2020: Habits That Stuck

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Having a system for keeping track of my daily habits and goals was vital in keeping me grounded and feeling relatively in control in 2020. I wrote more extensively about the mechanics of my tracking approach in my Q1 2020 Habits & Goals Report Card and showed how it looked again 6 months later.

In 2021, we’re expecting our 2nd child, and I’m eager to see how well the system holds up and evolves. If anything, our first child has taught me to value time even more and to make better use of the moments we have throughout the day to be productive and satisfied.

As I’ve done in my previous annual habit reviews (list at bottom of this post), I’ll be sticking to “atomic” habits. As a refresher, it’s always worth revisiting some highlights from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits:

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

…By now, you’ve probably realized that an atomic habit refers to a tiny change, a marginal gain, a 1 percent improvement. But atomic habits are not just any old habits, however small. They are little habits that are part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results.

Habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement. At first, these tiny routines seem insignificant, but soon they build on each other and fuel bigger wins that multiply to a degree that far outweighs the cost of their initial investment. They are both small and mighty. This is the meaning of the phrase atomic habits—a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.

2020 New Habits

The following are new habits I was able to install in 2020. Some came at the tail end of the year after much experimentation.

Long Daily Walks

I noted my newfound love of long walks in my Q3 2020 Habits & Goals Report card. My metric for success was 10,000 daily steps and I kept this average up for four straight months. However, I’ve found that with inclement weather and time constraints, the 10,000-step metric was shaping my behavior in unpleasant ways. On weeks I fell behind because of rain storms or snow, I would go on desperate long runs to make up and get the average back to 10k+. The runs themselves were nice, but my motivation for wanting to run felt counter to establishing a sustainable habit. I also found myself going on extra long late-night walks when I would have benefitted from a shorter walk and earlier bedtime.

So instead of pinning the habit on a 10,000-step metric, I’ve decided to focus on going on long walks that feel “good enough”. On some days, this may mean well over 10,000 steps and on others, it may add up to 7,000 steps. I’m not going to sweat it if I end up average less than 10k daily steps especially during the winter months. I know that when spring, summer, and fall roll around, I’ll naturally get more steps in.

No Eating or Drinking After 8PM

After listening to a few Whoop podcasts and learning that eating and drinking alcohol late messed with Sleep and Recovery stats, I decided to become stricter about dinnertime and alcohol consumption. The big change was swapping my workout times with dinner, forcing myself to eat around 6:30/7PM and doing my workouts later, at 9/9:30PM. The timing shift had the double benefit of forcing me to not overeat so I could digest more easily before my workouts. I’ve also become more creative with my workout times in recent weeks, squeezing a lifting session in the morning while watching my son play with his toys.

coravin

The Coravin has been a game-changer for me when it comes to drinking wine.

With alcohol, I’ve noticed that when I drink no later than 4-5 hours before bedtime, it gives my body a chance to better process the alcohol and have deeper sleep. I also cut down my intake of wines after purchasing a Coravin, which allows me to pour via a needle through the cork while preventing oxidation, keeping the wines fresh. This means I can try a glass of a new bottle without having to finish it all in 2 days. The only drawback is that I have over a dozen half-empty bottles around the house.

Deep Reading for at Least 30 Minutes

I try to fit in my book reading in various moments, whether it’s thumbing through a few pages while waiting for something or listening to Audible on my long walks. I felt that consuming books in these ways were fairly passive and my retention wasn’t the greatest. I decided to start tracking a daily practice of at least 30 minutes of “deep reading” where I would read the text on my Kindle and use my iPhone to take notes in Notion. For these sessions, I picked out more challenging texts that would benefit from closer reading.

Of all the habits I began in 2020, this one will probably end up being one of the most potent ones because I can already tell that I am getting a lot more out of reading and also creating a lot more useful notes on a daily basis. And because I am tracking this in my daily habit tracker, I’ve noticed greater velocity in progressing through books while retaining far more of the content.

