On projects & the new year

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I enjoy having one or more personal projects to work on at any given time. I tend to feel a bit aimless without at least one. Not every project gets completed; sometimes I sideline ideas for a time when something else comes along. Other times projects wither and die as the time that could have been allotted to them gets sucked up by the demands of my day job.

Since today is the (artificial—but perhaps more on that in a subsequent post) beginning of a new year, it is customary to reflect on the past and plan anew for the future.

I don't recall ever having made New Year's resolutions per say; why wait until a new year if something is worth doing? In this I'm in complete agreement with J. Timothy King, an entrepeneurial author and software developer:

I usually don't care about New Year's resolutions, because there's nothing special about January 1. That is, you can make resolutions any time during the year, and you should. Because if you better your life only once each year, your life is bound to be boring and unproductive. So make resolutions all year round. Not just in January, but every month, every week, every day of the year. And keep them.

On the other hand, the new year is one of those months, one of those weeks, one of those days of the year. So New Year's is as good a time as any to make a resolution... and keep it.

2007 was a very busy one both at work (staff turnover, training, many new projects, compliance deadlines, etc.) and at home (with new twins—though in some ways I do miss the every two-to-three hour joint feedings—shared lack of sleep brought Shauna and I closer together in many ways).

Most of my past projects have been primarily computer-related (websites, utilities, programs, libraries, or typesetting). Having had some "down time" between Christmas and New Year's, I've decided it would be healthy if I expanded my notion of worthwhile "projects" to include things that are not primarily computer-related.

Inspired by talks at Church this Christmas season, I'm inclined to take Luke 2:52 as a guide:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

This is the last verse in the four gospels that tells us anything about Christ's life beyond age twelve until the beginning of his public ministry. Let's look at the four dimensions of growth:

And Jesus increased in wisdom1 and stature2, and in favour with God3 and man4.

  1. education, learning
  2. physically
  3. spiritually
  4. socially

What are potential projects I could work on in these areas? After several days of mulling things over, here is what I've come up with:

1. Education, learning

I tend to read in spurts—I'll knock out three or four books in a row and then nothing else for three to four weeks. I should regularize my reading schedule so that I'm always reading something, have another book lined up for after, and I should write and summarize what I've learned (or enjoyed—or not—in the case of fiction) in writing.

Writing and summarizing moves this idea beyond being a "goal" of reading more to being a potential project in my mind. There is some precedent for my posting very brief summaries of what I've been reading, but what I have in mind here would be an entire blog post on a single book. I take Will Duquette's book posts as the model I want to aspire to.

Additionally, since I'm just about the last person to have finally acquired an iPod, I should find interesting and informative podcasts to download and listen to during my commute. Of course it'd be good to write about what I learned from those too.

2. Physically

This is where this post comes dangerously close to treading into traditional New Year's resolutions. I'm generally healthy. I don't smoke and I don't drink (for religious reasons). As an adult I've come to enjoy most every fruit and vegetable (though a few, like brocolli, I don't care for raw).

But... aside from the exercise my fingers get typing, my daily life at work is pretty much 100% sedentary. Though my weight hasn't varied beyond +/- five pounds in the last five years, I do have some weight I could stand to lose.

For 2008, instead of participating in the Salt Lake City Marathon's 5K (like last year), I could participate in the bike tour instead.

Or, I could try and get ready to take part in the non-competitive Ghost Town Century in May.

Of course to do do either of these I'd need to get a working bicycle... And to make it a better "project" I ought to marry it with photography (or something).

3. Spiritually

I'm ashamed to admit I haven't re-read the Bible in Portuguese for at least ten years, preferring my native English instead. To rectify that I intend to read the New Testament again in both Portuguese and English.

But why stop there (and besides, that'd just be a goal, not a project)? I enjoy typesetting (c.f., Mormon's Book), but before Guttenberg and movable type essentially rendered the profession obsolte, scribes would spend a lifetime making copies of the Bible (and other books) by hand. Why not try my hand at copying the Bible (well, at least the New Testament for starters) by hand in both languages? I wouldn't be able to create some sort of caligraphic masterpiece by a long shot—my handwriting is only average (in an age where people type instead of write), but at the least I suspect I would gain many insights I wouldn't have otherwise and I'd have an heirloom of sorts to pass on to my children.

I'm going to order a pair of moleskine notebooks and get started once they come.

4. Socially

In the Myers-Briggs classification scheme I'm an INTP. I'm naturally somewhat shy and reserved, but once I've gotten to know someone tend to be a loyal friend for life.

I enjoy playing games. While Shauna more than makes up (for our family) of any social awkwardness that I may have (she can remember personal details about the cashier working the graveyard shift at Walmart months later) she doesn't particularly care to play games unless we have company over.

We had two other families from Church over last night to celebrate New Year's, one of whom I knew quite well, the other who recently moved from Texas I didn't. Both families had children roughly the same ages as ours and it was enjoyable to get to know them both better.

Shauna and I have talked briefly about having people over on at least a weekly basis (instead of just on occasional holidays). If we did do that we'd be able to get to know quite a few families from Church—and in our neighborhood (for those of other faiths)—in 2008. And I'd have an excuse to cook more often from the Soup Mix Gourmet.

And, by not bowling alone we'd be exposed to people, board games, recipes, books, and movies that we wouldn't have otherwise. Last night, for example, the Hixson family brought over Ticket to Ride (which was won the 2004 Game of the Year in Germany). I'd never even heard of this game, but it was an instant hit.

Weather permiting, I need to take my kids camping and teach them that roughing it doesn't mean a Motel 6.

* * *

Naturally I'm open to feedback and suggestions on things to tweak, other things to consider, mere words of encouragement, or some deserved accountability if it looks like I must have let my job encroach too much on my life...

—Michael A. Cleverly


Camilla: [ mail | www | link ]

You weren't the last to get an iPod--Chris and I still don't have one, and don't plan on getting one unless it's somehow free to us.

Also, if you're looking for a bike, we're thinking of selling our road bikes to help us buy our bakery. They're in great condition.

Tue, 01 Jan 2008, 20:34

Ben: [ mail | www | link ]

Ticket to Ride is one of Amanda's favorite games. We actually own 2 versions (US and Europe) and a couple expansion packs.

One of these days we'll have to invite ourselves up north for a game night.

Tue, 01 Jan 2008, 21:19

RCH: [ mail | www | link ]
We don't have iPods, but I did get Robert a cheapier MP3 player last year, and a super discount one for me a couple months ago. Robert's is still in its package. I broke mine out but have not put any files on it. D'oh. I'm sure we'd totally love them if we actually used them, but we just haven't yet. Maybe I should resolve to do that so I, too, can know from podcasts. I'm impressed with your social goals! I would first have to resolve to want to socialize before I could resolve to actually do anything about it. But so far even the thought of wanting to sort of fills me with dread. (Not fear, per se; I don't think I'm "shy" in the sense of fearing social situations. I just dread them.) :-( And finally, as discussed earlier, I love your spiritual goal to hand copy the scriptures. What a fun lost art sort of project! :-)

Wed, 02 Jan 2008, 12:50

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Cool stuff! May your projects prosper!

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