I’m trying something different this year. At the beginning of the year, I created a bunch of personal goals and themes. My hope isn’t to check everything off this list. I want these things to inspire me to action. If I complete them, that’s cool too. If not, at least I’ll enjoy the journey.
These aren’t new year resolutions. Everything on this list is something that was in progress before the year began. Organizing them into a list was the product manager side of me looking for a system to help stay on track.
Along the way, I’ve been reviewing these each week to keep myself accountable. Doing this helps bypass the biggest issues that come up when people set goals:
- They never looked at them again – If you set resolutions and don’t write them down, or write them down but never look at them again, then there’s very little chance you’ll remember them.
- They write goals using the word “every” – I’ll work out every day. I’ll stay off social media every day. I’ll write every day. As soon as you miss one day you’ve failed. Don’t set every day goals unless you need that goal to live.
- They set goals they don’t enjoy – You may not love every aspect of a goal, but you shouldn’t hate every aspect of it either. If I find myself setting a goal I don’t enjoy, I’ll change the wording. A small shift, like “find a way to enjoy xxx”, can inspire action.
With that in mind, let’s see how the first 3 months with my 2021 goals and themes went!
2021 Q1 Life Updates
Usually, I write about specific topics, but these quarterly updates are a chance to get a little more personal. Before jumping into the goals and productivity side I’ll recap what’s been going on lately.
The answer is not too much. Mrs. Minafi and I spent every day of all 3 months here in our Salt Lake City apartment. We’re still quarantining at home, never eating inside at restaurants, and not hanging out with friends unless we can do it outdoors from a safe distance.
COVID-19 Vaccine! ✅
One of the biggest things to happen was that on March 27th I got my dose of the COVID-19 vaccine! Utah opened up vaccinations to everyone on March 24th and we scheduled an appointment as soon as we could. We had to drive 40 minutes to a rural Fresh Market next door to a farm, but there’s no question we’d drive triple that distance.
It’s hard to believe that my wife and I started going out 15 years ago (!). We were friends for 4 years prior to that. Since I’m 38 now and we met at 19, we’ve known each other half our lives and been together for the best years so far.
With both of us stuck at home during COVID and not working, there was a very small part of me that was worried that things would change in some kind of negative way. That has just not been the case though! We’ve only grown closer since leaving our jobs.
Add to that a less stressed household that leaves more room for love and we have a very happy relationship!
To celebrate the day, we went out for tasty ice cream, rented a movie theater to watch a movie, and made Beef Wellington at home (OK, the cooking happened 2 weeks earlier on Valentine’s Day).
I pitched The Fellowship of the Ring for our anniversary, but apparently it’s not an “romantic” movie. ?
The biggest thing that happened recently was Lily’s surgery. Our 13-year old pup has had some trouble lately, and we finally tracked down the problem – hyperparathyroidism. Apparently, the glands in her neck were overproducing calcium to a level that could cause organ failure in a matter of months.
We made the decision to have it operated on about 2 weeks ago. She’s recovering well, and her calcium levels have normalized!
The cost of this surgery? Well, it wasn’t cheap. Between the tests, the surgery, and follow-ups, we’re in close to $4,500. Never in my life would I have thought I’d spend that much on a pet. When the time came to make the decision, it wasn’t even a question. Lily has been a part of our family for 13 years. She’s effectively our child.
We were in a great place financially to make this decision without impacting other expenses. I can only imagine how sad we would have been if we had needed to decide between rent and keeping our only pet alive.
Something funny happened the very next day: we filed our taxes and got $4,000 back! It was all the stimulus money from 2020 that we didn’t get (due to our high income in 2019). Life’s funny sometimes.
Sundance Film Festival 2021
Mrs. Minafi and I are both huge film buffs (as you might have guessed from the movie-focused anniversary). I volunteered at Sundance for the last 2 years, and Mrs. Minafi last year. We knew 2021 would of course be a lot different. We threw our names in the online volunteering hat and got in! We both did about 32 hours of volunteering over the course of the festival – all on Zendesk from home.
