I'm very excited to announce that, this summer, Nach will be getting native mobile apps for iPhone and Android.
What's also new, is that I'll be sharing the progress of how the app develops in a regular "development diary" series on this blog. This is the most exciting period for Nach's development since the web app first launched, so I'm looking forward to sharing in-depth looks at the new features (which will eventually be making their way into the web app -- more on this later), ideas, and challenges faced during the journey to take Nach to the next level.
Why now? Primarily because technology has finally caught up enough to make this multi-platform approach feasible, meaning I can now start making progress through my long list of ideas to improve the platform as a whole. Don't get me wrong though - this is still a very significant undertaking, so I figure it will benefit from a level of transparency, where those who are interested can see how things develop, and provide their feedback, to help shape the final product.
Much more to come, but let's start with some headline features:
Sounds exciting? I'm aiming to get a beta / early access version going as soon as I can, but there's still some more work needed to get to that point, so stay tuned.
I'll use the rest of this post to explain a little more the history of Nach, and why after just being a web app for so long, mobile apps are making an appearance (warning: heavy on the technical details).
For those who aren't aware, Nach is a one-man project. Back in 2013, I had a burning desire for a decent system to store and track my goals in, but couldn't find any suitable software, so decided to build my own. See a very early UI mockup below:
This worked nicely. I was able to execute on my initial vision very fast, launching the web app in a matter of months, and continuing to polish and add the occasional feature.
However, this is where I hit a bit of a roadblock. The "sitting at a desktop with a stable Internet connection" use case was covered, but the very obvious next step at this point was a mobile app, to allow for the more spontaneous access to and manipulation of goals while on the move.
The first thing I looked into was the likes of PhoneGap. Essentially taking the existing web app, wrapping it in a WebView (the component iOS/Android use to display webpages), and packaging that as a native app. But in the end, after much experimentation, I just couldn't bring myself to do this. The user experience just felt cheap, and ultimately I felt it wouldn't live up to the type of experience I'd like to be able to offer.
The next thing to look into was native Android development. I delved very deep into this in 2015/2016, even taking on a freelance project to produce a complete app. I prototyped quite a bit at building something for Nach with this. But the main issue I ran into here was: Java and the Android APIs are extremely verbose, and have almost nothing in common with the technologies and techniques used in the web app.
Add into the mix that naturally I'd need to follow the Android app with iOS, which again has its own completely different language (ObjC/Swift) and libraries, and it becomes clear that this approach isn't sustainable for a single developer. Even with a team, you end up with 3 codebases, where every change needs to be mirrored in 3 places - it just isn't sustainable and removes any kind of lean maneuverability.
Enter React. I'd been hearing about this for a while, and was finally convinced enough to take this seriously summer last year. I dived in at the deep end, getting a couple of projects under my belt. This was just as React Native was entering real stability, which was the final piece in the puzzle.
What makes React Native great is that it allows you to use the same techniques and languages used in web programming, but in a way which interfaces directly with the native APIs and components of the target platform.
It's not the right tool for every job, but for Nach's current stage, it's perfect. It makes someone like me 3x more productive, able to start prototyping features and retaining the ability to stay lean and change things up across multiple platforms. It's relieved me from the digital stalemate of wanting to create a great cross-platform experience, without the codebase becoming unmanageable.
So, that's where we are now. I'm looking forward to sharing over the coming weeks what I've been working on, and the progress I make. Regular updates to be posted on this blog, linked to on Facebook and Twitter, and occasional summaries to come on the email newsletter.
Finally, a big thank you to those who are subscribed to Nach! The support is extremely encouraging, and ultimately one of my biggest motivators is providing you guys with a great product. I'm always keen on hearing feedback too, so if you have any thoughts, feel free to get in touch.
To wrap up 2016, we've just added a new graph to Nach. See at a glance a heatmap of your entire productivity history, from the day you joined Nach, using the new Year Calendar, accessible from the Graphs page.
Each square's colour intensity is driven by the number of steps completed and positive habits reinforced on a given day, and contains a blue corner if any goals were completed on that day (which you can see listed by hovering over).
