Friday, 3 January 2020

Year 2019 in Review, Welcome 2020!

I'm now entering my fifth year of time logging and keeping track of all my "life & work"-streams in an effort to make sense of my time sinks, cross-checking my aspirations & goals with reality, in the hope of tuning, re-calibrating areas to be more in harmony with my purpose / value system, sometimes triggering some decisions that could take my life-and-work in a different direction altogether. So I've become a bit of geek with the #quantifiedself so much so that I log almost everything all the time. This habit developed naturally as I spent five years consulting, needing to keep track of all my hours and tasks for billable hours. So I took this all the way into treating my entire life as one big project with multiple tasks that needed accounting!

In 2015, I spent a lot of time soul-searching to make sense of not only what I want out of my life but my work/career aspirations as well, since a major part of my life involves my occupation in the software industry. So I came up with a model called RAGE (Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations). The way the model works is to split yourself into "Personas" sliced into Personal and Professional streams. Using some tools from Agile, such as user stories, you describe for each of your personas, your aspirations, reflecting on your current reality, then setting goals and expectations. Your personas are prioritised by value, which is basically an instinctive, gut-feel assessment of the value/importance of the stream, in comparison to the others. I'd created template and a matrix tool that allowed for easy prioritisation, and a template to help others on this journey as well. My hypothesis still remains valid that tracking time is one way of understanding where my time is being spent, proposing "I will naturally spend most of time dedicated to the persona streams that are of importance to me" - but the reality can sometimes be quite surprising!

In this post, I continue with my annual ritual of starting the new year by analysing what went down the previous year (2019), and how/what I would need to re-calibrate to get me on track with my life's journey-mapping into 2020:
  • Recap my personal value system - persona matrix & priorities
  • Snapshot of tracking my RAGE progress by milestone reviews heatmap
  • Performance appraisal - Did I achieve my intended outcomes / goals set in Jan 2019?
  • Quantifying every hour of 2019 - where did I spend my time, what did I do?
  • Does it look like I have my life-work balance under control?
  • Am I working too much, sacrificing my personal and family streams?
  • Am I enjoying my current job?
  • What are the main things impacting my future personal & professional aspirations?

Persona Rankings

My streams have remained consistent over the last couple years, the priorities haven't really changed. It's still my intention to maintain this, however, the reality of where my time is being spent, somewhat contradicts this :-(
My life streams or personas ranked by priority

Snapshot of my RAGE Heatmap

My model aims to keep track of my life/work streams by slicing through each persona for an area of my life. For each area, I reflect on my aspirations, broad goals 3-5 years horizon, ongoing goals for the current year & a heatmap of how I'm performing. There are a few areas still looking to be solved, particularly my aspiration of finding the perfect workplace to match my professional curiosity (to be honest, I'm struggling in this area, not sure if it's a pipe dream!)

Seeking out People for Learning & Growth
As a software professional, I would like to learn & grow, seek out individuals, companies and interactions, to reach heights of excellence, so that I can not only enjoy the profession, but take me to new opportunities & experiences. I want to surround myself with people that motivate me, journey together to grow to the next level.

Broad Goals
Want to work with inspiring, motivated leaders who I can learn from, seeking out mentors.
Want to surround myself with deeply technical, bright people.
Want to work with people who know what they're doing or unafraid to take chances, not old school.
Want to work with disruptors, people unafraid to push boundaries, challenging status quo.
Want to work with people who are equally, if not, more motivated than me, people I can look up to.
Want to learn from people so that I can grow and do my own thing one day.
Want to be with fellow professionals that will help take me to the next level.
Want to work on projects and products that are interesting and cutting edge, not "me-too, copy-cat products".
Want to stay at the cutting edge of software, be involved in the next wave like cloud services, mobile app development, car infotainment / self-driving cars, drone software, connected home, health tech, etc.
Want a chance to start-up my own business in ideas in product development or niche services-space.

Another burning sore point is my aspiration of becoming an Entrepreneur. I am failing in this stream big time. Perhaps I'm looking for excuses, too risk-averse, in a comfort zone, maybe I'm just not thirsty enough...I keep toying with the idea of taking a sabbatical for six months, or even maybe a full year break to work on my ideas...but the financial analysis gets the better of me, and going back to my prioritised matrix always puts things into perspective - it's low priority so takes a back seat. Unless I make this higher priority, nothing is bound to materialise - unless I solve the time sink problem. Work the committed acceptable hours for my employer, and take my time to work on my pet projects, be real serious about it!!!
HeatMap of RAGE Personas

2019 Personal Performance Appraisal

Last year, around the same time, I reflected on 2018 & outlined areas to focus on outcomes for 2019. The table below summarises my assessment overall, commenting on high level topics for 2020.
2019 Assessment
Not everything is bad - I actually made some good strides on the Personal streams of Individual and Family. Pretty pleased with my Health & Fitness goals, in 2019 I smashed 2018, and overall had a very pleasant 2019 without any serious health issues. Walking to the office/home each way has really helped my overall well being and stress levels in general. My Spiritual stream improved as well.

