What worked for me in 2020

I love to do a little bit of reflection at year’s end, but I don’t make it complicated. Around my house we’ve been using the same two questions for years to help us take stock of the year gone by.

They are:

  1. What worked for me last year?
  2. What didn’t?

Today I’m sharing a few of the things (from significant to shallow) that worked for me in 2020. (I’ll share my list of what didn’t work in the newsletter, same as last year, and the year before that. Sign up here if you’re not on the list.)

Much is unchanged since last year; plenty of things from my 2019 list of what worked  (and even my 2018 list!) are still working for me. (Though does it hurt to review last year’s list and see #4 was “in-person time?” Yes. Yes it does.)

These are my new (or new again) 2020 additions:

decaf coffee

1. Persuading Will to join Team Decaf. It’s been almost ten years since I lost my caffeine tolerance, seemingly overnight. Since then, Will and I have brewed up separate cups each morning, using a variety of manual methods. This has been our go-to for many years: it doesn’t take a ton of work or time, but it certainly takes more than an automatic method.

But then the pandemic hit, and suddenly we were always home—and always brewing our own coffee, all day long. (I didn’t realize how often I had meetings and work sessions in coffee shops until that option disappeared.) Because of this, we decided to splurge on this coffee maker. Brewing coffee was suddenly so much easier, but of course you magnify the ease when you brew for two instead of one at a time.

And just like that, Will decided to switch to decaf. I never thought this day would come, but I love it.

2. Working out, getting out. When covid first hit, I was surprised at how quickly I got a lot more sedentary—and my body responded poorly to all the sitting I was now doing. Once I realized what I was doing wrong, I could course-correct, and both getting outside and working out while there have been top priorities ever since. (In May, I also realized that working out was a great way for this introvert to get precious, no-guilt alone time, and that greatly increased my interest in exercise!)

This looks like walking Daisy every day, running by myself or sometimes with my son, and occasional long (distanced) walks with friends. (Few things feel better to me than 7 brisk miles before breakfast.) We’ve also been heading to our urban parks for longer weekend hikes more regularly.

A bonus of all this movement: I’ve listened to a gazillion audiobooks this year. (These are my favorite audiobooks of 2020.) Wireless headphones really helped: I’ve had these running headphones for a few years, and I’m surprised at how much I love the basic AirPods I got this summer.

3. Bookish digital magazines. This year I got to play with a creative project in a new medium: we published three digital magazines for our What Should I Read Next supporters and MMD Book Club members. In a year that constantly found new ways to be exhausting, tinkering with content, layout, and design was a refreshing change of pace—and it was extra-fun to print mine out so I could hold it in my hands.

(Our basic Summer Reading Guide is free and available to all: click here for the digital magazine, and click here for more info about the 2020 guide.)

4. Paying for news. We paid for more news (and other journalism) this year than we ever have before, to sources like The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, our local paper, and our local independent media, plus Patreon creators like Pantsuit Politics. We finally decided to do this because of #12 below, and because paywalls are a real nuisance.

This year I’ve also held to a firm news routine (to protect me from doomscrolling): I review email newsletters The Skimm and The Dispatch in the morning, and my state’s daily covid update late afternoon. It feels like enough, but not too much.

We also ponied up for a New York Times Cooking subscription based on a friend’s suggestion and I love it. They have enough recipes that I can always find what I’m looking for—which means when we’re deciding what’s for dinner we never need more than one source.

5. Camping. In a year where travel plans were canceled and we couldn’t go anywhere, we went to the woods—a lot. Some trips were just family, some with friends. We’ve enjoyed camping for years now, but that was true in a whole new way this year.

6. Talking about it. 2020 was hard in many ways, most of which were out of my control. I made a conscious decision early on to talk about the hard stuff with a few trusted friends, even when it felt awkward, because I knew the stress of the alternative—that is, bottling it up inside—was untenable. It was, and continues to be, a good call.

7. Special Sunday breakfast. This new ritual began in an effort to increase the appeal of online church, but we quickly came to love it for its own sake. We vary our menu from week to week, depending on our moods, energy levels, and what happens to be in the fridge: we’ve baked breads and muffins and cakes, picked up a dozen bagels and spreads, cooked up quiches and chilaquiles. But we all look forward to something indulgent and out of the ordinary these weekend mornings.

8. Small projects. I have taken such joy this year in tiny projects like organizing my journaling supplies, reconfiguring my spice drawer, and cleaning off the “scratches” on my farmhouse sink. When everything feels out of my control, controlling the tiny things I can has brought a ridiculous amount of satisfaction.

