Follow up: Giving up on deadlines

2 months ago I made the decision to not assign arbitrary deadlines to personal/side projects. You can read about that in the post Giving up on deadlines.

The short summary is that by assigning deadlines where not hitting them didn't matter, I created a negative feedback loop. I would have too many tasks due every day, and I'd just move the deadlines further. This made me feel unproductive for not hitting the deadlines, and made real deadlines feel inconsequential to me.

GTD has entered the chat

Since that post, I have jumped head first into GTD. I bought the book and listened to it in a few days. I then implemented it in Notion as an upgrade to my older task management system and have been using it for all my task management.

While GTD uses a different system of organizing stuff, it also eschews inconsequential deadlines. In GTD, a deadline should only be assigned when there are *meaningful* consequences to not hitting that deadline.

Having your apartment cleaned by a particular date does not have consequences, unless there are guests arriving the day after.

While following the GTD method & thinking has had a very positive impact on my productivity, it's also made me feel better overall by not enforcing arbitrary deadlines.

What I've accomplished over the past 2 months

Now for some numbers. In the past 2 months, I have:

  • Completed 30 projects of small to medium size.
  • Abandoned 23 projects.
  • Deleted ~10 projects from my "someday/maybe" list.

There is an almost equal number of projects I've finished and abandoned. Yet I'm happy with those numbers. The 30 projects I've not done are an equally important aspect of me being able to complete the 30 projects that I have. 

Everything takes time, and I'm happy that I was able to make the conscious decision of what not to do, instead of having that decision made for me by projects being left incomplete forever.

Closing thoughts

I'm in a good place right now when it comes to personal productivity. I feel better than I did before, and I have the confidence that I can complete the projects that are important to me, even if it takes longer than I initially thought it would.

I believe that not having to deal with inconsequential deadlines in my calendar is a big reason for me not feeling overwhelmed. That was the reason why I had gravitated towards less deadlines, and I'm happy to say it worked.

Using GTD has also been an amazing experience, and I hope to share my thoughts on how GTD has helped me be more productive in the a future post.

Giving up on deadlines

For the last few years, I've really struggled with making progress on my side projects.

5 or 6 years ago, this wasn't a problem. I'd be working for hours on my side projects almost every day. Slowly however, this changed. I found new hobbies, started hanging out with friends, got married, became a father.

Life got in the way.

Looking back over the past 2 years, I don't think I've finished any side project, of any size. That realization hit me like a brick a few days ago.

Something has to change.

My failed system

Up till now, I've tried to follow good task management practices.

I would break down a project into smaller tasks, made sure I wasn't doing too much (build an MVP), and assigned deadlines to the tasks.

Problem is, deadlines don't work for me when I'm the one who has to enforce them. These are soft deadlines. They would approach and I would push them forward by a week or two. Until a year had passed by and I couldn't get through watching the 3 videos that would complete that course I started a year ago.

Deadlines only work for me when they are hard deadlines, like the kind at work where they mean something. A commitment to an external stakeholder, with real consequences for missing them.

Life getting in the way of side projects is not a bad thing, but because I had assigned deadlines to the tasks, not being able to complete them on the assigned day made me feel like a failure.

I had free time, but I would spend it watching TV or doing irrelevant things, because I couldn't get myself to start on the tasks for my side projects, maybe because I feared I would fail to complete them by their new deadline anyway.

My new system

I'm giving up on deadlines for my personal side projects.

Instead, I'm just going to have a list of in-progress projects. Each project is broken down into tasks, and every project has a next task that I can just pick up and go. Whenever I find free time, I'm going to pick one task from one project and work on it.

Deadlines don't work for me because they are soft deadlines. So I'm getting rid of them.

Deadlines do serve another important role however, which I have another way of replicating.

Deadlines give you a finite amount of time to work on something, so you come up with a version of the solution that can be done in that time. Without a deadline, you could keep working on just one task, trying to complete it to perfection.

I'm replacing that with a well defined definition of DONE for my side projects before I start working on them.

The definition of done should lead to an MVP, a small but working version of whatever it is I'm trying to build. This will serve the same purpose as a deadline, but without the artificial constraint of time or the feeling of failure when life get's in the way and I have to move the deadline.

