I’m not a fan of the word “resolution“. It assumes you’re making a major change in course. I prefer to reevaluate what I spend my time on monthly (or even weekly) and adjust my course then. This focuses on taking the next step.
Every year I spend a few days figuring out what I want to focus on in the coming year. None of these should be changes in course from what you’re doing today. Starting can happen whenever.
These goals and themes aren’t be habits. They should be able to be failed by January 2nd. Some of the worst written resolutions are in the form “I will <action> every <time frame>.” As soon as you miss that action once, you’ve failed your resolution!
Instead, try to focus on creating goals and themes you can work towards all year long and that you’ve already started working on today.
That’s the hope with these themes and goals. Speaking of which, what’s the difference between a theme and a goal?
A goal is a concrete task that you hope to accomplish. I have life goals and local goals. Both have no set date attached to them. They’re a bucket list – a “someday I want to accomplish this” kind of goal. The goals in this post are ones I’m actively setting out to accomplish in 2021!
A theme is a mindset that inspires your decision-making process and actions. Being vegan or catholic is a theme. Both help to drive your days but don’t require you to be 100% committed to consider yourself either. (side note: I’m a meat-eating Athiest, but these examples are too good to skip). I’ve set themes in past years (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015), and tried monthly themes for all of 2020.
To organize these, I’m blatantly stealing Retire by 40‘s goal style to keep these organized. I’ll write updates about these goals quarterly here on Minafi. Join my newsletter if you want to stay up to date.
My Themes for 2021
The goals are easier to understand, but the themes will take a little explaining to make sense out of. I’ve set 4 themes per year for the last few years. That’s about the most high-level concepts I can internalize enough to make progress on.
The product manager in me wants to push back with “how will you measure these?!”. These themes could actually be measured. When making themes you could create complex measurements you track over time to understand your progress and verify that you’re going in the right direction.
Or you could base it on feel. Past-me would choose the data driven approach. Current-me will attempt to internalize these themes and make them a part of how I think. Part of that comes with repetition – looking at these repeatedly throughout the year and consciously thinking about decisions with these themes in mind. My hope is to get to the point that I act on these themes without needing to think about them or track them at all.
So with that out of the way, here are my themes!
#1: Continue Moving from a Goals-Based Live to a Values-Based Life
Think back to a recent good day in your life. What is it about it that makes you smile?
Is it time out in nature? Time connecting with other people? A feeling of accomplishment or productivity? An especially good financial day? Finally completing a task you’ve worked on?
For most of my life it’s been measured by productivity. I felt productive when I accomplished lots of tasks. It mattered less what I did and more that I felt productive. At one point I was even adding basic items to my todo list like “drink a glass of water in the morning”.
The end result of focusing on productivity was exactly what you’d expect: increased productivity. I learned new skills, grew in my career, launched websites and some other things that were big wins for me personally.
The problem was that after I completed one goal I’d only celebrate for an instance before setting my eyes on something new. I wasn’t taking enough time to simply enjoy the journey (or the destination).
It’s the difference between a journey of frustration and one of enjoyment. This quick 3-minute video explains these two outlooks:
Switching from a goals-focused life to a values-focused one involves changing a few mindsets. I still plan to set goals (ie, this entire post), but the hope is that they’re ones that are in line with my values. They’re goals that I wake up every day excited to spend time with.
It’s a change from setting goals for external reasons to setting goals for internal reasons. Internalizing that change won’t happen overnight.
#2: Local First
2020 was a global year. Limited to our apartment we were all plugged into the news on a national level in an all-new way. Instead of local events, and hangouts, we spent most of our time focused on the election and COVID taking over the world.
One hope with this theme is to rethink these choices. Trying to move from an easy choice to a mindful choice.
This applies to a lot of different areas:
- Food: Look for ways to eat locally sourced meat and vegetables – farmers markets, local providers. Even eating less meat here helps.
- Money: Support local businesses. Avoid Amazon and big names as much as possible.
- Trash: Buy from stores that allow refilling containers, reduce local landfills. We’d add composting to this list if we didn’t live in an apartment.
- Energy: Using less energy means less power from the local grid. Since Utah gets its energy from coal, using less energy helps big time. Also biking/walking instead of driving.
- Volunteer: I’ve been volunteering on a national level, but it’d be nice to find a local place to help.
At times I’ve tried each of these. Over time one local-first behavior would be replaced by one global choice: getting vegetables from Costco rather than a farmers market or subscribing via Amazon rather than a local supermarket. Each is a step away from our community.