The end of the year is a great time to take a step back and review everything at a high level — where did you achieve success, and where is attention needed? Several of the tools on Nach can be extremely helpful in this process. The Completed Goals graph gives a nice reminder of the big things you achieved throughout the year; the new Year Calendar gives a more in-depth view, letting you see goals in the context of your entire productivity, and discover patters across the year (or multiple years!); and finally the History section lets you really drill down to any point in the past, and see what tasks you were completing on a daily basis, and any notes that you left behind.
This kind of insight can be invaluable when it comes to making a new plan for the coming year. Now is a great time to give yourself an honest evaluation, take these learnings on board, and tidy up your Goal Map — taking decisive action on goals that have been long-neglected, and mapping out new ambitions and goals into solid plans which you can start actioning in 2017.
I've been asked a few times to share my opinion on the 'no goals' way of life, examples of which can be found in the linked Zen Habits blog articles. The gist of the argument is as follows: setting goals leads to an insatiable obsession with out-of-reach goals, making it difficult to live in the moment, and ultimately resulting in perpetual stress and unhappiness.
Obviously this flies right in the face of a goal-setting app such as Nach, so I'll briefly outline here my thoughts on the matter — why I believe this approach is a bit of an overblown knee-jerk reaction, and there's a better balance to be found somewhere in the middle.
To give this argument the credit it deserves, yes, it's fair to say that focusing too heavily on goals can have negative repercussions. I think these can come in two forms. Firstly, being too militantly focused on the end-goal, even if the current plan of action to get there is proving unenjoyable, and/or not leading to real progress. Of course this is bound to lead to day-to-day stress, an experience that is on the whole negative, and likely destined to fail.
The second consequence of over obsession — perhaps more insidious, as its negative effects only really come to light once a goal has finally been achieved — comes about when you allow yourself to be defined by your goals. This has an unforgiving habit of leading to existential feelings of emptiness and despair, whether the goals are successfully achieved or not.
The first effect — feeling unhappy about the way you're currently living life, but expecting that the lifestyle will lead to the completion of a goal that will result in salvation (typical examples including getting rich or becoming famous) — is a common trap to fall into. If you're feeling unfulfilled and unhappy about your life as it is, I typically don't believe that aiming for some far-future goal is a pragmatic way of addressing that. It's probably more appropriate to switch focus away from the imagined future, and instead examine the immediately explorable facets of day-to-day life, thinking about what aspects of the process are making it unenjoyable.
As long as it is reflected on openly and adjusted as appropriate, the process of working towards a goal can be a greatly enjoyable way to spend time in itself, regardless of the final outcome. A mantra that Steve Jobs was fond of:
"The journey is the reward"
This strategy of being fairly adaptable with the process leading towards a goal is something that Nach is designed around. Unlike typical corporate project management software, we often advise users against going into meticulous detail by building entire plans for their goals, and instead to be flexible and open minded, just planning a few steps ahead. That way if the first idea of how to tackle the goal is, for example, proving unenjoyable, it's quick and easy to delete or adjust the steps and try something new instead.
On a higher level than this, Nach also makes it easy for you to follow your motivation and passions, with extremely straightforward reprioritisation of multiple goals. Are you starting to lose interest in a goal and becoming indecisive over whether it's something you want to pursue further, thwarting your progress? Simply pause it, and prioritise whatever is now catching your interest to the top of your Goal Map.
Nach makes a big effort to be lightweight, and non-imposing. It uses technology to give a boost to how effectively you'd be able to make plans of action that are too complex to manage in your head or with a pen and paper. It can be thought of an extension of your mind, that allows you to go about non-trivial sets of tasks in a way that overcomes the limitations of human memory and focus.
Ultimately, there are many ways to create a life filled with joy and excitement, and I'm not here to dismiss any of them. But I believe that working towards goals is an equally valid one — and it has the merits that it's one of the most effective paths towards leaving your mark on the world, by helping you make well planned and structured progress.
