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For the first time ever, I’m writing an Annual Review to share what’s gone well, what hasn’t and lessons learned, during the previous year.

The purpose of the Annual Review isn’t about looking back at the past, it’s about integrity, accountability and most importantly, transparency on how well I live up to the values that I write about.

There are 4 key questions that I’m going to answer in my Annual Review.

1. What went well this year?
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
3. What did I learn?
4. What changes will I make moving forward?

Feel free to use any of these questions for your own Annual Review.

What went well this year?

Here’s what went well for me this year…

Writing. In 2018, I stuck to the habit of writing at least one article each week (aside from two short sabbatical).

Whilst this may seem straightforward, writing and publishing articles on a weekly basis has been hands down the most difficult habit I’ve ever built.

To put this into context, here’s a quick overview of the average time it takes to produce each article:

  • Research: 8 hrs

  • Writing (drafts): 4 hrs

  • Editing: 2 hrs

  • Publishing: 1 hrs

That’s an average of 15 hours per article, and that doesn’t include hours spent promoting and marketing each article.

But there’s something else which has made this writing process much more difficult in 2018.

During the year, I experienced major setbacks and transitions in my living and work situation, relationships and business, that destabilized my mental state of mind.

Despite these challenges, here are the highlights of 2018:

  • 39 articles published (you can browse the best articles of 2018 here)

  • 6,172 new email subscribers

  • 239,571 unique visitors to the website

  • Writing featured on Quartz, New York Times, Life Hack and The Good Men Project.

Reading. In 2018, I read a total of 25 books.

Here are the top five books I’ve read in 2018:

A powerful strategy I’ve discovered for reading more books, is to simply hold a book during my commute and travels.

This simple change in my environment has made it much easier for me to build the habit of reading more books, and break the bad the habit of wasting time on my mobile phone during my commute.

Exercise. In 2018, I completed a total of 105 workouts.

My workout routine was primarily split into weight training and sprinting sessions that lasted about 45 minutes.

The focus of my training wasn’t necessarily to improve strength or lose weight, more so it was to improve my anaerobic and muscle endurance.

Here’s a breakdown of my weekly workout routine (including rest days):

Monday: Squats, Bench Press, Shoulder Press and Dips (3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise)

Tuesday: Sprint workout (3 sets of 20-50% intensity, 6 sets of 70-100% intensity)

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Sprint and boxing workout combined

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Squats, Barbell Row and Pull ups (5 sets of 5-8 reps per exercise)

Sunday: Rest

Note: In November 2018, I pulled a hamstring muscle whilst sprinting outdoors.

This injury knocked me out of my workout routine for almost 6 weeks.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Charity. One of my core values is giving back to people who live in poverty. Specifically, in 2018, I’d set out on a mission to sponsor the primary school education of at least 10 impoverished children, and I failed miserably.

Zero children were sponsored (although I had sponsored school supplies like backpacks, clothing and so on, for 20 children).

There’s no good excuse for this: truth is, I’d gotten so engrossed in my writing, business and personal life, that I had lost touch with my mission.

Reading for spiritual purposes. At the center of my life’s mission and core values, is my faith as a Christian.

Although I read many books in 2018, I didn’t spend much time reading the most important book that matters to me: the bible.

Once again there’s no good excuse for this, and there is a lot of room for improvement in this area.

Last minute work. Although I wrote and published 39 articles in 2018, more than half of these were completed on the same day as the due date for publication.

Even though I still managed to get things done, this bad habit of waiting till the last-minute to finish important work, created a lot of stress and overwhelm in my life, and inadvertently reduced the quality of my work.

Going to bed early. Although I managed to sleep at least 8 hours on average each night, my average bedtime in 2018 was 1 a.m, which is some distance away from my target of an 11 a.m bedtime.

To piggyback off the previous point on “last minute work,” my evenings were spent meeting writing deadlines, instead of sleeping.

Music and Drawing. A huge part of how I choose to inspire people is through creative expression, specifically writing, music and drawing.

This year I had set out to learn 10 jazz standards on the guitar and draw 20 motivational cartoons, but I’d only learnt 1 jazz standard and drawn 3 motivational cartoons.

Lack of gratitude. Despite the good amount of progress I’d made in 2018, I hardly celebrated my achievements along the way and often beat myself up for making little mistakes.

