The year of writing

Choosing my Yearly Theme for 2021.

For 2019 I experimented with an alternative to a traditional new year's resolution: a "Yearly Theme". It was such a success that I repeated the process in 2020, and now I'm laying the foundations for my "theme" for 2021.

Themes are not resolutions

To be blunt, I've come to view new year's resolutions as a load of nonsense. They're often small and frivolous goals set with little thought and even less expectation of success. But I am a big believer in occasionally taking-stock and assessing my progress. Progress in what, you may ask? Well, pretty much everything.

And because everything takes a pause at the end of the year (by design, as Christmas is a big deal in my house), the January-December cadence works well as a natural period to look back on and plan ahead for. Although perfectly arbitrary, the incrementing of a number on the calendar is a useful boundary.

What are Yearly Themes?

Inspired by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley from the Cortex podcast, a yearly theme is a guiding idea or principle that you apply to your life for the whole year. The "theme" concept is deliberately vague enough to mean different things to different people. So what does a yearly theme mean to me?

  • It should be specific enough to provide guidance when faced with a decision. You should be able to envisage a situation where your theme would be useful when faced with a "should I do x or y" decision.
  • It should, by nature, be strategic, and therefore have a logical opposite. The theme is all about choosing a specific path for yourself, so it would have no value if it was something that you would naturally do anyway. A theme like "the year of getting older one day at a time" is meaningless, because it's something you're inevitably going to do: there is no viable alternative. In a similar vein, I don't think that "the year of being successful" is a good theme because no one sets out to not be successful, and in many ways success is a measure, not a specific goal. You can't plan to be successful; success is an outcome of your plans.
  • It must be memorable, because you should have it at the front of your mind throughout the year. It's also helpful if other people in you life can remember it, too. That helps with accountability and also gives those around you an insight into why you choose to do the things you do.

Past themes:

This is not my first rodeo, and I've had a theme for each of the last couple of years.

  • 2019: The year of shipping. My plan here was to increase the amount of projects that I finished. By default I'm a tinkerer, and rarely see things through to completion, so setting this as an explicit goal meant that I shipped more things. In many ways it was a great success[1] and heralded a change in mental attitude, but there's still more work to be done. I do ship more now that I used to, but I still err on the side of Infinite Tinkering.
  • 2020: The year of action. I wasn't happy with the name for this one, but @ed_the_coder convinced me to roll with "action". In my mind it was more akin to the (less catchy) "year of personal responsibility". In many, many ways this ended up being a great theme for 2020.

2021: The year of ???

For 2021 I'm hedging my bets and choosing a dual-sided theme. Last year I got into modular synths in a big way, and as a result I've fallen back in love with music[2]. So I'm determined to write and release some of my own music this year. I'm also doubling down on blogging as a concept that I think is important. Some of my favourite websites are blogs, and as someone who writes code for a living, have an outlet for my more creative technological experiments is valuable both for my career and as a general learning tool.

So this year I'll be writing music. And what is blogging if not writing? 2021: the year of music? The year of blogging? Why not both? 2021 is going to be my Year of Writing. Ask me in 2022 how I got on...


  1. In 2019 I upped my workplace productivity, and consistently released weekly episodes of the A Question of Code podcast (where we have talked at length about Yearly Themes before). ↩︎

  2. How I fell out of love with music is an interesting tale, but one for another time. ↩︎



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