area, I can complete the minimal actions given my current level and return at a later time, when I’ve acquired sufficient skills. By putting an cap on this iteration and enhancing it later, I minimize delays, the accompanying frustrations and maximize efficiency.

Make the least you can do work for you.

80 Hours to MVP

I started 2018 with a grand plan of having 10 apps in the App Store by year’s end. I would split my time between developing apps and embarking on a new career in voice over. I had broken the plan down into four 13-week segments, each with a one week retrospective/break at the end. By the end of the 2nd quarter, it was obvious that my approach was not providing the visible gains that I expected. Only Gobo, an expense tracking app for iOS, was on track for release, with older projects stuck in Development Hell. The cascading effect was that my blogging had stopped as well (what was I going to write about if I wasn’t making “progress”?)

My frustration was growing. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t working every day. I had a daily standup, task lists and bi-weekly retrospectives. All for a one person team.

Could the problem be some flaw in my process?

It is too Agile? Not Agile enough?
Do I need to use storyboards? Should I write everything in code?
Should I use React?

Why was I even doing this in the first place?

This entire endeavor was self imposed. If I didn’t want to continue, I was free to stop.

So what was the point of it all?

I simply enjoy making stuff. Completed projects provide self-affirming feedback, further powering the confidence/competence cycle. It’s a drug with a potent, sustainable high.

So rather than packing it in and accepting defeat, I’ve decided to try a feasible middle ground, between the equally disappointing quarter length projects and the hackathon/death marches that left me physically and mentally drained.

80 Hours to MVP

Nothing earth-shattering. Any product idea has to become a deliverable product within 80 hours of starting.

And then it’s DONE.

Pencils down.

Bottle it and ship it.

Why 80 hours?

While working on my 2nd app, GWTA, a simple transit app, I tracked my hours and saw that from the beginning to App Store submission, the process had taken me 79 hours. So I settled on 80 hours as a manageable time frame. It’s large enough to engage the entire creative process without feeling burn out. It’s also short enough to force design/development decisions to be made. GWTA doesn’t have all of the functionality that I wanted in a first version but it exists.

Done is better than perfect.

What’s Next?

My next 80 Hours to MVP project is my work tracking/daily standup app, Puffin. I’m starting over with it, keeping only the app icon that I designed earlier this year.

Retrospective Feb 4 – 10/ Planning Feb 11 – 17

I don’t know what to tell you. I’m happy for the first time in my life and I’m not gonna feel bad about it. It takes a long time to realize how truly miserable you are and even longer to see it doesn’t have to be that way. Only after you give up everything can you begin to find a way to be happy.

— Fuzzy Whiskers, BoJack Horseman

This past week was a wash work wise but I did spend a lot of time socializing and enjoying the city. From Super Bowl Sunday to my tour of Guátape to my first football match in South America, my work week was essentially cut in half but it was good to recharge and get away from projects.

Learning Cocoa (iOS/macOS):

Last Week This Week

DTSEssentials Framework: Shared Code for iOS/macOS apps

Updates are delayed until this week.

Last Week This Week
  • LoadingViewController

  • ErrorViewController

  • ValidationViewController

  • ViewController Containment extensions
  • FormViewController

Puffin (iOS): Daily Standup App

Nothing scheduled this week as I’m working to get Gobo Expense Log to beta testers in this sprint.

Last Week This Week

Gobo (iOS): Nomad Expense Log

In the home stretch to get the app to beta testers.

Last Week This Week
  • Form validation
  • Exchange Rates
  • Updated Screen Designs
  • Settings

Voice Over Work:

Got 4 gigs through the trainer pipeline. Still need to get profiles up on additional platforms.

Last Week This Week
  • 4 VO gigs via my trainer
  • Create ACX Profile
  • Submit 3 auditions on ACX
  • Create Voice Bunny Profile
  • Create Fiverr Profile
  • VO gigs as they come in

Health:

The Activity App has increased the daily move goal for the 2nd straight week (570 calories). I’m changing my focus from minutes of cardio to active calories burned.

Last Week This Week
  • Workout: 166 cal/session
  • Walking: 82,067 steps (11,723 /day)
  • Workout: 200 cal/session
  • Walking (avg. 10000 steps /day)

Reading List:

Wakanda Forever!!!!!

