2023 in Focus

It’s been a couple years since I’ve written about a yearly theme, but I wanted to post something about this year’s. I think it is helpful to put a public stake in the ground, and since I don’t have a podcast to talk about these on anymore, here we are.

The word that kept coming to mind towards the end of last year was focus. It initially felt a bit on the nose, but what made me come around on it was thinking of focus as a photography term. I picture spinning a focus ring to isolate one thing at a time, or adjusting the aperture to bring more things into focus at once if I want the bigger picture. It’s a useful lens[1] to approach the year with.

The impetus for this theme came from two observations. The glaring one is that I’ve been trying to do way too many things in life lately. Secondarily, I’ve had a hard time doing any one thing for long without getting sidetracked. Sure, these are nothing new—but I hit a breaking point with them in the last third or so of 2022.

A large part of what I need to do this year is is to make the hard calls about what is important for me to give my time and focus to, and to pare back everything else. The important things include being a husband to my wife and a dad to our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. They include my work—not just because it pays the bills, but because going into this year I have an exciting new role that I want to have the headspace to do well. That means making the space to focus on things that will contribute to my mental and emotional wellbeing—particularly creative outlets like photography, writing, and perhaps filmmaking. It also means taking intentional steps to ensure that when I’m doing any one of these things, it is the one thing in focus and everything else fades into a nice background blur.[2]

One creative outlet I want to pay attention to is photography. The launch of Glass in late 2021 and my purchase of a new camera this past spring together spurred a renewed interest in this creative hobby for me. I’ve been inspired to branch out from the travel and landscape photos I take on trips and hikes and to start carrying my camera around town to take photos of the everyday. This year I want to foster that artistic expression by embarking on a 365: inspired by another photographer on Glass, I plan to post a photo each day that was taken that day. The first one is up; the rest will be published to my profile each day. This is the most resolution-y (no pun intended) part of this theme, but it is a daily habit I’d like to cultivate, and it dovetails well with the idea of Focus.

As usual, a yearly theme is meant to be a North Star in making decisions throughout the year, not a specific set of pass/fail objectives.[3] All of this is just a snapshot of some of my thoughts going into this year.[4]

So begins the Year of Focus.

  1. See what I did there? ↩︎

  2. A couple paragraphs into this, I pulled out a notebook and pen to write the rest of it; doing so made a night-and-day difference to being able to tune everything else out and let the words flow onto the page. ↩︎

  3. Basically the opposite of those SMART goals they used to make us write in school. ↩︎

  4. I also need to go in for another vision checkup and probably get a new pair of glasses. ↩︎

Thing Builder

Today I’m taking the wraps off a side project I started almost three years ago. It started with me wishing for project templates in my task manager, Things. At the time, I was using Drafts a lot for text automation, and I found a couple different user-created text parsers for Things in the Action Directory. Inspired by these, I wanted something more Markdown-like, and as I thought about it, something in Shortcuts and not tied to a single third-party app.[1]

I created the Thing Builder, a 250-action shortcut that accepts text using a particular markup, which can be used to define and create a new Things project with all its associated tasks and dates, or to batch-add tasks to existing projects or areas. In addition to using the Markdown syntax for headings and bullets, I chose a handful of symbols, which can prefix a string of text to mark it as a list, date, tag, or note.

I did this in July 2019, but I decided to sit on it for a while before sharing it—mainly to actually put the tool through its paces and iron out any wrinkles. I’d also run into a bug with one of Shortcuts’ actions while initially working on this. (I was running an iOS beta, after all.) I found a workaround for the time being, but I did want to come back and use the more elegant solution whenever that got taken care of.[2]

This has been longer of “a while” than I expected—but in the meantime, I’ve used it a lot, made a few tweaks, and built several other shortcuts that themselves call the Thing Builder to generate a project. I have several templates for work that I use on a regular basis. This outlasted another fling with the Bullet Journal and was waiting for me when I came back to the warm embrace of Things in January. At some point I’d seen that that buggy action was working again, so I’d had swapping those actions out on my to-do list for some time, along with writing documentation and sharing the shortcut (all in a Things project, of course). Yesterday that caught my eye, I made the updates, and then I went ahead with writing docs. And here we are.

If you’re looking for a way to create reusable project templates for Things—or just add a bunch of tasks from a text editor—you can find a link to download the shortcut and an explanation of the syntax in the documentation.

