Disclaimer: this was written for me and not an outside audience. So I won’t apologize for it being long and boring.
Here is an image of what I did every day in 2016. I started chronicling my daily activities this way in 2015 and continued doing so this past year as well. I enjoy having the year-at-a-glance on one 8.5×11 sheet of paper. I used to journal but ended up writing in my journal very rarely. Writing down 2 or 3 key words per day is easier, and it gives me a daily chronicle to remind me what I did that day (like “wine with Jess”). I have a bad memory and writing everything down helps me remember. Seeing it all at once makes the year seem manageable and accessible to me. It boils it down to 52 concrete weeks. Seeing everything on one page is a habit I picked up in college at UC Berkeley. At the beginning of every semester I would trek to the Student Learning Center to pick up my favorite planning tool: the semester-at-a-glance. It was a form among many forms lying around that building, and I enjoyed the pilgrimage every semester to find it. I would hang it on the wall in front of my desk. (I just checked the SLC’s website- which I haven’t gone to in 10 years- and their homepage coincidentally has a shoutout saying the semester-at-a-glance is their most popular handout 🙂 I’ll just say I used it before it was cool.) Having the entire semester on one page made it easy to see all my midterms, assignments, and extracurricular activities in one place. It’s like taking a deep breath and saying “okay, I can do this.” I’m a visual person so having a planning document on one page helps orient me and creates my mental model of time.
At the beginning of 2016 I typed up this calendar in a 7×52 cell table in Microsoft word (advanced technical skills required) and printed it out and kept it on my nightstand. I keep a pen and highlighters next to it. I love color coding and the colors I used to highlight the cells in 2016 were: green for friends I saw on evenings or weekends, yellow for coworkers I saw on evenings or weekends, red for family I saw on evenings or weekends, and the whole cell is highlighted purple for days I was out of town. I know, I’m a bit anal retentive 🙂
When I look at my 2016-at-a-glance, now that all 7×52 cells are filled in, here are my observations:
- I am a social creature/ extrovert. There is a green highlight on 149 out of 365 days (41%), a yellow highlight on 47 out of 365 days (13%), and a red highlight on 73 out of 365 days (20%). Ignoring a few days with multiple color highlights, that means I spent 74% of the days of the year socializing with friends, coworkers, or family. Glancing at the page, that seems right to me since it looks like I socialized on average 3 out of 5 weekdays and both Saturdays and Sundays. So, yes, I’m a social person. Of course, the fact that the majority of what I even bother to chronicle is the name of the person I spent time with that day should also be a clue here. (For example, I’m not a foodie so none of these include the names of restaurants we ate at, though if you ask me about seeing someone that day I might remember if I hosted them at our place or if we went out somewhere.) Of course more importantly than how many days I socialized is am I happy/proud of my socializing this year?
- The greens (41%): Looking at who I spent time with, most of the green highlights are my 4 closest friends in the Bay Area, 2 of whom moved back here this year (yay!). That makes me happy. Though I also need to be more secure in the fact that it’s okay if we live near each other and don’t know every detail that’s going on in each other’s lives- that’s a tough one for me, I always want to get together with them and catch up and be involved). In the green, there’s also a good smattering of old friends who visited from out of town or who I visited when I was out town. Some precious memories there. As I get older I get pickier with how I spend my free time and who I spend it with (at least I strive to be pickier- sometimes it’s hard to say no or to avoid my extroverted nature). Looking at the names of friends who I only saw a few times this year makes me realize they fall into 2 categories: my close friends who are out of town and I don’t get to see often (lots of nostalgia there), and acquaintances or casual friends I don’t make as much of an effort to see (for example, there are some alumni from my grad programs who I like and I see a few times a year at networking events or when we get together for coffee/drinks. Some I wish I could spend more time with and will reach out more proactively to in 2017, others I am okay having be occasional greens.) Most of my greens fall into the inner circle rather than the outer circle category, which makes me happy. Spending time with close friends is something I will continue to prioritize in 2017, and hopefully I’ll get more time with close friends who live out of town too. (Come visit, please!)
- The yellows (13%): I’ve never been at such a social workplace as my current office. It’s a young culture and lots of folks are single or don’t have family obligations and like to go out together after work. We also stay at work pretty late so the happy hours sometimes start in the office 🙂 Happy hours and dinners are common and I enjoy how inclusive they are. I love this about my work and it looks like I’ve gone out with coworkers on average once a week. As I look back at the coworkers I’ve spent my free time with, I’m glad to see most of the yellow concentrated on weekdays (I only get 52 weekends a year and they are precious to me) and I also notice that my favorite coworker is the one I’ve spent the most time with, which is a good sign ’cause he’s more of a green (hi Ben). I do think that going out with coworkers once a week is a lot though, and that’s something I’ll try to cut down in 2017. I’ll strive for coworker social time to be closer to once every other week, or 7%.