This theme is about renewing that connection one decision at a time.
#3: Avoid Big Tech
This is a continuation of local first. I’m going to try to lower the amount of time and money I give to the big tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google.
I have problems with all of these in different ways. Facebook for propagating misinformation. Amazon for their anti-union practices. Microsoft for supporting ICE via GitHub. Google for the repeated issues raised by minority employees. Apple for… well, I actually like Apple so they get a pass even though the App Store is a monopoly. Their recent decision to charge less for small developers was a huge win for startups and smaller teams.
This doesn’t mean I’m planning to remove these from my life altogether. I’m just going to try to rely on them a little less. From a practical sense here’s what this looks like:
- Facebook: Stop personal use altogether. Leave all groups, and don’t log in. I’d like to disable Facebook completely. Also leave Messages & What’s App. I use Instagram so rarely I’m not sure what I’ll do there yet.
- Amazon: Look for local stores to purchase to shop at.
- Google: I have no plans to drop Gmail or Chrome, but I have switched to Duck Duck Go on all devices.
- Apple: Switch any subscribes I have from App store payment to direct payment to app developers.
Do you know what’s funny? These are the 5 companies that I’m most heavily invested in. They’re the largest companies in the US Stock market and are part of $VTSAX.
At the same time, I want to help smaller companies, app developers and alternate tools thrive and grow. Trying out new tools helps on a personal level too! Seeing new solutions to known problems can spark new ideas for projects that I can work on – or even just learn from. I’m sure this will be a major blow to these suffering companies. 😂
#4: Value My Own Time
I’m embarrassed to admit the amount of time I spent on social media or reading the news in 2020. I lost days – even weeks – to purely consuming news and content from other people. COVID-19, the election, the post-election – it’s felt nonstop this year.
Unlike Cal Newport, I don’t believe social media is the devil. Well, maybe 90% of it is. The other 10% helps connect and inspire us in countless ways. It’s up to us to narrow down what content we consume so we’re not overwhelmed. It’s possible to focus on that 10% that’s actually good.
Recently I was listening to @idletheorybus talk about their life in a van life documentary. It hit me that the greatest poets, writers, artists, and people living their best lives of 2020 aren’t all going the traditional publishing route. This is obvious in retrospect, but I’d never thought of it. Publishers are no longer gatekeepers. There are great writers with their own blogs, great artists on Instagram, storytellers on YouTube, and even people on TikTok. To rule out these media in their entirety could rule out amazing creators.
This theme (value my time) is about being selective in what social media I consume to focus on that 10% that makes me feel connected or inspired. The rest of it – the news, advertisements, spam, and noise – are what we can tune out.
Practically this doesn’t mean quitting social media altogether. Instead, it means curating who I follow, redefining how I get my news (goodbye daily New York Times), and retraining myself to not seek out news, or value favs/hearts/+1s in my own content.
This doesn’t mean being stingy with my time. I reply to every single email (well, every one that’s not breaking the contact rules). I reply to every question in the Minafi Bootcamp Slack group. The hope isn’t to optimize for productivity by eliminating real connections; it’s to make room for these to thrive.
Lately I’ve set a personal rule that I can’t look at any social media until after dinner (aside from Feedly for other blogs since that’s a finite list). I’m sure this will change throughout the year.
These are specific tasks I can work towards and accomplish with a yes/no. These link back to my 101 Things I Want to Know, Have, Do or Be – My Bucket, Goals, and Vision List. Those are an entire-life list, while these are goals I’m picking out to focus on in 2021.
These aren’t about reaching a destination. In line with the “values-based” theme up top, these are merely directions to head in while enjoying the journey along the way. If something is painful or unpleasant I’ll just stop and choose something else.
That exactly what happened in 2019. I had planned to hike all of the largest peaks in Utah. After hiking a few tough trails I came to realize that I wasn’t loving it. I switched to hiking different types of trails with a mix of friends and enjoyed it much much more.
Health & Fitness
As much as I love CrossFit, it’s off the table until there’s a vaccine. Even doing workouts at home in our 6th-floor apartment is no fun. Our local gym is too tiny to be safe.
Run a marathon. I ran a half marathon in 2019 and planned to run a full one in 2020. Like too many things last year, that event was canceled and I didn’t complete it on my own. Lately, I’ve started running more, hoping to build back my endurance. This marathon doesn’t need to be an organized one. It can be just me alone running alone.
