I'm a technologist, speaker, and Pluralsight author and I specialize in building full-stack solutions with a focus on modern web technology and cloud native architecture.
It's time to reflect on the year and my what a year it's been. I'll start by saying that COVID-19 is no joke and it's still just as important today to stay safe and mask up. 😷
I don't typically choose "themes" for the year but for 2020 I think it was chosen for me: thankfulness. There was a lot to be thankful for myself and my family and friends during a horrible time.
I am thankful that no family members close to me have been taken by the virus but nearly everyone has gotten it, some with very minor symptoms, others with moderate symptoms, and still others with longer-term effects like fatigue and loss of smell/taste. It has passed through the household without lingering effects so far.
The pandemic has been a terrible event and we have friends who have suffered health-wise and job-wise from it. I'm thankful that we've been able to stay healthy as a family and remained at our jobs.
I'm an optimistic and positive person and even though 2020 was a dumpster fire for the world at large, it helps me to focus on the many moments for me as an individual and us a family that were positive.
Despite the hurt and the sadness, both in our local community and the world as a whole, we managed to carve out those positive moments for ourselves and that's something to be very thankful for.
The first thing I want to say, to anyone, is that if you are writing or reflecting on your own 2020 and you got less done than you planned... give yourself a break. Our way of life was upended, the pandemic has affected all of us in some way or another. If you got anything done, you should be proud. For many, having motivation to "get things done" and "be productive" was far from their minds.
Let's review what I had set out to do for 2020 and where I ended up.
I like including this because it goes to show you can't predict everything for the year!
When I start these year-end posts I forget about how much I actually accomplished in 2020, wow! I have a system I started in 2019 where I track work for my "hustling" on Trello. This lets me easily bring up what I've accomplished for the year which makes me feel great! It also is just an effective way to manage and plan my pipelines of work (more on that below).
In 2020, I didn't end up reading as much as I usually do since I tend to listen to audiobooks but there were two books I read that made an impact on me. Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin (affiliate links).
In Atomic Habits, James speaks about the power of habits and systems in lieu of having goals. The idea is that you cannot effectively reach your goals without having the proper habits in place to achieve them. And once you have a system in place or develop a habit, you will naturally reach goals because that is just who you are as a person. This is a book to keep physically as a reference as it has useful summaries of tools and techniques to help build and break habits.
In The Practice, Seth shares his many years of wisdom on what it means to ship creative work effectively to build "a practice." In other words, what does it take to move from being an amateur (in the pure sense of the word) to being a professional? Hint: you just keep shipping and iterating and making things better, even when you don't want to. The book is about doing good work, not striving for perfection on everything, and shipping your work to customers. I really appreciated all the bits of wisdom in the book, it read like a meditation almost. It's not for everyone but I tend to love his newsletter and podcast.
With that in mind, for 2021 I want to try and focus on improving the systems that are working for me, introducing new systems, and breaking out of bad habits that work against me. Now of course, in order to know what habits you want to build and break, you need some vision of what you want in the future. The type of person you want to be. I know Kent C Dodds talks about his mission statement -- this is also an effective way to frame who you want to be. I can't say that I exactly have that pinned down yet and but my hope is that by being the type of person I want to be will help me discover what that purpose is. I know that a good mission is in service of others, I just am not sure yet what that means for me other than educating through my courses right now.
In 2021 I'd like to work towards being a developer educator, a DIYer, and an indie hacker (in no specific order). It's important to note this isn't all I want to be but where I want the focus to be. I thought of some other terms like "entrepreneur" or "solo founder" but I think indie hacker embodies more of the approach I tend to take. Knowing this, when I have a decision to make I can say to myself, "Is this what someone who is an
(educator || DIYer || indie hacker) would do?" I can also start to ensure I have the right systems and habits in place to become the type of person I want to be.
Here are some concrete examples of the systems I already have in place related to these focus areas.
