For the last few years, I’ve had a tradition of publishing a personal annual review. The last two years, 2015 and 2016 were published on my other personal site. I’ve enjoyed doing these year-end reviews because I found it to be a helpful way to see my own progress, while looking back on where I was at the end of each year.
As Break the Twitch grows, I’ve been feeling inspired to share more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of how my wife Amy and I are applying the aspects of minimalism, habits, and creativity in our daily lives.
That’s why this year, I’ll be sharing my personal annual review with you here on BTT. I should briefly note that I was inspired to do these reviews when I saw James Clear’s, who seems to have gotten the idea from Chris Guillebeau.
I’ve really enjoyed following the format over the last few years, so we’ll cover:
- What went well
- What didn’t go well
- What I learned
Especially if you’re self-employed, don’t have a manager, or a direct mentor to check in with regarding your progress, I highly encourage you to try this for yourself. If you start now, you’ll soon have several years to look back on.
1 / What went well in 2017
I wrote a book. After a year of talking about it, I spent many months throughout 2017 writing the best book that I could about breaking the twitch. I got to work with some incredible friends in the form of a developmental editor, copy editor, and a designer. I choose to self-publish this book and I’m glad I did—being involved with every aspect of creating it was rewarding and should be beneficial if I go the traditional publishing route on a future writing project. Hundreds of copies of the book have been sold so far, and I’m grateful to be able to continue this work through your support.
I gave a TEDx talk. This one came as a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one at that. In September, I was invited to speak at TEDxBrookings and a rollercoaster of emotions hit me in the following weeks. Everything from, “Yes, I’d love to!” to, “Why did I sign up for this,” to “I can’t believe that just happened,” and “Let’s do that again!”
BTT growth. In 2017, 3,400 new newsletter subscribers joined the Break the Twitch mailing list. On YouTube, despite the growth not being as substantial as 2016 (1,000 —> 14,000 subscribers), the YouTube channel continued to grow modestly this year from 14,000 —> 26,000 subscribers. I took long publishing breaks this year during periods when I was focused on client video work or writing my book. I felt guilty for not posting as much as I wanted to (more in section II), but I’m proud of where things are currently and see a lot more potential for YouTube in 2017.
Mint.com Partnership. Last year, I agreed to a year-long partnership with Mint.com to create blog posts and video content for them each month. I love using Mint, so it felt like a great fit to work together. Here are some of my posts over on the Mint Life blog.
We got a dog. Amy and I had been tossing around the idea of adopting a dog for a year or two, and when we got news of Rocky, who was taken back to the breeder by another family that couldn’t keep him, we went to see him. It took about five seconds for us to completely fall in love with the little guy and we brought him home that night. Having him around fundamentally changed my perspective about what was important to me on a daily basis (more on that in section III).
My film company grew. This year, I did video work for a major book publisher, other authors, and entrepreneurs. I decided to apply minimalist principles to the business and step away from commercial film opportunities so I could focus on working with independent creators and authors—that felt really good. In doing so, I’ve had the joy of working with and for good friends near and far. About 40% of my income in 2017 came from the film company—one of the most rewarding aspects of this, was being able to pay talented friends to work alongside me—I found a lot of joy in that.
I wrote consistently. After establishing a 6x-per-week writing challenge with my friend Mark, we tracked our writing all year and mostly stayed on course. Because of this, I wrote just over 140,000 words in 2017, many of which went into the book, some of which went into the blog, and much of it the 114 draft blog posts I currently have unpublished on this site. I learned quite a bit about optimal daily habits by doing this, and I’ll be sharing a little bit more in section III and a lot more in an upcoming blog post.
I worked with a coach. Over a year ago, I got to a point where I felt it would be helpful to have a consistent mentor to reach the goals I had set for myself. I had never done this before and looking back, it has been one of the most beneficial and critically important investments I made in 2017. I met John when we serendipitously were seated next to each other on a bus for the closing party of World Domination Summit 2016, and several months later started working with him.
In my 2016 Annual Review, I wrote that I finally learned to ask for help when I needed it and how that changed everything. While money is not the only indicator, my 2017 income was 3x higher than 2016, and I believe the work I did with John was a major contributing factor—check him out.
Traveled, but less. While this might seem like something that should go under the “didn’t go well” section, I found this to be really beneficial, because as you’ll see in section III, I think having a stronger routine for longer periods of time in the same places is actually really good for me. Travel is incredibly disruptive to my focus and productivity (and expensive), and I learned more about that last year. We did manage to do some traveling, just not as much on average as the two years prior:
- Breckenridge, CO – Technically went twice, once in February and again this past December. Both for the annual brocation trip with the same group of blogger/entrepreneur/internet-person friends.
- East Hampton, NY – My cousin got married to this guy, and we went to celebrate their marriage with them. It was a great time, and Amy took a picture of me on an inflatable swan.
- Chicago, IL – For a wedding of one of Amy’s high school friends!
- Portland, OR – For World Domination Summit, a super fun event put on by Chris Guillebeau and a horde of volunteers.
- Boise, ID – I had never been to “Boy-see” before, so I attended Craft & Commerce, the first ever ConvertKit conference put on by my friend Nathan.
- Ann Arbor, MI – Visiting friends and my family where I grew up.
- Jupiter, FL – I had the honor of speaking at Think Better, Live Better back in February. This year, it’s being held in San Diego (I have a scheduling conflict this year, but you should go!)
