Dissecting the Failure of my Short-Lived Newsletter

5 Feb 2022

The Introduction

A while back (7 months to be precise), I decided to start a newsletter which would contain a collection of all the interesting news, articles and any other piece of content that I consumed in regular intervals. If you take a look at this article, it would explain the structure that I decided to follow, a weekly list of curated content, a monthly book review and a quarterly project. I thought this newsletter would hold me accountable to all my subscribers and make me learn read more. It did succeed in doing that, albeit for a very short amount of time.

Immediately, I went ahead and built a website and an email newsletter. I thought I got it all right, and things were going great initially but I couldn’t go beyond 13 weekly issues and the 2 monthly ones. One or two of my subscribers noticed and asked me a few weeks later (so much for public accountability) but I had totally forgotten about it by that by point and could only give them a sheepish smile in response

Why did it fail?

The answer to this question is pretty simple, I got bored and stopped doing it. It seems pretty lame when I put it this way, so I introspected and came up with an answer which was way more insightful sounding and made me sound like someone who gives careful thought to what I do and that is what the rest of this post is.

Lack of Visible Metrics

One main reason for boredom is that I didn’t really know if I was making an impact anywhere as I (stupidly) decided not to add any form of analytics to my blog or my newsletter.

I did this because I didn’t want to enable the surveillance capitalists to have more of your data than they already do, but doing a bit more reading (which I should probably have done at that time), I realised there are a lot of ways to collect meaningful analytics while respecting the users’ privacy, more on that in another post.

This left me with no metrics except for the number of people subscribed to my newsletter, which thanks to Mailchimp, I had with me. However, it was not really meaningful as it skyrocketed on Sep 7 from 4 to 52, when I first told people about the existence of my newsletter and tanked there. However, that actually pushed me to continue the newsletter for 3 more weeks. I think if I didn’t have that I would have stopped after the 10th edition.

No Sense of Purpose

The next reason is that I didn’t really know why I was doing it. The “will make me read/learn more” didn’t really hold up to close scrutiny as I love to learn and never had a problem learning new things.

In fact, this turned the learning process into a chore because I had to do more work than usual and at one point started looking at every article in terms of how it would go in my newsletter rather than looking at the content itself.

Time and Other Cool Things

The last reason is something that I consider a personal flaw of mine and actively work towards fixing.

I vastly underestimated the time I had available for this project. I didn’t really think about the other projects that I wanted to take up and ended up locking myself into a situation where I did not have time for any of my other projects and ideas. This and me encountering really cool ideas I wanted to work on, made me hate this newsletter, as I saw it as a roadblock to all other cool things I wanted to do.

No End in Sight

This is something that I recently learnt while reading about the PARA method, project vs areas of responsibility.

A project is something that has a clear deadline, or else, it turns into an area of responsibility. I started this as a project and didn’t really want to turn it into an area of responsibility.

Lessons Learnt

An End Goal

Projects should have a clear end goal and a deadline, if they don’t, then they are areas of responsibility and be sure that you are ready for that.

1/3rd Rule

Whatever time I think I have for my personal projects is way off from the truth. I now start planning my projects by taking 1/3 rd of my initial estimate as the truly available time.

Prepare Content in Advance

I did try to do this and it helped me publish the last two editions, preparing the content well in advance and having backup for a minimum of 1 or 2 editions/episodes is a must. It is not really a good sign if you’re one sick day away from missing a release.

Have a Tangible Measure of Progress

It is hard to stay motivated when you are doing something just for “fun” or “passion”, having some metric which is measurable is a must if you want to stick through it for a long time.