Annual Review 2020

What a long, weird, exhausting year 2020 was.

For me, this year has been one of conscious decisions. This started when COVID-19 was still a theoretical problem rather than an extremely practical one. I had read GRIP, the Dutch productivity bible by Rick Pastoor, and wanted to try out his system. I tweaked it to fit my personal needs, and incorporated some suggestions from Productivity Twitter. The resulting system has had a profound influence on how I experienced this year. It has kept me focused on my top priorities as we slogged through a year fraught with challenges and setbacks. More importantly, it also got me thinking more consciously about how I spend my time in general.

The cornerstone of most productivity systems I have found is the annual review. Reflecting on your year and making a conscious decision about how you move forward can be incredibly empowering. After all, only you are in charge of setting your goals and priorities. Doing this explicitly for the year to come keeps you focused, and can help you stay true to yourself.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a previous set of goals to look back on and evaluate. Still, I think I’ve managed to get a good overview of the biggest themes of my year, and you can always define new goals. I’ve found this annual review to be a tremendously helpful exercise, and there are various templates online if you want to get started yourself.

My review consists of 5 parts. I’m starting off with some big changes that I experienced this year, reflect on how my personal habits changed, share some of the things that I most enjoyed this year, set goals for 2021, and end with a set of my current 12 favorite problems.

Big Changes

New job: I actually had one big goal at the outset of last year, and that was to find a different job. I had been feeling frustrated in my job as a business developer at a gaming startup for some time. I doubted whether my particular strengths and skills were a good fit for the company in its current phase. And by extension, I questioned whether the gaming industry in the Netherlands was a good fit for me at all. This process culminated in my resignation in March, without a new job lined up. I figured I would take some time to move house, work on some personal projects, and reevaluate. Less than a month later, I started as Innovation Manager at the Netherland’s largest interpreting service provider. I was unfamiliar with the world of interpreting, but excited about their innovation plans and the prospect of getting to work with one of my oldest friends.

It was quite scary to get a full-time job outside of the industry I’ve worked in for so long. At the same time, I can see at least two clear upsides. First, this leaves me completely free to engage with the games industry on my own terms. That hadn’t been the case since I was a freelance PR manager, years ago. I’m excited to use this time to redefine my relationship to the industry I’ve worked in for so long. I am starting to put my experiences, ideas and convictions regarding the games industry and the broader creative industry on paper, and will share them on this website. Second, I’m excited to hone my analytical and problem solving skills in a more established company, with more room for innovation and long-term strategy. I’m convinced that these skills translate across industries, and I look forward to connecting ideas and concepts back to the creative industry.

Consulting: This year I have been active as a consultant on two different fronts. First, I’ve started offering my services as a freelance consultant for the creative industries. Second, the pro bono consulting firm I started with two good friends and fellow Nyenrode students, Three Monkeys, saw a sharp rise in activity as well. It’s been fascinating to work with such different companies on the challenges they experience, and to help them rise to the occasion.

Moving house: Last year, my girlfriend Michal and I bought a house. We moved in in April last year, two weeks before the Netherlands entered its first “soft” lockdown. There hasn’t been a day this year that I haven’t been explicitly thankful for this. Our old apartment had absolutely *zero* room for two work-from-home parents and a home-bound toddler. We would have gone completely mad. Our new home is just outside of the Utrecht city center, and both the location and living space are perfect for us. Especially now.

Pandemic and working from home: The big one. Thankfully and most importantly, we have managed to stay in good health so far, as have most of our friends an family. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been stressful though. Working from home through incessant Zoom calls, combined with periodically closed childcare facilities, will put a definite stretch on your demeanor. We’ve been able to manage so far, and on some level it’s even been a gift to be able to spend so much time with the three of us. However, I am also noticing that my mood is on average a lot lower than it was at the start of the pandemic. I can’t wait to hopefully start opening my world back up again this year with the help of the vaccine.

Personal Habits

Cold showers: After hearing people tout its benefits for what feels like ages, this year I finally decided to try out cold showers. I pretty much hated it for the first two months. It got better after that, and it has now become an automatic habit to turn the faucet to “freezing” instead of “scalding”. I do still miss my long, hot morning showers, and I’m not sure I’m experiencing all the benefits that it’s supposed to bring. What I can say is that it wakes me right in the morning, I shower a hell of a lot quicker now, and we’re saving on our energy bill.

Meditation: Halfway through the year Michal and I decided to start a meditation habit together. We both felt like we needed a way to nurture our busy minds better, and meditating together means more accountability. We now do a guided meditation of about 10 minutes, three nights a week. The plan is to expand that to longer sessions. I can’t say that I feel any calmer on the whole just yet, but the science promises that physical changes are already happening in my brain.

Productivity and PKM: Like I said, I’ve started using the concepts from GRIP this year, building a system of weekly planning and weekly, quarterly and annual reviews. I’ve noticed that this cadence makes it easier for me to stay focused on the things that matter. It also helps me to return to a place of focus if I do happen to lose sight of my goals in hectic periods.

