Welcome to 2018! As we start a new year, I’d like to share my Annual Review with you.
This is the first year I have conducted a formal Annual Review. The goal of this process is to remind yourself to look back on the previous twelve months, celebrate successes, evaluate failures, and hold yourself accountable in public. I hope that you’ll find my stories, mistakes, and insights useful.
My 2017 Annual Review will utilize the following format. Please feel free to use this as a model for your own review.
- Qualitative Review
- Quantitive Review
- Load Up/Brainstorm
- Mission Setting
My 2017 Annual Review
This Annual Review process starts by looking back at the projects that were completed or attempted in the previous year.
Which projects went well? (And what lessons were learned)
Completing my Life List – It took traveling over a million miles, visiting nearly 100 countries and pushing myself beyond my long-held limits but on May 24th of last year, I completed the biggest accomplishment of my life thus far and finished my Life List. I am still processing the experience and will be writing all about it in a new book after I have had more time to understand it.
Life List Weekend – After the completion of my List, I hosted the 100 people who had helped enable me the most with my list and treated them to their own Life List items. We all enjoyed a weekend together and happily, many people made new friends. It was an extraordinary experience and I am very proud of those involved and the results that everyone helped create.
Publishing The Minimalist Mindset – Earlier this year I released my second book. My first book was traditionally published and I wanted to experience the process of self-publishing first hand so I went on a publishing adventure with my second book. It was a long and grueling process to self-publish properly (it took me about two years from the conception of the idea to the first sale) but I am happy to report that my new book is selling quite well (~500 copies per week with a large spike at the beginning). It has already paid for itself in terms of both money and learning lessons.
I had two major takeaways from self-publishing. First, Amazon dominates the self-publishing industry. Although my book was available in hardcover, softcover, audiobook, and e-book formats at many retailers, the vast majority of my sales came from Amazon-owned companies.
Sales of The Minimalist Mindset are mostly made up of the softcover version (via Createspace accounting for roughly 1/3 of total sales) and the Kindle version (1/3 of sales) of the book. I sell about 1/4 of my books via Audible. Audible, CreateSpace and Kindle are all owned by Amazon which means roughly 90% of sales come from the book giant, Amazon. The remaining 10% of sales are sold via iBooks (Apple, accounting for 8%) and Barnes and Noble (1%) and other retailers (1%).
If I could do the whole process over again, I’d ignore all distributors besides Amazon owned companies and Apple and double down on those massive channels.
My second major takeaway was that earning reviews (good or bad) is extremely difficult. Reviews sell books both by building trust and by boosting discovery. I figured reviews would just come if the book sold well. Unfortunately, I learned that less than 1% of the people reading a book leave any kind of review or rating. The conversion is terrible. If I could do it again, I’d work my review generation strategy much harder.
Learning to Play Music (Piano & Bass) – As one of my final Life List items, I learned to play the keys. I had my first public performance last year and have another booked for early this year. Learning about music as an adult has opened up an entirely new world to me. I am now well on my way to learning the bass and am getting interested in learning other instruments as well. I now hear music differently and am repeatedly impressed by how my body and mind are quickly adapting to play music. I feel if I am growing an undeveloped part of my brain and it feels great. I get frustrated at times with my practice but I also think I am going to make learning more about music a lifelong endeavor.
Creating My First Hardware Projects – This year I successfully made the leap from software to hardware. I built several kit projects and then designed my own creation. My first independent project, Vain, is a portable LED-based device that can show metrics from a multitude of sources. The idea is that as people become more and more screen blind, metrics in the physical space become more and more novel and thus interesting.
I demoed my creation at Google and it was very well received.
Like music, I suspect hardware will be a lifelong endeavor for me. It is complicated, interesting and becomes more important every day.
Studying Medicine – This year I started becoming very interested in medicine and medical treatments. My lack of awareness of how my own body works troubles me so I have started to take classes to end this. This year I focused on wilderness medicine and survival classes so I could focus on providing care with few resources and next year I am going to go further with my medical education and attempt to get my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. I’ve been in emergencies before where people required medical care and I was not sure how to help them. I don’t want that to be the case in the future.
I Completed a lot of Important Projects – Looking back on my year, I am proud of how many important things I got done. I think it my ability to complete projects that makes me stand out from the average person. While I still have room for improvement, I am proud of my high level of output.
Which projects did not go well? (And what lessons were learned)
Spanish Maintenance – I utterly failed here. My attempts at maintaining my newly learned Spanish speaking skills were weak and lackluster. I didn’t find a Spanish speaking meetup that I enjoyed locally and I stopped paying for my Skype lessons. I did do daily Spanish flashcards (TinyCards) but these provided very little value. I have felt my fluency fade and have had some very demoralizing Spanish conversations in 2017. 2018 needs to go better or I won’t have enough Spanish left to be useful.
