For 2024, I’ve decided to break my year into quarters for goal-setting and planning purposes. This method is popularly described in The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington. I can’t say I’m doing this the way they describe it in the book, but I got the idea from them. For the first quarter of 2024, I’ve set five objectives, two related to my day job and three personal:
- Build my professional network.
- Improve estimate quality.
- Strengthen my relationships.
- Write more and more publicly.
- Keep on top of my physical and mental wellbeing.
Build my professional network
I’ve found myself in a customer-facing role as a sales engineer, which differs from where I would have guessed I’d be if you asked me ten years ago. I’m naturally more of an introvert, and the soft skills that come with a job in sales are something that I have to work on and deliberately build systems around. Since this is only a quarterly plan, I’ve decided to take it somewhat slow and only set two goals for myself:
- meet face-to-face with at least one key customer per month, and
- attend a networking event and make at least two new contacts.
I am most comfortable behind the scenes, which is not the place for someone who interacts with customers and closes sales. This quarter, I’m trying to get out and meet some of my more critical customers to build a relationship outside of email and the occasional phone call or virtual meeting. The relationship-building/networking side of it is still a mystery to me. I should research how to do it, but putting together a system for small talk to build my professional network feels icky to me. At this point, meeting people in person will be a good start. I have a few meetings scheduled, so this goal is going well so far!
I also want to build my network outside of coworkers and existing customers. To that end, I will look for networking events related to my industry (HVAC, Building Automation) and attend at least one this quarter. I have yet to look into this in-depth, but I know ASHRAE has regular meetings, so that could be an option.
Improve estimate quality
One of my responsibilities at work is to prepare estimates for the installation of Building Management Systems (please excuse the content marketing). These systems can be as simple as a network connection between a desktop PC and the manufacturer’s control panel on an AC or as complicated as a multi-level network of hundreds of devices with a fiber backbone and multiple rack-mounted servers that integrate HVAC, lighting, security, energy monitoring, and other systems. The estimates often have turnaround times of a week or less. It is challenging to balance the detail required to provide an accurate price with the speed needed to get our proposal to the customer by the deadline. I’ve approached this problem in two ways, one during the estimating process and the other for jobs we’ve won and completed.
I want to assemble a bid checklist that I fill out for every bid I put together. It shouldn’t be too detailed. I want it to be something other than a tutorial on estimating a job, just a list of steps one must complete to make the estimate as accurate as possible. I’ve made good progress on this, but it’s still a rough draft. I want to have it as part of the folder template I copy for every new bid so I remember to reference it if I’m in a crunch.
I also want to have a post-mortem review of the estimate as part of the project closeout that our project managers do. We should review the estimate, design, and execution of the project to find any discrepancies and see what needs to change in our estimating process to reduce them. When I was discussing this with my boss, they suggested that I hop on to the project kickoff meetings that design has with the project managers after the design for the job is complete. Here, I could review the design that our engineers put together and see if I accurately estimated the required quantities and costs of the devices. I have yet to have the chance to have a post-mortem or kickoff meeting. Our jobs typically run for months or years, so I’m at the mercy of time for this. I’m also considering having an estimate success metric to measure and track how our estimates are doing over time and see if any changes we make are impactful.
Strengthen personal relationships
This one is the most important to me. Still, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to write about it because it’s hard to think as strategically about this as is possible for my work goals. I don’t want to think too strategically about personal relationships; that could get weird.
I work from home, and my partner is in the middle of getting their Ph.D., so they’re working from home whenever they don’t have class. Since we live in an apartment, we spend most of our days silently working together in the living room (at least until I finish turning our second bedroom into an office—I’m trying to make it pretty, so it’ll take some time!). Spending every day in the same environment for work and leisure makes the days blend. Most of our time together isn’t very high quality, and I want to change that. I want to start doing date nights or unique activities outside our apartment several times a month. We live in NYC, so it won’t be hard to find exciting things to do, I hope!