  1. Though there were plenty of times during development where I would’ve rather been working with code in a text editor for something of this scale, using Shortcuts turned out to be a good move: I’ve long since moved on from Drafts, but the shortcut I built is alive and well, and accessible anywhere through the iOS share sheet. ↩︎

  2. It was the “Get Group from Matched Text” action, for extracting sub-patterns from text matched with a regular expression. In those cases, I ended up using the “Match Pattern” action again to match within the match. ↩︎


For the last few years on our podcast, my friend Elias and I have chosen and discussed yearly themes, inspired by another podcast. An alternative to New Year’s resolutions, they’re basically an idea—typically phrased as “The Year of ______”—intended to be a guiding principle for decisions throughout the year.

I went a bit nerdy with mine this year, landing on The Year of Regeneration—a very intentional Doctor Who reference. The word came to me while watching the first episode of the current season,[1] but it fit very well with the areas and hopes that had been coming to mind while mulling over this year’s theme. In a nutshell, I was looking to:

  • find a healthier work-rest balance; to stay on top of work but avoid crashing into recharge mode so often.
  • maintain and build on the spiritual disciplines that I had started picking up again towards the end of last year—and, having started to sense the beginnings of some spiritual renewal, to do so expectantly.

But in the weeks since picking this word, I’ve come to realize that, as only God can pull off, it’s shaping up to have far more meaning than I was even anticipating.

My church itself seems to also be in the early stages of some sort of renewal. Many in the leadership and the congregation have roles to play in that, but in the last couple months two of mine have solidified. One is taking a seat on the church council, at the request of multiple people, who said they would appreciate my perspective in the council’s discussions and decisions. The other is helping to spearhead the launch of a young adults’ ministry of sorts, building on the organic group that has taken shape since August or so. With these two things—on top of the fruit I’ve seen in my other roles at this church[2]—I had a real sense of calling wash over me during a conversation about all this with my girlfriend a few weeks ago. In a moment, I felt very clearly that I’m meant to be here, right now, for these purposes. And I believe that the regeneration of this church and my own are bound up together. I have this part to play in the church’s, and that in turn will contribute to mine.

There’s another aspect of this that came into focus in that same conversation: regeneration means dying first. It even makes sense in the context of the show that inspired me: the Doctor regenerates because of some would-be-fatal injury. As the old body dies, a new one regenerates from it. This new iteration of the Doctor is very much the same person as all the previous ones, but is also unique in his or her own way. Change comes, but something of the Doctor has to die. It hadn’t occurred to me when I first landed on this theme, but I now fully expect that this year, regeneration will mean the things in me that need to die dying, so that new life can come. Which is not exactly a pleasant thought, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

I don’t know what all this year will hold, but it’s looking to be a trying and rewarding one. Of the themes I’ve set for myself, this is probably my most significant yet. The trick, of course, is following through.

Last year, that afore-mentioned podcast started printing notebooks built around what they’re calling The Theme System. Based on what’s worked well for them, it builds on the concept of the yearly theme, adding ideal outcomes, journaling, and daily themes—basically a checklist of the things by which you want to assess each day. I ordered one when they came back in stock at the beginning of the year, and it just arrived a few days ago. Starting that journal gave me a chance to process through this theme as it stands now, with the extra meaning it has taken on in recent weeks. And a habit of sitting down with a pen, notebook, and this structure will help to keep this more front-of-mind than previous themes were most of the time. I’ve also documented the theme—along with the ideal outcomes, journal prompts, and daily themes I came up with—on a new page of this site, with the intent of keeping this more prominent and hence, more front-of-mind.[3]

But, even more than for those previous themes, I’m approaching the Year of Regeneration prayerfully and expectantly. Because I need to be intentional about it as I make decisions, but ultimately—as with the fruit I’ve already seen—that new life will only come from God.

  1. For the pedants, as British TV, it’s actually the first episode of the series. ↩︎

  2. I’ve been running sound for the Sunday services since my second week here, including working with the building manager to update almost the entire sound system of the center where we and a couple other churches meet. In the second half of last year I finally saw a sound team come together for our church, with four of us on a rotation from week to week. I’ve also been helping with a new website, which went live just last week. ↩︎

  3. I plan on this being a living document that I can keep updated throughout the year, as this theme continues to evolve, and with future themes. ↩︎