Looking back (An annual review – 2017)

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From past four years, I’m doing an annual review of my life. It’s the time when every year I take a pause and reflect back on my successes and failures in the past year. I publish it here in this Blog which keeps me publicly accountable for the goals for the coming year. Here is it for this year –

Photo by Tim Bogdanov on Unsplash

This is my fifth annual review, you can access my previous reviews for 2016, 2015 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), 2014 and 2013. This year also I’ll answer three questions, same as past 3 years:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well year?
  3. What’s am I working toward?

Hope it will be insightful and interesting for some of you. Lets cut to the chase.

Looking back (An annual review – 2017)

1. What went well this year?

Business Growth. I carried forward the momentum from last year. I experimented with a wide spectrum of ideas. I goofed up many times (don’t we all?) but those goof ups helped me steer clear of the crap and focus on few good projects. So I was down to fewer projects to focus in last year from the business standpoint and Yes, Blog is the underlying platform for it all. It gives me direction and helps (or helped) build up these ideas.

1. Blog – Honestly, This year I focused more on my Saturday-Pentacle newsletter (for the new readers – think of it as ‘Best of the week’ newsletter) which I started in 2016. I kept up with publishing it every week, the whole year. I put less focus on the normal posts this year. But at the end of the year, I felt that giving up on the normal write-up style posts or photo essays over Saturday-Pentacle was not morally right. Even though I posted more frequently but it slowly became a routine than passion to write these posts. So in 2018, I want to bring back the photo essays and article style posts. Amen.

Here are some quick stats for my blog for the year 2017 –

  • 52 new Saturday Pentacle Posts published this year
  • 17 regular blog posts which include podcast and articles
  • YoY Growth (2016 Vs 2017)
    • Unique visitors growth – 106.45 %
    • Unique page views growth – 78.09%
    • New email subscribers growth – 46.87 %
    • New WhatsApp blog group subscriber growth (organically added) – 26 %

2. Execution of selected Entrepreneurial idea from last year’s research (A/B testing) – Last year I researched and tested a few entrepreneurial Ideas to see which ones may be worth investing my time and money into. At last, I selected one Idea for which I started the execution pretty late (Sep 2017). But I’m glad to say that I could set it up by end of 2017 as a small gig. Even though I can’t tell much details of it yet. But it’s related to travelling (can only hint that much).

Like every business venture, the initial time is crucial. Hence in 2018 my focus will be on automating the processes and setting up a solid process for this business and make it semi fail-proof. The aftermath of this execution is – It’s a lot of work to start a business, however small. If you want to start something of your own, be prepared for the emotional trauma of working with other people (people are complicated), frustration due to things you can’t control (like the licensing or regulating entities) or emptying your pockets for a long time before you see results.

Writing. 2017 was a mixed year, I published 69 posts on the blog. 52 of them were Saturday-Pentacle newsletter which helped me gain some traction and 17 normal posts which included normal articles and podcasts. In 2016 I was writing morning pages, I found it helpful in seeking clarity and clear up the fog from my thoughts. I couldn’t keep it up in 2017 and wrote a very few morning pages. That’s one of the few important things I would like to get back to.

Last year I mentioned about writing a book, however, that was just a dream which I outlined but never scheduled time for. So in 2017 end, I decided to set a schedule for writing every day and to start the work on my book from the start of 2018. But before I could write a book, I needed the toolkit.

To build a house you require all the tools like the raw material, the instruments, construction gear and labour men etc. Similarly to write a book you have to have the toolbox ready like the vocabulary, sentence formation, dialogue formation and many other things.

To get my toolbox ready, I started learning from the masters. I started reading their advice on writing. A few books to mention – On writing by Stephen King and Elements of Style by Willium Strunk Jr. They helped me gain a completely new perspective on writing and helped me brush up the basics of the language.

Now I’m more confident and ready to put in the work. Hopefully, I’ll introduce you to my book before the next year’s review post.

Travelling. I travelled a lot in 2017. A little less than 2016 though but still, it’s more than enough. In 2016 when I did my solo travelling trip, it changed my perspective about travelling. Now travelling has become a part of my life and I put aside time for travelling from the business of routine life. Travelling helps you see things differently and away from the comfort zone of your home you sometimes see things in your own life, which you never knew existed. Like I started listening to a musician (Yaani) who is Hebrew but produces instrumental music, but now when I listen to Yaani, it feels like I knew his music from a very long time. To just give a taste of his music. Listen to Nostalgia.

Coming back to my travels in 2017. I visited two new Indian States and overall 7 states.

