2016 Year in Review (and 50+ Rules to Live by in 2017)

Around the same time last year I wrote the review post for 2015. But if you even try to go back and find it, you won’t.

I didn’t publish it. I couldn’t publish it.

I meant to, but I couldn’t.

It was full of my mistakes. Mistakes I felt you would unfriend me for.

So I kept it and it is still in the draft folder today.

This year, I’m OK with showing you my mistakes. I’m OK with you unfriending me because of that too.

So let’s start with that.

The Mistakes I Am Too Embarrassed to Talk About

2016 kick off with events that I would rather not repeat.

#1 I was unclear about my role in a business partnership. At the beginning when things were exciting I forgot to talk about our roles. This led to not having enough accountability and ownership to specific parts of the project. Lesson: Talk about your roles before getting too excited to start.

#2 I spent too little time with my friends. 2016 marked the lowest number of hours spent with friends in the last five years. I haven’t seen some of my friends in more than a year! Lesson: If you do not prioritize friendships, you will never have time for them. Make plans with your friends early and commit.

#3 I did not take a single leisure trip. This one got me by surprise. I never saw myself as someone who would go a whole year without traveling (for leisure) but it happened! 2016 is the first time in perhaps 8 years that I did not take a single leisure trip. Lesson: Again, the lesson here is about priority and planning. If you do not plan your leisure trips it will not happen.

#4 I was too unfocused. I said ‘yes’ more times than I said ‘no’. My plate was full even when I could not swallow anymore. Having too much to do was also the reason for #2 and #3. Though I was ‘busy’, I have only accomplished a few things in 2016. Lesson: Saying yes too often is unproductive. You must now commit to saying No to 99% of requests.

#5 I worked too many hours. This is the repercussion of #4 – saying yes to too many things. Lesson: The less you say yes to, the less you have to ‘work’.

Now, the good

In spite of the mistakes, 2016 has been more of a good year than a bad one.

#1 (the best) I helped my mom set up a business and she found herself again. For 10 years before that, my mother suffered mental instability. No one could have a proper conversation with her without her shouting at them. This year, my mom recovered. We can finally talk like normal again. Seeing my mom get back on her feet again was my best reward of 2016.

#2 I flew 50% less. I took 70+ flights in 2015. While not much compared to some people I know, flying almost 300hours felt exhausting to me. So I decided to travel less in 2016. This year I took only half the number of flights as I did the previous year. I felt more refreshed.

#3 I wrote and read more. The biggest benefit of flying less is having more time to write and read. This year I published 2X more posts and read 1.5X more books than 2016. I am finishing 2016 with more than 50+ books read compared to last year’s 30+ books.

#4 I exercised more. It used to be difficult to build routines with so much travel. So I was glad that I was able to finally build exercise routines into my days. Now I manage to work out between 3-5X a week, which is an improvement from the 1-2X a week in 2015.

#5 I picked up my old hobby: doodling. Unbeknownst to even my closest friends, my first craft was not writing but drawing. I started drawing much earlier than I started writing. I gave it up as a teenager to focus on my studies. I am happy that I could pick it up again this year.

(below is the first doodle I posted on Facebook)

#6 I feel more like myself. In 2016, I left the engineering world altogether. I quit my job as an engineer and abandoned my plans to start an engineering firm. To my friends, I threw away my entire STEM education and four years of specialized experience. ‘What a waste,’ they said. To me, life is too short to stick to a decision you no longer believe in. I no longer believed engineering could fulfill me, so I left. I don’t want to be old one day and say, ‘I wish I had been brave enough to do what I wanted, and not be bound by social expectations of me.’

#7 I improved my business skills. Details are too long and boring to be included in this post. I will leave this for another post.

#8 I spent more time with my family. 2016 was the year I spent the most time with my family in the last 15 years. Since I was traveling less and working in a business with my family, I spent more time with my family than anyone else this year.

#9 I found an accountability partner. I have been looking for an accountability partner to keep me on track for two years. As luck would have it this year, I found Wayne. Wayne runs Kuaby, a site with travel guides. Since we started being each other’s accountability partner, my SEO traffic to Entrepreneur Campfire has gone up 400%!

#10 I improved my financial literacy. One big problem I have is that I am not a good manager of my own money. So at the tail end of 2016, I decided to get better at managing my own money. I spent a lot of time learning about money psychology, budgets and investing.

#11 I managed to get my anxiety under control. Thanks to a few events that happened in 2016, I feel more in control of my anxieties. I can’t say I don’t have anxieties anymore but I know what to do with them better. This has helped my relationships as well.

The Plan for 2017

I am pretty excited about 2017, but I have decided this year to talk less about the plans I have.

I learned that too much talk about a project can give you enough satisfaction to not do it at all. I know, I know – the advice used to be that public announcements kept you accountable.

I’ve tried that. This time, I want to try something new: to be quiet about my plans.

You will hear of it from time to time but it’s not going to be laid out like a blueprint.

So that’s it!

That’s my 2016 review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. I found it calming to write.

But before I go, I want to share my ‘Rules for living’ with you. These rules are heuristics for living that I think would improve my life.

