I guess everybody is writing their 2020 in review posts, so I'll add to the noise (and hopefully a little of the signal) with mine.

Here are some things that happened, roughly in chronological order:

  1. Fasted on just water for three days (72 hours) for the first time
  2. Read a bunch of great books, including 4-Hour Workweek, which was super inspiring, and The ONE Thing, which also gave me a lot of motivation
  3. Started writing this blog (twice)
  4. Launched and ran Seven Day SaaS, a software-building jam
  5. Built a full-stack PDF-sharing SaaS with analytics, then stopped working on it before acquiring a single user
  6. Started (and stopped – thanks, COVID) a React meetup, and even got sponsered by a local recruiting firm
  7. Learned to work with technical recruiters
  8. Started writing daily, at first in private, and then in public (this blog)
  9. Hit the front page of HN for the first time (and then three more times)
  10. My wife gave birth to our first child, a healthy baby boy! Boy, parenthood is hard. I had no idea.
  11. Celebrated one year of being married to my best friend
  12. Built a front end for a product idea, also for one person (https://usebicycle.com) that I stopped working on after realizing the market was too competitive
  13. Started building a homeschooling platform, then stopped when I realized I didn't have the funds, nor did I wish to grow to that size
  14. Wrote a career advice for developers book in November in two weeks and sold 16 copies – my first dollar made online in years!
  15. Decided to stop working on SaaS products and focus on real estate

Stats

Total money made from side-projects in 2020: $400.

Total audience growth: 420.

Total audience: 697

Twitter following growth: ~300

Looking back

Overall, I'm disappointed that none of my projects achieved my goals, but I can feel a definite improvement in probability of success of my projects over time.

At first, the ideas I started working on were super unrealistic – I can see that now. Now, though, I'm beginning to actually make money from my projects.

I feel that my mental model of reality is improving slowly, and I'm learning more and more about business. In a way, it's encouraging to look back and see how many mistakes I made in my previous projects.

I know that I can only be making less and less mistakes as time goes on (although I'm always paving the way for new ones as I enter unfamiliar territory, of course).

At the same time, while it's definitely been a very chaotic year, I can't say that I'm too pleased with my overall achievements. I don't want to go too hard on myself, but at the same time I feel that I spent more time playing videogames and reading fiction than I should have.

However, most of the time I spent "lazing around" was shortly after the birth of my son, so I can't really beat myself up too much about that. It's been a period of huge adjustments – this is my first year, at twenty four, that I've spent living independent of my parents, with my wife, in a state of lockdown thanks to a global pandemic, with a child, and furnishing the apartment we live on.

Overall, this year was more about life progress than it was about business progress, and I think 2021 is definitely shaping up to be much better business-wise. The personal adjustments are slowing down and the house is starting to get into order (we finally put up curtains last week! yay!) and I'm getting other legal to-dos in order too (my son finally has insurance! I am completely financially decoupled from my parents!).

Lessons learned

There are three top contenders for "biggest learnings of the year".

1. Thinking probabilistically and making small bets

This is the thing that blew my mind the most – thinking probabalistically and making small bets.

Our minds are extraordinary narrative-weaving machines, constantly seeking the deeper meaning of random every-day events. It's how we process life and formulate meaning from our gut intuition without being driven crazy by the scope of it all. The story our brain and emotions tell us is powerfully convincing.

It's also often wrong.

This year I've learned about thinking and planning in terms of risk and probability, a concept that I had no clue of until a few months ago. A good way of summarizing how to operate this way:

2. Reverse-engineering goal-setting and visualization

Another powerful concept that I picked up from The ONE Thing is that in order to achieve a goal, it's important to reverse engineer what needs to happen to do so from the end state, and visualize arriving there in great detail.

It's not enough to take random actions in the hopes that one day you'll end up where you want to be. Instead, you need to have a plan (even if it's a plan that changes frequently) that coherently leads you to your end state, step by step. And that plan needs to be kept up-to-date with your model of reality.

For that reason it's important to constantly be revisiting your goals. As I heard on the Bigger Pockets podcast (incidentally also where I was reminded of The ONE Thing, which was already sitting on my shelf), "It's not enough to just have goals. You need to be in a relationship with them."

3. The Pareto Principle and signal vs. noise

I learned about the Pareto principle (also called the 80/20) rule, and looking back I can see how it applies to my actions this year. I felt like I worked on a lot of stuff, really hard, for the past twelve months, and I thought I was pretty focused overall.

But looking back at the list of things that I did, I'm surprised by how little there is on the list – and also how much.

Between changing focus a lot and getting distracted by non-productive actions, I worked a lot and didn't get much done. I hope to focus more on "signal" actions in 2021 and not get distracted by busywork that doesn't move the needle on my goals.

Looking forward

With all that said, what's happening in 2021? I have some really exciting things in the works. My main goal is to reach ramen profitability by the end of the year – although I'll write more about that shortly as I think through my goals more carefully.

Today was the last day of my contract with Harry's. I'm taking two months – January and February – in order to devote time to thinking about and working on my sidebusinesses.

As of right now, the plan is to work one to two days a week on the book until it's wrapped up, and three to four days a week on doing some discovery around real estate.

On March 1st, I expect to begin contract work again. It's looking like Harry's will want me back, but it's a budget thing, so I won't know until the first week of January.

If they do take me back, I won't have to look for work again, which will be a load off my mind. If they don't take my back, I'll brush up my resume and start chatting with people on February 1st. We'll see what happens, but either way I'm going to be hyperfocused on my sideprojects for these two months.

I'm also doing a Bill Gates-style think week in January, spending a week at a cabin with limited entertainment options to visualize my five-year and one-year goals, then plan out how I want to arrive there.

Whatever happens, 2021 is going to be awesome! Overall, I'm feeling very optimistic and think I have a pretty good chance of reaching ramen profitability by the end of the year.