  1. Orissa
  2. Goa (South and North)
  3. Gujarat
  4. Daman
  5. Rajasthan
  6. Punjab
  7. Haryana
  8. Maharashtra

10+ Cities –

  1. Bhubaneswar
  2. Konark
  3. Puri
  4. Panji
  5. North Goa
  6. South Goa
  7. Ahmedabad
  8. Daman
  9. Lonavala
  10. Vasai-Virar
  11. Bikaner and few more.

Visited 100+ places or events throughout the year, but the top spots being the following –

  1. Sandcastles at Puri Beach
  2. Konark Sun Temple
  3. Shri Jagannath Temple
  4. Aguada Fort, Goa
  5. Clanagute beach, Goa
  6. Qeri Beach
  7. Dhudhsagar waterfall (an amazing spot where we swam with big fishes)
  8. Spice Plantation near Dhudhsagar
  9. Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad
  10. Mumbai Floods (2017) – Not something good, but learned from this disaster experience so want to remember it
  11. Mini Sea Shore, Vashi
  12. Lonavala visit
  13. Saint Visit to our home
  14. Parsik Hill
  15. Kharghar Hills
  16. Kala Ghoda Art Festival
  17. Canon Photo Marathon
  18. Desperate 10K at Eastern Express Highway
  19. Vasai-Virar – Half Marathon event
  20. SCMM – Full Marathon event

Photography. I tried implementing more context to my photography in 2017. I 2016-17 I interacted with many photographers and followed many whose work I actually love. They either advised me directly or inspired me through their work to focus more on the time you spend observing before taking the picture, instead of just seeing directly through the viewfinder and hitting the shooter. Secondly, my photos in 2016 had more of the abstracts and structures but less of people in them. But I learned gradually that people are a very critical part of your pictures. You try to tell a story in one way or the other through your photographs, but if there are just buildings rivers or vehicles then your story has something missing and that is the sentiment. People fill the crack of sentiment. They make your story, ‘The Story’. Every other detail is just ‘detail’, not the actual story.

So in 2017, my photographs (which became less in numbers, almost 50% of what I clicked in 2016) had more of the story element with the sentiment right in the centre of it all. I think that made my photographs speak for themselves. I want to continue telling stories through the pictures I take. I think I will.

Check out my photographs and stories on my Instagram.

Finance. In my last year’s Annual Review, I mentioned the inclusion of minimalistic lifestyle and saving for travels in the budgets. I did keep up with travel savings in the budgeting, however, due to many variables going in my life, I wasn’t able to keep up with the minimalistic lifestyle approach with a 100% commitment. But I kept up with a few decluttering exercises which I learned in 2016.

Secondly, I bumped up my investments in the stocks a little more in 2017 and tried a different approach in tax saving mutual funds. After learning about the reality of SIPs in tax saving MFs, that when you pay monthly instalment so the lock-in period of 3 years is active for each monthly instalment differently.

For example – If you paid the first SIP of 2000 Rs. in Jan 2018 and second in Feb 2018, so you’ll be able to get your money out only for Jan 2018 instalment on Jan 2021 and then Feb 2018 month instalment money on Feb 2021. Earlier my assumption was that If I paid from Jan 2015 till Dec 2017 each month 2000 Rs. I will get the whole amount lump sump with return on Jan 2018. Which is obviously not true. So this year what I tried was, I saved the amount in a recurring deposit account every month and at the end of the Financial Year I got money out of the RD account and put that lump sum amount in the Tax Saving Mutual Fund. I think it will give a better liquidity at the end of the 3 years lock-in period.

So 2017 was a balanced year where I couldn’t add much more but I kept up with the last year’s momentum.

Becoming a finisher Do-er. Last year I put this in my “What am I looking forward to?” section. I wanted to lean towards a behaviour of a finisher. Someone who starts something and then finish it off.

After doing a variety of things in the past year, I feel like the word finisher doesn’t fit the bill. I think I inclined towards a Do-er behaviour. I conjugated thought into ideas, few of which I eventually executed as test projects. Some projects went back to the shelf and some were executed successfully and became small entrepreneurial acts.

What am I trying to do by becoming a “Do-er”? I think the below quote from Seth Godin gives that answer on my behalf –

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

As I mentioned in my last year’s post that the Pick-up part is the important one, after a year of going through thoughts to ideas to execution to reality. I want to underline that statement that, yes the project which you choose is the most important thing. Before starting anything you must do your homework.

Transitioning to deep work. I put this into my goals last year when I wrote last year’s review. This year I did experiment with deep work on some days when I would stop the f**cking notifications on my phone by killing it dead and then shutting the door of my study room and work for hours without any distraction. It was intense, full of productivity but exhausting too. I couldn’t keep up with that kind of deep work for more than once a week. It felt like running a marathon on the second day of your training. Not good. So by the end of the year 2017, I thought of approaching it differently (the deep work concept I mean). I will start training slowly and then build up. So this new year 2018, I’ve scheduled hours of work (in office and while home post office hours) small chunks of time where I would put the phone in offline mode, put the PC in quiet hours setting starting with a time duration of 15 minutes and stretching it to half an hour and then one hour over the period of 2 weeks.

