How I run my yearly review to reflect on my past, set new goals, and plan for the new year

9 min readMar 23, 2022

At the beginning of each year, I go on a retreat with four of my closest friends and πŸ”­ review the last year, 🎯 set new goals for this year, and πŸ“… plan for it.

TL;DR: A concrete routine beginning of each year, to go to a remote place with a slect group of friends and only focus self development.
1.: start by going through your calendar and pictures to review the last year. What have you learned, what went well, what did not go well, what goals have you achieved what missed?
2.: Set new goals for the upcoming year, cluster them into live areas β€” what is the BHAG for this year and what are the new habits. Focus on a select few β€œmust happen” goals in more detail
3.: Plan out the new year, what are the timeline for each goal, and what needs to change

Time flies and it seems to accelerate with age. When the new year is upon us, we take this event as a fresh start to do things better β€” new year new me. We set ambitious new year’s resolution just to fall back to our daily rut after a week or two. However, we often overlook or neglect our actions of the past year. What did we accomplish? Why did we not achieve all the goals we set last year? What major events affected our lives positively or negatively?

I decided 2018/19 to introduce a concrete routine β€” a yearly retreat, as a trigger to break with the day-to-day actions. I am very fortunate to have a group of 5 close friends with a like minds purpose-driven mindset of self-development. Inspired by Tim Ferris, we Lin, Peter and Valentin, and Laurin decided to take a step back, audit our lives and set specific measures to become the best version of ourselves.

The idea is simple: find a remote place, dedicate two full days, bring only the essentials, and forget the rest at home. This is to make sure that you are free of any distractions of your regular life and focus solely on the task at hand. Two days to set you up for success for the following year does not sound too bad! Each of us will introduce you to his very own approach and his reasoning. Then it is up to you to decide what you want to include in your own yearly review.

I included a Notion Template πŸš€ with detailed descriptions on how to run your own review

I am a big believer in creating a system (aka. routines and habits) in my life, measure and analyze it and then making tiny improvements that stick β€” this way I engineer my life step by step for compound change. My yearly review is a vital part of this process, so let’s jump right in: I structured my review in three stages

Part 1.1: πŸ”­ Review the last year
Part 1.2: πŸ“ˆ Target-actual comparison
Part 2: 🎯 Set new goals for this year
Part 3: πŸ“… Plan for the coming year

Before you begin:

You will need a laptop, your calendar and journal, a silent place were you are undisturbed and can think β€” ideally with an inspiring view in nature.

Part 1.1: πŸ”­ review the last year

For part 1 I start by going through my Google photos, calendar and collect major events and impressions chronologically for each month. I like to create a collage of pictures, screenshots, and notes.

Example monthly impressions

β€œI always feel a deep sense of gratitude for my life while I go through the pictures and events of last year”


After collecting the impressions, I cluster them into 9 distinct areas of my life (see notion template for details) in addition I note a few bullet points about each, to make it easier to jump back on my train of thought later on.

After having compiled a rough list I revisit each area and reflect with the help of my daily journal on these questions: general thoughts, what was positive β€” went well, what was negative β€” didn’t go well, what you learned from it & open questions.

Example life areas

For me, that is the most important part of my review because it helps me to be grateful for what I have accomplished, what I learned, and how I personally grew over the past year. Reflecting on the above-mentioned questions helps me to discover my subconscious decision patterns, that drove me and to bring them out into the open.

Evaluating each area

With a clear picture of my past year, I start to grade each area (-2 to +2) giving me a rough picture of where I excelled and where I need to focus more effort for this year. An additional benefit is that this helps me to identify patterns that worked well for me from the +2 areas and apply them to the -1s and -2s. Furthermore, I like to pick out particular high-lights and low-lights of the year.

Example evaluating

I finished my first day by writing down people I am grateful for, things I have discovered and important lessons I learned to boost my motivation and to mentally prepare myself for the next part.