- Nashville, TN – Attended TribeCon, the conference put on by my friend Jeff Goins. If you want to learn a ton about being a writer, that’s the conference to go to.
Relocated (temporarily) to Phoenix, AZ. Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve talked about my desire to be more available for friends and family when they needed it. Us coming here, signaled our desire (and finally, ability) to do just that. Amy’s grandmother in Taiwan needs some additional care and her parents needed help taking care of things in Phoenix while they went to Taiwan to see to her needs.
The ironic thing about building a business that (eventually) allows you to be more flexible is that at first you tend to be much less flexible than before you started. More on that in section II, but Amy and I are now in Phoenix until the end of April when we will return to Minneapolis. We have some close friends living in our home back in Minnesota, so everything worked out really nicely for us to be able to do this.
2 / What didn’t go well in 2017
Limited blog publishing. I only published 18 blog posts last year (5 of which were guest posts), and despite the fact that I was writing so frequently, I didn’t hit the publish button nearly enough. Much of this came from the fact that I focused on growing the film company, while also writing my book, but I didn’t intend to write this little, it just sort of happened, which isn’t what I prefer.
I sat behind a computer a ton. Like, a ton. In so many ways, I felt incredibly isolated last year, much of which was probably self-inflicted. I didn’t go to many events around Minneapolis and had limited time with family and friends throughout the year, and that didn’t feel great. It was hard balancing the feeling of trying to tackle a never-ending work load, knowing there was always so much to do, and prioritizing more important things. Something ironic that comes with writing a blog and creating videos about minimizing distractions and doing more of what matters is that to do so, I am usually staring at a computer writing or editing.
Spent a lot of money on video gear. I struggle with this one, because I do feel there is a thin line between buying too much and buying what’s needed to meet an opportunity. This year I started flying for various film productions, which meant getting giant, hard plastic cases that will protect my equipment when I have to travel with it. As I’ve talked about many times before, small things add up, and I feel like I can really lessen this now that I’m fairly well equipped for the kinds of things I want to make.
Beat myself up a lot. This is a tough one, because it only ever makes things worse. When I wasn’t publishing on the blog regularly, I felt guilty about it. I felt as though I was leaving my friends (you) hanging by not contributing more. This year, I want to publish on a weekly basis and will be working hard at that. I’m working on letting this go and just doing the best I can and learning to love that in 2018.
3 / What I learned 2017
“Should” is a dirty word. I spent a lot of time feeling like there was something I “should” do because that’s what I was “supposed” to do. When I launched my book, I decided not to do a massive Facebook ad campaign, huge bonuses, or anything else. I was largely silent on the blog and newsletter for almost two months before finally releasing my book. I did it in the exact opposite way that I’ve been told that I should. But, it worked fine.
I’d challenge you to think about what perceptions you’re holding from things that… well, don’t actually work for you. When my coach pointed this out, it blew my mind because I never noticed how much I said that sort of thing. Whenever I’d say, “I should really…” he’d always respond, “Should according to who?” which not only made me laugh, but provided some solid guidance.
Uninterrupted focus is immensely powerful. While I was writing the book, I got fed up and deleted all the apps from my phone, deactivated all my social media accounts, and blocked every unnecessary website on my computer. Like, really shut everything down. From that point on, when I allowed myself to get fully into a flow state I absolutely crushed my writing goals. It was like a night and day difference in my energy, productivity, and creative output. It’s the reason that I’ve largely exited social media and don’t have email or web browsers on my phone.
It’s hard to imagine how much power the uninterrupted brain has. This year, I’m going to let my thoughts carry themselves with fewer distractions and see where it may lead me.
Flexibility isn’t the most important thing. For the first year or two, I wrote quite a bit about freedom and flexibility being our ultimate goals, our vision for our lives together. Then, we got a puppy. He’s an awesome dog, but makes the logistics of our lives much more difficult, and I quickly learned that it’s well worth it. I never had a family dog growing up, and I have a hard time imagining not having him now. Perhaps it was ignorant of me to not realize this fully, but I had sort of fallen for the “laptop lifestyle” ideal of digital nomading around the world and working while traveling.
Since January, I’ve completely back pedaled from that idea and realized that the more consistency I have, the better I tend to do. Which brings me to my final point…
I suck at working while traveling. As much as I’d love to be one of those super cool people sharing instagram photos from all over the world while they hammer away productively on their laptops. It’s just not me. I’m not sure if it’s something I could eventually get better at, but the more consistent my environment and habits, the better work, even creatively speaking. So, I still want to travel—I love experiencing the world through food and culture, but I’m learning that I’d rather be home with Amy and the pup rather than trotting around all the time.
Smaller and more frequent, better. At least for me, I’ve found that there’s a perfect level of a daily habit where it doesn’t feel like a burden, but it’s enough that if all the planets align, things really take off. The best example of this is writing 250 words per day instead of 500. 250 is easy enough that if you plow through it just takes a few minutes, whereas 500 feels it takes way longer than 2x 250. The best lesson I got out of this is that the daily habit only needs to be big enough that it will catch sail if the winds are strong that day. That’s to say that, when you’re feeling inspired or find a great idea, you’ll be there with sails raised, ready to take advantage of it.
I hope that the start of 2018 is going incredibly well for you, and as always, I appreciate the time and attention that you share with me. If you posted an annual review of your own, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it to the list right here:
2017 Annual Review Links:
- James Clear
- Chris Guillebeau (different, but valuable this year)