For someone who has recognised that they had become too obsessive over their goals, such as the vocal advocates of these 'no goals' lifestyles, breaking out of the negative habits that have built up around them via a drastic change in lifestyle makes a lot of sense. But I think that demonising goals for the wider population is unnecessary.
The second consequence, mentioned earlier, of become too obsessive over goals — defining yourself by your goals — is a more tricky topic to address. For now, I'll leave this quote from Eckhart Tolle, which provides an interesting, somewhat spiritual, perspective on the subject:
"Yet on a deeper level you are already complete, and when you realize that, there is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do. Being free of psychological time, you no longer pursue your goals with grim determination, driven by fear, anger, discontent, or the need to become someone. Nor will you remain inactive through fear of failure, which to the ego is loss of self. When your deeper sense of self is derived from Being, when you are free of "becoming" as a psychological need, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depends on the outcome, and so there is freedom from fear. You don't seek permanency where it cannot be found: in the world of form, of gain and loss, birth and death. [...] There is nothing wrong with setting goals and striving to achieve things. The mistake lies in using it as a substitute for the feeling of life, for Being."
Until this point, the Calendar has simply acted as an alternate way of viewing the steps you manage through the To-Do List and Goal Map. Today, we've rolled out a set of enhancements which make the Calendar fully interactive when used from a desktop or laptop, so that it can be used just as effectively to manage and reorganise your steps and goals.
Firstly, as suggested on our roadmap, steps and goals can now easily be dragged and dropped between different days on the calendar. Having the visual reference of a calendar grid to shuffle things round against can save a lot of time when trying to adjust the due dates of several different items.
The calendar now projects at least one week into the past, and two weeks into the future, of the currently selected month, giving lots of flexibility for juggling the due dates of steps with less need for jumping back and forth between months.
However, if you do find yourself needing to change the due date of a step by several months at a time, you can even drop it into a month on the year selection widget - so you can now reschedule your entire year, without needing to leave the Calendar.
Finally, alongside the various UI tweaks and performance improvements this update also introduces, the familiar Shortcut Menu can now be reached from the Calendar too, by right-clicking on any step or goal.
If you'd like to stay up to date with the latest tweaks and enhancements as they are introduced to the platform, follow us on Twitter.
When it comes to ambitious life goals, one of the single most important factors in determining whether you'll make progress or not, is how well defined your next step is - the step which you've prioritised towards the top of your list, as the first task you intend to tackle.
Choosing an appropriate next step is primarily about finding the right balance. It needs to be important - preferably the single most important thing that's currently holding you back from getting closer to your goal. If you don't think carefully about this, you could end up falling victim to busywork - even if you are getting lots of tasks done, which have some relation to your goal, unless you take a step back to review the big picture, there's no guarantee they're having a significant impact towards your progress.
On the other hand, they should also be simple enough to be actionable. If you've ended up with a first step which is a huge challenge in itself, it can often lead to procrastination, as the lack of certainty about how to tackle the task turns into an urge to put it off. Any step which is so big and vague that it can't be completed with a few hours of concentrated effort, would likely be better as a sub-goal, where it can be broken down further.
The above isn't to say that it's only the next step that matters - breaking down a large goal into a plan of action is also a highly useful process. But when it comes to making significant progress towards goals, breaking through plateaus, and identifying blockers, picking a good next step to tackle is crucial.
To make this process easier, we've introduced a new supplementary tool to Nach called the Next Step Revealer, which can be found at https://nachapp.com/next.
The page lists all of your top-level goals, and pulls out only the current next step. We'd recommend opening this up side by side with your Goal Map, so that it can be used as a reference while reorganising your goals. This view cuts away all distraction of future plans, so you're able to clearly consider whether your next steps are sufficiently important and actionable. You may find it helpful to carry out this process regularly - perhaps by setting up reviewing your next steps as a weekly repeeating step.
You can also consider whether you're giving these vital steps the attention they deserve, or whether you've allowed yourself to get distracted by tasks of lower priority and importance. Taking time out at the beginning of each day to complete just one important next step is enough to ensure you'll be consistently making real progress.
