Narthur's Startups

A place for me to share my progress on my startups:

  • TaskRatchet
  • Narthbugz (placeholder name)
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I’m using Make.com to beemind the RSS feed for this thread to this goal.

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I’ve been spending Monday mornings by going to a different location (normally I work from home) and spending a couple of hours planning for the coming week. Today I spent those hours in a nearby library. I do this because I find that being at a computer is far too distracting and I start executing on whatever’s in front of me instead of planning.

My current goal is to build up enough revenue from my startups that I can support myself without doing any unrelated work. This is sometimes called default-alive or ramen profitable. For me that would mean making around $1,500 USD from my startups each month. Currently I’m only making between $200 and $400 per month, which I’m grateful for, but means I still have a ways to go before I can work on my own projects full-time.

Currently I have three broad categories of tasks when it comes to my startup:

  • Build and launch a Narthbugz MVP
  • Continue new feature development on TaskRatchet
  • Build up a solid marketing process for TaskRatchet

So far I’ve found it challenging to balance these tasks, since any one could easily take up all my time, especially since I’m only working on these tasks part-time.

One way to help the situation is to increase my efficiency at these tasks. A week ago I decided that one way I could do that would be to increase my release cadence. I find it easy to get sucked down rabbit holes when I’m coding, where one feature task suggests a refactor task which then requires a dependency update which then requires debugging, etc, etc. A supposedly simple project then becomes a weeks-long tangled mess of interlocking and sometimes mutually-exclusive tasks.

The way I decided to address this was to aim to deploy code to production on average every day. I also added CI checks on several of my GitHub repositories to fail if the pull request got to be too large.

I’m using Beeminder to ensure I make progress on this change with this new autodialed goal:

https://www.beeminder.com/narthur/merge

Whenever I merge to main on my primary product repositories, GitHub actions posts a datapoint to this goal.

These changes addressed the velocity portion of efficiency. However, I won’t be efficient if I do quickly tasks that shouldn’t be done at all. So this morning I spent my planning time thinking about how I could do better at choosing the tasks that would be most effective in helping me reach my goal.

The first thing I thought about was doing split testing. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I could implement split testing in my codebases.

As I was thinking about this, I started thinking more about some of the ideas from the book The Lean Startup I read a few years ago. One of the ideas from the book is this cycle:

I’ve been thinking about how I could expand this slightly by adding a prediction step:

I like this version better for two reasons:

  1. It explicitly incorporates prediction as a step to avoid some of the distortions that can occur when you only interpret the results after the fact.
  2. Using the term “execute” instead of " build" broadens the scope of applicability to, for example, marketing.

This also reminds me of Cal Newport’s system of career experiments–I can’t find where he’s talked about it right off. May have been from one of his books. But he talks about building a career by creating small public projects and then learning from the feedback he gets on them.

So this week I’d like to put into place a system to start increasing the quality of my learning as I build these services. My hope is that following this process will allow me to make better predictions and understand the problems I’m solving better.

Here are the steps I’m thinking to take:

  1. Create a Notion database and template for tracking each cycle.

I’m thinking that each cycle will have its own page in the database. The template will have a heading for each stage in the cycle–predict, execute, learn, and measure. Each page will also have properties to track which startup it relates to and my estimated progress through that cycle as a percentage or decimal between 0 and 1.

  1. Create a Beeminder goal called narthur/spins to ensure I stay consistent.

The goal will be autodialed, with a minimum rate of 0.1 per day. I’ll add data manually. Whenever I work on a cycle, I’ll update my progress property on the page. Then I’ll take the difference between the previous progress and new progress and add that as a decimal value datapoint on my spins goal.

We’ll see how things go!

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Here’s my first whack at a Notion template for tracking my spins:

And here’s my Beeminder goal for tracking them:

https://www.beeminder.com/narthur/spins

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And here’s my first spin:

https://narthur.notion.site/Spin-Database-0e000b0be69a4b248c1cd485d25fcb39

It’s a meta-spin for the creation of the spin database itself. Criteria for success are:

  • I’ve completed at least 2 spins per week on average.
  • The average word count of the last 25% of spins is at least 80% of the average word count of the first 25% of spins.
  • I’ve exceeded 400 new tasks in a week at least twice in the three-month period.