9. The front porch. We’ve logged more hours here than ever before, whether visiting friends six feet apart, reading and drinking coffee in the early morning during our summer staycation, or just sitting on the swing like we do in our everyday life.

10. The dinner hour. From March on, we had very close to zero afternoon and evening plans—and were thus able to routinize our family dinners to an extent we haven’t seen in years. This year we’ve made a bigger deal of the dinner hour, paying more attention to what we’re having and putting a little more love into preparing it. And unless someone has evening plans (which 90% of the time looks like a virtual book event for me), we eat at the same time—earlier than we used to, so we can enjoy a longer evening. It’s been a lovely, comforting ritual.

11. Puzzles, of the jigsaw and crossword variety. I’ve always loved jigsaw puzzles, but usually they’re confined to the winter months and the occasional beach puzzle. This year there was no beach, but when the weather warmed up we never put the puzzles away. We’ve worked so many fun ones! (I share lots of favorite puzzles here, and more recent 2020 favorites here.)

I also enjoy doing the crossword on the weekends, but this year it’s become an everyday thing. When the pandemic hit I signed up for a New York Times games subscription and it’s definitely in the running for the best money I’ve spent all year.

On a related note, we finally got a wireless printer to replace the 20-year-old behemoth whose performance had gotten spottier and spottier, and it brings me an inordinate amount of joy to print the puzzle from my phone each morning and set it up on the kitchen island with a sharpened pencil so we can all take a stab at it.

12. Values-driven decision making. This saved me in 2020. I was able to articulate and internalize this thanks to writing Don’t Overthink It. Then I purposefully applied this lens to the myriad tough decisions 2020 required making them a million times easier, if no less unpleasant—beginning with canceling my book tour, and carrying on through decisions both professional and personal all summer and fall.

It’s not foolproof, but it’s not an exaggeration to say learning to think this way has changed my life, and lightened some of the stress in an incredibly stressful year. (Luckily, you don’t have to write a book yourself to benefit: it’s all in chapter 4.)

I’d love to hear what worked for YOU in 2020, and what didn’t, and why. Tell us all about it in comments.

P.S. I’ll be sharing what DIDN’T work for me in 2020 in the newsletter this weekend. Click here to make sure you’re on the list.


Leave A Comment
  1. Edie says:

    My husband bought me a NYT Cooking subscription this year. Love it! Ali Slagle’s Crisp Gnocchi with Brussel Sprouts and Brown Butter are worth the cost of the subscription. Yum.

  2. Susan says:

    I started asking my family to join me on walks when everyone was home March-May, and we’ve continued to take walks together, albeit in a more spotty fashion. It’s the only time I have my adult daughter or husband’s undivided attention, and I love it.

  3. patricia says:

    Walking 10,00+ steps per day. We’ve sought out city walks where we can safely social distance (along with masks). Our old standby was just too popular and too crowded. We found one walk that ends on the beach and we can sometimes see and hear seals off shore barking and swimming.
    We’ve gone on lots of long drives to nowhere just to get safely out of our apartment building.
    I’ve learned how to zoom and did reading with my 8 yr old granddaughter. We did a family zoom the day after Thanksgiving. We’re zooming with friends New Year’s Eve … I may be in my pjs, but we’ll be there.
    I organized every closet in our apartment including the basement storage locker. I was very glad when Goodwill started taking donations again.

  4. Jen says:

    What wasn’t working for me was stressing over uncomfortable pants and feeling shame about my body. What DID work for me was starting to follow several body-positive people on Instagram and learning to treat myself with kindness. You know what else worked? Buying new pants! 😉

    • Nancy says:

      Can Jen or any one else share some body positive blogs/instagram accounts please?

      Zoom helps me feel connected to others but not with large groups…our bookclub zooms now and it is a bit stressful to have 8-10 people on the screen all at once. I do better with no more than 2-3 people at a time. Even in actual life…I am more comfortable in small groups. Texting with a few friends about nothing imp. has helped too…just to have human contact. Libraries have been a great resource for books, interesting zoom presentations, etc. Have listened to many podcasts as I drove around just to get out of the house and see a change of scenery.

    • Theresa says:

      Your post made me smile. Thank you! I too am working on how to treat myself with kindness. I recently read Buy Yourself the F***king Lillies by Tara Schuster and it gave me some great ideas. I started exercising with the intention of moving my body and not for losing weight.