- The reds (20%): I moved back to the Bay Area primarily to be closer to my family so it’s awesome to see that I saw family 20% of the year (it was a lot less when I lived on the east coast and overseas). The reds also include seeing extended family and family out of town, which we always wish we could do more of. One thing that stands out this year when I look at all the red highlights is how often I saw my sister. Moving to San Francisco has been awesome for seeing her more often. Seeing all the red highlights with her name on it make me smile thinking about all the times she’s taken an uber to my place to have dinner with us (thanks chucks) or we had dinner with her in her neighborhood 🙂
- The purples (17%): I was out of town for 61 days or 17% of 2016, and 16 out of 52 weekends (30%). The majority of these were long weekends away, especially over the summer when Max has half-day Fridays. This year our weekend trips included Tahoe, Mexico City, Boston twice, Carmel, LA, Napa, Santa Barbara, Philly, Monterey, and our soul-enriching annual reunion with grad school friends in the Colorado mountains. I also went to Ocean City, Maryland for a girls beach weekend and one business trip to Denver for an ed tech conference. Looking back, I think we did a nice job this year of balancing spending more time in San Francisco on weekends and going on weekend trips. September was a little hectic when we went out of town 3 weekends in a row (we had a wedding and a baby shower on consecutive east coast weekends), but other than that it was all manageable. I’m looking forward to more weekend trips in 2017, hopefully at least a couple to LA (we only went once this year and some of our close friends and family in LA were out of town that weekend). We also only did one ski weekend and I’m hoping to squeeze in at least a couple this year.
- I need to take more week-long trips. 😦 I totally fell into the startup “unlimited vacation” trap. While I work at a company that says it has unlimited vacation, I only ended up taking 2 week-long trips this year! (one was for a vacation to Scandinavia with some girl friends and one was this past week in Vietnam with my husband). Both were awesome trips and I’m lucky I had the opportunity to travel internationally. One thing we did in 2015 that we didn’t do this year was spend a full week on the east coast- we only did 2 short weekend trips to Boston. That’s something I hope to change in 2017 as we miss our friends on the east coast, one of my best friends in Boston had a baby, and we have more friends who’ve moved to the east coast recently. So fair warning 🙂 I’m hoping for some NYC/Boston/Baltimore combos, maybe Philly and New Haven too. 🙂 I should at least work remotely more, if not take more time off (I only did maybe one or two days of working remotely this year).
- The not purple weekends: we stayed in town for 36 weekends or 70% of our weekends this year. I love looking at what we did those weekends because one of our goals this year was to spend more time exploring SF. We ended up falling in love with Fort Funston and taking our dog to the beach there almost every Saturday and Sunday. One thing we really love doing is hosting friends for brunch at our place (or eating at one of our go-to brunch spots) and then going for a walk on the beach at Fort Funson. I hope we continue to do that a lot in 2017 so please let me know if you’d like to join us. We also participated in fun San Francisco activities like the Treasure Island Flea, Stern Grove Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and watching the Blue Angels. Other frequent weekend activities included getting mani pedis with friends, hosting people at our place, and going out. We also attended life events including birthdays, weddings, baby showers, and funerals.
Overall, as I reflect on the year, I know it was a positive one. I was re-reading one of the few journal entries I wrote this year and it was all about how grateful I am for so many things I have going for me. I felt very lucky every morning when I woke up and every evening when I went to bed in 2016. At my birthday this year I gave a speech about it being my happiest year on record. I have lots of people as well as luck to thank for that. But did I meet my 2016 resolutions? Yes and no. My two big ones were to build healthy habits and to spend part of every Sunday setting weekly goals. I made progress on the healthy habits but as you’ll see the Sunday goal-setting fell through.
I bought into some health trends like 21 Day Fix (which I did in April- I loved the daily 30 minute workouts from home) and Whole 30 (which I did in May and again in December- I love how I have more energy when I do it). I also went running with my dog and on my own. I didn’t track my runs as regularly but I’m doing a 5k with my husband and sister next weekend so that’ll be a good way to kick off more running in 2017 🙂 One thing that I do miss is swimming. I swam a lot in summer 2015 because I was between jobs for a couple months and lived a mile away from a community pool. In 2016 I didn’t swim much at all– I wish the gym next to my office had a pool, that’s the only way I can imagine squeezing it in. In 2014 I trained for and finished a triathlon, and in 2015 I swam a lot over the summer, so I do feel the swimming gap in 2016 but I don’t see it closing in 2017 unfortunately.
