2017 Retrospective

The new year provides a natural self-reflection point. It’s an opportunity to review the past year, identify what went well and what didn’t go so well, then lay out plans to make the upcoming year even better.

This kind of self-reflection is a skill just like riding a bike. The more you practice the skill, the better you get at being honest with yourself and identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Each year, I set aside some time to reflect back on the previous year and set some personal areas I want to focus on. You can read my 2015 retrospective here and my 2016 one here. I borrowed this tactic from Nate Green. If you would like some loose guidelines about how you can write your own retrospective, I would suggest reading his post here.

What did I do right? What am I proud of?

I continued to build habits I’m proud of.

Fitness and learning are two habits I hold near and dear to my heart. Keeping inline with past years, I made progress on both.

I worked out 282 times (all tracked and available here) including a GoRuck Tough event with my buddy Chris, a CrossFit competition, and a deadlift personal record (430#) that I’ve been working towards for several years.

On the learning front, I read 34 books. I even experimented with an online book club of sorts that didn’t end up panning out.

We traveled to a different country.

I love traveling. After traveling to Greece for our honeymoon in 2015, we didn’t plan any extended travel in 2016. Last year though, we spent 10 days in Thailand. It was the best trip I’ve ever taken. We went on a nature walk with elephants, ate tons of amazing food, and immersed ourselves in a completely different culture. I can’t wait until we get to do it again.

A collection of photos from our Thailand trip.

I shipped a lot of work while also spending time with those I love.

I think 2017 was one of my more productive years overall both in terms of the side projects I was able to ship and the work I did at Automattic.

  • At Automattic, I continued to lead much of our work around customer success from a support perspective. Alongside my awesome coworkers, we launched some impressive improvements in that area and laid out a structure that will allow us to impact even more customers in the new year.
  • I published a code project build with React JS and Redux: Blockable.
  • I wrote quite a few blog posts and sent 5 newsletters. I’m looking forward to writing even more in 2018.
  • I wrote a few guest posts for other websites raising money for charity in the process (~$300 per piece). My favorite was this piece on promoting yourself at work.
  • Alongside the other members of our board, we raised around $20,000 for charity through Drink for Pink.
  • I opened 59 pull requests in Calypso, the open source front-end of WordPress.com.

Even with all of this work going on, I still managed to take 31 days off throughout the year (excluding weekends but including holidays). A lot of this progress has to do with how I manage my day and my work. I planning on writing about this in-depth in 2018. I’ve found it to be extremely helpful, and I’ve shared the thought process and methods with a handful of others that continue to thank me and talk about the impact it’s had on their output.

I applied to be a JavaScript Wrangler at Automattic.

In 2016, I set a pretty ambitious goal: “Apply to the JavaScript Wrangler position at Automattic.” I did apply, but I did not end up making it to the trial process or get hired on.

At the time, this was very discouraging. I stopped coding altogether for a three week period and contemplated giving it up altogether. I understood the reasons I didn’t make it. I still have tons to learn, and if I’m being honest, I’m not at the same level as the developers at Automattic.

Looking back, I’m proud that I applied. It was a big risk to my pride. I worked really hard for several years. When the interview process didn’t work out in my favor, I did initially feel discouraged. It felt like years of work down the drain. At this point though, I see the entire process as a great learning experience. Sure, I didn’t land a JavaScript role at Automattic, but I picked up skills that continue to serve me to this very day, and I improved my overall value to the company through the 100+ pull requests I worked on. I also learned a lot about myself.

I’m not sure if I’ll apply for the JavaScript Wrangler position again. I ultimately enjoy the intersection of development, marketing, and customer success. I’ll continue to improve in each of these areas and see what opportunities pop up.

What are my biggest opportunities for growth?

Spend more time offline.

We’re expecting our first little one in February 2018. I’m fortunate that I’ll be able to take five months off to hang out with my wife and our baby boy. It’s going to be the most exciting time in my life, and I want to fully experience and treasure that time we have together.

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten much better about leaving work at work and being fully immersed with my family and friends when I’m with them. I don’t use any social media accounts on my phone for personal use. I leave my phone in the car when we go to a restaurant.

Still, there’s always room to improve, and the five months I’ll spend on paternity is a great time to build these better habits around technology.

How can I tackle these opportunities for growth?

Action #1: Take email off my phone and install Moment to track my time.

I continue to take email off my phone only to re-add for some silly reason later on. I’m going to turn off email accounts on my phone and install the Moment app, which tracks how long I’m on my phone each day. My goal is to keep it under 30 minutes. The only caveat would be podcasts and audiobooks since I frequently listen to those on the 1-2 long walks I take per day.

Action #2: Write two blog posts + one newsletter each month

I know – it seems counter intuitive to set a writing goal when my opportunity for growth is to spend more time offline. With the right approach though, I think it’s possible to increase your output while simultaneously decreasing your input and spending more time with family and friends.

In the past, I’ve committed to writing schedules ranging from every day to once a week and everywhere in between. I understand the benefit of having a rigid posting schedule, but moving forward, I have two items I want to satisfy each time:

  1. I’ll publish something when I have something unique to say.
  2. I’ll spend enough time fleshing out the post so it’s comprehensive and valuable.

For an example of a post that fit both of those categories from this past year, I loved this one about the planning fallacy. I combined quotes from books, scientific studies, and tactics from successful individuals into one narrative.

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That’s mine. Now, it’s your turn.

Regardless of whether you share it or not, I would encourage you to write your own personal retrospective. If you’re keen to share it, please send it to me. I’d love to hear what you’re working on in 2018.