Last Week This Week
  • Black Panther – Christopher Priest run
  • Black Panther – Christopher Priest run

2018: A Year in Interview

So you want to talk about your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions?

I’d rather skip the stereotypical screeds about resolutions and jump right into the goals that I’ve set for 2018 and why.

But what about the goals from 2017?

2017 was a reset year for me. I only shipped a few small things (a prototype app for a friend and a few t-shirt designs that weren’t well marketed. I did some contract work for a few months and tried to launch a few other projects without success.

Why do you think that happened?

I lacked clarity of purpose. You should boil an endeavor down its essence. What is the most important thing? For most of the year, I was lacking that in the products that I was building. It’s primarily what stopped me from shipping. By focusing on the essential thing that a product does, I’m less likely to get distracted by feature creep or gold plating. Does it do the essential thing? If so, ship it! It’s never going to be finished anyway.

So how will you tackle this in 2018?

For me, it starts with transparency. I was apprehensive in talking about what I was building because I’d bought into the idea that talking about things impeded me from actually doing them. But there is also a benefit to doing it as well that I was ignoring. By being transparent, I can induce others to hold me accountable. For example, when I announced my plan to read 6 books in one month, someone unexpectedly followed up with me and asked how it was going.

A virtual “Accountabili-Buddy”?

Exactly. And by publicizing it, the onus isn’t on any one person and it’s completely voluntary.

Great! What’s on tap for 2018?

  • Ship 10 Apps/Frameworks
  • Complete at least 1 month of voice over work with trainer
  • 52 Blog Posts
  • Fluent in Spanish
  • Conversational in Portuguese

Depending on one’s perspective, that’s either very ambitious or very easy

True, yet it encompasses what’s essential for me. Weekly blogging about building the apps/frameworks fulfills my need to be transparent and underlying all of these goals is skill building in areas that I’d like to improve: speaking, writing, design and marketing.

What about those monthly income and expense reports. What happened to those?

I stopped doing them because there wasn’t much revenue to speak of from apps, tees and Amazon. I never felt comfortable including consulting income because the referee in me felt like that was “cheating” and those “points” shouldn’t count. However, I am working on an alternative outlet for the disclosure of expenses, as I still think there is value in sharing the cost of living in the places I visit.

C’Mon Man. It takes money to live and travel. You can’t act like it doesn’t count.

It does count but is it a good metric of success for these goals? Let’s take a look at my first goal: ship 10 apps/frameworks. If each one hits its target: doing the essential thing and existing in the world, I’ve already succeeded in regards to the goal. Sure there’s an ancillary benefit, the aforementioned skills I’ve built in doing so have increased my market value and I’ll be able to make a living from that. But regardless of whether I set goals or not, I’d still have to make a living. That’s table stakes.

So are you saying that you don’t care about the money?

I’m saying that if I’m successful in achieving these goals, I’ll be quite pleased looking back at 2018. Using income from these endeavors as a metric can muddy those waters, especially since it’s something that I can’t control. And why waste a year worrying about things I can’t control?

 

Why They Won’t Pursue Your Idea

You’ve experienced this: you’ve been working at the company long enough to know how things work and you’re confident in your skills and contributions. It’s been long enough that you see more than just where the chinks in the armor are or opportunities than the company should be pursuing. At some point, you have the ear of one of the higher ups in your company. Maybe it’s at a company retreat or possibly a sidebar at the end of a meeting. You excitedly explain your idea and expect to have it rewarded with an enthusiastic response and possibly even an offer to lead the new project.

Instead you are greeted with a compliment sandwich of denial. “That’s a good idea but it’s not something that we can pursue right now.  Keep thinking outside the box, though. It’s appreciated.” Such a letdown, right?

It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. After a recent discussion with a colleague who had a similar experience, I started thinking about why we’re surprised at these outcomes and how to be better prepared going into these situations by considering what we’re really asking.

Business is all about relationships. Not simply the internal and external ones with our coworkers and customers/suppliers, but the ones we have with our products and processes as well. When you advocate for a new process or product, you’re asking the organization to enter into a new relationship. And relationships take work. So you asking the organization to do more work.

