I'm Ryan Waggoner. I build things. I blog about how to work harder and smarter to build the life you want. You should subscribe.

Why I’m not doing annual goals anymore (hint: it doesn’t work)

Posted in Goals, Habits, Posts by

I used to set annual goals (aka New Year’s Resolutions), but like so many others, I typically didn’t accomplish them. So I do a couple things differently now:

1. Break the year into smaller chunks (quarters and months) and do things around those timeframes

For example, I set quarterly goals for a few different areas of my life, like income, or finish a particular phase of a project, etc. The 12 Week Year and Pick Four are both good resources for this.

I also have started doing habit and one-off goals per month. So for 2015, every month I’m doing a set of one positive habits (do something every day), one negative habit (don’t do something at all), and one new experience.

For example, during January I meditated every day (positive habit), abstained from alcohol (negative habit), and tried out cryotherapy (experience). I’ll write up a separate post tomorrow on the monthly habits and experiences, and an overview of how Jan went and what I’m doing for February.

The only exception I can really think of right now is that I have a goal to read 100 books this year (more on this later). I probably should break that down to 25 books per quarter or 8-9 books per month though.

2. Focus my efforts on habits and systems over goals.

This helps me to focus my energy and attention on what’s actionable today, rather than something months away. I do still set some goals, but mainly as a way to calibrate my habits and systems.

So what’s the best way to figure out realistic goals and habits that fit together?

It depends on the topic, but I use one of two methods for goal-setting and habit formation:

Habit first: I look at the progress I’m making with current habits and the trend I’m currently on, and I extrapolate out from there to figure out what a realistic target goal is.

I’ll also typically add bit to the goal so I have to push myself. So if I’m reading an hour a day as a habit, and the books I typically read take 8 hours to finish, that’s ~3 books per month, depending on whether I do that habit on weekends. So I might set a quarterly goal of 10 or 12 books, instead of the nine that my current habit would predict.

Goal first: I look at where I want to be by a particular timeframe and then figure out what I need to do on a daily basis as a habit to reach that goal.

Which I use really depends on the subject. Sometimes I want to accomplish something by a particular date because of other things going on in my life, and I’d use the goal-first method. Mostly I think it’s a good idea to use the habit-first method, as it’s easier to nudge what you’re already doing into better performance than to overhaul everything all at once to meet some lofty goals. Although some things do require you to go cold turkey, so I guess there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule :)

But regardless of which method I use, I do a sanity-check with the opposite method. So if I’m wanting to read 25 books per quarter and I back that out to be 2 books per week, but my current reading habits have me reading a book every other month, I need to be thoughtful about whether I can shift my habits to the degree required to reach my goal.

Sadly, I’ve gotten out of the habit of keeping written goals, and that’s a terrible shortcoming. I think I focused so much on written goals back when I was setting annual goals that I basically got discouraged and felt that written goals weren’t worth focusing on. But in retrospect, I definitely feel that I should be tracking all my goals and habits in one place. I do track my habits, but I’ll be adding my goals to that list as well.

I’d love to hear from you what goals, systems, habits, etc. have worked (or not worked) for you in the past and what you’re doing these days.



The most common failure mode is failing to show up

Posted in Achievement, Goals, Habits, Posts by

Lately, I’ve been worried about one of my projects and whether it is going to be able to provide enough revenue to be viable. I’ve been worrying that I haven’t yet found the right combination of things to do in order to make it all work. Here’s the thing though: I haven’t tried the combinations I have thought of. This project is failing, but it’s not failing because I’m doing the wrong things. It’s failing because I’m not doing anything.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” -Woody Allen

This is something I know, but I forget it constantly. Let me give you a few more examples:

  1. I put off hiring a virtual assistant for forever because I worried that I wouldn’t be able to manage one very well, or that I’d have to put more time into thinking about it than it would save me.
  2. I put off getting back into fitness in a serious way because I worried that I didn’t have the right workout plan.
  3. I put off getting serious about my consulting career because I didn’t think that I’d be able to get the types of gigs that I wanted.
  4. I put off restarting my blogging after taking some time off because I wasn’t sure how it fit into my overall personal brand.
  5. I put off building and selling iOS apps of my own because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make a decent return on my investment.