Maintaining My Healthy Weight – 2016 was the year of me finally earning my six pack. I was in the best shape of my life and quite proud of all of the hard work that had gotten me there. Unfortunately, 2017 was the year that I put the weight back on. I am ashamed and bothered by this reality and my weak attempts to reverse the trend have failed. I am optimistic I can find a healthy balance in 2018 but the weight I gained in 2017 is going to make this task more difficult.
Freedom Money Project/Genius Notes – I have two very good ideas for how to make more money from online endeavors but I failed to execute on either of them. I know that these ideas will be longer-term projects and unfortunately, I failed to plant the required seeds for these last year. I need to test these ideas in the real world (using a Minimum Viable Product) but since I haven’t done that yet, I have been wasting time just thinking about the projects when I could have been testing or working on more useful projects.
I suspect I will be forced to take action on these projects in 2018 as my desire to reach financial independence increases. I’ll be writing about all of these ideas 2018 on this blog.
Traveling To New Places – 2017 was the worst travel year I have had in about a decade. While I visited eight countries, only one of them was a new destination for me. My excuses were money and the need to maintain a disciplined routine for learning music and developing my backflip. Unfortunately, those gains came at a huge loss. I really love travel and it provides great benefits for me. It is core to who I am and what I am about. I won’t be willing to make this same trade-off in 2018.
Building My E-mail List – I did a terrible job of building and curating a healthy e-mail list this year. I never made it a priority and therefore it never happened. As the importance of diversifying marketing channels increases, the necessity of e-mail lists for content producers becomes even more important than it already is. I really failed here and have only myself to blame.
Vain – My Hardware Project – Vain was my first independent hardware project. While my public demo was a success, I did not push the project as far as I wanted to go. I believe this was because I lost my hardware focus and distracted myself with classes and other short-term goals. I am normally a stickler for taking projects to their finish line so this premature completion of this project was an oddity and a mistake for me. I still have the opportunity to continue the project but the stumble worries me.
Video Production – This year I largely rode the coattails of the videos I had produced in 2016 and before. While my video production royalties remained high, I didn’t produce a single video in 2017. This is a huge shame as I both enjoy producing videos and it appears that all of you enjoy watching them. I can use my book production as an excuse but really the fault lays on me not making time for this endeavor. Now that my royalties are starting to run lower, I am feeling more of an urge to start creating videos again.
How did your world contributions perform?
Your contributions to the world make for a very good measuring stick of your world impact. While not all contributions are measurable (how does one measure love for others?), this section of the review focuses on reviewing your contributions and assigning numbers to those contributions that can be easily measured.
I used the following questions as proxies for how to measure my contributions to the world this year.
How did my books perform?
My books were my best content performers this year (this makes sense given they required most of my writing-related attention this year). My new book, The Minimalist Mindset is selling well and my overall Author Rank hovers around 15,000 in the world. Not bad for a part-time writer with only two published books. Both of my books have already made a healthy profit, the reviews have been very good and most importantly, a lot of people have told me they have received a lot of value from my books. All is well in this department!
The Minimalist Mindset
How did my videos perform?
While my old videos are still driving Watch Time (YouTube users watched nearly 10,000 hours of me last year), that Watch Time is trending downwards. This is obviously because I failed to produce new videos this year and YouTube’s discovery engine rewards recency. The lack of new videos was a direct result of the work required to write and publish my latest book.
My most watched videos in 2017 (Watch Time in minutes in parathesis)
- My Insanely Automated Home & Morning Routine (150,042)
- How To Get The Cheapest Flights Every Time (87,357)
- Tips for Traveling Alone (76,805)
- Walt Disney’s Storytelling Secrets – Storytelling School (46,746)
- How Much Does It Cost To Travel The World? (28,478)
- How to Become a Minimalist (28,221)
- How To Pick The Best Airplane Seat Every Time (27,233)
- How To Fly Through Airport Security (26,138)
- How To Make Friends in Foreign Countries (25,172)
- The Carry-On Only Packing List (16,309)
How did my articles perform?
It always surprises me to see which blog posts continue to do well years after they are posted. The following list is of the blog articles that performed the best this year.
- Why I’ll Never Return to Singapore
- Learning How To Pickpocket
- The Best Video Gear for Travelers
- Always Sit in the Back of Planes
- Today My Life List Comes to an End (This is the spike on the graph above)
- How to Build Your Own Weather Balloon Spacecraft
- The Best Bucket List Quotes
- Exploring an Abandoned Disney Resort
- My Insanely Automated Home & Morning Routine
- Sneaking Onto Remote Parts of The Great Wall of China
What were the top performers of all of your current and previous contributions (by watch/read time)?