Rather than theater-premiers, this year each film had an online premiere. We picked up tickets for 6 shows and watched them from our apartment:
- Cryptozoo – 4.5 ⭐ – An animated journey to create a zoo of not-so-imaginary creatures.
- Strawberry Mansion – 3 ⭐ – A dystopian future where the government audits (and taxes) our dreams.
- Eight for Silver – 5 ⭐ – In the late 1800s, a small town is cursed and must fight to survive an unknown threat.
- Land – 4.5 ⭐ – A quiet, introspective journey into Alaska to process trauma.
- Mayday – 3.5 ⭐ – Down the rabbit hole.
- Coming Home in the Dark – 3.5 ⭐ – 2 hours of pure anxiety in the style of Funny Games.
- Prisoners of the Ghostland – 2 ⭐ – Nicholas Cage visits Samurai Town. He also has bombs on his nuts that could go off at any time. Because reasons.
Eight for Silver was my favorite movie of this year. If you’re a fan of horror and enjoy a period piece movie set in the 1800s, you’ll love this one. Cryptozoo was amazing in a lot of ways, and Land made me tear up with Robin Wright’s amazing acting (and directing debut!).
The best part was that we could watch everything from our bed! I seriously hope Sundance keeps some of the festival online in future years.
2021 Themes and Goals
Ok, back to goals and themes.The tl;dr for the difference between these two is:
- Themes – Not completable.
- Goals – Completable.
That’s really it. Themes are mindsets that don’t have a concrete completion. In the corporate world, you’re often taught not to set these kinds of goals since they’re not “measurable”. Don’t worry, no ones going to call you out to your manager.
I set these to be more mindful about a topic. Continuing to think about it is success.
B – Continue Moving from a Goals-Based Live to a Values-Based Life
The irony of this one isn’t lost on me. ? Here’s how I see the distinction. In a goal-based life, you plan based on the outcome you want to achieve. In a values-based life you plan based on your values first, and the outcome second. The outcome never has priority.
As an example, let’s having a good marriage is a value and making a lot of money is a goal. Having a good marriage always wins. If they’re both just goals, then who knows.
Measuring and trying to improve on this one has been like trying to look inside Schrodinger’s box. By trying to evaluate this theme, am I altering it? Who knows.
What has been useful for this theme is my weekly reviews. When I look back on the past week I’ll see how it went. Sometimes I’ll notice I scheduled waaaay too much. Like a completely unrealistic amount of things. Planning-me wanted to get shit done and lined up a busy week. Actual-me realized I’d rather go for a walk with my dog than stay inside writing an SEO article for hours.
One week I set a task to add a platform to the Minafi Investment Apps directory every day. Each one takes hours of research, writing and data entry. I added one. It’s not that I had a busy week – I just didn’t feel like doing it.
I’ll fully admit this: I’ve lost some of the overwhelming drive I had while working to make money. Now that it’s gone, projects like this need to hit multiple motivations to inspire me. It has to be useful, it has to be something I’m proud of, it has to be good. If it has the possibility to make money, that’s one more plus in the pros column. That inspiration drives much of where I put my time – for better or worse.
An “A” for this theme would mean getting to the point where I review the past week and notice I scheduled it correctly. I was challenged, but not overwhelmed. I felt productive, but not stressed. I woke up enthusiastic, but still took time to do other things.
C – Local First
This theme is a move to local in as many areas as I can – spending money locally, producing less trash, using less energy, volunteering locally, and anything else. Last year I realized just how much I was living globally. Watching the news, ordering everything on Amazon. I wasn’t connecting with the community as much as I wanted.
An “A+” in this theme would mean spending 100% of my money locally. I’ll go with classic school tiers and say 90%-100% is an A, 80%-90% is a B, and so forth down from there.
