2023: The Year of Budgets

I know what you’re thinking. Budgets? That’s what you’re going to base your entire year on?

I know this because that’s what my wife said. But fear not, my friends. Like Transformers™, it’s more than meets the eye.

But first, I need to grade 2022: The Year of Retreat.

Grading The Year of Retreat

As a reminder, I was retreating in 2 ways:

  1. Move away from from the things I don’t want to do and where I spend my time unwisely (retreat like withdraw)
  2. Make more time for solitude, deep thinking, and growth (retreat like secluded place)

And I’ll say upfront I think this has been my best implementation of a yearly theme. I absolutely crushed Way #1, retreat like withdraw.

I could have done better for #2, but given that as I penned that blog post, I had a 1 week old, I did what I could.

Overall Grade: A-

I shot myself in the foot a little bit giving myself an A- last year. This year was better than last year as far as graded theme goes, but it wasn’t perfect, so I can’t give it an A.

But I do have a scorecard this year:

The only place I really failed was spending more time “with” myself in a work-sense. I managed one think weekend, which was great. I also did spend more time in-front of a whiteboard.

But I didn’t do more, and aside from a few evenings to myself, the end of the year especially felt like I didn’t get much “me” time.

I’m also not entirely convinced I created a clearer schedule…at least intentionally.

However, I had some major wins that did clear my schedule.

The biggest win was finally cutting out all non-podcasting work. I’m now fully focused on Podcast Liftoff, so much so that I’m also:

  1. Shutting down Creator Courses, effective February 1st
  2. No longer creating new LinkedIn Learning courses. My last one is slated for production in mid-February.

I also successfully removed myself from the WordPress space. I didn’t even know 6.1 was coming out, and I didn’t watch or see anything on the State of the Word.

I replaced that community with several creator and podcasting communities, and it’s been splendid. As a result, I get to see how the non-entrenched use WordPress, making my content around platforms and building a lot more relatable.

Finally, I:

  • Deeply improved my mailing list as far as focus and growth.
  • Delegated more (but not enough)
  • Let go of most web-related work. In 2023, I will likely let go of it all.

So that was 2022. Let’s look at 2023.

The Year of Budgets

If the Year of Retreat taught me one thing, it’s that I’m still stretched to think. Evaluating how I was feeling at the end of the year, I wrote down a few ways I was frustrated:

  1. Isolation. I live far away from my family and closest friends. While I like my wife’s family and friends, it’s not the same. I smoked a lot of cigars alone and it got lonely after a while.
  2. Inconsistent income, along with too much spending.
  3. Not really understanding where our money is going.
  4. Too stressed
  5. Fluctuating weight.

At first, I was going to go with the word “normalization.” I’m happy to say we didn’t have any new children in 20221, so getting into a normal rhythm seemed like a good way to go.

But as my kids get older and we do more extra curriculars, I thought that would be a tough things to grade. Life changes quickly with 3 small kiddos, and it would be unreasonable to try to grade myself on scale that could change if my daughter starts doing gymnastics or the kids’ daycare has to close.

What I can control is how I use the resources that I have.

So I came up with the word Budgets, and as usual, it has 2 meanings:

  1. Stop frivolously spending money, especially when it’s scarce, by creating real budgets.
  2. Properly spend other things of limited quantities (like time, patience) by budgeting my own time and creating better systems.

Spending Money

Last January, we had a lean month, where we didn’t need to spend money we didn’t need to spend.

But I fell short of really understanding how much we spend on variable amenities, like groceries and gas. Inflation didn’t help.

Child Care also increased, both for daycare and our babysitter.

So this year — early this year — I want to get a handle on our spending and create a budget for the variables.

This includes tracking our inventory better, so we spend smartly at grocery stores, and having a cap on other budgets (like going out to eat/ordering in).

But that’s the less interesting, more common aspect of my yearly theme.

Budgeting Other Limited Commodities

I don’t spend my time well. I’m easily distracted, spend too much time on minutia, and then wonder where the day went.

So I’m going to explore a time budget this year. I suspect (ironically) this will take the most time in the year to get right. But I’m going to experiment.

I also find myself short on patience with my kids as a result of other stresses. So I’m going to find a way to be more patient and practice mindfulness.

This is the most…whimsical…way I’m using the word “budget.” It’s really about properly managing my energy and my mindset.

Actions and Goals List

In my Yearly Theme doc, I like to make a list of actions (that I will add to throughout the year). Here’s what it looks like at the start:

  1. Make a list of places I spend money and time
  2. Create budgets for common spending, like groceries, outings, child care
  3. Create time budgets for work and personal time
  4. Time track
  5. Stop spending my time where I don’t need to
  6. Practice “emotional” budgeting through mindfulness exercises
  7. Properly budget my energy by really understanding my Green, Yellow, and Red Zones.

