2016: year in review

As the year draws to a close, I like to look back at what was and looking forward to what might be. This is my second year in review post, the first being last year. This post also marks my second year of self-employment.

I’ve split this post into 4 sections:

But first, a word on 2016. Quite a year, right?

It felt like there wasn’t a week that went by without something that really sucked happening. If it wasn’t another celebrity death, it was another damaging post-truth article from a mainstream publication, or an Orwellian law being passed, or another extremist attack.

I’ve always casually followed politics but this year it has consumed a much bigger part of my life, as it has for millions of others. I’ve followed with both intrigue and fear.

This year has highlighted a divide that exists in society, a divide which is far bigger than many of us ever realised. It’s shown how fragile our world is and how unpredictable our world can be.

I’ve wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend that it doesn’t matter or that I don’t care. The problem is, it does matter and I do care. I’ve been trying to understand what has happened (because I don’t) so that I can be more empathetic towards those who obviously see the world differently to how I do. This tension (between hiding and seeking) has taken more energy than I care to admit.

Anyhow – this post isn’t about politics or world affairs. Let’s move on, shall we?

What went well

Business

Business wasn’t great (compared to last year), but it would be remiss of me not pull out some positives. I’ve worked with some great clients and together we’ve produced some great work. Referrals are up, as are leads from my website. I’m also still enjoying freelance life. Overall, and all things considered, a thumbs up.

The 30 Day Writing Challenge

Those that know me or have followed me know that I’m a proponent of daily writing. I’ve often encouraged friends to blog or journal because I’ve seen so many of the benefits first hand. In response, I’ll often hear “I’d love to write more, but I don’t have time/I don’t know what to write about/I have nothing to say/etc.” Writing is difficult because of the many mental blocks we put in place.

It was for this reason that I created The 30 Day Writing Challenge. I wanted to encourage others to push past these mental blocks. The response was fantastic. 134 people signed up and took part, with many of those blogging 2-3 times per week. It’s something I want to run again next year, but with a new and improved format. If you’re interested in joining the challenge next time, jump on my mailing list to hear about it first.

Inline-Block Community

One of the unexpected outcomes from the 30 Day Writing Challenge (30DWC) was the community that came from it. I invited participants from 30DWC to a private Slack team. It started with a fairly small group – around 30 people – and it’s grown to be a positive community of around 130. Topics include writing, design and development, photography, productivity, books, and more.

It has become a place I really enjoy hanging out in. Working from home can be lonely, so these online communities have become increasing important in keeping me sane. I’ve really enjoyed the discussions that have taken place, and there’s some brilliant and smart folk in there. If it sounds like your thing, you can join here.

Mastermind Group

In the closing stages of last year, I started a mastermind group with Andy, Alex, and Darren. Every fortnight, we jump on a Google Hangouts call and discuss the problems we’re facing, what we’re working on, etc. This has been a fantastic success this year. Although we’re in different phases of business (Andy and Darren have employees, while Alex and I are solo), we’re in similar phases of personal growth. We’re changing the format for 2017, splitting the year into 12-week sprints. I’m really excited about this new format and I’ll be writing about it in the future.

Reading

Although I’ve read far less than last year and failed to meet my goal of publishing book notes for 12 books, I’ve stumbled across some really stunning books this year. I’ve learned that reading for me is a quality over quantity thing. I’d much rather read a handful of life-changing books, than dozens of mediocre books. Here are a couple of books that I’ve read this year that are worth a shout out:

Social/Meetups

In my review last year, I wrote: “I’ve not really attended any local events all year. It’s something I need to make more of an effort with next year.” I did make more of an effort and went to a number of meetups throughout the year.

I’ve also been involved in organising Homebrew Brum with Dave Redfern and Paul Tibbetts. It’s a small meetup that takes place once a month, with the focus on attendees working on their own websites. I’m excited to see how it develops next year.

Holiday

In November, my wife and I travelled to Sri Lanka and The Maldives. It was a much needed holiday, where we got the chance to eat great food, explore new cultures, and unwind. Sri Lanka, in particular, was incredibly beautiful and a place I’d love to revisit some day. My photos are here.

House

The big house project this year was a new kitchen. We finished the kitchen in June and we’re really happy with it. I got my own whisky shelf, too.

What went badly

Burnout

I wrote about my experience of burning out for Geek Mental Help Week. It was the first time I’d experienced burnout. Since writing the article, I’ve had a lot of people ask if I’m ok and if I’m taking better care of myself. Yes and yes is the answer.

Lessons learnt: I’ve got a better understanding of what my own limitations are now. Sometimes you have to push too far to know where the boundaries are. I’ve also learnt this year that a creative professional’s life has seasons. There’s a time for intense work and there’s a time for family and a social life. But you can’t do both simultaneously and that was the mistake I made. I now have a better understanding of the seasons of my work, and thus when it makes sense to push, and when to slow down.