After opening our roadmap for voting last week, one of the first features to shoot to the top was the ability to reorganize the Goal Map using drag & drop, instead of needing to use the cumbersome "Change parent" method.
We're happy to announce that this feature has now been implemented, allowing you to drag steps and goals anywhere within the Goal Map - even into the category tabs to quickly change the category!
You can start using this feature right away within the app, or for more info, see the new Restructuring the Goal Map guide in the Help Center. And remember to keep voting for the features you want to see added next.
We've always been very open to incorporating user feedback and suggestions, which ties in neatly with our fast development cycle and regular rollout of new features. We're now taking this a step further by opening up our product roadmap, so you can vote on the features you'd most like to see added to Nach.
Through the new Roadmap section of the site, you'll be able to vote, discuss ideas, and easily submit your own suggestions. This isn't a replacement for sending feedback via email - you're as welcome as ever to get in touch - this is just an additional measure to increase our transparency and let everyone's voice be heard.
As a bonus for subscribers, you'll be happy to see that your votes count for double the points.
We're pleased to announce that Nach now supports real-time syncing across your account, from any connected device.
As long as you see a green light (in the sidebar, next to your username), it means you're connected to the network, and any changes you make will be synced to other devices you have the app open on, instantly.
This feature is available across all devices, desktop or mobile. Just make sure you're using a web browser that's up-to-date enough to support WebSockets.
We've just rolled out a new version of the app, which, among numerous tweaks and improvements, introduces two widely requested features.
Firstly, the new Inbox acts as a place to put odd tasks, or those which you don't yet have an organised goal to store under. From the Goal Map, the Inbox behaves like other goals - except that it can't be edited or deleted, and it can only contain steps (no sub-goals). The introduction of the Inbox allowed us to add another regularly requested feature - steps can now be quickly created from the top of the To-Do List, and will be placed in the Inbox.
The next big feature is Quick-Add Shortcuts, which is probably most easily demonstrated through a video:
These shortcuts let you define some of the most common attributes while creating a step, so you no longer have to click away from the Goal Map when setting up things like due dates or repeating options. For further information see our shortcut reference.
Forgotten where exactly you stored a specific note or piece of information? No longer a problem, thanks to the newly launched account-wide search feature. The new Search tab with the app puts everything you've ever saved on the app at your figertips - goals, steps, notes, attachments and trackers - even those which have have been long since archived.
The search tool also features lots of advanced syntax options - such as exact phrase matching (e.g. "new car") and wildcards (e.g. advert*, which matches anything from advert to advertisement).
You can even search against specific attributes of objects. To give just a few examples:
For a full list of available search modifiers, see the searching guide in the Help Center.
We've just introduced cover images - a new way to add some personality to your goals, by setting a custom image as a banner across the top of a goal's page.
Any image attachment on a goal (note that this feature is only intended for goals, not steps!) can be set as a cover image, by clicking the "Make cover image" button beneath the thumbnail, as shown below.
Once you've set a cover image, from a desktop/laptop, you can hover over it at the top of the page to reveal a couple of extra actions, visible in the bottom corner - removing the cover image, and jumping to the attachment which is set as the cover image.
We'd recommend setting cover photos for your big goals where possible. Having an aspirational image at the top of the page can be a regular source of motivation whenever you visit the goal, and also acts as a useful visual cue to remind you where you are within your goals - instead of just having to rely on titles alone.
The trouble with traditional to-do lists, when it comes to planning out life goals, is their typical focus on the small and trivial tasks, with the big picture of how those tasks will amount to a completed long-term goal being treated as more of an afterthought.
Nach encourages tackling this process from the opposite direction. Begin by thinking big. Decide on what your biggest dreams are, and start by writing those down. Not what's needed for your job, or the obligations you're tied to by your current situation, but your most ambitious goals which you'd like to achieve within your lifetime. Whether you want to become a professional athlete, travel the world, or start a business (or all 3!), this is the kind of level we mean by thinking big.
