The Kaizen Newsletter #28 (01/07/20): 2019 Review and 2020 Goals

🎉🥳Happy new year to all of you and I hope you got to enjoy the holidays! I for one was very happy to relax and enjoy my time with my family and close friends. But now, it’s back on the grind 💪.

For my first newsletter of the new year (and decade), I’m doing an in-depth review of 2019, listing my favourites of 2019 and then listing out my goals for 2020.

For my yearly review, I pretty much copied James Clear’s format, re-worded the sections to my own and then added one extra question. I like it since it’s super simple, straightforward and allows you the flexibility of how in-depth you want to go. It goes as follows.

Answer the following four questions:

  • What did I accomplish?

  • What did I fail at?

  • What have I learned?

  • What is my game-breaker of the year?

    • Basically, what is the moment, during the year, that had the most impact on you and would have a significant ripple effect for years to come (basically causing a paradigm shift)?

I would also love to know what is your game-breaker of the year, so feel free to reply to this email and include what’s yours!

This is going to be a longer one, so grab your cup of coffee ☕️ and enjoy!

Now, on to the newsletter~


My 2019 year in review

👏 What I accomplished

  • I became a product manager - For the first time in a long while, I finally felt excited about the job I was doing. Being a product manager is perfect for me, as I feel it blends my passion for solving problems, my business knowledge that I developed as an IT consultant and leverages my technical background as an Electrical Engineer and fuels my thirst for knowledge. Although I spent a lot of time transitioning and then even going back to a project manager for a while, I can finally say that I am a full-time product manager and I’m super excited to dedicate myself fully to this role in 2020.

  • Started The Kaizen Newsletter - One of my most joyful moments last year was having to produce a newsletter every week. The main reason why I wanted to start a newsletter was really just to improve my writing and to finally start producing something instead of only consuming. And I can tell you that my writing has definitely improved since the first newsletter I sent in May 2019! Here are some fun stats that I compiled related to my newsletter. I am pretty embarrassed by them, but it only motivates me more to make sure I improve these numbers tenfold for 2020!

    • 46 total subscribers

    • 27 sent newsletters

    • 2321 total views

    • ~ 85 average views per newsletter

  • I did Brazilian Jujitsu - I’ve heard so many good things about BJJ so I was really excited to try it out. Even though I quit only after a few months, I thoroughly enjoyed my time and would definitely consider it in the near future. As I mentioned in one of my first newsletters, it’s such a good sport since the feedback loop is insanely fast, so if you commit to the sport, you can definitely learn quickly and improve a lot! I just had so much going on at the time that I’d rather concentrate on a few things instead of spreading out myself thin (which is something I need to remind myself over and over and over and over).

  • I made like-minded online friends - I really only made two online friends (👋Shanu and Micah), but quality > quantity, right? Honestly, it’s just super refreshing to be able to talk to people all over the world about things that we all enjoy. Next step is making more friends online this year and also turning online friends to IRL friends.

👎 What I failed at

  • I tried doing too many things at once - I mentioned it above, but this is probably something I will need to work on for the rest of my life. I just have LOTS of interests and also get bored very fast, so I tend to switch interests very often. What often happens is that I try to pick up multiple new hobbies or interests at the same time and try to incorporate all of them at the same time. I actually tried that during the summer when I literally had no time to relax and hated it.

  • I was inconsistent in my newsletters - I was able to send 20 newsletters straight, but it went downhill after that. From mid-September all the way till December, I didn’t send out newsletters 5 weeks out of 11 which giving me an average of around 50% of actually sending out my newsletter, which is really horrible. It was also during that time where I was stuck being a project manager or product manager, so I know that I was 1) very concentrated at work since it was super intense and 2) very unmotivated for everything else I was doing

  • I didn’t read enough books - I started plenty of books this year, but only completed one and that was only at the very end of the year. I dedicated a lot more of my time to reading articles (mainly for my newsletter), but I definitely want to improve on that for next year.

  • I did not write any new blog posts - After Write of Passage ended, I didn’t write any more blogs on my website. My goal was to write at least one long-form essay as well as two or three shorter blogs, but I just didn’t write any. I’ll be sure to change that in the upcoming year!

🧠 What I learned

  • Focus on one thing at a time - In September, I actually decided to start a year-long e-commerce class AT THE SAME TIME as starting this new work out program. I soon realized that if I want to complete one of them, I would have to abandon the other one. So I chose lifting weights instead of my e-commerce course. This taught me that when you want to learn something new, then just concentrate on one thing and one thing only.

  • I dislike using my kindle - For some reason, I just can’t read on the kindle. Yes, I know it’s a lot more practical since it’s smaller and you can store a thousand books in it, but it just feels different than reading a book on paper. I’m still going to give it a try, but I’m definitely sticking to paper as much as possible.

