Vega example

I don’t often set goals but when I do it’s “to learn German,” it takes me 2 years to convince myself to occasionally go on Memrise, and then I spend way more time figuring out how to visualize data about my experience of learning German than actually studying any German!

The graph shows the period of time between fall 2015 and spring 2017; and the red line is hours spent learning German overall (cumulatively). The top of the red line is at 60 hours 💅✨

Jokes aside though, I have so many emotional blocks when it comes to studying, and it actually helps a lot to be able to recognize the progress I HAVE made, rather than fixate on apparent failures. Also, it’s fun! For example, I first made this particular visualization in 2017 in order to “justify” why I had made so little progress: so I highlighted life phases (moving, but also the very stressful times of a very long daily commute) and a variety of other projects or activities I was engaged in.

In the case of this visualization, embracing radical imperfection means allowing it to stay as it was then, even though now I wouldn’t make something quite so defensive (or maybe just not so defensive in this particular way). Also, it’s very useful! I was trying to estimate what a reasonable goal would be for this year, as measured in hours of practice, and it was very handy to have this visualization to return to when making these estimates! And you can see that if in the old viz, I was counting every minute, the current goal statement is very imprecise.

Lastly, I want to highlight the double edged sword of stating our goals publicly: for some it feels like it improves accountability, but it can also make us feel as if stating the goal is already doing the work. It isn’t. Radical imperfection in tracking my time also means that the tracking and reflection activities are separate from whatever I’m tracking. This post isn’t involved in me learning German; it’s involved in me articulating my relationship to systematic self reflection through data.