And I exceeded (23 out of 20) my book reading goal for the year as well - sweet. Click here to check my reading list on Goodreads.

I also experienced some really hectic and stressful psychological challenges at the workplace, which in the end, I'm thankful to have come out cleanly from, having grown as an individual and a professional as a result. 2019 by far, has been the most ups/downs I've experienced as a professional, in my 20 years of professional experience. Looking back, I'm really not prepared to entertain any more drama at work in 2020, I will rather resolve to change environments if need be.

What areas do I need to solve then?

  • Exceeding work hours, possibly leading to burn-out, but also impacting my other streams like new product ideas.
  • Need to expand my networking outside of the office - otherwise I'm not going to tap into the start-up circles

2019 - Where did the time go?

I use Harvest App to log all my time in various Personas I've set-up. 2019 had a total of 8760 hours, and my time keeping logged a total of 8761.09 hours - not too shabby!!

Life-Work Wheel of Life - Do I have it under control?

Yes, it appears so - in the grand scheme of things, without drilling into the work hours, it does look like my life is not imbalanced and neither is one area outweighing other areas by a significant margin. So anyone looking from the outside-in, would think me crazy to be considering alternatives right now, because the picture below shows things are looking good:

Digging deeper into the detail, the only glaringly red area on the Personal front is my persona around an Entrepreneur as explained above. The rest of my slices with respect to my being an individual (remember this is for "me" me time, not being a husband or father or family - all life streams of relevance to me as a person, what defines my own core) - is doing alright. On top of that, Life focusing on family is also not bad going. I'm getting enough sleep, averaging at least 7.5-8.2 hours a day, and being consistent with the age old wisdom that one sleeps for a third of one's life.

So, how come I'm working too much? Why is my Job consuming extra time?

In 2019, I logged a total of 2062.78 hours worked.
That is 2062.78/8, which would normally be equivalent of 257.78 eight-hour workdays.
This is how 2019 looked like, taking weekends, public holidays, leave days into account - the actual workdays is much less: 215 workdays effectively.

Given this table, one expects work hours to be logged on days equal to WORKDAY - that is, it's not a weekend or public holiday, and also not a leave day....but in reality, I actually worked weekends, public holidays and also my leave days...kinda robbing myself again (did the same thing in 2018, 2017...):

So I logged an extra 172 hours that I did not strictly get paid for - which is equivalent of 21.50 extra 8-hour work days, which is like one extra month of pay. I don't really have a major issue with this because I did sign a contract with my employer, and being a senior manager on the top team, it is expected to be responsive outside office hours. Nevertheless, my own internal point is that this is time I COULD HAVE USED ELSEWHERE on a stream that would benefit my own interests...

Outside of the non-workday work-hours, still my normal workday-hours for 2019 was a bit extreme, equating to another extra 170.76 hours overtime, on what should've been normal work-hours, and this is in addition to me working during my "off-time":
So YES, I did log an extra 43 days of overtime 2019 that I could have used elsewhere - really I can't go on like this...perhaps I can get the time back through tactfully negotiating time off in lieu or some other incentive...??

So, given the increased work-hours, am I still having fun at work?

We all know that we spend a large part of lives working in an office, with people who are not strictly family, nor are close friends. At one stage of my life, I was the type that would come to the office, do my job, produce the outputs and expected to get recognised by meritocracy, etc. I didn't bother building authentic relationships really, thankfully, that was me as a newbie... We are all seeking happiness and a sense of fulfilment, and since a large part of our life is spent in the workplace, we should at least expect the workplace to be a place of enjoyment (gratification, fun, sense-of-accomplishment, etc.) right?

Here's how my enjoyment tracking graph looks like for the last few years:

The hypothesis behind tracking my "happiness@work":
  • Good - green, should be increasing or relatively consistent - seems to be on a downward trend or spiky - erratic. This can't be a good sign. When my personal time is added, which could be green, there is more green than red. I need to probably take leave every month, even if it's unpaid leave - or maybe work a 3-day week??
  • Indifferent - Neither good nor bad - "meh" - okay to be flattish, but if on the increase, this should trigger some warning signals - certainly on the increase since late 2018
  • Bad - just not my day, wish I was somewhere else - expect to be cyclical, you're going to have your fair share of bad days in the office, so far it seems relatively consistent and not on the increase - need to keep an eye, still had some sleepless, stressful nights in 2019 that messed me up a bit.
I'm afraid I can't really answer the question with an emphatic YES! It's looking more like 50/50 at this stage. This is based on my emotions, but the data says YES - I'm having a good time, even if mostly neutral, speckled with some good days, and every now and again, a bad day or two.

