What I Learned In 2014

I wasn’t planning on doing anything like this, but it feels like I’ve made a few significant changes this year that warranted a write up. We’ll consider this a more informal post to catalog what I think I learned this year. Hopefully others who are interested in self-improvement can pick up a tip or two from my year!

Hunt For Books

While I’ve always been an avid reader, 2014 ended up being the first year that I saw my bookshelf grow substantially. In the past I generally only read books when they were recommended on a website or by a friend. This year, though, I found myself paying more attention to bibliographies, and doing searches for “books related to insert book name here.”

The end result is that I came across some new favorites, while also changing my perspective on life and business substantially. While my habit did get a bit out of hand (weekly Amazon orders of books that I wouldn’t touch for months) at one point, I realized that doing so motivated me to read more often. For those who are curious, here is my “top ten” list for 2014 (order irrelevant):

  1. Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin To Munger
  2. The Art of Worldly Wisdom
  3. The E-Myth Revisited
  4. The Personal MBA
  5. Freedom From The Known
  6. Insanely Simple
  7. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life (Audiobook)
  8. A Pocket Mirror for Hero’s
  9. Meditations
  10. The Art of Profitability

Organization & Systems

Something that I’ve fought with for years was the development and implementation of systems. Specifically, I’ve struggled to get a todo list/calendar system in place that kept me organized. What I learned this year is that it’s important to just pick something and start using it. There are far too many options for managing your day-to-day, so it really comes down to experimenting and picking whatever “feels right.”

For me, I’ve found this depends on the type of task or project that I’m working on. For example, I’ve found that when it comes to projects involving code, using GitHub Issues makes me far more productive than storing tasks in a todo app. I think this was helpful because the tasks were directly tied to that project. Unless I was working on it, the tasks were out of sight which helped me to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

I’ve also warmed up to Trello. While I don’t use it in the “agile” sense that it was designed for, I’ve found that having multiple boards within a project that can each contain their own lists of tasks is great. On top of that, Trello is wonderful for adding quick checklists on the fly. Even better, the commenting they have has made it easy to store stream of consciousness notes or communicate with others.

In terms of calendars, the only big change I made was that I finally cleaned up my Google Calendars, making a special effort to separate everything by email address. Now, each project has its own set of calendars that I can add events to. For example, I have a “personal” calendar for stuff like doctor’s appointments, and an “Editorial” calendar for when I need to write stuff for The Meteor Chef. To wrangle everything I use Fantastical, both the Mac and iOS versions.

Listen To Yourself First

I’ve gotten over seeking approval from others. For some reason I’ve always had a need to get high fives from others on my work. Without it, I always felt my work was lacking. This year I learned to evaluate and value my own work by my own criteria to decide when it’s “right” or “good.” The benefit of this is that I’m getting a lot out the door and I’ve stopped doubting every little thing I produce.

Listening to myself has allowed for a lot of great things to happen in a short amount of time. While I’m far from right on everything and certainly do not know everything, going with my gut has helped me far more than listening to whoever was sitting next to me.

Ignore the News

While I’m a sucker like anyone else for a good browsing on Hacker News or Designer News, I’ve accepted that these sites are more or less a huge time suck. That’s not to say they don’t offer a lot of great stuff, they do. But rather, ignoring a lot of the “how to” or, “you should,” or “don’t do this” style of posts has proven to be very helpful.

In the past, I let stuff like that get to me in a sort of neurotic way. I’d worry that I wasn’t up to date and was months away from eating rats in the gutter. Ridiculous. The reality is that the bulk of that stuff is just fodder. It’s not wrong and a lot of it can be valuable in the right context, but just because it lands on the front page doesn’t mean that missing it or putting it off results in your downfall.

If something is of interest but you’re busy working on your idea, bookmark it. You may read it later, you may not. Ultimately: it doesn’t matter. What matters is working on your current idea/project and paying attention only to those things that are immediately useful to that project or to you as an individual. Anything else can be ignored.

Separate Yourself From Your Work

My guilty conscience is out of this world. I feel guilty day in and day out about everything. This year found me hitting some real peaks of anxiety that freaked me out. After a good spot of self-analysis, I realized that I was far too concerned with how the work I produced reflected on me as a human being.

What I learned is that work is best looked at as a “snapshot” of who you were when you produced it. In other words, the work you produce is a product of your knowledge, mindset, health, etc. at that exact moment. If you’re angry or sick, your work won’t be that great but that doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do.

Learning to separate my emotional state from what I was doing helped me to embrace days where I was burned out or otherwise fuzzy. Instead of panicking about being a bad designer or developer, I simply accepted that the day was a wash and that I’d be better off reading or taking a nap. The next day: everything was fine.

Make Long-Term Investments

This year I found myself changing my perception of work to be more long-term. Where in the past I thought about accomplishing things in a few weeks or months, now I think in entire years. I’d chalk it up to experience, but I’ve realized that the best way to think about your work is in the long-term.

Don’t jump into ideas to get rich quick or to become famous. Work on stuff that you enjoy just for doing it and look into how you can make that profitable. Plan on spending years on any idea before you commit to it and slowly work toward what you define as “success.” Really. If you launch a new app, don’t expect it to be worth a million bucks in a year. Two or three? Maybe.

Whatever has your attention: put time into it and accept that the theory of compound interest matters more than any all-nighter. Take baby steps over a long period of time and relish in the massive results in the future.

Embrace What You Like

My taste is admittedly weird. I love a wide range of music, books, films, art, whatever. More often than not I’ll geek out in a conversation with a friend and get nothing but blank stares in return. This used to bother me deeply but now, I consider it to be fun. There’s this desire to “fit in” with the world that’s a bit sickening at times.

If others don’t understand you or something you’re talking about, it feels as if for a split second you don’t exist. Of course, this is silly. What matters is that you’re into that thing and that’s cool simply because you’re into it. The same thing applies to other people.

I had a number of conversations this year where the other person was absolutely geeked about something I could have cared less about. However, I’ve grown to enjoy the idea of how cool it is that another person is intoxicated by an idea that means nothing to me. Really, whatever puts a smile on your face is what matters.

Damn me to eternal hell, but a not-so-great-for-you latte from McDonald’s and a walk down the block is my jam. Get into what you’re into and don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Honestly, if anyone judges you for your interests or tastes: quit talking to them, they suck.

Say No

Last but not least would be learning to say no. No to meetings, no to projects, no to anything that didn’t fit under the guise of “what I really want to be doing right now.” This one is tough, but incredibly important. The only way to get any serious work done is to turn down other opportunities. The more time you dedicate to others, the further away you’ll be from your own goals. It’s simple, but difficult to master.

That’s All Folks

That’s what’s coming to mind at the moment. Hopefully those who read this can learn something from my tripping through life in 2014. Take care and have a happy new year!