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Bianca Gandolfo Chats With Kent About Lifestyle Design

Bianca Gandolfo chats with Kent about creating goals for yourself and following through with them.

We're all really busy but we are also ambitious and have goals, but a lot of the time those goals aren't defined so well.

It's important that our goals are well defined and managable, we're hard on ourselves when we aren't making progress towards them. You want to expend your energy on the things that are providing you with value, and when you expend your energy beating yourself up, it's worse than wasted energy because it's energy directed at making life worse for you.

Bianca started Code and Coffee to take people through the process of refining and focussing their goals and breaking them down into acheivable bite sized chunks that they work on for 15 minutes a day during morning coffee. You can do this yourself too!


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    Bianca Gandolfo

    Bianca Gandolfo


    Kent C. Dodds: Hello friends, this is your friend, Kent C. Dodds and I'm joined by my friend Bianca Gandolfo. Hi Bianca.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Hi there.

    Kent C. Dodds: Bianca and I go way back. We were trying to decide whether we've met each other in person, decided that maybe we met each other at a Frontend Masters get together a couple of years ago in San Francisco. Bianca and I are both Frontend Masters instructors and I'd love for you all to get to know Bianca a little bit better. So could you introduce yourself to our audience here?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, sure. My name is Bianca, I am a Software Engineer at Thumbtack and I'm a Frontend Master instructor as well. I focus on JavaScript, but lately I've been moving into the Android world, which has been interesting.

    Kent C. Dodds: You're kind of stretching new muscles and maybe flexing muscles you didn't know you had.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, for sure. It's actually kind of an identity crisis because I've been teaching JavaScript for so long and it's been such a core to me. Now I'm doing a lot of Kotlin and I kind of like it. It's kind of like, oh no, who am I?

    Kent C. Dodds: So much of my identity is wrapped up in JavaScript as well. I'm just kind of glad that JavaScript has been successful in spite of itself and that it's not going away anytime soon because I'm also worried that the world will move on and I'll be stuck back with this JavaScript like it's Fortran or something.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah. Isn't it interesting how programming language can be so tied up in your identity? It's just a language, it's just a tool and yet I hold it so dear.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. It is just a tool, but it's a tool that has, in some way done a lot as much as a tool can do. It sort of makes sense, but it's kind of silly at the same time.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, I guess it does. You know, it really does change people's lives like the people that we're teaching. Having the tool of JavaScript opens a lot of doors for people. It is really powerful in that way.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. Bianca, when we talked about what we wanted to present to the audience today, we talked quite a bit about self-awareness and goal setting. You have a project that I think people will find really interesting, which is called Code and Coffee with Bianca. Can you talk about what that's all about and why people should go give that a look? It's

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah. The idea behind Code and Coffee is that we're all really busy and yet we're also ambitious and we have goals. Maybe those goals aren't yet defined, so Code and Coffee takes you through a process to help you refine and focus your goals and then achieve them in sort of bite-sized chunks. 15 minutes a day while you have your coffee in the morning or whatever you do in the morning, just having that focus time to achieve your goals. It doesn't have to be hard, it's not overwhelming, it's just consistent structured progress and a community to support you in that.

