Some of my favorite things from 2020

Collage of artwork from the last year.

Here is a short list of things I shared this year that I wanted to reshare as we roll into 2021, as well as some thoughts on improvements (for me, our life, this blog, etc) next year. This wasn’t intended as any sort of annual review, but there are shades of that kind of thing here. 🤔 Good riddance 2020 and on to the next!

Art | Quotes | Books | Music | Posts | Articles | Other | Next Year


Here is a selection of some of my (and my kids) favorite artwork I shared this year:

The mini-zine

I got this idea from Austin Kleon. I never knew how to fold and tear a piece of paper like this until now, and it’s a little detail that makes it super easy to transform any piece of paper into a mini-zine. No idea where the story came from either.


Here is a shortlist of some of the favorite quotes I came across this year.

The way you tell your story to yourself matters.

Amy Cuddy

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Peter Drucker

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children . . . to leave the world a bit better . . . to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; this is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The best test of a person’s intelligence is their capacity for making a summary.

Lytton Strachey

Fishing largely consists of not catching fish

Robert Hughes

The quality of your life is the quality of your questions.

Tony Robbins

Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.

Abraham Lincoln

Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.

Ralph Emerson

If the going is easy, maybe you are going downhill.

Max Frisch


Here are ten of my favorite books from 2020 in no particular order:

Words Without Music by Philip Glass

The Great Mental Models Vol 1 by Shane Parrish, Rhiannon Beaubien

Little, Big by John Crowley

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

What Owen Didn’t Know by Laurence Endersen

Designing the Mind by Ryan A. Bush

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

Half Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman


Here are my ten favorite albums this year:

Makaya McCraven & Gil Scott Heron – We’re new again

Purple Mountains (self-titled)

Sault – Untitled (Rise) and Untitled (Black Is)

Terrance Martin, 9th Wonder, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper – Dinner Party

Blu & Exile – Miles

Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight

Moddymann – Taken Away

Black Thought – Streams of Thought, Vol 3

Rudy Willingham – Dunk Reactions

Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

Honorable mention: Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?, Blue Note Reimagined, War on Drugs – Live Drugs, Pearl Jam – Gigaton, Holy Fuck – Deleter, Yppah – Sunset in the Deep End, Disclosure – Energy, Tom Misch – What Kinda Music, Nation of Language – Introduction, Amerigo Gazaway – Solitude, Caribou – Suddenly, RJD2 – The Fun Ones


David Foster Wallace on leadership:

In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.

The story you tell yourself can change everything:

A person who is managing a customer-support team can tell herself that she’s overseeing people who answer customer questions. That’s one story.

Another story is that she manages people who genuinely love helping others; a group that exudes empathy and enjoys solving problems like detectives. This narrative drives her intentions and behaviors. When this is the story she believes about her work, it speaks to her identity and sharpens her work.

While there are environmental forces—such as leadership and workplace culture—that influence what we believe about ourselves, ultimately we are the stewards of our own stories.

Your Work Is Influenced by the Story You Tell Yourself

Sir William Osler and the power of work: Osler was one of the most important figures in the founding of modern medicine, and said the following in one of his books:

Let each hour of the day have its allotted duty, and cultivate that power of concentration which grows with its exercise, so that the attention neither flags nor wavers, but settles with bull-dog tenacity on the subject before you. Constant repetition makes a good habit fit easily in your mind, and by the end of the session you may have gained that most precious of all knowledge—the power of work.

From Cal Newport:

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.

Sir William Osler’s Advice to Students: Practice Concentrating on Hard Things

68 bits of unsolicited advice:

From Kevin Kelly on his birthday. So good. Here are some:

When you get an invitation to do something in the future, ask yourself: would you accept this if it was scheduled for tomorrow? Not too many promises will pass that immediacy filter.

Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.

Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.

9 Short Quotes That Changed My Life and Why:

“This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” —Cheryl Strayed

But you see, life is unfair. Just because you should not have to deal with something doesn’t change whether you in fact need to.

Reminds me of this video from Will Smith.

How to read less:

A bit of a counterpoint to an article I shared previously about how to read more. I’ve been bouncing around books more frequently and trying to be more ok with starting and stopping books at will.

