This year had so much potential and after two tough years in a row, I was really looking forward to a better one. If I focus on myself, the year was okay: I switched jobs for the better and worked on improving my overall approach to productivity. But as soon as I widen the circle even slightly, it becomes clear it was a bad year. There are no two ways about it: The year’s end made it impossible to call it anything else.

An Awful End

The year took its most challenging turn when my partner lost her job in December. It was sudden and unexpected, but she handled it with incredible grace and professionalism. Despite our frustrations with the political climate affecting jobs, we need to learn to adapt and find new paths. We will be fine, but there’s a lingering sadness over losing the relative safety we felt through all these challenging years since the pandemic.

Health Concerns

Additionally, towards the end of the year, my grandparents' health became more of a concern, reminding me to cherish every moment with them. I’m particularly proud of my grandpa’s bravery as he has started to undergo severe cancer treatment in December.

Christmas Woes

Despite our careful planning and genuine excitement, Christmas turned out to be less than ideal. A series of small mishaps unfolded: the toilet in our train compartment was broken, we initially got the wrong type of hotel room, endured a terrible experience at a shopping mall, narrowly avoided a traffic accident, struggled with Napu’s sound sensitivity that cost us a lot of sleep. I also fell ill on Christmas Eve, spending the day in the hotel room instead of with family. These issues, even though not that bad on their own, taken as one left us feeling quite upset. This was especially sad for me, because I had looked forward to the holiday in a way I hadn’t in many years.

However, I want to think there is a silver lining in this experience. We’ve learned some valuable lessons for future holidays, like the benefits of taking a car train instead of driving over 800 kilometers ourselves and choosing to stay in a hotel for space to decompress and rest.

Brighter Moments

Amidst these challenges, there were highlights in the first three quarters of the year. I’m thrilled about my new job, which I started in July. I have not only nice colleagues, but nice bosses, too. The work environment is open to my ideas and the tasks are challenging but well suited to my skills.

Our summer was wonderful, including a memorable trip to Finland’s Perämeri National Park, visiting Kilpisjärvi once more and finally hiking through Malla’s strict nature reserve. Perämeri is special, because it’s challenging to visit (it consists of a group of islands and you need to hire a water taxi to get there).

Beyond these trips, there were countless wonderful moments in our day-to-day life, too: solving jigsaw puzzles, watching TV, hiking day trails and collecting berries. Despite ups and downs, we had many opportunities to laugh and enjoy each other’s company - and we did.

Two bowls full of blue berries are held in a forest environment. The hands are stained red from blue berry juice. In the background a dog is visible.

While interacting with Napu this year, I learned the importance of understanding trigger stacking, letting her make choices and providing her with a safe and positive environment to learn and grow. She was a joy to have with and around us.

A dog is laying belly up in front of sofa. There are toys and a chewing bone next to her head. She is watching into the camera.

Personal Growth

Even in a bad year there’s things to learn and take with me into what comes next. Here’s an incomplete list of some of the things I found valuable to have learned this year:

  • I am pretty sure that I’d like to focus my efforts to grow professionally in the direction of code quality and software architecture. This is not the same as trying to become a tech lead or manager. And it’s good to know the difference.
  • I have learned that it’s okay to watch VODs of the same Slay The Spire Streamers on Youtube while playing Dead Cells. This is my way to relax. I don’t need to impress anyone while relaxing. If this is what my brain wants to do after a hard day, that’s fine.
  • Between 10 am and 1 pm is my crunch time. This is when my brain is the most capable and my environment permits the most undistracted work. It hasn’t always been that way. I was able to do some of my best work in the evenings before but this has changed. I feel like it’s immensely helpful to know when I can do my best work, because that means I know now which time slot needs to be protected the most.
  • I learned that positive emotions make the biggest difference in habit formation. If I can bring myself to authentically feel good about doing a thing, chances are high(er) that I will do the same thing when I encounter the same trigger later. The old view is that habits form through repetition alone, but it’s actually the immediate positive feedback that I can induce myself by celebrating right after I did a thing that makes all the difference.
  • Skipping breakfast as a form of intermittent fasting is actually not that hard.
  • LLMs may be ethically and environmentally questionable but they are tools that are insanely helpful. They are here to stay. I have found great use cases and have had a chance to play around with more advanced features thanks to a GPTPlus subscription through my company.
  • I took steps to improve my productivity setup this year and a couple of things that I feel like I finally understood:
    • Use one tool to keep a certain kind of data (Task? OmniFocus, Note? Obsidian, Event? Fantastical. Misc. Reminder I can’t miss? Due.), link tasks and notes, but don’t write notes into your task management app and reminders for tasks or notes into your calendar. Have bright, clear lines what tool you use for what and remove redundancies ruthlessly.
    • Use only what you need, when you need it. Sometimes I only need a note. Sometimes I only need a reminder in Due, sometimes I need to do elaborate planning and tracking in OmniFocus, with a canvas and lots of notes in Obsidian, time blocking in my calendar, etc. The important point is that the ratio of work to “meta work” should be correct. If I work more to organize my work than actually doing my tasks I’m in trouble.

Looking Forward

Despite 2023’s terrible end, there were moments of happiness and growth. However, I’m approaching 2024 with cautious optimism.

I man is raising a thermos cup of coffee into the camera while sitting in a hilly forested nature setting, next to a dog and a woman.

What makes a good year is a smaller gap between my expectations and reality, leading to fewer disappointments. The new year will be about managing expectations and rolling with the punches. I’m prepared to do both!

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