By this measure, my grade for December 2020 was 74% which is a solid C. That included our 2-week south Utah road trip where we ate almost entirely local places, but also stayed in a few chain hotels (not local). My hope is to improve on that month by month as I find new ways to switch out international spending for local spending.
So far this year, we spent 74% in January locally, 76% in February and 60% in March. The $4k vet visit in March was at a large-scale chain vet (MedVet). Our usual vet is local, but this was the specialist they recommended.
One of the takeaways from this experience so far has been a better understanding of where I’m shopping. I now know which grocery stores are local (Harmons, Sprouts) and which aren’t (Smiths, Target, Costco, Whole Foods). It’s possible to shop at a local store but just buy international brands. There’s no advantage in going to a local store to buy Starbucks.
The same goes for local restaurants. Some of our favorite places don’t have delivery, putting us in the hands of GrubHub/UberEats/DoorDash. I split these transactions on my financial spreadsheet into the money going to the delivery app (not local) and the money going to the restaurant/delivery person (local).
Is this needed? No, absolutely not. ? For me, it’s been a learning experience. It’s a way of rewiring my brain to think more about how I spend money. This is the most I’ve learned about my own spending habits in years. My aim is to only track this for a year. After that, I should have changed my own spending habits towards the local side and I’ll be able to spend without needing to optimize this.
Side note: I’m defining local as any money that stays where it’s spent, it’s within a day’s drive of where I live, and it’s not an international or fortune 500 company.
C+ – Avoid Big Tech
Few industries have fared better during the pandemic than big tech. They had the entire world as a captive audience at a time when it was illegal even to leave your apartment. It’s no surprise that the largest 10 companies in the world were able to grow at a time when local companies shrank.
50 years ago the same thing happened. At that time it wasn’t internet companies of course, but it was Walmart driving out local hardware stores, grocery stores, and everything else. Entire communities closed because money was being siphoned off and sent out of state. All of that money could no longer circulate in local economies.
The same thing is happening with big tech. The losers are local stores losing out to Amazon, smaller websites losing out to Google/Amazon, and others not innovating in areas that the big players dominate in. Switching your attention and dollars to smaller players helps support creativity, new solutions to problems, and entrepreneurship.
My goal with this theme is to be a more mindful consumer. These companies have made life easier – that’s not even a question. It’s easier to keep up with friends on Facebook than to make a phone call. It’s easier to order a commodity on Amazon than to visit a local store. In both cases, you miss out on real-world connections and local support. By redefining your relationship with these big tech companies we relate with each other more.
Here’s a look at what I’m currently trying to reduce my big-tech footprint:
- D – Facebook: Goal usage: occasional Instagram on desktop. I left every Facebook group I was in and removed half my friends. Those left are people that I keep in touch with ONLY through Facebook (or really close real-life friends). I don’t have any Facebook apps on my phone except Messenger. I rarely use Instagram, and only from my browser to keep up with a few people. Ditto for WhatsApp. I’m slowly switching conversations to Telegram. My plan is still to disable Facebook altogether at some point this year. That’ll also mean removing Facebook login from Minafi which I’m less excited about.
- C – Amazon: Goal usage: Alexa, Prime Video. This is one of the hardest to remove. I only spent $100 at Amazon during this 3-month period. Each purchase was out of convenience, not out of necessity. I suspect I could have found everything on another site (or even better – locally). We have Alexa devices in our apartment, but only use them to play music, rain sounds at night, or manage our grocery shopping list.
- B – Google: Goal usage: Drive, Chrome. I switched to DuckDuckGo for searches on my phone and computer. I still use Gmail, but I want to research switching to an email service I own this year.
- A – Apple: Goal usage: Hardware, App Store, some subscriptions. I’ve disabled all subscriptions for apps from renewing through Apple. Any companies that allow direct subscriptions will be moved over when they renew.
- A – Microsoft: Goal usage: GitHub. I’m not currently using anything Microsoft other than GitHub.
