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.
- What worked for me last year?
- 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:
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.
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.