Learning (and doing) in public

Making my upcoming to-do list public, in an effort to improve my productivity.

I've always struggled with finishing things, but lately I've found that forcing myself to release projects early has had some amazing effects. Flushed with that success, I'm going one step further and making myself publicly accountable for things I'm planning to do.

What's been working?

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been making music again. A big part of the enthusiasm I've maintained for music lately comes from the fast feedback loop that comes from learning in public.

With my past musical endeavours I would ticker for ages in private, building up to a "grand reveal" that often simply never happened. This time around I've made the conscious decision to share early; I'm posting experiments and practices to my instagram account, and releasing pieces onto YouTube as soon as their "done". This has taken two big leaps for me:

  1. I've never shared "practice" before. I'm objectively bad at the instrument I'm currently learning (my modular synth), and my practices could be seen by experts as embarrassing. I'm teaching myself not to care about this.
  2. I've had to change my definition of "done". The pieces I'm releasing are not finely crafted opuses. I'm releasing as soon as I have ~4 minutes of sound with a beginning, middle, and end.

The results so far have been awesome. It's great to get positive feedback; hearing that people like my work drives me to make more of it. Negative feedback would be useful, too, but I've (mercifully?) not had much of that yet. Although on social media a lack of any feedback is a strong signal. The good stuff gets a reaction, and the bad stuff sinks into obscurity. Either way, I'm learning what works and what doesn't work, and that guides my future experiments and practice sessions.

And in the spirit of "doubling down on what seems to be working", I'm now expanding my "do all the things in public!" policy to some other areas.

What am I committing myself to?

Firstly, some simple rolling objectives. I've had these goals in place since January as part of my Year of Writing:

  • A written piece on this blog, once a month.
  • Twelve videos about my modular synth on YouTube by the end of the year.
  • Fifty-two modular-themed posts on Instagram by the end of the year.

They sound modest, but just look back at my blogging history to see how consistent (or should I say inconsistent) my track record is. I can be very productive in short bursts, but keeping up momentum for a full calendar year is not something I often manage.


Secondly, I'm setting myself some stretch goals. These are things I want to get done Soon™️, and would love to get shipped before the end of the summer. But if I get to December and haven't hit any of these goals but have met my rolling objectives, I'll still call the year a "Win".

  1. Sort out the newsletter. Should this site (should I) have a newsletter? I started a podcast-focused one last year, and it flopped was less of a success than I'd hoped for. I'm currently on the fence about whether I should have a general newsletter for all the content published on this site, or whether it should focus solely on my Modular Synth activities. What I do know, is that this site should have a proper "call to action" for people who enjoy the content.

  2. Release Picobel.js as a React component. I (still!) really enjoy working in React, and Picobel feels like the perfect use-case for the <Component /> pattern. It also gives me more control over state changes (like "playing" or "paused" or "loading") which lead to a nicer (and more reliable) experience for the end user.

  3. Make an interactive JavaScript version In C. This one's is just for me, and just for fun. I'd love to recreate Terry Riley's seminal minimalist musical composition, In C, on my modular. Alas, both my skills and sequencing equipment aren't up to the task just yet. As a stopgap, I'm going to recreate it in the browser using the Web Audio API.

What are the consequences of failure?

In all honesty, the consequences of missing my targets are mercifully slight. Given the amount of readers this blog gets (very few) and the number of people clamouring for my new projects (none), there are no tangible consequences for missing my "deadlines".

But failure stings, even if the bounds of success are arbitrary and imaginary. Fear of failing to meet my rolling goals has already pushed me to publish more frequently here and on IG and YouTube. Ask me in six months how this experiment has gone. I've reasonably confident that I'll feel good about it by then.



Podcasts for Nerds

I often bore my friends by going on and on about great podcasts I've heard lately. But doing this one-on-one was getting a little stale, so I've launched a weekly podcast-recommendations newsletter so I can bug lots of people all at once!