The only companies getting any of my money are Apple (hardware, app store fees) and Amazon (Prime video). An A+ would mean getting to my goal usage for each of these platforms.
There are other companies I’m not yet including in this list (Twitter and Reddit) that could join the crowd any time.
B+ – Value My Own Time
Last year I felt like I wasted a lot of time. I spent countless hours reading news, doom scrolling, and obsessively checking Twitter. Between the pandemic, a rough presidency, and a polarizing election it was a perfect storm.
Now that we’re slowly returning to a new normal, I don’t want to obsess about things outside of my control. It’s good to be informed and to fight for change, but there’s a point where you tip from an informed voter to… Obsessed? Addicted? Unhealthy.
In a lot of ways, this matches up with doing a digital detox. The last step of that process is redefining your relationship with social media and news. I tried to fast-track the detox (by not checking in during our December vacation) and jumped straight into defining my relationship with it.
This theme is all about shifting from consumption habits to creation habits. Not all consumption habits are equal. I have no problem playing a video game or reading for 12 hours, but I’d be horrified to spend that long checking Twitter or scrolling on Reddit.
- A-: Don’t view social media or news before dinner time. (except when posting new articles for Minafi)
- C-: Develop reasonable habits for how much social media I can consume at night. I have a lot of work to go here. I’ll often wind down at night by just reading Reddit for HOURS. I’d much rather do anything else.
- B: Plan outings outside the house. I’ve been attempting to ski every week or two, hike, or take Lily out on trail walks. There are a bunch of things on our local bucket list that I can’t wait to try.
Mrs. Minafi and I have been talking about whether we want to stay in Salt Lake City another year after 2021 or not. We renewed the lease on our apartment until January 2022, but this might be the last year we spend in town.
Living in a place feels different when there’s a time limit. Suddenly there are only a few months to do everything we want to do! Sure, we can come back to Utah anytime, but it’s not easy to get around. Planning a backpacking trip in Zion, for example, is a hell of a lot easier if we can drive down there with all our gear rather than fly down with it and rent a car.
Whew, that was a lot. Goals are much more straightforward. Here’s a quick look at how these are going.
One of my favorite discoveries of the last year was switching up my exercise schedule. I switched from exercising on specific days (MWF) to exercising every other day. While working that wouldn’t have been as easy! Now though, all days are roughly the same.
I’ve never considered myself an athlete. Until I was 18, I used an inhaler 3x a day, took pills 3x a day to keep my asthma in check and even had monthly allergy shots to help prevent attacks. I couldn’t run more than 400 meters without loud wheezing and a pain in my chest.
In college that mostly started to fade as my airways grew. I still use an inhaler about once every two weeks, but I can exercise without it. My asthma now mostly surfaces before colds to let me know something is wrong.
A – Run a Marathon. In the last 4 months, I ran 31km (December), 54km (January), 84km (February), and then 108km in March (!). I’m putting in the miles and can feel myself improving. I’m on track to run a marathon in July. If my distance keeps going up until I hit this goal then I’ll consider this a success.
A+ Run a 10k in under 1 hour. I accomplished this one in February! I completed a 10k run around Liberty Park close to home in 59:21. I’ve since tweaked this goal. I’m still aiming to run a 10k in under an hour, but now it’s a route that’s 5k uphill and 5k downhill. My record so far on that route is 1:07:59 for a 10k with 200m of elevation gain. The first 1k is the hardest with 60m of elevation gain. Pacing that correctly so I’m not destroyed for the rest of the run is the hardest part.
B- Learn to ski black diamond slopes. I doubt I’ll fully accomplish this one. ? Apparently, and I didn’t know this, but learning to ski takes a lot of deliberate practice. It’s all about putting in the hours. While I don’t plan to make it to mastery, I’d like to continue making progress. I took my first lesson and wrote down a bunch of exercises to try. I’m to the point now where I can enjoy going down an intermediate slope without reservations. It’s only when the slope gets extremely steep OR there are too many moguls (bumps) that I struggle.
