Well friends, 2016 is in the books. Before we turn the page and start a new chapter in 2017, I’d like to share my Annual Review with you.
I conduct my Annual Review at the end of each year. The process reminds me to look back on the previous twelve months, celebrate my victories, evaluate my failures, and hold myself accountable in public. I hope that you’ll find my stories, stumbles, and insights useful.
My 2016 Annual Review will answer three questions.
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What am I working toward?
You’re welcome to use a similar format for your own Annual Review.
1. What went well this year?
Alright, let’s cover the fun stuff first. Here’s what went well this year.
Hiring. My biggest win this year was making my first full-time hire. Lyndsey joined the team in June as my Executive Assistant / Master of Many Things. I spent years suffering from “Superhero Syndrome” and I tried to handle every major aspect of the business by myself. Eventually, I realized that while this strategy allowed me to run the business “my way” it also prevented the business from growing beyond my limiting beliefs.
When you’re the only person in the company, your mindset is also the company’s mindset. If you have a bad day, the company has a bad day. If you have a mental block with sales or marketing, the company has a mental block with sales or marketing. Thus, hiring has taught me an important lesson: The fastest way to get over your limiting beliefs is to hire someone who doesn’t have them.
This is a decision I put off for years and I’m glad that I finally cleared this hurdle. One great employee is worth ten mediocre freelancers. Lyndsey, you’re the best.
Business growth. I made a lot of mistakes this year (more on that below), but thanks to the addition of Lyndsey and the groundwork I laid in previous years, JamesClear.com continued to grow despite my blunders.
Here are some quick stats…
- 28 new articles published this year (browse my best articles)
- 210,623 new email subscribers this year
- 373,938 total email subscribers as of December 31, 2016
- 7,956,860 unique visitors this year
- 16,794,628 unique visitors since launching on November 12, 2012
Almost eight million people visited JamesClear.com this year. When I think about that number for more than four seconds, two things happen. First, I experience a paralyzing fear that my ideas aren’t good enough to share with that many people. Second, I remind myself that nobody cares that much and I start to feel the same awesome sense of excitement and possibility as when I first began writing.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing to one person or one million. The responsibility of a writer is always the same: if you’re going to interrupt someone with your words, you better be damn sure you have something good to say to them. For my part, I promise I’ll do my best to write things worth reading.
Travel. Exploring the world continues to be one of my top priorities in life and I was fortunate enough to make it to some great places this year. One of those places was Vietnam where I was stopped at least 17 times per day to get a photo with a random stranger. (It turns out that tall bald men are considered a rare and important species there. America should take note.) I also updated my Ultralight Travel Guide, which includes some of my favorite new travel gear.
Travel highlights for 2016:
- 7 countries (2 new): Bahamas, England, Iceland, Peru, Scotland, United States, Vietnam.
- 12 states (1 new): Arizona (2x), California (3x), Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas (2x), Utah.
Weightlifting. I try to strike a balance between training hard and having a normal life. I love weightlifting, but not in the I-use-protein-powder-as-deodorant sort of way. Anyway, I have been slowly increasing my training volume over the last three years. In 2014, I exercised 113 times. In 2015, I bumped that up to 122 workouts. In 2016, I switched my training style and completed 178 workouts for an average of 14.8 workouts per month—my most consistent year yet. Currently, I lift for about 45 minutes to 1 hour on Monday thru Friday.
Workouts per month in 2016:
- January – 15
- February – 17
- March – 16
- April – 9
- May – 12
- June – 22
- July – 18
- August – 19
- September – 17
- October – 9
- November – 9
- December – 15
My best lifts of the year were:
- Back Squat – 415 lbs (188 kg) for 1 rep
- Bench Press – 295 lbs (134 kg) for 1 rep
- Deadlift – 501 lbs (227 kg) for 1 rep at my first official powerlifting meet
- 500m row – 1 minute 27 seconds
These were all personal bests for me, so I guess we could say that I was in the best shape of my life in 2016. (Although I doubt I could run a mile very well right now.)
Retreats. After thinking about it for years, I finally pulled the trigger and hosted a retreat for fellow authors in 2016. I also attended two other retreats with fellow entrepreneurs where I wasn’t the host. Each one lasted 4 days. All of the deepest, most useful, and most inspiring conversations I had with fellow entrepreneurs and authors in 2016 happened at these retreats. Even in our digital world, the best connections still happen in person. I’m planning to host two of them in 2017 and I can’t wait.
Travel with family. In the fall, I joined my family on a trip to London to see my sister, her husband, and my lovely newborn niece. My parents had to get passports for the trip as it was their first time traveling abroad. We explored England and Scotland together and it was one of the highlights of my year.
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
Now for the ugly stuff. Meh.
Loss of family. My grandmother passed away this year. She had been battling cancer for years and we had a chance to spend a lot of time with her in her final months. I’m grateful that we were able to prepare for her passing, but knowing that death is coming never seems to make losing someone you love any easier.
