End of the year email. How many of these have you gotten?
The Yearly Review
In the mid-2000s I became obsessed with productivity blogs and systems. I followed 43 folders (dead since 2011), Lifehacker (turned into listicles and clickbait), and read article after article on the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system. Over the ensuing decade (+), I’ve built a monster of a system for organzing my life and things I’m trying to do - both personally and professionally.
This system consists of:
- A daily review (about 5 minutes total, split up between morning/evening)
- A weekly review (normally done on Sunday mornings - takes 30-45 minutes of focused work)
- A monthly review (normally done on the closest weekend to the 1st of the month, takes 30-45 minutes of focused work)
- A yearly review (I start thinking about it on 1 December and capturing notes, and I usually complete the review during the week between Christmas and New Years - multiple sessions of reflection and work)
I’m not going to go into the details of what is in each review (if you're actually interested, let me know). It is a system that I continually improve and massage (thanks John). However, when I look back at the reviews I did a decade ago versus today, it’s really incredible how much I’ve tacked on over the years. The process has grown and become much more focused and professional. Just about every year though, I have to prune it so it doesn’t get out of control.
At its core, the whole thing is a goal setting / reflection exercise that answers the following questions:
1) What is it that I’m trying to accomplish?
2) How am I doing?
3) What do I need to do to get better?
I know others go through a similar process, but my sense is that this is something most people don’t really do at all. It’s way beyond just making a to-do list and scheduling things on a calendar. And I’m aware that this process takes a lot of work and time - sometimes I’ll wonder if I’m spending more time planning when I should be executing.
But aren’t you worth it?
We spend so much time planning other people’s wars or projects - isn’t it worth putting some time into your own life?
As an aside, after more than a decade, I’ve stopped using Evernote. Until now, I've used Evernote exclusively to do this planning, capture articles, and even build my digital “I love me book.” This month, and without warning, Evernote stopped providing the ability to maintain “local” notebooks, meaning everything would have to live “in the cloud.” It was an abrupt change and other note apps have come a long way, so I made the migration to Apple’s native Notes app - which works just fine.
Anyway, if you’re interested in going deeper on reviews, check this out:
John Saddington's Yearly Review. I’ve been following John’s blog for about ten years. Always good stuff, and he writes about his process of doing the yearly review.
The Art of Non (Yearly Review). Another site I follow that talks about the annual review. I lifted the concept of assigning a "theme" to your year. An overarching organizing principle. Remember, good artists copy, great artists steal.
Who moved my brain? I revisit this video from Merlin Mann every couple of years to remind me that the two things that really matter are time and attention. The video is long and meandering, but if you stick with it you ingest a really important message. And this is one of those videos where I think you have to soak in the whole thing to really get it. You can’t just stick to the punchline.
The scary - but true quote - that sticks with me:
“If I just grabbed you on the street, and I said ‘what’s the most important thing in your life?’ you would say something like your family, or your church group, or you know, maybe your career, maybe your kid or your pet or whatever. And the thing is, in some part of your heart, that’s absolutely true.
But do you have a sense of the extent to which your time and attention tracks to actually doing good stuff for that thing that you claim is really important? Do you have an internal barameter that tells you how well that’s going? In fact, is the thing that you claim is important really important? Because if a lot of people actually looked at where there time and attention went - the parts that they do have control over - it would look like the most important thing in their life was Facebook."
Things that grabbed my attention
Golden Age of Islam Podcast. A bit obscure, but these deep-dives into early Islam is great. The host (David DiMeo) is a former Army officer and Arabist. Very approachable podcast for anyone interested in the subject matter.
Without Bullshit. I’ve been following this blog for a while, which covers writing in general. The author - Josh Bernoff - recently wrote a series of posts on the art of writing an op-ed - from idea, to pitch, to writing, to editing (start here for part 1). It’s a great primer for anyone interested in writing for someone else - it’s a process. I specifically liked the idea of writers as “planners and pantsers.” I’m both, depending on what I’m doing.
Irregular Warfare Podcast. This is quickly becoming one of my “must-listen” podcasts. Their recent episode on “the boom-bust cycle of irregular warfare” was particularly good. This quote from COL (R) David Maxwell inspired a short blog post:
“Irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare."
Mountain Tactical Institute. I find it odd that some of the best and most humble military writing I’ve seen lately comes from a gym in Wyoming.
Mr. Rogers and the Power of Persuasion. I don’t remember how I came across this video, but it’s a great primer on persuasion.
Carrying the Gun
I've finally gotten into a groove with writing and I've been getting more on the blog lately. One thing that is different from years ago - I find myself responding more to podcasts than actual articles. That's just an indicator of how the media landscape has changed.
Lastly, I wrote a piece on conducting a "premortem" exercise to avoid catastrophic failure and envision huge wins. I used this technique with a small PSYOP team a couple of years ago before a deployment and was blown away with the results. It's a great risk management tool, but I actually thought that the benefits we got from imagining wins was way more useful. We were able to use the premortem exercise to evision and then plan those wins - and more importantly put them into action (and achieve them) during the deployment.
Thanks to Joe Byerly for hosting the piece at From the Green Notebook!
You only have time for one, maybe two hobbies
I planned on buying Cyberpunk 2077 for Christmas, but given the catastrophic failure of the PS4 launch, I’m going to wait until the bugs are worked out and I get the PS5.
I did manage to write a short piece on Isaac, the sadistic leader of the Washington Liberation Front in The Last of Us 2. He struck me as someone we've seen before.