2020 was for me, as it was for many people was probably the most strange and painful year I have spent on this earth in my nearly forty years. In many ways it's difficult to talk about the year that was without dwelling on many numerous negatives. The virus, politics, social issues, deaths of numerous celebrities, public figures, or family members. A disproportionate amount of time I feel like is spent on these and other negative items that have happened or are happening.

Instead for the remainder of this writing, I want to focus on things I can change. Some that could be moving a small pebble as it relates to the issues mentioned above but most to do nothing more than make myself more happy with my life. After all, it might be cliche but life is short.

Planning 2021

Trying to plan for a year ahead seems like a bit of a daunting task and often involves setting goals to complete in the year. Often in the form of New Year's resolutions. In the world of software engineering where I work, projects are broken down into many manageable chunks that can be easily estimated and completed. Not only that but there are specific criteria of what constitutes that task as being "done". So although I am going to begrudgingly set goals for the year I am also going to back them up with smaller manageable tasks that I can complete in a month, or a quarter to monitor and manage my progress.

With that in mind, lets get started on a few items I would like to focus on for 2021...

Activism

At the top of our stairs leading to our bedroom I have a photo I took many years ago while wandering in Pike Place Market. In the image an unknown man leans against a wall, his pants dirty with the grime of the Seattle streets, he sits taking a break and smoking a cigarette. Many might say this is an incredible depressing photo and wonder why someone might have it hanging in their house. It's depressing to me too. However this also is a constant reminder of how fortunate I have been. It allows me to be reminded of this daily.

So activism. This word might cause some folks to immediately roll their eyes. Activism often is something that's heavily political cause but in this instance I am not referring to political activism. Instead I would like to focus on helping out those who have not been as fortunate as I have.

Volunteer Two Times Per Month

The last couple of years I guess given that COVID has been with us for the better part of a year now, I volunteered at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission several times. I am not a religious person but the value religion can provide to people is not lost on me. Traditionally I had done what is called Search and Rescue which is effectively driving a van with several others to specific locations and handing out food, water, socks, blankets and toiletries to help these people survive another night or few nights. I thoroughly enjoy getting to meet and interact with these people. It's puts real faces and stories with the people who live in the tents you drive by. It humanizes them, something I think this world needs much more of this in general. It allows me to give back by helping to provide them with something small in some small way. I really value this and if we can get back to some semblance of normalcy again this year I would love to go back to this.

Apply to Join the Board

In our SoCal community there is an HOA and so therefore a board. I have toyed with the idea of volunteering for the board in an effort to assist to improve he community where I can as well as broaden my leadership form just software engineering and people management.

This would require me to put together a bio of some sort, as well as get voted onto the board by the larger community. So not a clear path here but would be good experience and again a way to give back.

Health

In previous years I often targeted something around weight. As something I have always struggled with this always made sense to me and at the time it was really purely vanity. Although this year really isn't an exception and vanity certainly does still play in here, there are mounting other reasons to broaden this category to general health.

2020 was likely hard on my folks waist lines. I think mine is no exception. What comes with this however is the addition of blood pressure, and cholesterol. These were both up in my last physical. All of these are tightly related so the goals are largely similar but there are more reasons now for them outside of I would like to look a bit thinner.

I am not going to set specific targets against weight or cholesterol for a couple reasons. One these should both improve as a byproduct of other goals. And two I don't have effective ways to measure them. I didn't bring a scale to SoCal. That's not to say I couldn't get one, but that's not the point. It should improve on its own.

Lower Blood Pressure 10 Points

This goal is measurable using my blood pressure cuff and logging the details to Apple's Health app. The incremental goal here would be to drop my systolic blood pressure by two and a half points every three months. Might seem a little aggressive but in conjunction with some of the other goals I think it should be very doable.

Run 500 Miles

I stole this one from someone on Facebook recently who did complete just this. Sounds like an insane amount, but when you break it down it's really only 1.36 miles per day. So you could run once every three days for four miles and still complete the goal.

In a past life I ran over four miles a day, so this should be something that can be accomplished. This can also be tracked using my Apple Watch and Apple Health and Strava application to monitor distance run throughout the year.

For this one I will break the goal down to monthly targets. Each month would be roughly forty-one miles. Given the nice weather here in SoCal and not having to deal with the rainy nasty season in Seattle should give me much more nice days to complete this as well.

Organize

Declutter

I think if I lived alone I would be a bit of a freakish minimalist. I hate having things laying around and like to put things away when done with them most of the time. This may look like OCD type behavior to many and perhaps it well is, but let me explain why I am the way I am.

I look at many things in terms of debts. Not just financially. In my mind every-time you leave something, lets say a dish in the sink, or maybe opened junk mail on the counter. Each of these is a small bit of debt you are creating for yourself that you have to deal with later in the form of cleaning. This becomes magnified when you want to clean the surfaces of your home, but now you have to spend even more time removing random debris from them before cleaning the surface you wanted.

Instead of thinking I am losing something when I clear clutter, I dwell on what I might gain.

This is why I like to have very little on my counters in the kitchen or any other surfaces. I have removed the debt of moving or cleaning the other things before I can clean the surface itself. This might not sound like a big deal but when it comes to your time and trying to find more of it this is an easy way to speed things up.

Simplify

One of the things I have been doing where possible is if there is a way to automate something, do it. Quick and easy examples of this might be getting a Roomba. Vacuuming hair from the floors whether it be dog or human is something we have to do on an almost daily basis. We bought a Roomba, and scheduled it to run every other day, and now that task is one I no longer have to worry about or perform.

Perhaps another more simple version of this is a couple of nights ago I installed a smart light switch for our exterior lights to manage turning on and off the outside lights using the sunset as a guide so I didn't have to remember to turn them on and off. Might be minor but just one less thing to worry about.

One final example of this might be house cleaning. In Seattle we had bi-weekly cleaning service come in and take care of much of the regular cleaning. Bathrooms, kitchen, floors, etc. Trading time for money, which is really a lot of what this category is. Can I throw money at this problem and make it go away to some degree? If it's not an obscene amount of money... then let's do it. My time anymore is more valuable to me in many cases than the money.

Wrapping Up

These are the items that come to mind quickly, and therefore likely are the most important to me. There are some that might be more specific to work or career which I have left out for my own personal planning and growth.

These will more than likely morph, or change over the course of the year. New ones will be added, some might drop away. That's ok. The point is to continuously improve in small ways.