Continuing my tradition of looking back on the previous year, I’m thinking about 2016 and its many ups and downs. Last year, I set out with the almost-specific intention of making 2016 “better”.

I previously defined “better” as improving on a set of metrics I’ve been tracking each month; money spent, time asleep, steps in a day, books read, etc. It’s for this purpose, in fact, that I started my monthly reviews. To that end, I think they’ve been a little helpful. If nothing else, taking time each month to take stock of my life has been a useful exercise. The question now, of course, is if I actually did “better”.

Let’s take a look:

The Numbers

Last year I:

  • Spent 82.9% of my income
  • Read 9 books
  • Had a RescueTime productivity pulse of 57
  • Averaged 7 hours 9 minutes of sleep each night
  • Consumed an average of 2,460 calories per day
  • Averaged 5,890 steps per day
  • Wrote 15 blog posts

On the “objective numbers” front I did fairly well. I spent less than I earned, unlike in 2015. I’ve managed to put a good chunk of money in savings, and even started saving for retirement! I started sleeping more, getting about 20 extra minutes a night. I wrote a few more blog posts, though only 4 of them were non-monthly review posts (see below). I also improved my productivity pulse by 2 points, not bad for a full year.

In the not-as-well column: I read fewer books, walked substantially less, and ate less despite my goal of gaining weight. However, the overall goal with my weight was achieved. After 2 years of effort, I’ve finally managed to gain and maintain an extra 10lbs from my starting weight, and I’m really proud of that. I think the decrease in walking balanced out the decrease in consumption.

While I did write more blog posts, the topics were less varied. If it weren’t for my monthly reviews, that total would be significantly lower. But what I did write about when I wasn’t reflecting on a month I am proud of.

Some Things I Wrote

I wrote 11 monthly reviews in 2016 (December’s was written this month). My other four posts are worth highlighting:

When I first began my post-college job hunt, I wrote “One Reason I’m Difficult to Hire But Shouldn’t Be”. And while I’m pretty sure my now-boss never saw or read that post, I did manage to get a job where it’s incredibly easy to be my authentic self. And it was obvious in interviews I did after writing that post that some companies (like mine) value my authenticity, and some simply wouldn’t (those interviews were a bit awkward).

I’ve written a few posts before related to programming, but I think this year is the first time I tried to write something aimed more at “the industry” in general. I criticized some of the typical tech culture by saying Maybe We Should Just Stop Hacking. I hope to write more posts like that this year.

I later spent a great deal of time on my post-graduation post, On Graduating. I think I’m most proud of this post this year, partially due to it’s length, but also because of how much it forced me to think about. While it’s not quite everything I hoped it would be when I first started planning it, I feel it was still fitting. Some of the topics I cover there are also probably worth revisiting.

And finally, I wrote some sharp criticism of Donald Trump and those who voted for him. I’ll refrain from further criticism and politics in this review, but going forward in 2017 my original point stands: If Donald Trump Wants To Be My President, He Has A Lot Of Work To Do.

Notable Achievements

In no particular order:

  1. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from RIT
  2. Started living by myself for the first time
  3. Started my first full time job
  4. Took second place in RIT’s annual public speaking contest
  5. Leased a brand new car
  6. Joined a community solar program (Sign up yourself and drop my name as the referral!)
  7. Started saving for retirement

Goals for 2017

My monthly reviews were pretty helpful in keeping tabs on whether or not I was “doing better” throughout the year, and I’m going to continue them this year. I will, however, be changing the format of them to increase their utility. I’m going to begin organizing them more by topic rather than content. Whether the topics will be the same each month or just the most significant in a month, I haven’t decided. My January 2017 review will be the first with the new format and I’ll figure it out by then.

As for goals, last year’s attempt at building habits wasn’t the most successful. I’ve tried a number of different goal-setting techniques, from very specific to vague, on paper and in apps, by starting small and by diving in. While I still don’t know what the biggest challenge has been in sticking to anything, I do know that I’ve never been able to stick with any particular method for long.

As a sort of “middle ground” I’ve decided to use Trello for my goal-tracking this year. It’s list and thought-board-like setup feels like a compromise between vague and specific. My “life goals” board currently has three lists: personal, professional, and ideas. Each nebulous goal I think of gets a card on the relevant list. I add a checklist of “action steps”, which are the specific things I aim to do for that goal to be “achieved”. This way, what constitutes a goal is editable and measurable.

For example, for 2017 one of my goals is for financial security. “Financial Security” is the goal on the card. The action steps are currently: Have $5,000 in savings, get non-savings monthly expenses below $2,500, complete a 3 month shopping freeze, pay off my credit card, and as a stretch goal: pay off one student loan. Unfortunately, I’ve already failed the 3 month shopping freeze, which I intended to start on New Year’s Day (damn you, Amazon!). I could start in the middle of the month, but from a budgeting standpoint the beginning of the month is easier to plan.

This Trello board will, hopefully, continue to evolve throughout the year and beyond. I expect to make the goals on it a regular part of my monthly reviews, but my initial lists are:

Personal:

  • Financial security
  • Redesign My Blog (and open-source the theme for my CMS)

Professional:

  • Read development-related books (action steps are books, currently 3)
  • Improve focus at work (3 action steps)

Ideas:

  • Complete a side project with Python

The board has a 4th list, which is simply “Done!”. Rather than archive the cards, I’ll move them to the list as a reminder of everything I’ve accomplished. This list will later be useful in my review of 2017. Where 2016 was a personal experiment in greater data collection and reflection with one vague goal in mind, 2017 is a step towards specificity.

Final Thoughts

Overall I do think 2016 was better than 2015, though how much of that is directly attributable to my efforts to make it that way, I don’t know. Some of it was just circumstantial - there was no doubt I’d be graduating in 2016, and the most significant things this year are almost strictly due to that huge lifestyle change.

That said, it took me almost half the year to settle into a new routine and obviously required substantial effort on my part. To say 2016 was better “by default” or out of happenstance would be untrue. I just don’t feel 2016 was specifically “better” in the ways I set out to make it.

2017, on the other hand, holds no major milestone events for me. I’ve no school left to graduate from, I’m not expecting to change jobs, and who gives a shit about turning 24? If I want 2017 to be significant, I don’t have the luxury of just letting things happen. I’m going to have to make it significant. That’s a new challenge I can look forward to.