Sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the Israeli countryside with a laptop open and a blank Google Doc staring back at me, I can’t help but reflect on all that’s happened in 2017 and think about what I want to accomplish in 2018.
While the backdrop may be different, the process has been pretty similar the last 5 years. Every year since 2014, I’ve deliberately set aside some time the week between Christmas and New Year’s to evaluate the past year and set my theme for the year ahead.
For the past 4 of those years, I’ve shared my theme for the year in a blog post. My theme in 2014 was change and resiliency. In 2015, it was vulnerability. In 2016 it was mindfulness. Last year, it was honey over vinegar.
My process begins with reflecting on the past year. I ask a serious of macro-level questions.
- What are the things that went well in 2017? What were the things that I was most proud of?
- What were my biggest mistakes or failures in 2017?
- What do I want to stop doing?
- What goals did I not achieve this year?
- Where is the resistance winning?
- Did I fully embrace the theme that I set out for myself for that year?
When I started to reflect on the past year, there were about a half dozen things that I am particularly proud of. Two of these things were –
- Traveling to Australia to give a keynote talk to more than 100 community pros at Swarm Conf.
- Read (or in some cases listened to) more books not blog posts or longform articles than I have in years. I read 14 books this year. I realize there’s many people who read 50+ books a year. But for someone who admittedly used to be lucky to read 6 books in a year, 14 books – or averaging more than one book a month- seems like a pretty good result.
For full transparency, I made more than my fair share of mistakes and had a few setbacks. One such mistake was pushing myself to work too hard to the point of experiencing some signs of burnout in November.
It can be uncomfortable to reflect on our failures and shortcomings. That’s actually where the real growth opportunities are. It also helps to take it a step further and think about what you want to stop doing. What are the things that you are doing that may be sabotaging your success?
For example, here’s one big thing that I want to stop doing in 2017.
- Saying “yes” too often to the point where I take on too much in an effort to please people. Then, I feel guilty when I am inevitably letting people down because I have to rushing things and can’t give 100%.
- I’ve started to lean in and explore Derek Sivers’ “Hell Yeah or No” framework for how he makes decisions. I’m not sure I will ever fully embrace this framework. But, it has helped me learned to say no to things – that I have zero passion or obligation to do- but I’d agree to simply to be nice or because I thought I should.
Also, where’s the resistance winning? The resistance plays a big theme in Steven Pressfield’s book – The War of Art. We all encounter resistance. Generally speaking, the bigger or the closer you are to achieving the goal, the more resistance you will encounter. The only way to get past it is to lean into the discomfort and do the work.
This yearly process takes time. But, it can be incredibly useful as a self-check-in and a way to set goals for the upcoming year. I set goals based on five categories – professional, personal, health, investing and travel. I usually have 2-3 goals for each category.
It is worth noting many of the goals are things that I started to work towards already this year.
(Life hack – when you want to build a new habit or goal, find anyway – even if it is tiny win – to build momentum early on.)
As I was reflecting on my past year, I can’t help but notice while I’ve achieved a few things, I’ve failed and abandoned a lot more goals not just in 2017, but over the last 5 years.
Having sustainable and repeatable habits and processes makes everything easier. That’s admittedly something I’ve been really bad at. I historically work really hard in bursts of inspiration or creativity or sometimes periods of intense hustle and focus. These “sprints” can be incredibly productive, but they aren’t scalable, sustainable, harder than they need to be and can have some unpleasant side effects.
Like I realized again this fall.
I had and rode some pretty awesome highs in August, September and October, but I also pushed myself harder to get them. I kept grinding away until I hit a wall in Chiang Mai, Thailand (of all places).
When I’ve experienced signs of burnout in the past, it was because I was bored, frustrated or disengaged from one or more of my goals.
This time was different. I loved and was making a lot of progress on all my work and goals.
Looking back, the culprit for why I suddenly felt burnt out was obvious. At the same time I was working harder, I was also traveling a lot. A lot farther and more often than I usually do.
I love travel, but it is really hard to keep any semblance of routine when you are changing locations every couple of weeks. The lack of routine meant that I was constantly feeling like I was behind and trying to play catch-up. This meant that I was working all the time. When I wasn’t working, I was playing catch up on all the “admin tasks” and everyday life things you need to do. #Adulting. As an introvert, I’m one of those people, who need lots of alone time to recharge, which I wasn’t getting.
Add in jetlag, not getting enough sleep and too much alcohol / going out (at times) and it is not hard to see how this can lead to burnout.
When I was thinking about the things that I really wanted to accomplish not just in 2018, but 5, 10, 20 years from now, setting up more routines, being consistently creative (instead of in bursts) and learning to love the process is going to be paramount if I didn’t want to keep subjecting myself to burnout.
I also turn 30 this year. While I’m not sad about entering a new decade (I’m actually looking forward to putting the turbulent decade of my 20s behind me), it does seem particularly fitting that my theme for the year is process.
Discipline and processes are how you can achieve lots of extraordinary goals.
While I have a couple of big, exciting and scary goals that I want to accomplish this year, in a lot of ways I’m going back to the basics. Almost all of my goals are process-oriented instead of outcome-based.
A few of my goals are –
Publish one new blog post and email newsletter every month. If there’s one thing that admittedly fell apart this year was writing on this blog. I used to write here weekly (granted the posts were mostly crap) and then it turned to monthly. To last year, there were times that I didn’t publish anything for 6 – 8 weeks. That’s too long.
Speak at 2 conferences or events. This is one of the few, outcome-based goals. Public speaking is something that used to terrify me. While I’m still scared to give impromptu talks, I’ve found that I enjoy teaching and sharing stories from a stage. This is something that I want to improve and do more of in the near future.
Embrace slow travel and quick weekend trips. I realize this is ultimate first world problem, and I feel a little guilty even mentioning it. I love to travel, but I went overboard with travel in 2017 (especially the latter half of this year). I have no plans to stop traveling, but I want to do it differently moving forward. I want to either settle in one place for an extended period of time (say 4+ weeks) or take quick weekend trips. Slow travel enables me to establish a routine and not feel like I’m constantly having to play catch-up.
Work out 30 minutes 3 times a week. I’m not trying to be an elite CrossFit athlete or marathon runner here, but I do realize that both my work and pretty much all of my hobbies are sedentary or occasionally involve consuming high calorie “adult beverages.” I am also not getting any younger, and would like to stay healthy that requires me to stay reasonably fit.
Read at least one new book a month. I used to read all the time as a kid. Sometime around high school, I stopped reading in favor of Facebook, IM and blogs. While there are some great blogs out there, books are timeless. You can learn so much from reading a well-written book. I managed to read a lot more than I expected in 2017, and want to build on that momentum in 2018.
Sidenote- Did you know? I send out a monthly newsletter on the last Sunday of every month with the 4 best blog posts, books and in some cases podcasts I listened to. Sign up to get my reading recs here.
Discipline and hard work are two things I’ve always prided myself on. I’ve also always been motivated by hitting goals and can be fiercely competitive. While it is served me pretty well, it is also lead to a fair amount of problems like bouts of burnout, working harder (not necessarily smarter) and self-doubt. I suspect the anecdote to many of these problems is to learn to trust and fall in love simply with the process.