2020: Reflection and Simplification

As 2020 (thankfully) wanes and a new, hopefully less oppressive year peeks its head from around the corner, the time has come to reassess certain aspects of my life. I’ll be starting a new job in a few weeks, albeit from the relative comfort of my dining room table, and my son will begin the second half of first grade, which he has reluctantly attended since September from a small desk I set up in my living room.

I stopped dabbling in New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. For one, they don’t stick. Looking back, it seems silly to have put so much wood behind the arrow of one more go around the sun. Why not begin a resolution on one’s birthday instead? At least that rotation actually brings a person ever so much closer to death and, therefore, might make them see how much of their life they have been wasting.

In any event, I resolve to resolve nothing in 2021. I’d like to lose weight, but food, like trashy action movies and Marx Brothers comedies, have become a comfort. I had hoped to improve my penmanship this year. Instead, ambition pooled inside me as though whatever had been pumping it simply gave up. I gave up, too. For a long time.

Then in November, with a few months of gainful employment under my belt, I started the new novel I had been sitting on for several years. I didn’t win NaNoWriMo. I never do, but it was the spark I needed to get my head back to a place where it could fathom living in a world of my own creation again. One major side effect of my pandemic-influenced depression, however, was my inability to focus on reading.

Writing is like playing an instrument. If you don’t practice, you not only don’t improve—you get worse, and a big part of writing is reading. Sure, I can still tell a story. My main character can go from plot point to plot point with relative ease, but there’s no style. No panache. My turns of phrase have turned up roses and the thirty thousand words I’ve written so far have curdled into something more akin to ipecac. They’re hard to read. They’ll be even harder to fix.

But they will be fixed. Eventually. I’ve also started writing season two of The Shelf Life, the podcast sitcom I launched in March (which, I have heard, was within this past year. I’m still skeptical). It wasn’t a runaway hit, but it’s something I derive great pleasure from and plan on continuing until it no longer does so.

One thing I’m unsure of is the future of my newsletter, which I haven’t updated in months. I’ve lost the passion for compiling headlines and submission calls for my hundred or so subscribers. I’d like to pivot it into something else, maybe with a focus on productivity and tools, but I haven’t figured it out yet. One thing is for sure—I’m going to get it off of Substack sooner rather than later.

I keep busy: my 9-to-5, novel writing, the newsletter, podcasting, and examining all this has brought me to a crossroads. In short, I need to simplify. I enjoy my projects, so I don’t plan on giving up any of them unless absolutely necessary, but there are other aspects of my life that could do with a little less cargo, lest I want to drown.

Apps

If you’ve ever listened to me speak on my other podcast, Home Work (which you should), then you’ve heard me talk about my love of trying out new apps. Email clients, word processors, personal database applications—they all call out to me, begging to be noodled with.

The problem comes from the paradox of choice—there are so many apps to use, I can’t decide when to use one.

For 2021, I plan on deleting the applications I no longer need or have not opened in weeks. From now on, this is my workflow:

Calendar: Fantastical

Blogging/Podcast Scripts: Ulysses

Fiction: Scrivener

To Do Lists: Things, Work/Life Task System

Notes: Drafts

Podcast editing since quarantine has begun has been moved from Ferrite on my iPad to Descript on the Mac. Perhaps once we’re all vaccinated and I start commuting into the office again, I’ll go back to splicing and dicing with my Apple Pencil on my iPad Pro. Until then, Descript has made editing Home Work a breeze.

(Given The Shelf Life’s complicated arrangement of dialogue, music, and sound effects, however, that will still be compiled entirely in Ferrite.)

As for Notion, which I really loved when I first started using it several months ago, I haven’t been using it at all recently. I set my instance up according to August Bradley’s incredible tutorials, which helped me better understand the tool, but probably led me to overcomplicate things.

It doesn’t help that it’s not a native Mac/iOS app and is very clunky and slow in several regards. Still, I’m on the fence about dropping it entirely. I have some uses in mind for it and I’m going to give it another go in the coming year.

Hardware

There’s not much in my hardware lineup that I’m going to stop using. I mean, I can’t. I have my new M1 MacBook Air, which I do all my writing and podcasting on. I have my iPad Air for reading articles and some writing when I’m not near my Mac, my iPhone 12 Pro Max, my AirPods Pro, and my podcasting equipment.

