Year in Review – 2020 Edition

In reading through the works of James Clear this year through his book, Atomic Habits, one of his ideas that I really love are the Annual Reviews that he’s put together to formally walkthrough how the year went, what things went well, and what could’ve gone better. He uses raw data as much as possible to quantity his results, and as I eluded to earlier this year, it’s something that I’ve been looking forward to implementing myself…

2020 – The Year That Wouldn’t End…


1. What went well?

Work From Home
For starters, due to the pandemic I ended up working from home for the majority of the year, which is honestly my preference because there are less distractions, I’m able to flex my time easier with the kids’ various schedules, and here I’m able to create my own ideal work environment instead of trying to conform to one that’s been created for me.

Plus, when the kids were out of school, it led to some surprisingly welcome distractions like them coming in to draw on my white board or just sit at the table watching videos on their iPads while I was working. 😀

I also found myself actually reading some books, which is something that I’ve always wanted to embrace but couldn’t drive myself to do even with a daily commute to the office! I read a total of three books in 2020, which I know isn’t a lot … but it’s two and a half more than I read in 2019, so that’s something.

  1. Time Management in 20 Minutes a Day
  2. Atomic Habits
  3. The Hidden Power of F*cking Up

All three books were audiobooks, which I wasn’t really a fan of in the past, but I found it really easy to fit these in while I was driving back from the kids’ schools or doing yardwork outside or even exercising. In fact, I’ve got a whole stack of books I want to read now in 2021 – I’ve set a goal to get through 10 over the course of the year, however considering that I’m already almost half way through my first book on the 2nd of January… 😉

And admittedly it doesn’t feel like it, but overall I wrote more “things” in 2020 than I did in 2019 – 27% more, to be exact!

For reference, I’m using “things written” to quantify everything from blog posts and columns, stories, books, and other little writings that I’ve published online. Pretty much anything except for social media.

That said, I earned about 13% less in writing income than I did the previous year, most of which doesn’t surprise me due to where I focused my time each year. For example, a good number of 2020’s things were blog posts about COVID-19 because I really used my blog throughout the year to help work out my thoughts around the pandemic, however I don’t get paid for any of that kind of stuff. 

I do have a plan to improve on this for 2021, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

2. What didn’t go well?

Despite being home for nine months out of the year and even a couple of attempts at diet & exercise, I didn’t really stick with it and found myself often turning to food and particularly soda for stress relief from everything else that’s been going on.

House Cleanliness
Having three young kids, we already struggle with this, but add in having them home for five months straight when they switched to virtual school in the spring and we’ve just had an extraordinarily difficult time keeping up with everything. It’s equal parts embarrassing and stressful to walk through the house and find garbage and toys all over the floor, especially when you literally spent the previous two days cleaning everything up!

This is an area where we desperately need help… 🙁

Personal Finance
And although our household quite possibly made more money than ever in 2020 thanks to my wife picking up a lot of call shifts at work, overspending was also at an all-time high between creature comforts and takeout and entirely too much credit card debt. Unfortunately it’s very hard to get out from under that when you’re charging the cards back up the same month immediately after you make your payments, but I’m very happy to say that I think we’ve got a solid plan going into the new year to fight this challenge head-on.

3. What did I learn?

Tiny Ripples are Better Than Big Splashes
I’m pretty sure I got this from Atomic Habits … maybe Time Management in 20 Minutes a Day, too, but the idea is really simple. Don’t worry about fixing the whole thing at once; instead, zero in on one tiny area and tweak that until you see results. Then move on to the next thing, and the next thing.

For me, I still have a long ways to go, but it means…

  • Spending time outlining my thoughts for a new writing piece because it will make the rest of the process flow easier later.
  • Taking my idle time when I first get up to do the dishes right off the bat instead of just scrolling through social media.
  • Listening to 15 minutes of an audio book on my trip to the store instead of music.

Especially in 2021, I want to go down my entire list of goals and come up with a list of tiny changes that I can try to see the impact they have.

In the grand scheme, I enjoy writing long form more than I do social media.
We all know that social media has become this incredible time suck on our lives. Particularly with the events of last year, I stumbled across the notion of “doom scrolling” which I think aptly describes just staring into your phone without even noticing that the hours are whizzing by behind you!

Case in point, over 12 months I tweeted roughly 1,400 times … but I probably wouldn’t care to re-read 99% of those, if not more!

In 2020, I already took a few steps to help mitigate this like turning off social media notifications on my phone and trying not to keep their tabs open on my browser.

This year I want to build on that by getting better at turning to alternatives like reading on my phone or maybe outlining or working on my next thing instead of defaulting to Facebook or Twitter to pass the time.

Self care is easy to put off, and even more important not to.
Meditation. Yoga. Drinking tea.

These are all things that I’ve not only expressed an interest in previously but I haven’t been very consistent about their use. Yet I think together, along with improving my diet and sleep schedule and level of physical activity, they could really help to improve my quality of life through reducing my stress and anxiety as well as improving my creative output.

It seems backwards to put rewarding things like going to bed early or taking time to relax ahead of doing the work, but it just might be the key to actually getting it done!

Compassion and empathy are more important than ever.
And last but not least, one overall observance that I’ve made from the pandemic is that when humanity is at its ugliest, it’s typically because it’s fallen far from showing compassion and empathy for our fellow man. We’re all struggling through this thing together, albeit some at drastically different levels of challenge than others, but it’s so much easier to face when we’re willing to do things like wear masks and socially distance for other people more than our own benefit. 🙂

4. My goals for 2021…

  • Grow my writing income to pay our mortgage payment each month.
  • Save 15% of every dollar earned.
  • Lose 25 pounds.
  • Read 10 books.
  • Catch up on adding memories to our family photo album.

My driving forces to help accomplish these goals are going to be the things that I learned in #3 – focus on tiny changes, avoid social media, and make time to take care of myself.

Let’s get to work! I’m going to start with taking a bubble bath and reading a book after the kids go to bed… 😉


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