My Writing Year – 2020

That the year has been extraordinary—on so very many levels—is something of an understatement. It started like recent years had, and then took a hard right turn in the first quarter. There have been many ups and downs since. The year has had difficulties, but it has also had the odd rare delight. I explored some of those last week. As we come to the end of 2020, I can also say the same about some of my writing.

I last checked in on the state of this blog (and what was engaging people) back in 2018. That was also the last time I published a year-end evaluation; the end of 2019 was much more of a blur, and clearly involved comparatively less reflection.

This year started as a blur as well. Interestingly, my writing was far less consistent (in frequency, if not quality) at the outset of the year. I actually hit a point somewhere in February where I was mentally questioning how regular an update schedule I was going to actually manage. Although I value predictability in sending out posts and newsletters, life gets in the way sometimes. So while I gave myself permission to miss those weeks where nothing went out, there was part of my brain that was still acknowledging the miss.

That said, I’ve been consistent in my inconsistency. Looking back over the last five years of blog posts is telling:

Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
# Articles 28 44 24 28 41

With a few notable exceptions, the trend has been a couple-of-dozen posts a year. 2016 was a high watermark, and I’ve been striving to get back to something like that level of weekly consistency ever since. Of course, that table is also an excellent demonstration of the use of selective statistics to tell a story. In 2014, I only managed 11 updates. In 2013, while I was writing a book and apparently distracting myself every couple of days, I actually produced 49 posts. And in 2012 when I was engaged in my doctoral thesis, I actually attained something like focus there, with the consequences of only making a mere 25 posts here.

Starting out the year, I had hopes for better. By the the end of February, however, I had produced all of five posts. I managed only one in March, as the world went over a cliff edge. Then I wrote a post about hitting the reset button. And guess what? I hit the reset button. With the exception of a couple of weeks over the summer, I managed an article and a newsletter for pretty much every week of the year since. As I write this, I have produced 42 posts for this year. This is article number 43. I find that personally astonishing, but also incredibly rewarding.

Seeing interaction with the content I’ve produced has also been hugely satisfying for me. It is always a delight to get feedback (and it doesn’t happen quite so often as you might think). Visits to the site have steadily risen, though. From being barely visited when this version of the site was launched in 2013, traffic has progressively grown (It pretty much mirrors the number of posts; if you write it, they will come). Nearly 7,000 people visited the site over the course of the last year.

What is most fun and fascinating, though, is going back and reviewing what people are actually reading. What follows is a list of the top 10 most frequently read posts of the year, along with when they were published and how many views each has received:

Article Year Published Readers
Exercising Agency: What Is Agency? 2015 888
Tools In The Toolbox: A Diatribe 2017 641
The Role & Place for a Devil’s Advocate 2018 620
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys 2018 520
We Are All Liminal Now 2020 234
Exercising Agency: How Do I Develop Agency? 2015 185
Where To: Deconstructing The Scenarios 2020 171
This Is What Change Feels Like 2020 141
Review: Value Proposition Design 2015 128
Where To: Planning For Uncertainty 2020 117

What astonishes me (but possibly shouldn’t) is that six of these articles weren’t published this year. While that means they’ve been around since January (where the majority of this year’s listed posts didn’t show up until April or May) that also means that they get buried way down on the site. The archives of a blog tend to be the internet equivalent of being stored in the back of the bottom drawer of an ancient filing cabinet somewhere in a dank sub-basement. And yet the top five posts are all from previous years, with number one going all the way back to 2015.

Four of the older posts were also highlighted in the top 10 the last time I did an annual breakdown of my writing. Exercising Agency: What is Agency? was one of the earliest articles I wrote in support of my book, Exercising Agency. Joining it, and new for this year, is Exercising Agency: How Do I Develop Agency?, which was the practical how-to of that series. The useful insight, and what I value most about the book that it supports, is that it provides concrete and practical guidelines for buildIng agency when it suits our purposes. It also reinforces that doing so is a choice, and that we have an array of strategies at our disposal.

Other current favourites that have been favourites for a while include The Role & Place for a Devil’s Advocate, which might sound like a snarky diatribe but was actually intended to be a constructive guide to when the role of devil’s advocate has value and relevance. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys remains one of my favourite posts (and one of my favourite phrases), and I’m delighted to see it still resonating with others. And my review of the book Value Proposition Design still gets an extraordinary number of views (which is fair, because it’s still a great and practical book, and I still wish I had written it first).

New to this list are several posts that I wrote this year that I am most proud of. We Are All Liminal Now was an interesting reflection as I was re-engaging with my writing, shortly after the onset of the pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued. It was a neat intersection of my earlier writing about liminality and the universal experience of loss and searching that we’ve been struggling with as we have navigated the year. That post also transformed into a webinar of the same name that remains one of my favourites, and one that I view as one of my strongest.