But your idea is special in that it will make things better, right? Who doesn’t want better relationships?

suspicious_frye
Hmmm…

Existing tools and procedures are established relationships, complete with a history of joys and disappointments.  But most importantly, established relationships have trust. They are a known entity. They may be low tech and even inefficient but there aren’t any surprises. Your new solution has potential and could well be better than any/every existing one but it’s still an unknown.

If you’re just at the idea stage, you have the added disadvantage that it’s an idealized relationship in your head, complete with a wonderful future that may excite you and make your heart flutter. Yet, in the eyes of an outsider, which at this stages is everybody but you, it’s still a fantasy .

How can you move from this place and improve your chances of others being more receptive to you?

more_than_words.gif
More than words

Provide something tangible. Give them something they can get excited about. A thing they can engage with physically and emotionally. It could be as simple as a paper design, a video demo or a prototype. Don’t think only in terms of completed products or processes. Many of the products and processes we used today started with the initial positive feedback we got from a sample.

 

Just remember, asking someone to enter a new relationship is a huge request. To paraphrase Aretha Franklin, give them something they can feel and you’ll have a better chance of winning them over.

What if you’ve done this, you think it has huge potential and they still don’t want to do it?

Consider how truly important the solution is to you. If you still think the idea has merit and pursuing it won’t conflict with the relationship you have with the company…

go_your_own_way
You can go your own way

February 2017 Earnings Report for The Cocoa Nomad

Revenue

Consulting:                        $0

Still haven’t received payment for the work in January. The additional project that was supposed to come about also didn’t materialize. I’ll turn my efforts onto freelance and check out sites like UpWork. My plan is to blog/vlog my experience with online work as well as any other income streams I attempt.

iOS App Store:                   $16.40

I just listened to the latest episode of the Under the Radar (https://www.relay.fm/radar/71) about Apps as Annuities. the primary theme is that apps afford revenue even though they may not be constantly updated. David Smith, one of the hosts, does note that in his experience unmaintained apps tend to decay in terms of sales at a rate of about 0.5% per month. While not a scientific measurement, it’s convenient way to think about the income stream from the app portfolio. My app income does not strictly adhere to this principle as it rose 50% over the previous period but the numbers are two small to try to draw any conclusions. I am confident that the next 2 months will show a change in these numbers.

Amazon:                            -$12.18

The lack of sales and mounting storage fees here means that I’m going to have to get rid of my inventory. I’ll start by deeply discounting the prices (probably 40-50%) to see if I can get any takers. I’d rather recoup some of my money than taking a complete loss. I’m not giving up on Amazon (though I am done with retail arbitrage for the foreseeable future) but I will have to change my product offering.

Total Revenue:                 $4.22

 

Expenses

Rent                                        $744
Food                                      $375
Travel                                    $305
Biz Services                          $264

Total Expenses:              $1688

I split my time in February between Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, so my travel and lodging expenses were much higher than I expect for the next three months, when I will be settled into Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“Fake it ’til you make it” is BS

“Fake it ’til you make it” is a popular and oft repeated phrase offered to people that are scared of making a significant change or embarking on something new. The statement gained traction as people began embracing the facade of success in an effort to build confidence. Popular media reinforces this approach, suggesting strategies that will help you “fake it” and evidence to support its effectiveness.

The seduction of pithy axioms like this are hard to deny. They’re sure to draw more attention than the rough, unvarnished simplicity of the truth.

The truth is that it’s you don’t need to fake it.

Confidence is gained through competence. And competence is a result of consistent action.

“Faking it” is about outward appearance, how you look to others. It’s a needless distraction.

For proof, look no further than any construction site. Whether it’s greenfield development or a rehab project, a process is followed from beginning to end.

Are the builders faking it during construction? No. They don’t have to.

When you’re laying a foundation, you’re making it.

When you’re putting up framing, you’re making it.

When you’re adding the final touches and flourishes, you’re making it.

Each day in which action is taken, you move closer to completion. “Making it” is not about the finished product. It’s about the concrete steps you take to get there.

Focus on what you are building, not on what the passersby see.

Don’t “fake it ’til you make it”.

Make it until you’re finished.