2020/2021 Yearly Themes: Reflection and Looking Ahead

- Dec 24, 2020

I’ve recently been following the concept of yearly themes: instead of making a singular goal or set of rigid resolutions for a given year, you set an overarching concept of what you would like to focus on. These themes are commonly a singular word or sentence that you align smaller projects or goals to, but you can abandon them as things change over the course of a year or as you learn more about what it takes to achieve them, yet developing new projects/goals with the same mindset/intent.

A good example of theme vs resolution is weight-loss. Giving yourself the resolution of working out everyday can have little impact if you’re eating poorly or give up if you skip a day due to injury. Instead, the theme of physical health permits you to realize a workout everyday might be unrealistic for your life, and you can supplement another activity such as sleep habits. At the end of the year you won’t feel like you have failed no matter when you realized the necessary change to your original goal.

If you’re curious about yearly themes I suggest you check out the Cortex podcast by YouTuber CGP Grey and one of the founders of the amazing Relay FM podcast network, Myke Hurley. Their explanation of the theme concept is better than mine.

2020: The Year of Health

My 2020 theme was health. Early in 2020 I had wanted to lose weight by working out, routinely going to the gym, become happier about life and my journey though it, and more. I knew my physical and mental health were tightly coupled and focusing too much on one would invariably come at the cost of the other (foreshadow to 2021 theme).

Quickly the reality of 2020 sank in. My mental health sometimes took a back seat to my concerns for the world and my family. Emotions being bucked around like a raft in a hurricane. But I held on. I never gave up. It might have taken me a while sometimes, but I got though it. I’m finding more times now that I can look for the positives in the negatives. Not always in an instant, but I find them. While I had no definite goal in mind for mental health, I did develop the reflex for maintaining myself.

And what about physical health? I certainly could have done more, but I achieved something I didn’t think I would obtain: reaching a no-effort goal weight of 182 lb. Given my other physical attributes this might not be great but was a better number by enough of a percent to make me happy. I’m doing this without having to work out everyday, not at all if you don’t count chasing after toddlers.

I’ve realized a major component to my health was minding what I ate. We could discuss all day about macros, fasting, calorie counting, but instead I tried to take it in an easier to manage approach. I started weighing myself every morning. That’s it. This started cluing me in every day when I had gone overboard in the prior few days. I could reflect on what I ate and how likely that was to have affected the number that mattered to me. It may not be the best tactic, but since I hit that goal sometime around September/October, I haven’t gone over 187 since. I’ve had bad days, where I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that extra slice or three large meals, but I quickly countered the next few days by being more conscientious. Sticking with more complex habits like macro counting has been too hard for me in the past (more foreshadowing).

Leaving 2020 I now know what it takes for me to maintain these things, to the point where sticking to it is actually easier than not.

Enough foreshadowing, what does 2021 look like?

2021: The Year of Organization

What I stumbled on with not only the year of health but other goals was habit forming. And what I’ve come to realize the hardest part of my habit forming has been giving myself enough time to do so.

I constantly feel like I’m keeping up after myself or that people are waiting on me. Heck sometimes I’m waiting on myself. It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I dread dealing with the haphazard way I have things organized. I’m routinely mentally recalling information, searching my “notes”, or recompiling my thoughts on an as-needed basis. And disorganization begets disorganization. Failure to thoroughly take notes causes me to waste time between activities causing me catch up on other things causing me have a hard time delegating tasks causing me work later causing me to flub on making meals causing hungry mouths causing chaotic evenings causing an unpleasant bed time causing poor sleep causing a groggy morning… See?

For 2021 I need to abolish my worst habit: tolerating disorganization. While I can do it doesn’t mean I should. It costs time to myself, my family, and my health.

If that sounds more like a resolution than a theme, here’s the difference: I don’t know what will break the disorganization, how long, or how much effort it’s going to take, beyond just the tools and systems I might try to adopt or create.

2021’s theme only addresses the fact that I know where I am at is not in an ideal state and I need to eliminate the unknowns of what is even possible for myself. I hope to find myself not working late in the evening, pulling myself away from my family because I have to get something done before a deadline, and leaving my team in a lurch.

As I walk into 2021 here are things I’m going to try to do with this theme:

  • Journaling
    • I have a greater propensity of long-form writing than just bulleted lists. A few short words don’t give others enough context should I need to hand them off
  • Task Management
    • This has started to pay dividends but I haven’t developed the habit. Any time in need to be reminded of something that isn’t a meeting it needs to go into a universal task management system with enough relevant content to be situation aware, and setting reminders and due dates
  • Distraction Limiting
    • This one is pretty obvious.
  • Time Boxing
    • I started this in late 2019 but I let it drift. This will hopefully ensure that while I may be enjoying the current activity, I won’t be ruining the next by not giving it it’s fair time.