…and then the goals:

  1. Put more money into savings
  2. Work on the things I need to work on
  3. Be more patience
  4. Be in the moment
  5. Create a “budget” to spend time with people so I don’t feel so lonely all the time
  6. Lose weight
  7. Sleep more
  8. Have more energy

I’m Excited

I think this is my loftiest yearly theme yet. There’s a lot of ground and I need to be aware of it all 12 months. Last year, I could pick a couple of big actions or goals and count the win. It was more mind over matter.

But 2023 will be a year of mind and matter. Mind to create the budgets, and Matter to actually implement them.

I’m ready for the challenge.

  1. First time in 2 calendar years, folks. ?

2022: The Year of Retreat

2 house keeping notes: if you need a refresher on yearly themes, go here. If you’d rather listen to this, check out episode 248 of How I Built It.

In college, I had a friend named Marc. Whenever I asked Marc how he was doing, he’d say, “I’ve never had a bad day in my life.” He said even if there were bad moments in the day, he wouldn’t let it ruin the entire day.

I know this was back in the before time1, and a lot has changed. But that point of view has stuck with me ever since: don’t let one point in a 24 hour period ruin all 24 hours. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how terrible 2021 was for them. I generally don’t look at full years as terrible, even if there were several terrible moments.

Looking back at my journal, it’s easy to think my whole year was terrible. At the end of each day, I’d write how I was feeling, and the word “stressed” came up more than any other2. And several times, positive feelings were preceded by the word, “actually.” As if I were surprised to be happy for a moment.

That isn’t true. But it was easier for me to capture the negative feel s for some reason.

As I considered my yearly theme for 2022, I did a bit of an exercise. I wrote down what I felt worst about in 2021. Here’s the list:

A photo of a notebook page with the text: 

What Problems did I face in 2021?
Too much stress
Too much work
Too much phone time
Too much spending
Too much sadness
Too much wasted time

Too much stress, work, phone time, spending, sadness, wasted time.

Seems like a year of less would do me good. But not really less of everything. I need to do less of some something specific — over commitment. So I’ve come up with The Year of Retreat.

As is customary with these posts, before getting to that let’s see how I did with my 2021 theme: The Year of Opportunity.

Grading The Year of Opportunity

Overall, I think I did pretty well. I said yes to more of the right things, no to other things, and made some big changes in my life.

The first big payoff was the free, $400 headphones I got from Wix for not ignoring them when they slid into my Twitter DMs. I’m counting that as a “first” because it was the first major “year of opportunity” decision I made.

I also implemented a better process for guest pitches for my podcast. While I used to say “no” outright to them, in 2021 I created a simple form with leading questions; I’m easily able to send responses to those applicaitons. As a result, I’ve had some fantastic interviews I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Biggest Payoff: Getting Type 2 Diabetes

Anyone whom I’ve hung out with or shared a meal with since May will know I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. While it was a shock (thought it shouldn’t have been), I used it as an opportunity to make real changes.

As a result, I’ve lost nearly 40 lbs, sleep better, and feel healthier. I had blood work done in December, and my blood sugar was back in normal range. My doctor even cut my medication in half3.

Biggest “No”: A Really Good Job Offer

You know those jobs you think would be perfect for you? That you will kill to get, pray your application is accepted, and that you crush the interview? I got one of those offers. Without having to apply or interview.

The only problem: I’d spent all year making moves in my own business, getting it to a place where I’m poised to do very well in 2022. I feel like the 4+ years of work I’ve put in is about to pay off. I wasn’t ready to put that on the side.

This was a situation where my Year of Opportunity guided me to be open, but ultimately choose a different path.

My wife and a couple of my friends know how much I labored over the decision though. And for a while I wondered if it was the right one. But I’m optimistic going into 2022.

Biggest Opportunity to Change: Therapy

For about 7 months, I did BetterHelp. Therapy was something that I suspect became de-stigmatized in 2020. But I always viewed therapy as something I didn’t need. I’d just muscle through the emotional angst.

Then one day at the end of 2020 while I was watching my kids, and I had the closest thing I’ve ever had to a panic attack. My 3.5 year old daughter brought me water and a blanket. I was simultaneously touched at how thoughtful and empathetic she was, and sad that my child felt like she had to take care of me.

So I got help. And from late December/early January to the end of June, I spoke weekly to a therapist who specialized in helping parents with small children.

I took the opportunity to get the help I needed, and I was tested pretty immediately after it ended. In my last session, I told my therapist that in the last week or so I found out I had Diabetes and we were having a 3rd kid…much sooner than we were planning.

I knew the immense stress was temporary, but having someone to talk to was so important during that time.

Biggest Failed Aspect: Less Screen Time

Yeah I was on my phone too much. Way too much. Like, my daughter would hide it from me.

So that was a big failure. But I have a better plan for 2022.

Grade: A-

I made some pretty huge changes in 2021 thanks to my yearly theme. I changed my thinking, expanded my network, and am physically and emotionally healthier.

