I’ve been doing some thinking and planning about what I want to accomplish in the next year, which always is a battle plan that’s good until maybe January 4 (5th if I’m lucky), but it’s a useful tool for me to figure out where to focus my time.

These aren’t resolutions. I think playing the resolution game is setting yourself up to fail, especially since there’s no penalty for failure. I don’t want unrealistic goals, I want paths forward.

I have a long history of trying to do too many things to do any of them well, finding ways to sidetrack myself into new things that simply get in the way of more important projects (hello, Youtube Channel that never happened), and for this reason, I like to identify priorities, and then I can judge whether the projects I’m kicking off or working on align with those priorities. If they don’t.. Why am I doing them?

Of course, this all assumes I set my priorities correctly, which isn’t always true (Hello, Youtube Channel) and that they don’t change as the year progresses. This implies this is something always under review, but it’s nice to occasionally sit down and think it through and write it down a bit to clarify it in my head; I typically do that twice a year, at new year and around my birthday.

Priorities

So first, priorities. What do I want to align myself with over the next year?

About a decade ago, I decided on three priorities to guide my life, ones I’ve followed since without ever feeling like I need to adjust them. They’re also three that I’ve chosen not to discuss with anyone, but they are, effectively, the core principles of my life.

These listed here act to help me implement those guiding principles, giving me some focus on how I can do a better job over the next year.

If someone asked you, could you express what the core principles of your life are? If not, should you perhaps ponder that a bit? Are you moving your life forward with some purpose or ultimate goal, or are you just moving at random? My guess is even if you haven’t consciously defined these things, they’re in there somewhere, in some form. It might be interesting to think it through a bit and see what you find.

Focus Focus Focus

My first priority in 2019 is to focus: I’ve been finding myself doing too many things to do any of them well, because I’ve allowed myself to go off on adventures chasing the big shiny city on the hill even though I couldn’t really explain why I should want to visit it.

My side trip chasing the Youtube channel is a classic example of losing focus: at its essence, I saw a new set of technical skills to learn, a curriculum to build, an entire platform to create and manage, all for the rather vague idea of “I have lots of knowledge I can share”, but when I stepped back and was honest with myself, it was a lot of work, it wasn’t clear my knowledge was unique or interesting to others, and I sure didn’t have a mob demanding I share it with them.

It was a classic case of me getting tied up with the fun idea of building the damned thing — I fully admit that “figuring out how to build complex things” is a hobby of mine, while building a facade of a project around it to justify going off and figuring this out. And in practice it significantly sucked time from a number of other projects that really could have used those hours elsewhere to better results — it really kicked my photography in the knee, for instance.

But having said that — I really did enjoy digging in, sorting it out, spending time starting to learn the tools and techniques, and generally doing the nerding out part. it’s just when I surfaced from all of that and had to start doing the content bits, I realized that it was a rather silly waste of time.

I need to focus that nerding out thing not on shiny things that catch my attention, but on projects that better push forward my more important goals.

Clean Up my Act

A side effect of doing too many things is that things I have done aren’t done to the standards I should expect of myself. Two big ones for me right now are my social media usage, and how my online presence in general looks.

A few for-instances: Smugmug bought Flickr, which I loved, which made me comfortable starting using Flickr again, which allowed me to focus my Smugmug site on my best images and Flickr on all of my images, but in reality, I did some initial organizing on both and then never really updated either properly, so it’s all a bit of a muddle, and makes sense to basically nobody but me.

Another instance: I’m on Instagram, but I’ve never defined well, even to myself, how I should be using it. So it’s basically a set of random behind the scenes images and cat photos. Is that really what I should be doing there? I have to sort that out and then start doing it. Or decide it’s not worth the effort and get off it. Or something. Right now, it exists, and it’s random, and serves no real purpose. It should. Or shouldn’t.

Social media and how I use it is going to be the topic of its own piece soon, because social media in general has proven itself to be a toxic hellhole and I have to sort out my relationship to it in light of what we’ve learned in the last year. In general, though, it’s time for me to sort through my online activities and what services I’m using, because if someone made me sit down and explain what and why I’m doing online and why I’m sharing which content, I probably couldn’t do it coherently, and I know nobody could figure it out just by exploring what I’ve got out there.

Do It for Myself

This ties back to that Youtube channel again, among other things; I love figuring out how to build, and then building, fairly complex systems and things. And even more than that, I love doing that so that others can enjoy and benefit from what I’ve built. So I get involved in projects where at some point I realize that down the road I’ll have to actually manage the damned things, which will suck up time forever. And I have to keep reminding myself not to do that, because it invariably sucks up time away from things I want to be doing for myself. I seem to be hardwired this way, for better and worse.