    Kent C. Dodds: So, you're saying that my goal doesn't have to be to build a rocket and go to Mars or something like that? I can do something a little bit smaller. If I do a smaller goal, doesn't that mean that I'm being complacent or I'm not reaching for the stars? Why do you think it's important to keep the goal small?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Hmm. Well, I think you can have big goals too, but it makes sense to me in the life that I want to live, which is a nice enjoyful life to take the bigger goals and break them down into smaller goals. If it's too much, you might not actually even start. So get into a place where it seems like it's achievable and helps get you through that motivation barrier.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense that you wouldn't even start. There are definitely projects that I have, I'm looking at my backyard, where it just seems like so much work. If you have 15 minutes to spare, the last thing that you want to do is go work on chipping away at that goal when especially some of those bigger things take more than 15 minutes just to get in the right headspace. So what if I do have this really big goal? I want to pull myself out of my current working situation and become a senior engineer? Or I want to learn how to knit, maybe that's not a really huge goal, that's something I can do in 15 minute increments. Some really big goal that I want to accomplish, is there a way that I can break that down into something that I can do in 15 minutes every day?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, sure. I think it takes a certain level of planning and focus. So the first part of Code and Coffee is just really getting clarity on your goal. I'm expecting a lot of people who join the community to be looking to change jobs cause that's kind of my niche, I teach data structures and algorithms. A lot of people in my audience are training for technical interviews, but I meet a lot of people who don't really know exactly what they want next. Do they want to go the startup route? Do they want to work at a big company? Do they want freelance? Do they want to just join another industry? So a lot of people don't make the next step because they're not really sure what the right step is. They're comfortable enough in their day job to not make any changes, but that doesn't mean that they're necessarily happy or they're reaching their full potential.
    So the idea is, let's get clarity on what you really want. Once you have that, let's make a plan to "attack this goal" and then carry it out. So, that's the concept.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I like that idea a lot. Why is it only 15 minutes a day then? Let's say I've got this goal that I want to accomplish and I'm really eager and just really want to get it done. Why shouldn't I just be burning candles at both ends to make this thing happen?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, I think we have a lot of messages, especially in tech, around if you want to achieve hard things, you have to burn the candle at both ends. You have to kill yourself, you have to go, go, go and I just don't think that's true. I think what you really need is structure and consistency. This is your one precious life, is that what you want to be doing to yourself? It's about how you want to experience your life. If you want to be ambitious and do big things, but also enjoy it and you have a day job, as I'm assuming most people have a day job.
    For me, this is based on a big change in my life that has really increased my enjoyment of my work. I have my regular job here at Thumbtack and then I also work on side projects. What I've been doing is while I'm eating breakfast and having my cup of coffee, I'm working on my side project and then I go to work. I do that every day and it has just revolutionized my productivity, my stress levels and I'm finding a lot more enjoyment in that as well.

    Kent C. Dodds: I can think of a specific project I should implement this for. I'm writing a novel or I used to be able to say I was writing a novel, but I haven't really done much with it for a while. Every time that I look at this big project that I want to do and now I'm in the editing phase, which for me is not anywhere as fun as the creative writing phase. Just looking at that big project, it's not nearly as much fun and it's a lot of work and so I do nothing. If instead I were to take this attitude of just 15 minutes every day, then I'm sure that I can make a lot of progress pretty quickly.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah. It's actually really amazing how much you can get done if you really focus for 15 minutes. I mean turn off all of your messaging Slack, whatever you have and then just focus for 15 minutes. You can actually get a lot done.

    Kent C. Dodds: Bianca, have you always felt this way? Is this something that is just kind of ingrained in you or is this something that you've learned by experience that this is the way to find satisfaction in life?

    Bianca Gandolfo: No, I would definitely burn the candle at both ends. I would get burnt out, I would pull all-nighters well into my late twenties, especially preparing for things like workshops for Frontend Masters, which I have always done in addition to working. You did too for a while, so you probably know what that's like.

    Kent C. Dodds: I totally get it.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, it can be a lot. I did that for a long time and then I realized in the past couple of years that I really thrive in this structured environment and that comes from being... I did the digital nomad thing for awhile where I traveled, I worked remotely and I did more flexible jobs. It was fine, but it's very different than my routine now where I come into an office every day and I have the things that I do every day. I find that I thrive in that structure. I don't identify as a person that thrives in that kind of structure, I see myself as sort of a free spirit. I like adventure and all of that, but I've come to discover that I can be that way and also give myself some structure so that I can not be as stressed and tackle these big projects that I want to do.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, you can be a free spirit within the confines of that structure.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah and take advantage of the productivity gains and everything that you're talking about.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, sure.