I can’t say I apply them 100% of the time, but I feel better when I do.

So here we go:

50+ Rules for 2017

Rules I have used and want to continue using

These are rules I have had since before 2016:

Do the most important things first thing in the morning. That is when your willpower is the highest. You will most likely get it done if you do it in the morning.

Don’t keep doing something you hate just because you are good at it. It is possible to work on something you both love and are good at. In fact, you will get more done doing the latter than the former. Don’t let other people convince you otherwise (especially miserable people).

Complete your existing projects before going to the next one. Complete projects are worth more than incomplete ones. If you have too many incomplete projects, it is time to do an audit.

Read at least one chapter from a book every day. Reading refines your thinking. A good thinker makes a good conversationalist and leader.

You are what you do every day. If your daily habits don’t serve your goals, it is time to change them.

Accept that bad things will happen. Don’t waste energy on getting angry with people when they make mistakes. Conserve that energy and direct it into your life’s projects. You will need it.

Work with people who respect your work. This way you will not waste half your time fire-fighting. You can instead spend all your time creating valuable work.

Never lead using authority or title. Leaders who lead this way create disloyal and resentful followers. Instead, be a natural leader and your followers will come even when you have no authority or title. They will come because they know you have their interest at heart.

Do not allow other people to tell you who you are, even if you respect them. You know best who you are. What other people have is their own perception of you. Ignore it and live according to your own natural inclinations.

When a person does something you don’t like, tell them. Be confrontational so you don’t hide secrets from people. At the same time, don’t expect other people to guess what you need. This way, you can get what you want and make your relationships strong.

Take time to review your plans and change them from time to time. No plan is ever fixed. Take time to review your plans and adapt them to the changes that have materialized.

Be open to meeting people from all walks of life. Talk to people from industries different from you. You will learn a lot. Sometimes you can even come up with new ideas nobody else in your industry has thought of!

Build your board of mentors. The only way to get better is to have someone who is already good tell you what you are doing wrong. Mentors can help you grow at the speed of light!

Be coachable and people will be willing to teach you everything they know. 99% of people want to help other people improve. The only problem is 99% of people are also non-coachable. This means they are unable to accept their own mistakes and the guidance on how to make improvements. Don’t be this person. Accept your errors and be open to changing yourself. You will make giant leaps if you do so.

If you want it, ask for it. No matter what it is you want, you must ask for it. Never expect it to land in your laps. Those who ask will get it.

Don’t have too many meetings. Meetings are a waste of time when there are more than three people in the room. When there are more than three people, call it an announcement (since only three people will talk and the rest will be forced to listen). Never join these meetings if you are not one of the three people will talk.

Don’t start meetings with more than five people. Unless you give everyone an opportunity to talk and be listened to. Otherwise, consider sending them an email. They have better things to do than sit passively in a meeting.

Don’t recline your seats in airplanes (especially budget ones). Flights are uncomfortable as it is. Don’t do this. The passenger behind you will thank you for that.

Look at people, not your phone, when you are talking to them. The notifications can wait.

Don’t join a non-profit if you can’t afford it. Especially if you are working as a volunteer. If the job doesn’t pay your bills, get a new one. Get it fast.

Don’t send angry emails or text. Text or email are the worst mediums to talk about important issues. If you are angry with someone, talk to them face to face about it. Or let it go. Having an argument over text or email is never worth it.

Don’t say hurtful things when you are angry. What you say won’t make sense and you will hurt people. Instead, keep quiet until your mind is clear from emotions. Then formulate your arguments using logic and rationale without attacking the other person. It may feel right in the moment but you will regret what you say soon enough.

When people ask, ‘How have you been?’ Never reply, ‘Busy’. If ‘Busy’ is your default answer to ‘How are you?’, you will always be busy. Instead, highlight the details of what you have done without using the word ‘busy’ or its equivalent.

Don’t measure your work output using the number of hours you have worked. Hours worked are meaningless. Instead, measure it using the number of important work you have produced.

Take time to review your progress and plans. It will give you an idea of whether you are going in the right direction. If you don’t do this, you might end up nowhere near you want to be even if you work hard. As one of my mentors once told me, ‘If you do not know where you are headed, it is pointless to work hard. You will end up nowhere.’

Give your full and sincere support to everyone who has decided to make a change in their life. Never say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were capable of that.’ Say, ‘That is wonderful. I am confident you will make good progress with your conviction.’

If you have to start your sentence with, ‘No offense but…’ then don’t say it. It is offensive, and you know it.

Set boundaries for yourself. This way you will only allow people who respect you into your life. You might lose a few friends, but what matters more is that the best ones remain. You waste less time on heartbreak, fights and uncertainty when you surround yourself with people who share the same values with you.

Listen when someone speaks. Anyone. Not only ‘important’ people. Listen with your entire self. Don’t allow your mind to get distracted by other thoughts. The person talking to you can tell when you are distracted.

Do not take advantage of people, even if you have the opportunity to do so. 

Utility: automate all the processes that can be automated so you can spend more time on activities that can’t. You can automate your bill payment, but you can’t automate a dinner with your family. Let robots do what they are best at so you can do what humans do best.