These are just a few examples from the past few years. I’ve bit the bullet and done all of the above, and most have worked out far better than I expected:

  1. I recently started using a VA service called FancyHands (affiliate link) and so far it’s been great. I’ve had to put a little thought into what I can pass to them, the best way to do it, etc, but so far it’s been a positive experience.
  2. My fitness always goes in cycles where I do well for a few months then not as well for a couple months, etc. I’m working on that, but my periods where I do well almost always start with me going to the gym for a few days and just screwing around, doing whatever exercises I feel like doing, etc. It’s not efficient or effective in terms of the workout, but it starts the momentum and then I gradually get my routine figured out and I’m off to the races.
  3. I should write several posts on my consulting career, but a couple years ago I started getting serious about it in terms of beefing up my skills, charging more, and focusing on my lead pipeline. The results have been amazing, and I’m grateful to have a host of awesome clients. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it like I never have.
  4. Just like with the gym, I tend to go in cycles with my blogging. But my posts are always rough and painful when I start again after a long absence. I have trouble coming up with ideas and the writing just feels like a chore. But after a few weeks, I see blog post ideas everywhere, in many day-to-day conversations and experiences. It’s hard to explain, but the whole thing just starts to flow.
  5. On the iOS apps, it turns out I was right to hesitate. I put out a simple app earlier this year, just a toy really, but after that experience, listening to other people selling apps, and looking at how much I make as an iOS contract developer, I’m pretty sure that I won’t be releasing any more iOS apps of my own. Live and learn.

So not all have worked out (yet), but most have. But none of them worked out right away. They all took me showing up and working at it for awhile.

Get momentum, then refine

Momentum is powerful. Call it habit, whatever, but bottom line: it’s easier to keep moving than to start moving.

The easiest thing you can do today is nothing. The second easiest thing you can is planning to do something later. They’re both about as useful. If anything, planning is more dangerous because it makes you feel like you’re making forward progress, but you’re really not.

Do something. Even if it’s the wrong thing, just do something. It might not be as wrong as you think, and if it is, you can adjust and do better next time.



2012 Prediction: an A-list director will fund a film on Kickstarter

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Inspiration, Posts, Social Media, Technology by

Here’s my prediction: sometime in 2012, an A-list film director will successfully fund a feature film using Kickstarter.

Kickstarter’s time has come. If you haven’t heard of Kickstarter, you’re about to. If you have, you’ll still find this interesting.


Kickstarter was launched in 2008 as a “crowdfunding” site and it works like this:

Someone who wants to create something (like a film, book, physical gadget, or website) creates a fundraising project. Every project has a deadline and a minimum funding amount, like $25,000. And then the project creator creates a number of pledge amount options ($5, $10, $50, $100, etc) and a prize that goes along with each one (like a t-shirt).

People who want to see that thing be created can pledge those different amounts and if the minimum fundraising goal is reached, their credit cards are charged and they get the prize that corresponds to that pledge level. If they don’t hit the minimum by the deadline, no one gets charged anything.

Pretty simple.

What’s odd is that this actually works. Really, really well. Since they launched, something like 50,000 projects have been launched on Kickstarter, and almost half have been successfully funded. And we’re not talking small numbers either; of the 27k projects launched in 2011, the average pledges collected per project was about $3600.

More on the stats here.

And then you have the monster projects, some of which have raised hundreds of thousands. You can see a list of those here.

So clearly Kickstarter is a really cool way for people to get money for their creative projects. But it’s about to become a lot more.

Two very significant milestones for Kickstarter came last week. The first is that one of their projects passed $1mm in pledges. A product designer put together an amazing iPhone dock and basically sold tens of thousands of pre-orders. Pretty unbelieveable.

