50 Things That Improved My Life In 2020, The Year of Chaos

They’ll probably improve yours too

Image by the author. #15 (drawing) is shown above. Drawing helps the brain make connections it otherwise wouldn’t.

50. Cutting out critically acclaimed films

After 18 months of watching off Best Picture-winning films, Kate and I have turn to a steady diet of Rom Coms this year. We even watched Emily in Paris, awful as it was. Why? Because apparently, awards go to only super depressing work.

49. Writing poetry on wine corks

“Poetry” is a stretch here, but I’m still using that word.

Image by the author. These say (from left to right) “Well, red wine season is finally upon us,” “Jack’s lemon broke,” “Dermot [Kennedy] Day!”, “Just a Wednesday,” and “One year ago we were in Paris.”

48. Kiwis

More potassium than bananas. More vitamin C than oranges. More fiber than cereal. Step aside, kale. Kiwi is the real superfood.

47. Answering Phone Calls

Almost the entire decade BC (before COVID) I avoided phone calls like the plague. Now, they are salve for my soul. Some are productive. Some aren’t. Frankly, I don’t care.

46. Coach Tony’s Guide to Configuring Your iPhone

Speaking of phones — this guide from Tony Stubblevine might be the only online, long-form piece I’ve ever been patient enough to read.

45. Buying More Physical Books and Actively Reading Them.

I tried the Marie Kondo thing. It worked on everything but books. Books give me way more “life-changing magic” than a clean floor anyway.

43. Ephesians 6:12

You probably aren’t supposed to put Bible verses in blog posts anymore, but for me this one is unavoidable. Ephesians 6:12 showed up in my morning devotional on July 3rd, and then was cited in two different books the following day. I believe in coincidences. But I also believe in something more than coincidences.

42. This AirBnb in Cookeville, TN

My wife and I try to take 4 mini-vacations per year with just the two of us. Although our bigger plans of going to Cumberland Island and Colorado got torpedoed, this cozy little cabin in Cookeville, TN was amazing.

Image by the author

41. Buying flowers

I said I got them for Kate. In reality, it’s just nice to have color in the room when the world is falling apart.

40. My nephews

Generally speaking, America lacks the sort of family connections held in high esteem by other nations. Odd as your family may be, you do only have one of them.

39. Baths

I take two baths per week. There are no bubbles, but there is one duck. Also, there is a dark rum-scented candle because I am a man.

38. Asking for help on everything

Most of us write blogs — alone. We build businesses — alone. We create a personal brand — alone. We grind and hustle and work — alone.

“The smallest indivisible human unit is two people, not one. One is a fiction.”

— Tony Kushner

37. Trello

I was annoyed by Trello the first time I used it. Now, it serves as my ultimate to-do list. If you’re anything like me, you hate structure and project management.

36. Mushroom coffee

Jim from California rolled into our tiny farmer’s market in Tennessee and started selling mushrooms. It was odd.

35. Socially distanced dinners

April 2nd, 2020 was my wife Kate’s 30th birthday. It was also the day of her grandfather’s funeral. So the day was a tad emotional. Sad and lonely, we set up tables 10 feet apart in our front yard and invited her family over for dinner.

34. Big Moleskine notebooks

A writer is only as good as his notebooks. I have long been a fan of pocket-sized notebooks because I always wanted to have a handy scrap of paper. The big ones have been a lot of fun. More white space, more room to expand.

Image by the author. (Is it too meta to put your brainstorm for a post IN the post?)

33. Chewy pet delivery

Your paycheck probably drops into your account automatically. Your credit card, mortgage, car payment, and possibly utilities fly out of your account automatically. Why not automate other predictable purchases too.

32. Away (The television show)

I called this Netflix show “sad astronauts.” It was a defense mechanism. Hillary Swank has a way of making me tear up.

“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end.”

— Stan Lee

31. The Song “Bones” by Maren Morris and Hozier

For the first three months of the year, this is the only song I listened to. I’m not exaggerating. And yes, it has to be the version with Hozier.

30. Nick Wolney (Like… the whole guy)

I don’t know if you can nominate anyone for new writer of the year, but if so, I’m nominating Nick Wolny. Nick is one of those annoying people who is very good at what he does AND super nice. Ugh.

29. Astara

Of the 31 years I’ve spent on this planet, I’ve spent approximately 28 of them broke. Sadly, those three years weren’t in a row. I got a little money, thought “I’m rich,” and then found myself broke again almost immediately.

28. Putting Stickers on Things

You may have noticed that after elementary school, you stop using your hands to make things. You sit and think. This is a shame.

27. Office Depot Highlighters

The ink is perfect. The slide is seamless. The edge is sharp. Every time I hear that squeak across the page, I fall a little more in love.