Book writing. Plain and simple, 2016 was the worst year of writing of my young career. I haven’t been at this very long, but I’ve been at it long enough to know that this year was a total disaster from a writing standpoint.
It all started at the end of 2015 when I signed a major book deal with Penguin Random House. As soon as the book became a reality, my perfectionism kicked into high gear. In the quest to produce something great, I fell into a deep spiral of research and reading. I convinced myself I had to know everything that had been written about habits and human performance if I wanted to write a great book on the topic. Of course, that’s an impossible task and at some point you have to start writing. The end result was I did very little writing during the year and November rolled around without me having a finished draft. My publisher wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy. It was a failure all the way around.
Unfortunately, my decision to bury myself in book research not only prevented me from writing the book, but also from writing more articles. The year wasn’t a total loss—I still found a way to write almost 30 articles and guides—but my output paled in comparison to previous years. (If you’re interested, you can browse my 10 Best Articles of 2016.)
Looking back now, I realize that I spent a large part of 2016 learning how to create a new style of work. For the three years prior, I was writing a new article every Monday and Thursday. The focus was on creating great work that was usually 1,500 words or less. Now, my writing ambitions have grown and I’m working to create a remarkable book of 50,000 words or more. This transition from rapid work to deep work has been hard for me—much harder than I expected. I’m just now learning what it takes to create something of that scope and do it well.
With all that said, I do believe this story will have a happy ending. Despite my lackluster effort during the first eleven months of the year, I bounced back in December and wrote more in one month than I did during the entire year. I’m confident that 2017 is the year I finish my first book.
The hiring process. As I mentioned above, hiring my first full-time employee was one of the highlights of my year. Unfortunately, the way I handled the hiring process left a lot of room for improvement. When I put out the call for applications, I was stunned by the response. In total, 911 people applied. I read each application myself and hiring was basically my full-time job for a few months, which is yet another reason why I did very little book writing during that time. 1
While I did respond to every candidate, it took me far too long to do so. Applicants were left wondering about their status for weeks. I conducted three different rounds of interviews and the hiring process took nearly four months in total. The end result was wonderful, but the process was messy. I’m already thinking about how we can improve the hiring process next time.
Leading with a clear vision. One of my biggest fears related to hiring was whether or not I would be a good manager. I don’t think I totally dropped the ball, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. When I hear friends talk about how frustrating their bosses can be or how poor communication runs rampant at the workplace or how they will be given one task on Monday and told something else on Tuesday, I immediately think one thing: Don’t be that boss.
And yet, despite my desire to be a great leader, there were still plenty of times when I said one thing on Monday and switched priorities on Tuesday. In 2017, I want to 1) decide what is truly most important and clarify the mission of JamesClear.com and 2) lead in a way that makes sure we work on the right things in the right order.
Too little celebration. I move on too quickly after each success. There were all sorts of little victories that happened during the year—someone I consider a mentor asked for my advice, the website set a new record for traffic, I set a personal record in the gym—but I never fully celebrated or appreciated any of these moments. When something great happens my tendency seems to be to downplay it in an attempt to be humble and then immediately move on to the next goal. This tendency is related to some feedback I received from friends this year: I need to do a better job of opening up and sharing my life with the people I love—and that includes celebrating my successes with them.
3. What am I working toward?
Looking back, 2016 felt like an all-or-nothing year for me. I had some big successes (my first hire, my best year in business, new weightlifting PRs), but I also had some hardships and failures (loss of a family member, major writing blocks). Boom or bust. I didn’t seem to have as many of the slow, methodical, gradual improvements that I often strive to achieve.
As I turn my attention to 2017, I see my priorities falling into two categories.
First, become a finisher. It’s time for my behavior to match my ambitions. Thanks to my last four years of work, I have an incredible opportunity in front of me. But that opportunity only becomes a reality if I step up and finish the work. A book can only be great once it is published. A photograph can only be praised once it is printed. A business can only succeed once it is launched. I’ve spent a lot of time laying the groundwork for success. Now it’s time to finish the process. Beginners are many. Finishers are few.
Second, transition to deep work. I spent 2016 battling to make the transition to deep, focused work. In 2017, I’m ready to finish that transition and start delivering at a higher standard. How can I raise the bar? How can I challenge myself to produce things that are more useful, more interesting, and more insightful than before? These are questions I’ll be thinking deeply about.
Well, that wraps up my 2016 Annual Review. I’d like to close by thanking you for reading. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m delighted to share what I learn with you along the way. Here’s to a fantastic 2017. 2
The Annual Review Archives
This is a complete list of Annual Reviews I have written.
The number of applications still seems silly to me. I’m completely stunned by how many people not only read this site, but are truly interested in being part of the journey. Thank you to everyone who applied.
Thanks to Chris Guillebeau for inspiring me to do an Annual Review each year.