But the bigger milestone came when veteran game designer Tim Schafer posted a fundraising project for his new game, Double Fine Adventure. He was trying to raise $400k in 35 days or something.

Instead he hit that $400k in about 8 hours. And the pledges just kept rolling in, hitting $1mm in less than 24 hours. As I write this, it’s at $1.77mm with 27 days left to go. More than 50,000 people have backed the project so far. I fully expect the media will pick this up in the next few days and the project will easily pass $2mm and possibly $3mm.

Something crazy is happening here. Kickstarter is obviously an amazing way for people with no following and no reputation to get their ideas funded. But Tim Schafer has just proven that it’s an amazing way for people with a following to get their stuff funded as well.

If I was a top director with an indie project I wanted to get funded, I’d be out right now shooting a trailer so I could post the mother of all Kickstarter projects. Not because I couldn’t get it funded any other way, but because the impact of having 100,000 or 200,000 donors backing your film would be huge.

While we’re waiting for that moment, what could you put on Kickstarter? Do you have an idea for a cool creative project or a gadget to make people’s lives better? Why not post it? What do you have to lose?



Reader question: what to charge as a freelancer?

Posted in Development, Education, Entrepreneurship, Goals, Posts, Reader Responses by

I got a question last week from a reader named James on how he could start doing freelance web design and development, and how much he should charge. I was pretty brutally honest with him, because I don’t think it’s helpful to sugarcoat things. I’ve posted his question and my answer here, with his URL and last name removed. Hopefully someone else will find it useful.

The Question:

I would like to start freelancing, but I am unsure what my rate should be for the skillset I have to offer. Here is my website: [WEBSITE URL]. What was your rate when you started out?

– James

My Answer:

Hi James,

I think your question about the rate you should charge really depends on a few things, but before we dig into rate, I’d like to make a few comments on your website and how you’re presenting yourself. I’m going to be brutally honest, because no one trying to strike out on their own is well served by false praise.

The Feedback (brutal)

First of all, before we talk about anything else, your domain name is terrible. It sounds like a russian spammer site. Get a new one, preferably a .com and one without dashes. I just checked and [READERS-NAME].com seems to be available…are you crazy? Definitely go snag that before someone else does :)

Second, your site design is pretty bad and this matters, because most people who will be hiring you have no idea what good code or bad code looks like, but they know what a good website looks like, and if yours looks bad, they’ll assume you can’t code very well either. Not fair, but that’s how it is.

Here’s the fastest way to fix it: go to http://themeforest.com, find an HTML / CSS or WordPress theme that you like, and reskin your site.

Third, almost all of the examples of your work on your site are terrible. You’ve included some of your class assignments, some pretty crummy photoshop work, etc. The overall effect of looking at your portfolio is that you have no idea what you’re doing.

But don’t despair, because you actually have an impressive list of WordPress sites that you’ve worked on, most of which look pretty good.

Dump everything but those WordPress sites. And since you have like 50 of them, just go through them and pick the ten that represent your best work and which look the strongest visually.

Do not go for quantity over quality. When I’m looking to hire a freelancer, I look at maybe 3 or 4 of their examples, picked randomly. If any of them look bad, I close the tab and keep looking. I want people who care about their work, and who care about what they’re representing to the world.

Fourth, you need to focus on what it is that you want to work on. I would suggest WordPress, as there’s plenty of work in that arena, and that’s where your strongest portfolio stuff is. So dump everything else off your site and just talk about how you’re a WordPress guru. Don’t mention HTML / CSS, Flash, Photoshop, etc.

Finally, rewrite your resume to reflect this new focus. Drop any position that doesn’t have anything to do with web development / IT. Rewrite your skills and experiences to include more about web development / IT. Get rid of that forklift thing.


Ok, now let’s talk about rate. When I started, I charged $50 / hr. And believe it or not, I probably wasn’t much better than you. But what I had was a few decent examples of my work, and no crummy examples (at least not public ones).

