2024: The Year Of ...

My Year in Review posts always end up getting massive and this year's was no exception. In fact, it was so large that I ended up splitting out several parts into their own articles as I went. And yet, when all was said and done, I still felt like it was too much. Too long. Too wordy. Too many goals and ideas. Another bit had to split off and, as I said at the time, that section was the ending. It had always felt a bit tacked on, anyway.

So here we are, a whole new series: The Year Of… (oh the mystery and foreshadowing 😱). The aim is to provide a look back at my goals and desires for the previous year (2023), followed by my hopes and aims for the year ahead (2024). I'm considering this a trial, but secretly hope it will stick.

But First...

Why the need for a change at all? (Other than pure lengthiness.) That mainly comes down to a shift in how I'm viewing my Year in Review articles, the result of which is that a bunch of introspective analysis no longer fits as well. I recently wrote about my trials with this year's review and a lack of narrative, which is definitely not helped by adding a complete tone- and content-shift at the very end.

There's also the concept of "themes". I've blogged already (deliberately) about "Th-ree-mes" – or the practice of picking three focus points for a month and consistently returning to them – and in that I mentioned the Cortex Theme System, which had inspired my own experiments pretty strongly. But I wanted to go a bit further than monthly themes and consider trying out the broader concept of a yearly theme, which is what the Theme System is really focused around.

The chaps behind Cortex have come to very similar conclusions to me:

    • Resolutions don't work because they're too inflexible and too prescriptive;
    • They tend to rely on strict regimens or defined goals, which are problematic because the moment you start to fall behind you are likely to sack it off completely;
    • Self-improvement happens in incremental, minute steps, which means that trend lines matter more than specific values;
    • And, a year is a long time to stick to any specific goal or aim, with lots of unknowable futures that might trip you up or need you to flex.

    The last one is a large part of why I like my system of monthly focus points, but the flexibility of that system can also be its downfall. When picking monthly themes, you can end up in a form of analysis paralysis, unsure on what should be tackled next. It also prioritises short-term thinking over long-term problem-solving, which can cause certain personal goals to go ignored entirely.

    As such, I like the idea of an overarching goal for an entire year. That goal should be broad, malleable, and easy to re-interpret – indeed, the Theme System treats a yearly theme that morphs throughout the course of a year as a feature rather than a bug – but which also ultimately pushes a specific trend line in a positive, intended direction (whether that is down or up).

    The other aspect of the Theme System that I initially disliked but now see as being quite intriguing is the idea that, by focusing on a specific area of your life with relative intensity for a short (ish) period, you can forgive losing focus elsewhere. For instance, in 2023 one of the co-creators of the system – the enigma known only as CGP Grey – chose to hyper-focus on work. Every decision he made was considered within the context of "will this benefit my business or not?", which meant that other, previous focuses – like making time for travel, prioritising friends, or attending conferences – all got pushed to one side. The result is a year that has laid a strong foundation which future Grey can effectively build upon. His 2024 is therefore much more focused around the little things that have slipped through the cracks, whilst the business can happily churn away in the background. In other words, he let some aspects of his life stagnate or operate on autopilot in order to really strengthen another area, with the intent that going forward that should need less upkeep in turn. For reasons that will soon become clear, hearing him talk about using a theme in this way was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me.

    As a result, I'm shaking things up a little. I still really like John Green's structure of considering your year's progress through the lens of Things to Continue, End, and Start, but I'm hoping that I can now use that introspection to flesh out a yearly theme, and have that theme help focus my monthly goals moving forward. So with that said...

    2023: An Introspective

    Normally I'd start this section off with a link to last year's Review but, well, that is still sitting in the drafts' folder 😅 I'm going to blame this (once again) on the Big Day stealing so much of my time, but it also fell foul of a general lack of blogging momentum. Still, a draft does mean that I have some idea as to what I was thinking and, at the end of the day, I'm still me, so I do remember my overarching goals.

