My Annual Review (2019): The Year We Moved Into “The Blue House”

I’ve missed this, and it’s good to be back.

I wrote a 2015 annual review and 2016 annual review, but I haven’t written one since then. I did publish a 2017 post that explained my change in focus, but I’m back to writing an annual review for 2019!

This article is for me, because this is a good opportunity to stop, reflect, and use this annual review to influence my own 2020 vision.

Still, I hope you find nuggets of helpful information or insight that you can take away for yourself―or even better, maybe this practice will inspire you to write an annual review of your own!

What Went Well This Year?

1. 🎶 I Love You, You Love Me. . .

This was my top priority all year, and it’s encouraging to see all the progress Rachel and I have made over the last 12 months.

This time last year, we were in rough shape as a side-effect of a busy life, but once we started taking quarterly offsites together we made several key changes that helped us nurture a loving marriage.

For our 5-year wedding anniversary, we bought ourselves marriage counseling. We also dove into The 5 Love Languages to better understand Rachel’s primary love language of quality time, and mine of physical touch.

We started a weekly lunch date where we went through the Weekly Preview from The Full Focus Planner together, and a weekly dinner date focused on quality time without distractions where we talked and laughed without an agenda.

Each incremental investment combined to pay off really well, which leads directly into. . .

2. . . . We’re a Happy Family! 🎶

We welcomed another son, Myron Michael Meese, into the family this year! He’s such a joy, and our house is filled with love and laughter with three boys. Damien is 4 years old, and Lukas is 2.

We’ve lived in Columbia, TN for the past 5 years, but this is our first full year in a house that we own. It’s small, but it’s ours (with help from our local credit union). The kids call it “the blue house,” but you could call it “the blue train station” with the rich life of grandparents, aunts, and friends that pass through every week.

I just finished six weeks of paternity leave, which allowed us to prioritize family life while adjusting to having three young kids at home.Overall, this year our family life has been rich and well-protected from work.

I created firm boundaries between work and home this year, by getting rid of internet (and I recently replaced my smart phone with a Light Phone II). I’ve been working out of a private office when I’m not at Michael Hyatt’s shared office in Franklin, but that’s about to change. . .

3. “People Like You Must Create. . .

“. . . If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society”
– Laurence Fishburne as Paul Jellinek in Where'd You Go, Bernadette 

Work-wise, my primary focus for nearly three years has been Platform University. That continues to be exciting and challenging work, but this year I made a concerted effort to make time for other projects that energize my creative spirit.

That’s why I relaunched this blog with a bang, hiring my neighbor as a part-time Editor-in-Chief to keep me on track. I’ve been blogging weekly for 3 months now, and I can’t believe I ever stopped.

Writing helps me think and process my thinking. Since writing regularly again, I’ve shown up as a more effective leader, and that’s led to unexpected opportunities like getting to emcee The Focused Leader and now I’m opening a coworking space!

Cowork Columbia opens on January 15, so the last two months have been an exciting creative foray into a new world, as a brick-and-mortar business owner with a new (for me) business model. That’s been a whirlwind of entrepreneurial adventure and fun.

4. Mr. Chairman, Sir—Oh Wait, That’s Me!

I’ve been heavily involved in Church since college, and we’ve helped form St. Anna Orthodox Christian Church in Columbia, TN over the last few years.

This year we formalized our parish council at St. Anna and I was elected Chairman, on top of my role as protopsaltis (or head chanter). I’m blessed to serve my community with a great team of active parishioners, always willing to pitch in on whatever we need.

Last year we were meeting in borrowed space on the weekends, at Agathos Classical School, but this year we moved into our own semi-permanent space (it needs a lot of work, but will meet our needs for the next few years).

My faith is foundational to everything I do, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity at my local parish leveraging the skills I’ve built in my professional life.

5. This Money Machine is Almost on Autopilot

Dave Ramsey would call me the “nerd” and my wife the “free spirit” when it comes to our finances. He would also say I’m the spender, and she’s the saver, which can be a difficult combo at times.