To sum all the points above up, when you’re done, you want something more like this: http://www.jaredatchison.com/

I found that guy via a little Googling for “wordpress developer”. I have no idea what the guy charges, but I would guess somewhere in the $75 – 95 / hr range, and I’m sure he’s probably swamped with clients. The reason he can charge that is partly that he’s more experienced and has better client references / connections. But it’s also because he’s presenting himself a lot better than you are.

Few people go looking for a jack-of-all-trades “webmaster” type. You’ll have a much easier time getting clients and getting high rates by specializing in something. WordPress is a good place to start.

Growing in your career

I don’t know you, but I note that you’re new to this industry and just graduated from school with an associates. And little things like how you’re presenting yourself, your domain, your newness to twitter, etc. tells me that you have a lot to learn. This is a good thing! Everyone was once where you are, and we all managed to get past it. You can too. I would recommend that you start a couple daily habits:

1. Respond to a couple dozen postings on the Craigslist gigs board, FreelanceSwitch.com jobs board, AuthenticJobs.com. You won’t hear back from hardly anyone, but that’s not your fault. This is a numbers game, so start putting in your time.

2. Reading everything you can from these sites:


And as many more as you can.

You’re in for an adventure, but stick with it and you’ll see huge progress in the next couple years. Good luck, and let me know if you have any more questions.

If you enjoyed this post, join the conversation. I’ve been freelancing for awhile and I’d love to answer any questions on that (or anything else) that you might have. I won’t ever disclose your identity without permission. Hit me up!



Get your advice from the second-best, not the best

Posted in Achievement, Goals, Habits, Posts by

Image by Philo Nordlund

There are some side effects of always blogging about your life and your efforts to improve it. Some good, some bad. For instance, I feel like I’m becoming that guy who is always trying some weird lifehack. I’m not quite to Tim Ferris status yet in terms of bizarre behavior for the sake of improvement, but give me a few years.

On the other hand, people are often nice enough to humor me and ask for advice. A friend recently told someone that I could offer some helpful thoughts on developing self-discipline and habits. Afterward, my wife half-jokingly complained that because she isn’t constantly promoting herself, no one really asks her for similar advice, despite the fact that she’s 10x as disciplined as me.

I think the “10x as disciplined” part was the half where she was joking, but I can’t be sure. Regardless, it got me thinking: do people just ask me for advice because I blog about stuff like this? And should I just refer their questions on to someone like my wife?

After some reflection, I don’t think so. While it’s undeniable that my wife is more disciplined, she paradoxically doesn’t have any advice to share. Alexis doesn’t think about how to be self-disciplined, she just is. She’s one of those people who offer the annoying “just do it” advice, because that’s just how she is.

Meanwhile, while I’m not where she is (yet), I’ve spent the last few years working very hard at improving, and it’s working. I have the data to prove it. I’ve drastically improved a number of areas in my life and I fully expect those trends to continue.

Imagine two athletes. The first has been considered a prodigy since birth, the best in the world, the very pinnacle of their field. They were made for the game and it’s easy to see.

The second is a very skilled amateur, but wasn’t always much good. In fact, they were once downright terrible. But they worked hard and eventually got to the point where they were good. And then they got to the point where they were great. Not as great as the first guy, but still very, very good.

Now, you want to become a great athlete and you can ask either of these guys for advice. You ask the first guy, right?

Most of us would, but I wonder if that’s the wise move.

Yes, the first guy will have good advice. He’ll have info on technique and knowledge about strategy. He’ll say all the right words. He can tell you about the game. He can describe it. But he can’t share with you the heart and soul of earning it. He can’t tell you what it feels like to suck. He can’t tell you about the dark nights of incompetence and wondering if you should just give up. He can’t tell you how to change.

In other words, if you want to be faster or stronger, don’t ask the one who has always been the fastest or the strongest; they were probably born that way.

Ask the one who has improved the most.

