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2020 in Review: What was that?

I write these posts every year, and I like to write about the blog and my personal achievements during the year, but 2020 was such a global mess that this post might be a little different. I made it through healthy and financially safe and I know I was lucky as hell to be in the situation I was in when this started.

In March everything started to develop quickly. The first lockdown came, I was not supposed to go to my workplace anymore, all in-person meetings were cancelled and the motto was: #StayAtHome. What started was a period of physical and social isolation and a fight for mental stability.

Personal decisions and lucky coincidences

In retrospect, I did everything right in the beginning of 2020, before we knew about any pandemics. I had a rather safe working place, I invested heavily in office furniture for my home and the year before I rented just the right appartment to have more room for myself. This came in handy when you had to stay at home and wanted to have some time for yourself away from your loved ones.

But I saw these right decisions for others, too. A relative from Italy that came for work to Germany had health issues and needed to decide whether to go back to his family to get medical help or continue his journey abroad. End of February he decided to get back home just before everything closed down (as a reminder: in March Italy closed down and nobody was allowed to cross the border or travel between regions) and he was able to visit a doctor and stay with the family during the year. Since everything closed down, he would have been alone and without a job had he stayed here.

Productivity lost the race

Having a home office is great if you want to work. Having a home office where you sleep, eat and live your life also constantly reminds you that you need to work, that you have stuff to do and that you should not rest. For me, productivity went really down during this year, both for work and for academic stuff. I managed to write only one academic paper, and could not publish it in time. The personal failure weighs heavily on my shoulders, therefore I needed some intense vacation in December to brush off this year and refresh my mind for 2021.

As I said before, this year was all about mental health. As an introvert, I don’t need a lot of social interaction, but suddenly having none is also hard. I also could have met people despite any rules, but I could not bring myself to break the rules and risk becoming part of a statistic. Out of solidarity with people who could not stay at home and protect themselves, I was extra strict with myself.

For this post, I want to share my “lesson learned” for my mental health. I apologize if this sounds like life coach advice, but I had a lot of time to think about myself and this advice therefore only applies 100% to me. Your mileage may vary:

  • There are a lot of idiots, egoists and ignorant people in the world, and they are mostly silent about it. The pandemic made them visible, and they are pretty numerous. It is best to ignore this fact most of the time.
  • Some people ignored rules. Not everyone who met other people is an idiot or ignorant, they might have needs that I do not have or understand. You sometimes need to see things from their perspective to understand and acknowledge their needs. Empathy is key to every social interaction, not everything is black and white.
  • News are cancer for your mental health. News stations report 90% of the time about bad things that happen, and you do not need to know every day. For me, news is mostly self-punishment and I need to diversify my news feed.
  • Weltschmerz is real. Be more egoistic and stop troubling yourself for things you can not control.
  • Notifications are cancer. I turned off notifications on my phone during the holidays and after a few days of withdrawal symptoms (hearing my phone ring randomly) the anxiety went away. I still have no solution for when I need to reenable them for work.
  • Speaking of notifications, you do not need to have real-time notifications of Facebook, Twitter etc. Remove social network apps from your main screen and open them from the app drawer when you need them. Treat social networks as time-consuming hobbies such as gaming: you would not turn on your Playstation during work or on the 5-minute toilet break.
  • Separate work and free time as much as possible. If you do not have an extra room for your home office, put away your notebook after work, turn off any devices and resist answering emails after work. Even from your most cherished colleagues.
  • I do not have kids yet, but I value time with family. So enjoy the time with family, plan and spend time with your children, your pets, your best friends. Time is money, but not all of your time is as valuable as watching your children grow up and watching your relationships flourish.
  • Speaking of family and mental health, it helps to cut out toxic members of your circle as early as possible. The pandemic might have revealed big deficiencies in your acquaintances. You most certainly do not miss out on anything if you stop interacting with certain people, but you get the full mental health benefits of not having to deal with bullshit.
  • Check your priorities in life. You might want to have a career instead of family right now, or value money in the bank more than any free time. My advice is to write down what your current priority in life is, and check regularly to see if this is still true. It helps put things in perspective: does it make sense for me to work 60 hours per week, or do I enjoy spending time with my wife right now?
  • Adding to the previous point: Do what you enjoy. If you love your job, that is okay. Most people do not, and a job is only a way to get financial security and enjoy other things in life, such as hobbies, food or family time. If you enjoy video games, do that.
  • Addition to that: Stress is a main productivity killer. It might sound counter-intuitive, but taking time off from work to do more enjoyable things makes you more productive. There are studies that show that.

Enough for one post. I plan to do a more extensive post (inspired by “100 Tips For A Better Life“) on life advice. For now, let us look at how the blog managed.

The blog must go on

I posted around 10 posts this year. This blog had over 5600 unique visitors in 2020. This is a plus of 5.4% over 2019, just to put it into perspective. Most traffic is from the US and from Germany. Top five also includes UK, India and France. Surprisingly, my most successful post was “Hacking with Copy and Paste“, which I do not consider especially interesting, but apparently I was wrong.

None of my recent posts gained much traction, which shows that new content is more difficult to discover than old content. As I do not invest in ads and do not have links to my blog, search engines are the most important gateway to my blog right now. In April the blog had its 5 year anniversary, which I forgot to celebrate. I also promised to look into future directions of the blog, but as you see I did not follow up as the focus shifted to other things this year. I am considering focusing more on non-technical posts, as a way to write down a few thoughts about life. I read a few other blogs occasionally and some manage to perfectly separate private life and hobby/work posts, but some combine them in a perfect fashion and its always a wonderful read (e.g. Troy Hunt is pretty good at this and gets critized for it).

If you made it this far, you probably are either a regular reader here or reaaaally bored. Either way, thank you! I love it when people come up to me to tell me they read my blog. This is motivating and a pretty great way to show appreciation. Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on this blog.

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