Next comes bridging the gap between high-level goals and the smaller actionable steps which can be taken to make progress. The more that's likely to be involved in working towards the goal, the more helpful it can be to break it down into milestones using sub-goals. From an extremely ambitious life-goal, if you're able to think of certain incremental achievements which show solid progress towards it, these make good candidates for sub-goals. Keep breaking down these sub-goals, until you've reached the level of steps - relatively small tasks which are actually actionable.
The above process is, of course, easier said than done. Thinking bigger than you're ever required to on a daily basis, and coming up with a plan of how you're going to start approaching these elaborate goals, is a difficult task - but a task that is undoubtedly worth the effort.
With some form of a plan in place, all that's left is to prioritise the goals, consult your to-do list for the first steps to tackle, and start moving forwards.
We've added some new features to the shortcut menu, which make managing your goals quicker and easier than ever before. Remember that you can access the shortcut menu from the Goal Map by right-clicking on a step or goal's circular icon (or tapping it if you're on a touchscreen), and from the To-Do list by using the arrow button to the right of a to-do.
Managing the due date is still possible as it was before, by visiting the step or goal's page and using the Edit feature, but by adding them to the shortcut menu we're aiming to provide an even faster and more streamlined experience for keeping your Goal Map updated.
Stay tuned for more new features and improvements over the coming weeks!
Typical methods of quantifying productivity tend to focus around splitting time into productive time and unproductive time. This is a good start - being aware of where time is going can be a powerful wake up call, and can help to cut down on unequivocally distracting past-times.
One thing this won't solve, however, is work for work's sake - time spent in a way that on the surface seems industrious, but without any higher level thought into whether it's an effective use of time that's helping progress towards any important goal. It also won't highlight whether there's something more important being avoided, and working on an less crucial task is simply a form of procrastination.
With Nach, we're trying to take productivity tracking a step further, by looking at how productivity can be quantified in ways that relate directly to progress towards high-level personal goals. You may have noticed that the 30-day History chart has been given a bit of an upgrade:
Instead of just tracking goal and step completions, we've now taken the first move towards an improved quantification system. All actions on the site are now classified as either: positive, negative, or neutral.
Breaking down and categorising things down to such a granular level gives us a productivity logging system we're finding to be a more true representation of effective productivity.
Standard maintenance actions, like creating or editing a step, are neutral, and won't show on the graph. Achieving goals, steps, targets, and positive habit reinforcement, now all count as positive actions, and will lead to taller bars on the graph.
The biggest change is the introduction of negative actions, visible by ticking "Show negative actions" checkbox above the graph. This will introduce bars extending downwards below the graph, indicating negative actions taken during the day. These include: failing a step, goal, or target; not completing a step on the day it's due; and postponing a step (you can still edit a step's due date without it counting as a negative action - just don't use the "postpone" feature).
Instead of trying to measure time usage, we're measuring the discrete number of positive goal-oriented actions completed, as well as the number of missed expectations on the negative side of the chart. By design, every step on Nach can be traced up the hierarchy to a top-level goal.
The actions which constitute the history chart directly correspond to those shown on the Step History Chart, which can be edited if any adjustments are needed:
We're already looking into ways we can make these figures even more meaningful. Currently all actions hold the same significance (a +1 or -1), so introducing a weighting system based on factors like the significance and difficulty of the achievement, are one of the first areas we're exploring.
Anyway, we hope you'll find this latest addition as useful we are, and that it helps you look back and reflect on your own effective day-to-day productivity.
While the existing system of repeating steps worked great for tracking activities as frequently as every day, they fell a little short when it came to actions which need to be tracked on an even more granular level, multiple times per day. That's why we're introducing habits - a new addition to the selection of step types.
Habits have two buttons which let you track either a positive effect (e.g. doing some exercise), or a negative effect (e.g. smoking a cigarette), any number of times per day. Habits appear in a new section at the top of the to-do list, making it easy to log new actions - and each one displays a tally of how well you're doing today.