    Kent C. Dodds: Cool. So what are some of the other benefits or more specific benefits with regard to a more fulfilled, happier life when you avoid burning the candle at both ends and when you avoid just focusing so much effort on a single goal? Are there any benefits to diversifying your interests? My goal could be, I want to be the best work employee that I could possibly be so I'm going to spend this 15 minutes actually just working doing the same thing. Is there any benefit to expanding beyond your regular day to day?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, I think that even if your goal is just to be the best employee that you are at your company, you can spend that 15 minutes a day on focusing on skill-building within whatever you're doing. Say you're a React Developer, but maybe you're not as familiar with the internals of the web browser and JavaScript engine. You can take it to the next level and spend that 15 minutes every day working on that rather than... I think it's important to do that rather than, I'm just going to push out this CR real quick in 15 minutes. It's not necessarily about productivity, it's about growth and taking that special time to focus on something a little bigger picture than, I have this project deadline looming and need to get this done.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah and when you have those project deadlines, do you say, okay, well for the next two weeks I'm not going to do that 15 minutes? My impression would be that those 15 minutes would become even more valuable when you're under the gun like that.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, for sure. They say when you don't have a lot of time, that's the time you want to make time for the things that are important. It's about prioritization. I'm not going to say that whenever I'm really stressed about a work deadline that I'm doing my 15 minutes every single day. It's important to be compassionate and realistic with what you can accomplish and that's part of the idea behind Code and Coffee. This new flow that I have for the past couple of years is it's okay to take a day off if you need a day off. Again, this is your life. How do you want to live it? Do you want to be feeling guilty and pressured and stressed? No. Maybe you'll skip a day, but maybe you'll do 30 minutes the next day or whatever makes sense.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. What would you say to people who are turning away at their goals and they keep on failing and whatever that goal is?Maybe failing isn't the right word, they're just not finding the change or the improvement that they are hoping for. What would you say to somebody who's kind of feeling down on themselves because they haven't been able to accomplish those goals that they set for themselves?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Hmm. I mean I guess... That's a good question. I would say that as long as they're continuing to feel moved by the end goal that they should keep going at it. It could be worth investigating the process and the approach that they're taking. You can be compassionate with yourself and not say, I'm just going to give up. Sometimes, there is something about when is it time to call quits? That's tricky, but also important. I'm not very good at it, honestly. I just keep working at things, but I would just reflect on it probably.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I guess it kind of does depend on the given scenario and I've definitely set goals that I haven't accomplished. The process of working toward the goal is half of the benefit of having the goal in the first place. Pretty much anytime I go hiking, there's a point when you're walking up the mountain that you turn around and you look back and you're just amazed at how far you've come. Every time, I can't believe that with these two human legs I can make myself rise this high above where I was before. It's just incredible. So, maybe when somebody is feeling that way, they can metaphorically stop on the mountain and look back at where they've come.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, no, I like that a lot. I like that a lot. I think the metaphor of hiking or going on a journey is something that resonates with me a lot when I'm thinking about trying to achieve something. It feels hard in the moment, but once you get to those heights and you look back or you have a view, that's when you know that it's worth it.

    Kent C. Dodds: Absolutely. Continuing with this metaphor of the mountain, I kind of like that metaphor. There are lots of mountains that we can go climb here in Utah. We've got Timpanogos and we've got other mountains, I don't know their name. We've got plenty of mountains around here and lots of mountains to climb. Lots of different goals that people could set for themselves. What advice would you give somebody who isn't sure what goal to set for themselves?

    Bianca Gandolfo: I think that's where the 15 minutes a day can be really helpful as a reflection piece. Just free writing or journaling. There are lots of exercises you can do like this lifestyle design exercise. Have you ever heard of those?

    Kent C. Dodds: No, no that's interesting. What is that?

    Bianca Gandolfo: It's a whole concept called lifestyle design. It's kind of a cliche at this point, but it's something worth looking into. It's about looking at how your life is now and trying to figure out how to get to your "dream lifestyle". So it's all these exercises about how are you spending your days? How would you like to spend your days? Make a pie chart of how much time you spend working versus hiking. You see where you are and then think about ideally where you'd want to be and then you try to bridge the gap.