I'm starting on that now. This blog post is the first step in my journey towards this new system. I'll check back in a few months to see how much progress I've made on my projects with this new way of working.

2021 - Starting my first side business

My plan for 2021 is to build a small side business that can generate some revenue. Not for the money, but for the experience of starting a business from scratch. I'm going to spend 2021 trying to make that happen.

I've wasted almost 10 years thinking about having a side business, but never taking that first step towards making it a reality. I recently started listening to a lot of Indie Hacker podcast episodes, and listening to the indie hackers and their journeys has given me a boost of inspiration to just start.

I might fail at this idea, or the next, or the one after that. But what I've learned by watching and listening to the stories of other entrepreneurs is that consistency of effort matters a lot more than having a great idea. So my goal is to keep trying. Spending a few months on each idea, and seeing if it's something that looks viable. The time is going to pass anyway, I can either spend it trying to think of the perfect idea and how it will be used by thousands of people, or iterating on the less than perfect ideas I have right now and finding out which; if any, has the potential to be a solid side business.

I recently bought 2 3D printers, the Artillery Genius & the Prusa Mini. I got excited, and had a bunch of savings lying around from a year of not going out because of the COVID situation. So I ordered 2 printers, because why not.

I have printed many models; mostly stuff that I downloaded from sites like Thingiverse, Thangs, MyMiniFactory, and other similar sites. I've also designed a few smaller functional objects, like lamp shade holders, spare parts to fix broken vacuum cleaner hoses, etc. I'm having a lot of fun with this hobby and next I want to try SLA printing.

I want an SLA printer so I can experiment with printing in resin. I'm not that into miniatures, but I'm excited by the technology and would like to try it out. I might find some serious use of resin printing, but right now I only want to play around with the technology, I don't have any practical uses of resin printing in mind.

I want to buy the the Prusa SL1. I like the reviews I've seen of the machine and I'm very happy with the quality of the Prusa Mini, so my hope is that the SL1 will be another solid machine from Prusa. The printer + wash/cure station combo is $2,300. While I can save that much in a few months, it will be difficult to justify such a large purchase for something which I might loose interest in after playing around with a few times.

I had the idea of using 3D printing (from those 2 printers 🤦‍♂️) to make money. My goal is to make at least $2,300 by doing something related to 3D printing. Then I could buy the SL1 kit guilt free.

I wrote a list of things I could print and sell online in a small e-commerce store. Some ideas were:

  • Custom designed keychains.
  • Lamps in various interesting shapes, like the Moon, or Mars, or some unique buildings here in the UAE.
  • Cookie cutters.
  • An Arduino based macro-keyboard for video editors.

These are all reasonable ideas of things to sell and make money with. However, recently I was listening to an IndieHackers podcast episode in which they talked about people making money from curating things. They were talking about newsletters like "The Browser", Hustle, etc. That got me thinking about starting a paid newsletter.

While the idea is interesting, and I might be able to get some income out of it, I wasn't sure if I wanted to commit to writing a newsletter every week. I want a flexible side business where I don't have to follow a fixed schedule.

After a bit more thinking, I had the idea of building a web application that can help people find the right 3D printer for their needs. There are many "best 3d printers of 2020" lists, but these are all static lists that suggest a few printers and hope you find the one that fits your requirements.

My idea is to have a database of the popular and easily available printers. Each printer would have it's own page, with data associated with it, including attributes about it's capabilities and pros & cons.

Users will be able to search based on these attributes and filter the list down to printers that suit what they are looking for. This will let them narrow the field of possibilities down to a reasonable amount, and also allow a more "apples-to-apples" comparison b/w the possibilities, instead of comparing for example a top of the line hobby printer to one aimed at kids.

Similar to the newsletter, this will involve writing a lot about 3D printing. This will be for the blog, as content marketing is what I'm going to use to attract users. However, once a critical mass of content has been written, I can slow down content production a bit. This is not something I can do with a paid newsletter.

Additionally, I can auto-generate pages doing "A vs B" comparisons on the printers. Once I have entered the attributes of the printers and their pros and cons, I can generate hundreds of these comparison pages on the fly. This should help with SEO as well.

I have 2 ideas of how I can make money from this:

  • Affiliate links on the printers.
  • Ad banners on the blog and site.

