Picking five things

Seth Pick Four Workbook PackFor the last eight years, I have worked as a freelance programmer on a product that is currently known, by the few who know it at all, as PVS.  I started with the product when it was the up-and-coming, eponymyous product of a software company named Ardence, run by my friend Richard Davis.  When Ardence was acquired by Citrix Systems in 2007, my contract was picked up along with the code.

Through four major product releases, I’ve been a remote member of a team that slowly nudged the product’s code up the scalable, enterprise-ready evolutionary ladder: from single-threaded to multi-threaded, from Access to Sql Server, and from being a stand-alone product to being a component integrated within other, larger Citrix offerings, which is how a product that is used by many is known by name to so few.

The amount of work varied from quarter to quarter but averaged 20-30 hours a week. For all these years, my Citrix hours have been the big rock that had to fit first into every day and that any other work had to fit around.  My Citrix contract has been ‘the day job,’ funding and enabling all the investment in our app product portfolio.

But as of Friday, May 31st, my last work order expired, I emailed my goodbyes, and I turned out the lights on all my remote connections to Citrix machines real and virtual.  I may need to go back to consulting to make ends meet, but not right away, and definitely not for a few months.  I’ve promised myself at least one full-time Summer of Product.  And, tempered with an appropriate amount of trepidation, I am really, really looking forward to the experience.

Citrix could not have picked a better time, from my perspective, to rationalize the resources being applied to PVS.  I frankly don’t know if I would have had the courage to jump ship right this minute but I am extremely grateful for the push.

I have a small but remarkable collection of people working with me, an existing set of products whose potential we are only starting to understand, some new product just coming out the door that I believe has real promise, and some new ideas for other, more ambitious products that we may work on in the near future.

The trick for me is, without my Citrix work to anchor my days, finding a way to avoid the entrepreneur’s version of whirling disease— spinning in place all day trying to get started on one good idea after another and never making tangible progress on anything.

So the time also seems right to try a version of the Zig Ziglar / Seth Godin Pick Four  goal setting program.  I bought one of the set-of-four workbook packs when Godin first brought them out, two summers ago, but only got as far as making my dreamlist and reviewing/updating it from time to time.  I never bothered to go through the actual goal setting exercise because I never saw a good time to kick off the four month recommended interval.  Now’s perfect.  I’m in more control of my own daily agenda than I have been in years and I’ve got the resources available to take the four months from June 1 to October 1 and see what I can do with them.

I’ve set five goals (Godin says to pick four.  Ziglar’s original program recommended picking six.). Three are purely personal, not professional, so I’ll note them here but expect to leave them largely off-screen for the duration.

The two that I plan to be writing about from time to time and sharing my progress reports are:

  • Maximize distribution of the ERG2012QL ebook and its Spanish- and French-language siblings.   Use that exercise to increase my understanding of:
    • The current adoption rate of ebooks among North American ‘first responders’ — which in my view includes firefighters and EMTs, of course, but also truck drivers.  Are ebooks a reasonable, platform-independent way to deliver functionality to this market or is this market, which is increasingly using mobile devices, reachable only via platform-specific apps?
    • (Maybe) Identify one or more non-ebook market opportunities.  Yes, I am trolling for a Software-as-a-service (SAAS) subscription product idea.
    • The current state of the art in producing and marketing reference ebooks — which are technically quite a bit more challenging to produce than, say, novels.
  • Establish a writing habit and my own (internal and external) identity as a writer (aka blogger).  I do believe that writing can be both an effective research tool and a valuable marketing channel if done consistently and well.  It also appears, for me, on the path to a few different items on my dream list.

The personal three are all pretty predictable for a woman of my age and circumstances. I’m planning on taking a walking tour vacation in Spain with my husband and a couple of close friends in the middle of September. I probably work too many hours and need to get back to having a bit more of a life.  Without any of specifics, they are:

  • Get more fit.
  • Practice my ‘hearing Spanish’ — that is, understanding spoken, not written, Spanish.
  • Work on connecting more with family and friends.

My biggest concern at this point is that I don’t think I’ve done a great job of setting specific, measurable targets for my professional goals.  And, frankly, it’s my one complaint about the Pick Four workbook: not nearly enough guidance on how ambitious or specific to be on the goals themselves.

I did do my homework and read the recommended scholarly paper:  Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey . It’s fairly dense and full of psych-speak but here’s what I got out of it that I think is useful to me:

  • In general, learning-oriented goals seem to work better than performance-oriented goals.  The example in the paper was that it was more effective to challenge log-truck drivers to figure out for themselves how to increase their load weights to be consistently just within the legal limit than it was to tell them to increase their average load weight to xxx pounds.  I like this approach. Whatever my job title, it seems to me that I’ve always learned for a living so I think that setting learning goals should work for me.
  • Ambitious goals work better than easy goals, but only if you get (or give yourself) partial credit for incremental progress.  High stakes, all-or-nothing goals can be remarkably dis-incenting, especially as the period for accomplishing them wears on, if progress is slow and it looks as if you are not going to make your target.  I did pretty well in college getting by on partial credit, so this makes sense to me.  My current situation IS high stakes — I really want to get enough product revenue coming in that I don’t have to go back to long-term consulting myself — but there is a lot of wiggle room for partial triumphs and occasional small consulting gigs.

I honestly think my work life is too complicated and my situation too fluid to try to set myself a rigid goal like Nathan Barry’s 1000 words a day. As a manager, I owe a lot of my workday to the folks who work with me and to what we are trying to accomplish together.  But I know that the writing goal as stated above is way too vague to be actionable.  So one of my interim goals, for the month of June, say, is to settle on a more concrete, ambitious, but achievable expressions of my goals. Maybe something like: one decent-sized blog post, written primarily by me, each week.

I’m already 13 days into June.  Here’s #1.

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