I’ve used TaskRatchet to commit to publishing a postmortem for this spin to this thread by January 5, 2023, roughly 3 months from today.

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Already running into a slight issue with my success measures for the spin database! I think the tighter the spins, the better. However, that runs counter to my success metric based on spin word length. :thinking:

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This update is probably going to be a bit rough–having a health dip that’s making it difficult to think coherently.

I reread the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. One thing that stood out was that he was very focused on using the scientific method as a model for startups.

Prior Theory => Hypothesis => Experiment => Analysis => Updated Theory

One thing that’s been making me uncomfortable about the spins database is that it’s a series of disconnected experiments. It’s missing the “Theory” component–a monolithic, systematic representation of accumulated knowledge on a topic.

I’m thinking about creating a new GitHub repository, maybe taskratchet/theory, for this purpose. Maybe it would be something like this:

- README.md
- pages/
  - README.md
  - topic1.md
  - topic2.md
  - ...
- experiments/
  - README.md
  - experiment1.md
  - experiment2.md
  - ...

Then the knowledge contained in the topic pages could be cross-referenced with the relevant experiments. And I could use GitHub Actions to beemind changes by taking the length of git diffs. And maybe I would switch to using a GitHub project board for tracking experiments through the different phases:

  • Hypothesis
  • Material review
  • Experiment design
  • Experiment execution
  • Result analysis
  • Theory update

Another issue with the spin database is that I wasn’t explicit about starting out with a hypothesis–a question or assumption to test. I think the shift in thinking might help.

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To clarify the health comment, recently I was diagnosed with ADHD. It was actually this thread that prompted me to explore that possibility. Prior to reading that thread I had no idea I might have it. All I knew is that I had a very difficult time working full-time, dealt with chronic fatigue, and had quite a few other symptoms I later learned were classic symptoms of ADHD. After reading that thread I had a conversation with @mary, who also has ADHD, and she helped me a lot to further explore the topic and shared her experience with the condition which was super valuable.

After getting my diagnosis, my psychiatrist got me on an ADHD medication, and it’s been night-and-day when it comes to my ability to work. Before I felt like trying to focus on my work was like trying to force the north ends of two magnets together. It felt like there was a physical force repelling my attention, making doing my work an extremely exhausting experience. The medication has resolved all that and allowed me to consistently work full-time.

However, I’ve had a hiccup with the medication recently, where I thought I had given my psychiatrist permission to give my records to my primary care doctor, but I only discovered after I ran out of my medication that my doctor never received the records. And since I’m technically no longer a patient of my psychiatrist, they aren’t able to give me a refill while I wait for everything to get sorted. So for the past two weeks basically I’ve been back to working without medication, which means brain fog, difficulty focusing, and pretty much going back to part time until things are straightened out.

The good news is that my doctor now has the records so I should have a refill soon hopefully.

I thought I should share this detail because even when I’m on the medication I’ll be working on solutions and process that work for my ADHD brain, which may be somewhat different than what someone without ADHD would need.

For example, whatever is in front of me is pretty much all that exists–the most important thing that I need to do. That’s why I’ve started going to the library to do my weekly planning–I need to get away from my regular work in order to focus on thinking things through at a higher level. If you’re familiar with ADHD symptoms, I’m sure you’ll be able to spot more examples of me working to sidestep ADHD symptoms in future entries in this journal.

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I feel that so much :joy:. It started when I was 15 and gradually got worse over the years. From over-performing student to dropout.

I decided to self-medicate with Indian generics of Modafinil a few months ago. (ironically, ADHD prevents me from doing all the administrative stuff to get my hand on good ol’ amphetamines)
Here’s a study that compares Modafinil to Amphetamines: Comparative efficacy and tolerability of medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, adolescents, and adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysis - PMC
(Modafinil is wonderful for children and adolescents, but is not as good when it comes to adults. I, personally, think that it’s because Modafinil sometimes requires good sleep and supplementation to work while Amphetamines just work :tm:)

It’s always so weird for me when pharmacy work like that. In France, if you need a refill but don’t have your new prescription yet, they’ll scorn you a bit but give it to you if you promise to come back with your script.

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Sorry for the digression, @narthur. Since it’s not about your startups stuff, let me just tuck my reply to this behind an expanded text block to discourage me pulling this all off track on ya.

This is REALLY common. Maybe try a body-double?