That was a good start, I started getting into the deep work zone and let me tell you it’s another world. You just forget the worries of your day to day life and can focus on something which indeed matters to you. A side project? The main (work) project or something really important. I think it was a good decision to start training myself to get into that deep work zone. I’m still practising it day to day. My goal is to reach 3 hours of deep work at one go.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Fitness. Since when I started Running since a few years back (2012), I’ve not been sick more than a cold (probably due to sudden weather change, that too when I took a break from running while my travels). But still, I would like to put Fitness in the “What didn’t go so well this year” category, because I want to set the bar pretty high. I maintained my weight in the range of my BMI that’s a big win. But this year, I couldn’t do much weight training or body weight training. Hence I gained the belly fat again, which will be my focus point in 2018. I ignored the body weight training in 2017 which helped me get shredded in 2015 when I was preparing for my first Full Marathon in Jan 2016. So this coming year I want to focus back on the body weight training again and get shredded with some lean muscles.

Running. This was not a better year than the last year by any means. Here are a few stats, YoY –

2016 Vs 2015

  • Mileage – 610.6 KMs Vs 761.9 KMs. (Down by 19.85%)
  • Number of Runs – 85 Vs 113 (Down by 24.77%)
  • Pace – Avg pace down by 9 seconds (Down by 1.92%)

In 2018 I’m going to cap my goal mileage max to 1000 KMs. But really put in the efforts on the consistency of the runs. Get out on the asphalt at least 4 days a week minimum. If I’m able to do that, I shall be able to cross 1000 KMs mark easily.

Nutrition. This year also I couldn’t meet my goal of eating healthy most of the time. I lacked a lot this past year on the nutritional front. I mentioned it in my last year’s nutritional section – “I won’t be tracking my food this year.” But I experienced a negative effect by not tracking my food in 2017 and in my opinion, our willpower doesn’t always hold up to the environment we are surrounded with. So If I see junk food at home, the natural response is to go ahead and eat it. However, food tracking makes you aware of what kind of food you should eat. So food tracking is necessary. But more importantly, creating an environment where you see mostly healthy eatables around you makes it more tangible to eat healthily.

Subsequently, I learned similar things from the masters of the game – Tim Ferris, Darius Foroux etc. So I’m now coming back to the track slowly. As any good habit has a domino effect – Nutrition is closely linked with a healthy routine. For example – If you start your day with a run then the second thing you do is hydrate yourself adequately during the activity. Then you do a mindfulness practice. Then have a glassful of protein (23gms is ideal for an adult human btw) and a sumptuous breakfast. Doing a simple act of running, (which leads to all the other positives routines and habits) starts off that domino effect.

The year 2018 will be the year to implement the solutions of the mistakes from 2016 and 2017. I’ll be reducing the amount of junk food intake (for example – burgers, pizzas, Tacos etc). The second most important action which we have initiated at the family level is to not intake plain white sugar and white salt instead, we consume jaggery and pink salt/rock salt which is more natural and good for health. The third action I’ll do in the coming year is – start tracking the meals again, as I’m on a shredding diet to reduce the tummy fat. I hope 2018 is a Nutrition-full year.

I truly believe in this obvious formula, not limited to nutrition but for doing anything in life –

What you (really) put in is what you (really) get out.

Reading. Even though my target was to read one book each month in 2017 but I utterly failed in this area. I only finished reading (or listening) 3 books in the whole year that too including one audiobook –

  • ‘Ego is the enemy’ by Ryan Holiday
  • ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Audiobook)

Unfinished books –

  • The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters from a Stoic Master, Volume 1 (Not completed yet, but will pick it up again in 2018)
  • Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss (Not completed yet, but will pick it up again in 2018)

In 2018 I’m going to include 3-4 fiction books in my reading list. I discovered while reading Stephen King’s books that I love reading fiction more than non-fiction (caveat is that the story must be gripping). But more importantly, I’m going to track my reading week by week and update on my GoodReads.com account. I think tracking it will be great so that If routine life throws me off the course, I can get back in quickly. Again the target will be 12 books in 2018 (one book a month).

