Retrospective for 2020

For many of the past years I’ve written a retrospective (2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010) or look ahead (2019, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010) post to walk through my goals.  2020 was a year unlike many others but I’ve been reflecting on what this year has meant to me, my family, and my career. Thanks again to my mentor Sean McDonough for encouraging me to get this written as I hadn’t written a looking ahead post at the start of the year.

Retrospective

2020 brought a number of changes to my life. I accepted a position with the newly created Microsoft Graph Customer and Partner Experience (CPx) team (link), my oldest daughter started kindergarten, and the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many of us work / travel / live our lives.

Through all of the changes there have been a few constants though. Earlier this year I published a newsletter / post about “Positivity through uncertainty“. That theme continues in this post. As mentioned in a recent Twitter thread (link) I have been reflecting on my 2020 year. The #1 feeling I have is “being thankful”. I am thankful for:

  • my family is in good health
  • I have a great job that allows me to provide for my family
  • my team and company are extremely supportive and inspire me to share my best
  • my kids are each showing an early interest in different areas and my wife and I are working to encourage them on those
  • I’ve been keeping up with my monthly personal retrospectives for almost 3 years

Yes, living through this pandemic has added additional stresses to daily life, myself included. In response to that there are some activities that I have started or been keeping up to reduce or negate those stresses. Here are a few I recommend you look into if you aren’t already doing them.

Check-in with others regularly

Take the time to check in with family, teammates, neighbors, etc. on a regular basis. It can be a simple “how are you doing today?” or you can dig deeper. With my new teammates I try to have at least 15-25 mins every 2-3 weeks (separate from regular team meetings) to see how they are doing. Think all-inclusively of work, personal life, career progression, and more.

Know how to recharge yourself

Back when I delivered all-day workshops to customers 2-5 days in a single week I learned quickly that those sessions can easily drain your personal energy level, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. Working remotely, being on video calls for hours a day, and attending to multiple family duties can also be just as draining. It is important that you find things that can “recharge your batteries”.

During the first half of this year I started to spend more time on video games, TV shows, and other “mindless” activities. The thing with all of those activities is that while they may help pass the time, they didn’t truly re-energize me or give me new inspiration.

The things that really give me energy are sharing out my knowledge / experience and giving other people a platform to share their own voice. Knowing this I try to find projects in my job or personal life that help me to do more of those types of things. A recent example is starting up the Microsoft Graph Mailbag blog series.

Focus on the important

You may have seen a diagram such as the below illustrating importance and urgency on separate axes.

Throughout my life I have tried to focus on the more important + urgent things in life and work, but I feel like 2020 pushed me more on this topic in all of the quadrants. I recommend using the preceding diagram (or something similar) to help guide you in taking an inventory of the things that you are currently working on and divide them up into the respective categories. This can help you focus on the “obvious priorities” while taking the appropriate actions with the others.

For another take on the prioritization aspects of life, read the story (there are many adaptations, this is just one) about the “big rocks of life” here: http://appleseeds.org/Big-Rocks_Covey.htm

The power of music

On multiple occasions over the past year music has been a source of joy, inspiration, community building, and more. I have witnessed the power of music bringing our Microsoft Graph team together during a holiday “name that tune” game time meeting all the way to the other end of the spectrum with my 1.5 yr old dancing with complete joy at the first few seconds of any (yes I mean “any”) song she hears. Personally I find music helps me get into a specific mood (read more at halfway through this post) when needed and also recharges my batteries.

The power of meditation / prayer / taking a breath

For me personally there is a positive effect to meditation / prayer. Whether you believe in an organized religion or not you can take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, listen to soothing music, and shut out all of the distractions of the world. This may be more difficult depending on your circumstances / noise levels / etc., but if it is a priority you can likely find a way to make it happen. A few times a week I like to pray the rosary in the early morning before others have woken up or late at night before bed. In a few short minutes I’m much more at ease and have a clearer mind afterwards.

Know the right time of day for the right work / activity

As mentioned above, I know that I’m best able to pray in the early morning or late night. Similarly I know that I’m not at my best for meetings in the late afternoon my time zone. I also try to avoid email in the morning as it will be 9am and then next thing you know it is noon and I haven’t gotten to the big tasks for the day yet.

Try to identify the times of day when you are at your best for specific tasks or activities. If it helps, put appointments on your calendar for those times so that you block out your day / week to get those done during the optimal times / days. It may also help having a to-do tracking list that you can write things down and then schedule those on your calendar similarly.

Conclusion

What started out as a retrospective on 2020 turned into a “share my positivity and tips” post. Needless to say, I hope that each and every one of you can look back at 2020 and find as many positive things as you can and celebrate them with others. They can be small things or big things but don’t keep them just to yourself. Next up is looking forward to 2021. Have a great start to this year!

-Frog Out

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