My second New Years resolution was to dedicate part of every Sunday to planning my week. I used a very structured approach (surprise, surprise) where I had a 6×52 table where for every week I had goals in 6 categories (behavior, health, side project, managing my finances, foreign language, and happy marriage). I printed it out on a double sided 8.5×11 sheet of paper and kept it on my nightstand (yes, next to my 2016-at-a-glance). On Sundays I would fill in goals for some or all of the 6 categories to do that week (for example, behavior- practice active listening, health- 3 runs, side project- reach out to 3 people, finances- call bank, foreign language- 1 Chinese podcast, and happy marriage- plan a date night.) Then the following Sunday I had a color coded system (surprise, surprise) where I would check progress on each one as green (done), yellow (partially done), or red (not done). I actually did this every Sunday until June and then I stopped. It was too disheartening seeing all the reds and yellows and very few greens, even as I set fewer and fewer of the 6 goals each week. I learned an important lesson here about setting goals. The important thing isn’t to set the goal, the important thing is to schedule it into your calendar. This was my biggest mistake. In 2017 I plan to spend part of every Sunday not just setting goals for the week but actually scheduling them into my calendar. I know, it may sound obvious, but I missed that part last year. So we’ll see if that makes me more productive 🙂 And yes I think that scheduling these into my calendar will impact the 74% of my days that I spend socializing, which will be difficult for me (I just love getting together with friends… can’t help it). If a friend is free for a drink, I’ve never been one to say “I can’t, I actually need to call my bank”- I’m always one to postpone that kind of thing. So it’ll be interesting to see where the chips fall in 2017.
Within those 6 categories, I should mention that even though I stopped setting goals for each one mid year, I made more progress on some than others. I already mentioned the health category. The behavior category I also made progress in, primarily in being a better listener (this is something that will continue to be a focus for me in 2017). I have read several books about active listening this year (I highly recommend Never Split The Difference which seems like a negotiation tactic book but is actually all about how to handle difficult conversations- one of my new favorite topics to read and think about). I have been a longtime fan of the concept of active listening but this year I was more intentional about it than ever before (see this blog post I wrote earlier this year after I tried doing it for a week at work- Active Listening at a Tech Startup).
The side project category is the one I’m most disappointed in my progress this year. When I look at my 2016-at-a-glance, I notice that the first four months of the year I went to Code for San Francisco and worked on my side project most Wednesdays. This petered out over the summer after the National Day of Civic Hacking in early June (an annual hackathon hosted by Code for America at chapters across the US). There were a few reasons (excuses) for this, including end of summer and early fall being the busy season at work, and joining the board of a charter school in Oakland where monthly board meetings are on Wednesdays. But the real reason is the core problem of setting goals instead of action plans (calendaring them in). My socializing got in the way of achieving my stated objectives. I did work on a side project at work that I demoed at our hackathon in October (a video of students around the world answering the same question). Related to any side project I take on is an interest in video, and I’m really proud of the fact that I got back into stop motion animation this year and made a few videos (here’s a 30 second happy spring video using my work mascot and the first in a series I’m working on of animating my favorite quotes). I’m looking forward to being more focused and productive in 2017, with a side project that combines my longtime interests in education and video, and more recent interest in journalism. That’ll be Julia’s contribution to making the world a better place.
In terms of the last 3 categories- managing my finances, foreign language, and happy marriage- I am at the same place where I was last year- need to spend more time on finances, haven’t really prioritized practicing a foreign language, and still happily married. I’m looking forward to my new Sunday calendaring to help my finances and my marriage, but I have removed foreign language from my weekly planning (I still love speaking and learning foreign languages but I’m deprioritizing it for 2017).
I just printed out my year-at-a-glance calendar for 2017. What will this year hold? It’s empowering to think that how these white spaces are filled is entirely in my control (barring unforeseen circumstances). I love seeing 52 blank rows. Here is how I’m thinking of color coding this year:
- Keeping the colors for friends, coworkers, family, and days I’m out of town.
- A color for days I have my 2 extracurricular responsibilities (monthly board meeting for the charter school in Oakland, and I’m starting a new gig as a facilitator for a Women in Management group at the Stanford Graduate School of Business).
- A color for days or evenings I dedicate to my side project.
I have several New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, some of which are behavioral and some of which I plan to include in the Sunday calendaring. (Making time to calendar my action items every Sunday is the first thing I should put in the calendar.) Some of the action items will be reflected in the 2017-at-a-glance (like time spent on side projects) but some of them won’t be (like healthy habits). Rather than having a set number of categories that I calendar every week, every Sunday I will add to my calendar for the week, selecting what I think is important that week from a list of categories (cleaning, cooking, running, finances, photo albums, writing, learning, side projects to save the world, the usual).
I’m looking forward to seeing the 2017-at-a-glance fill with spending time with people I care about and making progress toward my goals. In the meantime, here’s a photo from Fort Funston this morning. Happy New Year!