Another big help in this regard has been Roam. Roam is the only note-taking app that I’ve managed to stick with for longer than a few weeks. It sets itself apart from other apps by its intuitive use of backlinks, which promises to surface connections between your notes the more you use it. I’m using it as both “second brain” of sorts as well as a template for my daily schedule and note taking. As a result, it’s the only note-taking app that I find myself compelled to use and keep using.

Saving and investing: This year Michal and I have made an effort to spend our money more consciously, and to start saving more structurally. Before, we basically spent money like it was limitless. Now, we’re putting money aside each month, and we’ve made budgets for almost everything we spend. At the end of each month, we then save what we haven’t spent. Moreover, we’ve started investing our savings in a mix fund with a neutral risk profile. We’re already seeing the benefits, and I’m planning to learn more about how we can improve our finances.

Information diet: This year I’ve made some rigorous changes to my information diet. Before, I was mostly active on Facebook and Instagram, following my friends and family. Last year I’ve slowly switched over to Twitter. I’m working on following more people based on their ideas and convictions, and the value they can add to my own thinking. I’ve also made an effort to consume as little mainstream news as possible. Especially as the year went on, I noticed that this had a positive effect on my general mood and state of mind. I’m noticing that my Twitter engagement is still far behind Facebook though, so I’ll have to tweak this some more.

Finally, halfway through the year I decided to dust off my iPad and use it as a glorified e-reader. At that point, I hadn’t read any books in at least 18 months. It was always much easier and more tempting to boot up a game or binge something on Netflix. By using my iPad to read and take notes at the same time (and uploading those to Roam for further processing) I’m managing to get much more out of the books I read than I would otherwise. I managed to read 8 books in 4 months, and I’m determined to keep this up in 2021.

Exercise: I’ve always had bad posture, and working from home in the same position behind a desk each day translated to back and neck pain almost immediately. I’ve tried a couple of different at-home exercise routines, but so far I haven’t managed to make anything stick. Walking helps, but I haven’t been able to work that into a reliable routine yet either. I honestly feel like I should have done better on this front, and I’m going to work harder on this in 2021.

My Favorite Things of 2020

Earlier this week I published a list of my favorite books, games, movies, shows and songs of 2020. I’ve included the list below, and you can read an explanation for each item in my essay My Favorite Things of 2020.

Goals for 2021

Figure out an exercise routine that works for me. I have no idea yet what this should like like, but at the end of 2021 I want exercise to be a core part of my weekly routine.

Read 16 books. I want to read significantly more books this year than I did last year. I figure four books per quarter should provide a challenging goal, while still leaving enough room to properly digest the presented information. Within this goal, I want to read at least four philosophy books. I’ve been thinking more and more about the bigger issues in life lately, and I’m curious what philosophy has to say about these subjects.

Send 26 newsletters. I want to use this year to explore the convergence point of my experience, skills, and interests. Committing to a bi-weekly newsletter forces me to create a mini reflection of those aspects of myself every two weeks. I’m bound to figure something out this way, and hopefully I’ll get to inform and even inspire those of you who choose to come along for the ride.

Write 12 essays. I started this website in part because I wanted to start putting down on paper my experiences, knowledge and skills as they relate to the creative industries. My plan is to write one essay each month, to slowly build a body of work that describes my view on strategy for creative enterprises. I have ideas for a couple of them already, and I can’t wait to share them with you when they’re done.

Global Talk: Formalize innovation and business development processes. I’m keeping these high-level intentionally, so as not to turn this into a full OKR sheet. My main priority for Global Talk this year is to fully incorporate the innovation and business development processes. Both processes need to be fleshed out, and have a clear place in the broader company processes. This should result in at least three concrete business development cases by the end of the year.

Three Monkeys: Finish 4 pro bono consulting cases. COVID-19 threw a wrench in our plans last year, but this year we want to do one case per quarter. There are a couple cases in the pipeline, but nothing set in stone yet, so get in touch if you’d like our help.

Find other ways of relaxing. I tend to default to playing games and binging shows on Netflix whenever I have some free time. This year I want to balance that a bit more. Besides reading, I want to spend more time relaxing creatively; whether that means playing the guitar I haven’t touched in almost two years, building that gundam kit I have lying in the attic, or starting on the Lego Millennium Falcon set I finally allowed myself to order. This is the vaguest one on the list, but I’ll know if I made the goal or not.

My 12 favorite problems

These are my current favorite problems to think about–a way to keep the bigger, less defined challenges in life top-of-mind. They’re not in any particular order, and I expect them to change over time.

  1. How can I add the most value with my experience and skills?
  2. How can I combine my skills in strategy and business development and my experience in videogames with my interest in Japan?
  3. How can I optimize the balance between productivity, lifelong learning and active leisure?
  4. How can I use social media productively, effectively and efficiently?
  5. How do I make better decisions?
  6. How do I become more mindful?
  7. How do I share my ideas consistently, without running dry or leaving myself overstretched?
  8. How can I organize my days to optimize a state of flow?
  9. How can I live as a rational optimist, rather than a cynic?
  10. How can I raise my daughter to be ready for whatever the world looks like in 20+ years? What core skills and core values do I want to share with her?
  11. How can I make enough income to support my family’s current lifestyle with minimal time commitment?
  12. How do I live my best life?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.