What particularly delights me, though, is that several of this year’s top articles come from a series I wrote exploring the pandemic, what it meant for all of us and what potential futures might be. While I wrote several series this year, I was incredibly pleased with how this one came together. The series as a whole was a practical exercise in projecting forward into a universally unsettled and unknown future, painting several alternative scenarios of how it might unfold based upon the key uncertainties that were in play at the time (and in many instances are still in play as I write this).

The series was prompted by a question from a colleague and friend. What I appreciate most about it was the opportunity to put in play tools that I use regularly in my work, and to demonstrate their relevance and value in exploring a situation that is universally understood (and was universally experienced). Reading back over the scenarios that resulted, it’s more than astonishing to see how relevant they are seven months later (and how, in varying degrees, each has—in different countries, organizations and societies—played out with a surprising degree of consistency).

The fact that each of the scenarios has to some degree played out is interesting, but not unexpected. You don’t get to pick the future that will happen, and you can generally expect to see threads and tendrils of one scenario weaving into the fabric of another. At the same time, their accuracy is unfortunate, in that two of the scenarios were pretty bleak, and there were not-wholly-positive aspects to the others. You can actually argue that—while staking out the major dimensions and forces at play in shaping the future—in some cases then scenarios didn’t go far enough in illustrating the consequence and potential of the deliberate, self-serving and cruelly neglectful policies that have emerged in some societies.

The two articles referenced here (Where To: Planning for Uncertainty and Where To: Deconstructing the Scenarios) were the fifth and seventh contributions of the series. If you are curious, you can find all seven listed in order here:

The last top-10 article on the list was one from the very start of the year, as I was wrestling with moving my approach to time management to a new system. This Is What Change Feels Like[] was a very personal reflection on the challenges of change, and what it feels like on a real and visceral level. It is an object lesson in change, and the factors that need to be kept in mind if we are to be successful in supporting and leading transition. It was also a useful reminder that—no matter how experienced or knowledgeable we are about something—all of us are subject to the same forces, the same experiences and the same discomfort. Change comes for us all, and it is rare that we always enjoy it, even if it is being implemented for the best possible reasons.

I don’t only write here, of course. I’ve been contributing to projectmanagement.com for two decades now, and produce a monthly article for them. For the most part, they’ve been well received (although some have stirred up controversy along the way). The most popularly rated article of the year, Lead Yourself First, was an exploration into how we perceive leadership, and how those who we see as leaders often are just doing what they feel is necessary, with a lot of empathy and understanding along the way.

My favourite article for projectmanagement.com this year, though, would have to be Find Your Project’s Story, and Tell It. Storytelling is a valuable skill, and one we often don’t appreciate. Story has structure. Effective story has rules that we can follow and guidelines that we can apply in building meaning and gaining acceptance. We need more story, and this was my case for promoting the value of applying story effectively and well.

As we stand on the verge of a new year, I’m looking forward to 2021 with renewed purpose and focus. For all of us, it will be good to leave 2020 behind. 2020 has served me well in a number of ways, if only in reigniting my commitment to writing here on a regular basis. I look forward to continue sharing insights and perspectives here—and elsewhere. I equally look forward to your own thoughts, comments and feedback as we go. Please, take the time to reflect, to consider, to challenge and to share. Join me on the journey, help shape the conversation and help build on our collective understanding.

For now, I offer my best wishes for the holiday season. I hope it is a time of relaxation and rest, and that you are able to spend time—even if only virtually—with those that you love and value most in the world. Happy new year, and I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

2 Comments to “My Writing Year – 2020”

  1. Michael Hilbert says:

    Mark,
    My all-time favorite is “Not My Circus, Not My Monkey”. I have referred numerous people to this post when I sense they are frustrated with their stakeholders and need some clarity on what their mission actually is. Your posts and webinars provide insight, guidance and thoughtful reflection for those that use them as a resource for education, growth and sometimes, just for a welcome break from the day. Thank you for your continued contributions to the PM industry.

    Here’s hoping for a brighter 2021! Have a Great New Years and Stay Safe my friend!

    Regards,
    Mike

    • Mark Mullaly says:

      Mike:

      Thank you so much for your generous and kind thoughts. I love that post, too (as I mentioned). For largely the same reason as you mention: it is a welcome call back to perspective, and clarity of what can be controlled and what cannot. A lot of energy gets invested in things that you and I have no ability to change.

      Sincere thanks for the continued thoughts and comments over the weeks, months and years. Happy new year to you and yours, and stay safe as well. I look forward to keeping in touch In 2021 and beyond.

      Best regards,
      Mark

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