Writing

I wrote 38 blog posts this year, which isn’t a bad number by any means. But I’m still lumping “writing” as something that went badly this year. 30 of those posts were posted in one month, during April, which I did for the 30 Day Writing Challenge. I have really neglected my newsletter this year and that’s something I want to fix next year.

Lessons learnt: I do the majority of my writing in the early hours of the morning, so my lack of writing is due to not protecting my evening and morning routines.

Business growth

Last year I set a goal of growing my businesses revenue by 15%. This number was more or less plucked from thin air. I didn’t have a plan to execute against. I naively assumed that more effort and more time invested would give me a bigger return. This assumption was wrong. Business was slower this year and revenue is down about 10%. Not catastrophic by any means, but certainly an eye opener.

Lessons learnt: I think I set the wrong goal here. If I focused instead of working with the right clients, improving my marketing, and charging the right rates for projects, my revenue would have increased as a by-product. I don’t plan on setting monetary growth goals in the future. I hope that by setting other goals, increased revenue will be a by-product.

Find a place to work away from home

Another goal I set last year was finding a place to work away from home. Working from home can be a lonely endeavour, and switching up my work environment can help with creativity. I have attended a local co-working space twice, but I need to do more. More coffee shops, more co-working spaces, more changes of scenery. Possibly even a hot desk, if I can find a suitable place.

Health

Towards the middle of the year I reached 78kg, and I went down to 72.8kg at the start of November. My target for the end of the year was 70kg, and I’m now just over 75kg. So this year wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. Something to work on next year.

Not building assets

A typical freelancer does project-based work. A client pays a fee, you deliver the work, and then you both move on. The problem with this is that they’re one-offs. You need a constant stream of new clients. I had hoped to build some assets – things that would deliver a steady stream of income over time. This is something I have completely neglected this year, and something I really want to make progress on next year.

My goals for 2017

Launch first product

This is the big one for me and one I’ve been sitting on and procrastinating over. I have a product that I’ve started planning, but it’s too early to announce. It might change (and that’s ok), but a big focus for me in 2017 year will be releasing my first product.

Goal: launch first product

Writing

Writing is such an instrumental tool for my business, and I need to be more consistent at it. I want to get back to emailing my list every two weeks. I also want to get my morning routine back on track and write at least 500 words every morning.

Goal: write to my mailing list every two weeks

Reading

Same as last year: read better, not necessarily more. I want to have 12 book notes published by the end of 2017.

Goal: publish 12 book notes

Savings

In 2016, I cut into some of my savings. Not in a critical way, but it’s certainly something I want to reverse this year. The bigger the buffer I have, the more creative freedom I have moving forward.

Goal: save 4 months salary

One movie night per week

We started this at the start of 2016 and it was great, so I want to keep it up for 2017. Doesn’t matter which night, and it doesn’t even have to be a movie, but I’d like to have one night a week where I spend time with my wife. No mobile phones, no distractions, just quality time together.

Goal: 1 night in per week

Themes for 2017

These are the things I want to remind myself about during 2017. They don’t have tangible goals, so they don’t fit in the section above. I’ll be reviewing these themes every month.

Routines

Many of my goals and much of my day-to-day productivity will be achieved through my morning routine. Protecting my morning and evening routines, and honing them, will be an important part of my year.

Deep Work

This isn’t just a habit you develop, it’s a practice. Throughout the year, I’ll be practicing deep work, removing distractions, and training my brain not to wonder.

Meditation

I’ve been interested in meditation for the past year, but I haven’t committed. My Mastermind buddy Andy Henson wrote a great introduction to Meditation earlier in the year and has an impressive 160+ day streak going. It’s encouraged me to get my act together and start practicing mindfulness.

Output over input

Derek Sivers once said “if information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” Over the past few years, I’ve overloaded on information. I’ve filled every free moment with podcasts, books, and articles. But this year, I want to reverse that. I want to go on an information diet and spend more of my time and energy on making things.

Minimalism

In the book Essentialism, it describes an Essentialist as “someone who deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many”. I hope to continue cutting through the noise across all areas of my life: from digital minimalism, to the clothes I own and the things I buy, to the projects and clients I take on. That’s not to say I’ll only have 10 possessions by the end of the year, but I do think that by being more mindful about the things I buy and the things I spend my time on will have a positive impact on my life.

Experiences not possessions

Related to minimalism, I plan to invest more in experiences. More travelling, more live music, more comedy shows, more good food and nights in with friends.

Relationships

Focus on helping more people. Be a better husband, son, brother, godfather, and friend. Spend more time with the people that matter.

Right, that about does it for me.

All the best to you and yours for 2017.

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