Goals for 2017

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December 30, 2016

It’s only a few days until 2017, & I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to achieve in 2017. I’ve been mulling over a story from the famous Richard Hamming (emphasis mine):

Richard Hamming

And I started asking, “What are the important problems of your field?” And after a week or so, “What important problems are you working on?” And after some more time I came in one day and said, “If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?”

In the fall, Dave McCall stopped me in the hall and said, “Hamming, that remark of yours got underneath my skin. I thought about it all summer, i.e. what were the important problems in my field. I haven’t changed my research,” he says, “but I think it was well worthwhile.” And I said, “Thank you Dave,” and went on. I noticed a couple of months later he was made the head of the department. I noticed the other day he was a Member of the National Academy of Engineering. I noticed he has succeeded. I have never heard the names of any of the other fellows at that table mentioned in science and scientific circles. They were unable to ask themselves, “What are the important problems in my field?”


So what are my ‘fields’, in life? In alphabetical order:


That’s quite a lot to have going on at one time. I figured I’d narrow down the ‘most important problem’, or in most cases ‘greatest opportunity for improvement’ in each area. They wound up being (again in alphabetical order):

Most of those goals incorporate their own measures, except for family life. I’ll have to rely on frequent feedback from my wife and the children, as well as regular reflection, to know whether I’m hitting that goal.


From time to time, fields will collide, and I’ll be forced to prioritise them. Here’s the priority I’ve decided on, in descending order:

  1. family
  2. health
  3. animal husbandry
  4. finance
  5. homeowner
  6. profession
  7. hacking
  8. motorcycling
  9. music


As with everything else, I’ll organise the above using org-mode. I have a rough routine in mind for weekdays:

… where “project work” will often be “an evening with my wife, or other friends and family”, and occasionally be “catching up on sleep” :)

This gives me two and a half hours a night for working on the above goals (except for professional goals; those are worked on during office hours).

Mostly I’ll work ad-hoc (based on convenience, motivation and external dependencies) but Tuesdays and Thursdays will be spent in part on exercise.

Weekends will be much more ad-hoc, based around family activities. But I plan to:


I plan to work out using a modified (watered down!) version of the SFAS selection training routine. Specifically: only two days per week (Tuesdays, Thursdays), and no running or forced marches.

I’ll be setting up my old weight bench outside, for easier work with dumbbells.


To achieve my weight loss goals quickly and easily, I plan to fast three out of seven days as per the 5:2 diet. Fast days will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday - with Friday being dropped if necessary for family dinners etc. Also, there’ll be no fasting on days when I’m feeling unwell, or particularly tired.

Once my weight is to where I want it to be, I’ll reduce the number of fasting days per week for maintenance.