  • 5 minutes of reading > 0 minutes of reading - DUH! I always told myself that I should dedicate at least 20-30 min per day to read, and just couldn’t commit to that amount, so instead of well I just didn’t read. In the last month of the year, Nancy bet that I wouldn’t be able to read a book to finish the year. So to make sure I did win the bet, I decided to commit to reading every night before going to bed. It didn’t matter if it was 3 pages or 30, I just had to read a few pages per night. At first, it didn’t seem like much, but very shortly 3 pages become 20 and then a 100 and then BAM the book is done! With this super low commitment, even if I was too tired to read, then I allowed myself to read just a paragraph and go to sleep. On the other hand, if I had more time (ex: on the weekends), then it would easily turn to multiple chapters.

  • Vary the types of books you read - I realized that I couldn’t read JUST self-improvement books all the time. I was SO into self-improvement that 100% immersed in it. I read books on self-improvement, I listened to podcasts on self-improvement, I was tweeting about self-improvement. But then I caught self-improvement overload. It just became TOO MUCH and I had to take a break from it. This is why I decided to give Bob Iger’s biography a try and I really enjoyed it! So lesson learned? Alternate between fiction, self-improvement and biographies for this year.

  • Better knowledge of myself - This is a weird one, but let me try and explain. Whenever I’m trying to deal with a certain issue, I usually have to try multiple different ways to solve the problem before actually finding the one that works on me. It makes sense, right? There’s no global answer to one problem.

    • For example, I really have a hard time being consistent. One thing I tried in the past (multiple times) was to bet $$$ that I would be able to accomplish my goal in X amount of time. And I would never get anything done. So I even increased the amount to something like 500$ once and well I just lost it. What I realized was that I actually don’t care about money (which can be good or bad), so it would never motivate me to push myself. However, when Nancy bet me that I wouldn’t be able to finish my book, if I lost, then we would go celebrate with her friends, but if I won, then we would celebrate with my friends. And that 100% motivated me to finish my book. The lesson here is that the more you know yourself and understand yourself, the easier it is to find solutions that work for you.

  • How to gain weight - I’ve been pretty small my whole life and I was constantly searching for the “perfect” workout guide that will give me ALL DEM MUSKLES. But even if I was consistent, I would never see that big of a change. But this year, I finally decided to pair my workout with a diet and man did it work. I feel that the workout itself is not even THAT important. Diet is probably 70% of what actually matters when you either want to gain or lose weight.

🤯 My Game-Breaker of 2019

  • I registered for Write of Passage - Voila mesdames et messieurs, my game breaker of 2019! I took the leap and participated in the first-ever cohort of Write of Passage, a writing course taught by David Perell and Tiago Forte. My main reason why I wanted to take the class was really to improve my writing, but what I got out of it was MUCH MUCH more than that. Actually, I don’t even think my writing really improved after the course ended. But I did gain a really good like-minded friend in Shanu, I created my website, I posted my first blog post and I published my newsletter - The Kaizen Newsletter. But the real reason why registering for Write of Passage is my game-breaker of 2019 is because I was finally creating something. I wasn’t just wasting my time consuming, I was finally producing something, I was finally taking ACTION 🙌. And honestly, that’s simply priceless and I’m so glad that I decided to take the leap.


🎯 Goals for 2020

Now, the fun part! If I had to select one word that will describe 2020 for me is the following: Action, Action and Action! By taking action, I know I will be able to accomplish 50% of all of my goals. Grit and discipline will take me to the promised land.

As I mentioned above, I believe that you HAVE to tie a number to all of your goals, since if not it won't be measurable and you won't be able to break it down to make sure that it will happen.

I initially had six goals in total but was reminded by the following passage from Bob Iger’s book.

I was fixe or six in when he shook his head and said, “Stop talking. Once you have that many of them, they’re no longer priorities.” (The Ride of a Lifetime)

I decided to reduce my goals to only three to make sure I really just focus on these ones and the rest were just a bonus.

So here are my goals for 2020:

  • Have a total of 500+ subscribers for The Kaizen Newsletter

    • This is probably my most daunting task for this year. It's literally crazy, but I think it's possible if I work very hard to accomplish it.

    • One thing I did not do at all last year was market my newsletter. It was literally through word to mouth that I got to almost 50 subscribers and now I want to 10x it!?!

    • And this will definitely require a lot of marketing on my part. The main way I will be marketing is through Twitter. My goal is to just tweet as much as possible and continuously advertise my newsletter every week before and after posting it.

    • For now, my goal is to tweet at least once per day and will adapt afterwards.

    • For some reason, I was also intimidated to talk about it with a lot of my friends, colleagues, but I won't hold back and try to bring it up whenever I can (without being annoying of course).

  • Release 50 newsletters

    • I started my newsletter in May last year but did not send any for 5 weeks in total, which I find unacceptable. The worst thing you can do is be inconsistent, which I am constantly working on.

    • Why not 52? Well this gives me a small breathing room for whenever I truly need it, but it'll force me on using it wisely.

    • Paired with the goal of having 500 subscribers, this will also force me to remain consistent as the less I ship, the fewer chances I get to gain subscribers.

