It’s time for a little reflection and review. Each December, I conduct my Annual Review (this is my sixth year) and I’ve found the process useful every time.
As always, this Annual Review will answer three questions.
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What did I learn?
Before I begin, I should mention one thing: It’s always a little weird for me to share these Annual Reviews because when I talk about the good stuff it feels like I’m bragging and when I talk about the bad stuff it feels like I’m being strangely vulnerable with the world. That said, I still think it’s important because talking about how many workouts I did or articles I wrote provides proof that I am “walking the walk.”
While it is personally helpful for me to reflect on the last year, it also shows that I have skin in the game. I’m not just dishing out opinions when I write about things. I’m putting these ideas to practice in my own life.
Ultimately, every Annual Review is a personal process. This is what my year looked like, not a suggestion of what yours should include. Everyone runs their own race. That said, feel free to use this format for your own Annual Review and figure out what steps you want to take next.
1. What went well this year?
Let’s start with the good stuff.
Atomic Habits. I feel like I’ve told everyone within earshot at this point, but in case you haven’t heard: I published a book this year!
Longtime readers will know that this has been a multi-year battle. I announced the book deal in my 2015 Annual Review, I shared my writing struggles in my 2016 Annual Review, and I was (finally) nearing completion in my 2017 Annual Review.
I was still working on the manuscript in January and February of this year. If you had tapped me on the shoulder in the middle of my frantic final edits and told me the book would become a bestseller before the year ended, I almost certainly would have cried with relief.
As 2018 draws to a close, Atomic Habits has been out for 11 weeks (published on October 16, 2018). I did every single thing I could to make this book a success (starting with spending 3 years writing the best book possible), but the reception has outpaced even my high hopes.
I don’t know what else to say, so I’ll just say “Thank You.” It means so much to me that you are finding the book useful and sharing it with others, and that my work is making some small difference in the world. If you’re interested in buying a copy, click here to see the different options.
Reach and Impact. It’s hard to quantify, but I feel like my work is making a bigger impact this year than in previous years. Maybe it’s just the excitement of seeing people read the book.
Regardless, I have said from Day 1 that I want to optimize for reach over revenue. I don’t care about making the most money. I just want to share the best ideas I can find with the greatest number of people. And this year we reached more people than ever before.
Here’s what the year looked like:
- 9 new articles published this year (browse my best articles)
- 241,827 new email subscribers this year
- 453,037 total email subscribers as of December 31, 2018
- 10,600,219 unique visitors this year
- 36,558,938 unique visitors since launching on November 12, 2012
Despite the success, there are some downsides hidden within these numbers. I’ll discuss them in the next section.
Travel. After not visiting a new country in 2017, I decided I would make travel a priority in 2018. And holy moly, did I travel this year.
My travel highlights for 2018 include:
- 7 countries (5 new): Argentina, Brazil, Chile, England, France, Japan, United States.
- 15 states (2 new): Arizona, California (4x), Florida (3x), Illinois (2x), Kansas, Massachusetts (2x), Nebraska, Nevada, New York (5x!), North Carolina (2x), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington (2x).
I continue to follow many of the strategies mentioned in my Ultralight Travel Guide, but I’ve also begun to implement some new approaches to accommodate for the number of speaking engagements I have do while traveling. I’ll update that page soon.
Speaking. I’m definitely a better speaker and presenter at the end of this year than I was at the beginning of it. Most of that is just due to practice. Thanks to the success of the book, I’m being asked to speak much more than I was previously. I’m excited to do more of this in 2019 and I put together a page with upcoming events. (If you’d like me to speak at your company or event, you can submit a request here.)
Charity work. Earlier this year, I settled on Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) as our charity partner. AMF distributes nets to protect children, pregnant mothers, and families from mosquitos carrying malaria. It is one of the most cost-effective ways to extend life and fulfills my bigger mission to spread healthy habits around the globe.
We donate 5 percent of profits to AMF, which means you are helping us contribute any time you buy my book or purchase a course or read an article. So far, our contribution has led to:
- 4,685 malaria nets distributed
- 8,433 people protected
- 87 years of additional life
- 2 lives saved
Now that we have this charity partnership, I like to remind myself that I’ll never have an unproductive day. Even if I fail to check items off my own to-do list, as long as the business brings in one dollar, some of that money will go toward making the world a better place.
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
And now the not-so-fun stuff.
Deadlines. I’m not sure I met a single deadline this year. Book deadline? Please. I blew that by more than a year. (Thank you to my publisher for being so accommodating.) Recording a revamp of my habits course? I originally planned that for the summer and it still hasn’t happened. Heck, even this annual review is going out a day late.
