My 2017 Annual Review

We have officially closed the door on 2017, which means it's time to share my Annual Review with you. This will mark the fifth year in a row I have conducted my Annual Review, and I've found the process useful every time.

As always, this Annual Review will answer three questions.

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn? 1

If you'd like to spend some time reflecting on your year, you're welcome to use a similar format for your own Annual Review.

1. What went well this year?

Okay, here's where I succeeded this year.

Book writing. I wrote a book! (Well, mostly.) In last year's review, I shared that my biggest failure during 2016 was not finishing my book. Naturally, completing the manuscript became my primary area of focus for 2017.

I finished the first draft of the manuscript in November, and we're working on edits now. There are still many improvements to make and, truthfully, a few months of work left, but it feels really good to see literally years of work all coming together.

Writing this book has been the most challenging professional project of my young career. My brain seems to be good at doing things on shorter time scales (e.g. going to the gym each day, writing weekly articles), but maintaining focus on the same project month after month is not natural for me. I've learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses during the process, and I'll be sharing more about that once it's all said and done.

Systems building. Because I spent nearly all of my time writing the book, I had virtually no time to work on the other aspects of my business, which, you can imagine, also happen to be fairly important. Thankfully, my business still had a great year because, with the help of my assistant Lyndsey, we have built a variety of systems that enable the business to run without constant attention from me. These include systems for selling The Habits Academy, sending out email newsletters, driving new traffic, and more.

As a result, we had a great year. Here are some quick stats…

  • 216,415 new email subscribers this year
  • 327,105 total email subscribers as of December 31, 2017 2
  • 9,333,641 unique visitors this year
  • 26,044,115 unique visitors since launching on November 12, 2012

I work on this business every day, but some of these numbers still surprise me. Twenty-six million people have read my writing in the last five years. That seems impossible. Of course, before I get too self-congratulatory, I should point out that I have friends who get more visitors in one month than I got all last year, so there is still plenty of room for improvement. But still. I never thought my ideas would have an audience like this. It's crazy.

Weightlifting. Exercise is a core part of my life. Regular readers will know that I have a background as a college athlete and that I've been training regularly in the gym for almost a decade now, but this past year was my most consistent year yet.

In 2017, I exercised 188 times for an average of 15.7 workouts per month. My typical training session lasts about 45 minutes to 1 hour. My focus remains on building strength, and every training session includes lifts like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and clean and jerk. I've written about my process for recording my workouts previously and I'm still following that format.

Workouts per month in 2017:

  • January – 19
  • February – 19
  • March – 19
  • April – 16
  • May – 18
  • June – 9
  • July – 14
  • August – 15
  • September – 17
  • October – 15
  • November – 17
  • December – 10

My best lifts of the year were:

  • Back Squat – 425 lbs (192 kg) for 1 rep
  • Bench Press – 305 lbs (138 kg) for 1 rep
  • Deadlift – 495 lbs (224.5 kg) for 1 rep

The squat and bench press numbers are lifetime PRs for me, which feels great to say. At my strongest point in 2017, I hit 390×5 on squat, which might be more impressive than 425×1. I'm getting close to a benchmark I've always had in the back of my mind: the elusive 300-400-500 club for bench, squat, and deadlift. Technically, I'm already a member (I deadlifted 501 in 2016), but I always thought it would be cool to do all three in one workout. Maybe in 2018.

Twitter. For years, I basically ignored social media and focused only on writing great content and sharing it with my email newsletter. In 2017, I finally spent a little more time on social media. In particular, I focused on Twitter and started posting tweetstorms—a thread of tweets on a related topic. A few of my favorites are on comparison and success, inversion and better thinking, entropy and disorder, first principles thinking, and deliberate practice.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Alright, where did I slip up this year?

Blog writing. Because I spent so much time working on my book, I had very little time left over to write new articles. I wrote 10 new articles this year, which is my lowest total since launching JamesClear.com in 2012. What I missed most was the feedback from readers. I thrive on getting interaction with my ideas and hearing about what people liked and didn't like. I rarely got that while working on the book, and I'm looking forward to sharing many new articles with readers in 2018 once the manuscript is complete.

International travel. This one shocked me. For the first time in years, I didn't visit a new country. I was so heads-down, fully focused on writing the book that I didn't even realize this until I sat down to write this review.