    These broadly boil down to two main aims or themes:

    • Get married 💍
    • Travel more 🛫

    And y'know what? The ring on my finger tells me that I achieved the first one, and my end-of-year timeline shows that we visited four (largely) new countries, as well as every region of the UK (bar the Isle of Man and overseas territories), so I'm taking that as completions all around! Not bad at all 🥳

    I also wanted to keep several ideas from 2022 rolling along, and I'll admit up front that these did a little less well. Specifically, I wanted to focus on three "continual" areas of improvement[1]:

    • Keeping up with friends by organising at least two relevant outings a month;
    • Matching that socialising time with a roughly equal amount set aside for getting out into nature;
    • And focusing on my health – after all, I needed to fit into a suit at some point 😉

    These all ultimately lagged a little and I wouldn't call them consistent top-priorities, but I don't think we did too poorly, either. We spent plenty of time with friends (though, admittedly, the constant stream of weddings definitely helped juice those numbers 😅) and a decent amount of time exploring nature. It helped that we travelled to quite a few places that had good walking and bird watching opportunities – particularly Rwanda and Mallorca – but even closer to home, we managed several dedicated days out to local reserves. We also made good use of our Elmley and WWT memberships, all of which resulted in a solid haul of "lifers" in terms of animal and bird sightings, as well as plenty of photographs and fond memories.

    As for the third point of focus, I definitely lost weight by the time of the wedding. Between regular five-a-side football, less-regular table tennis, and that whole walking to Mordor thing, alongside some generally improved eating habits, as August rolled around I was feeling pretty good, I could fit into everything I needed to fit into, and I was able to party the night away with little consequence. Post-wedding, this definitely took a backseat, and so I'm not ending the year on the high-note I would have hoped, but I've at least proven that a healthier outlook is both possible and personally rewarding.

    Overall, then, I'd call 2023 a ✨ success ✨ and a solid progression over the year before. Previous goals have become habits; new goals have formed proven patterns; and I've ended the year with some major life achievements checked off.

    2024: Hopes & Dreams

    Right, so what about the next 12 11 months (I really need to get better at publishing these on time 😂). What do I want to focus on moving ahead? What's currently on my mind?

    To End

    • Wedding admin! It's ridiculous, but we still have vendors to chase and thank yous to write, as well as a stack of personal admin to update. There's one extra layer to this which I want to split out into its own articles (or possibly articles) but suffice to say I am predicting that the Big Day will continue to be a time sink for several more months.
    • Magazines – yes, they're back 😅 I continue to chip away at this, so maybe one final, concerted effort will remove one of the longest standing tasks on my to-do list for good.
    • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. It's been sat at the almost-finished state for over a year and by now I just want it out of my life. That's not to say that I want video games overall to be a goal. I won't hate picking up a few new titles or playing through some old favourites again, but I'm happy leaving this up to the whims of time. I'd just like to get my debt settled with Poseidon once and for all 😉
    • Distributed Notes. This is probably the most tentative option on any of these lists, but right now I have notes stored in Evernote, WorkFlowy, Readwise, The Old Reader, this website, Dropbox, and probably several others that I've outright forgotten about (anyone else remember browser bookmarks?). It would sure be great to have these all centralised somewhere. Maybe even this very website? *cough* digital garden *cough*
    • Working in a child's bedroom. The bookcases may cover most of the walls, but there's no escaping the fact that the study I work from is a mish-mash of childish pastels and shelving optimised to just get stuff out of boxes and off the floor ASAP. There's no real design to the arrangement of furniture, and that has caused piles to grow everywhere; it also just doesn't feel very me, and given that I spend well over two-thirds of my time in this room, I'd like that to change. Plus, a few months back I had a colleague ask me about my comic book collection on a work call. I'm not ashamed of liking graphic novels, but it did make me realise that this isn't the most professional backdrop. Time for an overhaul!

