It’s review time for me today, which I think is one of those exercises that everybody would benefit from. I’ll be going over how I did on my annual goals and setting myself up for 2013, but first I want to look at some of the good things that went on this year. What better way to do that than an insanely-cliche bunch of Top 10 lists?

So, if you’ll let me, I’m going to channel my inner David Letterman (or my inner lazy blogger) and rattle off some really easy-to-digest, link-baity stuff that I liked in 2012.

Top 10 Apps of 2012

  1. Evernote. By far. I’ve upped the ante in my daily life’s use of Evernote with more notebooks, “stacks” of notebooks for better personal use, and an increased use of tags for better organization. I use Evernote to manage my own recipe book (making meal planning a cinch), personal goals, blog post ideas, stuff I should act on later, business finances, notes for copywriting projects, and I even use IFTTT to keep an automatic timeline of blog posts, tweets, mobile photos, and Facebook posts – sort of an automatic journal of my daily life. Evernote is, and will likely remain for a long time, my #1 app.
  2. Pocket. This one was new to me this year, and it definitely has earned its spot as my second favorite app. For those unfamiliar, Pocket used to be called “Read It Later”, which does exactly what it says – it allows you to read stuff later. With the browser extension, I am able to send articles from Google Reader or any website to my Pocket, which will strip the article of its extraneous fluff (like ads and other site-specific garbage). That allows me to have a coherent, consistent reading experience either on the Pocket web site or on my phone when stuck waiting in line for a sub at Cousins. It allows me to batch my reading whenever I want, which saves me a load of time.
  3. XBMC and Plex. Second only to Evernote in daily usage, XBMC runs our family’s living room experience. We keep and maintain a full library of movies and TV shows, along with integrated streaming from network websites and Hulu, and even a live HD DVR system. In other words, who needs cable TV? XBMC is free and really, really powerful. I’m in the process of putting together a second XBMC setup on our basement TV, which will be synced with our main TV as well for easy usage. I loved it so much, I put together guides on how to do it yourself for anybody. Plex works in tandem with XBMC (or can be used standalone if you’d like) to stream our giant library of shows and films to our tablet, phones, or my netbook on the go. So when we were in Rome, we could sit in our room on the Wi-Fi and watch The League instead of trying to decipher Italian-dubbed movies.
  4. Google Reader. It amazes me how many people still don’t “get” what RSS feeds are all about. Nearly every website you visit has an RSS feed. You like a blog? How about 40 of them? Google Reader will pull the content from the site into its own list for you automatically and instantly. So I can check 40 websites for new content in one shot. Plus, the Pocket browser extension gives me a little button in Google Reader, so I can quickly look at headlines, click the Pocket button next to the ones I want to read, and mark them all as read so that I can read the ones I want later and clear out my Google Reader queue. I’ve been using Google Reader longer than any other app on this list.
  5. Google Maps. Yes, I do love me some Google. With Maps on my phone, I don’t need a $100 GPS system. I’ve used Maps to quickly and easily find my way home, to other destinations in my hometown, and to find my way around Portland, Washington D.C., and even all over Europe. The driving and walking directions are invaluable, and with estimated travel times and public transportation options, I just don’t get lost anymore.
  6. Buffer. I like to share links, but I don’t want to barrage my Facebook friends or my Twitter followers with an overload of links that they can’t process. Buffer lets me space them out automatically. I don’t have to manually schedule them – I just add them to my Buffer and let the app do the heavy lifting.
  7. ClearCheckbook. Paper checkbooks suck. While I don’t love ClearCheckbook‘s interface, it beats the others. I don’t want automatic syncing – I need to be able to balance my checkbook manually, but without the need for doing the math. ClearCheckbook is simple and easy to use. Plus, it has the added benefit of being the “house” checkbook. So my wife and I can both hop into ClearCheckbook on our phones and enter receipts on the go, so there is no question how much money we have. Nobody monopolizes the checkbook, and there is no confusion. Our budget and spending limits are in there, along with everything that we need to balance and update our checkbooks as we want to.
  8. Dropbox. Easy, fast file syncing across devices for free. I use Dropbox to keep files synced up between my desktop, my netbook, and my phone. I also am part of a public file share through Dropbox and a mastermind group, I use it to easily share my portfolio with clients, share files with friends and family, and have the peace of mind that comes with having all my important documents and files backed up instantly.
  9. LastPass. Security is becoming increasingly important. LastPass helps me manage passwords on my phone and in my browser, so that I don’t really have to remember them anymore. I have my main LastPass password, combined with the added security of two-factor authentication (so if someone hacks into my LastPass account, they can’t get in without a code that I can only get from my phone), so that I am always using the strongest setup possible.
  10. Pandora. I like music. I like the radio. But Milwaukee radio is terrible. I don’t want to listen to 10 minutes of commercials, nor do I want to listen to the same 20 songs on repeat all day. Pandora lets me customize my music how I want to listen to it. I bought Pandora One, and the added benefit of commercial-free radio is bliss.

