Calling 2020 ‘surprisingly productive’ is annoying, I know.

We share this, you and I – we are both annoyed by people crowing about how they crushed their goals during the on-going lockdown and a raging health pandemic.

Stick with me for a while, though, and I will tell you what this is about.

Yes, 2020 was weirdly productive for me, but this is not the ‘Devil may care’ productivity of youth and inexperience. It is just that reading and writing have long been my escape, and I am not sure I would have survived last year without them. Let’s put it like that – when I was told that my son might have cancer, I locked myself in my study and wrote one of my most exciting and influential academic papers. (Thank goodness he was fine and went back to writing mostly rubbish.)

Before I report on 2020, let me remind you that I have foregone goal setting and resolutions for eight years now.

Instead, I have been selecting my ‘words for the year’ and reporting on how things went at the end of the year.

Here are my annual reviews:

Annual review 2012

Annual review 2013

Annual review 2014

Annual review 2015

Annual review 2016

Annual review 2017

Annual Review 2018

Annual review 2019

When I go back and read some of these annual reviews, I see my life clearly – without the distortions of emotion and esteem. It hasn’t been too shabby! Also, some years I cheated – obviously, in 2017, immediately after the Brexit vote, I was so upset that I couldn’t even report on what is happening in my life; I did a factual review of our money. (I have been taking stock of our money every year since. You can read this year’s stock-taking of our savings and investments.)

My words for 2020: Focus, Persistence, and Results

Last year, rather optimistically, I selected three words to guide my actions. There are:

  • Focus
  • Persistence
  • Results

Little did I know that the supreme being will send humanity a Biblical plague.

The Covid-19 pandemic made much of what I do difficult.

Travel, for example, became impossible. My last trip was on 8th Feb 2020 to Heathrow. Okay, I was supposed to fly to Brazil but chickened out after flight delays and bad weather – my feeling was that the Universe is telling me something, and it would be better if I listen.

Next, my teaching became impossible with the restriction in the size of groups that can meet.

Next, we couldn’t see our friends.

Next, we couldn’t see our sons.


Well, you all know how this went. And I never thought that I would say that, but I missed travel and people a lot!

Much of my life didn’t change. I’ve always worked from home a lot, and this became the norm.

John and I are good friends and have never shied away from a good discussion. There were ample opportunities for conversations during the lockdown and more one-pound bets (some I win, some John wins).

Yes, my life, just like yours, was restricted in many ways. That turned out to be conducive to acting in line with my words – focusing is not that hard when there isn’t much to distract you; persistence is easy when your life is monotonous and results always follow focus and perseverance.

Here is what went well in 2020

Never bet on red

One of the things I set out to complete during 2020 was my book on how to pay off debt fast.

See, I have been writing about paying off debt for several years. However, in the last three years, my attention shifted to investing – we have been debt-free (apart from the mortgage) since February 2013, and investing is more in line with my immediate interest.

Still, I persisted. Living debt-free for seven years doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t serve all people out there who are in debt and help them pay it off in record time and with little sacrifice. Hence, I wrote the book, and it never worked – I’m very fussy about what I read and write, and my book on paying off debt was never good enough to see the light of Amazon Publishing.

I tried different formats, and the book never went beyond the trivialities you have already heard. Worse, I couldn’t organise what I believed to be important in a coherent story.

Three days into the first lockdown, I had an idea.

Eleven weeks later, I had the first draft of the book.

Three editing rounds by me, two editing rounds by a professional editor, and my book ‘Never Bet on Red: How to pay off debt fast and live debt free forever’ is published (Kindle and paperback).

My book also has climbed to 3rd place in personal finance (and has undoubtedly sold more copied in three days than all my academic books together).

It seems that I finally wrote a book that people want to read and find helpful.

Apart from that, I also published (with members of my research group) three academic papers; two of these are seen as potentially transforming fundamental notions in my research field, and another one that is a ‘heavyweight’ analysis of a body of literature.

As if this is not enough writing, I also wrote a research proposal to a major international research funding body. This body funds break-through research and this proposal meets the requirements (I decided to submit it for the next call because it needs a couple of re-writes).

In brief, writing and publishing went well in 2020 – this is what focus and persistence bring.

Online teaching

I had to make videos of all my lectures, which was fun.

And my students have been sending me messages about how much they liked my videos (watch this space – YouTube here I come.)

Relationships blossomed in 2020

Annualk review 2020

Being locked in with two other people can be challenging.

We coped very well.

John and I have not had a single argument. Discussions, yes; arguments – not really.

Our youngest son was an absolute pleasure to have around; it seems our arguments needed a bit of maturity on his part and a bit of flexibility on mine. (Okay, the mess in his room still drove me mad, but we were able to talk about it.)

We saw our grown-up sons as much as possible. Limitations made us all treasure every hour we spent together.

In September, our youngest son went to university.

Fitness and health

Annual review 2020

For many, lockdown meant loss of fitness and visible weight gain.

Not me. I have not put any weight on and even lost a bit (this goes up and down because there were more important things to worry about).

Suzy the Dog kept us fit – walking her is still one of the little pleasures of life in lockdown. I also used every opportunity to go to my gym and run, swim, and dance.

(My gym is closed again, and I bought a treadmill – one of those that can go under a desk. Fitness is crucial, and the easier it is to maintain, the more likely it is to do it.)

Here is what didn’t go well in 2020

It has taken a lot of effort just to keep still, wait for things to change and for the world to emerge from the uncertainty of global health threats.

I miss traveling – business travel and traveling for pleasure. See, I believe that people need sun, sand, and sea to keep healthy and happy; this year, we didn’t get any of that.

I miss sitting in coffee bars, which is still one of my favourite sports.

I even have promised myself that when the Covid pandemic is over, I will go to the pub and have a beer. It has been nearly ten years since I went to a pub last, and my life is much better without beer – this is what we are talking about.

I still tend to escape

Okay, I still escape in Netflix and novels.

Can you blame me? There isn’t much life to be lived this year, and I suspect we all do a lot of that.

My sleep is all over the place

Who am I kidding?

For most of the last year, I have been worried about getting Covid and getting it hard. So far, we have not had it (or we may have had it with no symptoms.)

The underlying stress of that has been robbing me of sleep – I go to sleep with all neurotics (at 4-5 am) when my eyelashes start ringing from tiredness.

My words for 2021

I have thought long and hard about my words for next year.

Here they are:

Service and compassion

Maybe this will be the year when I will lay the basis for the foundation I want to get off the ground.

How did you do in 2020? What are your words for 2021?