My 2015 Annual Review

Each year, I conduct my Annual Review and share it publicly. I do this because I find it helpful to review the successes and failures of the previous 12 months, but also because I think it is important to hold myself publicly accountable.

Similar to my previous Annual Reviews, I will answer 3 questions in my 2015 Annual Review:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What am I working toward?

2015 was an incredible year for me, but I also failed on several fronts. The good stuff is in Part I, the bad stuff is in Part II, and the future is Part III. I hope you find it useful and interesting.

1. What went well this year?

Here’s what went well:

Marriage. In May, I got married to my wonderful wife, which was definitely the highlight of the year. We’ve only been through eight months of marriage, but I’m feeling good about the next 80 years.

Book deal. In my 2014 Annual Review, I said one of my primary goals for 2015 was to turn pro as a writer. I am proud and excited to say that I did just that. After meeting with seven publishing houses in New York City, I signed a major book deal with Penguin Random House to publish my first print book. The book will be released under their Avery imprint, which has recently published award-winning psychology books like The Willpower Instinct and NeuroTribes. I will have much, much more to say about all of this in 2016, but for now I simply want to say, “Thank You.” Not only would I never had landed a book deal without the support of our community, but publishers never would have met with me in the first place. I’m not just writing this book for you, I’m writing it because of you.

Writing. I had plenty of writing struggles this year, which I’ll cover below, but overall I enjoyed a very successful year writing on Some of my favorite articles were about why we buy things we don’t need, the chemistry of building better habits, lessons from a samurai archer, and the myth of multitasking.

Writing highlights for 2015:

  • 74 new articles published this year (browse my best articles)
  • 158,347 new email subscribers this year
  • 229,043 total email subscribers as of December 31, 2015
  • 5,811,703 unique visitors this year
  • 8,911,761 unique visitors since launched on November 12, 2012

Strength Training. In 2014, I exercised 113 times. In 2015, I increased that number to 122 workouts, which is an average of 10.2 per month. Considering everything else I crammed into this year, I feel good about that number. 1

Workouts per month in 2015:

  • January – 14
  • February – 12
  • March – 9
  • April – 12
  • May – 8
  • June – 13
  • July – 12
  • August – 12
  • September – 10
  • October – 7
  • November – 6
  • December – 7

My best lifts of the year were:

  • Back Squat – 350 for 4 sets of 4 reps (video)
  • Bench Press – 295 lbs for 2 reps (video)
  • Deadlift – 495 lbs for 1 rep (video)

Travel. I visited 5 countries and 11 states in 2015. I squeezed in a few visits to Washington D.C. as well. I also wrote an article about my Ultralight Packing List, which was a surprising hit.

Travel highlights for 2015:

  • 5 countries (2 new): England, Hungary, Iceland, Portugal, United States.
  • 11 states (3 new): Arkansas, California, Georgia (twice), Hawaii, Idaho, New York (twice), North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee (twice), Texas, Virginia.

Photography. There is still a big gap between my photographic vision and my actual results, but for the first time in awhile I feel like my photography skills are improving. The main improvement I made this year was becoming better at researching photo locations and subjects ahead of time. I think this research helped me publish better photos and hit 10,000 Instagram followers in 2015. World-class photographers don’t take photos, they make photos with diligent research and practice. I’m not a world-class photographer, but I’m trying to act like one.

Reading. I read 36 books in 2015, which is more than I have in any previous year. Some of my favorites were A Brief History of Time, Fooled by Randomness, Into Thin Air, Just Mercy, Manual For Living, Red Notice, and The Martian. I also published my reading list and began keeping detailed book summaries of many nonfiction books.

Accepting help. Like many entrepreneurs, I repeatedly fall victim to “superhero syndrome” and attempt to do everything myself. I improved in this area in 2015 by surrounding myself with a great team. I hired an executive coach, signed with a fantastic book agent, hired a world-class book editor, and added a few assistants to take repetitive tasks off my plate. The result? Revenue tripled this year. I still have a long way to go when it comes to becoming a great team leader, but this year would not have been what it was without Charlie, Lisa, David, Peter, Susan, Walter. Thank you all!

