Here is a look back at 2021 and the lessons I learned as an author-entrepreneur. This is the fifth year in a row I have published an annual project report (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) and I always find it to be a useful exercise.
I’ll try to keep this year’s report as simple as possible. Here is how I spent my time, progressed towards goals, and my lessons learned.
How I Spent My Time in 2021
My Top 25 Projects
- 172:49 – The Religion Teacher Email & Customer Service
- 80:21 – Morning Preview
- 76:18 – Daily Review
- 49:57 – Formation5 Daily Email Newsletter
- 40:47 – Weekly Review
- 37:22 – The Religion Teacher Membership Website Launch
- 36:06 – Theoloji 101
- 35:31 – The Religion Teacher’s Saints Worksheet Collection
- 34:50 – The Religion Teacher Blog
- 32:56 – Social Media (@jareddees)
- 27:44 – Speaking Events
- 27:27 – The Religion Teacher Newsletter
- 27:07 – Personal Family Finances
- 24:57 – The Religion Teacher YouTube Videos
- 24:27 – Accounting and Taxes
- 23:30 – 15-Minute Stations of the Cross for Kids
- 23:30 – The Religion Teacher Member Videos & Graphic Organizers
- 21:30 – Website Down & New Web Host Transition
- 21:05 – The Religion Teacher Member Weekly Email
- 20:45 – The Religion Teacher Social Media
- 14:38 – Bible Breaks Newsletter
- 13:18 – Formative Fiction Newsletter
- 12:53 – Advent with the Angels
- 12:18 – The Religion Teacher’s Prayer Worksheets
- 11:00 – Kindle Vella Experiment
Total Time: 1,000:24 Hours
2021 Annual Goals
552,507/1,000,000 words for kids (A part of my #1millionwordsforkids goal) (+110,647 words)
748/1,000 Resources (Videos/Worksheets) for Members of The Religion Teacher (+155 resources)
44/24 Books Read
48/73 Books of the Bible read from beginning to end (+15 books read)
92/100 30-minute workouts
An Annual Project Review
In the interest of time, I’m going to keep the lessons learned section as short as possible.
What went well?
- The Religion Teacher Member Resources – In 2020 I was striving for 500 downloadable resources for members. I increased that goal to 600 and then I started this year with a goal of 1,000 resources. I just passed 750 resources and I expect to pass the 1,000-resource mark by the end of 2022. The number of memberships steadily increased as schools and programs started to return to in-person teaching.
- The Religion Teacher YouTube Channel – An additional 10,000 people subscribed to The Religion Teacher channel. I never consider myself a “YouTuber” but more and more people know me from the videos. Even my daughters are starting to watch the videos during school with only a little bit of embarrassment for having “Mr. The Religion Teacher” as their dad.
- 15-Minute Stations of the Cross for Kids Collaboration – During Lent this year I wrote some short Stations of the Cross meditations for kids. I shared them during Lent, but planned to compile them into a book for 2022. It was my first experience hiring and collaborating with a designer. Ezekiel Saucedo did a great job with the artwork and I can’t wait to get the book out into the world.
- New Web Host – After years of seeing my website go down for days and spending 10+ hours trying to restore it, I finally switched to a new hosting company. The speed and customer service has been amazing so far and well-worth the extra expense. This was something I should have done a long time ago.
What didn’t go well?
- Formation5 – In my 2020 project report I shared some excitement about this daily email for parents. I also mentioned that I hoped I wouldn’t get burnt out. Well, I got burnt out. I loved writing the emails, but they took up a large amount of time and I didn’t see any significant growth each week. Plus, there wasn’t much crossover to sales or signups to my other projects. I have a lot of content and I hope to come back to it and compile it into a self-contained book or other kind of resource.
