In this week’s retrospective, I catch my breath after a long travel day (they let me back into the country!), learn that I’m not immune to accepting suboptimal solutions, set my sights on the June T-shirt Challenge and get ready for the announcements of WWDC.
Starting new things is the easy part. We’re excited and full of passion. But what happens when that passion fades. Will you still keep going? How to keep yourself motivated and avoid distractions with “new, shiny” things?
In this week’s episode, I talk about some sound advice that’s helped me with “pushing through the dips”.
Retrospectives are helpful in managing your progress towards goals. They allow you to access what’s been working well and what may need to change. This episode is the 1st of weekly retrospectives in which I’ll share my goals, progress, setbacks and lessons learned.
After 80 hours of development on Puffin, a work planning/tracking app for IOS, the buzzer has sounded and it’s time to look at what I accomplished.
The purpose for this MVP was to replace the spreadsheet that I had been using to track my work session.
Project Level Overview
What I managed to accomplish at the end of 80 hours
What went well?
Gaining clarity on the tracking portion. My attention was initially focused on the standup aspect of the app, so it wasn’t until I created a spreadsheet to track my work sessions that my understanding of what I wanted became clearer. I don’t have a desire to track hours specifically, that feels like a regression to my previous 9-to-5 work life. But I do want is a way to know when I am working and for how long in the overall context of my life. I’ve become more protective of my free time and wanted to make sure I wasn’t spending too much time working on any one project. Conversely, I still wanted to make sure that each project was getting the attention that it deserved.
What didn’t go well?
I spent an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the a few things that I thought would go smoother, namely the calendar. I’m using a 3rd party component because I wanted to save time. I soon discovered that my situation would still require making tweaks. I need a weekly view of the calendar and that means that I still have to adjust some of the settings. I still have to create a way to display the relevant information for a given date range. That said, it presented an opportunity for me to learn more about calendars and date calculations (Yippee!!) and this can be applied to an existing product Gobo.
On the project level, I didn’t do a great job at switching between this project and others. Part of the reason I’m working on Puffin is to create a tool that allows me to move more seamlessly between my projects.
What I learned?
I need to tone down the color usage in my designs.
I have a habit of picking a primary color for each new app idea and having it permeate all aspects of the design. While it works well for the icon creation portion of the project, it tends to make my screens overwhelming. I’ll change my approach to using color more judiciously, which will keep my designs in line with where things are now. I also find that using non-standard fonts is distracting and feel out of place on my device.
On the coding front, I experimented with creating all of my views in code, instead of using storyboards. I’ve tried going full storyboard in the past and now was on the other in of the spectrum. I learned so much about layout with this approach although it was a bit slower. Taking advantage of playgrounds in the early stages should help create a faster feedback loop. I’ll be taking a hybrid approach moving forward as I still see some advantages in using storyboard in my process.
What still puzzles me?
The app is still missing crucial connective tissue. While I’m clear on of the individual components that I need/would like to have, I’m struggling to create a cohesive vision. One of my biggest challenges is determining the correct entry point into the app. I’m not satisfied with the current information hierarchy. There are already too many tabs and I haven’t gotten the planning portions in.
What would I do differently?
My primary focus when I started was in the daily standup aspect. I was attempting to replace my daily journal with an software solution. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong way to go, as I made discoveries along that allowed me to throw away much of my early work. And that’s fine. Early versions don’t have to last. They’ve served their purpose as prototypes that I could use, learn from, and discard. As in writing, I have no issues with “killing my darlings”.
I’d also document the intermediate stages, There is value in being an “app historian” and capturing thoughts and decisions throughout the stages of development. Tracking what assumptions were made at the beginning and how/why they changed could be helpful further down the line. When revisiting features, there may be valuable historical information in determining the optimal time for if/how/when they should return.
Is it worth it to keep working on this? Why?
I’m still deeply interested in seeing this product continue. I find myself using the session tracker portion daily and it has replaced the spreadsheet in conveying how I’ve been spending my time. I’ll continue development by integrating the missing components and discussing them in further posts.