  5. Jen says:

    I work for an online, nonprofit news publication and LOVE seeing “paying for news” on your list. Seriously, you get what you pay for. I just started envisioning a ‘What should I read next?’ for news… You like WFPL, the New Yorker and WaPo… I recommend Scalawag!

  6. Judy says:

    Lots of good hints here, however you your reading newspapers are a bit one
    sided. Have you tried The Epoch Times? I thinks healthy to read broadly. It’s
    certainly not all political and has covered all aspects of life. You might enjoy
    the cooking and recipes. We have certainly enjoyed broadening our reading.
    Highly recommend!

    • Mari says:

      I will be checking out the Epoch Times. I enjoy The Federalist. And it has a daily newsletter -BRIGHT. BRIGHT was created because the writers were fed up with the liberal slant of the The Skim. Has lifestyle picks and often book recs. Also Verily Mag gives a news roundup every Friday. There is a pay option there as well. Will often recommend books and playlists and other cultural things. Glad there are other options out there.

    • Diane says:

      I agree with that advice. One of our problems in this country is that people rely on one side and each side seems to get more and more biased. I read from or watch from both sides do my own research and then make a conclusion.

    • Nancy says:

      As a former professional journalist of 20+ years, I second the idea to search out various sources of news. I read the NYT and Washington Post daily and also check in on Fox and NewsMax. It’s been fascinating to compare the coverage – the biggest difference I’ve seen lately is how much the NYT and Washington Post focus on the impact of the coronavirus while Fox and NewsMax focus on Trump and his attempts to overturn the election (with varying degrees of reporting his losses in the courts).

      With that said, however, I encourage folks to understand how their news sources are funded and operate. The Epoch Times, for example, fully admits that it is catering to a certain point of view – essentially what “legacy media outlets are ignoring” and particularly “credible allegations of election fraud.” Whether you agree or disagree with a particular news outlet’s viewpoints, it’s important to know what they are.

    • Anne says:

      I’m all for broadening my reading! I value ideological diversity that adheres to strong journalistic standards, which is why my subscriptions include more conservative sources like The Dispatch and more progressive sources like The Skimm.

    • Pat says:

      I would also recommend the Wall Street Journal for some balance as well. The book review section in the Saturday/Sunday issue is excellent.

    • Anne says:

      I would also like to recommend AllSides.com. They put 3 different headlines from right, center and left sources for each story so you can see the different perspectives. I also really like SmartHerNews.com, she usually waits a beat and watches stories before she reports on them. She also gives context which I find lacking in a lot of news sources. While we know all news sources are biased because humans are biased, I find Jenna to do the best at reporting the facts.

  7. Angela says:

    Daily yoga, walks in the woods several times a week, lots of reading, minimizing decision fatigue, and deciding what I will and will not do (eg not eating in restaurants and avoiding group events) and sticking to it

  8. Caroline says:

    I too subscribed to the NYT puzzles after reading about it here and I look forward to some alone time with the crossword most days!

    • Amanda Espinoza says:

      Same. I love my NYT puzzle subscription. I do use “check puzzle” feature, but I still feel accomplished when I finish a puzzle. I love the puns and ahah moments while solving.

  9. Janna says:

    I purchased a “priority planner” from May Designs with pre-printed categories, including a space to write one thing you are excited about and one thing you are stressed about, along with space for the top 5 priorities for your day. There is also a space for scheduling your day from 7am to 10pm. Filling this in each morning (or the evening before) gave structure to my days that I sorely needed. I love the May Designs planner (I have ordered several more), but you could easily make your own in a notebook. I could never find a seat on the bullet journal train; this seems to be a good alternative!

  10. Susan says:

    Some semblence of routine has always worked in my favour, and in 2020 this became key. Small things in my own daily life that are under my own control when the world around me is all over the place. Also helps as my family grows and changes (ex. sons leaving for university). Two things in particular: 1-morning exercise; 2-a tea regime: green tea midmorning, black tea midaftenoon, caffeine free tea midevening.

  11. Kate says:

    Making Sunday nights special with pizza and an episode of “The Chosen” really worked. We had to go grain free a few years ago so finding a grain free pizza recipe was a Godsend and watching The Chosen really helped when we couldn’t go to church!

  12. Alan says:

    I kept up WSJ and NY Times as well as Washington Post and also did the nightly COVID count check. Although I don’t watch all of it, I record PBS Newshour and watch which I didn’t before election year.

    Don’t check Facebook often and don’t use other social media. Don’t watch talk shows or much news.

    I have always used audiobooks and kept it up, as well as reading more ebooks. My The house was filling up with bound books and library stopped taking donations.