I added an external monitor and speakers to my setup during quarantine because I was getting neck strain from being hunched over my laptop for long periods of time.

The one place where I do need to declutter, however, is my…

Home Office

I have three massive bookcases, some shelving units with collectibles on them, a standing desk I’m using for my record player setup, and an antique writing desk I actually work at. There is so much stuff in my office that much of it needs to get packed away. I’ve already cleaned out my fountain pens, most of which are going to get boxed up and stored.

I’ll be relying on my TWSBI Eco, as well as my Baronfig Squires, the latter of which stand up nicely in my Baronfig Mosaic Desk Organizer. As for pencils, I have hundreds of random pencils in jars and organizers all over my office. Almost all of them are going into storage and I will keep a dozen Blackwings on hand, which I will replace as they get used.

My stash of Field Notes notebooks will also find their way into a box in the attic.

Above all else, I will not be buying any new pens, pencils, or notebooks this year until I start using what I already have in my collection.

The same goes for books—no new additions to the TBR pile until I’ve gone through my current stacks to some degree. Maybe after I read 10 novels, I’ll allow myself to pick up something new.

The office needs a heavy cleaning and reorganization, which I plan on documenting in pictures or maybe in a YouTube video. Stay tuned.

Social Media

This is going to be the toughest purge of all. I’m not deleting my accounts, but I will be restricting my usage significantly.

  1. I will be deleting all Twitter apps from my devices beginning January 1st.
  2. If I have something I need to tweet, such as a new episode of Home Work or an ad for my book, I can do that from Drafts directly.

Twitter has left me tired. I kept it around because everyone said it was a great way to advertise my book or podcast or what have you. In reality, it’s useless. I have over 1,400 followers and I was lucky if .025% of that “audience” did so much as retweet the link to buy my book—even when I begged them to do so.

(To those who did RT, buy, and support my book in any way, THANK YOU.)

Tip: If you want to build an audience, start a newsletter. Your subscribers are far more likely to buy what you’re selling through an email than via a link on Twitter.

I’ve grown sick of the feuds, the hypocrisy, the political turmoil, the vague subtweets among writers, and the boring prompts.

“Describe your favorite movie in three words or less.” No.

Twitter is a toxic time suck. It causes anxiety and takes me away from things I’d rather be doing, like reading or writing.

I don’t spend much time on Facebook, but I will be unfollowing groups I don’t participate in anymore. It’s still the only way I communicate with certain family members and how I remember their birthdays, so as horrible as the company is, I’m stuck with it for now. Oh well.

Subscriptions and Accounts

Thanks to 1Password, I’m able to see all the websites where I currently have an active account. I try to go in every few months and cancel or close accounts I no longer need, but I’ve been lax in my efforts since February.

Over the next few months, I’ll be going into each account one by one and closing inactive accounts, then deleting the details from 1Password. I’ll also be canceling any subscriptions to apps that have been rendered redundant or unnecessary thanks to my simplified workflow plan outlined above.

I want to go into 2021 with as clean a slate as possible, spending little money and having fewer ways for hackers to get my details.

Podcasts

I don’t listen to that many podcasts to begin with, but that doesn’t mean I can’t cull a few from my list. I won’t name names, but I don’t need a subscription to three different Apple podcasts. One or two will get the axe.

The Future

Very few of my 2021 plans include building new habits, unless you consider not checking Twitter every six seconds a new habit. Spending the better part of a year at home, surrounded by impulse purchases and stuff, has opened my eyes as to how my anxiety—about COVID, about my future, about my employment—has manifested in hoarding tendencies stretched across both the digital and the physical.

I don’t need as much as I have. I may sell or donate some things when I feel safe enough to venture to the post office. 2020 was about surviving. I’m making 2021 about thriving, and I can’t do that with a cluttered desk or a cluttered mind.

So, here’s to a year of rebirth, of new employment and new beginnings. To finishing my seventh novel and a second season of my podcast. Here’s to a year that’s everything I hope it will be, because I’m not sure I can handle it if it’s not.

Show Comments