But on the other hand, if I mention reading in general, which may include blog posts, article or short stories, I read more than 50 blog posts/articles (as I read at least couple of articles a week for my Saturday Pentacle newsletter research). I read 10+ shorty stories (as far as I remember). So from that perspective 2017 wasn’t a bad year for reading after all. However I consider reading a long-form book better than reading a blog post or article, because the author of a long form book might have done a better job researching and putting in the authentic stuff, so a novel or a book is more like a concentrated effort where on the other hand a blog post or a short story, which may still be a great effort to write but still takes less effort and energy than a book. Hence I would always prefer enjoying a good book over enjoying 10 blog posts.

Learning at work. So after completing 3.5 years in my company I finally called it quit and switched to a new company (towards the end of 2017). It was a mix of emotions while leaving the company or rather I would say it was difficult leaving the people I worked with but It was also a moment of joy to look towards the excitement of the future.

I know it all sounds cliche but I indeed learned quite a lot including some new technologies (being in the technology stream) as I got a lot of exposure in my job profile. Importantly I got opportunities to lead my team which was a first, which eventually lead to a lot of opportunities and projects in the same company. I won’t say the shift from an individual contributor to a lead(er) was easy, cause it really wasn’t, it was quite a lot of hard work, it becomes frustrating at time when you know how to do the work but the person from whom you are trying to get it done, doesn’t. So for this shift, I worked continuously to hone my people skills, soft skills and conflict management skills. Cause when you are driving projects, you not only just direct and guide the personnel reporting to you, but you sometimes have to guide the people above you to do the right thing by giving them in-direct cues. At times it was very difficult to deal with the egos and emotions from both the upstream and downstream people but when you practice it day in day out, you start getting better. It’s true with everything in life. Practice and you’ll become better. I hope I’m able to carry forward and practice these newly learned skills at my new workplace and do more quality work which can eventually put a dent in the universe positively, however tiny.

Among many, one important lesson I learned and would like to share is about networking –

Don’t connect with 100s of people like you do on a social network. But connect with 5 in real life and be selective with those 5 as they must share the values you do in one way or the other. Then go all in with these 5 people. You will see that putting your concentrated energy will give you lasting friendship and relations for life than those 400 superficial Facebook friends.

Meeting new People. In 2017 I didn’t do any solo travelling, so I didn’t meet any strangers. But I met a lot of people through friends or at work. Made many acquaintances, many became friends and many dropped out. However, the important thing was due to one reason or another, I wasn’t able to interact with these acquaintances with very much of an open mind because of various variables or situations.

“Why is this so important to meet new people?” you would ask. I would say, meeting new people makes you go through different type of humans. So even though you are sort of socializing when meeting them and interacting with them, but at the same time, you are analyzing their behaviour in the background. Observing their actions and reactions in different kind of conditions. Even though you can’t categorize people precisely. But still, we can broadly define a certain set of people, i.e. Introverts/extroverts, egotists/genuinely humble etc. Eventually, you get to know, what kind of people you get along with more. It may be sounding creepy that you have to group people based on their behaviours but if you talk to real people and interact with them more and more, you’ll know what I’m trying to say.

So this year wasn’t very interesting from the perspective of meeting new and interesting people. In 2018 I will definitely want to meet more people and interact with them more freely and curiously.

3. What am I working towards?

Writing a book. This year I want to write a book, keeping time aside daily for working towards it and eventually creating the first draft before the start of Fall 2018 and eventually publish it before the end of Fall 2018. I shall reveal the focus and subject of my book in upcoming blog posts. Writing 1000 words every day is the goal to start with and increase it month by month until I reach 2000 words every day. If I hit that goal, I may actually finish the book before the deadline, even if I count a few bad weeks. In a perfect scenario of 2000 words a day, 300 pages can be written in 75 days or 2.5 months. But being a beginner I’m making the period more than double – 150+ days. I want to write a story encapsulated in this book which is dying to come out from the last couple of years. As Stephen King would say* – “I hope I uncover the fossil (the story) without cracking it.”

Adapting Minimalism into more areas. As I tasted the deliciousness of minimalism in the year of 2016 which eventually saved me money for my travels. I am looking forward to expanding minimalism into more areas of my life. Like the people in my life, declutter my home and much more. In the decluttering my home part I tried Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method of decluttering, just keep the things which spark joy. Though I couldn’t do it with all my bravery still I uncluttered a lot of stuff which was just lying around and was creating negative vibes. This same method stands true for people and relations in your life.

I also learned through a YouTuber about the Interesting (again Marie Kondo’s KonMari) Method for folding clothes. I’ll be implementing that and many other minimalism techniques in 2018 to declutter my life.

Well, that wraps up my 2017 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 an amazing 2018.

My Annual Review Archives:

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

* – Read “On Writing” by Stephen King to know more about this.

Special note: Thanks to James Clear for inspiring me to start writing these Annual Review posts and hold myself accountable publicly on my reflections of each past year.

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