In order to be the best in the world at anything, you have to have an incredibly rare combination of determination, genetics, upbringing, and luck. You will probably not be the best in the world. But that’s not really what’s most important in the long run.

The most important thing is that you’re faster and stronger and better than you were yesterday. And the person who can teach you how to do that day-in and day-out for a lifetime isn’t someone who was born great, but someone who became great.



Want early access and free (awesome) apps? Join the RyanWaggoner.com iOS Apps Club

Posted in Development, Entrepreneurship, Misc, News, Personal, Posts, Technology by

I launched SignPad, my first iOS app, last week (iTunes link) and I’ve gotten a lot of questions and feedback. I’m planning on releasing one app per month for the remainder of 2012, as well as updates and enhancements for SignPad and the other upcoming apps.

So I’m launching a little club and since I’m a relentless ego-maniac, I’m calling it the RyanWaggoner.com iOS Apps Club (takes 5 seconds to join up).

Why would you join such a thing?

Before I get into the benefits, I have five promises to make:

  1. I will never share your email address with anyone, ever, for any reason.
  2. I will never spam you.
  3. You can unsubscribe at any time with a single click.
  4. I will not email you more than twice per month (and likely only once).
  5. I will only email you the kinds of value-packed emails I would like to receive myself.

So what do you get for signing up?

  1. Sneak previews of apps before they’re released
  2. Promotional codes for new apps (read: FREE STUFF)
  3. Priority support if you ever have any problems or issues
  4. The chance to ensure that my apps have that one MUST HAVE feature from day 1
  5. Insider knowledge of what it’s like to be an indie app developer

I think this will be a really interesting project and I’m hoping you’ll join me. I’ll make sure it’s worth your time.

Click here to sign up in 5 seconds



Those little things you’re avoiding…are they worth dying for?

Posted in Personal, Posts, Time management by

Photo by US Forestry Service

I have a list of things I’ve been putting off for awhile. Stressful, unpleasant things. Things like calling the IRS with a question about our taxes. If you’ve never had to actually call the IRS, it’s horrible.

And none of these things are things that really needed to be done by a certain date, so they’ve just kind of hung around. And hung around. And the stress of having them hanging over my head wears on me, but I don’t really think about it consciously most of the time.

I think stress is often one of those things that creeps up on us over time and we somehow adjust to it. It’s like we’re on a hike and someone is gradually slipping pebbles into our backpack. A single pebble doesn’t make much difference, but when you have twenty or thirty extra pounds that you’re lugging around, you start to get worn out faster and faster, without really knowing why.

Yesterday it all came into sharp relief for me. I saw a blog post about another startup founder who let a dental situation get further and further out of hand, until he finally couldn’t bear the pain any more and went in for emergency surgery. They said if he had waited, he likely wouldn’t have survived the weekend.

Yes, you read that right. He almost died because of a tooth infection.

This got my attention because I have a tooth that needs extraction as well. And while it isn’t causing me any pain, it’s not a good situation and I have no good reason for not taking care of it. So after reading that post, I made a promise to myself that today I’d call and make an appointment.

And immediately after deciding that, I felt a little lighter. Just by acknowledging this thing that I was avoiding and putting a stake in the ground to deal with it relieved a little bit of stress I didn’t really know I had.

So I started thinking about what else I needed to take care of that I’ve been avoiding. I came up with a whole list. And I declared that I will not enter the 2nd month of 2012 without tackling these items.

January has been an awesome month for me, figuring out where I want to go this year, adjusting my goals and habits, and moving forward. And it’s working; I’m seeing forward progress.

But my pack is feeling a little heavy these days. Time to lighten the load and make sure I’m ready to tackle the next 11 months.

What single super stressful thing are you avoiding dealing with? Why not just suck it up and deal with it now? It’ll feel lousy and stressful today, but tomorrow will be so much sweeter.



SignPad is live in the App Store!

Posted in Development, Entrepreneurship, Goals, News, Personal, Posts, Technology by

I’ve been doing web development full-time for the last four or five years, and in 2010 I started learning how to create iPhone and iPad apps. I switched to doing iOS development fulltime in early 2011 and I worked on a number of client apps throughout the year.

