Side Project — Part 2 … What?

I knew why. Now the question was, what to build?

Chris Nicol
6 min readJul 30, 2017

My previous post covered how I needed to build something that had a purpose. How I had come up with a simple problem and through rethinking it as an outcome rather than merely a problem, I had a desired outcome to work towards.

If you’d like to you can read Part One, but it’s not necessary.

If the first post defined the gap that existed — the why, then the project needs to be built. This post will attempt to define what it is that I need to build and how I came to that solution. As part of defining the gap, the previous post also defined how the world should look after the solution is implemented — the desired outcome.

Desired outcome — When on my computer I have a behaviour of consistently focusing on what is most important to achieve my goals

With this desired outcome, the main goal of my next task was to define the behaviours that I wanted to influence. Which behaviours could I change and improve to move me closer to achieving my goal?

There are many formulas out there for creating and shaping behaviours. Most of them point to the first step in the process as a cue that triggers some type of action. The cue or trigger are the concepts I wanted to focus on. There are some great books out there on habit forming if you’re interested, here are my favourites.

  1. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  2. Drive by Daniel Pink
  3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  4. and many, many more …

Knowing that I wanted to cue or trigger actions to shape my behaviours just left the question of which behaviours to focus on. I needed to understand the routine I had today and the routine or behaviours that I wanted in the future. Effectively, I needed to interview myself. Like any customer, I couldn’t just take my word for it. I needed to dive into the deeper meaning behind what my immediate thoughts were.

I wanted to understand the following:

  1. What routines did I have today?
  2. What worked well and what didn’t about these routines?
  3. What did I think I wanted to change, how did I view my future daily routine?
  4. What values were important to me?

The result of this process were four key areas that I wanted to focus on improving or changing my behaviour around.

  • Appointments
  • Tasks
  • Reading


These days, like many Product Managers, I have a lot of appointments. Meetings, interviews, deadlines, reminders and more. Like most people, my day is full of specific times that require my attention.

In my routine today, I relied on notifications from Outlook, Fantastical and my phone to prompt me. Outlook is my typical source of appointments throughout the day at work. Fantastical brings together all my work (startup and iQmetrix) and my personal schedule. I also have reminders that could be stored in either Apple reminders or todoist.

Notifications, especially on my phone, work very well. So do the various ways that I can create and modify appointments. What doesn’t work well is how regularly I view my calendar. I get reminders ~15 minutes before an appointment but I only really review my calendar when I book something or am doing my weekly GTD review. The less often I review my calendar, the less I know what appointments are coming that day.

The thing that I wanted to change was the ease of seeing my upcoming appointments. I wanted to be able to quickly glance at what was next. I also wanted to have a simple flat calendar that I could easily reference.

As I looked at the values I had when it comes to appointments I realized what I cared most about was being ready for them. The more I know what is coming throughout a day the more preparation I am able to do. It was clear that the behaviour I wanted to improve is have a clear sense of what the day’s appointments are so that I could be as prepared as possible.


I’ve been an avid GTD’er for years now. In some form or another it’s been a part of my daily and weekly routine. Currently I’m using todoist to manage my projects and tasks. I have a bunch of different places that I consider “inboxes”, but ultimately my next actions end up in todoist.

A lot is working well with my tasks. Capturing and reviewing tasks in todoist works great. I have a number of different inboxes, but a good habit of reviewing those twice daily to update my overall todoist project list. My process around a weekly review is also working well for me.

I’m currently using a new tab extension that shows my today view, but the extension is lacking in some key functionality. What I really want to change around tasks is to keep that “today view” but have it wrapped in a new tab extension that functions correctly for me.

The value that’s most important to me when it comes to tasks is executing on them. There is a lot that I want to accomplish on any given day, both personally and for work. Focusing on simply completing the most important next action has delivered success for me in the past.

What I wanted to trigger was a consistent reminder of what task I should be focused on. To see a list of my next actions each time I open a new tab would help trigger this behaviour that has delivered so much success for me in the past and present.


Reading is a huge part of what drives my work and career. As a Product Manager you need to have an insatiable appetite for information. A huge part of my reading is articles in the field my project is in, on Product Management, design and tech in general. It also encompasses all the reading I need to do around pull requests, stories, epics, write-ups and notes from meetings. Reading is a huge part of my day.

My list of reading comes from so many sources, but to simplify things I send almost everything to Pocket. It’s a great reader and always me to not only sync my reading across devices (including my Kindle), but also to quickly capture things to read later.

When I thought about reading, the biggest thing that I wanted to change was removing the distractions of this content heavy interweb. I’m just like many other people that find eye catching headlines, listicles and the like more appealing than the five page write someone has done on frameworks for automated testing in JS. The thing I wanted to have was more focus on the important things I should be reading.

When I thought more about this, I realized that at a deeper level one source for procrastination or falling for these distractions was seeded in the overwhelming volume of content that I want to consume on a daily basis.

When it came to reading I needed something that would promote the content I wanted to read, reducing the sense of volume that was insurmountable and that would help improve my habit of daily reading.

Building blocks

I know why I’m building this project, what problem I’m trying to solve and what I want the outcome of the solution to bring. I also know what I need to build. I have three clear areas that I want to impact. I’ve taken the time to understand my user and the needs and values I’m trying to solve for.

Next up is HOW …

Design outline … next chapter the actual design

This is part two of a series on my side project during my sabbatical. To catch the next chapter, follow me on Medium.

If you enjoyed reading this please repeatedly smash that clapper below 🤙