2020 is a wrap.
I’m not someone who puts a lot of stock into the idea that the dawning of a new year carries any kind of intrinsic meaning. Rolling the calendar from December 31, 2020 to January 1, 2021 is fundamentally no different than rolling from any single day to the next. The world is still hurtling through time and space exactly as it has in the recent past: the pandemic is raging on, the political scene in the United States is still a toxic and alarming mess, the media has lost nearly all credibility. There was no magic wand that fixed any of these existential crises at the stroke of midnight when 2020 ended and 2021 began.
However, there is some psychological value to closing the book on one phase and staring at a blank page with pen in hand. The new year provides us with a blank page of opportunity, at least as individuals. While the world as a whole may not be staring at a blank page, as individuals we do have the opportunity to pull out a new page and write a new story. We have that opportunity every single day, but the new year captures our attention and provides a spark of hope and motivation to help nudge us on our way.
Priorities for 2021
When I look at my life today, there’s a lot that’s going really well.
- I’m at a really rewarding place professionally.
- I’m blessed to have a healthy family.
- In 2020 I really found my running mojo, something I feared I’d lost most of a decade ago.
- As a family, all of our needs and many of our wants have been met.
That’s certainly not all. There’s much to be thankful for. While there is much to celebrate, there are things that I do want to focus on as I head into a new year. Chief among them:
- While my career is doing well, things are also more challenging and complex than ever. I need to develop new disciplines, learn new skills, acquire new knowledge, and grow by no small measure to be the leader Kinsta needs me to be.
- Now that I’ve found my running mojo, I want to push it to the next level.
- I let the dumpster fire that is social media and the ever-shortening news cycle consume too much of my mental and emotional energy over the past year.
- We bought a house back in February 2020. We knew when be bought it that there was a lot we wanted to do to it, and we’ve made good progress, but there’s still a long way to go. I want to keep plugging away in 2021.
- I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that 20 years from now what I’ll actually care about is the kind of father and husband I was in 2021.
So that’s five things for a new year, five areas where I want to make some headway. Five is a lot, but not too many. Here’s what I hope to accomplish in each.
Becoming a More Effective COO
Being COO of a growing company is a challenge. By definition, the role of COO carries with it a lot of ambiguity. That’s part of the deal for a COO. In a growing company where things are constantly changing, that ambiguity can be overwhelming if you can’t get comfortable with uncertainty and the regular evolution of your responsibilities.
As COO, there is no process I can implement or workflow I can develop that will solve my problems once and for all. Things just don’t work like that. I solve problem A one day, and the next day problem B has cropped up, only to be followed by problem C on day 3.
So what can I do to be a more effective COO? That’s a question I try to answer on a regular basis and I’d be lying if I said I had it all figured out. So while I haven’t yet identified the silver bullet (and I have a sneaking suspicion there is no silver bullet) there are a few things I know will help me improve as a COO in 2021.
- Do the hardest thing first. This is a fundamental principle of being effective in any role. You can’t shrink back from the things you don’t want to do. Instead, you need to do the hardest, least enjoyable things first. I know the truth of this principle and have applied it on-and-off. If I’m going to be a better COO in 2021 I need to do the hardest things first more often.
- Waste no time. I can’t get it all done, but I can get more done. Time management was a real challenge for me in 2020, and there were times I just gave up and went with the flow: the squeaky wheel got the grease, the most visible fire got put out. That sort of work style feels effective in the moment and even looks effective on a day-to-day basis, but it is most certainly not the most effective option when you step back up and take the long view. If I’m going to be a better COO in 2021 I need to exercise more consistent control over what I spend my time on.
- Build scalable processes, don’t just complete the task. There are a lot of tasks I complete that should have been offloaded to tools and software long ago. There are training sessions I deliver that should have been turned into online courses. There are onboarding tasks that should have been automated. There are questions that have been answered over and over that should have been documented and the answer publicized so that the question never has to be answered again. What I’m talking about are classic “teach a man to fish” choices. It generally takes longer to solve a problem once-and-for-all (to “teach a man to fish”) than to solve it just this one time (to “give a man a fish”). If I’m going to be a better COO in 2021 I need to build scalable processes rather than just completing tasks.
Those are three board things I want to focus on as COO of Kinsta as I round the corner and head into 2021:
- Do the hardest thing first.
- Control what I spend my time on.
- Don’t complete tasks, build scalable processes.