However, I haven’t released any apps of my own…until now.

My very first app just hit the App Store. It’s called SignPad, it’s iPad-only, and it’s pretty much the simplest app I could think of creating. I wanted my first app to be simple, and to give me a taste for the process of submitting an app to the app store, marketing it, etc.

The concept

You know how you see those people at the airport holding a sign with someone’s name on it? I thought it’d be cool to create an app that takes whatever text you type in and displays it on the screen as large as possible.

But I had a few criteria:

  1. I wanted the text to automatically scale to be as large as possible, breaking text into multiple lines and scaling optimally to ensure that the text is as large as possible while keeping all of it visible. So typing in “Hi” should result in a very large font size, while “Hey there, good looking” would result in 2-3 lines of text, so as to maximize the area of the screen used.
  2. I wanted the font, background color, and text color to all be easily customized.
  3. I wanted it to be beautiful.

I feel like I hit all those items, and I just got my very first review today (4 out of 5 stars). Can’t tell you how exciting that is :)

What’s next?

My goal for 2012 is to release one app per month. I have a list of about 150 app ideas, and I have selected the apps for February, March, and April, and have a couple of those at the rough prototype stage. If you’d like to be a beta tester for future apps, shoot me an email and let me know.

In the meantime, check out SignPad and if you like what you see, please leave a review and tell a friend. Thanks!


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Check out the new DailyPath Trail Guide (a daily guide to moving forward)

Posted in Blogging, Entrepreneurship, Goals, Habits, Misc, News, Personal, Posts, Social Media by

Very quick note, just wanted to give you all a heads up that my startup (DailyPath) today launched The DailyPath Trail Guide, which is a blog with short posts on self-learning, productivity, motivation, lifehacking, and moving your life forward.

Check out our first post below, and make sure you subscribe!

How Cheating Has Opened the Door for Real Learning

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How a Barista and Losing a Quarter of a Million Bucks Taught Me to Ask for What I Want

Posted in Achievement, Finances, Goals, Personal, Posts by

Most people do not know what they want.

The other day at Starbucks, I watched the person in front of me get smoothly upsold from a cup of coffee to a $20 tea sampler set.

I’m not saying that the guy was pressured into buying it; he wasn’t. I’m not saying that he got ripped off; he didn’t. On the whole, he looked pretty happy about his purchase as he left.

But he came in for a cup of coffee, and the chances of him seeing and then buying that sampler set were almost nil. Until he was asked.

You have to ask for what you want. And a surprisingly high percentage of the time, you’ll get it. Maybe not high in the sense of 80% or 90% (though you might, depending on the circumstances), but getting what you want 10% of the time is better than getting it 0% of the time, especially when all it took was you asking.

This is similar to the maxim that if you want to date supermodels you need to be where they are. That’s necessary but not sufficient. You also need to ask them out. Talk to any practitioner of “the game” and they’ll tell you it’s a numbers game and if you have zero going into the top of the funnel because you’re not asking, you’ll get zero in return.

Yes, this is kind of a ridiculously simple observation.

And yet we don’t do it. We don’t.

Most people don’t really negotiate for their salary. Do you know how much simply asking for more is worth in this situation? (BTW, here’s a fantastic post on how to do it right).

I did it too; my first job offer out of college was at a large tech company, and I took the salary they offered without pushing back. That was incredibly stupid of me. I could have easily landed 10% more by pushing back a little. As it was, it took me almost a year to wrangle the 10% raise I should have had from the beginning. That’s thousands of dollars of income that is lost, forever. If I had simply asked for more, I would have gotten it. Let’s say I then put that raise into my retirement account (which I was severely underinvesting in at that time). By retirement, that would be worth a quarter of a million dollars.


For not saying the words: “Based on my research, this position is worth closer to $X”.

Decide what you want. And then start asking for it.


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