For the most part, I struggled with perfectionism and voices in my head that led me to doubt the quality of my work.

Team Building. In 2018, I seriously suffered from the curse of Superman syndrome a.k.a doing everything by myself.

I wrote the articles, managed my website and technical issues, managed the social media accounts, handled customer services, marketing and sales.

In short, I tried to be superman. And I failed.

In order for me to raise the quality of my work, I need to build a team that’ll handle the daily operations, so that I can spend more time on strategy and writing.

3. What did I learn?

Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned in 2018…

1. Solitude is no longer an option. In today’s digital world, we’re constantly bombarded by advertising, social media distractions and information on the web. There’s never been any other time in history than today, when alone time is required to regain clarity, focus and peace of mind.

My biggest breakthroughs and best ideas for my work just so happened to emerge during periods of solitude. And that’s why I believe it’s the most important productivity strategy.

2. Decision-making driven purely by emotions is extremely dangerous. Emotions are an essential part of the human experience, but over reliance on emotions can lead to costly mistakes and irrational decisions in life and work.

A better approach to decision-making is to find a balance of emotions and logic before making crucial decisions.

For example, searching for evidence that contradicts and challenges your emotions and beliefs will help you to make a better-informed decision.

3. Beware of the law of reciprocity. In his book,Influence, renown psychologist, Dr. Cialdini, explains that the law of reciprocity is the universal tendency of human beings to feel compelled to repay or reciprocate when given a gift whether it has come in the form of a material object, a kind deed, or an act of generosity.

Whilst this may seem harmless—and it is, when in the hands of good people—the law of reciprocity is being used by ill-intentioned advertisers, salespeople and marketers who manipulate us to spend our hard earned money on bad products and services.

In 2018, I fell victim to the law of reciprocity and wasted a ton of money on impulse purchases, immediately after I was offered a “free” sample by a marketer.

Long story short, I’ve learned to be extremely cautious when offered a gift or gesture for “free,” because there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

4. Listen, make your point and apologize (even if you’re not completely wrong). Our natural tendency during a misunderstanding with another person is to argue for why our point of view is right, and why the other person’s ideas are wrong.

The problem with this approach is that it often leads to a heated exchange of words as both parties talk past one another, and after the argument, the relationship between both people is left worse off than before.

A better approach to a disagreement is to communicate in three parts: first, listen to the other person’s point of view, second, make your point and third, apologize for any misunderstandings and heated words exchanged.

This strategy alone has helped me to avoid wasting valuable time and energy on pointless arguments, whilst protecting my most valuable relationships.

5. Forget goals, identity and systems matter more. I have a lot more to say about this in my upcoming articles in 2019, but long story short, goals by themselves aren’t enough.

A goal is simply a hopeful guess of what the future might look like. But since the future doesn’t exist right now, the only thing that we can control is the actions we take in the present moment.

More specifically, our future reality is created by our identity (beliefs and worldview) and our systems (the exact present actions that will naturally produce our desired results in the future).

It’s the combination of our identity and systems that create our future, not our goals.

4. What changes will I make moving forward?

Here are the top five changes I plan to make in 2019:

1. Double my writing frequency. Last year, I wrote and published one article each week, but I believe I can add more value to the members of the newsletter by publishing two articles each week this year.

2. At least one hour spent in solitude each day. This year I plan to spend much more time re-energizing and reflecting. 

3. Performance driven charity. Rather than make vague promises to “give back,” I plan to keep myself accountable to milestones that’ll track my progress in this area.

4. Keeping a gratitude journal. Unlike the previous year, in 2019 I plan to celebrate mini-wins and achievements during the year, and remind myself of 10 things I’m grateful for, as soon as I wake up and just before I go to bed.

5. Boxing. Even though I maintained a consistent workout routine last year, it lacked a clear, tangible direction for what exactly I was training for i.e. strength, aesthetics, anaerobic. In 2019, I plan to refocus my training efforts towards improving my boxing skills and building that up to amateur level.

That’s my Annual Review done for 2018.

Wishing you the best of luck with your plans in 2019.

I’d like to say a quick thank you to Chris Guillebeau and James Clear for inspiring parts of the structure of an Annual Review.

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