Earlier this year I took my annual financial planning and year-in-review tasks off the to-do list.
The only real goal left after about the Fourth of July was to simply get through 2020, and no one needed to write down something like that.
Last week, though, I opened the annual file and got to work. I've preached the wisdom of the annual financial review for years, and so I planned to write that sticking to good financial habits might be even more important this year.
I gave it maybe 15 minutes and quit. My heart wasn't in it.
Part of the explanation for giving up is that I tried to imagine a reader who has lost a job or struggled all year to keep a small business going coming across this kind of column.
It has been that kind of year, when even normal activities still possible to do often felt uncomfortable to go ahead and try. The Big Ten football games were still on TV, but I never watched. Could those unpaid college kids be playing football in a pandemic just to save the TV contracts?
Maybe no one could escape the new coronavirus, but of course it hasn't affected everybody in the same way. In some families no one has become sick, while as of last count the virus has killed about 5,000 Minnesotans.
Folks in my professional circle had to go without close contact with friends and family, of course. They had to participate in church services only on YouTube live and cut back all sorts of activities that make life better, like leisurely restaurant meals, out-of-state vacations and even the annual trip to the State Fair.
But if they managed to keep their jobs and could work safely from home, the paychecks kept coming, the health insurance bills were being paid and money kept flowing into their retirement accounts.
Meanwhile, the value of the assets they already owned only went up. The Nasdaq stock index has surged more than 40% in 2020, housing values have increased and even lake cabin prices have rallied.
Before giving up on the annual review of finances, I found out that the online service CarGurus implausibly reported that my 12-year-old car is worth more than it was last year.
This reality for the professional class fits neatly into this year's best explanation for the economic effects of the virus. Called the "K-shaped recovery," this way to describe the economy emerged over the summer.
Imagine a graph showing economic activity over the course of the year. If you are on the part of the K that slopes up, it was a brisk recovery from the big slowdown of the spring. Jobs came back even if once furloughed, and business improved quickly.
Then there are those on the part of the K that slopes down. They were more likely to be lower-paid service workers or service-business owners and probably couldn't work from home even if they kept their jobs.
We know how this group has been faring in part because the Census Bureau has been surveying people for most of this year on the basics like the ability to pay rent, earn money from work and keep food on the table.
The good news is that people in Minnesota seem to be doing a lot better than the rest of the country, although it's still not a good story.
For example, nearly 16% of Minnesotans are sometimes or often not having enough to eat over the previous week, and these were most often families with kids in the house. Think about that, it's a lot of people. And at least 7% of Minnesota households are behind on their rent or mortgage payments.
That's not our family or anyone we know. When we are hungry, we order restaurant food for curbside pickup.
I had blocked a couple of hours for the financial review, and once I lost interest in doing that I did end up spending the two hours well. Instead of the numbers, though, I was doing a little assessing and goal-setting for some assets that the accountants call intangibles.
One of them was relationships, which are important just for well-being. They really took a beating this year.
It wasn't easy to see people, of course, but a stressful year meant the circle of people I routinely connected with got progressively smaller.
A lot of those relationships that became frayed were in the office, one unhappy outcome of having the place shut down since March.
But a much longer list of relationships in need of tending included people from maybe a dozen occupations, from entrepreneurs to professors.
Talking to those people and coming to think of them as friends is one of the biggest rewards of doing this job, whether they ever said anything quotable or not. And those relationships are in serious need of some maintenance work.
I also gave myself a little review and work plan for next year, something else I had not tried before.
In business we are taught that only results matter, but this is the year to acknowledge that someone could have done the best work of their career even though it felt all year like they were half-a-week behind.
If you managed to live up to your commitments to the people who really count on you and mostly got your work done, feel free to give yourself an A.
Also write down a few good things you learned along the way. A year ago I had never even heard of the video app Zoom, for example, and now I know how to moderate a virtual panel discussion. What do you want to try to learn to get better at your work next year?
If 2021 unfolds and my plan doesn't lead to much progress, I will still find that new tab on the annual review spreadsheet next December and know I will need to update it.
Hopefully it takes just a year or two for that part of the review becomes another good habit.