Earl in Japan

Hello, World! I always look forward to writing these annual reflection and goal-setting posts, and it will be nice to look back and hopefully be able to see progress through the years. I find these posts to be helpful in recalibrating my approach to growth and long-term goals. Furthermore, writing all of this down creates a sense of ownership for my actions and accountability for my goals. Continue reading to see how I did on my goals for 2017, lessons and observations from the past year, and what I hope to accomplish in 2018.

Retrospective on 2017

Goals Reports – B+

Overall I would grade myself a B+ on hitting my goals for 2017. I attempted every goal or habit, partially accomplishing many goals but not fully satisfying the requirements of any.

  • Read 17 books by reading a book every three weeks.
    • I read 12 books in 2017, 9 in 2016, and 5 in 2015, so I read 33% more books than the previous year but not as much as I hoped. I sometimes finished books in a matter of days—over a week, a weekend, even a long-haul flight—so I’m sure I can push this metric up with better time management.
  • Build a useful web app by committing code to GitHub twice a month.
    • I completed 2 projects in 2017, as opposed to 0 in 2016. The first is an Alexa skill called Trump Tracker that tells you Trump’s latest tweet (to be clear, I am not a Trump supporter). The second is a CLI utility called Crypto Capital that aggregates and summarizes your crypto holdings across exchanges, making it easy to assess your altcoin portfolio. These small projects are not what I envisioned when setting this goal, but progress is progress.
    • I also planned and validated two other ideas which did not move forward. One of them still seems like a good idea. If you’re interested in the concept of an unsweetened, energy drink coffee, let me know.
  • Monetize my photography.
    • I made $0 from my photography. This project lost steam after I printed and framed a handful of my photos but failed to sell them through online postings. I realized it’s actually a lot harder to sell photos at a 50%+ margin than expected. My next step is to experiment with advertising and gather data on what kinds of photos are most popular as wall decorations.
  • Connect with 50 new people by talking with someone new every week.
    • I met many new interesting people in 2017 but can’t say exactly how many.
  • Become more informed about the world by reading important news.
    • This was a very poor goal because there are better ways to learn about the world than just reading the news. For example, I read Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, which arguably taught me more about globalization and wealth inequality than any handful of articles I may have read this past year. The book also made for a much more lasting impression than articles. This won’t be a goal for this year.
  • Be healthy and lean 155 lbs around 10% BF by training consistently 6 days/week, hitting my PR goals, and competing.
    • I hit 2 PRs in the snatch and clean and jerk, which was a breakthrough, and by the end of 2017, I felt strong and fit as I have ever been. I am coming back from a 2-3 week break but am very optimistic about the possibilities in 2018. I also started a weightlifting/fitness Instagram, @earllifts.

Although not part of a 2017 goal, I visited 12 new cities—Vietnam (Hanoi, Hue, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Saigon), Japan (Tokyo, Kanazawa, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima), China (Beijing), and Oranjestad (Aruba).

Lessons & Observations

Focus & Distractions

Recently, there has been a lot of chatter around dopamine-driven cycles in consumer apps of today. These cycles ruin focus in our everyday lives, distracting us constantly with fleeting hits of dopamine. I removed the Facebook app from my phone a long time ago, and last year, I made a concerted effort to focus on a fewer projects at a time and single task. This year, I want to focus on reducing time spent on short-term reward loops such as endlessly scrolling through Instagram or watching Snapchat stories. It’s a ruinous habit of mine that I need to rewire. I would like to set a time limit on those apps but can’t find any way to automatically track iOS app usage. If any of you know something out there that helps you do that, let me know by commenting!

Experimentation & Investment

One of the things I realized I do well is experimentation. I am open to testing out low-cost changes with imperfect information. For example, I like to live frugally—grocery shopping and meal prepping lunches for the week on Sundays and cooking dinners on weekday nights. While I still find those activities to be cathartic and a good time to listen to podcasts or talks, I realized I spend more time doing these chores than pursuing my interests. Finding time for side projects became increasingly difficult which is why towards the end of last year, I cold-turkey signed up for a meal delivery service called Territory (referral link) that sends pre-cooked lunches and dinners for most days of the week. Mental calculations told me it would save 7 hours a week, which is almost an entire work day I can spend on learning something new or building things. Now, I’ve found a balance between having every meal catered and cooking at home. It’s saved me a ton of time and introduced more variety and vegetables to my diet. This made me realize that while I value my frugality, it’s important to be efficiently frugal, not blindly so. Money and time are both limited resources and the principles of frugality should be applied holistically across both instead of only being frugal with money but not time. Small investments to save time can have an outsized impact on growth if that extra time is used wisely.1


After returning home from my trips in Asia, I remember feeling refreshed and brimming with new ideas to tackle my goals. It’s a similar but not as powerful feeling to starting a new semester or job. You approach everything with a fresh perspective, and the exposure to new surroundings while traveling seems to trigger new ideas and thought processes. This is something I haven’t done much research into but feel anecdotally. To that end, I’d like to research this phenomenon a bit more and take advantage of long weekends to travel.

Attention to Detail

Early in 2017, I shipped a major reporting feature on FiscalNote that allowed users to communicate their legislative data and work to internal and external stakeholders. Almost a year later, we’ve seen very positive responses from our highest-paying customers, and it has overtaken the old data export feature which was how users historically pulled information out of the platform for sharing. However, I encountered many setbacks along the road and the release was endlessly delayed. After reflecting on the experience, I identified the root cause of various setbacks to be attention to detail—lack thereof. Missing the tiniest of details often compounded into larger and more complex problems.

More recently, I’ve been evaluating a different, key product area that has been the source of many issues for FiscalNote users and believe that the root cause of these wide ranging issues is missing edge cases, the most notoriously hidden details. I’ve taken steps to sleep more and double check work often to sharpen my attention to detail.

Goals for 2018

I firmly believe that habit is one of the most powerful determinants of hitting goal. I also think goals should have discrete outcomes. To that end, this year I am structuring my resolutions by listing discrete goals tied to habits that will help me reach those goals. I should note, however, that success is usually not binary, so many of these discrete goals are on continuous scales.

  • Launch 1 new idea
    • Validate
    • Commit code
  • Read 18 books
    • Listen to audiobooks when doing chores
    • Read at least 1 book a month and knock out a few books in a week
  • PR all lifts by 10% or more and be 155 lbs / 10% BF
    • Train 4-6 days/week
    • Track macros
  • Meet 50 new, interesting people
  • Complete 5 side projects
    • Migrate Toastable.com to my own hosting and give it a facelift without hampering SEO
    • Sell 10 photos for profit of at least $500
    • More to come!
  • Try 5 new productive habits
    • Buy and eat 2+ vegetables per week, eat 1-1.2g protein/lb body weight but no more, no less
    • Wake up earlier to have 2-4 undisturbed hours of creative time
    • Single task and create blocks of time for getting specific tasks done
    • Reduce short-term reward loops e.g. social media, short-form content by limiting “Distracting Time” on RescueTime to <15%

If you’ve made it this far, shoot me a note via email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram—say “Hi” or give me feedback!


  1. I recognize I’m fortunate enough to be able to spend money on something like Territory. The formula for deciding when something like that is worth it or not differs for everyone. 

About Earl

Hi, my name is Earl. I am a student who loves to analyze food and eat healthy. My careful eye for food has caused me to become interested in the science behind food and cooking, and I write about my explorations into food on my website Toastable.com. While I believe in sticking to whole, natural foods, I'm not afraid to work with avant-garde ingredients and equipment such as constant temperature water baths and sodium alginate. I also love photography, technology, and journalism.

27. January 2018 von Earl
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