So one thing I have to do this year is give myself permission to do and build things for myself and not worry about creating stuff that has benefits for others — and kick myself in the kneecap every time I slide out of focus and start thinking about how to build it for others to enjoy. Let this be a year where I focus on what I want, not what I want to do for others more. That’s not to imply I’m going to drop some of the ongoing commitments I have, such as my work for Audubon — but it means I have to avoid taking on new things, and look at how I can do those other things in ways that move my own interests forward more as well.

Goals

My goals moving into 2019 are relatively simple:

  • Improve my fitness: I was making some progress mid-2018 when my sister got sick, and then things fell apart again. Time to get back on it. As part of the ongoing house remodel project, I’ve been able to get the treadmill moved into the family room and given a full checkup, so it’s ready to go, but I just had my cortisone in my right knee and they told me to give it a week to settle down first. (it’s always something. And I have to stop that)
  • More Birds: 2018 was my best birding year since 2014 and my second best year since I started tracking it, but I need to do even more in 2019. It’s too easy to find reasons not to get outside and go walking, and I have to make that a habit in 2019.
  • More Photography: 2018 was in some ways a disaster for my photography, but ended on a nice upward trend. In 2019, I have a number of things I want to work on and I need to make sure I make time for it rather than leaving it to occasional “Grand Outings”.
  • More Writing: yeah. I don’t think I did badly in 2018, overall, but I always have way more things I want to write about than time to write about them. I need more consistency over time, too. My sister getting sick really messed up my schedule and for a while ability to focus on things like writing, and I’m just now starting to put that schedule back on track and get back in the writing rhythm/habit that I need to do it consistently well. One thing I need to think through is focus: What topics should I be writing about, and are there ones I should just let fade to dust and move on from?

Projects

In the grand tradition of If the list is longer than three, you need to think about it more, I’ve got three projects and a longer-term change initiative I will be making my focus as I move into 2019:

Streamlining my social media

AS I noted above, a longer piece (aka diatribe) on this topic is coming soon, but 2019 was the year I got really sick and tired of the negative aspects of social media, and how the big social media companies treat their users and impact out lives in bad ways. It’s no secret if you follow my twitter feed I’ve been really critical of both Twitter and Facebook. I think Twitter has made some (not enough) progress on its problems, but Facebook continues to feel like an abject disaster that will not end well.

So in 2019, I need to realign the services I use and the content I post and all of that stuff to what my personal priorities are, and make sure the time I spend using social media is in line with the benefits I accrue from it — which is a much smaller number than it was 2 years ago.

I’ve actually already started this progress, slimming down the lists of people I follow and track on different services. My apologies if you’re one of those people that got slimmed out of my feeds, but it’s not you, it’s me. I won’t go into details here — saving it for the longer piece — but I want to have fewer hours spent on social media so I have more hours spent doing things I enjoy, because right now, social media is not something I particularly enjoy using.

Fix my online presence

About a month ago I realized that I had decided it was time to redesign the web site, that I felt the look had gotten somewhat muddled and stale, and I wanted to do some tweaking. Not anything major (famous last words), but it needs some re-thinking and a clean up.

On top of that, I never really moved into Flickr, I just dumped pictures on it until i had time to figure it out. And I did some reworking on Smugmug, but it really isn’t what I want, either.

And how to these things align with my social presence, on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram?

Does this mean a new front page to the blog site and fresh colors? Does it mean major surgery?

I don’t know yet, but I’m starting to figure it out, and at some point in the next couple of months, I’ll hopefully roll out something I like better than what I have. I don’t actively dislike my current sites, I just think I can do a lot better, but haven’t taken the time to make it happen. Now it’s time.

Shifting to Streaming

Laurie and I have used DirecTV for, oh, 15 or more years as the way to get video into the house, and in general it’s been fine. We’re on our 3rd or 4th generation of hardware with them, and this round has her office and the living room fed by wireless Genie receivers instead of coax. We’ve noticed connection issues with them since a software update a few months ago, and while it got better after the last software update, it’s not completely gone. That hardware is getting a bit long in the tooth, too, and so that got me started thinking about options.

What we decided to do was see if we could replicate the channel set we watch going to streaming services and retire the satellite dish down the road. The goal was to be ready to shut off DirecTV by opening night of the NHL season next year in October.

