21 things I learned in 2021
21 ideas on career, business, self-development, and relationships I'm taking into 2022.
Happy New Year!
If you’ve been following along on my recent posts and socials, you’ve probably seen me use the word ‘reflection’ at least a hundred times in the last week. Brace yourself, as you’re about to see it a few more times.
In Annual reflection exercise, I describe my end-of-year reflection process.
One of the questions I’d ask myself is:
What wisdom and learning will you take with you into the new year?
To answer this, I spent an hour going through all my weekly journal entries of 2021, drawing out all the top moments of the year. Then, I searched for pieces of wisdom that have resulted in good decisions or outcomes.
By no means am I claiming to be the wisest person on the earth. It's a personal exercise I do for myself, and I thought I'd share it with you too.
If you’d like to quickly skim through, here’s a preview of all the ideas:
Think through the lens of scale and leverage
Writing is one of the highest ROI things you can do for your career.
Locate the backdoor.
Look for areas where growth can be compounded.
Create your own luck.
To form a new habit, you must do something consistently for thirty days.
Consider the Input / Output heuristic to activate or silence your mind.
Identify what drives you.
When dealing with conflict, first seek to understand.
Create good stories.
Recognize when your monkey mind is active.
Batch and prioritize tasks.
Practice gratitude and appreciation.
The best knowledge isn’t always from books.
Boredom promotes creative thinking.
Surround yourself with positivity and optimism.
Busy doesn’t mean productive.
Optimize your physiology.
Seek opportunities for fun.
21 things I learned in 2021
(1) Think through the lens of scale and leverage.
It takes a similar amount of effort to do big things vs. small things. So why not do big things?
One idea on scale: Writing for one person takes the same amount of energy as writing for a thousand, so I'll make sure that everything I create is also scalable for a much broader audience. And if I do something more than three times (e.g. host an event, give a talk), I'll write a playbook for it.
One idea on leverage: Actively redistributing how I earn money as I advance in my career.
(2) Writing is one of the highest ROI things you can do for your career.
It’s an incredibly high-leverage activity as distributing your ideas to a million people is free. It improves your clarity of thinking, learning abilities, and communication. And it helps clear your monkey mind.
Some of the world's greatest organizations (Amazon, Stripe, Meta) require succinct writing as a prerequisite. I’ve learned to invest more time, energy, and money into writing to generate better life and business outcomes.
(3) Locate the backdoor.
Ignore mainstream channels and find creative ways of getting someone’s attention:
Tweet at someone, send a compelling message on Linkedin, engage with someone’s post in a Facebook group, Slack or Discord a stranger, or build a Fishbowl community — you get the point.
Through cold messaging, I was able to chat with: a chief executive at Meta / Facebook, a top 5 business podcast host, a founder of one of world’s largest media companies, and many more interesting folks.
Shoot your shot.
(4) Look for areas where growth can be compounded.
1% better every day for a year = 3,778% gain. On the contrary, 1% worse every day for a year = 97% loss.
Set big goals and break them down into smaller milestones. Then, to reinforce those milestones, make daily or weekly rules.
This year, I wanted to be a better public speaker, presenter, and writer, so I set myself some rules: I’d write six hours a week, and do a public speaking engagement (panel, interview, podcast) every three weeks.
When I compare and contrast my writing and speaking ability from a year ago, I see a considerable difference. Compound growth is an extremely powerful thing.
(5) Create your own luck.
You can become more lucky by putting in the reps and maximizing optionality. It’s easy to dismiss people that went viral on social platforms and attribute it to ‘luck’. But the reality is that we don’t see the hard work, volume, and consistency that goes in for that to happen.
Consider the Luck Razor: If stuck with 2 equal options, pick the one that feels like it will produce the most luck later down the line. (e.g. Instead of watching Netflix, go out for drinks with a stranger).
(6) Experiment more.
I stole this from a friend of mine, Jason Shen, who has accomplished a ridiculous amount in the past few decades. He’s started (and sold) multiple venture-backed companies, competed as an NCAA Gymnast, broken multiple world records, and is currently a Product Manager at Meta.
Through what he calls ‘trying shit’, he's grown to know his strengths and what sits on the border of his comfort zone. It’s given him a better grasp of what motivates him and has strengthened his self-awareness.
I experiment a lot too. I’ll pick an activity or domain and focus on it for three to six months. I started organizing group dinners which eventually turned in two-hundred person parties. Dived head-first into the Twitter world to learn the art of copywriting and crypto. Now, I’m playing around with creating email lists and monetizing them.
The result? I've learned a slew of new talents that I'm confident will come in handy in the future.
(7) To form a new habit, you must do something consistently for thirty days.
I’ve found this to be a simple heuristic for building new habits.
I've never been a fan of podcasts. But this year, I decided to give it another shot, so I switched from music to podcasts at the gym. As a result, I’ve doubled my intake of information.
It’s a simple but effective rule.
(8) Consider the Input / Output heuristic to activate or silence your mind.
No ideas or creativity? Increase your input by reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, or having conversations.
Too many thoughts racing through your head? Increase your output by writing, drawing, talking, or creating something.
(9) Identify what drives you.
For me, it’s a combination of being able to see the impact and development of my work, receiving praise and encouragement, and having the ownership and opportunity to build in a new space.
I have unlimited energy when I do things that sit in the intersection of these three elements. So when people ask what my best productivity advice is, I tell them this.