Run a 10k in under an hour. The 10k has become my favorite middle-distance run. My usual route is 5k uphill and 5k back down that I complete in 1 hour and 20 minutes on a good day. When running without elevation gain I can complete this in closer to 1:05 on a good day. With a little more practice I should be able to able to shave off a few minutes.
Learn to ski black diamond slopes. I’m not a great skier. I enjoy it, but I’ve never taken a lesson. I can comfortably ski down most blue slopes while feeling in control. Not gracefully or with good form, but without falling down (…usually). For 2021 I picked up an Ikonpass and plan to take a few lessons. This will be my one way of getting outside during this COVID-heavy winter season.
Side note: if you’re in Salt Lake area at any of the Ikonpass slopes and want to hit the slopes sometime, let me know.
Continue to learn iOS development & create an iOS application. I’ve wanted to create an iOS app for a while, but haven’t had any ideas that have stuck with me. I’m in the middle of the iOS & Swift – The Complete iOS App Development Bootcamp from Udemy that’s been amazing so far. It assumes no past coding knowledge. I’m hoping to complete this course then build something with that knowledge!
This app doesn’t need to launch in the app store or make any money. I just want to know how to do it. I create websites because I enjoy building an idea to completion. My aim to add this skill to my toolbox so I can build apps to completion when I have ideas I can’t shake.
With the M1 Macs out too, this app could also run as a Mac app – which is an added bonus. I’m currently planning on turning my existing life tracker into something that will run on my phone.
Reach N5 level proficiency in Japanese. I’ve been learning Japanese on and off for the last year. Thanks to Wanikani I’ve learned almost 200 kanji so far! My hiragana is getting faster and my katakana is slowly improving. The service is so amazing it was worth a lifetime membership. I have a ways to go when it comes to reading, and even longer ways for listening.
Reading: One is able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.
Listening: One is able to listen and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations, and is able to pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly.N5 Level guideline from N1-N5 Linguistics Summary
According to WKStats, a site that pulls in your WaniKani data and shows your progress, I’m about halfway there right now.
The listening side of this will be more difficult. Duolingo helps some, but I’ll have to look for more ways to progress there. I’m much more interested in learning how to read Japanese, so I’d rather make progress there. It’s been surprisingly fun!
The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is run by the Japanese government. For long-term visa purposes, passing the JLPT at an N2 or N1 level gives you more “points” towards your application. I don’t have any plans of devoting enough time to get that far this year. Instead, I’d rather learn a little each year while enjoying it. Who knows where I’ll be in 5, 10, or 20 years?
Side note: I highly recommend WaniKani if you want to learn Japanese. I’ve had more fun there than Duolingo by a mile. There’s an active Discourse community, reading groups for manga, and a lot more. It’s $9/mo, $89/yr or $299/forever. They have a winter sale where their lifetime plan is only $199 too! I don’t get any commission from this, I believe it’s an awesome platform.
Learn and use Docker and Kubernetes for personal projects. I switched from a software developer to a product manager juuuust as these tools were starting to become popular. I’ve used Docker some, but haven’t touch Kubernetes (unless you count being a product manager for a super-smart dev team that used it). I want to become familiar with docker for local development and Kubernetes for hosting websites more cost-effectively.
Minafi, for example, costs about $25 a month to host on Heroku. If I hosted it myself on Digital Ocean with Kubernetes that cost would be $5/month. That’s not much for one site but could add up fast.
Another reason I want to learn more about these is to stay current with the software development world. I want to take advantage of these constant innovations. Part of that is understanding best practices.
If I go back to work or team up with other developers it’s nice to know the basics. This has become one of them. As an added bonus we’re using Docker in a project I’m volunteering with, so I’ll have a chance to use that right away.
Learn how to turn Minafi into a website that makes $1,000/month. Here’s the thing: I don’t need Minafi to make money to continue to be financially independent. It’s slightly profitable as of December 2020. At the same time, I feel the drive to work on it more when it’s either (1) profitable or (2) helpful to a growing audience. With the launch of the Bootcamp this year I feel like the groundwork for #2 is covered. Next is trying to increase eyes on Minafi.
I also know what I don’t want Minafi to be (of course I made a list):
- I don’t want to have paid employees (contractors are OK).
- I don’t want to get on a content treadmill where I have to ship shit on a specific date.
- I don’t want to have to check in on it every day (or even every month).
- I don’t want to do the same thing all the time.
- I don’t want to alienate readers with marketing, pricing, or a constant need for their attention.