Just like with any other type of step, we build a log of your actions, and a graph of your history on a habit can be accessed by visiting the step's page. Note that the ability to modify past counts for habits isn't ready yet, so only press the + or - buttons for a habit if you want to log something.
You can turn a step into a habit by clicking the Edit button, and choosing Habit from the list of step types. Here are a few ideas of habits to get you started:
Today we rolled out a new version of the platform, which included a number of improvements - the biggest being category tabs. If you've already set up categories on your account, you'll notice that the Goal Map, To-Do List, Calendar and Trackers pages now all have a new strip of tabs along the top letting you filter down to a single category.
For all of these pages, the default "All" tab will display them just as before, but there's now the added option to drill down into a single category, which can be handy if your account is starting to get busy, and you want to focus in on just one aspect of your life.
The tools for managing categories have also been expanded - you can now archive a category to hide it from the tabs, but keep it for historic reports - or simply delete a category all together.
If you haven't set up categories yet, now's a good time to get started. Categories should segment your life into different areas of focus, which have as little as possible overlap with each other (because a goal, and everything underneath it, can't belong to more than one category). As well as helping you navigate around the site quickly, categories are used in reports, such as on the Graphs page, to let you see how you're allocating your time between them. Some ideas for categories include:
Good luck! And remember, if you have any problems with these new features, or simply have a question about Nach, please get in touch!
A common theme can be found amongst people who have mastered a skill, become highly successful, or achieved something seemingly impossible. In nearly all cases, a large part of their progression towards success can be attributed to two things: regular time commitment, and efficient use of that time, ensuring that they're always moving closer towards their goal.
Whether you're looking to improve your fitness, learn a new skill, or complete a big personal project, these same strategies can be applied. The method we describe here, the "achievement loop" can be an extremely useful technique to ensure you're spending your time wisely, and always making progress towards your dreams.
The technique involves setting out repeating cycles (a week in length is a good starting point) consisting of the following:
It can be tricky to stay true to this strategy. Neglecting just one of the parts can lead to the whole thing falling apart. For example: seeing progress towards a fitness goal plateau over a period of months, despite the same amount of time being put in every week, due to a failure to plan and adapt when the strategy started losing its effectiveness.
Need for Achievement aims to help with this, as an app which adds automation and structure to much of the process, making it much easier to form a habit around progression and achievement. The following section describes how the three parts of the achievement loop can be applied using the app:
Create a main goal as ambitious as your dream, and from there use your the best of your current knowledge to break it down into sub-goals and steps. If you don't yet know how you'd even set about getting started, make one of your first steps to research into that, so that once you've got a more informed idea you can adjust your plan to be more accurate.
Set up repeating steps for the elements of practice which you should be doing regularly. If necessary, set a time of day, and use the SMS/email reminders to make sure you stick to it.
Finally, think if there's something relating to the progress which you can quantify, and turn into a tracker. Even better if you can set a target for the end of the week, so each day you can be focusing on getting closer to the target.
With most of the setup done in the planning stage, now all that's left is following it. Use the To-do List and Trackers tabs to keep everything updated daily. Visit nachapp.com from your smartphone to do so if it's more convenient than using a computer. You can also take advantage of the daily to-do list summaries, which are emailed every morning, to plan out your day.
Once the end of a cycle comes, take a fresh look back over your progress from the last week, and see what you can gain from it. The streaks, history chart, and graphs, should give you an idea of how well you stuck to your plan. You may have even reached a milestone by completing a sub-goal. It's easy to trick yourself into thinking you followed a routine more strictly than you really did when you keep it in your head, but your history of steps overcomes this by keeping everything on record.
Look over your trackers and see how much you progressed, and whether you met your targets. If not, try and think why not. If your progress is consistently less than expected, or reaching a plateau, it's probably time to try a new set of actions.
Finally, jump back to the Planning step, and adjust your goals, steps and targets for a new week. Learn from the mistakes and inefficiencies of the previous week, and use it to make an even more rock-solid plan.
By staying disciplined and continuing to follow this strategy, gradually, week-by-week, you'll be able to watch yourself closing the gap and progressing towards your dream.
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