Why Write an Annual Review?
I’ve always found that at the end of the year, I tend to reflect on everything that happened in the past year (the good and the bad) and spend time thinking about what’s coming next in the upcoming year. It would be naive to think that a single review can capture all of the highlights, lowlights, memories, and learnings from an entire year, but that is not my goal in writing this. I hope that these annual reviews* turn in to a fun way to reminisce on the past year, celebrate achievements, feel grateful, evaluate failures, and remind myself of lessons learned.
* The streak is currently at 1 #dontbreakthechain
To add more color on why I am doing this, the following from James Clear really resonated with me:
An annual review will give me a chance to take stock of what went well and what could have gone better, while also giving me a moment to enjoy the progress I’ve made over the past 12 months.
But it’s not just about looking back. A good Annual Review is also about looking toward the future and thinking about how the life I’m living now is building toward a bigger mission. Basically, my Annual Review forces me to look at my actions over the past 12 months and ask, “Are my choices helping me live the life I want to live?”
My Annual Review is a time when I get to celebrate the hard work and important decisions I have made over the past year, while also taking stock of where I failed and how I can improve. Although you should highlight your victories, it’s not about comparing yourself to others or picking a winner. The Annual Review is about seeing yourself for who you really are and thinking about the type of person you want to become. As I said earlier this year, keep your eyes on your own paper.
And most importantly, the annual review is a personal process. It’s not about comparing how much or how little you did to someone else. It’s about your life, your actions, and what you want to do for yourself. In other words, keep your eyes on your own paper.
Before I begin, I should mention one thing: It’s always a little weird for me to share these Annual Reviews because when I talk about the good stuff it feels like I’m bragging and when I talk about the bad stuff it feels like I’m being strangely vulnerable with the world. That said, I still think it’s important because talking about how many workouts I did or articles I wrote provides proof that I am “walking the walk.”
While it is personally helpful for me to reflect on the last year, it also shows that I have skin in the game. I’m not just dishing out opinions when I write about things. I’m putting these ideas to practice in my own life.
Ultimately, every Annual Review is a personal process. This is what my year looked like, not a suggestion of what yours should include. Everyone runs their own race.
Annual Review Structure
My Annual Review will answer three questions across three categories + includes a “Rushmore of Rushmores” at the end.
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What went well this year?
- What did I learn?
- Health & Fitness
- Hobbies & Learning
- Work & Business
I’m going to answer 1. “What went well?” and 2. “What didn’t go so well?” as a Rushmore: four answers per question (because there are four faces on Mt Rushmore) with a 280 character max description, per answer. Hopefully this gives a hint of what the “Rushmore of Rushmores” is at the end.
While learnings will be part of my answers to questions 1. and 2., for question 3. “What did I learn?” I’ll try to provide my two biggest learnings. Each of these will be limited to 280 characters max as well.
I thought about including a “forward looking question” like “What are my goals for next year?” or “What am I working towards?” However, as of now, I want to treat this review as more of a “backward-looking, reflective” exercise that is focused on learnings vs a “forward-looking, goal-setting exercise” focused on planning (maybe I’ll change this in the future). Oh and I chose a 280 character limit because even Twitter realized 140 characters wasn’t enough 🙂
Lastly, a huge thanks to Ness Labs and James Clear who not only provided great inspiration by sharing their annual reviews, but also each provided an annual review template that I pulled from to create the above structure.
And with that, here is my 2019 Annual Review.
Health & Fitness
What didn’t go so well this year?
Two muscle strains (rhomboid and piriformis): I strained these because I didn’t warm-up and stretch, pre and post-exercise, respectively. I now do both obsessively. Injuries are great reminders that: 1) rule #1 of longevity is don’t get injured and 2) getting injured sucks. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Periods of horrendous sleep: I didn’t realize just how much I was hurting myself by not getting high quality sleep until I read the book “Why We Sleep”. Hindsight is 20:20 but when I think back at the times in 2019 when I “felt / performed the worst” I feel like poor sleep was a major causal factor.
Not staring with “why” and “how” in diets: It’s easy to want the “what” first, and to go off and “execute” right away. But doing this meant I missed, for example, key supplementation knowledge (ie more sodium is needed on a keto diet). This is a reminder that: going fast might feel slow in the present as I “read the map.”