  • Write 4 Long-Form essays

    • As I said earlier, I'm disappointed that I haven't written any long-form essays since I finished Write of Passage, but I will be changing it this year. Instead of trying to release both long-form and shorter essays, I really just want to focus on long-form. I release mini-essays every week in my newsletter anyways.

    • I definitely want to release a long-form essay on something product-related, but I still don’t know what it should be.

    • I also would want to do a long-form essay on something Montreal related, but I’ll see as well.


2019 Favourites

📃 Article

  • The Story of Us - Wait But Why - Ok. I cheated a bit, since this is actually a series of articles, but it's definitely worth the read! Tim urban can practically write about anything and still make it interesting, funny and super easy to read. The Story of Us is literally a breakdown of how we, humans evolved and tackles different topics such as why we think a certain way, how certain people are, how we associate with politics, etc.

  • Writing Well - Julian - Julian is another blogger where I would be able to read about anything he writes and I would find it interesting. He’s a lot more methodical about the way he writes, but I always find that any topic that he would write about would definitely be the best on the web. I will definitely review his article on writing for my long-form essays.

📚 Book

  • The Ride of a Lifetime - Robert Iger - This is also cheating, since this is the only book I've read during the year. However, I do highly recommend it and it made me want to read more biographies. I feel that biographies are a great medium to learn about self-improvement, since the author usually guides you on how they made it. So you can capture hardships and lessons learned along their way. I found it super interesting how he practically stayed in the “same” company for the majority of his career and just seized every opportunity he had and crushed it. Definitely and inspiring story to read about.

🤔 Thought / Quote

A happy person isn’t someone who’s happy all the time. It’s someone who effortlessly interprets events in such a way that they don’t lose their innate peace. - Naval

The more I encounter and try to learn from super successful people, the more I think that there’s basically only 2 things they have in common. 1. Grit (persevere through tough times.). And 2. Extreme sense of agency (minimal self-pity, they believe they control their fate.) - Ari Paul

🎙 Podcast

  • Naval Ravikant on the Joe Rogan podcast - Twitter philosopher meets the best podcaster in the world? I was super excited for this podcast and it definitely delivered. Joe Rogan is one of the most entertaining hosts on the planet and Naval constantly has interesting things to say. Definitely worth re-listening to.

🗞 Newsletters

  • Monday Medleys - Nat Eliason - It's probably the only newsletter that I read top to bottom every single week and one of the reasons I look forward to Mondays. And there's no one better than Nat himself to describe his newsletter.

In a given Medley you might find some recent research on regenerative farming, a video of an elephant helping someone do a backflip, a guide on hiring salespeople, a thought provoking podcast interview, a beautifully designed hiring letter, an op-ed on making playgrounds more dangerous, who knows, I'm interested in a lot of stuff! - Nat Eliason

🐦 Tweets

  • One of the most impactful tweets I've read during the year. It's super important to listen to your own intuition, but you have to make sure that your intuition is derived from first principles first and foremost.

  • This tweet stuck with me from the first time I read it and I try to apply it almost every time I write something. I usually start with a random intro and I almost always realize that if I cut it, then it makes my opening sentence a lot more crisp and precise.

📱App

  • Notion - It's crazy that I'm not even using 10% of the app's true potential, but it's definitely my most used app throughout the whole year. I store all of my newsletters, books I need to read, random ideas and thoughts here. I use it more as a storage than anything else, and I'd like to learn how to effectively use it throughout the year. I also heard about a new note-taking app called Roam Research, so that's something I'll definitely explore in the upcoming months as well. If ever you're interested, then you can try out Notion for free here (yes this is my affiliate link, but you get a free 10$ if you use it so win-win).

🎤 Music - Song

🎧 Music - Album

  • Lover - Taylor Swift - Did I ever think in all of my years that a Taylor Swift album would be my album of the year? Heck no, but here we are 🤷‍♂️. Yes, I am disappointed with myself, but I have to admit that I REALLY liked her album.

👨🏾‍🎤Music - Artist

  • Kanye West - Jesus is King was definitely not his greatest album (although I still liked it a lot), but I feel that I just have so much more respect for Kanye as an artist and especially a human being. He’s one of the most interesting people on the planet, and even though a lot of people find him crazy, I actually find that he’s a super-smart guy and actually has valuable things to say if you just listen through the noise. I really hope he delivers on JIK2.

🙏 Shoutout

  • I decided to go cheesy on this one and wanted to give my 2019 shout-out to my Mom. I don’t think I thank her enough for everything that she does for my brother and me, so I want to make sure she knows! Thank you for being the best Mom a son can ask for (yes, my Mom is better than yours) and especially thank you for all the meals you still cook for me even though I don’t live at home anymore.


👋 End Note

If you want to know what I'm up to now, you can check it on my website here.

If you enjoyed the Kaizen Newsletter and someone you know you also enjoy it, then feel free to share it with them! They can sign up here.

Feedback is always appreciated, so let me know what you liked and what I can improve on by replying to this email.

If you see any cool articles, links, tweets, stories or podcasts that you enjoy or if you just wanna chat, feel free to email me at alex@alexhughsam.com