According to the Slopes app I use to track my runs, I skied 6 times, with a max speed of 44 MPH, a tallest run of 1,804 ft and a longest run of 2 miles. I thought I’d ski a lot more, to be honest. The ski bus up to the resorts is hit-or-miss on if they’ll cap the number of people they let on. Sometimes the driver will only allow enough people on for every other seat, other times it’s standing room only.
My favorite ski day of the year was a fresh powder day at Solitude. It was snowing all day and I enjoyed some delicious Indian Curry outside while it came down.
I’m having fun practicing this year. I’ll just going to continue skiing and practicing and see where I end up.
F – Create an iOS Application. I haven’t watched a minute of a course or even opened XCode. But that’s OK! If there are other things I’m moving forward with then I have no problems with missing this one. I still like the idea of building an iOS application for my personal tracking system. The site I use to track my metrics, Exist.io, is up for sale right now. That might impact this one. It’s on the back burner for now.
A+ – Learn Japanese to N5 Level. Of everything on this list, this has been one of the most fun. I use WaniKani to learn Kanji and Japanese vocabulary using spaced repetition. I’ve been shooting to have 50 items in the “apprentice” level at a time. That just means there are 50 terms that I haven’t answered correctly 4 times in a row. Once I get a few terms right, I learn a few new terms, and the process repeats.
I did hit a bit of a bump. Wanikani has 3 categories you can learn – Radicals (symbols, no specific meaning), Kanji (characters with specific meanings), and Vocabulary (kanji + hiragana like it would be read). I had accidentally configured my app to focus just on Kanji. That meant I was a few levels behind in vocabulary. It’ll take me a few months to clear out the backlog and get my vocabulary level in line with my kanji level.
Vocabulary has been my favorite part of learning Japanese so far. By combining two or more kanji you can get an entirely new meaning. My favorite so far is 花 (flowers) + 火 (fire) = 花火 fireworks. Which makes perfect sense! A few of my other favorites are:
- 人 (person) + 気 (energy) = 人気 (popular)
- 自 (self) + 由 (reason) = 自由 (freedom)
- 公 (public) + 用 (task) = 公用 (government business)
- 見 (see) + 方 (direction) = 見方 (perspective, viewpoint)
- 休 (rest) + 日 (day) = 休日 (holiday)
Each one feels like a little poem. A fun play on words. I’m constantly turning to my wife and sharing these. One of our wind-down activities at the end of the night is putting on a video of someone walking around Japan. Even though I only understand about 1% of the store signs, it’s helped practice.
I have a very long way to go, but it’s nice taking the scenic route. I’m not ultralearning or optimizing my system for this. Instead, I’m optimizing this around what it’ll take to keep going.
B – Learn containerization w/real app. This goal is all about learning more DevOps skills. As a startup employee, this is an area where I never felt comfortable. We had system admins and other devs who were much more experienced in these areas that I relied on to set up servers and keep systems going. With Minafi and other projects of mine, I’ve gone the easy route and used services like Heroku that handle DevOps for you. After a botched Postgresql upgrade on my local computer, I remembered why this is so important.
Progress on this one has been slow. I spent a few days trying to get Minafi to work on DigitalOcean using Docker only to have it fail in the end. I switched over to setting up a droplet from scratch and it worked great – and only took a few hours. I used Docker for a project I was volunteering for, which was a good learning experience too. The best use of it so far was creating a custom icon font that’s used here on Minafi.
A – Minafi -> $1k/month. Believe it or not, Minafi hasn’t historically made any money. For its first 3 years it’s been an expensive hobby. This year I’m trying to change that. While I don’t need Minafi to make a bunch of money, I do want it to support itself and fund further creative projects. If it can help with some of our household month-to-month spending, that’s just icing on the cake.
- 2020 Avg: -$156 (yes, I spent on average $156 a month on Minafi last year).
