in Life, Thoughts

2016: Year In Review

I’ve tried for 5 years now to write a “year in review” post and failed every year.

For some reason, this year is different. I began my annual review post in early November. I’ve always been envious of those who can link back to their annual reviews and have this great body of content to look back on. Hopefully this is the first in a long line of them.

The two primary takeaways from this year for me: the importance of health (mental and physical) and the importance of having hard conversations.

I had more hard conversations this year (personally and professionally) than I ever have. I am generally one to shy away from conflict, or to continue to politely trudge through a bad situation to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. While I can’t say that I have completely conquered that, I finally was able to have these conversations and 2017 is looking brighter for me just due to that. A tough conversation may not kill you, but avoiding it will.

On the health front, I had an overall really good year. Around July, I just decided one day to start listening to my wife (a personal trainer, and all-around healthy person). I’m not sure why it took so long or why this year was different, but something clicked in my mindset about healthy eating and exercise that really worked. I went 60 days straight logging my calories in MyFitnessPal, exercising 2-4 times per week and lost 10 pounds. I’m still looking to lose 10 or so, but it’s not my primary goal.

Being active and feeling better when I eat healthier are the primary goals and benefits of living this way. It’s easiest when it’s warm out, as we’ll take a 3 mile walk with the kids almost every day after work. Since I can sometimes go days without going outside while working from home, I call it my “time in the yard”. It’s great for our relationship and mental health as we walk and talk for 45 minutes. Usually by the end of the walk we’ve destressed and are heading home happy. I did lose a bit of momentum over the holidays and have already started bringing it back here in the new year. I benefit greatly by having Care do our meal planning because pretty much everything we eat is healthy, I just have to keep portions in mind and have some activity and I’m good. This year is going to be focused on increased activity as that makes the food portion much easier to handle.

On the mental health front, I had a bit of breakthrough year. I’ve always been very susceptible to stress. I made some changes this year, including reducing stressors, starting meditation (with the Calm app) and just generally chilling out. I find that throughout the day conversations and notifications and tasks and emails will pile up and if I don’t take a break I end the day with my head spinning, grinding my teeth and tight all over. Working from home helps here as I can sit on the floor and meditate for 10 minutes and then go back to what I was doing with a clear head, or walk outside for 5 minutes and close my eyes just to get a grip. In the past I would continue to power through and end up losing productivity as my stress increased throughout the day, but these breaks, and practicing meditation have really helped.

I spent more time learning new things and reading this year than any year (from what I can tell, maybe even more than the 18 months I spent traveling the world without a job). Part of the reason I had success with this is because I let go of doing it perfectly. I let go of perfectionism, at least in this part of my life. I have to laugh about it now, but there are technical books I would read until it got to the examples and then I would put down the book and give up because I “wasn’t at my computer right now” so I couldn’t do it.

I also would painstakingly read things that I was interested in to ensure that I fully understood them. But that’s not how I learn best. I’m not guaranteed to remember everything perfectly the first time I read it. Nor is there really that much benefit in copying in examples and running them. Sure I may get some muscle memory, but without me thinking about what I’m doing, I’m not really learning the concept behind it.

That doesn’t come until I try to use it for real in a project. My goals are not to know everything about a topic, but to know where to look when I need to dive in. A cursory introduction and outline is better than me wasting time trying to understand minute details of things I may not need to know yet. I was never going to get through everything or learn what I wanted this way, so something had to give. I started speed reading and skimming. Most of the stuff I wasted so much time on was fluff that wasn’t important. What was important was scanning and getting an overview of things. I have always been so scared of not getting everything the first time and having to go back and reread things. I still don’t understand why, but I have hopefully gotten over that now.

Instead, I am reading quickly, and scanning and picking out the major concepts. Most of the time, I’m finding that I’m not missing anything, and that I can quickly get the gist, but also I’m doing this so I can know where to find something. I don’t need to understand it all the first time. And that has made all the difference. I am devouring learning material and it’s been helping me build my skills at a much faster rate. I have a very unrealistic, very large reading list. And try as I might, I have a very hard time removing things. I just want to read it all, so any way to make that go faster helps.

This year, when I found out Pinterest had bought Instapaper I figured I should look at clearing everything out of that service. I wanted to know how many articles I really had to read because I knew I had many more than the 500 limit that the app and API had. The search has always been terrible for organizing, so I threw together a tiny Laravel app that would let me quickly see the URL and title of my bookmarks and archive/delete/sort them into folders. I wrote some scripts that would organize the articles into folders in bulk so that I could get a full count. 3,000 articles to read. This is on top of a massive “to read” bookmarks folder in Chrome, a shelf full of unread dead tree books, a backlog of unread magazines from 2013, a kindle account full of unread books and a Dropbox folder with over 100 unread ebooks.

(I have a book problem)

On top of all that I would love to start reading fiction again! Let’s just laugh and move on.

Family-wise, our Henry boy was born this year. He scared us with a short NICU stay, but is now in the clear and he is champion baby #2 all the way! It was really hard for us to imagine what a second kid would be like, since Lottie was such a (world) champion baby ?. Henry has just surprised us constantly and having one of each has been really fun. What I have realized though, is that my goals and ambitions don’t stand a chance against the fatigue of the parent of a newborn. It felt like a down year on producing things and just having my shit together. I could barely get myself outside to mow the lawn and pull weeds (and it showed). Both of us are just exhausted, even 8 months in, as he’s not consistently sleeping through the night. Something I should consider if we do have more kids is to plan ahead for a light year when they’re born.

It’s always hard to find time together when you have young kids and we are no exception, until recently we hadn’t yet gone out on a date just the two of us since Henry was born. So in the last two weeks we’ve gone out on two dates, overnight without the kids, and it has been so great to reconnect and have a little bit of time away. We’ve worked this into our goals for this year to ensure we get some time together away from the kids.

I used to work weekends and would work late into the night. Even when we had our first baby I was still doing this. I have been making an effort to walk out of my office at 5pm and never work on weekends or holidays. This lets me give Care a break and also spend some quality time with the kids before I put them to bed. I can always go back to work later, but I can’t see the kids after they’re asleep.

At Reaktiv, we had a bit of a slow start to the year, which resulted in us losing some great engineering candidates but we rallied the rest of the year to land some fun new clients and hire some great engineers. I spoke at WordCamp Boston about our work on the HBS Open Knowledge platform. I’m excited that we’re growing the team and looking forward to what 2017 brings for us. We’re about to release an open source project we’ve been working on for awhile, and also, we’re hiring.

I have a book/course idea I’ve been toying with for WordPress developers and while I began work on it last year, I ended up shelving it for a bit to focus on agency work but this is something I really want to work on this year and have set a goal to launch it by July.

World events aside, 2016 was an exhausting but transformative year. I feel a bit like it chewed me up and spit me out but I’m now better prepared to face the future. I’m looking forward to new opportunities and experiences, personally and professionally in 2017.


  • Josh

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