In practice, once I started researching this, it fell into place pretty quickly. Laurie’s office is now using a TCL/Roku TV, and by subscribing to Playstation Vue and bringing in about six other apps for things like MLB, NHL and Weathernation, we could duplicate everything we do with a couple of exceptions:

  • PBS: Which seems to just be a hot mess in terms of getting access to content, because of the way licensing is done by stations and many of the syndicated programs. I’m still sorting this out, but it’s a minor thing since there are basically four shows we care about (three cooking and Call the Midwife) and I know the latter, if we need to, we can just buy a season pass for on iTunes.
  • NHL Network: this is one channel we watch fairly regularly but which is hard to find on streaming services; it’s on DirecTV Now and Hulu Live, but the others don’t have it, and for some reason, we can’t get it from the NHL’s own app, which seems weird. I’m considering gutting Hulu live on top of PS Vue but I’m holding off for now in part hoping that by fall, there’ll be other options, and I can live with it this way for now.

I actually tried DirecTV Now first, which would have given us the NHL Network channel, but I ran into technical glitches both with the Apple TV I was doing as a testbed, and then with the TCL/Roku TV when I set it up: problems with guides not showing and just general stability issues with the systems, so I cancelled it back out and moved on. Doing research online shows what I saw hits some percentage of users on both systems, which, since both Apple TV and Roku are devices DirecTV Now has offered as promotions to new members, is disturbing, but the general lack of fit and finish and the onboarding glitches was enough to make me pass on using them as my primary service. Playstation Vue worked first time on each system and while there are a couple of things I need to get used to about its interface, it’s worked fine.

Overall, way faster than I expected, phase one of this is almost done: Laurie’s office is converted, the TV for the living room (where Tatiana watches the weather channels all day to give her quiet talking voices to keep her company) is on a truck and so within the next week will be live. We’ll live with this for a few weeks before cancelling those off of the DirecTV contract.

The big main TV? I admit to be tempted by the TCL 55″ Roku unit, but I’m holding off a bit while I see how well this all works in reality. But our initial reactions are pretty positive.

I’ve also updated my Apple TV 4K in my office to mimic the configuration of the Roku and that works pretty well, as well as my iPad. And I’m thinking I might configure a Roku stick we can take on the road with us when we travel.

Assuming I don’t hit a roadblock, I expect in a few months we’ll be 100% streaming, with little or no disruption to what we want to watch, and I think it’ll save us some money along the way, plus give us the abilities to use our services on the road as well. So for somewhat less money we get more capabilities with few or no compromises.

Assuming it all works. Ask me in a month and I’ll tell you if reality matches first impressions.

Get Outside and do things

And finally, my longer-term intiative: I’ve got to make a habit of getting outside more, doing more walking, getting more exercise, doing more birding and photography, and spending less time sitting in front of monitors and pounding on keyboards.

This is all about rebuilding some habits, so that my defaults are set up to encourage me to get outside and not sit at the computer. This falls close to resolution territory (shudder), but instead I’m trying to focus on activities that if I succeed at doing them as I want, will build the habits without me really thinking about fixing habits.

In the name of trying to solve the Bird More and Photograph More goals, I’ve tasked myself with a few things in 2019:

  • Get out and bird at least once a week here in Santa Clara County, and really start exploring the open spaces around where I live more than I’ve been doing.
  • Make sure I bird at least 12 unique, different county locations in 2019, since I have a tendency to revisit the same four or five rather than explore more widely.
  • Carry the camera and work on what’s known as a Big Year in birding with my photography: I want to photograph as many species as I can in one year within Santa Clara County. My goal is at least 100 species with portfolio caliber images taken in 2019, but we’ll see — and that number may seem small compared to many big year challenges, but for me, it’s likely to be a good starting goal and once I hit it, I can boost the goal further.

Working towards these goals will help the work I’m doing for Audubon, build my image portfolio by letting me replace older, not-as-good images with new, better images for many species, and act as research for some projects I have in the wings for Silicon Valley Birding during the next year, so, as Alton Brown likes to say, they’re multi-taskers.

So that’s how I’m viewing life moving into 2019, with the focus on the next few months. As these things fall off the priority list, I’ll figure out what on the backlog list will get added. I can think of probably 20 things I want to do, but if I don’t focus on the most improtant ones first, stuff with either not get done, or not get done with enough quality to make me happy about the results, since there’s always a tendency to cut corners when you have too many deadlines looming.

So, how’s your 2019 shaping up? What priorities are you setting and what do you hope to accomplish?