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Productivity

2020 Year in Review

Now that the years officially over, its time to review, reflect and plan for 2021

Now that the years officially over, its time to review, reflect and plan for 2021 (yes – I know I’m writing this a little late, considering this is the first third week of January, but how can I review a week that’s still happening).

This is also the first time I’ve publicly created a review, but given the benefit I’ve felt this year from a few changes during these multiple lockdowns, I felt it important to share my findings, so that others can take these learnings and improve their own output, whether your in another lockdown (as we are here in the UK) or not.

What did I get up to this year?

Most of this will be no surprise to most people (unless you’ve been living under a rock), but I’m going to cover it anyway for my own prosperity.

January, February and most of March started like most years. Reflecting on these now, I find little of note, other than this is when I tried (and failed) to start my blog again, like many others – this is when I also set my goals for 2020 and had one fun, but very expensive trip to Florida.

Looking at the goals I wrote these were

(I’ve left out specifics here – but know they were “SMART”)

  • Generate 1 source of passive income
  • Create an investment plan
  • Adjust my role at work as I move more into my CTO position.
    • Lead 2 projects to completion
    • Champion innovation internally
  • Write 1 blog article per month
  • Grow 1 client to be a digital leader
  • Grow muscle mass

(we’ll come back to these later to see how I got on)

Moving into late March and Q2 of course, the new “normal” happened – with COVID gripping our world. I still remember being in our London office debating cancelling our upcoming trip to the USA (which was exactly the right thing to do), thinking that this would all blow over in a few weeks.

Once we started lockdown, things felt novel – and although productivity was variable at first, we got into a good rhythm. I initially very much enjoyed my wife and I working on the same room together, prior to the nurseries closing and my constant calls becoming too much (we now work in 2 separate rooms to avoid the increasing volume of our voices when both of us are on opposing calls).

Just before we closed the office (and I mean – the last day!) I volunteered myself to help on a large project. Fast forward 3 months – and most of lockdown 1.0, and this project was taking up the majority of my time. I was – at least feeling – that I was working longer hours and being less and less productive. Come June – I was burnt out – or to use a COVID specific term – I’d reached “boreout“. I think this will be the outcome of a lot of reflections this year.. being stuck in our own bubbles, with no interaction with colleagues other than videos calls creates an isolation and that can be hard to break. At this point I took a week off to reset.

This – was exactly the right thing to do. The time away from my desk gave me time to decompress and evaluate what was important. I returned a lot more focused – and the output showed on these projects.

The bigger point here though – is that the week off I took (only 5 days), gave others a chance to pick up my workload. By the time I returned, they could continue in my stead, leaving me free to move onto other tasks (this will be something I’ll return to later).

Throughout all of this though, there was one very positive change I made. I committed, intentionally to improve my fitness. I was determined to come out of this lockdown, fitter, thinner and happier, and although I’d pushed myself a little too far by this point in the year, I had started to improve my running times (by nearly a minute a KM, a sub-7 a mile, meaning my approx 3 hour marathon goal may be in sight). This gave me something to focus on – and stopped me training on autopilot. For years my performance and stats had sat around a similar figure – with no intention behind my goals I was moving no further forward. Yes, the training would have been having a benefit, but really – how much was that having?

This brings me to a main point. Up until this point in the year I was acting more and more on autopilot. I was putting in the hours and getting through the work, but everything lacked an intentionality around it.

Bring on the summer – and all this changed.

Just as before – I volunteered myself on another project. In this case, I deliberately set out to avoid many of the challenges I had previously encountered (spoiler alert – this brought entirely new challenges with it). This project eventually lasted until the end of the year, with myself, and the entire team coming out of the experience a lot richer (with experience that is!), having met some great individuals along the way. So what changed here?

In August – moving into September I started heavily getting into other productivity bloggers, trying out Notion as an addition to OneNote to help me create more structured notes. This combined with starting meditating again – and eventually journaling (with reflection!) gave me a lot more to concentrate and reflect on. Not only was I able to concentrate better following meditation, but I was able to spot trends in my mood, and find strategies to help me be happier and more productive in work. This has been the single biggest change I made – getting really into it around October (where I didn’t miss a day until Christmas day), I was felt I was getting better and better – and when I wasn’t, I was aware of where I had failed and what I had to go improve.

The rest of this review follows the key learnings form the last 3 months of journaling and what I plan to do about it!

What Did I Learn?

Time Management

Managing my own time is my Achilles heel. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post at points throughout the year I’ve been so busy that I’ve switched to being on an autopilot, being unable to escape and thinking about how deliberate I am being with my time. I would often work early in the mornings and late into the evens, yet still struggle to complete everything.

What I found after I started being more intentional with my time, is that not only does time slow down (each week felt like a month – I was getting so much done!), but I would be more productive, whilst working less! To achieve this I found I had to do 5 main things;

