2020 Year in Review

2020 Year in Review


On the whole, 2020 was a decent year. Did I accomplish everything I set out to do? Well, no. There were a few unexpected detours (*cough* COVID *cough*) but, to loosely quote one of my favorite books, if the journey is what really matters, not the destination, then perhaps the occasional detour should be celebrated for keeping the journey interesting.

Regardless, given the circumstances, I’ve been extremely fortunate:

  • My consulting business did very well. I worked with 3 different clients and gained valuable experience and $$$
    • I had a chance to exercise my engineering leadership skills with Karat, where I’ve been setting engineering direction for a small team
    • I earned enough money that I can now safely focus on my own projects for a good long while, regardless of what the pandemic does to the economy from here
  • I started working as a part-time innovation / entrepreneurship coach for high school students through The Spike Lab, which provides a purpose-driven way to further cushion my runway long-term
  • I volunteered as a section leader for Stanford’s Code in Place
  • I volunteered 44 hours to Vote Forward, a non-profit doing work related to the 2020 US election
  • I received a Taiwan Employment Gold Card, granting me residency in Taiwan for up to 3 years
  • I’ve been in a relationship for most of this year, making this my longest relationship since college
  • I lost 10-15 pounds and several points of body fat
    • I gained a lot of weight over the holidays though haha
  • I completed a half marathon
  • I reached an intermediate (B1) level in Chinese and am now working my way toward conversational fluency (~B2)
  • I learned a good amount of Japanese
    • I’m starting to be able to pick out words and phrases from anime, though I’m still a long way from full comprehension
  • I read 50 books, just shy of 52, but still a personal record
  • Earned my PADI Advanced Open Water and Enriched Air scuba diving certifications
  • I traveled around a lot of Taiwan! I feel like I’ve now at least briefly visited most of the major destinations on the island


Admittedly, progress on my goals unraveled quite a bit coming into the end of the year. My big takeaway from Q4 is that I’m working too much and putting too much pressure on myself, which probably isn’t a big surprise to anyone but myself haha.

Work-life balance has always been a struggle for me. During my self-employed life, I’ve occasionally needed to institute rules to help me feel like I get enough done on a daily basis and allow myself to feel guilt-free about putting work down for the day. In the past, this had primarily been a reaction to having placed myself in such uncomfortable situations (e.g. living alone in Morocco while convalescing from a breakup and severe food poisoning) that I struggled to get myself to do anything other than employ escapist tactics (like binging video games) to avoid the discomfort. Back then, I sometimes had enough trouble staying focused that I needed to give myself a tangible daily goal, hence my trusty “6 hours a day” rule.

I now ironically have the opposite problem: I probably work too hard. This year, I had long periods where I logged an average of 10+ hours/day plus time over the weekends. I’m beginning to realize that the sheer amount of time / pressure / effort is adversely affecting my well-being. This has primarily manifested itself in two ways:

  1. A general lack of energy / motivation to do things outside of work. (And, therefore, a slump in progress towards many goals.)
  2. A sense that I don’t have time or can’t make time to spend with friends on a regular basis.

I don’t really have anything or anyone to blame but myself, however. Yes, my workload can sometimes be challenging as I continue to consult full-time for Karat and coach part-time through The Spike Lab, but on average the unbalancing factor seems to be the pressure I put on myself and a lack of good boundaries between work and life.

I expect finding new balances will be a major theme in 2021.

Zooming out, though, here are some things I felt worked well in 2020:

  • Quarterly reviews
    • It was like getting a new lease on my year every 3 months!
    • I liked that I could adjust and adapt my goals as the year played out
  • Focusing on small, chunked daily habits and routines
    • I had trouble keeping up with weekly habits, but I liked having the daily habits as a touchstone for a regular routine I was trying to establish
    • I also really like how daily habits create a quantifiable piece of data that can be used to measure success / adherence

Here are some things I think need to be improved:

  • Overload
    • While I could maintain many of the goals, it became difficult to do so sustainably over the entire year, especially as my workload increased.
    • Often there would be so little time / space left over that even a small unexpected event could easily push me behind, leaving me stressed for the whole day (or even multiple days).
  • Establishment and maintenance of routines
    • I really like the idea of having a morning and evening routine / ritual and tweaking it over time to maximize well-being
    • However, I had trouble maintaining consistent work boundaries that would allow this. Particularly around going to bed at a fairly set time and waking up at a set time since I’d often want to finish “that one last thing” before going to sleep

Upon reflection, I think that in 2021 I’m going to try to give myself more space to relax or be creative with my time. I expect that I’ll significantly reduce the number of goals I explicitly commit to, focusing instead on just the most important things. I also expect that I’ll be trying to find a reasonable cap on the number of hours I work each day to help maintain a balance.

Detailed Review

I think I’d probably give myself a D for Q4. There were a few areas where I did well, but for the most part I stagnated in Q4, and wasn’t able to continue making forward progress.

For wider-context, since this is also a year-end review, here are all of my quarterly grades for 2020:

  • Q1: B/B+
  • Q2: C/C+
  • Q3: C
  • Q4: D

Unsurprisingly, the trend is downward throughout the year haha… but on the whole, I think it balances out to earning something like a C/C+ for the year, which isn’t half bad!