That means I’m the one tracking where every dollar goes, but I’m also the first to justify buying some new gadget or toy. In past years, this meant we spent every dollar we had.

We tried a few different approaches this year, but we landed on a personalized version of Profit First for the home.

We set up checking accounts at two different banks and use one to automatically pay all of our fixed expenses, like our mortgage, preschool, and car insurance. That account is where our income automatically deposits, and it’s linked to our emergency fund.

We use Simple (a mobile-only bank) for our day-to-day variable expenses like restaurants and groceries, so that’s the only budget we need to track closely. We practice Macro-Dream, Micro-Execute with this account by automatically funding it weekly, so if we go over budget it’s only a problem for one week at the most.

We paid off student loans last year, and this year we paid off Rachel’s car and doubled our emergency fund. We’re headed into 2020 in good shape financially, without having to stress out over financial details every day!

What Did Not Go Well This Year?

1. Uhh, Are You Sure We Made Money This Year?

This may seem surprising considering finances were also in the “What Went Well” category, but we did not make as much financial progress this year as we’d originally planned.

We paid off Rachel’s car in January, but then we had unexpected medical bills pile up from her appendectomy at the end of last year. We paid those off and got back to square zero, but we had extra expenses getting ready for baby Myron as well.

Both of those unexpected expenses set us back a bit, but we still set a goal to double our emergency fund, and then when Rachel’s grandmother turned 100 she gave every grandchild a surprise check that allowed us to make our goal!

We’ve seen time and time again that when you set a firm goal, even if you don’t know how it’s possible, the resources will appear. God is gracious, but we are human, so we doubt what’s possible all the time.

2. Wait, What Happened to My Team?

The more we’ve taken on, at work and at home, the more important it has become for me to elevate my leadership and delegate work to employees, contractors, or vendors to allow me to focus my time.

At Platform University, that was difficult this year. In January, we promoted my right-hand woman ,Deidra Romero, to serve clients of Michael Hyatt’s BusinessAccelerator program. I was thrilled for her but sorry to lose her on my team. Thankfully, I hired a world-class assistant (Elizabeth White, now Lynch) shortly after that.

My assistant was only part-time, but she was so good that after a few months we promoted her to full-time, and shortly after that, promoted her again to work for Courtney Baker, Michael Hyatt’s CMO! Again, I was excited for her—but sorry to lose her on my team.

Currently, I have one full-time Production Coordinator on my team, but I’ve spent a lot of time this year getting pulled into the weeds and distracted from my Desire Zone tasks where my time is better spent.

3. Ouch, that hurts! I Might Be Getting Old

Despite the fact that I make my living at a keyboard, staring at a computer screen, I live a fairly active lifestyle.

I have a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and a newborn son, and live within walking distance of their preschool, the Farmer’s Market, our church, and my new coworking space. According to my Fitbit Inspire, I average more than 12,000 steps each day (nearly double the average user).

Still, I currently have a minimal exercise habit. I stretch and do push-ups every morning, but that’s not enough. I can feel my body getting older with more aches and pains, especially where my scoliosis has become more painful on bad days.

4. Honey, What’s For Dinner? Breakfast? What About Lunch?

With a busy life and a growing number of mouths to feed, the logistics of mealtime came to a breaking point this year.

It seems simple, right? Buy ingredients, make food, and eat it. However, decision fatigue is a real problem in my line of work, and we’ve spent more time than I care to think about planning, preparing, and discussing what to eat at our house every day.

We just started weekly meal prep on Saturdays, with Cook Once, Eat All Week as our guide. Already, that’s an improvement, but this has been a small sticking point all year long.

Meal prep and cleanup eats away at our limited time with the precious children in our house, so the cost is much higher than even our grocery bill implies.

5. Want to Hang Out Now? Or Never?

Prioritizing time for work, marriage, kids, and creative pursuits requires concerted effort, and friends have been on the back-burner for longer than I care to admit.

I have friends at work, at church, and business friends I collaborate with, but this year the only other friend-focused time was typically last-minute, spur-of-the-moment plans that only sometimes worked out.

