Annual Review 2011 - A Turning in Life

Posted on December 31, 2011

2011 is a turning corner of my life. Straying away from my Economics background, I started learning web design and development from scratch and ended up with a result better than my expectation.


On March 14th, I made a presentation at Barcamp Shanghai talking about what hinders adult learning and I met Peter and later the whole TEDxFiveStarSquare(TEDxFSS) team.

On May 15th, I created the site of TEDxFSS and designed the banner, poster and screen for this event. This solidates my confidence to deliver work of design and development.

On June 7th, I started the Napos project at Eleme and later I joined the team and took charge of UI design and frontend development.

On August 21th, I made a speech at TEDxYouth Westlake about making a change in your life.

Excerpt of 2011

TEDxFiveStarSquare Logo I expected one year preparation before I could deliver qualified projects. But the first website was accomplished after five months of learning. I built the website of TEDxFSS and later contributed to the design of the whole event. With the help of a great team, we pull off the only one TEDx Event this year in Shanghai.

After that, I joined in a start-up company and created a webapp for restaurants and contributed to the new website redesign and later led the frontend development.

Thanks to the people I worked with, I also have fallen in love with Unix and learned to setup various backend service. A summary on technology learned will cover this geeky issue.

The progress is mostly due to the personal management system I have developed to manage my times and goals. In 2011, I recorded 7.58 hours and worked with focus for 4.18 hours everyday.

However in other aspects, things haven’t worked out as expected. Due to my work in the second half year, English learning have been paused and travel plan to Southern Asia was canceled. Besides I have been suffering from anxieties from time to time and getting up early still eludes me.

From the ups and downs of 2011, I learned a lot lessons and I am thinking about moving forward.

A More Close Look at 2011

English Writing

The biggest achievement for English study is that I have developed a memorizing system with Supermemo methodology for learning. I collected sentences and words from my reading and quoted the detailed explanation in that context from dictionaries. Later this collection was transformed into Supermemo items (with the format of xml) through a script. The Supermemo software then took care of the repetition plans.

Through out the year, I have remembered 2151 sentences, 1412 Nouns, 441 oral phrases and 2477 words spelling.

The repetition plans are calculated according to the supermemo algorithm which makes sure I will remember what I have learned. The learning effort becomes accumulative.

Although working out well, the performance still fell short of the goals as I had paused learning new words in the 2nd half year due to my work. A initial habit breaking in June finally led to a permanent stop. In November, I had more than 3000 drills need to be caught up with.

For the same reason, I also missed the goals for English reading and writing.

I planned to write 15 publishable articles (20,000 words) but I only ended up in only one and some drafts. I also missed the goal to finish 10 non-tech English books. There were about ten books I have opened this year but I didn’t finish all of them.

  • Hermann Hesse - Siddhartha, listened several times with audio version.
  • Rilke - Letters To A Young Poet, read through once.
  • Ernest Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea, read through several times and recited the first 20% of the book.
  • Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, finished Part one
  • Malcolm Gladwell - Outliers -The Story Of Success, listened the audiobook.
  • Malcolm Gladwell - Blink, listened with the audiobook.
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - Flow, read through once
  • Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird, read 50% of all chapters

The biggest achievement is that I have accustomized myself to reading electronic books. I built myself an search-able library and I also customize the great PDF reader with an highlight system to mark while reading. With the notes and comments, I could archive the same reading experience as reading a paper book while gain the ability to search with convenience.

Web Design and Computer Science

I wanted myself to be a “qualified web designer” in the beginning of the year and thanks to my full-time work in the second half year I have exceeded this goal by all means.

I have acquired all the core skills I planned to master - HTML5, CSS, javaScript and created five sites. Besides, I also have switched my workspace to Unix (MacOS and Ubuntu), learned to setup servers (HTTP, SSH etc.), learned basic Ruby scripting and also contributed a little back to the community.

Beyond the details of various technology, I began to form a big picture about the whole “web stack” - how a browser renders to a user based on HTTP response processed by the server. This guide map now provides me a clear clue about what I need to learn in the future.

The part that fell short is the financial income. I began to get incomes in June but I didn’t reach my goals for saving. The reason is that I compromised my salary for expected options. As I left the team, those promise won’t be cashed in. I was also quite inactive on the business side. I didn’t make any effort to negotiate my incomes or look for contract projects.


Although I have processed material and booked three tickets to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, I canceled the itinerary because of work in the second half year.

I set travel the highest priority in the planning, but along the time, I found becoming a good developer and designer motivates me much more than travel. Near the end of year Nancy from ScentLibrary also asked me “Why are you travel?”. It makes me powder my motivation underneath - exploration is just a process not a goal, so what is my ultimate goal of living?

This stunning question provides a clue I need to follow.

Physical Training and Habit

Personal Management System

The corner stone for all my growth is the time management system I invented by combining the methods of GTD, Pomodoro and Lyubishchev. I used GTD method to setup top-down goals and break them down to single tasks. Everyday I cleared my task stack one by one. At last, I recorded and audited my time spending to detect spaces for improvement. I edited the sheet created by Chris@ANOC and I invented my own sheet for weekly and daily planning. You could find the whole toolkit here.

I also did some improvement to this system while I am using it:

  • I add the feature-week and feature-day to ramp up energy for starting some new projects;
  • I separates the hours of working and learning;
  • I wrote down everyday tasks in the beginning of the week;
  • I would use several pomodoros in a row to handle big tasks;
  • I also record normal time spendings.

The lesson learned with this system is:

  • Always start your week with a plan. When you postponed the planning, I have whiled away my time in 78 days.
  • Plan loosely, work hard. In the first several weeks, I packed too much tasks into a week. It overwhelmingly exceeded my capacity and resulted in anxiety and frustration.
  • Leave flexible time with planning. I find there are always some inevitable sporadic events I need to handle.
  • Always motivate yourself. I recorded 1742 hours in the first 30 weeks and only recorded 433 in the later 22. This happens because when I am at work, I cut the time for inspiration. This huge productivity decline is caused by lack of motivation.

Physical Training and Health

I did a bad job in health and training. From January to June, I would swim twice every week and from March I would do 100 push-ups everyday. However the exercise time was still less than the 30 min everyday. This situation was worse in the second half year.

As a result, I began to suffer from aches at shoulder and low backbone. In the end of the year, the pain could even last the whole day and make sitting an discomfortable position.

Another setback in health is my biological clock. The habit of getting up early still eluded me. I was still quite exciting after midnight and I used to work later than 12:00pm since May. The situation got worse when I went to work where I slept later than 2:00am in average. With the shift in sleeping hours, I also have shifted the time I get up - usually 8 hours after I went to bed.

This shift in sleeping hours dispairs my sleeping quality and I felt a decline in endurance and time of focus when I am working.