This MVP was a success and I’m looking forward to applying the lessons learned to the next one.
The toughest part about creating a nomadic lifestyle is having access to the things that I need when/where I need them. Since I primarily migrate between Atlanta and Carolina, I had the following questions:
What do I really need and what can I get rid of?
What about things that I need to access infrequently?
Should I carry them with me or just keep
I decided to get rid of most of the things I didn’t need to transport. This included lots of books, clothes and shoes. Once I started looking at the other things I used frequently, I came to some simple solutions for my locations (Atlanta, Carolina and elsewhere)
Clothes – Travel with a week’s worth (1 bag).
Books – I keep e-books on my iPad or on DropBox.
Coffee grinder & French Press – Inexpensive enough that I can keep one in both locations. Everywhere else I go, I’ll just drink local coffee.
Drum kit – I will keep my electric set in Atlanta and get an acoustic kit for Carolina.
Golf clubs – One set in Atlanta. One in Carolina. When traveling from either locale, take the set with me or rent when I get there.
Going through this process has helped me to simplify things by focusing on things I really need/want. I’m sure the specifics will change somewhat when I start extending my stays in other locales but I think this setup will work for now.
I had a conversation with a good friend recently about leaving his current company and possibly starting his own business. Our talk turned to tools that would allow for collaboration and remote work. He was familiar with many of the cloud-based tools available but wasn’t sure which he should use. I shared my current toolkit and decided to provide it here as well. Even if you aren’t a software developer, you may find many of these tools useful.
17" MacBookPro – My primary work machine. If I plan on doing any dev work, I bring it along. While it is larger than necessary for true mobility, its size allows me to view multiple applications without constant switching .
27" iMac desktop – This computer remains at my permanent address. It provides a larger workspace when I am working out of my home office and serves as a backup when my laptop is unavailable (twice in the last 3 years).
iPad (1st Gen, 32GB , 3G) – Many argue that it’s not for content creation, but I find that it is sufficient for most tasks (I draft most of my blogs posts and even wrote a children’s book on it). It also serves as a test device for application development and a repository for all of my digital media (eBooks, WWDC videos, podcasts). I got rid of my television as well because I can stream movies/shows on it (Bonus!).
iPhone 4 – As an iOS developer, this is another required test device for me. My first Apple device was the 3G model and I upgraded to this model when I started developing for iOS full-time. I probably would’ve kept the 3G otherwise, since the iPad runs the same apps.
Evernote – a ubiquitous note capture tool. I use it for everything from design notes to bookmarking pages from the web (no more synching between browsers). The notes are synched between all of my devices so whenever I need to access information, it’s there. Notes are also accessible from my iPhone/iPad.
Github – a cloud-based repository that I use for source control. I used to use Subversion (and Visual SourceSafe before that) but I find Git much easier to use and more effective for collaborating with others on projects. I haven’t tried to use it for non-programming projects so if I weren’t a developer, I probably wouldn’t find this tool as useful.
Dropbox – another cloud-based storage service that allows me to sync documents between machines or share with other Dropbox users. I use it to store music and video. The files are even accessible from my iPhone/iPad.
GoogleDocs – web-based tool is for document collaboration with others, allowing simultaneous editing without having to send versions back and forth via email.
Pivotal Tracker / Rally – web-based project management tracking tools that breaks projects into stories (smaller well-defined deliverables). The tools even tracks my velocity (how fast I am accomplishing tasks) and adjusts the schedule accordingly. A great way to learn about how much time it really takes to get things done.
Things – this tool is closer to a traditional to-do list but allows me to group tasks into projects and projects into areas of my life (personal, work, family, home, etc.). I can quickly place a task on the list of things to be done today, on a specific date or an undefined someday. It allows me to capture something that I want/need to do and forget about it. It also allows me to immediately see what I need to do next once something is completed.
Pomodoro – I have trouble focusing on only one thing so this tool helps me tackle tasks in smaller chunks of time (25 minutes) with breaks in between.