Part of my life plan is a desire for deep, rich relationships, but you wouldn’t know that if you looked back at my calendar or to-do list this year.

What Will I Change in The Coming Year?

1. Work Smarter, Not Harder (or Longer)

This has been a repeated “Ah-ha” moment for me this past year, as I pushed the limits of my personal productivity, as well as that of my team.

It helps that I work with Michael Hyatt, since he champions this message in Free to Focus  and shares practical tools for working smarter in his BusinessAccelerator Coaching Program.

Our impact is measured not by how many hours we work—we all have the same finite available time—but by how the specific work that we choose to do changes the world for the better.

Going into 2020, I’m committed to Work Smarter, Not Harder by thinking like an owner, and delegating wherever I can (which is probably more than I think). Thankfully, my roles at St. Anna, home, Platform University, and Cowork Columbia share similar traits.

One of my goals this coming year is to spend 75% of my working hours in my Desire Zone, limiting my attention to the tasks where I have the greatest proficiency and passion. Currently, that includes:

  1. Strategic Direction
  2. Financial Analysis
  3. Team Development
  4. Content Creation
  5. Developing Partnerships

That last one, content creation, used to be pretty broad,  but now I’ve pulled in collaborators for the content strategy on the front-end, and outsourced editing and scheduling content on the back-end.

This next year I plan to narrow that a bit further by following Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice to “document, don’t create” and reserving create-from-scratch energy for revenue-generating initiatives.

2. Please Remember, You Are a Badass

I don’t normally use swear words, in my personal life or online, but I’ve decided that when the words are uplifting then it is 100% worth it to break people out of a funk.

This year, on Rory Feek’s recommendation, I finally read the bestselling book You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. The book challenged my thinking in all the best ways, and I’m excited to take my new perspective into 2020 with a new level of confidence.

At the same time, my therapist taught me the concept of differentiation, which was a more technical version of the same thesis. To paraphrase the idea, your worth is not subject to the judgement of others (alternatively, your badassery is untouchable).

In other words, your opinion of yourself should not change based on what other people say or think, which is easy to accept until you realize that feeling good about yourself because of compliments is the flipside of feeling bad about yourself because of criticism.

As always, I will keep to my principle of Never Stop Learning and seek out constructive feedback—but I’ll filter that feedback through my own worldview and assurance.

My therapist asked me one hard question in this area that’s worth sharing, to double-check the depths of your own self-worth.

If you were the only human on Earth, do you truly believe Christ would die for you?

If the answer’s not an immediate yes, check yourself. You’re a priceless child of God, made in his image (spoiler alert: I definitely got stuck on this one).

3. Macro-Dream, but Also Medium-Dream

In the spirit of Macro-Dream, Micro-Execute, I’m excellent at casting big vision at where life is headed, and practicing delayed gratification to see a bigger payoff in the long run.

Most of the time, that’s an advantage, but my wife is great at helping me remember to pause, live a little, and enjoy time with my family and friends right now.

Rachel is fond of saying that I have great work ethic, and she has great cozy ethic. It’s true! We help balance each other out and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of our goals this coming year is to take a one-week epic family adventure (more than the small, local vacations we’ve taken up until now). The term “Disney Cruise” has been discussed, but whatever we do, it’s going to be epic; we’re not going to put this off any longer!

We’re also rethinking our ideal weeks to include quality time, just for reading and relaxing, and continuing to take the kids out for 1-on-1 dates throughout the year.

4. Time to Start Acting Like I’m Physically Mortal

It’s fairly stereotypical, but I spent my adolescent years and most of my twenties acting as if I was immortal. Sure, I knew I would die in some far-off future, but it was more of a vague concept than harsh reality, and I haven’t given my body the attention it deserves.

As a family, we do eat a fairly healthy diet, but we could do better—and I haven’t had a consistent exercise habit since we started having little kids.

This coming year, I’m committing to making rigorous exercise a habit. I’m not sure yet if that means CrossFit or a personal trainer, but I’m investing in the one life I have to make the most of it—and that means getting in shape.