More granularly, here’s how I did against 2020 Q3’s final list of goals and OKRs:

  • Launch a successful project
    • OKR: Complete The Spike Lab purpose and identity exercises for myself
    • OKR: Brainstorm at least 100 project ideas related to my purpose, identities, and interests
      • I think I ended up with something closer to 80, but feel that I accomplished the goal here.
    • OKR: Identify 2-3 projects to explore and prototype starting in 2021
      • Taiwan E-Invoice / Receipt Lottery App for Expats
      • Serenity, GTD
      • I have a few smaller ideas that I could work on but probably need a little more scoping
    • Habit: Work on projects 6 hours a day
      • This included client and coaching work this quarter, and I destroyed this without trying.
  • Grow my consulting business
    • OKR: Obtain a glowing review / referral from Karat
  • Improve my software engineering skills
    • OKR: Read Clean Code by Robert C. Martin
    • OKR: Read Design Patterns by The “Gang of Four”
    • OKR: Read Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture by Martin Fowler
    • Ended up not making consistent progress with these books this quarter, though I did read one or two others.
  • Language learning
    • Learn Japanese
      • OKR: Memorize the first 600-1000 most common words in Japanese.
        • With the Japanese Core 10k flashcards I’ve already added, I’m pretty sure I’m just about at the bottom of this range.
      • Habit: Add 3 new Japanese Core 10k sentences each day
        • I added new cards to Anki only very sporadically in Q4
      • Habit: Every day, make grammar and example sentence flashcards for 1 already-completed Duolingo lesson
        • I never ended up finishing this in Q4 :/
    • Learn Chinese
      • OKR: Spend 3 months in Chinese-speaking countries
      • OKR: Complete the Duolingo Chinese program
      • OKR: Reach 3000 words in Chinese
        • I didn’t add a lot of new Chinese vocabulary in Q4! Too busy with work to think about this.
      • Habit: Add at least 30 new Chinese Anki cards a day for the duration of my stay in Taiwan
        • Added new cards only very sporadically in Q4
      • Habit: Complete 1 Duolingo Chinese lesson daily
    • Habit: Complete Anki reviews daily.
      • I was doing well with this right up until about mid-December. I’m on a long hiatus from Anki currently, and am re-strategizing around how to use it for my language studies long-term
  • Improve my health
    • Get back into shape
      • Get lean
        • Reach 10% body fat
          • Habit: Measure body composition every day so I can tell if current efforts are working
            • Actually stopped weighing myself consistently this quarter, too! Probably at the point at which I knew it was bad…
          • Definitely regressed a bit this quarter haha…
        • Habit: Take a full set of body circumference measurements once a week
          • Hardly did this at all this quarter. Another thing I stopped thinking about as I got stressed with work.
      • OKR: Find a training program I feel I can trust and stick to it unless body composition results show I’m not moving toward where I want to go. Re-evaluate programs every ~12 weeks.
        • Started CrossFit in Q4! Really enjoying it. Still recovering from a shoulder injury from before CrossFit, though.
      • OKR: Find a diet plan and stick to it long enough to evaluate results.
        • I was on the slow-carb diet for Q4, and don’t feel that I really stuck to it well this quarter.
      • Habit: Exercise at least 3 days a week
        • For the most part, I was at CrossFit 3 days a week. There were probably a few weeks here and there where I missed a day, though.
  • Learn to talk to attractive women
    • OKR: Delete all dating apps, and don’t use them for the entire year
  • Read more
    • OKR: Read 52 books
      • I made it to 50 at the end of the day! Reading fell off a lot in Q4, along with everything else. I had a 3-4 book lead, and ended up with a 2 book deficit :/
    • Learn to speed read
      • OKR: Eliminate subvocalization while reading
      • Habit: For at least 3 months, spend 10 minutes using speed reading training software each day
      • Habit: Take a reading speed test every week or two to measure progress
      • I didn’t end up finding more time for this in Q4 as I had hoped I would
    • Habit: Read at least 2 pages a day
      • This didn’t really happen. Bedtime routines got wrecked by not keeping good boundaries on my work schedule
    • Habit: Each morning after I make my bed, make sure my Kindle is charged and place it on my pillow.
    • Habit: Every evening, get in bed 30 minutes before my actual intended bedtime. Before I remove my Kindle from my pillow, make sure to read a few pages.
  • Deepen my mindfulness practice
    • Meditate more (aim for once a day; consistency matters more than duration)
      • Habit: Use Headspace to meditate every day shortly after waking up
        • I hardly did this at all in Q4, but I will give myself credit for doing decently on this earlier in the year
  • Improve my relationship with my immediate family
    • OKR: Find an online therapist I like to help me navigate difficult emotional issues involving family relationships
    • Habit: Call each family member weekly
      • I was good about this for the first few quarters, but dropped off a lot by the end of the year
    • Habit: Discuss progress on family relationships with a therapist weekly
      • I do have a therapist, and we do talk approximately weekly, but we don’t always stay focused on family relationships (for better or for worse)
    • I don’t feel like I moved the needle a huge amount on this this year. My relationship with my mother is reasonably stable, but still sometimes tenuous. My relationship with my father has gotten worse, if anything, and I haven’t had the emotional energy to try and reconnect.
  • Become more politically active
    • Habit: Spend 1-4 hours each week on political activities until November 3rd
      • I actually ended up stopping this mid-October, as The Big Send event for VoteForward happened around then. I was supposed to make time to do some phone banking after that, but ended up failing to do so.
      • I still accomplished a good amount, though, and am proud of having taken steps to be more involved! The election also ultimately went well :).

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