- Theoloji 101 – In the spring I started working on a fun idea: Theology + Emojis. I shared the chapters of the book on Twitter while I was writing it. It was fun and I actually learned a lot while trying to explain theological concepts in succinct terms and emojis. Sadly, though, a publisher I reached out to about it wasn’t interested. Plus, the challenge of obtaining copyright for emoji images in print led me to stall on releasing it through my own publishing company. I’ll consider this project stalled, not dead and see where it goes.
- 1 Million Words for Kids – I set a goal to write one million words for kids before I turned 40. Well, I turned 40 in 2021 and I only made it about half way to a million. I’m keeping this goal but lengthening the timeline especially as I pour in more focus into the worksheets and videos.
- @jareddees Social Media – I spent a lot of time experimenting with social media this year. Honestly, when I became a full-time author I did not expect the loneliness that came along with that transition. I thought social media would be a good place to meet people. I did meet some new people, but I didn’t do a great job of following through and maintaining those relationships. I also saw almost no significant growth in the number of followers. With so much growth in other areas (email, YouTube, books), it didn’t make sense to keep experimenting.
- Speaking – I should make a quick note about speaking this year. I was on the road quite often in 2019, but ever since the beginning of the pandemic there have been very few conferences. I did one event and it went very well, but most organizations are either doing virtual events or not doing them at all. On the bright side, I’m glad to be home and not away from the family so much.
- Advent with the Angels – Towards the end of this year I realized I was about to finish a complete year without publishing a new book. I had an idea for an Advent resource and quickly got to work. Unfortunately, the project got delayed when our family was hit by COVID in October. I didn’t have the cover finalized until the week before Advent. Sales were pretty slow as a result of this. I will say, though, that my family really enjoyed praying and reflecting with the book before bed and I think it will be a good tool for families next year.
- Kindle Vella Experiment – This year Amazon launched a new digital publishing platform called Kindle Vella. It is Amazon’s version of the popular website Wattpad. I had two books sitting unpublished on my desk so I formatted them for Kindle Vella. I hoped to get the benefit of an early adopter. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of readers. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the platform as a reader myself so I can completely understand the limited reach. We will see how the platform expands and grows as time goes on.
- New Social Media Sites – I suffered from the “early adopter” temptation in many ways last year, not just with Kindle Vella. I signed up as one of the first users for three new social media sites last year: Bitclout (now known as DESO), Racket, and Clubhouse. Bitclout intended to be a decentralized social media platform, but it struggled with a lot of PR issues and all the big names that signed up early just went quiet over time. People lost money and lost interest. Racket was a promising new audio platform that I really enjoyed. I met some great new people and planned to publish my “Make It” book as a serialized podcast. Sadly, the\ company pivoted to be more like an audio version of TikTok and I didn’t see it as useful way to spend my time. Finally, Clubhouse exploded onto the scene this year. I tried it but never really got into it. I have a limited amount of time as a creator and stay-at-home dad and in retrospect all of these platforms were just distractions.
What did I learn?
- One Worksheet A Day – Finishing just one page a day is a success. It took me all year to convince myself of this, but once I did I felt so much better about my days. My wife had some incredible opportunities to serve schools this year and increased the number of hours she worked. That led to a decrease in my time and I never quite got used to it until I started to focus on finishing just one worksheet a day. Now I feel more productive than ever with a lot less time to work.
- Keep a Learning Log – I used to post a daily blog posts here on my personal website with lessons I was learning. It took up a lot of time, but I got a lot out of that process. This year I created a new note in Evernote each week with a list of lessons I learned from podcasts, books, threads, and articles. It transformed the way I listened to podcasts and helped me maximize the learning process.
- Early Adopter (but not too early) – I thought I could win big as an early adopter on new platforms this year, but I was wrong. In the back of my mind I kept thinking about the early success I had on TikTok before it became as big as it is today. In reality, there is no rush. I have a successful system in place and adding an experimental new platform just takes away time from what I know works. The problem with being an early adopter to a platform is that you are at the mercy of the founders. When they make mistakes and pivot, you suffer the consequences.