I love the end of the year.

A Type A personality to my core, I’m naturally a big fan of planning. So it probably comes as no surprise that I truly look forward to digging in and setting goals for the year to come. And, with all that planning for the new year, comes some reflection on the past 12 months: what went right, what went wrong, and what could have gone a little better.

Lessons Learned in 2019

I think this year was one of an unusual amount of change for me, both personally and professionally, so I thought (in Buzzfeed top 10 style, no less) I’d share what I’ve learned:

#1 – There is no such thing as a “quick” project.

Ha ha! You’re probably either laughing along with me or at me for this one. Who feels my pain here? If there’s one mistake I’ve made more times than I ever care to admit, it’s believing that there’s such a thing as a “quick project.” It just. never. happens.

“Oh, this is suuuuch a quick project, I’ll just squeeze it in even though I already have too much on my plate.” – me, all of the time.

I can’t say that I’ll never do this again, ever, but I do think it’s finally stuck with me that a project is never, ever as “quick” as I think it will be. Something inevitably comes up that stalls event the quickest of projects: I think it’s some hidden secret of the universe I’ve discovered.

#2 – Collaboration with highly skilled people is AWESOME.

Since starting my biz awhile back, I’ve always been a bit of a lone ranger. But this year, I was given several opportunities to collaborate with people way smarter and way more skilled than me—and, boy, let me tell you, it has quickly turned into one of my most favorite things.

I love feeding off of other people’s ideas and creative energy…and man, is it a relief knowing that you’re not flying totally solo on a particularly challenging project.

#3 – It’s okay to to do (a lot) less.

Every year, I’d plan out a bi-weekly schedule of posts that had to be equal amounts SEO-worthy while also interesting for prospective clients to read. I DREADED writing all of these posts, but I felt some weird obligation to keep on going. This year? I skipped blogging entirely for the first few months and then I wrote once a month on a topic that was at the top of my mind.

I also quit Facebook for my business, as well as creating any marketing-style posts for my Instagram. Social media is just not my jam and I feel hella award marketing there, so why waste my time?

What I’m slowly realizing is that I just don’t have time to do it all. And so I’m not going to kill myself trying to do all of the things any more—starting with weeding out the items on my to-do list I dislike the most (I’m looking at you, Facebook).

#4 – Practice and “for fun” projects are not just for beginners.

A few months ago, I was going through some old files when I stumbled across a folder of projects from my college days. And you know what? I was super impressed with how creative I was back then! I was storyboarding out After Effects projects, I was illustrating with a Wacom tablet—things I haven’t imagined doing since client work started stacking up.

But it got me thinking: why does client work need to be the only work I’m doing? Can’t I still noodle around for fun? Spoiler alert: I can…and that’s what I’ve started doing. I found a site that spits out design challenges/prompts and I’ve been having fun (like, real fun!) designing again in my spare time.

#5 – An arbitrary financial goal is meaningless.

Ugh. I could smack myself for getting it into my head that I had to “hit $100K in revenue this year.” Someone I admire was really harping on this $100K figure and even had a (brilliant, I must admit) course related to hitting that number as a freelancer. I preached my goal to the masses at the beginning of the year and inevitably started feeling a little crappy mid-June when I realized I might fall short of my financial goals.

Rather than being totally bummed out and feeling like a failure, I realized that the number I chose was 100% arbitrary. It didn’t mean anything to me, personally. Instead, I realized that I was working toward something way more important: this year I raised my rates, I reduced the number of clients I work with at any given time, and I cut the number of hours I worked IN HALF from the year before. The financial goal was pretty meaningless, but the overall outcome was huge.

#6 – “Getting ahead” is a mythical state of being.

Friends, I’m convinced that “getting ahead” doesn’t exist.

Get to inbox zero? More emails will pour in. Catch up on all of your projects? You guessed it—more requests will come your way.

I’ve given up on ever thinking that I’ve gotten ahead. It’s like trying to pull a quick one on the universe. Now, I just schedule things in as they come and get to them when I’m able.

#7 – More tools does not equal “more organized” or “more productive.”

I’ve tried at least ten project management tools over the years. I won’t even bother listing them here—they’re all related in the same fundamental way. Meaning, if you don’t use them properly, you’re going to get nothing out of them (me).

I’ve always blamed the software itself or made excuses: “adding a whole project and all of the tasks takes too long” or “I’ll just write today’s to-do list on a piece of paper.” Instead of just committing to something and making it work, I always complained until a shiny new system came out for me to try—until I invariably quit that, too.

Mid-2019, after trying to wrap my head around the latest project management craze, I said screw it and went back to the only one I’ve ever been sort of okay with, Asana. I’ve committed to keeping EVERYTHING in there since, no exceptions, and life has been much easier/better.

My point? Your tools don’t make you better. They can certainly make your job easier if you let them…but they can also totally bog you down if you’re not careful.

#8 – Books and podcasts for enjoyment are just as important as books and podcasts for “business.”

For the past handful of years, all of the podcasts I listened to were typically related to design or freelancing or running a business in SOME way. Ditto for the books and articles I’d read.

It’s like I felt guilty—for reading or listening to—things that weren’t work related. How sick is that?

This year, I only read maybe one non-fiction book and I DEVOURED fiction in a way I haven’t since I was a kid. It was blissful and such a treat on days or weekends where I needed to unwind.

It’s okay to have downtime. It’s okay to read for enjoyment. It’s okay to listen to things in the car that aren’t work related.

#9 – It’s 100% fine to use too many exclamation points in correspondence (!!!!).

I am an exclamation point over-user.

This used to always make me so self conscious. I’d have to re-read my emails and edit out my exclamation points to make sure I only had one per paragraph like, you know, a sane person.

But then I thought about it: if anyone reading my emails has an issue with my enthusiasm? Well, that’s on them.

2019 was the year of embracing my exclamation pointing tendencies. I love them, I’m excited to use them, and if you send me an email without one…I’ll secretly question whether or not you like me (kidding—sort of).

#10 – Wearing your busy-ness like a badge of honor doesn’t necessarily make you an interesting person.

“How have you been.”

“Oh, just really busy with work.”

Literally the most boring conversation in the world.

I started catching myself answering people this way. All. Of. The. Time. Not only did it make me sound like a total workaholic goober, but it also ended conversations real quick. There’s only so many stories I can tell about working on the weekends to “catch up” before my conversation partner’s eyes glaze over.

My 2019 resolution was to go out and do things, to not work so much, and to have better stories to tell people. I think I nailed this one.

What about you? What did you learn this year? I’d love to hear all about it! 🙂