Wednesday, January 26, 2011


My character flaws are like grains of sand at the beach - too numerous to count. Like my sweet tooth. Pepperidge Farm's double chocolate Milano is a special weakness. Do they lace those things with crack cocaine? I think they must have hired the chemists from the tobacco companies who specialize in keeping users addicted. They probably got a sweet rate for their trouble, too.

Did I mention my awful sense of humor?

But one of my very worst traits is my procrastination and laziness.

I had a sad reminder of that this morning. The Taking Care Center where I swim is in the basement of a building across the street from where I work, two floors below street level. I had a very nice swim, during which time I played "stroke golf" to measure my efficiency and speed, did a set of 5x100 IM, and finished with a 1x200 kick with board set that left my poor hips tired and sore. I showered, dressed, and put my stuff back in my locker before trudging up four flights of stairs to get back to street level.

For some reason a memory popped into my head while I was walking. I found myself back in the insurance industry after I left Kaman Aerospace for The Hartford in Jan 2005. Soon after I arrived I had a good idea. The engineering education that I received left me with a wealth of mathematical knowledge that was lying fallow since I left engineering back in 1995. But actuaries are the lifeblood of the insurance industry. Why not leverage something that I already had in this new field? At worst, it would improve my industry knowledge and make me a better developer. At best, it could become a new career path in case I needed one.

I contacted the head of the actuarial program at The Hartford and went so far as to order study guides for the first two actuarial exams. I found out right away that my knowledge was long on calculus of continuous functions and physics, but short on discrete math, statistics, and probability. I had a lot of work ahead of me to refresh my memory of the things I used to know and to fill in the gaps in my background by learning the new material.

As I trudged up those stairs this morning, I realized that six years have passed and I've made no progress whatsoever towards achieving this goal.

The thought depressed me terribly.

Six whole years gone by. It seemed daunting at the time, but if I'd been able to summon the energy and dedication to make a little progress every day I would have been able to get through it in spades. A long, steady accumulation of small steps does the trick every time.

How do you make something like this happen? There are lots of technical topics that I want to master (Python, Android, jQuery) and books to get through ("The Algorithm Design Manual", John C. Hull's derivatives and options text, etc.), but my efforts are too scattered, diffuse, and sporadic.

I could take the Nike approach - "Just Do It" - but that hasn't worked so far.

I've had great success in my fitness life with tracking. Just the act of writing it down and seeing progress helps. But what to write? Problems completed? Chapters read? What's the metric that I should track? My new One Hundred Push-ups regimen not only has the counting metric going for it, but it also mandates a Mon-Wed-Fri weekly schedule.

What's standing in my way besides my natural laziness?

The Internet isn't helping me. StackOverflow, Facebook, StumbleUpon - all are time sinks. I need to kill my television. It's like the hearth in my house - it's always on. It's too easy for me to surf over to a Celtics game and become an anti-athlete. I love the game, and know it well from a youth misspent trying to master it, but it's been years since I played myself. When did watching others do things become a worthy use of my precious time?

Seneca's "On The Shortness Of Life" says it best:

It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.

I'm desperate for a plan. How can I fix this?

profile for duffymo at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

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