  1. Establish a set of key “cascading habits” – Get up early (ideally 5am), Workout, Meditate, Journal. Now I’ve been doing this for a while, but when you don’t have need to commute, it’s easy to get complacent here and things start to slip. Around October I actually brought a new set of noise cancelling headphones (the excellent WH-1000XM4‘s), whenever I start to put these on – my brain goes into focus mode now, knowing that that next few habits will happen on after the other. This is also the same for the evening – intentionally spending dedicated with Arthur during bath and bed time is something many of us have enjoyed more during the Pandemic.
  2. Prepping for the day ahead – I’d try to block out the first few hours of each day to get work done. Sounds easier than it actually is, but the effect once I had started doing it was staggering. Meetings were more prepared – I would close more items on the todo list than before, and most importantly, I was a lot happier and relax – leading to more creative thoughts. I’ve also found my ideal meeting loading is around 60% – so I try to keep space in my calendar now!
  3. Having a realistic TODO list – I only started this on Nov 16th, following reading “The New Corner Office” by Laura Vanderkam – but it did make a huge impact. Often I was allocating tasks I’d like to get done that day, but with no sense of realism on whether it was possible. The result was a lot of late nights as I tried (and failed) to close everything down. Creating a realistic todo list has helped me know when to stop work – and helped me plan my time better overall.
  4. Handling Distractions – I found quite often, if I wasn’t driving something forward on my own – that it would be all too easy to get distracted. I starting noticing this with my phone back in September, so I brought the excellent app “Forest” – which rewards you for not picking up your phone for a specified amount of time. I’d really recommend you try it! I’ve also kept to the habit of “resetting the room”, include my desk and workspace – avoiding having too many browser windows or applications open when I need to focus.

Health

I have always been passionate about my health, and maintaining my weekly running sessions and keeping to performing some form of exercise every day when I can. Apart from having a brief spell of consecutive colds early in 2020, I spent most of the year healthy – getting out most days to do some form of exercise, be that running, cycling, or weights on my make shift weights bench in the garden (which is just 2 railway sleepers!).

The big change I made here this year was being more intentional about my goals, taking nearly a minute off my average per mile (and maintaining it there for most of the year).

I’ve also been fairly good with food (I say fairly – the biscuit tin definitely got he better of me in early 2020), although I am always aware that I never drink enough water.

My biggest challenge this year was my teeth, loosing nearly 6 weeks to a tooth that eventually needed a root canal. Although it feels a distant memory now, the pain I was going through then – I’m still surprised how I was able to continue for so many weeks. Fingers crossed thats the last time I need to go through that in a while!

Team

Talking about my team – and interacting with others at work, I think one elements we all struggled with initially was delegating to others. It became very easy to stay inside our little bubbles to get work done, or even worse – without seeing how busy our colleagues are, delegate too much, pushing many to work late nights. There is no easy answer here – as a leader – its just important that we set the right tone and – most counter intuitively – spend time socialising during calls to make sure we can show and understand how we and others are feeling. I now actively add “chitchat” time to my calls to make sure I keep connected – but also give myself some down time, especially on days with full calendars.

Other Learnings

These didn’t quite deserve their own category but are definitely worth of a mention

  • Structured Notes – I out grew my previous OneNote setup, moving to a Notion + OneNote setup to keep more structured notes (such as team catch ups, projects actions etc). Part of this was down to coming across Notion – an excellent tool for keeping structured and linked notes, recommended by You-tubers such as Thomas Frank and Ali Abdaal. Plus (and this is one of my favourite – under rated features), it exports notes more cleanly than OneNote – making pasting into an email super tidy.
  • Public Speaking – I continued on my journey with Toastmasters, specifically the Chiltern Speakers branch, helping with the transition to Zoom (although I will be honest – they have eclipsed me now in Zoom knowledge!). If you’ve been on the fence about public speaking for a while, I thoroughly suggest you give it a try – even if this is over Zoom and virtually for the moment. That does also make it easier to try new and other clubs!
  • Ditching the Sky Router and Moving to Unifi – Having grown frustrated with Sky Broadband’s awful routers (and the fact they cannot cope with the amount of devices we have on the network at home) – I shifted out connection to entirely Unifi APs. Well worth the investment (although it has come with a slightly higher electricity usage). This also involved running a new NAS, offsite backup and a small homelab to house all the other bits and pieces (perhaps a blog post on this soon!).

How did I do? what was I missing?

So how did I do against those original goals? – let’s take a look at each one in turn.

  • Generate 1 source of passive income
    • Nope. No where near. I spent a bit of time chasing a few stocks and share systems before realising I don’t have the time or the skillset to make these work yet. What I’ve found it its better to focus on my key strengths (which include my job) in the short term – building these out into other skills, rather than attempting a new, unrelated field.
  • Create an investment plan
    • Nope, although that said, my existing investments have not done badly. Perhaps one to come back to this year.
  • Adjust my role at work as I move more into my CTO position.
    • Lead 2 projects to completion
      • Yep, 2 major projects completed, and many small. I’m happy here, but I’ve also learnt that in the longer term I shouldn’t be the one to do the work – so this year will be about enabling others to do just that.. and that this particular goal lacked specifics.
    • Champion innovation internally
      • Yep – although we lost momentum for a few months this has been one of the major successes of 2020, and I’m really excited to see where I can take this in 2021.
  • Write 1 blog article per month
    • Do you see any here? Nope. FAILED. 😞
  • Grow 1 client to be a digital leader
    • Partially successful – we’ve had some fantastic work come in this year, but again this goal will be something to explore deeper and more specifically this year.
  • Grow muscle mass – I’m going to say – no real change here. Something to work on this year!
My muscle mass for 2020

How am I planning on changing things for 2021?

I’m still in the process of writing my goals for 2021, but there are some key themes from 2020 i want to take forward here;

  • Being deliberate and intentional, with my time, my actions and my goals. More planning, more structure.
  • Less is More – I want to be more focused on my own niches. I don’t need to try everything and achieve everything to be happy.
  • I want to spent more time creating – than just consuming. 2020 was a year it was easier to sit and binge. Not 2021!
  • Networking – I also want to spend more time meeting and being inspired by others. More events, more coffee meetings. etc

I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading my review of 2020 – I’m looking forward to seeing how I can continue to improve on these in 2021.

If you’re interested in hearing more, make sure you subscribe – just letting me know you’ve read this is enough to keep me writing!

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