This problem extends to little daily “deadlines” too—like arriving on time to meetings. I’ve been told that I have a very optimistic view of time, which I think is the nicest way to say, “You’re continually miscalculating how much you can get done in each block of time.”
When some people have an extra 15 minutes before an appointment, they think, “Great! I can leave now and arrive early.” I think, “Perfect. I can do 15 more minutes of whatever I’m doing right now, leave at the last moment necessary, and arrive with one second to spare.”
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to do about this. I like having an optimistic view of time. The way I see it, I want to fit as much as I can into each hour. The upside is I get a lot done throughout the year. The downside is I have very little margin of safety. If everything goes to plan, I can get it all done. If something doesn’t go perfectly, a deadline is missed.
Weightlifting. In 2018, I exercised 141 times for an average of 11.8 workouts per month. Those numbers might look good at first glance, but both are a fair step down from last year (more on that in a minute).
When I broke the year down in detail, the issues became obvious. You can tell which months I turned in the manuscript (February), launched the book (October), and did a media tour across the US (December).
Workouts per month in 2018:
- January – 18
- February – 7
- March – 12
- April – 14
- May – 10
- June – 16
- July – 14
- August – 14
- September – 12
- October – 8
- November – 11
- December – 5
I am proud of myself in one respect, however. I could have said, “Oh, I’m launching a book in October so I can’t work out.” But getting 8 workouts in was better than zero. Managing to make it into the gym despite a crazy schedule (even if it’s only for 15 minutes) is important for maintaining momentum.
My best lifts of the year were:
- Back Squat – 400 lbs (181 kg) for 1 rep
- Bench Press – 280 lbs (127 kg) for 1 rep
- Deadlift – 500 lbs (226 kg) for 1 rep
These numbers are pretty good for me, but none of them are personal bests. I have been training fairly regularly for about ten years now and I believe this is the first time I have conducted an annual review and not hit a PR in at least one major lift.
Writing trajectory. I only wrote 10 articles in 2017, which was my lowest total ever. Somehow, I managed to lower the bar even further in 2018. The drop in output impacted other areas of the business too. Website traffic, for example, was highest in January and February and declined throughout the year.
In the short-term, it’s not a huge issue. But as I wrote in Atomic Habits, “It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now. What matters is whether your habits are putting you on the path toward success. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”
The key point is not that millions are visiting the site right now (current results), but that the trend is headed downward (current trajectory). Now that the book is complete, I need to focus on rebuilding my weekly writing habit in 2019.
3. What did I learn this year?
Some of my major lessons from this year include:
If you don’t know what to do, focus on the fundamentals. Progress doesn’t need to be complicated. Skip all of the cutting edge tactics and focus on the key habits that deliver great return.
Here are a few habits that have a high rate of return in life:
- sleep 8+ hours each day
- lift weights 3x week
- go for a walk each day
- save at least 10 percent of your income
- read every day
- drink more water and less of everything else
- leave your phone in another room while you work
Mastery requires both impatience and patience. The impatience to have a bias toward action, to not waste time, and to work with a sense of urgency each day. The patience to delay gratification, to wait for your actions to accumulate, and to trust the process.
Curiosity is crucial. Increasingly, I feel an eagerness to learn is one of the most crucial skills in life. If you’re not curious, I’m not sure if there is much others can do to help you. But if you’re eager to learn, even if you aren’t particularly talented, then so much is possible.
Entrepreneurship is never as sexy on the inside as it appears on the outside. Whoever your entrepreneurial idols are, they have plenty of headaches behind the scenes.
You are only as mentally tough as your life demands you to be. Life will throw plenty of challenges your way, but there will be easy days too. An easy life fashions a mind that can only handle ease. Like a muscle that atrophies without use, mental strength fades unless it is tested. When life doesn’t challenge you, challenge yourself.
The margin between your best performance and your average performance is less than you think. In 2017, I averaged 15.7 workouts per month. In 2018, I averaged 11.7 workouts per month. At first glance, I considered it a modest difference. Only 4 workouts less each month? That’s about one less per week. And I was still making it into the gym consistently.
But then I realized I didn’t set a personal record in any major lift in 2018. Conversely, I hit PRs in nearly every major lift in 2017. One workout per week doesn’t sound like much, but that was the difference between my average performance and my best performance.
Move toward the next thing, not away from the last thing. Same direction. Completely different energy.
No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility. When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option. One of my key themes in 2019 is to think carefully about what I say yes to and make sure I protect my time.
That’s it! As always, thanks for reading. Happy New Year! 1
The Annual Review Archives
This is a complete list of Annual Reviews I have written.