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Grading my 2020 early retirement targets

Why would I set myself goals and targets now that I'm retired - isn't that something to leave behind when I quit the workplace to retire early?

For some, the answer will be yes, a life without targets and assessments is what they want. But some of us like the structure that comes with writing things down, making a plan and checking in to see how things are going. I'm one of those people.

In fact, I enjoy the target setting and reviewing process. Different from when I worked, these are one hundred percent my goals. They're not on my list because someone else thinks they're a good idea, they're there because I think they're worth doing. It's up to me how exciting, challenging, out of the ordinary or mundane they are. I try to have a mix, sometimes using my targets to help me get chores done, while other things are there because I think they're interesting or exciting.

So how did I do, what grade did I earn? That's trickier for 2020, because it's not been a normal year. Covid-19 appeared on my radar in February and has been consistently interrupting life (sadly for some, the impacts have been much worse) for most of us since then. Because of this, I've given myself a "strict" grade as well as a "Covid adjusted" grade which takes account of the unusual circumstances of 2020.

I'll start off with my table of targets and my grades, and then dive into a little more detail for each one:

Target: Run 2 marathons, aiming to get under 3 hours

Grade: Strict F / Covid adjusted B-/C+

Most marathons were cancelled due to Covid, including London which I had entered, so I didn't run any marathons, let alone challenge a sub 3 hour time.

My last marathon was almost three years ago, Boston in April 2018, and my plan was a spring marathon to get back into it, targeting between 3:15 and 3:30 before going for a faster time in an autumn marathon. In a Covid free world, would I have done it? I suspect not. I feel closer to 3:20 for the first one might have been possible, and perhaps a bit faster for the autumn attempt, but not within touching distance of 2:59:59.

During the year, I ran 147 times, covering 2,135km (1,326 miles) and did 9 runs of 30km (~19 miles) or more. My longest run was 37km (23 miles). Including cycling, I exercised an average of 3.7 times a week (I'm not including skiing). To be in good marathon shape, this needs to be closer to 4.5 to 5 times a week.

Target: Eat healthily

Grade: Strict A / Covid adjusted A

After two and a half years as a vegetarian, I switched to a plant based (vegan) diet in August. Both moved me towards more healthy eating, as I eat less processed and sugary foods than I used to. I'm conscious that I must get the right nutrients from my diet, so will check this in the coming months.

I chose to go alcohol free for three months at the end of 2019, but then returned to limited amounts of beer and wine over the 2019 Christmas period. I didn't feel my life was more fun with the alcohol, so decided to go without again in February and haven't changed my mind since.

Target: Keep publishing weekly blog posts

Grade: Strict A / Covid adjusted A

I did it - 53 blog posts, so I managed one more than I needed. After four years, it's getting more difficult to come up with topics though.

Target: Learn French - enough for everyday life

Grade: Strict E / Covid adjusted E

The Covid restrictions should have helped, with lockdowns and other restrictions giving more time to learn French. Instead, it felt like a bigger task than ever. Perhaps I avoided it because I'm bad at languages and subconsciously didn't want another difficult thing to contend with this year? Or am I just making an excuse?

I've not given myself an F because in November and December I at least started to make an effort, albeit at a basic level. I need to make this a habit that continues. Realistically, I'm never going to be good at French, but I do need to become less hopeless. I find my current level embarrassing and stressful - I had to telephone a local tax office recently and had a sleepless night worrying about how my French would cope, which is not how I want my life to be.

Target: Try new restaurants/invite guests to our home

Grade: Strict E / Covid adjusted N/A

This doesn't need any explaining - going out to restaurants and inviting people to our homes were out of bounds for most of this year. It seems such a bizarre thing to type.

Target: Travel - visit 4 new places

Grade: Strict D / Covid adjusted N/A

Another that requires little explanation. In May we visited Annecy and Chamonix in France when things seemed to be getting better. Unfortunately, that was a false dawn.

Target: Figure out where we'll live

Grade: Strict B / Covid adjusted B

This is an example of a target set to make me get a task done, to force a decision. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh with a B grade, we made a decision so why not an A? The reason is because we've since changed our minds, again. I guess that shows how difficult we've found the decision.

What we decided was to split our time between France and the UK, but to spend a little more time in the UK. We'd call the UK our primary residence and France the place where we have a second home. The latest news is that we've flipped that, with France to be our primary residence. Now that we've submitted official paperwork, perhaps we can move on from this topic, although I wonder if it will be that easy.

Target: Keep contact with distant friends

Grade: Strict D / Covid adjusted C

Another example of a good start that petered out. We visited Dubai in February and met up with a lot of friends and also visited a friend in Berlin in August. At the start of the Covid lockdowns, I was Zoom and WhatApp video calling just like everyone else. But I didn't have great endurance, and my efforts have waned as the year has gone on. In the circumstances, it's not been a disaster, but I could have done better, which is why it was on my target list in the first place.

Target: Volunteer

Grade: Strict D / Covid adjusted D

I escape a worse grade because I at least did something, I provided some support for a startup business, but it was only a short term thing. Volunteering feels like something that I should do, but don't - I feel that means I'm a less good person than I should be. We give more to charity than we used to which, while good, isn't the same as volunteering. Maybe I just haven't found the right avenue for me and need to keep looking. Or maybe the problem is that I have too much "I" and "me" in this paragraph?

In what has been the strangest of years, that's my wrap of how I did against my 2020 targets. I could have done better, but no doubt I'm not the only one who has more red and orange than green on my traffic lights. It's not something to stress about (we can't change the past) so long as we remember that we can influence the future.

My takeaway from 2020 is that we can't take things for granted, and that our time is limited and precious. That's not meant to be a depressing thought, but a reminder to make the most of our time. To that end, I'm grateful that financial independence and retiring early gives me more choice and more time and, on that note, I'm off to figure out my goals for 2021.

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Thanks for the new year wishes - the same to you and your family. We made it back to France just a few days ago, so we're enjoying a winter wonderland. I'm looking at the snow falling as I type. As to the UK home, I still need to be convinced, it hasn't completely grabbed me yet, although I think Sally has warmed to it more. It's early days though, and not exactly normal times to make an accurate judgement.


I think you did great considering all the challenges this year has presented. Did you make it back to France and are you enjoying your UK home as much as you thought? Happy New Year!


Thanks Andrew, I enjoy writing them! All the best, David


Jan 13, 2021

Hi David. Always enjoy reading your posts - 53 is a great effort and I can imagine it is hard to keep thinking of things to write about. Stay well and keep blogging !! Cheers. Andrew


Hi Joe,

I judge from your blog that you're quite pragmatic, and I think I'm similar. Yeah, I didn't get the things done that I originally planned, but I'm OK with that. We're lucky that we can put them back on the list for this year.

I know what you mean about Covid, each time we thing a corner has been turned, the vaccine most recently, some other bad news seems to come along. Hopefully we are getting to the solution though. It's incredible that it's stymied us for a whole year.

I have my fingers crossed that you can get to Thailand soon to see your parents. My mother had Alzheimer's, so I know it's tough.

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