My 2020 Annual Review

My Annual Review is something I've done for the past 3-4 years, but this is the first year I'm publishing it.

I'm publishing one portion of my overall review, done in the format I describe here.

This portion is in the format of James Clear's reviews, which I think are more interesting for other readers.

2020 was a crazy year for a lot of reasons, but I consider myself very lucky to have had a great year. That was the result of a lot of luck and privilege, which I'm grateful for.

What went well?

Blog growth: The number of visitors to my blog grew 215% this year. A combination of past investments paying off, and my switch to Webflow. My blog remains the center of my work, and will continue to do so. Publishing writing there remains one of my most rewarding activities. I also launched my first product (access to my book notes), which brought my first passive income ever.

Staying active: I biked, surfed, golfed and sailed more this year than I have in a long time, or ever, in the case of surfing and cycling. My environment changed a lot this year, but I managed to stay active and fit regardless, with little structure and not much focus. It's become enough of a part of my lifestyle that I don't need to think about it much.

Time with family: I returned to Nova Scotia in late March, not knowing how long I'd be there, and ended up staying for the rest of the year. I kept thinking about The Tail End, an article on Wait but Why, which says that on average, we've spent ~93% of the time we will with our parents by the time we graduate high school. This year was one that I may never replicate in terms of time with my parents and brothers.

Saltwreck: We switched Saltwreck from Shopify to Etsy this year, which simplified a lot of things. The result was a big jump in sales with a lot less work, which I hope will continue in 2021. Small, cash-generating businesses like this continue to interest me.

Growing at work: At Unito, I helped re-evaluate our pricing, run a product team focused on fast experimentation, build a new internal pricing service, launch new pricing, and coordinate experiments across the company. Personally, I learned a lot about pricing and monetization, being a product manager, and improved my communication and work with other teams. This year I felt like I finally got to the point I wanted to in my role, and started having the impact and influence I want.

Finding an online community: This really only happened at the end of 2020, but I finally started to recognize what I'd heard other people say about Twitter and finding a community of like-minded individuals. Twitter is going to be a focus in 2021, and making online connections in-person.

Making the most of the pandemic: This is a lot to do with luck and privilege—I was able to go back to Nova Scotia where there was little chance of infection and lots of space. The year was different, but not bad for me. I managed to ignore the news, spend lots of time outside, and get lots of work done.

What didn't go so well?

Newsletter growth: I had lots of visitors to my site in 2020, but overlooked converting them to newsletter subscribers. As a result, I saw lots of other, newer newsletters shoot up in subscribers, in a big year for newsletters in general. To be fair, other activities—like publishing regularly and being present on Twitter—are required to grow the newsletter, but I still feel like I could have done a much better job. I did switch to ConvertKit (from Mailchimp), which is a good start. Improving the systems I have in place for this will be a big focus for 2021.

Writing: I just didn't write enough. I established a daily writing habit in December with the social and financial incentive of Ship 30 for 30, Dickie Bush's writing program, and by lowering the bar I set for myself in terms of how much I have to write and prepare. That's a good start, but I want to write a lot more in 2021.

Time with friends: Coming back to Nova Scotia meant I didn't get to see my Montreal friends nearly as much, and of course the pandemic restricted this too. It also meant I couldn't travel to visit friends. The extra time I got with family was a result of trading time with friends.

Travel: This one was mostly outside my own control. The pandemic and the lack of spread in the Maritimes meant it was a good place to be, and travel was non-existent for me after March (aside from local trips, which did make the highlights of the year).

What did I learn?

For whatever reason, this year felt like one where a lot of the things I'd read about or understood theoretically became known to me.

Seeing objective reality as closely as possible is the most important skill for improvement.

Ray Dalio stated it as his most fundamental principle in Principles: "Truth —more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality— is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes."

It provides benefits in so many ways: you better understand what is your fault, what your mistakes or weaknesses are, and you can acknowledge and improve them.

You can escape the usual cognitive dissonance that prevents us from making poor decisions or seeing what needs to be done.

It gives you confidence in your actions.

It shortcuts all of the usual psychological obstacles we face when trying to change our behavior or improve systems.

This is a difficult skill. It requires detaching your emotional reaction in assessing situations. It requires the ability to blame yourself. It requires consistent documentation so you can assess past decisions accurately. It requires a lack of expectations from others.

Once you start seeing reality accurately, the world becomes so much easier.

Everyone has expectations. It's not your responsibility to meet them, but you do need to plan for them.

Personal or professional, every person you interact with will have expectations. The best will communicate them up front and clearly, and be able to tell when their own expectations are unreasonable.

The worst will be oblivious to them, and will suck your effort and time as you try to manage them.

However, if you want to maintain any personal or professional relationships, you have to acknowledge them. Communicating your expectations clearly will help, but most people just won't be able to manage their own well, and you ignore that fact at your own peril.

Consistency wins.

Whether it's how you approach your work, your relationships, publishing online, growing your Twitter or your newsletter, consistently showing up, over and over, at the same time, will win every time.

I've seen it happen so many times now in so many different domains that it's going to become one of my core mantras.

Less is better.

Ruthless prioritization is becoming more and more important. With all of the noise in the modern world, the ability to focus on a single thing—on your daily to-do list, your monthly goals, whatever—is extremely important.

We overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term, and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term.

Focus on fewer things, execute impatiently and consistently, and watch the results compound over time.

The quality of people around you matters.

If you want to be better, surround yourself with people who are already better.

Towards the end of this year, I started spending more time on Twitter reading and watching really outstanding people, and building a community there. It's hard to overstate how how valuable it is to see both a) what the best are doing day in and day out and b) how attainable it is, every day.

The every day part is critical. We forget things all the time, and need to be constantly reminded. The people you surround yourself with will do that, and push you to be better.

Start your day with a quick win.

Just as you should have only one item on your to-do list each day that really matters, you should try and make your day a win as soon as possible.

For me, that means writing. It doesn't have to be long, or good, or anything worth sharing. But a good day for me is a day when I create something, and this allows me to do that right away.

Think in systems.

One thing I finally grasped this year is that if I want to expand my personal leverage—my ability to produce more work—I have to think in systems.

The process typically looks like this:

  1. Figure out how to solve problem, validate solution via manual work
  2. Figure out how to automate as much of this solution as possible
  3. Document this solution
  4. Delegate/hire someone to do the rest (or as much as possible)

That's how top performers seem to do so much more than the rest of us. They have the same number of hours in the day, but they expand their reach through automation and delegation, leaving only the most important work for them to do.

That's all! 2020 was a year of a lot of learning, and for that I'm grateful.

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