It's felt like March for months now, but 2020 is finally coming to a close! Thank you Time Lord for ending this year. Let's get one thing straight, the pandemic sucked. Really sucked. I wish I could use a more vulgar word but I'm trying to keep my writing PG. I'm generally a positive person, but 2020 has definitely tested me. The Rona has caused constant worrying about my family, my situation in the US, and my health. Fortunately, there's light at the end of the tunnel. Even though the virus is still raging, there's a vaccine on the way. And with the hope of a vaccine, comes a chance to breathe. It's given me some headspace to reflect on this crazy year. Because of the pandemic, I'm viewing my achievements and setbacks with a different lens. The small wins don't seem so small. And the setbacks don't seem like that big of a deal. As my last post of the year, I want to share my journey in 2020. I want to celebrate my wins, discuss the challenges, and any lessons I learned from my experiences. Finally, I want talk about what I'm looking forward to for 2021. Let's dive in!
All the good stuff
This year I felt more connected to the tech community. Which is a strange thing to say when we're all in isolation. But it's true! It may have been a forcing function due to the pandemic. Either way, I'm happy that I could connect with people over Twitter or through communities and I feel very lucky. There were a few other firsts for me:
- I gave my first ever conference talk at Elixir Conf!
- I started a podcast, Living Through Tech, with my friend Ximena Cortez!
- I did a redesign of my website. It may not be the first side project I finished, but it's definitely one of the few!
- Attended Elixir Conf and Codeland Conf for the first time.
At the start of 2020, none of these wins were on my radar! I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to do all of these things. In fact, I only had one major focus this year. And that was to start blogging consistently. So I want to do a deeper dive into my blogging journey.
My Blogging Journey
I started the year slow, not having written anything until the end of May. Honestly, my goal of blogging consistently wasn't concrete until June. At that point, I decided I wanted to publish a blog post a month (6 posts in the year). At the end of this year, I've written 18 blog posts! That's six times more than last year! This number makes me so damn happy. I've struggled with keeping up a writing habit for the past 3 or so years. I've constantly battled self doubt and whether I was bringing any value. And for the last six months I've poured hours of time into writing, editing, and researching blog posts. So after all of that, it feels really nice to complete a goal.
When I started writing blog posts in June, I hooked up Plausible Analytics to my site. I wanted a straightforward, privacy oriented analytics tool. Throughout the year, I've been focusing on writing content that I want to write. And not looking at numbers too closely. It's about time I dig into the analytics and see what nuggets of knowledge I can find. Here are my website stats at the end of 2020.
- 1.2k unique visitors
- 2.4k page views
- 71% bounce rate
- 59s visit duration
- My top three most visited blog posts were:
- July was my best month with 216 visitors
- November was my worst month with 187 visitors
- My top sources of traffic were
The biggest surprise from doing a deep dive into my stats was a jump in bounce rate between September and October. In September my bounce rate was 62%, and in October it rose to 81%. The increase in bounce rate also meant a decrease in visit duration. From 1m 21s in September to 40s in October. I was hoping that I received far more traffic over this period, but the number of visitors stayed roughly the same (211 in Sept, 214 in Oct). This difference was surprising because it coincided with the redesign of my website. It tells me that I should focus on improving the reading experience for my blog.
Challenges I faced
While I'm happy with my wins this year, there's definitely a lot of things that I could have done better. To balance out my paragraphs of boasting, I want to reset my ego and talk about all the stuff I failed at or that I found challenging.
- Focusing on blogging caused a few issues
- It meant that I was coding less. I finished a website redesign, but I didn't work on any other side projects. And to keep up with publishing deadlines, I had to stop learning Elixir.
- I had to give up on a newsletter that I was writing because I couldn't keep up with the publishing schedule for both the blog and newsletter.
- I struggled to split time between blogging, coding, work, and exploring other mediums. I felt like I was making very little progress in many directions.
- My consistency dropped off as the year went on. When I started in June, I was publishing 5 posts a month. But that schedule soon became unrealistic. Looking back, I wish I picked a slower schedule that I could sustain for the entire year.
- It takes me an absurd amount of time to publish a blog post. Even after reducing my posting schedule, I'm still working on a post the day before the deadline.
- I felt burnout around October and November this year. Trying to do it all was causing me a lot of stress and sleepless nights.
What have I learned
So now that my ego has sufficiently deflated, I wanted to take these challenges that I faced and share some lessons I learnt from tackling them. I tried to make the lessons as actionable as possible. But some are more mindset shifts than action items*.*
Make writing easy
It takes me a long time to write a blog post. So throughout the year I tried different ways to improve this process. By now, I can get in the flow of writing a post quite quickly. But it still takes me a long time to finish it. These are all the different things that I tried:
- Make time for writing. I blocked out days or weeks to write. And while I didn't always meet my deadline. I was always making time to get some writing done.
- Have a plan. And spend more time than you think when planning out your post. In my early posts, I started with a very rough outline. As I started writing, I realized the outline didn't make sense and I would have to rework a post. By that stage it took a lot more mental effort and time to change directions. As I started thinking about the outline more, I started understanding the direction of the post before the bulk of the work was put in.