In order to ease and simplify our lives, we might dare to ask a very old-fashioned question: what am I reading for? And this time, rather than answering ‘in order to know everything,’ we might parcel off a much more limited, focused and useful goal. We might – for example – decide that while society as a whole may be on a search for total knowledge, all that we really need and want to do is gather knowledge that is going to be useful to us as we lead our own lives. We might decide on a new mantra to guide our reading henceforth: we want to read in order to learn to be content. Nothing less – and nothing more.

Is stupidity expanding?

A thought-provoking list arguing for and against the thought that people are getting stupider in recent times.

How to write an essay well:

I’m still digging into this but am finding it a great resource to reference. There is so much here that I don’t know or pay attention to, or know instinctively but don’t practice diligently.

The goal of your first draft isn’t to say things well. Save that for rewriting. Your first draft is for generating ideas:

-Brainstorm talking points.
-Connect the dots between those points to learn what you’re really trying to say.

This works best when you’re exploring ideas that most interest you. The more self-indulgent you are, the better your article.


Other stuff

Percentages are reversible:

Maybe this shouldn’t of surprised me the way it did but ¯\(ツ)

We are all collection of ideas:

“I realized that I could lose myself in a character. I could live in a character. It was a choice. And when I finished with that, I took a month to remember who I was. ‘What do I believe? What are my politics? What do I like and dislike?’ It took me a while, and I was depressed going back into my concerns and my politics. But there was a shift that had already happened. And the shift was, ‘Wait a second. If I can put Jim Carrey aside for four months, who is Jim Carrey? Who the hell is that?’ … I know now he does not really exist. He’s ideas. … Jim Carrey was an idea my parents gave me. Irish-Scottish-French was an idea I was given. Canadian was an idea that I was given. I had a hockey team and a religion and all of these things that cobble together into this kind of Frankenstein monster, this representation. It’s like an avatar. These are all the things I am. You are not an actor, or a lawyer. No one is a lawyer. There are lawyers, law is practiced, but no one is a lawyer. There is no one, in fact, there.

From Jim Carrey ( @JimCarrey)

Things that can reduce your chance of success:

  • Saying yes to too many things.
  • Making excuses.
  • Staying up late.
  • Eating poorly.
  • Checking email first thing in the AM.
  • Working more to fix being busy.
  • Buying things you don’t have the money for.
  • Staying in a relationship when you’re not happy.
  • Neglecting relationships that you take for granted.
  • Focusing on yourself.
  • Addiction to substances.
  • Excessive leverage.

Word discovery: Sprezzatura

The word has entered the English language; the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “studied carelessness”, especially as a characteristic quality or style of art or literature.

Designing your life:

A funny and insightful talk about using design thinking to work on your own life.

There is a lot to like here, and like a lot of advice on how to live better it seems so obvious when it’s explained. One part that resonated with me was the part about connecting the dots. This is hard to do and is not a finished state but an on-going practice.

Graphic of the idea of connecting the dots

Adam Savage on being a generalist:

Jack of all trades, master of none, but often better than a master of one.

A fantastic bit on the joys and virtues of skill gathering. Being a generalist is a craft of it’s own.

Wolfwalkers is my favorite movie of 2020:

We watched this on Friday and it easily vaulted to the top of the list. It’s animated (amazingly well) and family-friendly but, that doesn’t mean it’s not deep nor does diminish the fact that watching it can feel like sipping a psyolcibyn tea.

Scotland names their entire snowplow fleet:

…and the name are incredible.

Map of Scotland with snowplow routes hightlighted and snowplow names listed next to icons of trucks on the routes.

Next Year

Here are some thoughts that I want to revisit next year when I write one of these things:

  • We’re doubling down on Scotland (or are we?)
  • I spend most of my time organizing week to week pretty well, but not at longer scales. I want to do a bit more longer-term thinking.
  • What I hope I can do more: listen, notice, and draw.
  • What I hope I can do less: take things personally, be distracted, wish things are different than they are.
  • For my What I Learned Last Week series, I want to include more of these non-link learnings and insights.
  • I want to go swimming.
  • 2019 had a pretty clear (and big) goal. 2020 not so much. I/we need another one.

One response

  1. […] Some of my favorite things from 2020 […]

Comments welcome!