Yearly retrospective - how did my prioritization hold up?
A retrospective from some years ago when I was still a student.
At the end of each year, I look back on what I’ve accomplished and prioritize what’s in store for the next year. Here I’ll share the thought process, which has largely remained unchanged for 3 years, and both the bad and the good this year that I discovered.
As a preamble, a couple of weeks ago, I was hit with a sense of underwhelm and monotony. This coincided with when I first noticed that it was a good time to retrospect on the year, with 2020 being almost over. It was not a pleasant feeling - that “not much happened this year”.
While I acknowledge the feeling, it set off alarm bells. Was I being ungrateful? I actually did do a lot this year! Right? In haste to examine where this feeling of monotony came from, I listed my accomplishments (that I felt were significant), and how they worked toward the priorities I had set earlier in the year.
- A look at my 2020 prioritization - did I stay true to my goals?
- Iteration on life themes and priorities
- The bad, the good, and how to improve for next year
A look at my 2020 prioritization - did I stay true to my goals?
The “life themes” from my yearly prioritization exercise, done early-mid 2020.
I generally use my prioritization method* to sift through my many ideas, with the aim of narrowing it down to high ROI items. For those that missed the free download, the ebook is also free with the newsletter, which notifies you when I write something new. But no pressure to get it from the above channels - I will also write a blog post version in the future.
For this retrospective, I wrote down a list of what I had done, as if it were a reverse to-do list, and sorted them into the 5 categories, or “life themes” I had set for myself prior (image above).
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- Launched ML I developed to large userbase (early 2020)
- Joined a new company (late July 2020)
- Presented company wide on a project I delivered (September 2020)
- Voted favorite presenter for onboarding company-wide new hires
- Full stack developer - built a web product that is now launched in beta
- Was flown to San Francisco for an interview right before North America shut down (Asia had already...)
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- Moved to a new condo (4th move within Toronto)
- Almost bought a house but didn't go through. Overall a fail but the research required to get to that point helps me in the future regardless of geography.
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- Multiple (30+) talks/panels, including
- PyCon India
- Data Science Conference Europe
- University of Toronto Continuing Studies guest lecturer
- Wrote 28 posts on this blog
I had a lot of fun speaking at Data Science Conference Europe.
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Couldn’t believe I was featured among famous titles like Monument Valley, Machinarium, and many more.
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- Intermittent fasting since 2019 - held 6 am to 1 pm eating window schedule since July
- Daily exercise (dancing, bodyweight) - best physique I've had in my life
- Learned how to make Japanese curry, pancakes from ingredients, food I have always eaten out for
- Called family for 1~2 hours every weekend, only missing 1 single time this year
- Video calling friends, playing lots of party games
- Watched 4 seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race
Iteration on life themes and priorities
Overall, I am happy with what I’ve accomplished. On a minor note, for the upcoming year I will probably consolidate these categories, since many things lend to multiple categories. For example, speaking at a high profile conference likely contributes to both brand and career. Many items in wellbeing and passive actually lend themselves to mobility.
- Passive income
I will keep pondering on this as an iterative process. If I hadn’t just set 5 categories, even if imperfect, I wouldn’t have been able to do this simplification of themes at the end of year!
I am not doing this just for semantics; by narrowing down my priorities, I can focus on activities that truly contribute to what’s most important to me. But as I’ve found, trying to understand what’s important to me is extremely difficult, and hence my reflections every few months.
The bad, the good, and how to improve for next year
As I examined the list above, it seemed that I had made sufficient progress in all 5 categories. Why then, did I feel that not much had happened this year?
I started floating this problem and question in conversations with others. One discussion led to a breakthrough toward an explanation: if some humans see memories visually like a camera roll, then, my mental camera roll was predominantly the 4 walls of my condo, despite me having done a lot this year.
Even though I had moved mid-year, my mental camera roll was missing the simple variety of say, going to a meetup event at some tech company’s office (new scenery), or having surprise birthday cakes at the office (different sights and tastes).
Hence, one way I am looking to improve this is getting delivery more often (variety of food compared to meal prep), and getting out more, given I keep myself safe and healthy. I take this seriously as a preventative measure; if my mental state starts getting too affected by the “monotony” it may be too late then.
I have kept up a good routine with working from home, compartmentalizing work and personal life well despite being stuck in my condo for months. My waking and eating schedule has been consistent, and I’ve never been in better shape.
What I have done well to introduce into my routine is more unstructured time to be with my own thoughts. This actually has enabled more exploratory musings than straight execution, and I know it will inform me on what is important in my life, when I return to an execution-heavy phase.
Honestly, if you were to ask me what I’d be up to next year; I’m not quite sure. I come up with (and usually execute) so many ideas that the years do have quite a bit of variety. However, the monotony from pandemic-caused isolation really created an urgency for me to do this retrospective activity just so I could prove myself wrong about the feeling that “nothing happened this year”.
I do acknowledge the feeling, and thus am taking preventative measures against monotony wearing me down, by purposely introducing variety into my life. The second action item from this retrospective, by looking at how my accomplishments this year have fallen into each “life theme” category, is the decision to consolidate my prioritization categories. Here’s to a better year next year!