- Separate research from writing. I learnt that trying to write a post while also trying to learn about the subject took way too much time. Do your research before hand and when you write just stitch the steps together.
- Improve your writing workflow. I spent a lot of time iterating on my blogging workflow. I currently write all my posts in Notion. Having it in Notion means I have my outline, research, and drafts all in one place. After a post is complete, I'll copy and paste it into Forestry.io, my CMS, which preserves all my formatting.
- Just write. This lesson is easier said than done, especially when you're writing a post on your computer. It's so easy to delete sentences or undo a bunch of your writing. One reason it takes me so long to write is that I'm constantly editing sentences or paragraphs as I'm writing them. I've had to be very intentional about when I edit and when I write. I'll focus on just getting words onto a page. It doesn't need to be grammatically correct or worded particularly well. As long as the ideas are there, I know I can edit it later.
Have a clear plan with side projects
I spent a lot of my time this year getting organized. Being organized is crucial for those projects that I might not touch for weeks on end. I'd much rather spend my time working on the project than trying to figure out what I was doing weeks ago. Another bonus of having a clear plan with side projects is prioritization. I could look ahead with tasks for a project and rank them in order of impact or fun-ness. I ended up writing about my process, have a read if you want a deeper look into how I organize my projects with Github and Notion.
Going broad is fun but at some point go deep
Being stuck inside has given me the time to explore new things. I started learning Elixir and React. I've picked up Figma and have been reading up on UI/UX design. Trying out a bunch of different tools has been super fun. But it's felt like I've been at the beginner stage all year. At some point I need to go deep. This lesson is more of a mindset shift than an actionable item. And it's directly related to the next lesson.
Don't compare yourself to others; don't go chasing waterfalls
I constantly struggled with this throughout the year. Especially, when you see devs on twitter doing awesome things. Or when you see the new hotness come out (looking at you Rust). It's really hard not to drop what you're doing and go explore something else. There's two big takeaways from this lesson. One, you don't know the situation of the person you're comparing yourself to. So it might not be fair to compare yourself to them. Two, don't stay in tutorial purgatory. Pick a language or framework and go build something substantial with it. Go deep rather than staying at that surface level.
Join a community
One major reason I was able to write so much this year was because I joined a couple of communities. The first shoutout goes to the Changelog's blogging channel in Slack. I met some great people there. We read each others drafts and we were in a book club together. Itching for more experiences like this, I found Monica Lent's Blogging for Devs group. This community is a pay to enter community. But it's been worth it. Being around a bunch of developers all working towards the same goal has been extremely inspiring. It's also given me a lot of tools and ideas for how I want to approach blogging in 2021.
Ain't no party like a 2021 party
I'm really hoping that next year is going to be a drastically different year. Ideally, for the better. One of my focuses for next year is to take time for myself. To recharge the batteries after periods of stress. And to avoid burnout. I excited to focus on sleeping better, being healthier, and being more connected to those around me. While that's my main focus, I have a bunch of other things I'm super excited about:
- Exploring the world of Youtube videos and live streaming! It's a completely new medium for me, and probably not something I'm going to do well. But the process of making videos seems like a really fun challenge.
- Continuing to write posts but narrowing down the focus of my blog. I spent 2020 writing about different topics. I want to start focusing on more tech related content. And I can use other mediums to share different topics.
- Restarting the newsletter! I'm so sorry to everyone who has subscribed so far. I want to do a much better job at connecting with people who have graced me with their inbox.
- Improving my website with extra features, design tweaks, and better accessibility. Also, improving my publishing workflow. I want to tackle tasks like automating social images or creating checklists for sharing across platforms.
- Coding more. I have a bunch of side project ideas that I want to work on that I just haven't prioritized. I can't wait to get my hands dirty with some coding in 2021.
- Spending more time teaching others. Being able to mentor others has always been one of my career aspirations. I'm starting to see more opportunities to mentor, and I want to start doing it more outside of work.
- Exploring ways to find balance in my life. Balance is something that I'm always going to be struggling with. Looking through the laundry list of things I want to achieve, it feels like I'm going to be put in the same situation as this year. I'm fully aware that I may be pulled in countless directions. But I'm also looking forward to ruthlessly prioritizing the projects that truly excite me.
Ultimately, I can't wait for 2020 to be over! It's been a rollercoaster of a year. And not even close to what I was expecting. It still feels like I haven't done anything of note this year. But listing out my achievements has proved otherwise. At the very least, I've learnt a bunch about myself. And I have new focuses to bring into next year. Finally, I don't want to jinx anything, but I'm hopeful that 2021 will be pandemic free 🤞.
I hope you enjoyed my recap! I really like doing recaps, and I love reading other people's recaps. So if you want to share yours please tag me on Twitter (@jonoyeong) or send me a DM. Hopefully, next year I'll have a way to add comments on my website. Maybe I'll make a video about it, or put it in my newsletter. But definitely after I've had a long nights sleep. Bye 👋 2020!