Visiting family and friends. This year, I made trips specifically to visit family and friends in Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and the United Kingdom. I also hosted two dinners for friends, one in San Francisco and one in New York City. Finally, I attended retreats with fellow entrepreneurs in Idaho and North Carolina. It feels good to make these relationships a priority because I mentioned it as a weak point in my 2013 Annual Review. I’m excited to increase these in-person connections in 2016 by launching a monthly dinner series and hosting one or two of my own retreats.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Here’s what didn’t go well:

The loss of a friend. In September, Scott Dinsmore passed away at the age of 33 during a tragic climbing accident on Mount Kilimanjaro. Scott was my first friend to die young and his passing was one of the hardest parts of the year. I did my best to honor him with a short tribute that I published here.

Writing schedule. It is not an exaggeration to say writing has changed my life. For nearly three years, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday. As a result, I built a successful business, met interesting people, and inked a major book deal. That’s when I did something stupid: I changed the whole damn way I wrote.

By September 2015, I was emailing my bi-weekly articles to over 200,000 subscribers. With so many people reading, I began to feel an immense pressure to publish something great every week. I decided to change my writing schedule to one article per week instead of two articles per week. I figured that publishing fewer articles would allow me to produce higher quality writing. In theory, it made sense. In practice, it was a disaster.

My once-per-week writing schedule kicked my perfectionism into high gear. I found myself thinking, “If you’re only going to publish once per week, then every article needs to be incredible.” I was still writing and working each week, but articles never felt like they were good enough. As a result, I missed more publishing days (4) in three months, than I did in three years with my twice-per-week schedule. In 2016, I’m looking forward to sharing how I overcome these writing challenges and deliver exceptional work on a regular basis.

The Hamster Wheel. During the second half of the year, I found myself repeatedly feeling like I was never ahead of things in my business. I was behind on customer support requests. My email inbox was overflowing. There were speaking requests I hadn’t followed up on. Overall, these are good problems to have. (For example, you only get customer support requests if you have customers.) But the downside of things going so well is that things start going so fast. In fact, one reason I missed some article deadlines (in addition to the perfectionism mentioned above) is that everything had to stop for a week while I was in New York City getting a book deal. You can do it all, but not at the same time. I need to take my own advice and simplify in 2016.

Nutrition. I believe I eat a reasonably healthy diet, but—like most people—I probably think I eat better than I actually do. One thing is for certain, I don’t cook nearly as many meals as I should. I tried to limit eating out at restaurants to just the weekend and eat at home during the weekdays, but I honestly can’t say I stuck to that for more than one or two weeks throughout 2015. I also feel that nutrition is the missing link for me when it comes to strength training. I’m happy with the progress I made in the gym (see Part I above) and one of my cardinal rules is that I never cheat myself on sleep (I average 8 to 9 hours per night), but I have a lot of room for improvement in the kitchen.

Lack of team interaction. Writing isn’t really a team sport. There is the author (me) and then a bunch of people who support the author (my agent, my editor, my executive coach, etc.), but there isn’t really a cohesive team that solves problems together each day. I played varsity baseball in college and I loved being part of a group that rallied around a common mission. If I’m being honest, I’ve been chasing that sense of shared mission ever since I graduated. I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to reach an incredible number of people as a writer, but I do miss being part of a great team.

3. What am I working toward?

My attention will be focused on three areas in 2016.

Finish my first book. This is priority number one. I want to write a fantastic book. I have a great team supporting me, but it’s my responsibility to deliver something incredible. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Ruthlessly eliminate the inessential. My biggest struggles in 2015 were caused by trying to do too much in too little time. As our community and my business has grown, my time has become stretched. I need to get better about protecting my schedule and ruthlessly eliminating everything except the most important tasks.

Tell deeper stories. Next year, I want to tell more compelling stories through my work. Maybe this means adding audio (a podcast, perhaps?) or blending my photography work with my writing to make things more visually interesting. In any case, I want to tell stories that make a difference while continuing to offer practical ideas for how to live better.

2015 was a remarkable year for me and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store. There aren’t many jobs where you can work on what you want, impact people in a positive way, and live a good lifestyle all at the same time. I’m so lucky to have one of those jobs. What a time to be alive.

As always, it is a privilege to write for you. I have said many times that I am not an expert. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just trying to become a better person and I’m excited to share the lessons I learn along the way. Thanks for reading. 2

The Annual Review Archives

This is a complete list of Annual Reviews I have written.

  1. Here’s something I’d like to improve on when training next year: consistent max sessions. I think I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, but I don’t know for certain because I didn’t test my true 1 rep max for most lifts during 2015. Next year, I’d like to test myself about once every six months.

  2. Thanks to Chris Guillebeau for inspiring me to do an Annual Review each year.