    Kent C. Dodds: Hmm. Yeah, you know what? That actually reminds me of a couple of days ago. I recorded a podcast for Chats with Kent that was with Kelly Vaughn and we talked about personal finance. One of the first steps for getting control of your finances is recording where your money has been going.
    This seems very similar. You record, where have allocated your time? Where are your priorities right now? We have these priorities in our head of the things that we think we value and then we have the things that we do with our time, which are actually the things we value. When you put it down in a pie chart, there's maybe a cognitive dissonance where you thought, I valued this, but I guess I don't as much. This is not to say that time maps perfectly percentage-wise to what you value more, but if you're not spending any of your time reading your scriptures when you want to be religious or whatever it is, then maybe that can wake you up to a goal that you could set to be more of the thing that you want to be.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah. No, absolutely.

    Kent C. Dodds: Cool. I know that some people just really want to be the best. They want to be the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or whatever aspirations that they have. Would you say that it's possible to accomplish that level of... I don't really want to call it success because success is in the eye of the beholder and it's what you value, but if somebody wanted to accomplish that level of human impact, is this 15 minutes a day something that's practical for that situation? Or does that not mesh well with the kinds of goals that some people might have?

    Bianca Gandolfo: I think that it could eventually get to that point, but obviously 15 minutes a day is not enough. In the 15 minutes a day, getting clarity can help you get that focus and motivation to figure out what it is that you want to do as that impact. So, figuring out what that is and to get started along that path. Once you're on that path, then you're probably going to want to get into a more intensive mode, you know? And that's okay too.

    Kent C. Dodds: Maybe you spend these 15 minutes a day working on this plan or this goal and then once that has kind of solidified, you can take your day job and turn that thing into your day job. Then you can use that 15 minutes for some other personal growth.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, exactly. Maybe the next thing you want to do with that 15 minutes a day is learn how to write poetry. It's all about growth and getting to the next step, but once you figured out that next step, you need to do what's required. Again, that doesn't mean that you have to be stressed all the time, but usually things worth doing have a certain level of stress. I'm not saying we're going to be totally calm and zen and achieve our greatest dreams. It's just about, let's not be overwhelmed and let's make it make the small steps so that we can get to those big things. Once it becomes your day job, if that's your goal, you'll be working eight hours a day or however long people who want to work. For me, it's less than eight hours a day.

    Kent C. Dodds: Honestly, we've been fooled and raised in this culture of eight hour workdays and I think we don't have to work that much. Maybe that can be your goal, to find a way to not work that much, which is something else to consider.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah.

    Kent C. Dodds: Can you give a couple of tips on how to maximize the impact of those 15 minutes? I know sometimes when I'm saying, okay, I'm going to go do this thing and it should be really quick. Then I find out like two hours later that I spent most of my time on Twitter or something ridiculous like that. How do you maximize the impact of those 15 minutes?

    Bianca Gandolfo: I try actually not to do social media or Slack. I'll have my texts open and stuff, but not less immediate stuff before 9:30 in the morning is my preference. I don't always succeed, but when I do my coffee, it's usually around eightish, 8:00, 8:30 in the morning. I try to not even have opened anything. Again, it depends on how excited I am if someone messaged me or not. When I focus, I close all that stuff and if I can not be on my computer, I won't be on my computer. Often, my work requires me to be on the computer, like things that I'm working on.

    Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Bianca Gandolfo: Just whatever you think is going to distract you, put it away. I think that's most people would figure that out on their own.

