– Ben Martens

2015 Year In Review

2015-numbers1The year 2015 is over?! Crazy talk. It’s not so much that this year went fast, but that this century has been going fast. I still remember sitting in grade school thinking about what the 21st Century would be like and how far into the future that seemed.

I started this year with a clear idea of what I wanted my end-of-year post to be about: simplification. I had too much going on in my life already and with a toddler running around the house, it was just too much to deal with. So I set out to simplify my life. Here’s a list of some of the things I did to try and achieve that goal:

  • After being on the church council for eight (?) years, I asked for a one year break. I had been doing the property maintenance work for the last six years and it was taking up a ton of my time. I felt really guilty about saying no to this. If I’m going to volunteer ANYWHERE, church is at the top of my list, but in retrospect, I’m glad I did it. It was good to step away for a bit, give someone else a chance, and recharge. I’m already signed up to jump back into that role starting January 1, 2016. But this time I’ll have two other people helping me.
  • In early June, I sold my motorcycle. I loved riding it but I didn’t love commuting to work on it. On the weekends, I’d rather spend the time with Tyla and Elijah than go for the long rides that I used to enjoy. So instead, the motorcycle sat in the garage giving me that little twinge of stress/pressure every time I saw it because I was paying insurance bills, the bike was depreciating, and I wasn’t using it. Plus, I had to move it every time I wanted to work in my shop. This was one of the single best moves I made in the past 12 months. I felt so much more relaxed after I sold it.
  • I cleaned up our TV scheduled recordings. If a show gets recorded on our DVR, I feel like I have to watch it. I was watching a bunch of shows “just because.” So I went through the list and trimmed it down basically to the handful of shows that Tyla and I watch together. If I really want to watch those other shows, I can always grab them on Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix. And you know what? I couldn’t even tell you what those shows were. No loss.
  • I disabled most of the notifications on my phone. If my phone buzzes, it’s out of my pocket and in front of my face before I even consciously think about it. I don’t need to be interrupted to find out that somebody commented on my Facebook post or liked my Instagram photo. Now I only have notifications for things like phone calls and messages. I also turned off as many of the live tiles as I could so that I don’t see all these icons with numbers telling me I have unresolved work to do. I’ll get to it when I get to it.
  • I consciously decided/realized that it was OK to give up hobbies. So instead of trying to hobble along with a half dozen different hobbies, I cut it down to ONE: woodworking. It’s a great hobby because I can do it right in my garage whenever I have a few spare minutes. It doesn’t depend on the weather and I don’t have to wait until a facility is open. Sure, I’ll still go skiing, fly planes, go hiking, and go shooting every once in a while, but those are just bonus activities. I no longer feel like I’m required to do them a certain number of times to claim them as hobbies.
  • I take on one project at a time. This is a core principle that we follow in our process at work, and even though I’m the appointed “agile coach” at work, at home I was still going crazy trying to do too many things at once. It’s ridiculously inefficient. So while I don’t have a full Kanban board at home like we do at work, I follow the principles of that process. I do one thing at a time and I FINISH it before starting the next thing. When I finish a project, I look at the list and decide what the next most valuable thing is to work on.
  • There were some simple technical changes too such as switching from Groove (formerly Xbox Music) to Spotify. Groove was one of those nagging things in the back of my mind. It was going to be a non-trivial amount of work to switch services, but I knew that we were missing out on a lot of nice features from Spotify. I finally buckled down and made the change. It wasn’t as hard as I thought and now instead of fighting the limitations of Groove, we have all kinds of great features with Spotify.
  • I have made a concerted effort to keep my shop clean. When I see a nice clean shop, I’m super motivated to start a new project. The reverse is true too. If I can barely walk to my workbench, I have very little desire to do any work. So at the end of each project, I put EVERYTHING away. The nice side effect is that I don’t ever have to waste an entire weekend doing a huge cleanup in the garage. I’m always cleaning bit by bit. This has also been encouragement to build some storage solutions for the shop. Those are good practice for nicer projects that I have in mind that will end up inside the house.
  • I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on this blog yet, but I no longer own the CascadeSkier family of apps. It’s been something that I’ve built and worked on for the last eight years and it just wasn’t that much fun for me anymore. I had been making some money from it but that was pretty low last winter given the terrible snow season. As I was having all those feelings, a fan contacted me and asked if he could develop an iOS app using the same backend service. I said yes and then later, “sold” him everything. It was a $0 transaction because the app basically pays for itself at this point. I probably could have gotten a little money out of it if I fought for it, but honestly I’m just happy to have it go to someone who is excited about it and who will carry it forward. The whole thing was a great learning experience for me.
  • I even took this simplification as far as changing jobs. It was just a change within the company, but so far, it has been a good one. My stress level is much lower and even though I’m still working very hard and learning lots of new things, I feel like this is a healthier spot for me to be in.

