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[swyx.io] When You Stop Counting

[swyx.io] When You Stop Counting
By swyx • Issue #5 • View online
Hello to all the new subscribers from HN!
I’ve been busy at KubeCon and polishing up our TypeScript SDK at work (recently teased as “React for the Backend”).
Last week I also blogged about “100 bytes of CSS to look great everywhere” which got a surprising response - usual engagement rates for me are 2-5%, whereas this one got 21%.
  • Developers really like looking at code snippets, what can I say!
  • My other blogging tip is that when you see a previously-popular blogpost go missing, esp one that you were looking up, you can come in with your version and mop up a bunch of SEO juice/adopt an already proven format. This is known as broken link building.
The unnamed YouTube podcast is still going strong. I released the Gatsby conversation last week, and have recorded another two with Lee Robinson of Next.js and Adam Argyle of CSS/Chrome.
I’m almost done with this year’s conferences. I’m the last speaker at React India (remote) next month and then will be hosting a watch party for the 4th Svelte Summit in NYC (signup here).

Good Reads
  • TL;DR: Decentralization is intangible (global, and indirect) and most people don’t care about it. You really care about risk exposure and the mitigation for that in crypto is surprisingly traditional: reputation and skin in the game.
  • Why Read: Haseeb is both an excellent writer (you may remember him from his posts on negotiation) and well regarded crypto VC (his post on AMMs is recommended by virtually everyone)
On Solitude, by Erik Torenberg
  • TL;DR: The benefits of a “solitude practice” and Erik’s personal experience of it.
  • Why Read: Erik is founder of On Deck, and this piece is being compared to the techbro equivalent of Deresiewicz’s Solitude and Leadership. I have always disliked meditating, but solitude feels like an acceptable alternative for me (and so is writing this newsletter!) I think you can also experience similar benefits going for long walks/hikes.
  • TL;DR: Use bracket pair lengths instead of absolute start/end positions so that update time is O(log3 N) instead of O(N) per edit.
  • Why Read: The VS Code team sherlocked a popular third party extension and used it as an excuse to go ham on AST traversal algorithms, including rebalancing and unclosed pair discussion. VS Code users may also like indent-rainbow.
Fun Pick
Academic Job Market or Squid Game? - McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
Reflection: When You Stop Counting
It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.- Harry Truman
This week I posted the 200th episode of my personal mixtape. More importantly, I didn’t actually know until I looked it up. When I crossed 100 episodes in May I made a big deal out of it. Now, it’s just Tuesday.
what i see from my end
what i see from my end
I check my analytics once a month, more out of curiosity than anything else. It’s trending up, but I don’t remember what the numbers are apart from rough order of magnitude.
Here’s an extreme, and hilarious, example of what happens when you let numbers rule your life (3 min video):
New Live Poll Lets Pundits Pander To Viewers In Real Time
You laugh, but how much of how you create and work are just lower frequency versions of what happened in that Onion video? If I completely removed any way to measure what you did, does your work become meaningless to you/your employer?
(Aside: a philosophically similar version of this question is the common one: “What would you do with your life if you didn’t need money?” This merely replaces views, likes, followers, downloads, and conversion rates with cash, but the idea is the same - pushing you to have a deeper purpose, more fundamental guiding principles)
Because I avoid checking my stats, my work remains very personal - the only person I really need to make happy is me.
  • I take more liberties and risks
  • I take time off with no guilt
  • I don’t bother with beginner content that would get the most numbers but that wouldn’t benefit me
  • I remember what I do better because I am more driven by what I want than what I think my audience wants
  • I build extremely strong loyalty in a small niche that “gets” me rather than milquetoast recognition by everyone
There’s no jealousy: I have no idea how I’m doing compared to my peers. (If you find your unique you will be peerless.)
There’s no goal anxiety: I have no year end target, I don’t have a plan for what I want to be when I grow up. (If you don’t have goals you can’t freak out about not meeting them)
What I do know is that I’m learning what I enjoy and what “works”, from week to week, month to month:
  • Write ~1 blogpost a week
  • Produce ~5 mixtapes a week
  • Post YouTube videos when I can
  • Say yes to most talks and podcast requests
  • Keep a small circle of concern (inline with tech strategy)
  • Pay attention to what people ask
  • Experiment and always push myself
What I’m basically advocating is a simple form of Systems over Goals. I’ve just seen too many people start from overly ambitious goals and just completely forget them in 3 months. You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems (a brilliant James Clear quote).
To be clear, I’m not anti-goals. I’ve advocated for goals-with-systems before. I’m anti-“goals that devalue the creative process”. And I’m not anti-metrics, I’m anti-“creating with metrics as the primary purpose of creating”. I’m especially anti-“too many metrics”. It is not merely unhelpful (there’s no point changing any part of my process whether my stats take a sudden dive or spike), but often self-defeating, as readers and subscribers can sense when you lose your “soul” and your metrics suffer anyway despite you making it priority numero uno.
Another form of goals/metrics you see a lot is in “streaking” — counting how many days you do a thing and sharing it in public. It is very popular to tweet about #100DaysOfCode, or #Ship30for30, or #Tweet30. You see a lot of energy from these bright eyed bushy tailed people eager to change their lives. I’ll never discourage them from trying, but people who start like this don’t stick to it after.
The best way to get good at something is to do it for a very long time. This goes beyond a simple sprint; it is behavior change, and the only form of sticky behavior change is identity change.
Someone who is something doesn’t bother count how much they do the thing. Church members aren’t counting how often they go to church. People in a marriage don’t (shouldn’t) tally up how much one gives to the other. Healthy eaters don’t count calories, they just eat healthy. Likewise, you have to make the transition from “Yay I wrote an essay 30 days in a row give me your likes!” to “I am a person who writes”.
Identity doesn’t keep Count.
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By swyx

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