Honestly, it makes me sad to think that I let an entire year go by without making this a priority. Travel, and specifically international travel, has become a big part of my life in the past decade, and it's one of the primary ways I have learned about other cultures and perspectives. Thankfully, I already have multiple international trips scheduled for 2018.

I did manage to see more of the United States this year. My travel highlights for 2017 include:

  • 1 country: United States.
  • 14 states (3 new): Alaska, Arizona (2x), Colorado, Idaho, Illinois (2x), Minnesota, Missouri, New York (2x), North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee (2x), Texas (2x), Washington.

I also updated my Ultralight Travel Guide for the third year in a row.

Team building. This was my first full year as a “manager,” and I've still got a lot to learn. One thing I'm struggling with is finding the right balance between being the creator and being the manager. It's hard for me to be a good manager and visionary for the team when I need to hole up for a few months and write 75,000 words. This is something I'll need to be better about in 2018.

Another challenge is a structural one: we have a remote team, which provides incredible flexibility, but can also feel lonely because each person is working on their own. I'd love to find ways for us to spend more time face-to-face.

3. What did I learn this year?

I learned a lot in 2017. Here are some of the main takeaways.

Recovery is non-negotiable. From January to April, I ramped up my training and put in a lot of volume at the gym. As you might expect, this paid off with bigger lifts. However, eventually, the elevated pace caught up with me. From June to September, I had to dial everything back due to inflammation (and some travel). As a result, all of my biggest lifts happened in the first half of the year. I peaked, but I didn't maintain it.

Something similar happened with book writing. I would pour my mental energy into a week-long burst of writing—and then crash for a few days before starting the cycle again. This lesson applies to most areas of life. Recovery is non-negotiable. The bill always comes due. Push yourself hard and you'll have to take it easy at some point.

Recovery is non-negotiable. The bill always comes due. Push yourself hard and you'll have to take it easy at some point.

It will never feel like the right time to travel. I didn't travel internationally in 2017 because it never felt like a good time to do it. I always felt guilty doing anything except working on the book, and I kept pushing off anything fun because there was always more work to do. When something is important, but not urgent, it will never feel like the right time to do it. You just have to schedule it, which is why I already have multiple international trips booked for 2018.

When choosing who to work with, take the extra time and find the best people. This is true for hiring. This is true for partnerships. This is true for who you select as mentors, coaches, and peers. Despite my mistakes—and there were many of them in the last year—I made three very wise choices: I hired a great employee. I signed with a great agent. And I signed with a great publisher.

These three people have a direct impact on my work. Because they are highly talented, my life and work continued to improve despite my faults. If these three people (or even one of them) was not an A-player, then my business and book would have fallen off the rails this year. With the right people, what should be a problem becomes easy. With the wrong people, what should be easy becomes a problem.

With the right people, what should be a problem becomes easy. With the wrong people, what should be easy becomes a problem.

Choose the version of a habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular. There are many ways to perform the same task. If you want to be a writer, then you have a lot of options. On the short end, you could write tweetstorms that are a few hundred words or blog posts that are a few thousand words. On the long-end, you could write feature pieces for magazines that are 10,000 words or you could write books that are 60,000 words. Each one is a form of writing and any of them can be valuable.

This is true for any habit. Don't choose the form of exercise or meditation or gratitude or whatever that the world says you should do. Choose the one that's right for you.

Good ideas take longer than you think. I wanted so badly to finish this book faster than I did. I would work and work and work, and yet, it still wouldn't be done. Of the many challenges associated with long-term creative projects, perhaps the most difficult one is that you must find a way to remain motivated and committed to your project without getting positive feedback on most days. Every morning, you have to find the motivation to put in another day of work even though you know you won't be finished when night falls. Patience is among the most valuable creative traits.

That's all I've got for this year's Annual Review. As always, thanks for reading. I can't wait to share my best work with you in 2018. 3

The Annual Review Archives

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

Footnotes
  1. In previous years, the third question was “What am I working toward?” but I think reminding myself of lessons learned will be more useful and fitting for the annual review process, so I'm going to finish this year's review with “What did I learn?” and see how I like it.

  2. We had over 400,000 email subscribers, but then decided to cut a significant portion of unengaged users. It was a tough call and delivered a hit to my ego, but we're now routinely achieving 40-50 percent open rates with a list of 325,000 people, which I think is great.

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