Contributes to being an educator
Since 2018 or so, I have tried to ensure that I maintain a pipeline of active work through Pluralsight. What this has meant so far has really been to ensure I apply for at least one course opportunity a year, if not more. I also try to do some smaller gigs with them such as assessment reviews, writing, or in the future, other types of content.
In 2021, I would love to improve this system even more by applying for a course opportunity twice a year, once in January (which I did!) and once in September.
Contributes to being a DIYer and educator
In 2020 having seasonal DIY projects helped a lot. I knew for Spring/Summer, I wanted to finish the egress window cover and do outdoor improvements (we planted a tree!) and Fall/Winter to do indoor projects.
Due to working at home I no longer have a commute. The schedule I have found that works well for my days is to do DIY projects before work in the morning. It gives me set tasks that I can do, it makes me sweat, and it feels great. I am usually a much more positive person the rest of the day!
While I did blog quite a bit in 2020 about my DIY learnings, I only started leveraging Instagram near the end of my project. Now in 2021, I would like to use Instagram to do more real-time sharing of progress and maintain the blogging cadence to do the more full write-ups.
Contributes to being an educator
Taking on RavenDB as a client to write for wasn't something I planned but it's been working out well and I ended up doing about 1 article a quarter in 2020. In 2021 I've already lined up all the articles I'll be writing for the year with them and this is something I'd like to ramp up if I find I have the time in the future.
Contributes to being an indie hacker
I regularly worked on Keep Track of My Games in 2020 and I want to ensure that continues into 2021. I also set up my LLC for the other income streams I have. This makes it much easier to track what I do on the side as a business separate from personal.
Contributes to being an educator
I do not yet have a good system around applying to CFPs. I did start something in 2020, maintaining an active checklist of conferences and dates to apply to. I already have TODOs for applying to 2021 conferences. But I need to build a habit of forming my talk abstracts going into the year so that I can just shop them around, rather than doing it so ad-hoc like I have before. In other words, I need to be more intentional about this.
I just put out a poll this week about what topics might interest people and I have two solid ideas of what I'd love to speak about. I think in the interest of doing an incremental improvement to this habit, I will choose one topic I'm passionate about and have that fuel my CFPs for 2021 to see how it goes.
When we started Looks Good to Us we had a consistent 1 post per week schedule. I learned soon that I tend to like writing more guide/article-type content rather than quick thoughts. As such, my posts tend to be on the order of 2000-2500 words and they are usually a series of posts for a project. My intent is to maybe try and aim for 1 short post on the 2 week schedule and 1 long-form post a month. To form that habit I have to probably schedule time so I do it as I tend to only work on it ad-hoc while Cassie is much more habitual (and thus writes twice as many posts 😅).
These all contribute to the type of person I want to be in general: a happy, optimistic person that takes care of his mental health, wealth, and wellness.
I have already started many of these habits, some since the summer so I want to ensure I continue doing them.
I don't have any to list on here! But now maybe you can see: I don't have to list any 🤯 As long as I continue to invest in my habits and systems, naturally there will be accomplishments produced. For some of my systems, they are helping to build a practice that will naturally build a body of work. That is want my previous Unplanned Accomplishments was trying to tell me.
For example in 2020 I had a goal to do 2 speaking gigs. Well, if I am a speaker, I will speak and it isn't so much about the number or the goal itself of 2 talks but that the fact that I talk out of habit. It's more of a mindset shift than anything if that makes sense.
Do I still have medium (2-3 year) and longer-term (10 year) goals? Yes, I talked about "having a why" in the 2019 review. Some of it is around having more options, more freedom to choose what I work on, others reasons center around my family. I've talked to Cassie about all of that so we have a North Star to guide us.
In order to get there these habits and systems are helping me become the type of person I want to be so short-term goals don't matter as much anymore. The important thing to reflect on and track will be how well did the systems work? What improvements did I make? Is there anything that I felt wasn't contributing to who I want to become? Are they effective? Tweaking and improving the systems will inevitably lead to better and better results. That's the idea, anyway.
Have a healthy, safe, and fulfilling 2021!
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