Some of those bullet points are obviously bigger than other ones, but sometimes it’s the little changes that can help the most because those little ones can nag you every single day. All of these have added up to a life that I feel is a lot simpler and more manageable. I’m sure it will fill up again, but at least I’ve got a good baseline set so I can work my way back to something like this in the future.

Enough about me! What did we do as a family?

  • The ski season was horrible with very little snow falling in the mountains. I was happy that I had other things to do anyway so it didn’t have a huge impact on me. I got up once just to sample the experience and enjoyed myself.
  • We finally had “Meat Day” at our house while Mom and Dad were visiting. Dad and I visited six meat stores, bought the same cut of meat at each place and then we had a party with a blind taste test.
  • Uncle Dean and Aunt Sandy came to visit us. I spent two summers living with them when I worked at John Deere but I haven’t seen them very often since moving away. It was fun to have them visit and introduce them to Elijah.
  • In May, Tyla, Elijah and I took our first big family vacation together that wasn’t to a family member’s house. We flew down to San Diego and spent time on the beach, on an aircraft carrier, and at the zoo. The weather wasn’t the greatest but we had a wonderful time.
  • I stepped up my woodworking and made a bunch of projects including a jewelry box, front end loader toy, planer cart, wooden snowflakes, noel sign, toy planes, front step benchWashington sign, marker box, guest bed with storage, drill press table, miter saw cart, door stops, table saw stand, two Adirondack chairs, stove cover, and pantry storage bins. Whew, that’s a lot of stuff! My idea list is about 5 times that long though. It grows faster than I can build.
  • We did a couple hikes on our own and with Mandy and Ike. These included Barclay Lake and Greenwater Lakes. I love getting Elijah out into nature. I really hope that he enjoys this and grows into a good hiking partner.
  • We took a trip back to Indiana in August so I could give Dad a hand with the shop/garage that he is building. Luke came over too and we got a lot done.
  • We rented a house on Lake Cavanaugh with Tyla’s family. The weather was surprisingly fantastic given the time of year and we had an amazing time. Elijah still talks about that trip. We are eager to go back again.
  • Elijah went to his first concert (at least one that required a pre-purchased ticket.) We went as a family to see Caspar Babypants in concert and even got his autograph.
  • We flew back to Indiana for Christmas. The trip wasn’t exactly what we had planned, but it was good to hang out with family. It was also fun to see Mom and Dad’s new shop/garage and all the progress that had been made since I was there in August. There will be more about this trip in a future post.

As I mentioned above, my goal for the year was to simplify my life and get more enjoyment from fewer things. I call that a success but it’s not something that will ever be finished. Fatherhood continues to take lots of twists and turns as I try to stay one step ahead of my little man and in sync with Tyla.

We never know what the next year will bring but I feel like I’m heading into it feeling pretty organized. We’ll see if that’s still true in 366 days when the next year in review post goes up. Have a happy leap year!

Previous Year In Review Posts: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014