2020 Annual Review

Wow, what a year. This year was nothing like what I expected. So here we go. My one little word for 2020 was Through. I meant that in a very positive way, but the way the year turned out…it became ‘let’s just get through this’.

What went well?

For the first time since I started working for myself, I not only achieved my income goal but surpassed it. This was a major accomplishment, which I still have trouble wrapping my head around. I grew used to setting financial goals and knowing I wouldn’t actually hit them (I would think they were realistic and then learn that I was pretty off the mark..every year), so this is a new and strange feeling. I feel blessed but also deeply exhausted (more on that later). 2019 was the slowest work year for me, so I was entirely unprepared to go from that to what turned out to be breakneck growth in 2020.

I improved my React, JSX, and database skills by leaps and bounds thanks to the projects I took on and the courses I invested in this year. This pleases me immensely and I’m definitely a far stronger developer than I was 12 months ago. I heavily invested in my professional development this year (to the tune of almost $2k) — paying for courses, books, and screencasts instead of just relying on documentation and free tutorials on the web. I wish I had made these investments earlier in my career, but better late than never. It certainly paid off and my financials reflect that.

I worked with 25 clients this year, 17 of them new. I shipped about 20,000 lines of code – more than I have in any year. I launched 5 brand new websites. I wrote 12 articles (including this one) on the blog. I was introduced to ClickUp, which definitely feels like the project management tool is been searching for, for years.

I bid on an RFP and actually won it – this has never happened before. I win projects where I’ve built a relationship frequently, but a public RFP? Mind blowing.

I transitioned to a diet that is less than 30% meat – this not only had a positive effect on my wallet, it also radically improved my sleep quality. (On the days I was actually able to sleep.)

I fostered relationships with professional peers. It has been a pleasure to hang out with folks who just get it. Other devs who feel my pain but also appreciate an elegant piece of code. Having designer and dev friends has been such a blessing this year.

We bought a house! It’s a cute starter home that we fell in love with at first showing — not at all the kind of house we planned to buy. The pandemic interest rates made the purchase an extremely smart decision: our total house expenses (mortgage, property tax, insurance, utilities, housing association fees, etc) are less than our rent and utilities combined used to be, so not only are we spending less, we are building equity instead providing a landlord with income. I’m deeply grateful we were in a position to be able to do this.

Turns out my husband and I can work less than 2 feet away from each other, see no other human beings for months on end, and still love each other and have a good life together. I didn’t think we would have problems, but it’s nice to have conclusive evidence — rather, our problem is definitely going to be breaking out of our introvert-hermit tendencies and socializing again once we’re out of the pandemic woods.

What didn’t go so well?

Goodness.

The theme of this year was Stress. Stress from growing so quickly, stress from the pandemic, stress from personal health issues, stress from family health issues, and stress from growing so quickly and inevitably letting some folks down as I struggled to juggle all the things and dropped a bunch. The only thing that caused no stress for me was literally my marriage — it was the one rock solid thing that never wavered from its bright happiness inducing state. There is very little chance I would have survived this year intact without my spouse’s unwavering belief in me and his unconditional support.

Obviously because of the pandemic, I didn’t travel anywhere. I didn’t realize how much I relied on travel to refresh myself until I couldn’t travel anymore. I struggled with burnout multiple times this year in ways that were far more exaggerated than I have ever experienced before. It was a learning experience.

I was so stressed and dealing with so much that I had to step away from the WordPress 5.6 release that I was so excited to be a part of. This still cuts me, but it was the right decision – that I got forced into by circumstances. I hope to ease back into contributing in 2021.

Stress and air pressure triggered migraines entered my life this year. To date, I’ve had 57 migraine episodes this year, some ocular and some just insanely painful. That’s at least 57 days in the year (some episodes lasted longer than a day) that I was either working through pain or totally tapped out and had to stay in bed. I’m not in general an unhealthy person, but the temporary disability brought on by migraines was frustrating. It also helped me keenly appreciate dark mode – it meant I could still work a bit even when I had a migraine. I’ll be adding it to my own website later this year.

Planning for Next Year

The number one thing I need in the new year is less stress. I might do a little less and make a little less, but my sanity will remain intact.

Here is what I’m planning to do to manage and ease my stress levels:

  • Focus more deeply during work hours.
    • I have often been very distracted and then ended up having to work weekends or after hours to make up for my silly decisions. That stops right away.
  • Add an extra work hour, Monday – Thursday, and work half days on Fridays.
    • My mental health needs a bit more weekend in my life. At least one full day is usually dedicated to house chores, another half day is dedicated to spending time with our families. That leaves extremely little time in a two day weekend for me to actually recharge and prep for the next week. Adding an extra half day of weekend will help a lot.
  • Take a full hour for lunch and not eat at my desk.
    • Time away from the desk is essential to productivity at the desk. I’ve learned this time and time again.
  • Actively reduce the need for meetings so I have no more than 3 in any week.
    • Wow, I had a lot of meetings this year and wow did they slow me down and make my life worse. I’ve started to set up systems this year that reduce meetings, but I need to do more to protect my work time.
  • Hit 10k steps daily.
    • I work hard and forget to move, so making it my goal to do this everyday will help me move and consequently sleep better, work better, etc.
  • Sleep by 11pm everyday.
    • My wake up time stabilized this year – part of it I’m sure is because I have officially hit my late 20’s so my circadian rhythm is settling down, and part of it is because I was busy and consistently waking up around the same time everyday. However, when I went to bed was still erratic, which meant I didn’t always get the best sleep. Time to fix that.
  • Truly start building towards a secondary income stream.
    • I’ll share more about this in the new year.
  • Say no to projects that aren’t a good fit.
    • Saying no is hard. Until this year, I wasn’t in a position where I could say no easily. But now I have to learn. I can’t do my best work if I’m stretched too thin, plus being stretched so thin makes me hate work — and I genuinely love what I do.
  • Take a summer vacation.
    • I am taking a full 3 weeks off this upcoming summer. I haven’t taken any real time off this year and my December vacation is only 10 days. So I’m overdue for a solid block of time off.

Aside from making these changes, I know I have to set up better systems, I will be working on that too gradually.

I’m hopeful that 2021 will be less stressful, more relaxed, and a strong step in the direction I want my life to take.

One Little Word for 2021

I choose a word every year, a guiding idea, a wish for the new year encapsulated in a single thematic word.

For 2021, I choose deliberate.

In 2021 I want to deliberately create a more relaxed life. This means creating and sticking to a better sleep schedule, eating cleaner, moving more, and gaming more. Deliberately.

In 2021 I want to deliberately accept only projects I love. I am grateful, blessed, and incredibly lucky to finally be in a place where I don’t have to fret about what my next project will be. So I’m going to say no to the work that doesn’t light me up, to make room for the work that does. Deliberately.

In 2021 I want to deliberately lead my life in the direction I want it to go in. I’ve come a long way as an entrepreneur – I’ve been a beginner at business, at development, at client work, at administrative work, at writing, at all the things. Then I’ve slowly improved, worked harder, improved my own systems, learned how to show up better and more, until I could show up almost everyday, ready to work and accomplish stuff. I’ve had slow years, busy years, and growth years. I know what it’s like to have no work, too little work, and too much work. I know what it’s like to have no idea how to find work, to fail at finding enough work, and have more requests than I can handle. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot, and now I have a better idea of what I want as an entrepreneur. What was a vague out-of-reach half-baked idea that I held onto for the past few years now feels more solid and achievable. I know what I want and I have a pretty clear idea on how to get there. So in 2021, I am going to work on that plan. Deliberately.

So here’s to a more relaxed, more happy, more deliberate 2021!