    Gym closed and classes were suspended, I added 16, 20 and 24 kg kettlebells, a vibration plate, bands and a skierg to home. I follow some coaches on YouTube and log my work. Do qigong and tai chi meditation daily.

    I joined Osher and did two philosophy classes on Zoom, with another starting soon.

    Used Greatcourses Plus.

    I had been cooking dinners and that didn’t change. Overall my weight dropped 30 pounds in 2020.

  13. Nancy says:

    Subscribing to the New York Times and the NYT puzzles was a great decision for me, too. I love the Spelling Bee and Tiles. Both are short and sweet. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to try the big crossword yet. I’m considering NYT recipes, but I’m afraid I won’t actually use them enough to justify the price.

  14. Rita says:

    I like this reflection. We also began a Sunday breakfast tradition after online church. We also do a daily exercise video. And this may be the year to begin paying for news. Right now I’m going to my journal to record what worked for me in this crazy year. Thanks!

  15. Ginger says:

    We still get an actual, physical New York Times paper (I know! #old), and it’s only in the last three weeks it’s occurred to me that they print five dinners every week in the Sunday edition, I cook about five times every week, and I do my meal planning on Sundays.

    Voila! We’ve just been eating what the NYT tells us to eat lately and it’s been so creative yet easy, stretching our repertoire while taking all the stress out of “what’s for dinner.”

  16. Jackie says:

    Since we weren’t going anywhere this year, my husband and I spent a lot of time on our lawn, flowers and vegetable garden. It was so rewarding to just look out the window and see the beautiful colors. I made dill pickles successfully for the first time from our bumper crop of pickling cukes which were a pretty big hit with the family. I tried to spend every other morning before it got too hot harvesting whatever happened to be available. The other mornings were spent weeding, staking, fertilizing, etc. Looking forward to next Spring to start the process all over again!

  17. Becky Strom says:

    I have done more cooking of new recipes (and I’ve never been very interested in cooking), found a new cinnamon roll recipe, canned a wee bit, stayed connected to friends. I’ve also begun a writing campaign-sending short notes of appreciation to various people by snail mail. I spent more time in my garden by my water-fall. It has been made more difficult because of the death of a dear life-long friend and my only sibling, who I had the difficult role of medical power of attorney. Of course, reading brings delight no matter what year it is and I look for beauty.

  18. Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing—I’m going back through the post and comments later and taking notes.
    There are other things that worked for me this year, but my fellow puzzlers just reminded me—I discovered The Washington Post crossword feature that allows you to work a puzzle with a friend. It was a good time to add a social component to an activity I already enjoyed.

  19. Laurie says:

    Janna wrote that a “priority planner” has been helpful to her. I have discovered the Monk Manual as a way to balance being and doing and keep me from being overwhelmed by my overachiever tendencies. I’m on my fourth one (each lasts three months unless I skip days; you can start and stop and pick back up easily within the same MM) and find myself looking forward to bookending my day with it–noting what I am grateful for as I start my day and what I am grateful for at day’s end. Plus the “I felt unrest when” and “ways I will improve tomorrow” have been quite revealing.

  20. Julia says:

    Don’t Overthink It…Chapter 4!!! YES!!!! I enjoyed the entire book but reflecting and writing out my responses to Chapter 4’s Next Steps, to Decide What Matters was transformative. My notes have become a Bullet Journal collection for 2021. Thanks, Anne!

    • Jackie says:

      @Aimee – Do you have a wireless printer? My phone automatically finds mine when I select the print option. Maybe someone with more tech knowledge can explain it better.

  21. Lynne says:

    Great Courses online. I am doing the drawing one and the writing fiction one. Have done others in the past.
    I too like reading the news from different perspectives. I highly recommend the non-partisan Christian Science Monitor!

  22. Kelly Gresh says:

    I really enjoyed paint by number kits this year… I’m on my third one now. I have no artistic talent, but I couldn’t get into jigsaws because I couldn’t see just breaking them up when I was done. I did a beautiful tree of life, which was hard but it really kept me focused for a couple months and it turned out so well I framed it for my bedroom. Then I uploaded a picture of my dog and did another one that turned out so good I hung it in my office. I’m on my third one now and though it’s probably not something I’ll pay all that money to frame and hang, it might end up on the wall of my garage in just canvas form. It indulges my creative need even though i’m not that talented but things still come out great. I was a reading tutor at a private school and elected not to teach this year because of the pandemic. So I had a lot of extra time on my hands and had to stay out of my husbands way because he already worked from home.

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