in Monthly Review

At the start of each year, I set aside time to look back at the previous year including what went right and what went wrong with the goal of identifying areas for improvement moving forward. This year, I’m taking a page out of Nate Green’s book and doing what he calls a “Personal Retrospective”, which provides a solid structure for looking back on 2015.

Question 1: What’s working? (“What did I do right? What am I proud of?”)

2015 was “the year of learning” in my book. I stretched myself more this past year than I have in the past.

I learned a ton.

Learning was the main focus in 2015. I’m proud of what I accomplished in that department:

  • I finished two courses on Treehouse (Front-End Web Development and Full-Stack JavaScript).
  • I completed a JavaScript-related project at Automattic that led to me contributing code to Calypso.
  • I became a Team Lead at Automattic and learned more about leadership in six months than I had in my previous 27 years of existence.
We launched Drink for Pink and had a successful first year.

At the beginning of the year, I literally knew nothing about starting or running a non-profit. In October of this year, we raised over $5,000 for local cancer research. As we end 2015, we’re applying for our own 501(c)3 to operate as a non-profit organization in Colorado. I’m really excited by what we’ve accomplished so far, and I’m looking forward to next year.

Charlotte and I made some huge steps forward personally and professionally.
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Hanging out in Santorini!

We traveled for two long stretches (once out of the country). We bought a house. We bought a car (and then paid it off). We both continued to work in jobs we love. We saved a large chunk of money. We ate great food and had some amazing experiences. We celebrated our one year anniversary. Here’s to many many more amazing years to come.

Question #2: What’s not  working? (“What could be improved? What are my biggest opportunities for growth?”)

I didn’t share what I was learning.

I spent a lot of time learning, but I didn’t spend much time sharing that knowledge with others. In my book, that’s 50% of the battle. Knowledge is only useful if it’s applied and shared. In 2016, I’ll be focusing on the trifecta: acquiring knowledge, applying it to my life, and sharing it with others.

I overworked.

I’m notoriously bad at staying away from work on my weekends. Charlotte and I were fortunate to travel to Greece and Austin together this year. During both of those trips, I stayed 90% away from work. During normal weekends though, I still lacked the willpower to completely shut off. This led to periods when I felt like I was burning out.

I focused on too many things.

I’m a chronic over-committer. I just have a hard time saying “No” to really interesting ideas. The end result is a mediocre job on a lot of projects versus a great job on a select few. In 2015, I made a “Now” page, which was designed to help me focus my intentions and eliminate distractions.

Looking Forward

2016 offers some tremendous growth opportunities. To narrow my focus a bit, here are three themes I’m focused on in the new year.

Share knowledge with others.

There are two huge benefits here:

  • Sharing knowledge through either presenting or writing helps me to better understand the subject matter. As Richard Feynman enumerates, knowing the name of something doesn’t mean you understand it. The best way to make sure you fully understand something is to teach others.
  • Knowledge isn’t silo’d. If I learn something and keep it to myself, only one person has benefited. If I learn something and teach it to at least one other person, that’s double the benefit.

Action #1: Get on stage three times. I’ve already submitted two speaking applications. I’ll be submitting more throughout the year.

Action #2: Publish once a week here focused on creativity, productivity, leadership, and personal growth. I want to build a habit where I publish weekly. Thursday will be my day moving forward. Monthly (and yearly) reviews are excluded.

Action #3: Continue to publish notes from the books I’m reading. These notes help to reinforce what I’m reading.

Action #4: Restart an email newsletter. There are some things I want to share that are too long for Twitter but too short for a blog post. I’ll be sharing those items through email twice a month. You can subscribe here if you’re so inclined.

Work less.

I don’t mean work less as in “try to avoid work.” Rather, I want to get better at setting boundaries and building a better work/life balance.

Action #1: Protect my weekends. Weekends should be devoted to fun activities and reading, not working.

Action #2: Plan out my week in advance. Cal Newport is someone that does this tremendously well. I’m going to mimic his strategy to make sure I set aside time for the important items in my week.

Action #3: Read Deep Work. Take notes. Publish them here. Perform an analysis of how I’m working and publish a strategy guide for improving.

Continue to push myself to learn.

I believe that learning is the most important skill you can master. I think your ability to learn and adapt is directly correlated with your ability to succeed in both your professional and personal life. It was a huge part of my life in 2015 and that trend will continue in 2016.

Action #1: Launch at least five projects in 2016. I’ll be publishing a big recap for each one about what I learned. The idea is to focus on one skill I want to learn and launch something focused on that skill.

Action #2: Read three books per month. I’m going to start reading thematically, aggregating books on a specific topic and reading them together. Hopefully, that will provide a more well-rounded understanding of a topic versus hopping from topic to topic and pulling everything together at a later date.

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Over to you. Want went well last year? What didn’t go so well? What are you focused on for next year? Take an hour and put it all on paper. Most importantly, let me know if I can help you in 2016.

Thanks for reading!

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