A Year of Sponge

Originally published at .

Set KPIs

The most important step that I took was setting KPIs for myself. We are very quick to hold KPIs at work or even in your relationships (keeping score), but not with ourselves. You should want to be the most accountable person to yourself.

For me personally, I’m aware of many different versions of myself. There’s productive Steph, but there’s also perma-tired Steph, hungry Steph, distracted Steph, etc. The only way to keep all versions of Steph accountable is to have a metric that I can actually check in on and try to improve.

People mistakenly think that things will improve on their own, but setting KPIs helps bring awareness to how much effort is needed to actually move the needle. Below is a glimpse into my personal tracking, where I actively tracked every day of this year and how often I coded, exercised, and more.

A very important note on these KPIs: unlike most KPIs, these are for yourself. These are not degrees that you flaunt on your LinkedIn or Twitter followers to justify your “reach”; these are for your eyes, so there is no point in mis-tracking or choosing a metric which doesn’t truly align to your goals.

But that’s the beauty, with no one to deceive, you completely own your success or lack thereof. The is no bullshitting, automating, or “reframing” your own goals and certainly not the effort put into getting there.

Ideas <<< Execution

You may have “very good ideas” heading into 2019, but so do I and so does the guy on the bus and his wife and her grandfather. To sponge (yes, it’s now also a verb), you must acknowledge that many people have good ideas, but most will not put in the effort to realize them for sustained periods of time. I’ve come to realize that greatness is simply good, but repeatable.

I also think that active acknowledgment of the discomfort of learning, is essential.

Every skill can be defined by the above learning cycle:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: Essentially, you don’t even know that you don’t know something or that you’re bad at something. This is essentially ignorance, aka bliss.
  2. Conscious incompetence: You’ve identified that you can improve at something. Not a very fun place to be but this is the phase of sponge; ie: the phase of growth
  3. Conscious competence: Once you’ve improved, you’re still very concentrated on being able to do that thing.
  4. Unconscious competence: Rare, but something you are so skilled at, that it takes minimal mental energy for you.

In summary, you too can enter the sponge phase at any point of your life, with some internal candor, personal KPIs, and a focus on hanging out in the “conscious incompetence” zone. Since I tracked my progress, I can actually quantify parts of this year (2018), instead of looking back and classifying it in vague terms like “it was a solid year”.

So, because I can quantify it, this was my year as a Code Sponge (inspired by this Wait but Why article):

Goals achieved:

  • 125 days learning to code (goal: undetermined, but imagine how much more I could’ve accomplished if I did this every day)
  • 4 Projects launched: (goal: 2)
  • $264 made in making (goal: $1)
  • Gave 2 talks (goal: 1)
  • Spent <$20k (goal: spend <$20k)
  • 3 full articles written: (goal: 3)

Missed goals:

  • 21 books (goal: 24)
  • 121 days exercising (goal: 182 days — half the time)
  • Learn to drive a car (still can’t)

Other unforecasted goals:

  • Became an “executive” and started managing a team of 20
  • Visited my 50th country

If you want to listen to my talk which specifically goes over how I learned to code and build projects in a year, you can do so here.

Naturally, as I talk about this year of sponge, I plan to continue sponging into 2019 and beyond.

For 2019, here are a few of my goals:

  • Hit $1k MRR across my side projects
  • Learn more development (specifically more Javascript)
  • Ship at least 2 projects live
  • Write at least 1/month
  • Speak at a conference
  • Exercise at least every other day (182 days)
  • Learn more about how I can improve my sponging by reading 24 more books

While you don’t need to track every aspect of your life or choose a coding-based goal, I do think that holding yourself accountable to your own life goals and expectations only becomes more important with time. The best way to get there is actually measuring your performance and being your toughest critic.

While I have had similar years in terms of comparative growth, I believe this was the most meaningful one because it was self-inflicted and has set me up to do even bigger things for years to come.

Originally published at blog.stephsmith.io on December 30, 2018.


A Year of Sponge was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.