2021 Annual Review: The Year of Presence

Me during a recent skiing trip to Lake Tahoe

The end of the year is usually a time for reflection, gratitude, and planning. With our inboxes quiet and our schedules free of meetings, we can afford to take a moment and think about what we achieved and what’s next. This is my 8th straight year writing an annual review, and I want to switch up the format this time by looking at critical areas such as work, productivity, health, relationships, and learning. Because it’s important to both acknowledge what went well and what could have gone better, I’ll make sure to highlight areas where I want to improve.

1 — Work

Favorite Projects

My first year with Superb AI has come with tremendous growth opportunities. Here are the assignments and projects that felt challenging but energizing:

  1. Performed an in-depth competitive analysis on companies within the MLOps ecosystem.
  2. Interviewed early members of our Go-To-Market team.
  3. Dived into the rabbit hole of bringing DataOps practices to computer vision.
  4. Facilitated multiple partnerships between Superb AI and startup partners within the AI Infrastructure Alliance.
  5. Gave my first industry conference talk.
Me speaking at ODSC West 2021

The common theme to the kind of work I find most gratifying is the novelty element, as I work on them for the first time in my career. To experience more of these high moments in 2022, I want to deliberately seek out opportunities unrelated to my core role (Advocacy, Content, and Partnerships) and collaborate with more cross-functional departments in the organization. Specifically, I’m looking to get more involved with Recruiting, Product, and Research.

A Big Challenge

Besides my core work at Superb AI, I have also engaged in a variety of professional-related side hustles such as writing conference recaps, hosting a data podcast, being a Teaching Assistant for an online course about MLOps, and generally scoping around tons of Slack communities. These all lead to an abundance of busywork. Although I enjoy each of these activities individually, the combination of them all has made my job harder. In 2022, I swear by cutting down on unnecessary tedious tasks and challenging myself to say “No” more often. Maybe it’s time to re-read “The Effective Executive.”

Professional Growth

I have picked up new skills and interests in 2021, which certainly stretched my previous capabilities.

2 — Productivity

Daily Progress

My productivity system is quite simple: capturing tasks in my Todoist app and time blocking them on my Google Calendar. I also rely heavily on the Pomodoro technique by working in a 45-minute or 1-hour block and taking a 15-minute break. Here are strategies that seem to help with my productivity:

My Todoist Tasks
  1. Allocate 3-to-4 hours of deep work in the morning, shallow work in the afternoon, and creative work in the evening.
  2. Turn my phone in Airplane mode while doing deep work.
  3. Move into different work settings throughout the day (home, coworking, coffee shops, etc.) for different tasks.
  4. Intermittent fast in the morning and a short walk after lunch.
  5. Use a work laptop for work projects and a personal laptop for personal projects.

Overall Productivity

I’d rate my overall productivity to be 9 out of 10. Besides the big work and side projects mentioned above, I have also allocated a reasonable amount of time for health, relationships, and learning (all to be explored below). This also signifies a significant mental shift for me compared to previous years (when I tend to emphasize more work), as I recognize other key pillars that make up a meaningful life. I highly recommend “The Defining Decade” to define these pillars yourself.

Digital Distractions

I also have a healthy relationship with social media and technology in general. Ever since reading “Digital Minimalism” two years ago, I have been able to replace digital time with analog activities such as reading books, walking around the city, and having good conversations with friends. For more productivity tips and strategies, be sure to check out Cal Newport’s podcast “Deep Questions.”

3 — Health

My Levels Health Metrics

Nutrition

Since moving to San Francisco earlier this year, I have eaten much more healthy food, as many of my friends are vegan/vegetarian. I have been using Thistle and Daily Harvest to get quick healthy meals weekly and experimented with products such as Immi Ramen, the Better Bagel, and Kettle & Fire. I also consume Athletics Green, Blue Bottle Coffee, Noonbrew, and Beam for various health purposes.

On top of that, I am an early user of Levels Health, which produces a Continuous Glucose Monitoring device to keep track of my metabolic health. I religiously track my glucose level after meals to identify what food to avoid. Seeing concrete data also provides me with clear suggestions on what nutritious foods to add more to my diet.

As I’m going down the rabbit hole of longevity and biohacking (from reading books like “Why We Sleep,” “Lifespan,” and “Metabolical”), I’d recommend following Aastha Jain’s “Live Longer World” newsletter.

Workouts

This is an area that I was most proud of in 2021. I have four regular workout memberships, including Barry’s Bootcamp, Corepower Yoga, Orangetheory Fitness, and Basecamp Fitness. I have also been playing weekly in a soccer league. Generally, I engage in physical activities at least 6–7 times per week. I also tried out new physical activities like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, kayaking, hiking, and skiing throughout the year — which have brought new sources of stimulation.

My Oura Ring Metrics

Given that sleep is an essential component of a healthy body, I have been using the Oura Ring to track my sleep patterns. Seeing clearly the metrics about my heart rate, REM intervals, and calories burned after workouts gives me a holistic view of optimizing my sleep for higher quality.

Mental Health

2021 has been a unique year when I have not experienced any sadness, anxiety, or anger at all. I have constantly been in a state of gratitude, optimism, and equanimity. I am also lucky to experience spiritual growth thanks to a friend who is deep into psychedelics and earth medicine. Besides that, journaling with The Five-Minute Journal, meditating with the Waking Up app, getting body massages regularly, and surrounding myself with people who have good mental health practices are strategies that help my overall well-being. Highly recommend Patricia Mou’s “Wellness Wisdom” newsletter for resources on this.