    To Continue

    • Seeing friends and exploring nature. Does that really need any more of an explanation? Though I don't think I want the strict "twice per month" aspect to factor any more. The goal was to get better at thinking about these things; at prioritising them. Last year largely proved that this is now a habit, so perhaps I don't need to be so prescriptive in 2024. I will add that it would be good to make some use of our National Trust and WWT memberships, now that we're lifetime supporters and all 😲
    • Being healthier. I think football may be off the cards for now, but I'd still love to get into climbing and we've proven that table tennis is an option, so maybe that can make a comeback. It would also be great to find some ways to generally break my bad habits around food, but I'm thinking about that as more of a stretch goal.
    • Photography. Obviously, getting out, taking more photos, and generally improving, but I've also made some solid improvements to my overall workflow in the last twelve months – despite everything else going on – and feel that there's still more that I could tweak and improve. Plus, I've been loving reliving safaris and other adventures by going back through old photo albums and sprucing them up, so I'd like to continue doing that. Most of all, though, it would be great to finally figure out that critical last step: publishing. I'm not sure if that will mean creating an actual photo website this year, but I'd like to spend some time at least considering what that could look like in the future.
    • Streamlining Processes. I haven't written as much about it (though not nothing, either) but I spent a surprising amount of time in the latter half of 2023 improving the efficiency or general productivity of various parts of my life. From switching feed readers, to learning Gmail keyboard shortcuts, to improving note-taking and information capture, I've actually made some "small" changes that have led to big gains. I'd like to take that energy into 2024 and really double-down on it, now that I have the time to tackle larger sections of my life holistically. From Lightroom to this very website, there's a lot that I feel I could refine; and IRL, there's plenty of scope for home automations and general sorting that would make our lives just that little bit simpler or more efficient.

    To Start

    • Getting expert advice. Now that the wedding is done, we can turn our attention to the next big challenge: home renovations. We're approaching some (more) big life choices, and whilst I'm happy to push them off to 2025, by the time that year rolls around I want to have some concrete figures and information in hand so that those decisions can be well-informed. Do we want to extend our living space? Can we get permission to convert the attic? Is it possible to modernise the garage? Do we need to look to move? Can I put a pond in our garden? There's a lot that we need to work out, but the first step is talking with architects, builders, etc. to find out what is or isn't possible and what kinds of costs our ideas might incur.
    • Migrating to Craft 5. It's not out yet (though the beta has launched during the time it's taken for me to write this blog post) but Craft 5 looks like it will unlock a lot of really cool, clever features and functionality. I'm talking an almost complete overhaul of how I take notes, how I journal, and possibly even how I write articles. But for any of that to work, I first need to migrate everything over, which is going to be a much larger headache as a data migration than Craft 4 ever was 🤞
    • Building theAdhocracy v4. It's been over a year since even a minor bump on the version number for this website, but it does feel like a number of factors are coalescing around 2024 being a good year for a major version release. Obviously, Craft 5 will require some heavy content template refactoring and will hopefully unlock some new features on the front end, too, but with last year's experiments with Astro, and some more recent glances at Svelte, I feel like it's also a solid moment to finally branch away from React[2]. I remain a little reticent about the speed of obsolescence occurring in those other frameworks, but I don't think anything can be worse than what I currently have in that regard 😬
    • Home Assistant. If I'm really going to try and get home automation to work, then I need a better control system than a half-dozen different apps and user accounts spread across multiple devices, and Home Assistant remains the best (and most future-proof) option. So before I really get invested in any given device ecosystem, I want to find out how much admin tax this creates, and how reliable it actually is (or isn't). I have the hardware, I just need to spend the time.
    • DVD Digitisation. Oh yes, as we come to the end of one digitisation project (magazines), another appears to take its place. I've had these racks of films behind me for over a decade, and it's just not a useful method of storing them. It takes up a ridiculous amount of space, it's hard to find anything when you want it, and it just looks ugly. The goal is to get them all boxed up into storage and accessible through some kind of network-attached device. Maybe the same server running Home Assistant? Either way, the first step will be creating a workflow that actually does what I want. Early experiments last year were only a partial success, with films freezing during playback whenever they encountered a chapter change. We'll see how this goes.

    The Year Of... Setting the Stage

    So with that all said, where does that leave my yearly theme. Looking over the focuses that I've picked out over the past couple of months – the things that have been bugging me; the to-dos that I want to see the back of; the ideas I'm most exciting about getting stuck into – there are some clear trends.

