Thomas Mayfield bio photo

Thomas Mayfield

Polyglot programmer who loves the weird beautiful chaos of humans building software together. Fitness nerd. Southern kid living in Massachusetts.

2018 Year End Notes

At the end of 2018, looking inwards. How did that go?

Dog

In April, my wife and I adopted a puppy! This is Ripley—she’s a German Shepherd / Basset Hound / ¯\_(ツ) /¯ mix that we adopted through Great Dog Rescue New England. (For the record, that’s “Lieutenant Ellen” not “Believe It Or Not”.)

She’s been a wonderful addition to the household, and we’ve spend much of the year learning how to Life With Dog.

Fitness

From last year:

I have one simple goal for next year: commit to running Average to Savage for the whole year.

I did this! And it worked pretty well. Over the course of three runs through the program, I put 45 lbs on my squat and deadlift training maxes, 22.5 lbs on bench press, and maybe 5 lbs on overhead press. I haven’t tested true 1RMs all year, but rep maxes have all been moving in the right direction. Most importantly for my goals: I got modestly more jacked, definitely can handle more volume, and didn’t get hurt.

For 2019, I’d like to take the base I built this year and push my top-end strength up to make progress towards my long-term 2/3/4/5 plate goals for press/bench/squat/deadlift. I’ll definitely be committing to another single program for a long stretch of time, at least six months. Maybe a year. The leading candidate is something GZCL method-based. I’m giving myself until I get back from visiting family in the second week of January to firmly commit to the specifics.

Reading

I read less than my usual this year, only finishing 31 books. Seven of these were over 700 page fantasy doorstoppers, so that’s not quite as low as sounds, but it’s still substantially less than last year. I think a gentle nudge to spend a few more evenings reading is in order here.

Rough breakdown by genre:

  • Fantasy: 15
  • Nonfiction: 7
  • Scifi: 5
  • Fitness: 4

On the diversity-of-authors front: of 31 books read, 14 were by women, 3 were by people of color and 4 were by publicly LGBTQ authors.

Notable books from 2018:

  • Why We Sleep An eye-opening book on shuteye (sorry). I’ve been on the sleep-is-super-important train for a while, but this absolutely underscored how critical good sleep is to a live well-lived.
  • A Memory Of Light As a teenager, I must have read and re-read what had been published of the Wheel of Time maybe three or four times. Re-reading the series beginning last year felt like visiting old friends; finally reading the end two decades later was quite emotional.
  • Thinking In Bets A great read on decision making and risk; “resulting” has permanently entered my vocabulary at this point.

Software

I quit using Twitter in March. My reasons at the time were time and attention-based, but I think what’s kept me from coming back is how much better it’s been for my mental health. I miss some of the connections I had with people there, but I don’t miss taking a cortisol bath every time I opened Tweetdeck.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying out different tools and techniques for organizing notes and todos.

  • I used Bear as my primary notes and todo app for a lot of the year. I really really loved its polished markdown editing, but I had to abandon it after I ran into some ugly/mysterious syncing problems (showing up to 1:1s with team members and having the last few months of notes gone is not fun).
  • I tried Bullet Journaling for a month or so. I liked the self-reflection habit it enabled, but needing to continually scan pages for loose ends wasn’t for me and a physical notebook isn’t good for ubiquitous capture of ideas, especially on public transit.
  • Notion has a lot going for it as notes / todo / personal wiki app, but it didn’t quite all hang together after a few weeks of use. The typography / layout were a little awkward, it was difficult to use without touching the mouse, and it was slow and laggy in that just-enough-to-be-annoying way that Electron apps often have. I think I’d happily use it as a part of a team at work, though.
  • I’m currently trying out Ulysses for notes and writing: this post has been largely written using it.
  • Habitica has been surprisingly (and slightly embarrassingly) effective at helping me stick to daily / weekly habits. I’m also using it for todo tracking, not because it’s super great at that, but because the habit part makes sure I’m actually looking at my lists daily.

I don’t have a ton of time to play games, and tend to go all-in on a single game at a time. I played a lot of Overwatch early in the year, but found it was only really fun when playing with friends I actually knew. Switched over to playing Warframe since, and it’s been a blast.

Learning / Attention

Last year, I said:

…in 2018, I’m going to try averaging one post a week here about something I’m learning, practicing or building.

That did not go well. Right off the bat, I had trouble hitting that weekly cadence. Working through nand2tetris was slow and trying to get a weekly piece written on it felt more like producing a grade school book report than sharing the joy and satisfaction of learning. I disliked how these pieces read enough to push them off the front page of this blog.

Falling further and further behind added stress and guilt instead of getting me excited. When my wife and I adopted Ripley at eight weeks old in April, my free time and sleep schedule got put in a blender for most of the summer. I never really got back on track, aside from a brief burst of hilariously overestimating my time and mental energy in starting a learn to draw course.

There are a lot of stories out there about people using methods like this to accomplish great creative endeavors (famously, Jerry Seinfeld’s daily don’t break the chain). I wouldn’t rule out this approach from ever working for me, but this particular implementation was clearly a very poor fit.

What can I take away from this failure? It may have come down to this: learning is not a linear process. You go through through long periods of struggling to absorb and integrate new information before any breakthroughs happen. In setting that concrete writing goal, I trying to graft a nonlinear progression onto a strict schedule. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that it backfired on me.

I still need to find a process that works for me. I still think a lot about Deep Work and want to push towards a place where that kind of deep, meaningful focus and work is a regular part of my life. So: for 2018, I’m going to run a bunch of experiments to see what I can get to stick, maybe one a month or so. I might share the results, but probably not until year’s end when I’ve had a long time to see how the successful tests play out.