Happy 1st Birthday Zen Habits – Celebrating One Wonderful Year

One year ago, Zen Habits was born.

I think I’m overly excited about today, but you’ll have to forgive me, as this has been a big year for me, and creating Zen Habits has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Through this blog, I’ve found my passion, and I think my calling.

It couldn’t have been done without you. I could write until my fingers turned raw, but if you weren’t there to read my posts, to give me feedback, to encourage me … it really wouldn’t be worth it.

So thank you, readers. This has been a wonderful year for me, and I owe that to you.

Please forgive the self-congratulatory nature of this post. If it bothers you, skip this post. But if I can’t share my joy with you guys … who can I share it with?

Note: As promised last week, I will be making a couple of big announcements today. Not to be overly dramatic, but I didn’t want to fold them into this post, as they are both very important to me on different levels. So if you’ll indulge me, I will be posting two more announcements after this (spaced out by a couple hours). Update: first announcement is my book deal.

Second note, unrelated to the first: Zen Habits was actually born on January 24, 2007 … which might be tomorrow depending on where you live. Also, technically I wrote a few posts before 1/24, but those were just test posts, no one read them, I didn’t start posting regularly until the 24th, and I didn’t let anyone know about the blog until the 24th … so that’s what I consider Zen Habits’ birthday. This note is for those with an obsession for accuracy. :)

The Backstory
When I set out to create Zen Habits, it was on a whim. I was reading a lot of other blogs, and I thought, “I think I can do that!” At the same time, I had been undergoing a number of positive life changes, and wanted to share what I was learning with others about forming new habits, simplicity, health, happiness and productivity. I also wanted to hold myself accountable for some of my goals (which changed drastically over the year — so much for that plan).

I had never blogged before, and didn’t know what I was getting into. I had read ProBlogger and others, about how you could make money off your blog, and I thought it was a chance to do something fun and perhaps earn a few extra bucks. I had no lofty goals setting out: I only hoped for slow growth, and perhaps a few hundred readers after a year.

I wrote my first few posts, and no one knew about it. I faced the same problem every new blogger faces: getting readers to find you. I don’t have a good solution. I did the same thing most new bloggers do: I shared a link or three in the comments of other blogs. I emailed bigger bloggers to share my best posts. I did interviews with bigger bloggers and asked to do guest posts on their sites. The guest posts were really what helped me take off, along with freelancing for a number of very good blogs (Lifehack.org, FreelanceSwitch, Dumb Little Man, Web Worker Daily among them).

The Surprise
Within a month, I had built up a readership of a few hundred very very encouraging and enthusiastic readers. Their response was overwhelming. I began to think, “Maybe this will turn out to be something after all.”

And then my readership began to grow by leaps and bounds. Mentions by larger blogs (Lifehack.org, WWD, and DLM, to name a few) really skyrocketed my readership and profile. I got super excited by it all. Maybe this could become my primary job! Wouldn’t that be a dream come true!

And so it became my dream. The near instant success of Zen Habits shocked the hell out of me, and still does … but it has been an incredible ride, and I’m loving every minute of it.

Major Milestones
There have been so many, it’s hard to name just a few. Each milestone in my subscriber numbers has been huge for me, as it means that the number of people who enjoy reading this site has grown. Besides being elated each time I hit such a subscriber milestone (100 readers! 500! 1000! 5000! 10K! and so on), here are a few other highlights:

1. Created the Zen Habits forums in July. I created them, really, for the monthly challenges — a way for people to hold themselves accountable to a group and form a new habit in a month. I had been doing it via an email list but it was just too time consuming.

2. Helped Launch Blog Action Day. This is really Collis Ta’eed’s baby, but I’m proud to say I was a partner in this great project: a way to bring bloggers together in one conversation, for one day. Look for it this August!

3. Technorati Top 100. When I hit the Top 100, I took my family out to dinner — that’s how overexcited I get about these things. :)

4. Selling Zen To Done ebook. I wrote the ZTD ebook at the request of readers, and I’m very glad I did. It has done phenomenally well, and reader response has been fantastic. Thank you guys! (If you haven’t yet, you can purchase it here.)

5. Zen Habits redesign. Not everyone loved it, but many do. And I do. Thank you, Collis, for the great design! (Note: he’s not taking on new design work anymore, so don’t bother him!)

6. Performancing Blog of the Year Award. It was a very nice surprise when readers voted for Zen Habits for this award, in just the first year of its existence. Very gratifying.

7. Open-source blogging. I recently released the copyright of Zen Habits, putting it into the public domain. (Notice the “Uncopyright” link now in the ZH header.) People seemed happy with that move, so I’m happy.

8. Becoming a Full-time Blogger. I just recently quit my day job. Wow, what a dream come true.

9. Technorati Top 50. Only recently, Zen Habits shot into the Top 50 — currently No. 45, though it fluctuates. That’s pretty cool. I’m in some amazing company.

Top 10 Posts
I recently published a listing of some of the best posts from 2007, but there were more than 50 there I think. So this week I asked myself: “If I had to create a Top 10 list, what would it be?” That turned out to be impossible. It’s like choosing between your babies. Sure, one might be more popular than the other, but the other is still lovable and wonderful.

So I let Google Analytics do the choosing. Here are the Top 10 posts in a year of blogging, by traffic:

1. 10 Benefits of Rising Early and How to Do It.

2. Top 20 Motivation Hacks.

3. Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life.

4. 50 Ways to Be Romantic on the Cheap.

5. A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home.

6. How to Be a Great Dad: 12 Awesome Tips.

7. Top 42 Exercise Hacks.

8. Handbook for Life: 52 Tips for Happiness and Productivity.

9. The Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips for Frugal Living.

10. 10 Tasty, Easy and Healthy Breakfast Ideas.