2020 is the year I turn 30, God-willing, so it’s time to start acting like a mortal and take better care of the only body I’ve got.

5. Money Grows Where You Plant It (Unless That’s On Trees)

This definitely circles back to my heightened awareness of my mortality.

This last year, I upgraded our life insurance policies and hired an attorney to help my wife and I iron out a couple of “Last Will and Testaments” so our just-in-case documents are just-on-file.

We’ve spent the last decade focused on paying off debt, but 2020 is the year we’re refocusing on savings, with the goal of financial independence before we’re 40 (that gives us ten years).

That starts with building a habit of saving money consistently, setting aside a percentage of our income for investments just like we do for taxes and tithing.

I’m not taking income from Cowork Columbia next year, but Rachel is. Our primary goal for that business is to play the long game, and recoup our up-front investment within the first year.

TL;DR Summary: 2019 in Review

It’s been a great year! Honestly, it’s been my best year ever (and God-willing, I have many more “best years” to come). We bought a house, had a baby, started a new business, and helped our church plant establish solid roots.

Still, in the spirit of Never Stop Learning, there is a lot to learn from this year that informs my 2020 Vision, and my family and I have set our sights on bigger and better things ahead.

Next year, we’re focusing on the habits of exercise, investing, and strategic delegation. Also, I am planning to continue to write weekly for this blog!

I hope you found this annual snapshot of my life helpful, and you’re inspired to do something similar on your own.

Do you have any questions about some of the decisions we’ve made, or what we’ll do next? Let me know in the comments below!

10 thoughts on “My Annual Review (2019): The Year We Moved Into “The Blue House”

  1. The 5 Love Languages helped our marriage, too. I recommend it all the time.
    It’s so refreshing to hear a man of business talk about how important his faith is to him. 2019 has been a year of me finding a new ministry and new confidence in how God wants me to use the talents He’s given me.
    And though my readers have been pushing me to write faster, I have become aware of how little time I have left with my kids, as my oldest became a teenager (and I saw two online acquaintances lose their sons). So I have scheduled more family time.
    Even though I enjoy blogging, I don’t enjoy SEO or the feeling that the crickets like my work more than my audience, so I’ve decided to take a step back and only blog monthly. We’ll see if that makes any difference.
    Our family is also getting serious about exercising consistently. We get in cycles where we’re excited to push through the pain; then we get sick or our schedules get interrupted, and we end up not exercising at all for 2 or 3 weeks. My goal is 3-4x a week, and my husband just bought a recumbent bike to help us with that.
    I wrote a short summary of my word for 2019. It’s here if you want to check it out: https://www.liladiller.com/blog/summary-of-rest-and-review-of-slow-down-mama.

    1. Rest is a good word, Lila, our world needs more of that! I’m glad you’re paying close to attention to how your family’s needs change and dictate your focus elsewhere.

  2. Hi John, Happy 2020! Thoroughly enjoyed reading your year review, and you’ll be pleased to know that it inspired me to reflect on my own successes, failures, and goals. I have always enjoyed your emails and as I continue to grow professionally, I will look to you as a resource. Thank you for sharing!
    – James W. Carras
    PS: great to hear of your new community with St. Anna! May our Good Lord bless you and yours in this new year.

      1. John – after graduating from Chapel Hill I moved home to Fort Lauderdale/Miami area. Have been working in non-profits since 2014: political campaigns, the Orthodox Christian Network, and now in higher education at the University of Miami. Looking forward to my next chapter, whatever it may be.

        After reading through your website, I purchased the Full Focus Planner subscription, and can’t wait to start writing my goals! I’ve been using a Moleskine as a daily/weekly planner for the last decade, but want to increase productivity going forward. Will report back on my progress.

  3. Thank you for such an open and transparent summary of your year John. It inspires me to think about my life in the same way. I’ve done a version through Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever and this goes even further in depth and comprehensiveness. I am focussing at the moment on my main goals for this year – get my book done, finish my day job in the summer and prepare for our daughter’s wedding.

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