- I don’t want to be a source of controversy.
- I don’t want to need to use social media.
- I don’t want to have to create a double-sided market.
Minafi’s grown, but it’s still a tiny fish in the personal finance world. It’s getting almost 1,000 users a day on a good day, but 400 on the low end. I’ve enjoyed building out calculators, writing articles, and (most of all) meeting other bloggers and readers passionate about FIRE and investing.
I have a list a mile long of Minafi projects I want to work on. Calculators I want to build, posts to write, books, entirely new sections of the website and even a podcast. The downside is that I spend 99% of my time working on Minafi and 1% of my time advertising & marketing it. I’d like to change that and get better at marketing – but in a way that fits Minafi’s Vision and Mission.
I’m not yet sure how this will work in practice. With a little more web traffic Minafi could make this much from ads alone (shown only to users not logged in).
Instead of considering this a “business goal” I’m making it an educational goal. I might find out how to turn Minafi into a $1k/month business but realize it’s not the direction I want to go. I don’t plan to water down content here with money making grabs – unless they happen to be in line with Minafi’s mission. That feels right for figuring this out while learning along the way.
Side note: If you’re reading this and think “It’d be so easy for you to do this. You just need to do X.” then I want to hear from you! Even if you’re just casually curious about helping me reach this goal or have some personal experience with this, please reach out! I’d love the help.
Read/Listen to 100 books. I’ve read or listened to 100 books for the last 3 years. I tried raising this to 150 in 2019, but that ended up being too many. I skipped longer books that I wanted to read to focus on shorter ones I wasn’t passionate about. 100 is a number I’ll naturally hit just by listening to audiobooks while running/chores, reading comics in bed, and occasionally picking up a novel at night.
Continue a monthly journaling practice. For 2020 I tried a bunch of different forms of personal journaling. For a while, I journaled weekly. I have a Notion document with a template of questions to reflect on the previous week and plan for the next one. Here on Minafi, I posted monthly themes.
Both approaches worked. The important part was taking some time to check in with myself on how I was feeling in an honest way. My hope for this goal is to continue that practice throughout 2021.
What this looks like will depend on what I’m feeling at the end of each month. I assume it’ll always involve looking back at the past month, understanding how the month went, and making small course corrections so the next month will be even better.
This isn’t about maximizing productivity or feeling guilty for not accomplishing everything. This is about steering my life to do what I enjoy and seeing what happens.
Maintain a happiness level of 8+ (with a maximum of 9). I’ve been reading about happiness lately. I’ve always thought that my level of happiness was driven by what I did.
The more I’ve read on the topic, the more I realize how wrong I’ve been. Notice my happiness in December? That was when I decided to enjoy life. After our base needs are met and creature comforts satisfied, the next level in our happiness doesn’t come from outside – it comes from inside.
Ok, I know that sounds like something a mystic or a guru would say, but science backs it up! It’s not “doing things results in being happy”, but “being happy results in doing things”.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what I know about this topic, but the idea is simple. Lead with being happy. Time will tell if my increase in happiness is short-term or if it’s possible to make this a lifelong change. 2021 will tell.
None of these themes or goals feel completely new. They’re all that next step in each area of my life. The thought of working on each of these is exciting! Nothing feels like someone telling me to eat my vegetables or I don’t won’t get dessert.
There’s a list a mile long of things I want to work on. The trick I’ve found is to “project rotate” – to alternate between projects that scratch different itches. Sometimes that means content, sometimes building on the familiar, and sometimes exploring something new. By alternating between them you can rebuild passion one hour at a time.
I’m not planning to obsess about progress and metrics for these goals. As part of my daily review (using the box above), I check an icon for each thing I did that day. Did I run? Did I spend time learning Japanese? Did I spend time coding? Or taking a course?
After a bunch of iterations for how I track activities and productivity, this approach has been the most impactful. Just looking back at the day and being able to check a box saying “I ran today” or “I spent some time writing” is enough. It eliminates the guilt of not meeting expectations and replaces it with a celebration. If I don’t do something – that’s OK too! I don’t need to do something every day.
To stay on top of these goals, my plan is to write a post each quarter with my progress. If you’re interested in updates, please subscribe to my email list! You’ll only receive notifications when I write a new post – which is infrequent enough not to be annoying.
Whew, ok that was a lot. What are your plans for 2021? Are you making any goals/resolutions/themes? How does the pandemic or your experience from 2020 change your plans? Let me know in the comments.