If there’s a reliable person you trust, who won’t do it in a way that feels bad to you and who would be okay with it, maybe you could enlist them to body-double you as you do the things you need to do to explore a potential diagnosis. Maybe you could set up a beeminder graph to spend 20 minutes with them once a week/month taking the next step or something?

For a lot of the steps, you just have to get the ball rolling (or jiggle it when it gets stuck and isn’t rolling anymore) so it’s actually less daunting to do than to start doing.

It would only take a quick text or email to ask if they’d be willing to be around for that [If that sounds good to you, go ahead and do that right now. We can wait!] and then the ball’s rolling and you only ever have to think of the next small step. (Someone in my university’s accessibility department ended up making starting the process easy for me. Then hyper focus kicked in and took me the rest of the way. Eventually I also got an ADHD coach who was excellent for me.)

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I need this… :slight_smile:

Today I finally got a refill of my adhd medication! I was off for about a month I think.

Today I was doing a bit of thinking about TaskRatchet. Embarrassingly, I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty using it myself. For a while I beeminded using it using the Beeminder integration, but I fell into pretty much adding the same tasks every day, which is fine, but I didn’t really feel like I was getting much value out of it beyond what I was already getting with Beeminder.

I know there is value to be had from it because many other people use it, and some have told me it’s been extremely helpful for them, which I’m super happy about!

But I would like to figure out a way to make it valuable for me, too. Because I think that’s important for me to be able to see what’s working and what’s not and what I can do to improve it.

I think it really may be the adhd that’s made it difficult for me to use it. I brainstormed a few ideas on how I might be able to make it more adhd friendly, maybe I’ll share those ideas later.

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Today I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I would need to do to make TaskRatchet more approachable for myself. One thing I thought about is that one of the reasons I have trouble using TaskRatchet is that there’s some anxiety about overcommitting myself, so I don’t think about tasks I could add at all. In contrast, I often brainstorm a list of tasks in a Keep note that I can do for the day without any obligation.

That made me think about distinguishing between different “modes” of thought, maybe similar to what GTD talks about. So, loosely, you could think about managing a task list like:

  • Capture
  • Definition
  • Execution
  • Review

Currently TaskRatchet combines all that into a single view, which means it may not be particularly good for any one mode.

I’m thinking for myself I might get a lot of value out of being able to have a view where I can quickly bang out a whole bunch of possible tasks in a brain dump, and then go back through in a second pass to decide which tasks I actually want to commit to doing. So maybe something of a backlog view that would be separate from the committed tasks view, and would let me select any items from the backlog to create a new commitment.

Still thinking this stuff through, but seems promising… :thinking:

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Ok, ugliest possible mock:

  • The app is split into three tabs–Next, Maybe, and Archive.
  • The Next tab is split into two sections–Today and Later. It shows all tasks, whether complete, incomplete, or expired, starting at the previous midnight.
  • Any tasks which were due prior to last midnight are moved to the Archive page.
  • The Maybe tab allows you to outline tasks without committing to them. When you focus a task in Maybe, one of the actions that is surfaced is to commit to the task, moving it to the Next tab.

This feels like it would make it a lot easier for me to use the app. Would be interested to hear other people’s reactions.

Tweeted the mock to see if I could get some feedback on it:

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I really like the tabbed format because it avoids information overload. And for the most part I only need to know things that happen today. It would be even cooler if there was a within 2-3 hours section as well.

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Ooh… Can you say a bit more about what you mean by “a within 2-3 section?”

Whoops, I typed too fast. I meant 2-3 hours.

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Good idea, good idea! I would say that I would definitely use a GTD style integration thing, but I already have a good system for my GTD, uh, system? Overloaded word but idk what else to say. BUT this makes me think that taskratchet might be an excellent way to help me get some of the old actions off my list and actually do them, so I’ve just finally made an account :slight_smile:

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Hi @mary, thank you for the body-double suggestion.
As you might understand by the delay of my answer, I am still fighting with my brains (lol)
@ianminds let’s become body doubles?

edit: sorry for derailing this thread; @narthur I root for you! I like the tabbed format, but I’m not a TaskRatchet user, so I can’t help much… Concerning the “maybe” tab: it might be interesting to have tasks expire by themselves if you don’t promote them to “next”, like Complice does. Or hide them down below somehow.

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