26. A Logitech webcam

Although this webcam isn’t Logitech’s top-of-the-line, it’s close and relatively affordable. This is what I used to record my writing course with Tim Denning.

25. The Farewell (Movie)

Awkwafina drops her zany comedic persona from Crazy Rich Asians and plays a stunning and thoughtful role in a movie about telling lies to the elderly. Well, not “lies.” One lie — the grandmother has stage 4 lung cancer. The family lies and tells her she is completely healthy.

24. John Mayer’s Instagram

Trust me, I’m the last person who thought I’d be including an Instagram anything on this list. I’m a words person. Twitter is my place.

23. Making emails fun again

This is a little trick I picked up from Michael Thompson. Mike suggests sending four simple emails to these people each week:

  • A potential mentor
  • Someone you used to work with
  • Someone you can support.

22. Jojo Rabbit (Movie)

How do you direct a comedy about Hilter? Answer: you don the mustache yourself, write a heartfelt screenplay, and pull together one of the most fun movies of the decade.

21. JOMO!

Blogger Anil Dash coined this term in 2012, but embracing the “Joy of Missing Out” has never been more appropriate than this year.

20. Publisher Rocket

My self-published books bring in a steady stream of $200-$600 per month. That doesn’t sound like much. But I never have to think about paying my utility bills. The books pay for them.

19. Getting a coach

I spent my entire 20s doing everything alone. It was tiring. Now, I’m planning to spend my 30s never making that mistake again.

18. Binaural Beats

Tim Denning also turned me on to this. Binaural beats are a specific type of music designed to promote mental relaxation. If you’re having trouble getting in flow, slap on some headphones, crank up a 3-hour playlist, and allow yourself to dive in.

17. Paying off my credit card debt

Like everyone else, I panicked when the pandemic started to roll around. Even though we had just piled up just enough to knock out the debt, I wanted to clinch every dollar.

16. This quote by Eric Thomas

“Sacrifices lead. Gains follow.”

Most self-help is oversimplified, including this quote. Sometimes, you need that. Don’t pick at the nuance. Believe the principle.

15. Drawing

Drawing is a different form of thinking. It reaches corners of your brain that you don’t normally look in. I use drawing mostly to get un-stuck.

Image by the author

14. Etymology app

The Queen’s Gambit features a great scene where one character confesses to another:

“I don’t love chess… I can’t be obsessed enough to win it all.”

I was convicted. I want to be the best writer, but I haven’t been obsessed enough. I’m trying to fix that now by understanding etymology — the meaning and history of words.

13. Eating Sauerkraut for breakfast

Fermented foods are incredible for your digestion. I get mine in as soon as possible.

12. Rescuing a kitten

I didn’t want this kitten. I didn’t need more responsibility. But she found us, broken and sick. We couldn’t leave her in the cold.

Images by the author

11. iPhone shortcuts

I’m not an Apple junkie, so I think most of the shortcuts on a recent update are useless. 2 of them have been incredibly helpful for my Pomodoro workflow.

  • The break shortcut turns off do not disturb and sets a five minute timer.

10. Being convinced that bike locks should be illegal

I see mental health as a scale.

9. Buying a desktop computer

Worse, a Dell desktop. So long, hipster status.

8. Limits to Growth (Book)

It’s common to have an opinion without the knowledge to back it up.

7. Responding to people via video

The body must move. The throat must speak. The mouth must smile.

6. Austin Kleon’s Books (All of Them)

Much of the Internet is horrible. And then there is Austin Kleon. He’s a bright light in the darkness, a voice of sanity in a world of loud, angry people.

Image taken by the author

5. Hiring a Bookkeeper

Just imagine — you finally get the chance to start your own business. You’re making a little money. You can see the light at the end of a long, corporate tunnel. You daydream about never returning to the cubical.

4. Running

I started running on January 1, 2020, on a whim. It turned out to be a dynamite coping mechanism through a global pandemic, my own termination, and a wobbly election.

3. Getting fired

My company dumped me in July.

2. My marriage

I hesitated to add this because it isn’t a terribly practical recommendation and because I didn’t get married this year. Still, Kate has been the most stabilizing human in my life these 11 months of 2020. Without her, I’m pretty lost.

1. This Could Be Our Future

Yancey Strickler’s book is an absolute gamechanger. What if, 50 years from now, we lived in a fairer society with real innovation (not just another platform with “stories!”).

Final thoughts

Optimism is a choice. Hope is an action. Love is a verb. Positivity is a mindset. None of these things happen by default. They take attention and effort, no matter how miserable the year.

Call me when you’re ready to finally write that book. https://www.toddbrison.com/consulting

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