Hey there, Dean here. I run content and SEO at AppSumo. Here, I write and share about productivity, leadership, money, psychology, marketing, and more.

2020 Letter of Review

Every year, I publish a letter of review to track my annual progress. You can check out my annual reviews for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Two questions that I asked myself:

  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?

After answering these two questions, I go on to rate my progress based on different life areas, mainly career, business, personal growth, health + fitness, and relationships.

It could take a long time to recall everything that happens in a year but it's easier if you have some kind of weekly or monthly review in place.

If you're looking for some guidance in writing your annual review, I've created a downloadable worksheet here.

Now, let's dive into my annual review.

The big theme

I didn't have this section in my previous reviews. But 2020 was different and I wanted to get this out of the way before anything else.

The big theme of 2020 to me is gratefulness. It's a tough year for everyone because of the pandemic. People are losing savings, jobs, and even lives. I'm incredibly grateful for the sake that I and the people around me are well and healthy. All credits go to great souls who fight and still do for us in the frontline.

On the other hand, it might not be politically right, but I'm grateful to experience this tough time in my lifetime. It gave me new perspectives I never had on how the world works and how people behave.

There's certainly bad news like the market crash and ignorant people who cause more problems, but there are upsides too, and it's also powerful to see how we get together to overcome challenges in front of us. It happens at every level from countries, teams, to families.

What went well

Now, here's a list of what went well in 2020:

  • Grew the AppSumo blog from scratch to 50,000 organic traffic in 10 months.
  • Resumed my weekly newsletter in June and sent 25 emails since then. I'm happy to hear good words from subscribers like you.
  • Launch and run a live class on self-review twice.
  • Rent an office space.
  • Acquire our (me and my wife, we're partners in this) second investment real estate. It's a new condominium projected to complete in 2024.
  • Continue to save and invest 30% of our income annually.
  • Joined a group coaching to learn more about myself and define my future vision.
  • Signed up to Effortless Output and started my journey in personal knowledge management.
  • Staying physically safe, emotionally sane, and financially stable amid the pandemic.
  • Tried CrossFit. I've quitted because I don't enjoy it and because of Covid

What went wrong

Here a list of things that didn't goes as well in 2020.

  • Published only five blog posts.
  • Read only six books this year.
  • Covid-19 happens. It means no travel and fewer meetups with friends. It also impacted our plan in renting out our first apartment.
  • Invested in Earnable by IWT but failed to take any action.

Progress rating

I split my life into different areas and give it a rating.

Career 9/10

I was managing the Sumo's blog in 2019 and moving into building the AppSumo's blog in 2020. Frankly, I wasn't all that confident with the project in the beginning. There wasn't a clear direction of how things should work and there was a lag integrating myself into the AppSumo team.

Fortunately, I got all the support I need from the team to get things going. I also got the opportunity to work with Omniscient, a content marketing agency, filling in the gap of expertise in SEO.

At the end of the day, we crushed our goals. Here are some numbers:

  • Monthly organic pageviews from 2,591 (March 2020) to 47,352 (November 2020), 1730% growth in eight months. There was a slight drop to around 40,000 organic pageviews in December.
  • 2,443 new email leads from May to December 2020. Our average conversion rate was 1.1%.
  • Over $158,000 revenue generated from the blog from May to December 2020.

The timeframes looked strange because we spent the first few months setting up the trackings we need to measure our progress.

Asides from the numbers, I was most proud of how we built an editorial workflow to publish two to three blog posts every week. The credits go to all the writers and editors!

While I don't expect the same growth rates in 2021, there are lots of opportunities for us to further grow the blog and SEO into a solid acquisition channel. Besides, it's also essential for us to further optimize our workflow to scale it.

Business 3/10

Like the previous year, I didn't spend much attention on growing this blog and turning it into a profitable business. While I was focusing on my day job at AppSumo, I did spend some times here:

  • Published five new articles and 12 new book notes (8 of them are books I read in 2019).
  • Created an email course, Mental Models for 10x Performance.
  • Resumed my weekly newsletter in June and sent 25 newsletters in total.
  • Launch a live class, Self-Review for High Performance, twice.