My plan is to spend 3 months on building the site and writing on the blog. I've already setup the blog and will be adding content to it as regularly as possible. The domain I settled on is The blog is live at

I'll be adding not only original content; which takes time to write, but also small posts about interesting things in 3D printing that I find. This will make it easier for me to start generating content on the blog because I'm already spending time everyday watching Youtube videos about 3D printing.

My hope is that by the time the app is ready and the data for the printers is uploaded, the blog should have started generating some traffic. I plan to have a usable app with data for a few dozen printers in about 2 months.

After 3 months, I'll look at the progress and the user stats for the project, and make a decision about continuing with this idea. If I see hope for reaching my targeting of making $2,300 in 2021 by continuing working on this, I'll do that. If not, I will pivot to selling 3D printed stuff online via an e-commerce store.

Why start blogging again?

I have written blog posts on Medium once or twice a year for the past decade. I have posted 14 times from 2011 to 2018. Every few years I would start blogging with renewed passion, and after 1 or 2 posts my enthusiasm would run out and I wouldn't post for another year or so.

I realize now that I could not blog consistently because I was trying to blog for the wrong reasons:

  • Becoming visible in the community.
  • Because all the cool kids have blogs.
  • To build a portfolio site to show my knowledge as a software developer.

I was blogging for external reasons. My motivation for blogging was to either fit some mold that I thought others wanted me to fit, or to gain recognition from others. I've found over time that anything I do for external reasons doesn't tend to last long and I loose motivation pretty quickly.

But when I do things for myself, for internal reasons, I tend to stick with them longer. To be clear, I'm not saying that writing for external reasons is wrong or doesn't work. It works for a very large number of people. Just not for me.

I have decided that I'd like to start writing again. I'm doing it in public because that's the best way to gather feedback and improve myself, but I'm no longer doing it for visibility or internet brownie points. While visibility is something that may come out of it, it's not my primary goal.

I want to write because that's the best way to:

  • Refine my ideas.
  • Share and get feedback on my ideas.
  • Understand what I consume.

Understand what I consume

I think this is the most important benefit, and why I decided to start writing again. I decided this after watching a couple of videos by Shu Omi, a YouTuber focusing on productivity and writing. One video which really inspired me to start writing again is this one.

It's not new information that writing about and summarizing content that you consume is a great way to judge how well you understand it. This is similar to the Richard Feynman technique of learning. If you can't explain something in your own words, you don't understand it yet.

Writing about a topic or some content doesn't make you understand it better. Instead, it highlights the parts which you don't fully understand yet. It's difficult to write about something you don't understand. Writing notes about it helps you to identify those weak points and work on it.

How much will I blog

I'm not sure yet. I'm trying to get in the habit of taking notes of any article I read that I feel has useful information. There are many articles or books which I read just for fun or to waste some time. I don't make notes for those articles.

But for ones that have information which I feel is relevant & useful to me, I plan to make notes on. I'm using Roam Research to keep my notes, because the idea of having notes linked with each other really resonates with me. I might write about this in a future blog post.

I don't plan to share all my notes on this blog. Instead, I plan to use this as a space to explore, refine, and share my ideas on various topics. My notes in Roam will become the source of ideas for my blog.

Blogging will hopefully force me to think deeper, and refine my thoughts on the different things I take notes on. I don't plan to regurgitate my notes on here. That would not be useful to you or me.

Increasing my luck surface area

Becoming more visible is another benefit of blogging. While it's no longer my primary goal, I am aware that it's a benefit that I could (and hope to) get out of my writing habit.

I've lately started believing in the concept of "Luck Surface Area". Luck is mostly being in the right place at the right time. If you have a lot of visibility in a community, your luck surface area tends to increase.

The more things you try out, the greater the chances of you getting lucky. Starting writing again should increase my luck surface area. Time will tell.

How I'm building my writing habit

Instead of just consuming content (articles, videos, books) and then moving on to the next one, I'm deliberately trying to make notes on all content that I feel is useful.

This blog post came from the notes I made on the video by Shu Omi.

I now put articles, videos, Twitter threads that I find can provide value in a "Consumption List". I then go through it in my downtime and pick something to consume and make notes on.

I've been doing this only for the past few days, but I've noticed that making notes has forced me to read more carefully, and pay attention to the content, as I know I'm going to have to summarize it.