- My Insanely Automated Home & Morning Routine
- How To Get The Cheapest Flights Every Time
- My Life List
- Why I’ll Never Return To Singapore
- Tips for Traveling Alone
- Learning To Pickpocket
- Walt Disney’s Storytelling Secrets – Storytelling School
- How To Make Friends in Foreign Countries
- Life Listed’s Homepage
What were your most popular contributions that were created this year?
The writing and publishing of my newest book completely dominated my contribution creation time this year. As a result of focusing on The Minimalist Mindset, I created zero videos and only four meaningful blog posts. This was a hard tradeoff and something I need to take into more serious consideration before writing future books.
- The Minimalist Mindset
- Today My Life List Comes To An End
- 10 Maps That Will Change How You See The World
- Looking Back On The Biggest Mistakes of My Life
- A Lesson Learned At Mt. Everest
How did your learning activities perform?
It is not enough to simply list the learning activities that you did, you must identify which learning activities actually proved their value.
What books did you read that proved their value?
Total books read: 18
(Full list available here through Goodreads)
Unfortunately, I did not read nearly as many books as I had planned last year. For comparison, I read more than twice as many books last year. I suspect the main reason for this failure was that I had much fewer long flights this year as compared to last.
Books that proved their value:
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck
- The Minimalist Mindset (I am biased though)
- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
What classes did you take that proved their value?
Total classes completed: 5
Classes that proved their value:
- Wilderness First Responder (WFR)
- Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris
- Tinkering Fundamentals
- Automate The Boring Stuff with Python
- Various Math Classes at Khan Academy
What places did you visit that proved their value?
Total countries visited: 8
In 2017, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Japan, Ukraine, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, Italy, and Portugal. Only one these countries (Ukraine) was a new destination for me.
Trips that proved their value:
All of them!
I absolutely love traveling. Exploration is one of my core happiness needs and my performance here has a remarkable healing effect on me. Due to my book deadline, Life List deadline, and my savings goals, I traveled significantly less than normal this year. Given the many benefits I experience from traveling, I see this slowdown in travel as a failure on my part. I am particularly disappointed that I only visited one new country this year. That said, visiting Chernobyl in Ukraine, was not just a good trip, it was a life highlight. I’ll write a post in 2018 about that trip.
What movies/tv shows did you watch that proved their value?
I view watching TV and movies as a consumption, rather than learning activity. Consuming media can be good for regeneration or relaxation but only in rare cases have I found this activity to actually add something to my life.
TV shows that proved their value:
Movies that proved their value:
- Her (Character driven story done perfectly)
- Ex Machina (Smart high tech done correctly)
- Maiden Trip (One of the best stories I have ever seen)
- Searching For Sugarman (The best documentary I have ever seen)
- Forrest Gump (Well worth rewatching)
Honestly, I watched too much TV and too many movies this year. Even though TV these days has greatly improved, I still think the vast majority of TV shows, movies and books are shallow learning activities. You do learn something from these activities but they have much less return on time investment than experiencing new activities in the real world. The TV shows and movies listed above were good and somewhat valuable but are not a deep learning activity.
How did your projects perform?
What projects did you complete?
In 2017, I completed all of the following projects:
- Completed my Life List! (The culmination of almost 10 years of work! This is the single biggest accomplishment of my life.)
- Planned and executed Life List Weekend (A weekend full of events to give back to the people who enabled me to complete my Life List)
- Completed and launched my newest book, The Minimalist Mindset
- Drafted outline for my next book
- Learned to play the piano (And had my first music gig!)
- Learned to play the bass (My first gig playing the bass is booked and is less than a month away)
- Gave a lecture at Google on Artificial Intelligence and the importance of hardware
- Completed a Wilderness First Responder class
- Completed the original Nand2Tetris class (Built a computer starting at the transistor level)
- Got a new mentor
- Built and coded my first hardware-based project (Vain – more on this later on in this review)
- Built a robot arm (It synced with the sensors in my phone, turning my phone, turned the arm.)
- Built a robot rover (AdaFruit Mini Robot)
- Learned to do a standing backflip (Life List Item)
- Moved e-mail providers
- Did many podcast interviews (probably a dozen?)