I finished 44 books in 2020, but I can’t honestly say that I got a whole lot out of all of them. Some of them were more akin to binging on Netflix shows with less than memorable qualities. I would say that a dozen or so were very good and left me with new ideas and perspectives. And of those, the few that I was able to process through deep reading were phenomenal experiences–I’d highly recommend The Lessons of History and Courage to Be Disliked.

Twitter Habits

I had a love-hate relationship with Twitter all year and it culminated in a couple of new habits. One is the habit of posting on Twitter on a near daily basis. I’ve decided to focus my tweets primarily on habits, running an agency business, investing, and lessons from books I’ve read. I don’t think what I’m doing is a best practice as my follower growth has been subpar (just under 1,500 followers – you can follow me here), but I enjoy creating the posts and sometimes generating threads to tell a story.

The other habit that took a while to come around to is around Twitter consumption. Throughout 2020, I consumed way too much Twitter content that defined much of 2020. The lowest point was in early November when I felt glued to Twitter while waiting for the presidential election results to finalize. I decided that once and for all, I would curb my all-day Twitter consumption habit and restrict Twitter to a specific 9:00PM-10:30PM period each day.

It’s been nearly 2 months since the change, and the habit’s worked wonders for my mental wellbeing and productivity. Even during the designated 90 minutes, I find myself consuming less and less Twitter content and instead, just trying to post whatever tweet I have in mind and then closing out. This is a habit that I’m really keen on preserving and sticking to from here on out.

Yoga

I didn’t do a great job of initially transitioning to a work from home setup. I used a dresser in our bedroom as my desk and sat on a folding steel chair. The result was neck and back pains as well as overall stiffness throughout my body. I would eventually upgrade my desk and chair setup but a byproduct was my newfound devotion to yoga. I joined Peloton’s online fitness membership to access their video content and began to take yoga classes up to two times a week.

I’m proud to say that little by little, I’ve expanded my range of motion, flexibility, and stability. Being able to confidently hold a Warrior 3 pose or even attempt a crow have been really delightful developments. I will definitely keep continuing my practice in 2021.

What Happened to Habits I Picked Up in 2019?

Whoop Daily Strain, Recovery, and Sleep Tracking

Whoop has been clutch for me all throughout 2020, and it’s been great to have some friends join in as well. I’ve found that I generate quite a bit of strain on a daily basis compared to my friends mostly from my interactions with my toddler son and from my long walks. My recovery and sleep stats generally underperform my friend group. I know that getting more sleep is one area that I need to do better on. I hope to find a more reliable way to be in bed by 11PM each night vs. the past-12AM bedtime I’ve been landing on.

Daily Mobility Exercises for Dad Back

I’ve continued the practice of rolling out my back and stretching each morning. I started incorporating yoga movements as well. In addition to my back, I’ve been rehabbing my right shoulder. An injury from several years ago–probably some kind of rotator cuff tear that I did not get checked out–has limited my range of motion quite a bit. I’ve been using resistance bands to do various exercises that I hope will increase my ability to reach my right arm around towards the upper-middle part of my back.

Leaving Work at 6PM for Bath Time

Working from home has done away with the commute, but a pitfall has been that I tend to work past 6PM, often ending around 6:30PM-6:45PM. I hope to be better about this so I can more regularly eat dinner with my family every day. By 6:30PM, it’s sometimes too late and my son has already finished eating. Thankfully, I rarely missed bath time in 2020 and it’s still one of my favorite parts of the day.

Writing for at Least 15 Minutes

I’m thankful for this habit. While I do the bulk of my writing on weekends, I’ve benefitted from having 15-30 writing sessions during the week to outline ideas for new posts and organize notes from my reading. I hope to exceed the number of days I can hit this habit (more on that in my Goals below).

Inbox Zero with Superhuman

I’m still a full-on believer of the email software Superhuman. It’s been great to continually hit inbox zero and process emails at a lightning pace. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go back to Gmail for my work emails.