Get used to the pain of discipline. No matter what it is you want to get done – be fit, earn more, be more influential – it takes hard work. There are no short-cuts that will help you avoid the pain of discipline.

Train your mind to be more positive than negative. When the train breaks down on your way to work, don’t complain about it. With that downtime you can read, or talk to people around you. Whatever the situation, believe that you can find a positive in it.

Change what you don’t like. Don’t just complain about it. Instead of complaining about something you don’t like, do something to change it. Instead of complaining about someone you don’t like, confront that person

Stop using your government, your boss, your parents, your clients, your customers, your wife, your husband… as a reason why your life is bad. Your life is bad because you made it that way. Choose to believe that you have in your hands the power to remove anything you don’t like and to add anything you like into your life.

When you look at a successful person, don’t think, ‘They were lucky. My situation is different’, ‘They were at the right place at the right time’, ‘Their market is easy to conquer. Mine is complex’, ‘They were early. I am late’. Instead, think, ‘What am I doing right now that is preventing me from getting to where they are?’ and make changes to your life so you create the future you want to be in.

Explore widely. Go into genres and industries no one else in your industry or vocation looks into. There you will find gems that will improve your thinking.

Do not mistake admiration for true greatness. When people admire you it is because they hope to achieve something you have already achieved.

Live minimally. Reduce clutter from your life. This includes physical clutter, emotional clutter and digital clutter. Clutter sucks energy which you can divert into worthwhile pursuits.

Never tie your self-worth with material objects. Material objects can only make you happy for a moment. If that moment does not last long enough to justify the cost of obtaining it, don’t buy it.

Don’t make people feel stupid. Don’t say, ‘Oh, you didn’t know this?’, or variations of this question. Even if a fact appears well-known, do not act surprised.

Don’t humblebrag. Brag, or don’t brag. But don’t humblebrag.

Use a long-term view to make decisions. Ask yourself, ‘Will this decision make sense 10 years, 20 years or 30 years from today?’

New rules

These are rules I added to my list in 2016.

Trust action and results more than talent and wit. A clever person who does nothing will achieve a fraction of an average person who takes daily action. Wit may be impressive, but completely useless if not paired with action.

Do not believe in the appearance of success. Many young people want success so much that they begin to believe that ‘what looks like it, must be it.’ So much so they spend their time and money to get things that don’t matter. Measure your success based on real goals. For business, real success is when you achieve a growth or sales target. For

Don’t believe the great things people say about you. As you succeed in life, many people will give you praise. Don’t use their praise as a measurement of your worth. Because if you do, one day you will suffer if they say you are horrible.

Have a cut-off time for work. Having a cut-off time will force you to finish all your work within a set amount of hours. This way you will be more efficient with your time and procrastinate less. It also prevents you from burning out. A burned out mind is a lousy one you must avoid.

It is not enough to know how to make money. To be affluent, you need to know how to handle your finances. The millionaires know where every cent of their money is coming from and going into. If you are careless in finance, you will always be scraping by no matter how much you earn.

Always have good will for others. Think: will this action or decision harm them? Even your biggest enemies deserve kindness. If you can help it, treat them well and be thoughtful.

If you have already said ‘Yes’ to one big project, say ‘No’ to everything else. You don’t have the time to do everything without sacrificing your family and health.

Only listen to the advice from people who have accomplished what you plan to accomplish. Anyone can talk about big plans they have and how they plan to get it done. But unless they have accomplished what they set out to do, their speeches can only be treated as inspiration. For advice that works, seek mentorship from people who have gone from A to Z.

Plan week-long breaks every 3 months. Too much play and no work can feel like a waste of time. But too much work and no play can burn you out and make you a dull person. So it is good to develop a balance of work and play. This way you neither waste time or become dull.

You don’t always have to make money from your art. Sometimes when you try too hard to make money from art, you butcher the art and become its slave. Art is meant to be enjoyed, so do it when you make money from it and do it when you don’t.

Learn to love yourself and enjoy your own company. When you can enjoy time alone, you attract the right people into your life. This way, every person in your life is there for a reason, not because you are lonely.

Don’t argue with everyone who disagrees with you. Before you argue, ask yourself if winning the argument helps you (most of the time, it does not). If not, agree to disagree and move on. This way, you avoid unnecessary arguments and conserve your energy instead for pursuits that are aligned with your personal goals.

Let people have their own opinion about you. Even if their opinion about you does not align with your opinion of yourself, don’t correct them. Opinions are formed from varied world views. To correct a person is to make them feel stupid. Let them be.

Take the smallest credit in any success you obtain in life. Most of the time, most of the credit belong to the people who have helped you along the way.

Be quiet in helping people. Keep the favor between two people: you and the person you have helped. Talking about it in public irritates people.

When you hang out with people, have fun. Enjoy yourself and other people will feel more relaxed around you.

Conclusion

2016 ended well even though it started badly. I focused most of my attention on building my businesses. Some areas of my business have been profitable while still many areas need a lot more work. Though so, I am determined to create a better work-life balance (whatever it may mean) for 2017.

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