- Applied to be a New York Times Write At Large
- Purchased and set up new insurance (This was much more of a project than it should have been)
- Redesigned and rebuilt two non-client websites
- Created a media kit for my brand
- Purchased and set up a new computer
- Purchased and set up a new phone
- Purchased and managed logistics for a new water heater (This was my least favorite project of the year. Nine months and counting…)
- Completed two major client reports (70 pages+ each)
- Planned and implemented trip to New Orleans (NADA)
- Planned and implemented trip to Italy
- Planned and implemented trip to Mexico
- Planned and implemented trip to the Netherlands (YoastCon)
- Planned and implemented trip to Ukraine
- Planned and implemented trip to see the eclipse
- Planned and implemented New Years in Japan
- Renewed Passport (Bye bye visas and stamps)
- Participated in several weddings
- Moved into a new house
What projects did you not complete?
- Freedom Money Project/Genius Notes MVP (I’ll discuss this later in the review)
- Vain (I’ll discuss this later in the review)
- Spanish practice continuation (I’ll discuss this later in the review)
How did your work contributions/business perform?
I run a small consulting business and happily it did well again this year. Revenue was essentially the same as last year, event production expenses were up (likely a one-time occurrence) but special projects revenue was up too and almost canceled out the increased expenses. It will be important for me to increase video production revenue in the new year in order to keep my numbers high.
What business sections performed better than last year?
- Book revenue (Because I came out with a new book)
- Storytelling consulting projects
What business sections performed worse than last year?
- Video production
Which services/client types should I increase?
- Video production
- Business scaling/employee training
Which services/clients should I cut?
- I am going to keep this information private as my clients will likely read this article.
How did your health perform?
How is your health trending?
Overall my health trended extremely highly. I have been measuring my overall well-being every month for the last 7 years. You can read more about my Emotional Self Portrait project here.
That said, I am concerned about my increasing weight. This has already started to have a negative impact on my well-being. I’ll discuss this negative trend later in the review.
How often were my happiness needs being met?
Each quarter I map all of my on-going projects to the areas of my life that I know drive my happiness. If my projects are driving me in the wrong directions I either drop them or figure out a way to complete them as quickly as possible.
This year I did a fairly good job of matching my projects with my happiness needs. I suspect that this will get harder now that my Life List is complete.
This section of the Annual Review is different than those before it. In this section, you simply need to review what projects you may want to pursue next year. It is merely brainstorming session and doesn’t require you to actually commit to any goals (yet!).
Review possible projects for next year
I keep a list of projects that I am interested in pursuing. You can use my list below for inspiration for your own potential projects in 2018.
- Write/Launch new book (Likely about my Life List project)
- Learn to Touch Type
- Get Emergency Medical Technician certified
- Build a computer from the group up (Take 2nd class in Nand2Tetris series)
- Learn to Speed Read
- Learn to improve Memory Skills
- Complete Deep Learning course by Andrew Ng (I want data literacy)
- Complete class on How Things Work: An Introduction to Physics
- Complete class on Introduction to Mathematical Thinking
- Complete Hazardous Environment Training
- Build Genius Notes MVP (More information to come if I make progress on this)
- Complete class on Introduction to Electronics
- Complete class on Bushcraft Basics
- Complete Moon Bounce (EME) Project
- Complete class on Creative Live – Power Your Podcast with Storytelling
- Complete class from Pixar – The Art of Storytelling
- Complete class on Master Class – James Patterson Teaches How To Write A Best-Selling Book
- Complete class on Creative Live – Sell Your First 1000 Books
- Complete class on Master Class – Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
- Complete advanced class in Electrical Engineering
- Sell Minimalist Mindset book with Amazon Fulfillment (Learn the Amazon selling ecosystem)
- Complete class from Harvard in Religion
- Complete class on Master Class – DeadMau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production
- Complete class on Self Defense (Krav Maga)
- Improve posture (Alexander technique?)
- Learn to sketch/illustrate
- Build a model rocket
- Complete class on Firearm Training
- Wake up at 5:00 AM for one month
- Learn to drive a manual transmission car
- Build MVP for Better Explained (More information to come if I make progress on this)
- Build an amateur nuclear fusion reactor (can this be done safely?)
- Complete class on creating a Documentary
- Complete a Morning Journal 30 day challenge
- Complete class on Introduction to Fabrication and Welding
- Complete class on Contract Law
- Complete class on Master Class – Usher Teaches the Art of Performance
- Touch the Moon (More information to come if I make progress on this)
- Do Storm Chasing adventure (More information to come if I make progress on this)
Now that we have reviewed what projects are available for completing next year, we can now start planning our higher level mission for next year.
In my mind, a project is a group of tasks and a mission is a group of projects.
I know that focus is paramount and the biggest obstacle I am facing now that my Life List is complete is that my actions are lacking meaning and my projects are lacking direction. Therefore, my single mission for 2018 will be:
Finish a draft and start pitching my Life List book before the end of December 31st, 2018.
This mission will require the completion of many smaller projects (like those on my staging projects list) but will be more important and meaningful and it will provide a direction for all of my focused efforts.