But there are some places I need to improve, now that I’ve given myself lots of opportunities.

The Year of Retreat

The idea came to me while I was reading The Authority Code by Rochelle Moulton, who is the first guest on my podcast this year. She said this:

“If you’re happiest teaching a room full of real estate agents how to sell, wouldn’t you outsource everything else you possibly could?” (Rochelle Moulton, The Authority Code)

The idea being: only do the things in your business that make you the happiest (and in-turn, the things that build your authority and make you money). Over on Podcast Liftoff, I wrote about how mowing the lawn costs you money, which is a similar idea.

That serves as the thesis for my yearly theme. The Year of Retreat is two-pronged — one for each meaning of the word “retreat”:

  1. Move away from from the things I don’t want to do and where I spend my time unwisely (retreat like withdraw)
  2. Make more time for solitude, deep thinking, and growth (retreat like secluded place)

To accomplish this I plan to focus on a few areas.

Time Management

Time management will be the biggest area of improvement, and key to making the Year of Retreat a success. I’ll need to:

  • Delegate more
  • Cut out work I don’t want to do
  • Charge more for work I want to do
  • Create a clearer schedule

And there are some tangible goals associated with these actions:

  • Coach more speaker, authors, and educators with respects to podcasting
  • Get ride of most legacy web development support / design work
  • Automate more income: making my done-for-you podcasting service subscription-based and improve my email funnel to convert more members.

More Space for Thinking

Something I said to my wife before Christmas was I don’t feel like I have any margin. I didn’t have the headroom I thought I needed to focus on, instead of in, the business. To combat that, I’m going to:

  • Have at least 1 hour of focused me time each work day. It will be time blocked off on my schedule.
  • Spend more time in front of my giant white board – “retreat from screens” to do more big picture thinking.
  • Have one “think weekend” per quarter, where I take 36-48 hours to have time to myself, away from computers, and read. Modeled off of Bill Gates’ think weeks.

Putting myself in a situation where I’m not going to be checking my phone will allow me to work, or read, or think, distraction free for a bit. Adding in that margin to clear my head, combined with working on the right projects, should also make me less distracted when I’m with my kids — meaning less screen time there too4.

Retreating from Old Strategies

There are a couple of things I did in 2021 that I thought were more opportunistic, but ended up creating more stress, so I’m going to retreat from them too.

One is the sheer volume of content I put out. At one point, I was doing 2-3 podcast episodes, plus 2 YouTube videos, plus a blog post, plus a live stream per week. That’s too much, and quality suffered. So instead, I’ll focus on creating quality content, not a large quantity. I will still be consistent. But it will be better, less frequent content.

A second is create and launch one cohort-based course5. I still want to create courses, but CBCs align more with my goals: less content upfront, quality for the students, and the ability to charge more because I’m teaching it in real time.

I also want to find communities outside the WordPress space6 to participate in: podcast, author, speaker, educator communities. The strategy I’ve relied on here is leaning into my WordPress connections to move into other spaces. Really what I need to do is move into other spaces…and perhaps be a WordPress expert there. But with my focus outside the WordPress space, I need to get in front of the biggest benefactors of my services.

Wrapping Up

Having specific numbers in mind is generally antithetical to yearly themes. But I do run a business, so do have some numbers in mind. My members can hear what they are in the audio version of this post.

But I’m optimistic. With being a family of 5 in 2022, more (focused work, income, time), with less (stress, unnecessary obligations, spending), is exactly what I need from the Year of Retreat.

  1. circa 2009 ?
  2. at a glance. I didn’t actually run the numbers. ?
  3. For the curious, my A1C was 11.9 in May. Normal is around 5.7. Average blood sugar of 360, when it should be closer to 100. In December, My A1C was 5.3 and Average blood sugar was 105. ?
  4. I’m really going to lean into focus modes too…something I’ll likely cover for members. ?
  5. Wes Kao will be on my podcast to talk about these! ?
  6. This is a whole other post I’m not going to write because ultimately I think “I’m leaving the WordPress space” posts are never entirely true and mostly self-serving. ?

2021: The Year of Opportunity

One of my favorite things to do at the end of each year is plan my Yearly Theme. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition and I’ve even got my wife in on the action this year. I find it’s better to have a guiding set of principles than a number of promises I may or may not1 complete. 2020 caused many people to change how they do things, and I was no different. that’s why for 2021, my yearly theme is going to be The Year of Opportunity.

Read More “2021: The Year of Opportunity”

2019: The Year of New Content

My favorite podcast of 2018 was Cortex, a show hosted by Myke Hurley and CGP Grey about their working lives. Each year they decide to come up with yearly themes to help them guide their decision making, processes, and hopefully improve their overall lives. I’ve decided that I will also implement a theme for 2019 – and my theme is the year of new content.

Read More “2019: The Year of New Content”