I didn’t reach my goal of hitting the max score in Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT): My brother in the Army told me about this test. I’m 9 pushups and .5m away in the power throw from hitting the max score in each movement in isolation (haven’t tested the Sprint, Drag & Carry but think I’m good here). However, the final test is doing all 6 movements in 50 min:
- Deadlift: 340lbs
- Standing Power Throw: 12.5m
- Hand-Release Push-up: 60 in 2 min
- Sprint, Drag & Carry: 1:33
- Leg Tuck: 20 reps
- Two-Mile Run: 13:30
What went well this year?
(I think) I started to not dislike running: I have never loved running (still not sure if I do) but I ran my first two 5K races this year and hit a PR of 20:18 (6:32 min/mi pace). Huge credit to Hal Higdon’s 5K training plan for giving me structure and I have now graduated from the novice the intermediate training plan.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been a game changer: I only need to think about eating (and cooking, I like to cook) 1 or 2 meals. IF has improved my relationship with food and made it much easier to be in a caloric deficit. I usually do 16:8hr daily fasts but also did 10+ Monk Fasts (36hrs) and 3 Himalayan Fasts (60hrs) this year.
I experimented a lot with different diets and landed on keto: As a human guinea pig, this year, I tested the zone diet, vegan diet, low-carb diet, and ketogenic diet (a month+ minimum in each). I am currently on a cyclical ketogenic diet and this experimenting taught me that with any diet, adherence is the single most important factor.
New “health practices”: cold showers + mobility: I’ve stuck with cold showers (every day since 5/1/19) because my skin dramatically improved (“if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”). And after two injuries, every day, I do the limber 11 and the crossover symmetry routine, and then I stretch after any lower-body exercise.
What did I learn?
You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems. Put differently, you don’t rise to the level of your expectations, you fall to the level of your training: I am finally getting close to 10% body fat, a sub 20:00 5K, and maxing out the ACFT, because of a new focus on building systems to achieve these goals: tracking calories, IF, Hal Higdon’s weekly running plan, and programming the ACFT into my weekly training. Exercise systems ftw.
Discipline = freedom: Put differently, it enables it. Constant discipline actually gives me more freedom. A favorite example of mine is with IF: eating only in a 4-8 hr window actually gives me more freedom in what I eat and how much I can eat because it’s hard to overeat in a smaller period.
Hobbies & Learning
What didn’t go so well this year?
A (toxic) all or nothing mentality for habits: There were days when I would do all of my desired new habits and old habits… or do none at all. It doesn’t have to be that way. Learning: any new habit I try to add should be doable in 2 min or less so it doesn’t immediately reach the “feels-like-a-chore threshold”.
I didn’t learn React Native: Simply put, I didn’t allocate the time and energy I needed to learn which was a disappointment. My threshold for “learning” was building and launching a closed loop working app to the app store. Coding is something that can’t be boiled down to 2 min a day. It requires deep work.
I didn’t build system for consistent deep work: I tried journalistic deep work (without realizing it, I’m reading “Deep Work” now) and it was not effective. I’ve found that having structure + non-negotiable times of day for certain habits is when most effective so I’ll look to implement rhythmic deep work this year.
Poor consistent communication with close friends and family: Yes, everyone is busy. And yes, it does require effort from both sides, but my communication was poor. I would go long stretches without making a proactive effort to talk to the people who matter most to me. Even small things make a difference (ie text vs call vs in person).
What went well this year?
I finally developed a consistent meditation practice: 10 min a day with Waking Up by Sam Harris: It’s had a gargantuan impact on my mind. I wish I learned this when I began: The “bicep curl of meditation” is when you get distracted and you come back to the breath. You should be happy when this happens because this is the work. The work isn’t doing it perfectly every time.
I started journaling every morning: Started with the 5 min journal, added on a dream journal and now I also do morning pages (3 pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing). I’ve noticed that journaling helps wake my brain up, gives me a private space to explore thoughts, and is actually quite therapeutic.
I picked back up piano and Mandarin and started to learn to shuffle: I said for 10 min every single day, I’m going to play piano or shuffle OR watch 10 min worth of YouTube videos on the topic (I used Duolingo for my 10 min of Mandarin). Every single day. Fast forward a few months and it’s wild to see how much progress is possible on 10 min a day.
I started reading again (29 books this year): : I credit it to this piece of advice from Naval Ravikant: You don’t have to finish every book you pick up and you can bounce between multiple at one time based on what interests you at the moment. Read what you love until you love to read. Simple Ideas. Game Changing Results.
What did I learn?
Imperfect Consistency > Occasional Perfection: The consistent program that you follow is better than the perfect program that you quit. Build streaks. Streaks are so powerful. They are their own reward. Streaks create internal pressure to keep streaks going. Never break the chain. And if you do? Never miss twice.