I also want to strengthen my relationships with my friends. Since middle school, I’ve had the same friend group, with a few additions (mainly partners) and subtractions. Now that we’re older and many of us have moved away from our hometowns, we keep in contact online and meet up in person a few times a year. We’ve always been an online group, between hanging out in chatrooms in high school or playing online games together, so we haven’t had too much trouble transitioning the friend group to “remote first.” However, I’m not always as interactive or present in the group as I’d like to be, and I’d like to have more events where we involve everyone. I started organizing a monthly movie night, where we all vote on a movie to watch and stream together while chatting. This has been going well so far! We also occasionally play multiplayer games, but not everyone enjoys video games, so I like having more options.
Write more; write in public
Growing up, I was always more of a “STEM” person than someone talented in the “arts.” At least, that’s what everyone around me said. I’ve come to dislike this dichotomy; life is not binary like that. I want to explore every avenue open to me. One skill that I regret not working on sooner is my writing. I barely took English classes seriously in school and only did what was required to get an acceptable grade. Now that I’m in my thirties, I want to get better at expressing myself in writing so I can record my life in my own words and spread what I know to others. I don’t think I’ll write a treatise or novel this year, but I can manage a blog post or two. I’m trying to post long-form, high-effort writing (i.e., this post) and short-form notes that I can fire off without as much time commitment.
For long-form writing, I want to write about myself, my goals, travel, projects I’m working on, and whatever else I feel like writing about! I have a short list of ideas I wrote myself and a longer list I made with ChatGPT. I’m still not sure how I feel about generative AI tools, and the topics that ChatGPT came up with aren’t all topics I want to write about, but I still think it was a good resource if only to give my brain an idea of what blog post topics look like.
For my short-form writing goal, I’ve posted various thoughts, images of everyday life, and reactions to other people’s writing. I’ve been using Micro.blog (by Manton Reece). I like the concept of microblogging that Manton writes about in his book, and the community of people over there has been amazing so far! I’ll probably also use Micro.blog to post my long-form writing or, at the very least, have it fed into my timeline.
Physical and mental wellness
During the COVID-19 lockdowns here in New York, I started running again. I come from a family of endurance athletes and even ran cross country in high school (though I could have been better at it). For some reason, it clicked with me this time, and I’ve found a love for running that I thought I never would have. So far, I’ve run a handful of 5Ks, 10Ks, and two half-marathons. I’d like to eventually qualify for and run in either the New York or Boston Marathon. While I rarely have problems getting out the door for my runs—the cold has been testing my discipline lately—I have not been able to get into the habit of taking care of the other aspects of my body and mind. I find myself neglecting to give my strength, flexibility/mobility, and mental health the attention they deserve.
The folks at GMB have a philosophy regarding fitness that resonates with me. They focus on building a long-term, sustainable practice to give yourself physical autonomy. My primary goals with fitness are to support my running and maintain my physical ability as I age; their programs align well with them. To build the habit, I initially had planned on doing a session of their Elements program at least three days a week this quarter, but that already went out the window. They’ve recently started a program called Momentum, specifically focusing on habit-building and restarting after falling off. It hasn’t started yet, but I’ve been looking through the preparatory material and am excited to start! As a note for anyone reading this, the GMB programs cost money. They’re worth it, but for those without the means or even if one doesn’t want to pay for a training program, they have a ton of free information on their website. There are a ton of great communities online (I can suggest the bodyweight fitness subreddit and their recommended routines from personal experience).
Mental health is hard for me to write about, as it’s a very personal topic, and being vulnerable in public isn’t something I make a habit of. I have vague long-term plans around mental health, e.g., be happier, live more intentionally and mindfully, learn to express my emotions more, and so on. For this quarter, though, I will focus more on being mindful and finding quiet time away from the constant barrage of modern life. I’ve been meditating semi-regularly and logging my mood every day. I don’t think this is a bad first step, and I plan on building on it more during the rest of the year.
I was not expecting to write nearly 2,000 words about my goals for the year’s first quarter, but here I am! I also have a private log of these, and I plan to return to both those and this post regularly during the quarter to review how things have been progressing. I’ll also write a follow-up, either standalone or as part of my 2024 Quarter 2 post, that goes over how well I stuck to my plans, what changed, what habits I’m keeping vs. dropping, and anything else interesting during the process.