My Year of Discipline and Determination: How I Read 52 Books, Ran 520 KM, Completed 4 Courses and Started a New Business in 2020

One person's quest to have her most productive year ever.

learn more about Nikita Agarwal

By Nikita Agarwal

Jordan Siemens | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The title of this story is, of course, fashioned after Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which I read in January. There are however no similarities between me and the protagonist of that novel.

It started last December when I was reviewing the year and realized I had the most professionally and personally disappointing twelve months of my life. So I decided that I would compensate for my "lost year' in 2020 by learning and achieving as much as possible.

I was already working on the business plan for my new translation business, Milestone Localization, which I launched in May this year. I used a similar framework to create a plan with weekly and monthly targets for my personal life. I also wrote down my mission to be "fitter, smarter and more educated' at the end of 2020.

This year has been difficult for everyone, and I was lucky enough to not be affected in a serious way. I managed to achieve almost everything I wanted to.

Here's how I did it.

1. Wrote down quantifiable goals for the year

I wrote down everything I wanted to achieve in a diary. I find that writing things on paper gives them more power and makes ideas and plans feel more solid.

I only set goals that I could (almost) completely control and easily measure. The math for each goal was simple: read one book and run 10 km a week and take one course every quarter.

Related: 6 Tips for Goal- Setting That, Trust Me, They Don't Teach You In College

There were some weeks where I read two books and some weeks when I ran 30km. Weekly goals were flexible as long as I was on track.

I reviewed my progress monthly and made adjustments if required. There is a fine line between ambitious and unrealistic. Listing impossible goals can be demotivating and ultimately counterproductive.

I also shared and talked about my plans with other people. Doing this always increases my sense of commitment. Friends and family checked up on my progress and gave me a ton of recommendations and helpful tips.

2. The simple way to find time

The people who tell you that they "just don't have time to read or exercise' are the same people who watched all 6 seasons of Schitt's Creek in two weeks or spend hours every night scrolling on their phones.

I was guilty of this too. Using Apple's convenient screen time feature, I found that I was spending 6+ hours a week on Instagram! For you, this could be Twitter, Facebook or Netflix.

Seven hours a week is a lot of time. Reading a 350-page book takes me around 6.5 hours. So I already had more than enough time to read one book a week.

I deleted my Instagram account and limited my social media screen time to 45 minutes. Apart from saving a ton of time and mental energy, there are countless other benefits of deleting social media that I'm sure you've already read many articles about.

3. The slightly harder way to find time

For entrepreneurs, time really is money.

New founders have a tendency to try and do everything from content creation and sales to customer support and bookkeeping themselves. This could be because of limited funds, a tendency to micromanage, perfectionism or the belief that you need to "constantly hustle' to succeed.

I made this mistake at my first startup and I wasn't going to do it again.

I wanted to finish work by 7 pm on most days. So I found freelancers to do work I didn't need full-time employees for. This includes data analysis, report creation, market research and content editing.

Using Upwork, you can find extremely talented and highly specialized people for different tasks. There is talent from every part of the world to fit every budget. You can also find talent on Fiverr or Freelancer or hire an intern.

The work I get from freelancers is always professional, high quality and delivered on time. Doing this helped me focus on core business activates and make time for thinking, learning and exercise.

Related: 10 Things to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

4. Logging my activities on apps

I use Goodreads to manage my reading lists and discover new stories. It's not only a great tool to find books, but also an excellent place to find a community of engaged readers.

I set up a "Reading Challenge" for 52 books. Every time I finish a book, it shows me what % of my goal I have completed and whether or not I'm on schedule. This makes it super easy to track my reading and share progress with friends.

Related: 13 Tricks That Will Help You Read More Books

For running, I use the Nike Run Club app. You can track all your activity and it gives you medals and unlocks achievements for running milestones. There have been weekends when I've pushed myself to run 5 km to get the "Just Do It Sunday 5k' trophy.

Using apps or an excel sheet to track progress is an extremely powerful motivator. It clearly shows you what you did vs. what you wanted to do. It also makes it really easy to plan and set realistic goals for the future.

5. Staying motivated

Even the most successful people have off days. Contrary to what motivator internet culture will have you believe, no one is hustling or grinding 24/7.

There are some days when you just don't feel like reading, exercising or working. I've had several of them.

On these days, I set smaller goals: just read one chapter or run 2km. After that, I call a friend, watch TV or whatever I else feel like doing.

Spending 20 minutes doing something with all your attention is better than spending two hours doing it distracted.

Recuperation is essential for productivity. Most Sundays, I read light romance or fiction novels, watch TV, meet friends and relax. I find that one day of rest is required for me to be highly productive during the week.

I also read a lot of business books by successful entrepreneurs this year that made everything I was doing seem small. This helped keep me motivated and remind me that I still have a long way to go.

My favorite business books this year are The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and Sell Like Crazy by Sabri Suby.

Favorite non-fiction was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

And favorite fiction was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum.

The best e-learning course I did was Managing Machine Learning Projects by Google Cloud.

Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. And as Orrin Woodward says, "The only thing that compounds faster than interest is learning."

Doing a simple audit of the things you spend 5+ hours a week doing can be extremely revealing. Six to seven hours a week can be enough to write a blog, start an exercise routine and even make a plan for your new business.

And if like Moshfegh's heroine, you just need some rest and relaxation to transform your outlook, you can find time for that too.

Nikita Agarwal

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Head of Growth at Milestone Localization

Currently building Milestone Localization to help companies communicate across cultures and succeed internationally. I read, run, dive and learn in my free time.

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