I like to put in motivational quotes to my review template, to lift my spirit πŸ˜€

Part 1.2: πŸ“ˆ Target-actual comparison

To actually assess how successful last year was, I am looking at my previously set goals, and evaluate their status (this is also done in my weekly and quarterly review). It helps to also thing about why you achieve some goals and failed for others β€” similar to a failure-mode-and-effect-analysis you can drill down on the fundamental reasons for the ones you are most satisfied with succeeding or most annoyed with not reaching.

Example of target-actual assessment of last year's goals

After assessing the specific goals, I am also reflecting on my productivity system, habits, and mindset in a more general sense. I want to be aware of how I have changed in comparison to last year.

Personality test

For me, the 16personalities test was scarily accurate, and it opened my eyes to strengths and weaknesses I never continuously was aware but made total sense once I saw them. I will re-take the test each year, to see if something has changed (usually it does not for me at least)

Part 2: 🎯 set new goals for this year

With part 2 I build upon the insight of part 1 and transform them into specific goals. I start by setting a 10-minute timer and write down every goal that comes to mind on paper, which helps to clear my mind. Afterward, I sort them according to my life areas and come up with general and specific goals for each area by going over my notes from part 1. I try to limit myself to a maximum of three goals per area and spread them equally among each area to not skew my life in one direction.

To identify which goals to keep and which ones to strike out it helps to picture the long-term impact of the goal onto my life and then choose the one with the higher impact.

BHAG 🐻 with a letter to my future self

With my goals defined, I turn to clarify my reasons why I want to achieve these goals. I round the second part of, by writing a letter to my future self, picturing me at the end of this year with all my goals accomplished, I found that this gives me a tremendous boost. In this letter, I am focusing on my Big Hairy and Ambitious Goals as a vision to drive me, and also to remind me of what I am actually trying to achieve. It helps with the next step, to align all the goals and to actively say no to most of them, to be able to focus on the nose that actually drives progress towards the future I envisioned.

Most important goals & OKRs

Focus leads to success, this is also true for goals. If you find yourself, like me, with way too many goals from the steps before, it is now time, to use the vision outlined in your letter to mercilessly remove the ones, that are not contributing to the core of your vision.

When it comes to goals, I found, that less is more πŸ€“

First, I only keep, the goals fulfilling the above criteria. Second, I define OKRs for the ones, that are more complex.

Example of specific goals and OKRs for complex goals

Part 3: πŸ“… plan for the coming year

Part 3 is dedicated to creating a path and engineering a system, which makes it inevitable for me to reach my goals. I have to categorize of goals, recurring ones and milestone-related.

To pave the way for successfully accomplishing my goals I looked at potential obstacles for each goal and boiled them down into actionable steps. To keep track of my recurring goals and to integrate them into my habits, I cluster them by frequency of occurrence (daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly) and integrate them into my review.

For the milestones, I plot in monthly periods of actions for the year, which helps me to keep track of what goal to focus on at a specific month and how much time and energy to devote to.

Example milestones and monthly focus of goals

This is an outline of the process I follow for my yearly review. Keep in mind, that this is the result of 4 consecutive years of refinement and lots of inspiration from self-development books, podcasts, and articles.

The yearly review is the activity of the hole year with the biggest impact on my life, happiness, and success β€” by a wide margin.

Start with your own, start small with just one day β€” and develop your own process from there! πŸš€

Additional resources



  • Miracle Morning (Hal Elrod) β€” on journaling, the importance of a morning routine and how to set up your day
  • Atomic Habit (James Clear) β€” the bible on how to build habits, which for us is the shortcut to successfully building a system to make it inevitable to reach your goals
  • Find your WHY (Simon Sinek)- to know why your goals matter, and to set the right goals, you first have to know what your life’s mission ist, where this book helped us a lot
  • Decisive (Chip & Dan Heath) β€” how to set the right goals and evaluate your decision models
  • Switch (Chip & Dan Heath) β€” how to build a system for changing your habits and decision models

If you are interested in how my friends run their retreat, we outlined all our routines in this article:

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me:

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