    Kent C. Dodds: I think the key tip that I got from you though, is not even looking at it until after you've finished your first 15 minutes. There was a time when the first thing that I would do when I picked up my phone in the morning was look at Twitter. For a long time I did that and only recently have I uninstalled the app and I'm not... I did this once where I uninstalled the app, but then I logged into Twitter on the browser and I just switched. Now, I'm having a less good experience because the browser isn't quite as good as the app. It basically changed nothing. Now, I've uninstalled the app, I've logged out and my password is stored in one password. I'd have to go through the whole whatever to login. It takes long enough for me to realize, do I really want to do this? That's actually made a pretty big impact. That's the thing that I'm taking away from your advice, is that if you do your 15 minutes before you get into those things in the morning, that can be really helpful.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, for sure. I just find if I don't start my morning off with reading a bunch of emails... I'm more of an email person than a Twitter person. I've never really had social media on my phone, but I do love reading emails. Even promotional emails. Google marketing really works on me cause I actually read the emails. If I start off without thinking about all of that and Slack... I like to read and see what has happened on Slack. But, if I start my day off not doing that, I just feel really accomplished even just doing that. I feel like it sets me up for a certain feeling. I don't always succeed, it's a process, but that's what I like to do.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, that's great. I like the message of self compassion that you've shared subtly throughout this whole conversation, where you don't always succeed. Sometimes you fail and that's the kind of thing that you'd just get back up and try again. You don't beat yourself up about it. Being self-aware and self-compassionate, is something that people could probably do more of.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, I agree. When I was working in the bootcamp world, I saw this a lot. People were just really hard on themselves trying to make it to the next level. In some ways, it can be self-destructive. They're hyper-focused on how they're not succeeding. They're not sleeping, they're not exercising and that actually impedes your ability to succeed. Actually being compassionate, managing your stress, being aware of your emotional state and keeping that in check can actually help you get further than pulling your hair out because you don't understand some error that you're getting.

    Kent C. Dodds: I think that's great. This makes me think that you want to expend your energy on the things that are providing value and when you expend your energy beating yourself up about not succeeding in your goals or whatever it is, or not pushing hard enough, then it's worse than wasted energy because it's energy directed at making life worse for you. By being self-aware and self-compassionate, then that's useful energy because self-compassion doesn't mean that you just excuse yourself for the failures or for saying something rude to somebody or whatever. It's acknowledging the mistake that you made and then moving beyond that and forgiving yourself for that and then trying to do better.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, I agree. There's this concept, I think it's of the second cut or it's the first cut, you experienced whatever the negative thing is. Maybe it was a failure, maybe you got frustrated, maybe you are rude and then you relive it in your head. Because we're humans, we can actually re-experience these things, so it's like the second cut. You don't need to keep cutting yourself for something you did before. You already experienced that in the past, it's better to move forward. It's not so easy. For me, if I say something really embarrassing, I'll just keep thinking about that and then I feel whatever that feeling is, like shame, over and over again and it's just not helpful, you know?

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. I had an experience yesterday where it throws your day off and it really... I've been practicing this a lot recently and the way that I got over it was I talked with my wife about it and I said, here's what's happening and I'm dealing with this in my head and I need to be productive this afternoon. So, we just talked it through and then I sat and you take deep slow breaths and you feel that feeling, acknowledge the feeling and then you kind of soothe that feeling away and you can move on. Totally, not easy to do.

    Bianca Gandolfo: It's very individual how people self-soothe and get through these destructive thought patterns, but I think that's a good strategy. Talking it through, letting yourself experience it, deep breaths, the breathing practices helped me a lot and then just moving forward. I think that's great.

    Kent C. Dodds: Well Bianca, we're down on our time here and it's been a pleasure to chat with you. We've got actually two calls to action for people today. We couldn't really decide, which we wanted, so we're going to do both. The first is relevant to what we just wrapped up talking about and that is to keep a self-awareness journal for seven days. Every night, write down the feelings that you had that day, stress, anxiety, depression, happiness, excitement or the feelings that you had. Just be self-aware and even better if you can acknowledge those things in the moments so that you can deal with those feelings in the moment is awesome. For seven days, just write down some of the feelings that you had.
    Our other homework for everybody is to take 15 minutes every day to work toward a goal and just try it for a week and see how you feel about that. I think that you'll find you accomplish more than you do if you make sure that you're not distracted and follow some of the advice that Bianca has given us. Anything to add to that, Bianca?

    Bianca Gandolfo: Yeah, I would just love to hear from people if they've done the homework, what their experience is. They can tweet at me @BiancaGando would be a good way to just let me know is it working for you? Do you need more time? Is 15 minutes too long? I'm curious how it lands.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, great and they can also join your Code and Coffee with Bianca community at I think that's a wonderful thing. Bianca, it's been a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much for giving us some of your time and we'll chat with everybody else next time.

    Bianca Gandolfo: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it, Kent.

    Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, sure. Bye-bye.