5 min read

A strategy for April

A strategy for April
Photo by Anastasia Petrova / Unsplash

Lately I've been feeling a little disorganized. I decided to visit a new coffee shop today to reflect on where I need to focus my attention and regain stability.

At work, I've been thinking a lot about writing an engineering strategy, and came across Will Larson's post "Writing an Engineering Strategy." I found this framework useful not only for writing engineering strategy, but also for putting together a strategy for my own life. It draws from Richard Rumelt’s book, "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy," which defines strategy as having 3 parts:

1. Diagnosis: a theory describing the nature of the challenge. This is trying to identify the root cause(s) at play, for example, “high work-in-progress is preventing us from finishing any tasks, so we are increasingly behind each sprint” might be a good diagnosis

2. Guiding policies: the approaches you’ll apply to grapple with the challenge. Guiding policies are typically going to be implicit or explicit tradeoffs. For example, a guiding policy might be “only hire for most urgent team, do not spread hires across all teams.” If a guiding policy doesn’t imply a tradeoff, you should be suspicious of it (e.g. “working harder to get it done” isn’t really a guiding policy)

3. Coherent actions: a set of specific actions directed by guiding policy to address challenge. This is the most important part, and I think the most exciting part, because it clarifies that a strategy is only meaningful if it leads to aligned action


In diagnosing my issues, I like to think of myself as a computer affected by both hardware (physical health) and software (mental and emotional well-being).

Hardware to me is about operating my body and how well I am doing physically. In evaluating my hardware, I'll diagnose 3 key components: eating, sleeping, exercising:

  • Eating: I've been neglecting healthy eating habits since around last October, due to family and work obligations. I would prefer to eat more salads and vegetables. Instead I've been eating a lot of takeout and frozen meals.
  • Sleeping: My sleep pattern shifted when my workout schedule changed, and this has led to inconsistent bedtime habits. I used to have a consistent routine of waking up at 6:45am, and hitting the gym by 8am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays to train with Genaro. Nowadays, I usually don't have to be at my first meeting until noon.
  • Exercising: I've maintained consistency running 1-2 times a week and strength training twice a week. There is room for improvement with running more frequently leading up to my marathon in November.

Software to me is about operating my mind and how well I am doing mentally and emotionally. In evaluating my software, I like to check if I am at risk of burnout for overexertion, depletion, or misalignment:

  • Overexertion burnout stems from having too much to do, and I do feel like I'm at risk of it. Part of this stems from having so much activity at work, I find it hard for my brain to shutdown. Another reason is because I feel like I am drowning in random tasks and errands at home, and I keep letting things drop.
  • Depletion burnout results from not recharging properly, and I've recognized signs creeping in. I've noticed this particularly when I find myself binge-watching hours of television, which exacerbates the issue of already having too much screen time during the work day. Instead, I could be spending that time on activities like going for a walk, socializing with friends, or engaging in other more rejuvenating pursuits around Manhattan.
  • Misalignment burnout comes from doing too many things that don't bring you joy or meaning. This has been the one that has weighed on me the most. I've noticed a significant decline in activities I genuinely enjoy, such as writing long posts on the View from JQ, coding and working through technical problems, or sitting at dinner for hours with my friends. I think this decline comes from feeling overwhelmed by my day-to-day responsibilities, and in trying to take care of my life, I'm automating away a lot of the fun.

Guiding Policy

Here are my ideas of guiding policies to solve for these constraints:

  • To incorporate healthier choices into my daily routine, I will eat vegetables everyday at lunch. When at the office, I'll grab food from the salad bar, before considering other options. To ensure we have food at home, James and I will make a meal plan on Sundays, followed by grocery shopping on Mondays and Wednesdays to keep our fridge stocked with options.
  • To develop a better bedtime routine, I will end my day by reading a book in bed. I used to keep an index card, a book, and a bookmark next to my bed, and it was a great way to automatically read more.
  • To better manage my home errands, I will block off time on my calendar to get them done. Often, these tasks are challenging because they must be completed during business hours. Given my flexible schedule and tendency to work beyond the typical 8-hour day, my plan is to allocate a two-hour slot each week specifically for errands, so that I can more proactively address them.
  • To stay on top of my to-do list, I will review my index cards every morning while I drink my coffee. I will also collect them at the end of my workday, and put them in the same spot for review in the morning.
  • To recharge better, I will leave my house everyday. Particularly when I'm working from home, it is easy to just go from one screen to the next, without really moving.
  • To create space for doing the work that brings me joy, I will designate blocks on my calendar. I plan to block off Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings for reading documents, Wednesday mornings for writing more, and Sundays for coding. Most importantly, I plan to treat these blocks as sacred, as opposed to thinking of them as optional or a block of free time to schedule other stuff into.

One-Time Actions

Some of these guiding policies need a specific one-time action to implement:

  • Grocery shopping: make a base list of things I always want to have in my fridge
  • Reading: make a list of books I want to read, and leave a book, bookmark, index-card, and pen on my nightstand
  • Calendar: block off time for errands, reading, writing, and coding; leave a note to self that these are sacred blocks that can't be scheduled over
  • To-do list: gather all of my index cards in one place
  • Recharge: make a list of fun things to do in NYC that I can easily choose from

I'll be in Las Vegas starting tomorrow, so it isn't the best time to start on executing this strategy. However, I figure that writing down my intentions is a good starting point. Rather than hoping for change, this plan is here so that this time it'll actually be different.