Top 10 Sites of 2012

  1. Reason.com. One of my new favorites. I want to be educated about the political scene, but I don’t want partisan bitching or the LOUD NOISES method of reporting that is all too common in today’s media. Reason seems to “get it”, offering a balanced approach that gets to the heart of the issues. It’s not truly bipartisan, because everybody has a bias, but it’s a more, well, reasoned approach to political issues. I think it’s important as an American to be educated about the issues, but it needs to be a proper education, not a slanted or insulting one.
  2. The Art of Manliness. This year, I’ve really rediscovered the desire to be a man. Not a macho guy, like those cartoonishly portrayed in sitcoms. But a man who has values. Honor. Character. One who is proud to be a man and recognizes that value. The Art of Manliness is a really wonderful site run by a husband and wife tandem and is a crash course in not only how to be a better man, but a better all-around human being.
  3. Longform.org. I love my Kindle, but I’ve wanted to use it for more reading than just books. Longform.org gathers longer content (i.e., longer than a web article but shorter than a book) into one spot: comprehensive blog posts, newspaper articles, magazine features, etc., on a variety of subjects. With one click, I can send an article I am interested in to my Kindle for free, and I have a collection of content readily available at all times. It adds to the education of issues and personal interest studies without the melodramatic fluff you find on mainstream sources. Plus, I get to read it on my Kindle.
  4. Lifehacker. I get more useful content from Lifehacker than from anywhere else on the web. From tech tips to lifestyle hacks to just cool and useful stuff to build, Lifehacker has it all. It’s my top feed in my Google Reader, and has been for years. Without Lifehacker, I wouldn’t be running Ubuntu or XBMC, or Plex, or LastPass, or Pocket, or Evernote, or IFTTT. I wouldn’t have a sweet mount for my phone in my car. I wouldn’t have TV Without Limits. I wouldn’t have found great deals on everything from apps to furniture to appliances. It’s the best.
  5. By Ken Levine. I have a real appreciation for the behind the scenes goings-on of shows and movies, because I’m interested in the creative process, and I love to see where shows come up with their content, or why the ecosystem of a show works or fails. Ken Levine worked on some of the biggest shows around (including one of my favorites – Cheers). He has an experienced and educated opinion on the state of television nowadays, and it’s one that I really like to read.
  6. Unitive. I’m a proud Christian man, but there is a fine line between “proud” and “Bible thumper”. The former doesn’t mind sharing his faith to someone who’s interested or who needs it, the latter shoves it in people’s faces without recognizing that they are being overpowering and obnoxious about it, which isn’t what Jesus or Paul or any of those guys asked us Christians to do. Christianity has a place in real life today, and Unitive brings together some great, entertaining, and “real world” views on the Christian life. Plus, it features the writings of Joshua Becker, who I met at WDS in Portland, and he is a super-nice guy.
  7. Inside the Magic. Not much to say about this one. Inside the Magic is a site that covers Disney Parks, specifically Walt Disney World. I would live at Walt Disney World if I could, so this site lets me keep tabs on the place between visits (every couple years).
  8. Amazon. Even though the shipping through FedEx caused some nightmares this Christmas, Amazon and its Prime membership continues to be our first place to go for our shopping needs. We get as much as we can out of the service, and we get it in two days. We’ve even used the $3.99 overnight shipping option once or twice, which worked flawlessly. We get books (both print and for Kindle), along with staples like paper towels and batteries from Amazon, and we couldn’t be happier with it.
  9. Nerd Fitness. We all need inspiration and motivation to be healthier. Nerd Fitness fits that bill, with humorous commentary and really well-written stuff from Steve Kamb – also a great, friendly guy I had the honor of meeting at WDS – who helps you find that sweet spot of getting healthier with a touch of nerdy goodness. He’s also realistic in his approach, understanding that not everybody has the time or money to work out in the “traditional” sense (i.e., spending hours every day at an expensive gym). He helps you maximize your time. I’ve purchased the Rebel Fitness series, and it’s well worth the money.
  10. RELEVANT Magazine. Another Christian site, but even more “real world”. RELEVANT Magazine covers media news and pop culture developments with a fun, but conservative slant. No “IF YOU LISTEN TO THIS MUSIC YOU’RE GOING TO HELL”-type stuff. For example, they recently did a great interview with Rainn Wilson, who is of the Baha’i faith. And they introduced me to The Heavy, whose album does feature some hard cursing at times, but they have an excellent musical quality. They have great discussions about God mixed in with all of this, which is a really refreshing approach.