Tiny is easy, tiny is safe It’s easy to think: “What’s the point of doing such a small thing… it won’t even have an impact…” But if a new habit is simple enough, you can start today. Taking action is infinitely more valuable than doing nothing at all. You don’t need more time, just a little focused action.
Work & Business
What didn’t go so well this year?
Staying on top of my monthly burn rate: A startup dies if it runs out of money. Money = “creative runway.” I have been diligent about tracking all of my expenses in a google sheet but I was not consistent in reviewing this weekly. This led to a several-month delayed review where I had to cut back my monthly burn.
Inconsistent Getting Things Done (GTD) Weekly Reviews: The key to the GTD Productivity System is the weekly review. It is when “order is restored.” Without it, the entire system is… kind of useless because it creates yet another surface area for stress or anxiety. It takes 2 hours a week. Every second is worth it. Do. The. Review.
Saying vs Living “Hell Yeah, or No”: Regarding all the things I want to do (hobbies, side projects, ideas etc), a mentality that might help is “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.” In other words, it’s not a matter of if, but when, I do these other things. I won’t forget! They’re in my GTD someday/maybe list!
Tunnel Vision for “the path that leads to startup success”: The inherent flaw in this mentality is that there is no single defined 100% guaranteed path to success for startups. You can stack the odds in certain ways, but as Paul Graham says “startups are un-hackable tests.” You can only connect the dots in hindsight. Make a good product.
What went well this year?
Leaving my job at Dropbox to enter the world of entrepreneurship full-time: The OnDeck fellowship was a great way for me to make this transition. Startups at times feel like sitting on a roller coaster of ecstasy and fear on the way towards product-market fit. Learning so much from the ride and am trying to lay down the track to get there (#forgePMF).
Implementing the Getting Things Done Productivity System: I wish I did this years ago. You know that chaotic feeling of “not having your life in order?” The GTD system implemented with Things 3 created order for the first time. It rewired my brain to always think “what’s the next action?” (and has become an extension of my brain).
Becoming a “no-code expert” and falling in love with no-code: No-Code tools give anyone the ability to hack even if you can’t write code; this is a game-changer. Ideas can become reality and this is such a liberating feeling. I learned Glide (and became an expert 🙂 ), Bubble.io, and now I am learning Adalo. So excited for the future here.
Overcoming Resistance by building and publicly launching two products: There is so much that goes into a launch and there is great Resistance (h/t “The War of Art”) in sharing our creations externally. Pemvee and Tweetbombs taught me so much about launching a product and were two pivotal moments for me in overcoming Resistance #BuildWhatYouWant.
What did I learn?
The Paradox of Fear: What we fear of doing most is usually what we most need to do: You’ll start to see this everywhere. For me it was strong when I was deciding to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, hesitating to launch a product, and dreading my GTD weekly review. Don’t avoid fear; lean into it. Let it be a piece of input that guides decisions and actions.
When it comes to creation: “Do your best. Then SHIPPPPP ITTTTTTT” “Why doesn’t a musician go straight to a “greatest hits” record? Why doesn’t a salesperson only call on people who are sure to buy? Because no one knows anything. Picasso painted 10,000 paintings. VCs fund hundreds of businesses. Do your best. Then ship.” – Seth Godin
Rushmore of Rushmores
I’ll finish with a Rushmore of Rushmores (rushmoreception). Let’s see if/how they change by this time next year.
Books: that split my life in half; life just wasn’t the same after reading them
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
- Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
Quotes: that I find myself coming back to
- “What we fear of doing most is usually what we most need to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. – Maya Angelou
- “Happiness is a choice.” – Naval Ravikant
- “You don’t rise the level of your goals, you fall the level of your systems. Put differently: We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” – James Clear
Newsletters: that I love to see in my inbox
- Seth’s Blog by Seth Godin
- 3-2-1 by James Clear
- Intelligent Changeby Intelligent Change
- AVC by Fred Wilson
Paradoxes: that have taught me valuable lessons
- Imperfect Consistency > Occasional Perfection: “The consistent program that you follow is better than the perfect program that you quit” – Tim Ferriss
- The Paradox of Fear: “What we fear of doing most is usually what we most need to do” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Discipline = Freedom: “While Discipline and Freedom seem like they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are actually very connected. Freedom is what everyone wants — to be able to act and live with freedom. But the only way to get to a place of freedom is through discipline.” – Jocko Willink
- Less is More: I think this is true, do you agree? Seeing the four books that split your life in half is exponentially more powerful than seeing a list of every book you’ve ever read