Lessons Learned in 2014

It’s so easy to get lost in the small bits of daily work you do. When you’re that focused, you can totally miss what you actually accomplished with all those small steps.

So here’s a look back at the writing and speaking I did last year, along with the best things I learned along the way.

What went well

I started to write here on January 10, with Estimates Are Not a Goal, They’re a Communication Tool. In 2014, I posted 53 articles, more than one per week! Starting in April, I’ve posted an article every Tuesday. Creating that kind of schedule makes writing and planning so much easier.

I tried to start writing a few times before, and always gave up for two reasons: I ran out of topics, and it didn’t seem like anyone cared. Two things made it different this time:

  • I started solving problems instead of just writing. I learned this from Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman’s (completely awesome) 30x500 course: If you focus on helping people with the problems they have, you’ll never run out of things to write about.

  • I started telling people when I posted. I’ve always been nervous about sharing my own stuff. But when you just start out, how are people going to know about what you write?

    If you’re posting helpful things and participating in the discussion around it, people are happy to learn from you. So tell them about it!

These were my most popular articles from last year:

Take a look if you missed them the first time around!

A few articles in, I started an email list. Through the end of 2014, it’s grown to 1,670 subscribers! I send emails to the list every Friday, with 41 sent so far. They range from deeper looks on some of the articles I posted, to answering questions, to exclusive articles about the problems I hear about from my subscribers. If you haven’t joined already, sign up here. I’d love to hear from you.

One problem with the email list is that once you miss an email, you miss it. So this year, I’m going to find a way to get the best emails you’ve missed to you.

I also wrote a book about learning Rails without getting overwhelmed, and started to pre-sell it. You can get early access here. It’s 25% off until the final release, and you’ll get the final update once it ships. More than 300 people have received early access, and it’s already helped a lot of them get past the tutorial stage so they could start building their own Rails apps.

Finally, here are a few other things I did in 2014:

What didn’t go so well

I create schedules and due dates for myself that are, in retrospect, totally insane.

Once it’s clear that you’re not going to hit a goal, you start beating yourself up. You start thinking, maybe if you worked a little harder, maybe if you stayed up a little later, maybe if you were just plain better at what you were doing, you wouldn’t be in the mess you’re in. But it’s a self-imposed mess! It makes no sense.

With aggressive goals, I’ve done a lot of stuff. But too-aggressive goals and too-high expectations have hurt more than they’ve helped. I have to find more of a balance.

Lessons learned

The best things I’ve learned this year about creating things:

  • Schedules and habits are better than motivation.

    I credit all of the work I’ve done here to setting up the right habits and schedules.

    You still need motivation to get those habits started. But that motivation is better spent setting up good systems and habits, instead of spending the motivation on the work itself. Because motivation eventually fades, but a good habit sticks around for a lot longer.

  • Rough first drafts make the creation process faster.

    The first drafts of my articles are unreadable. But rough drafts are easy to improve. I don’t have to keep what I’m thinking about in my head, I can put something down and improve it piece by piece.

  • Sometimes you have to close your eyes and hit submit.

    Some of the articles I’m most proud of are articles I came close to not posting. It’s nerve-wracking to put something you created out in public, especially as you’re learning. When that happens, you just have to git push and walk away from the computer for a little while. What you made is never as bad as it seems right before you publish.

What about you? What were your biggest accomplishments last year? What did you learn? And what are your plans for 2015?

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