- January 2021: +$55.17 (yes, in the black!)
- February 2021: +$351.72 (I found some affiliate income I earned in the past but never cashed out).
- March 2021: -$175.40 (There was a bug in the Bootcamp signup process that prevented people from signing up. ? It’s fixed now.)
Side note: I recently updated the Income & Expenses page on Minafi to include monthly web traffic, expenses, and income. Check it out if you want a look behind the curtain.
I still have a long ways to go on this one. The launch of the Minafi Investment Apps Directory is a big step towards making a bit more affiliate income while providing objective recommendations. Most of the highest-rated platforms there have no affiliate programs. Ratings aren’t based on how much I stand to earn.
Contrast that with NerdWallet’s ratings where every platform has a rating of 4.x. How are you supposed to understand what’s good or bad when everything is rated the same? You can’t, and that’s the point. Minafi’s directory makes it clear what platforms are good and which are.. well.. let’s just say not recommended.
One of the most fun changes has been joining The Money Mix – a group of financial bloggers working together. It’s felt a lot like the Rockstar Finance forums back in the day. Having a Slack group to chat with has been a ton of fun too. In just a few months I’ve had a bunch of wins – the most recent was getting an article I wrote on MSN Money! I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in seeing what you can accomplish with a little targeted support.
Whenever I see people making any serious money from blogging I’m honestly amazed. It’s harder than you might think. For now, Minafi is still a hobby but at least it’s in the black so far this year.
Everything else that doesn’t have a clear place goes here.
B- Read/listen to 100 books. I love listening to audiobooks. Between running, walking my dog, skiing and hiking, there’s a lot of time to listen. This includes books ? as well as comics ?️.
- January: 6 ? / 19 ?️
- February: 3 ? / 0 ?️
- March: 7 ? / 0 ?️
Reading comics/manga on my iPad in the morning has been a treat. Most of the iOS manga reading apps are garbage, but Paperback is an ad-free app currently in development that I’m a Patreon supporter of. Between that and Comic Zeal, I’ve read Alice in Borderland, Alive on Border Road, Attack on Titan, and Squirrel Girl.
I track everything I read on Goodreads if you’re looking for recommendations. My favorites this year so far: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik and Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.
A+ Monthly journaling practice. My initial goal was to do this monthly. I switched it to weekly and it’s been more impactful. So far I haven’t missed a week!
A+ Happiness >= 8. On a scale of 1-9, a score of 8+ is a really good day. I’ve been tracking my days on Exist and built a little app to see the ratings. So far it’s been working out:
- December: 7.6
- January: 8.23
- February: 8.42
- March: 8.54
That an average of 8.39 for the year so far out of a possible 9. It’s been a very happy few months. 🙂
Consciously thinking about happiness isn’t something I’ve previously done. Just asking myself “what could I do to be happier” changes the conversation from my usual “what could I do to be more productive”.
The lowest biggest downer days were Lily’s surgery, our projector breaking + Best Buy’s repair policy not working how I thought it would ($$$), and a day Mrs. Minafi wasn’t feeling great which I allowed to bring me down too.
The Next 3 Months
I don’t anticipate any big changes in the next few months. We have our 2nd vaccine dose scheduled, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to suddenly become world travelers. We do have a birthday trip planned (I’ll be 39!) for mid-May though! We’re staying at a local ski resort. We might even have a meal served to us (*gasp*).
It’ll be a few months before we schedule any serious travel. If things go well we’d love to reschedule our Taiwan/South Korea trip or our Disney trip for later this year. That won’t happen unless it’s safe to go.
In the meantime, we’ll stay local. Cherry blossoms will be blooming at the Utah State Capitol. It’s almost backpacking/camping season too, which I’m excited about. We have a few other day trips in the works to check out Salt Lake State Park and a few museums that have been closed during the pandemic.
How has your year been so far? Is it shaping up to be better than 2020? Have you been able to get the vaccine?