Running Plans for 2021
At the start of 2020 I was running once a week and my runs were four to seven miles long. I only ran once in February, once in March, and twice in April. In May I found my groove and in both May and June I stuck to my weekly schedule. In June I added a second run and in the second half of August I added a third weekly run. Finally, on November 1, 2020 I switched to running in the mornings before work rather than in the evenings, and this allowed me to lock in on consistently running three times per week.
At the start of 2020, my runs were generally in the 4-5 mile range. As of the end of 2020, I was completing two shorter runs during the week, each about 4 miles long, and one longer run on the weekend, which has varied between 6 and 21 miles over the last couple of months.
For 2021, I have three different things I plan to accomplish:
- I plan to increase the length of my long runs and my weekly mileage very conservatively to minimize my risk of injury.
- In May, I plan to add a fourth weekly run to my regular routine. If that goes well, I plan to add a fifth weekly run in August.
- I plan to complete a trail marathon this Spring (Helenback Marathon) and a trail 50k this Fall (Sky to Summit 50k). I’ll probably sneak a few other events in throughout the year, but these are the two big ones, the ones I’ll be training for specifically.
News, Social Media, and Mental Health
Following the news so that you know what’s happening in the world is valuable and important, but how you follow the news is equally important. In 2020, there were seasons where checking the news became a mindless habit. This was particularly true during the first few months of the pandemic and again in the weeks immediately before and after the Presidential election in the United States.
I definitely spent far too much time reading the news in 2020. In 2021, I want to make one simple change: I will check the news from the New York Times once per day, while I eat lunch, and will not otherwise browse the news. If someone sends me a specific story, I’ll read it, but aside from that, I’ll not browse news websites throughout the day or in the evening after work. Reading the top stories from the New York Times is enough. I’m already a digital subscriber to the New York Times, and while they’re not perfect, the NY Times is one of the news sources I still have some degree of trust in.
As far as social media is concerned, 2021 may be the year I finally delete some of my social media profiles. For now, I am minimizing my usage of all social media: the apps aren’t installed on my phone, I’ve logged out in my browser (both mobile and desktop), and I use a private browser anytime I do log in so that I’ll be logged back out as soon as I close the browser.
We’ll see how things go. There were times last year when social media nudged my general outlook in a very negative direction. For me personally, I’m not at all sure that the positives outweigh the negatives.
There are a couple of key house projects I need to knock out in 2021 to make sure I protect the long-term value and life of the house. Those projects include:
- I’ve got to get the remainder of the yard under control. I’ve made it about 50% of the way since we bought the house back in February, 2020. I’ve got to make it the rest of the way during 2021 and get the yard into maintainable condition.
- I need to get all of the trim on the house repainted. The paint is starting to peel and crack in a few places. If I can get to it in the next year, we’ll be able to just repaint without needing to replace anything.
- I’ve got to install a sump pump in the crawl space. We had some minor flooding issues during the Fall. I think I’ve solved that problem with some drainage improvements in the front yard, but as an added insurance policy I want to install a sump pump at the lowest point in the crawl space to ensure the basement never floods again. Eventually I’ll also want to add generator backup power to ensure that even if we lose power the sump pump can keep running, but that’s likely a project for 2022.
- I want to install a second washer/dryer set in the basement so that I can take care of washing my own workout, yard work, and running clothes.
Above all else, in 2021 I plan to prioritize my family over everything else. That means:
- Setting my phone aside at the end of the day so I can be present for them.
- Spending both quality and quantity time away from work, with the family. Generally that means taking one or two away-from-home vacations or staycations, and fully disconnecting from work, the news, and social media.
- As much as possible, being a participant and not just a spectator in whatever sports and other activities they participate in this year (pandemic permitting).
Make Plans, Not Resolutions
I’m not big on sweeping pronouncements and grandiose resolutions. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. A good year is built on good habits, not on overly-ambitious pronouncements. So while I don’t have resolutions for 2021, I certainly have plans.
- As COO, I plan to do the hardest thing first, manage my time, and build processes rather than just complete tasks.
- I plan to gradually increase my running routine with the goal of being prepared to run a trail marathon in April and a trail 50k in November.
- I plan to minimize my news consumption and use of social media.
- I plan to focus on a few key projects around the house that will help protect the long-term value and life of our house.
- I plan to be present for whatever my kids and wife are doing and to set aside plenty of time for us to get away and have fun together.
Hat tip to Roger for planting the “plans, not resolutions” idea in my mind.