    First, whilst I'm really happy with the overall progress I've made reinforcing various habits and personal improvements over the past few years, I'm not interested in really focusing on anything like that in 2024. As much as I really want to throw in the usual "play more video games", "read more books", or even "spend more time with the people I care about", when I really think about where my priorities lie right now, I'm happy to put these to one side. Just for a short while. Just for a year.

    Don't get me wrong, we already have plenty of plans to see people, go to gigs, visit museums, and generally hang out. Similarly, I've already finished reading one book this year, and I do obviously hope that won't be the last. But in terms of prioritising the to-do list? That kind of thing just isn't going to be top of mind.

    Why? Because I'm thinking about the longer term, and because I need a breather. For the past three years, most of my free time has been spent on big life challenges. Planning an engagement; buying and moving into our new home; organising a wedding. Side projects and smaller goals have been pushed aside to make time for the big things. That's been fine and I'm really proud with everything that we've achieved, but the end of 2023 was a slog. All of that stuff we've been ignoring has piled up and we're running out of space to hide it. The cracks are beginning to show.

    On top of which, if first comes love, and then comes marriage, (and then comes a home; even if we inverted those steps), then what comes next? 😉

    We may not quite be there yet, but the clock is effectively ticking on some pretty hefty decisions. We aren't looking to answer those questions in the next twelve months, but just knowing they're on the horizon has a clarifying effect. I'm surrounded by incomplete projects, partially thought-through systems, and tasks that have been kicked down the road for months or even years. This website is practically creaking under the weight of dependency alerts, and the clunky design is making it more irritating to use by the month. My journaling has become so frustrating that it's been bumped into a third-party tool, which I'm painfully aware is only adding to the future tasks of re-syncing everything. Despite having moved off of the Flickr platform three years ago, I still haven't found a good replacement. The PC I bought in 2022 to serve as a home automation hub has been powered on for all of thirty minutes, ever.

    Back in the physical realm, our walls are all still sporting not-particularly-fetching electrical chases in need of patching, plastering, and painting, left over from when we first moved in. There are boxes in the roof we still haven't opened, and far more that need to be properly sorted. The garden remains practically untouched (bar a couple of new plants) and my desperation-fuelled study layout – designed purely to maximise shelf space – is a pretty uninspiring place to spend so much of my time. And of course, whilst we've talked many times about how we might adapt the house to better suit our needs, we've never really found out what is or isn't possible.

    Our life may be on the brink of a monumental shift in terms of personal focus, free time, and priorities. Before that happens, I want to have robust systems in place that are easy to maintain, simple to enhance, and which largely self-regulate. They should be efficient and pleasant to use. Where possible, tasks should be completed and need no further input at all.

    So that's the aim for this year. Fifty-two weeks (give or take) of relative focus with one major overarching theme: setting the stage.

    Because stage management is about two key concepts:

    1. Removing the unwanted props, furniture, and general structure of the previous show.
    2. Preparing the theatre for the next performance, so everything is in the right place, and ready for the curtain to rise.

    It's about transitions and optimisations. Creating a solid foundation that the actors and stagehands can elevate in their own ways. Making sure everything makes sense and everyone knows where they need to be (and that there are no obvious trip hazards along those routes). Most importantly, it's about tackling big projects whilst still sweating the small stuff.

    That's the mindset that I want to focus on in 2024. I don't yet know which projects will take priority, and I have no fixed outcomes in mind; I just want to end the year with less on the to-do list than I started with. And it's a good year to do this with. Between Alison being at uni again until September and almost our entire year's worth of paid leave being taken up with other people's weddings, there isn't much else to plan. I can't get distracted with any big trips or lots of socialising, because Alison is stuck to an education timetable and we're out of time off.

    So yes, I want to continue digitising magazines and ripping DVDs. Yes, I want to create a journaling system that works for me. Yes, I want to talk with architects and understand what our best options are for making a better space for our future together. But none of these are definitive goals. If it moves the dial – whichever dial – forwards, then it gets focused on. So long as I get some things into the Done column, that's all that matters.

    Welcome to 2024: The Year of Setting the Stage!

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    • <p>What are my goals, themes, and overarching desires for the year ahead; and how does 2023 compare to what I had hoped it would become.</p>
    • Murray Adcock.
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