Reviewing personal progress over the course of a year is an important exercise. Naturally, if it’s important, it means it’s probably something that I normally skip altogether.
Thankfully there are enough online exemplars from others who have published their personal reviews. I appreciate these bloggers’ willingness to share how they approach self-reflection and meaning in their lives and personal activities. These good people have inspired me to put together my own review. If you are looking for some inspiration, I can recommend the year-in-review posts from these writers: Ben Thompson, David Perrell, Susan J. Fowler, Georgi Yanev.
What follows is a review of my year, the highs, lows and other memorable events.
- In April I left my 2nd startup to spend more time with my family. I’m proud of my short time with the team and was able to accomplish what I had set out to do: help build a solid financial and operational foundation for future growth. The current team is 12-people strong and making excellent progress on some cutting-edge machine learning solutions.
- I spent the month of May in Hawaii helping my now widowed mother-in-law clean and prep her longtime home for sale. The home was sold in August and I’m glad I was able to provide the time and energy to a family member in need.
- I started the Mental Pivot blog in September after several false starts and finally met my longtime goal to write regularly for more than a month (I’ve got 3 months of thrice-weekly publishing under my belt now!). I hope to carry this momentum into 2020 and to eventually branch out into longer-form writing or fiction. For now I’m just happy to foster the habit of writing. Next year I’ll start focusing on quality.
- Daily planning: The most impactful habit that I implemented in 2019 is ONE PRIORITY for the day. This is an important message that was drilled into my head from books like “Make Time”, “The One Thing” and “Organize Tomorrow Today.”
- Early mornings: My early morning schedule took a big hit in 2018 with my startup responsibilities. Now voluntarily unemployed, I’m consistently waking up at 5am Monday through Friday. I know early-mornings aren’t for everyone (it depends on your chronotype after all!), but it works great for me from a productivity and satisfaction standpoint.
- Exercise: The consistent 5am wake-up time has really helped me with exercise. I exercised 6 times a week throughout 2019. I typically do 3 days of weightlifting (barbell squats, deadlifts, press) and 3 days of cardio (combination of running and HIIT). I got much more consistent about running in 2019 and was managing 6-7 miles regularly before my knee and foot started to act up late in the year. In 2020 I’m hoping to get comfortable with runs up to 10 miles which should be manageable if my body holds up.
- Writing: The blog helped me tremendously with this habit now that I’m on a regular schedule. I’ve made 35 posts to this blog as of this article and feel like I’m over the initial hump in terms of early blogging consistency. There have been some tradeoffs due to the blog: my personal diary writing has fallen off (since my writing gets funneled into the blog) and my piano practice has also suffered. I’m hoping to rectify that in 2020.
- Piano: I started off strong and was practicing 3-5 times per week but after starting the blog and returning from my summer road trip, my piano practice has not been consistent. I need to pencil in specific practice times onto my schedule if I hope to make progress in this area in 2020.
I started using a handful of new tools in 2019. Here are some early thoughts on them:
- Ulysses App: I’ve tried to use Ulysses in the past but just couldn’t get into (I had used its competitor Scrivener more extensively). But after reading about Shawn Blanc’s Ulysses setup on his website, The Sweet Setup, I decided to give it another go. I was hooked almost from the start and not only did I start using Ulysses for my writing, I also started using it as a replacement for Apple Notes. Now Ulysses is my main note-taking app and I haven’t looked back.
- Ghost Open Source Blogging Platform: I’ve run previous websites on WordPress and Drupal, but I always detested the bloat. Yes these are fully featured content management systems, but what if I just want to create a simple blog? I toyed with Hugo and Jekyll but they were a little too barebones for me. Thankfully Ghost scratches my itch perfectly: it’s much more streamlined that WordPress but not quite as spartan as the static-website generators.
- Digital Ocean: I was a loyal user of Site5 for my personal hosting needs for more than 15 years. However, when it came time to setup a self-managed Ghost instance, one hosting service seemed to stand head and shoulders above the others when I performed my initial web research: Digital Ocean. The company’s reputation is well-deserved. The installation is easy, the instructions and documentation are easy to follow and the pricing is very competitive.
I read 42 books this year: 7 fiction, the remainder non-fiction. I’ve bolded my favorite reads of the year. Half my of my favorites are from my usual genres, the other half are from genres I don’t normally read (e.g. “The Monk of Mokha,” “The Boat Runner,” “The Stranger in the Woods”). The lesson here is that I need to expand my range when selecting books and be open to being surprised by unfamiliar topics and authors. I’ll do more of this in 2020.
- Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen
- The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
- Get to the Point by Joel Schwartzenberg
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
- The Monk of Mokha by David Eggers
- Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
- Platform Revolution by Geoffrey Parker et.al.
- The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman
- The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
- The Big Short by Michael Lewis
- The Miracle Equation by Hal Elrod
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
- The Great Mental Models, Vol. 1 by Shane Parrish
- The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
- An Economist Walks Into a Brothel by Allison Schrager
- Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk & Tom Bartow
- The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (with my sons)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (with my sons)
- Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
- The Secret of Story by Matt Bird
- Dark Age by Pierce Brown
- Indistractable by Nir Eyal
- The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
- Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (with my sons)
- Billion Dollar Whale by Bradley Hope & Tom Wright
- Finish by Jon Acuff
- Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
- Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy (reread)
- The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winters
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (with my sons)
- The One Thing by Gary Keller
- Indistractable by Nir Eyal
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Why Are We Yelling? By Buster Benson
- Loserthink by Scott Adams
- Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
- When by Daniel Pink
- How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler
- In March I took my daughter to New York City for a week of Broadway shows (Mean Girls, Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), walks in Central Park and on the High Line and a smattering of college tours (including NYU and Columbia).
- In the summer I took my two boys on a two-month long road trip across the United States. This was our second long summer road trip (the first was to Western Canada). We hit 26 states and a dozen National Parks as we weaved our way from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and then back again. We visited big cities like Chicago and Philadelphia and small towns like New Harmony, Indiana and Roanoke, Virginia. I came away with a newfound appreciation of North and South Dakota (I will never make another joke about either state). It was a great way to see the vastness and variety that is America.
- In November we took a family trip to Japan to visit Tokyo and Kyoto. We marveled at the Japanese train-system; from Shinkansen bullet trains to the Japan Metro, the network is a true marvel of engineering and efficiency. The autumn colors, particularly in Kyoto, were amazing to behold (the deep reds of the Japanese maples were especially poignant).
- My two oldest kids are getting ready for exciting new chapters in their lives. My daughter is finishing her senior year of high school and preparing for college while my middle child is finishing up middle school and gearing up for high school.
- We said goodbye to two family members this year: my father-in-law passed away in March after a long illness and my young cousin died in June after a long battle with breast cancer.
- My mother-in-law moved in with us in October now that she’s relocated from San Francisco from Hawaii.
Final Word on 2019:
If there was an over-arching theme for 2019 it was family. I left my job to spend more time with my family and I’ve taken full advantage of that opportunity. The bittersweet realization that my oldest will be leaving the nest soon to go to college has forced me to be much more mindful about how I spend my time. Add to that the number of deaths in the family over the last 2 years (3 cousins have passed away in the past two years and two of them were younger than me), the brevity of life is made clear. Fortunately the happy moments far outnumbered the sad ones and writing this article makes me realize how many wonderful memories 2019 has given me.