Sparkling Water

I consumed insane amounts of Spindrift in 2020, especially during the warmer months when I might go through 5-6 cans in a single day. I don’t see this letting up anytime soon. I like to think that drinking this much sparkling water has helped me keep fairly hydrated throughout the day.

2021 Potential New Habits

Unlike previous years, when I proactively looked to layer on new habits and came up with ideas, I’m going to be less prescriptive this time around and experiment more loosely to see what new habits emerge organically. However, I will focus on certain areas of my life that could be greatly improved.

Diet

I’ve been lax about what I eat because I’ve relied primarily on my 5-day intermittent fasting to protect me from weight gain. My diet has become light on leafy greens and perhaps too heavy on sugar. I will look for ways to develop better eating habits and also seek ways to embrace a more predominantly plant-based diet.

Less Screen Time

It’s scary how much more screen time I logged in 2020. Even as I reduced my use of Twitter towards the latter part of the year, I was still hooked to texting with friends, checking email, and refreshing NY Times. It’s a very distracted state that I’m keen to address through different experiments. I would love to find myself enjoying quiet, reflective moments without feeling the tug of content consumption.

2020 Goals Recap

I entered 2020 with a set of goals that were primarily meant to reinforce my system of habits. The following is a recap of how I fared in each of those goals.

habit tracker table totals

A table showing the final tally of my daily habit tracker in 2020. The yellow highlights the habits where I surpassed the goal.

Goal 1: Exercise 200 Times

I was able to exercise 216 times in 2020. It was a nice mix of strength training, cardio, and yoga. I missed playing basketball the most. In 2021, I will aim to have much more frequent strength training now that I have more dumbbells handy to do different exercises regularly.

Goal 2: Run a 20-minute 5k

This was a complete fail. After the pandemic began and we stayed put indoors for most of March, I lost motivation to continue training once I started frequenting the park. I still do 3-6 mile runs but not at the intensity I aimed for when I briefly took this goal seriously.

Goal 3: Publish 24 Blog Posts

I ended up publishing 29 blog posts, which felt great. I began my Agency Journey series, which I will continue throughout 2021, detailing the goings on of an agency business through a monthly “episode” format. I’ve gotten some great feedback from others in the industry, and it’s been a useful way to clarify and organize my thinking around the business.

Goal 4: Send 50 Newsletters

I’m happy I was able to send a newsletter for all 52 weeks of the year. Even with vacations, travel, and other obligations, I was able to work my newsletter into my routine and reliably pump them out. My readership is still fairly small (just over 300 subscribers–you can subscribe here) but open rates have hovered around 50%, and I seem to have devoted readers, which is nice. Most importantly, the newsletter gives me the motivation to consume content with greater rigor and to keep on publishing content to share.

2021 Goals

The following are my top goals for 2021 in that I’ll be tracking via my Daily Habit Tracker. I have goals for the other habits that I track, but these I feel are most important to hit as they ladder up to many different parts of my life.

  • Goal 1: Exercise 230 Times
  • Goal 2: Publish 30 Blog Posts
  • Goal 3: Send 50 Newsletters
  • Goal 4: Post on Twitter on 300 Days
  • Goal 5: Deep Read for 30 min on 340 Days

If I can reach these goals this year, I know they’ll have added up to a great deal of productivity, learning, and self-satisfaction.

Gratitude

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a key habit underlying all of this: expressing gratitude. Throughout 2020, I counted my blessings as often as I could knowing that there were so many people out there suffering and hurting from all that went down. My journal was one particular place where I was able to jot down feelings of gratitude for the health and wellbeing of my family and friends as well as the relative stability of my business and the relatively smooth transition to new work and life situations. The ability to pursue a daily habit tracker felt like a great privilege in the scheme of things, and I intend to remind myself each day how lucky I am to live this life. Happy new year!

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