The challenge though is: Can every single workday be fun, awesome and great? Surely this is a naive expectation? What matters is to make best of the situation in the current moment, the "Now" - what's happened in the past is the past, the future is unwritten, so all you have is the "Now", and how you react/respond to the situation facing you in the moment. I need to consciously work on this, thus turning everyday into the best, fulfilling day possible - since the power lies within me. Even if I have a bad day, it's about how I react to the situation, and thus shouldn't allow such matters to consume me beyond the has happened in 2019...the spiral of negativity can be quite bad! I'm grateful my practice of self-awareness and journalling using Socratic methods has helped take my out of the negative abyss I could've so easily fallen into.

Current Quagmire: What to make of 2020 Personal & Professional Aspirations?

Last year, I shared a detailed post on my software engineering career to date, including lessons learnt along the way - as a way to help other people on a similar path. Doing so was a valuable exercise in timeline milestones reflection, allowing me to assess the next stages & options for the future. Given my  not-so-pleasant experiences of stress-and-office-politics-with-dysfunctional-teams of 2019, I spent a lot of 2019 thinking about my options. I did this by not only reflecting in solitude through my journalling and Socratic method of questioning everything I say with a counter argument, but more importantly, I reached out to friends, family and some trusted colleagues (call them my "challenge network"), to get different perspectives, using those as input into ultimately guiding my next move.

Outside-In Perspectives

From my conversations with people I trust, most start with: You have a good thing going for yourself. The company you work for is rock solid financially, so no issue with job security and loss of stable income in these uncertain times in South Africa. You're also operating at the highest level possible for a technologist, the benefits are great, so why are you always so restless?? 
Others also challenge me: You've been saying this for sometime now, so what is stopping you from just taking the leap? You're too comfortable and have become risk-averse. You need to dance to the music now and enjoy life. You only live once, don't create false chains. Your family can adapt.
Some questions I need to really dissect and come to terms with:
  • Why does your work need to be fun, meaningful and contribute to your sense of purpose in life?
    • Is work not just a means-to-an-end that is facilitating the lifestyle you want to live?
    • Can't you just accept work for what it is, but your heart is focused on activities outside of it?
    • Is work not just an enabler that allows you to live the lifestyle you choose?
    • Why can't you do your NGO projects whilst still working in corporate?
    • Can you not hold true to your work commitments, deliver on objectives and keep things alive and stable, isn't it most important to get that guaranteed income without hassle?
    • Is it the right time now, given your age and stage in family life, to disrupt and introduce stress to your family?
      • If you take time off like a sabbatical, are you not going to compromise on the lifestyle benefits your family has gotten used to? 
      • Children need stability and security - why do you need to expose your family to these stresses just because you've not found yourself yet?
      • Why should you cause this stress knowingly on your family?
    • Is it not more important to hold on to the benefits of pension, bonus, stable income & guaranteed security to last you till your retirement age?
    • Is now not the time to fly under the radar and reap the consistent & predictable benefits?
  • The flip-side: You are not serious about the change - you've not settled in your mind and heart, what you should be doing next?
    • You've met your aspirations set 3 years ago. Three years go, you aspired to become a CTO/Head of Tech department, leading a large engineering team, owning a big budget and learning more about what it takes to run a company. You set a goal, and reached it. What's next??
    • Prior to that aspiration, you set yourself another aspiration to be your own boss and work 4-day weeks by consulting. You did this for 4 years and then got plugged into the corporate matrix again as a permanent employee. Now you're complaining about your time being challenged...You met that goal, so what's next??
  • What is your greatest fear??
  • Are you just too comfortable and not willing to risk??
  • Why is it so important to have a job that contributes to some bigger purpose in life? You've spent 20 years in TV Software, isn't TV a rewarding experience? You're working for the biggest TV company on the African continent. You're building software no one else is doing in Africa, by local Africans! You're innovating with latest software trends, and have enormous freedom and trust, you own a very large budget. Why do you want to explore other areas? Are seriously not happy?
    • You're helping people in Africa find relaxation and enjoyment (through entertaining and informing) at the end of hard day's grind. Is this not good enough as a value?