Top 10 Stuff I Learned in 2012

  1. I’m intimidated by certain crowds. Put me on stage in front of strangers, and I can perform really comfortably. Shove me in a crowd of 1,000 fellow business owners, especially big-time entrepreneurs that I look up to, and I will clam up and hug the sidelines for three days, as I did at WDS this year in Portland, sadly. I was really surprised by my reaction to it.
  2. My writing needs work. I came to the realization that my writing can be lazy and lousy very often (I originally came to the conclusion that I was a lousy writer, but my friends in my writing group scolded me for that assertion). I backed off all the blogging-type stuff and started this site, which helps me work through my writing and find my voice, whatever that will be.
  3. There is opportunity out there. After hammering away at it for years, I broke into the direct response copywriting scene this year. As a result, I was able to give myself a $16,000 raise over 2011’s income. You have to work at it, and you have to do it longer than most are comfortable doing it, but that hard work really pays off. I’m still building up to something great, but 2012 was a huge step in that direction.
  4. Cynicism is getting old. I have family members and good friends who spend most of their time complaining about stuff: politics, how other people are spending their money, etc. We live in a world where blogs gain popularity by bashing celebrities and movies and TV shows, and talking heads on cable “news” programs complain about each other, politicians, sports, and whatever else they can fill time with. I’m bored with it all. There’s a lot of good in the world, and the best way to tap into it is by doing good things yourself. Start creating something worthwhile. Give back a little. Enough complaining.
  5. Sometimes a risk pays off. I took some risks this year that I had never thought of, like signing up for a half marathon, or dedicating myself to direct response copywriting. But when you take that risk, you also leave yourself open for success. You have to jump off that cliff to fly.
  6. It’s time to be a man. Like I said, I’ve rediscovered what being a man is all about. I’m hoping to be a father some day. I’m almost thirty years old. While men in this country seem to want to hang onto bad jokes, obnoxious partying, and stupid drinking, I’m realizing that I need to grow up. I need to invest in the quality of my possessions. I need to invest in the quality of my relationships. I need to ignore fads and start making decisions for myself. Men need to step up in this society more than ever.
  7. You just have to stick to it to make it work. That risk you take? You might not see results for a long time. I started heavily studying direct response copywriting in July 2011. I didn’t cash my first check until February 2012. That’s 7 months of hammering away at it for free. But this month, I’m managing four different well-paying copy projects. That’s because I stuck with it.
  8. The mind can overpower the body. Five days before my half marathon, I couldn’t complete a 6-mile run because my body was breaking down. Without ever actually running 13.1 miles before, I used the momentum of the race and my fellow runners to comfortably complete a half marathon in a quicker time than I expected. My mind carried me there. Once I believed I could do it, there was no stopping me.
  9. The world wants easy answers more than ever. From education to economy to gun violence, we all want to enact laws that will get rid of these problems. We all want to make a singular decision to make life better again. But there’s one problem with searching for easy answers…
  10. …there are none.

Top 10 Experiences of 2012

  1. Walking through the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
  2. Being stuck overnight in Beauvais, France and the subsequent panic of trying to get out of the country.
  3. Launching TV Without Limits.
  4. Finally becoming a direct response copywriter.
  5. Though intimidated, meeting and shaking hands with some wonderful people at WDS.
  6. Soaked to the bone, watching the Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions as the snow fell at Lambeau Field.
  7. Crossing the finish line at the Wisconsin Half Marathon. Time: 2:02:51.
  8. Getting my eyes back with LASIK surgery.
  9. The rush of pride when I turned the key on my wife’s car after replacing the alternator and hearing the engine roar back to life.
  10. Starting this site and reconnecting with myself as a writer.

Lots of bad things happened in 2012, and I failed a lot. But I’m really appreciative of all the great things that happened. Now, it’s time to start looking ahead to making 2013 even better. What did you like about 2012?