Identify work opportunities, side hustles, and hobbies that energize you, and lean into them.
(10) When dealing with conflict, first seek to understand.
Before responding, tap into empathy to determine how the other person is feeling, and why they’re feeling that way. Set aside any anger or disappointment for a moment.
I've used this approach when dealing with difficult situations both at work and with my closest friends. It’s always resulted in a positive outcome and builds long-term trust with others.
You can never be too empathetic.
(11) Be plainspoken.
Whether you're speaking, writing, or putting up a presentation, seek to only include the most important elements. In a world full of noise and short attention spans, it’s critical to simplify to deliver your idea.
I’ve learned that in tech, there’s an abundance of capital and talent. But the resource that is by far the most scarce is attention and time.
To increase signal, communicate with simple, succinct language.
(12) Create good stories.
There’s two parts there:
2) Tell the story in a compelling way.
A now good friend that I met off Twitter bought me a Musings & Perspectives billboard ad for my birthday. It’s a story that I love to tell, and to this day, we’re good friends, and he writes a newsletter too.
Do it for the story.
(13) Recognize when your monkey mind is active.
The monkey mind is all the negative chatter, anxious thoughts, and self-doubt that we inevitably hear.
Having an active monkey mind can be a tremendous inhibitor to mood and productivity, and learning to silence it may be your most valuable advantage.
(14) Batch and prioritize tasks.
Some weeks, I'll have six to eight different priorities. To be clear, my corporate work is my first priority. I'll also write for Musings & Perspectives and my latest newsletter, Simplified, and organize events for tech communities. Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on the market, Twitter, Linkedin, and on the side — do advisory work for some of the startups I partner with.
To work efficiently, I follow two principles:
Batching enables me to combine related tasks and focus on one thing at a time. I never multitask; I'll devote a minimum of 45 minutes to a single activity before moving on to the next. And I always prioritize the most crucial tasks for the first three hours of the day.
(15) Practice gratitude and appreciation.
It’s proven that gratitude positively impacts brain chemistry.
At work, we dedicate time in a weekly meeting to express appreciation for another colleague, and it’s been great for building camaraderie. And to set the tone for the week, I write down specific things I'm grateful for on Sundays.
Incorporate exercises into your routine to show yourself and others what you’re thankful for.
(16) The best knowledge isn’t always from books.
As an avid reader who read 27 books last year, I’m astonished I haven’t finished reading a book in the previous six months. Instead, I’ve been reading newsletters, articles, and online essays.
Books are fantastic, especially when it comes to the timeless pieces (Dale Carnegie, Robert Greene), but I’ve found better information on emerging trends online.
(17) Boredom promotes creative thinking.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘hustle’ and fill your calendar with back-to-back activities.
I didn't recognize how important quiet was until I took a week off from work and left the country. I had a lot of idle time with nothing to do, so my brain likely overcompensated by thinking creatively and coming up with new ideas.
Schedule time to do absolutely nothing.
(18) Surround yourself with positivity and optimism.
I'm not afraid to admit that in 2021, I cut a lot of people out of my life.
People who don’t believe in me. People who don’t reciprocate. People who talk sh*t.
As a result, I've created room for those who are compassionate, open-minded, and share my beliefs.
Be careful of who you surround yourself with, because they WILL impact your energy, goals, and self-esteem.
(19) Busy doesn’t mean productive.
I’ve learned to not mistake activity for achievement. Busy doesn’t mean productive, and productive doesn’t mean valuable.
One of the your biggest advantages is to have a deep understanding of what you want in life. The sooner you know where you want to go, the sooner you’ll be able to get there.
I used to reserve daily evening slots on my calendar for anyone interested in having a virtual coffee chat (~3 hours each week). After doing hundreds of these, I found myself repeating the same advice and anecdotes over and over, and have now found writing or group sessions more effective for everyone.
Reflect constantly (to understand yourself), set goals, and execute on those goals.
(20) Optimize your physiology.
Most of your problems that involve mood, energy, and focus can be solved with good habits.
Optimize the basics: sleep 7.5+ hours a night, drink 2+ liters of water daily, eat a balanced diet, exercise 3-4 times a week, minimize alcohol, sodium, processed foods, and get 20 minutes of sunlight a day.
If I'm feeling down, I'll simply comb through this list to identify what I’m lacking.
The best investments I made this year were the ones that enabled these habits.
(21) Seek opportunities for fun.
I’m able to spend six hours a week writing, not because I’m extremely hard-working, but because I just love seeing a finished product and receiving feedback from others. It’s fun.
I work out rigorously because of the euphoric feeling I get after, not because of an overwhelming level of discipline. And I put in a ton of effort to shape the culture of my team, and as a result, I’m incredibly energized by my 9-5 and I enjoy the people I work with.
Nothing ever feels like a chore. I rarely do things because I feel like I should. It’s always because I want to.
Find opportunities for flow and identify what drives you. Then design an environment to incorporate those things.
Find work that feels like play, and you’ll be able to play forever.
That’s it from me. But what about you? What’s one thing you’ve learned this year? (hit reply)
Want to learn more?
Six other threads on lessons learned in 2021 from the Twitter world:
21 thoughts from 2021 I'd like to take into 2022 — Tim Urban
7 lessons from 2021 — Alex Lieberman
21 lessons learned in 2021 — Sahil Bloom
The 10 most powerful insights I discovered this year — Chris Hladczuk
7 lessons I’m taking into 2022 — Aadit Sheth