I always wanted to grow this blog further but I didn't have goals and plans in this area moving into 2020. Partly because I was testing the ideas of "doing my best of what's in front of me" and AppSumo is a better project in 2020.

Personal growth 6/10

I read fewer books in 2020 compared to the past years. At the end of 2019, I had an idea to read fewer but GREAT books, reread them and focus on implementing them.

It turned out that I failed in doing that. Instead of reading and rereading fewer books, I skipped reading for weeks and only went through the six books I read once. I wasn't feeling particularly upset about it, but it just showed the flaws of my idea or my execution.

I also took a few online courses in 2021:

  • Earnable by I Will Teach You To Be Rich. It's a program for starting an online business from scratch. Unfortunately, I didn't follow through with the program after the first month.
  • Real estate investing seminar by Tony Yap. The seminar was delayed to a later date (which we have no idea when it would be) due to the pandemic. But Tony was kind enough to conduct the entire seminar via Zoom for free before that. He even offered exclusive 1-on-1 consultation that led to us acquiring our second investment property.
  • Effortless Output by Nat Eliason. It was a course on how to use Roam Research for personal knowledge management, personal CRM, and more. I took the course when it was in beta and completed the first version. It introduces me to the world of advanced note-taking and personal knowledge management.

Other than books and courses, I also joined a group coaching program by Coach Kar Fei early this year when the pandemic hit. I and a few other participants went through a long process of clarifying our life vision.

Ultimately, I had a pretty good year in terms of personal growth as I learned more about myself. It's the first year I finished the book Daily Stoic and my first glance at personal knowledge management.

Health and fitness 6/10

I didn't track my weight and body fat as closely as I used to be in 2020. As a result, nothing much changed. Mainly because I wasn't giving my diet the attention it needs to be. I basically eat what I feel like it from moment to moment throughout the year. And only take note of my diet whenever I feel like I gained some weight.

Early the year, I aim to master handstands in a year. But I had corn developed under my feet made even walking difficult. Landing on my feet from a handstand became impossible. After a month of walking in pain, I decided to remove it through a small surgery. It took me another two weeks to fully recover and walking painlessly again. By then, I've lost the motivation to practice handstand.

While I didn't have a year-long plan for my health and fitness, I did accomplish a few things:

  • Run 100km in a month. My wife and I challenge each other to that at the end of September, and the prize for completing it was an Apple Watch.
  • Joined CrossFit. I signed up for a 3-month membership in November 2020. While I enjoyed the workout, I stopped going to CrossFit due to another surge of COVID cases in my area.

Relationships 8/10

2020 is the first year of my married life and everything was great. We've tried many new experiences together. Aside from real estate investing (and COVID quarantine), two other big projects we had together were:

  1. Get a new office space
  2. Move to a new apartment

Both of them are lots of work that moving stuff was the theme for us from September 2020 till the end of it.

Due to the pandemic, we couldn't meet friends we used to hang out a lot with previously because they were stuck in Singapore. Worse, I can't travel to the States to meet the team of AppSumo. But I do connect with friends here in Johor, and chat virtually with friends aboard.

Wrapping up

In hindsight, I started my 2020 with little to no goals. I couldn't say where I wanted to go, I didn't measure or track any progress, and the plan was to keep healthy habits and do my best for the things in front of me. I joked about being lucky to not have plans because it was 2020.

I enjoyed the "go with the flow" kind of attitude but I don't think it works over the long run. Focusing on what's in front of you and doing your best will definitely get you to a higher and better place. But there the risk of getting to a place that we don't want to be.

That said, I'm doing the direct opposite this year of what I've done in 2020. I've my OKRs set up, and tracking my progress weekly and habits daily. And I could see much progress I get to make just after two weeks.

Ready to do you annual review? I've created a worksheet you can use here.

I used to have a section about lessons learned in these reviews, but I've published mine on my birthday last year. Learn more about the nine lessons I steal from people who are smarter than me.

Footnotes

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