So then, what's next on my career aspirations horizon??

Given that my value system does not have my job/career as highest priority in my life, the tendency for safety and comfort of stability is very appealing, given my stage of life right now. On the other hand, having said that, I've never really been one to stand still, which is why I go through cyclical periods of restlessness. So when I've accomplished something, reached major milestones, and learnt lessons and believe I reached the stage of "bagging it, another feather in my cap", I tend to move on. Trouble is that options get limited the higher one climbs the corporate ladder or as one gets past age of forty when it comes to relocating to other countries...

From a purely personal individual standpoint, my ultimate aspiration is this:
  • I would like to retire from corporate life by the age of 50, so that I can contribute to more meaningful streams, such as NGOs & non-profits. To do this, I need to reach a stage of financial independence, but not necessarily completely free, but bring in enough income to get by without struggling. 
  • What is clear to me is that I don't want to be in corporate world post the age of 50, spending the rest of my life on good causes focused on improving human life & society, be it NGO/NPO or even a SocialTech or HealthTech venture.
This then leaves me with 8 more years in corporate.
Given that I've spent 20 years already working in just one domain: Digital TV Software, I'm not so sure I want to spend the remainder of my work life in the same domain, need to branch out. 

Options worth exploring
  • Group CTO or CIO role - I believe I'm on the track to do this, but I can't wait for longer than one more year, but opportunities don't currently exist in my current employ. It would be much easier to maintain this role in the current domain where I'm a SME, instead of branching out. There's not much happening in South Africa though.
  • Expand into two areas I've not yet tapped into in Digital TV:
    • Security, Encryption & Anti-piracy software - No real opportunity in South Africa and I'm not that serious about a major relocation to another country yet, although I feel like the next decade should be spent in another country like maybe Canada?
    • Enterprise IT Systems: Your SAP/CRM/Billing/Payment stacks - The next best thing that could be used as stepping stone into Group CTO/CIO role, although I've maintained a strong bias against putting lego blocks together for such IT systems, I had preferred under-the-hood builds, but I see now this might be the only way out.
  • I need to also be open to opportunities in new areas - since 8 years is plenty time to experience at least two new domains (these are interconnected, so maybe find one company like Irdeto perhaps who happen to be part of the current corporate?):
    • Health Tech - I'm into wellness & overall personal mental health improvement. I believe we're missing the ultimate digital personal assistant - focus on AI/ML that provides a true, 360 degree personal assistant, aimed at wellness improvements.
    • Connected devices / IOT - Building Security, encryption & antifragile systems would be a very worthwhile experience. It is a future that will always remain relevant as a technology domain. This however means leaving South Africa.
    • Cloud Technologies - Jump aboard the AWS, Microsoft Azure, GCP ship and ride this wave until retirement. This could potentially mean a step-down from the senior position I currently enjoy and start a level or two down. Limited options in South Africa though.
  • I also need to be prepared for an NGO opportunity that could present itself anytime. Why would I not entertain the idea, why should I wait until I'm 50?

Options Options Options?
Decisions, Decisions, Decision?
Tipping Point or Watershed Moment?
Oh, what will 2020 bring forth?


  1. Lovely insight on how to make informed life changing decisions Mo. I've applied something simpler with Finance Management, but it became too time consuming. Can you share the tools you used to track and report on your plan, eg. Was it Harvest that you used for Time Management/tracking. Also, were any of these automated or did you set aside time to review you personal KPIs weekly? One more thing I found interesting in a video by Dan Lok ( where is mentions change you business to adapt to your lifestyle but don't separate business and personal life. I believe it depends on the circumstances (eg. a doctor cannot bring home the depression of losing a patient), but RAGE will help apply structure to the way one makes decisions and achieves their personal goals.

    1. Thanks Justin. Agree it is does not make sense to draw a clear separation between life and work, in some cases it is possible though. I am no longer at that stage where a separation exists, instead I focus more on integrated harmony. I still track my time because that's the quantifiable metric I can use that's an indicator for "Am I spending my time in the right area?" I don't want to over index on one stream at the expense of the other. Focusing too much on work for example can have damaging consequences to one's health and well-being, and impact family. I've seen a few a cases where marriages fail because of relationship neglect because of excessive work hours.

      I still use Harvest for time tracking. Nothing is automated yet, I wanted to write an app that does all of this for me, still on my backlog! What I have been looking at though is connect my harvest data to an analytics tool to publish dashboards automatically. Until that's done, I review my personas every quarter where I update my scorecard, and adjust my aspirations to align with the current reality better, or tweak the goals to match realistic expectations. This is across all streams, not just professional.

      Happy to chat further :-)