4 — Relationships

Important Relationships

When I first moved to San Francisco, I decided to stay in a place called 908 Coliving. Given that my goal was to expand my social circle and make new friends, I reasoned that staying in a coliving would allow me to tap into its social dynamics without having to exert much effort of seeking communities on my own. Overall, the coliving experience has been absolutely fabulous. I’ve made new connections from different professional backgrounds and cultural ethnicities. I’ve also formed close friendships with those who exhibit similar personal values and professional ambitions. We have done many activities together at the house: themed dinners, holiday celebrations, game nights, art nights, and more. I’m excited to continue being part of this community and making new friends along the way.

Coliving Friends

Supporting Loved Ones

Relationships are a mutual dance of give and take. I have been really intentional with my friendships this past year to give more than take. That means sending thoughtful messages after first encounters, inviting people to events I’m helping to organize, allocating time to talk with friends who I haven’t seen in a while, and more. I have also constantly been curating good questions that can serve as good conversation topics during gatherings so that people can share their stories and become closer with each other. “Let’s Get Closer” by Intelligent Change and “Where Should We Begin” by Esther Prel are two great card games for such purposes.

Overall Connection To Others

I feel wholly supported in life and have an overall meaningful connection to others this year. Acknowledging their tremendous benefits to other areas of my life, I certainly want to keep building new relationships coming into 2022 among these key dimensions:

1 — Finding more friends: Making friends in adulthood can be challenging. Besides the coliving, I have deliberately been seeking out ways to insert myself in communities of interest — where I’d be more likely to interact with others and enjoy the activities myself. A good one that I have relied upon is the Urban Adventure Club, which enables me to engage in activities like hiking, kayaking, skiing in the Bay Area with strangers whom I might connect later. Furthermore, given my analytical training, I want to exercise my creative and artistic muscles more, so I will seek more music / arts / cultural events to attend in the new year.

Cohort Members of My Relationship Course

2 — Pursuing dating: I read an excellent book called “How to Not Die Alone” earlier this year which discusses modern relationship science. So impressed with the research-backed content of the book, I decided to take part in Logan Ury’s Maven course to dive deeper into dating strategies in a cohort with 32 other people. The experience was simply amazing. I learned a ton about what my dating blind spots are, how to optimize my dating profile, and how to set up good dates. But more importantly, the single friends that I have met in the community are all supportive of each other in our relationship journeys. I am excited to apply the learnings to go on better dates next year.

3 — Building community: I have found great enjoyment in helping to shape the member experience of my coliving community, so I will continue working on it. Additionally, I want to seek out and build more professional communities in real life (namely data and AI, product, and venture). A nascent idea that I have in mind is to organize dinners for data founders, operators, and investors in the Bay Area. Please reach out if you are interested in joining!

5 — Learning

New Knowledge and Skills

Here are the learning milestones that I have accomplished this year:

  1. Learned about mirroring and labeling techniques from Chris Voss’ MasterClass course on negotiation.
  2. Went camping, kayaking, and skiing for the first time in a while.
  3. Made sushi from scratch and knew how to taste wine flavors.
  4. Visited multiple Michelin-star restaurants and cultivated a taste for a fine-dining experience.
  5. Organized multiple dinners and brunches for big groups.

Here are the most impactful books that expanded my mind in particular areas:

  1. Wanting” by Luke Burgis on mimetic desires.
  2. The Scout Mindset” by Julia Galef on rational thinking and intellectual humility.
  3. The Courage To Be Disliked” by Kishimi and Koga on Adlerian living philosophy.
  4. The Messy Middle” by Scott Belsky on startup navigation.
  5. Think Again” by Adam Grant on updating beliefs.

And here are the subjects and skills I want to prioritize learning in 2022:

  1. Storytelling: Practicing to tell more stories in my day to day and potentially taking a storytelling course (“Thinking In Stories” by Lawrence Yeo is one that I am considering).
  2. Public Speaking: Signing up for a membership at Toastmaster and trying out improv classes.
  3. Aging and Longevity: Slow aging, supplements, drug development, epigenetics clocks, etc.
  4. Psychology: Behavioral science, spirituality, and neuroscience.
  5. Modern Finance: DeFi, Crypto, and Web3.

Ideal Learning Environment

In the past, I have been a heavy consumer of MOOC courses (Coursera, Udemy, Udacity) when picking up technical skills. Now, as I want to pick up more non-technical skills, I believe my best learning will come from being part of a cohort and working through exercises together. Maven and Corise are two new platforms that seem to offer many cohort-based courses.

Personal Life Lessons

To end this annual review, I want to share five personal values from Mindy Zhang that I came across the other day. I resonate a lot with them and plan to use them for guiding my decision making, designing my daily habits, and holding me accountable for what matters:

  1. Live, work, and learn elegantly: Deepening my skills, paring down, and editing to the essentials — all to reveal a crisper, clearer truth underneath.
  2. Trust the gold: Approaching every interaction with humility, empathy, and curiosity. Forgiving with ease and not holding grudges.
  3. Champion myself and others: Challenging myself and others to step up when we are not being true to ourselves or backing away out of fear.
  4. Presence over planning: Sinking into daily experiences (both exceptional and mundane) and bringing my fullest self with energy, compassion, and attention when being with others.
  5. Discover the beauty: There is something beautiful to be found in every situation, every conversation, every person, every moment of existence. With beauty comes joy, wonder, curiosity, depth, mystery, and fulfillment.

That’s it for my 2021 version of the annual review. See you in 2022!

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James Le

James Le

Data >< Product >< Community | https://jameskle.com/ | @le_james94

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