Me kicking off the GRIP Jaarplandag. Picture by Merel Mollema.
Me kicking off the GRIP Jaarplandag. Picture by Merel Mollema.

I invited 100 people to join me in doing a yearly review. This is what happened

Here’s a short video impression of the day:

In the Netherlands we have two official holidays at Christmas. They’re called — no kidding — the First Day of Christmas (eerste kerstdag) and the Second Day of Christmas (tweede kerstdag). We often celebrate with family, visiting one side of the family on day one and the other side on day two. You get the idea. By the time that unofficial Third Day of Christmas rolls around, most people are ready for real day off.

So you could say December 27 is the worst possible day to organize a work-related event.

But on that bright and crisp Friday, 100 people gathered in an office in Utrecht (a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam) for the first annual Jaarplandag. Literally: the YearPlanDay. What’s more, we had to put 50 more people on a waiting list when we hit the venue’s capacity. But before I tell you more about this YearPlanDay, let’s back up a bit.

In 2013 I did my first yearly review. Inspired by this fantastic blogpost by Chris Guillebeau, I cleared some time in my schedule to think about the year I’d had and the year to come. Ever since, it’s been an essential part of my winter break. I’ve learned valuable lessons, launched new projects, ultimately self-publishing my first book last year: the Dutch bestseller GRIP. I’m super excited to share that it’s now being translated into English.

The past twelve months have been phenomenal for me. The book launch was picked up by Holland’s leading newspapers and websites. I was invited to talk about my book on national television. And as I write this, the book has sold nearly 50,000 copies.

But something’s happened that’s far more important than those numbers. Since the launch in January 2019, not a day goes by that I don’t find notes from readers in my mailbox. Some write about their successes, but most talk about how happy they are to have finally found their own way of working — one that gives them clarity in the chaos. One that helps them deal with all the information and distractions bombarding us every day. And one that helps ensure they get their most important work done.

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Isn’t it weird that we’re never really taught how to work? I mean we spend a lot of time mastering specific skills we need for our jobs, but learning how to structure the work itself isn’t generally one of them. And yet we spend so much time at work and we know that a lot about the way we work is broken. What we could really use is a simple and practical guide to structure our calendar. To organize our tasks. To implement a solid way of dealing with email instead of avoiding it or slogging through. Most importantly: we need a way to help us figure out what’s important and how to carve out time for that. That’s GRIP.

I believe that a solid system allows you to fully focus on the work in front of you. You go from running and scrambling to keep up to being in charge of your work and performing at your best. GRIP brings together tools you already use to help structure your workweek.

Once you have that part figured out, it’s time to zoom out a bit. And that’s where the yearly review comes in. Doing a review takes some discipline. Not only do you have to figure out what questions to ask and what things to think about, you also have to find the time to dive in.

Thinking about your year can be hard work.

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So that made me wonder. Maybe I could do more than just nudge people to spend time thinking. Maybe it would help if I could arrange a space for people to come together and then help them create their plan. So I figured, let’s invite folks and see what happens.

I was absolutely blown away by the response.

Over 200 people responded to the invitation. I arranged the biggest space I could find and opened up 100 tickets, which sold out in two days. Most people were using this day to catch up on Netflix or take time to recharge after the holidays. Not this group.

Cramming 100 people into an office is normally not something you’d recommend. Especially if you want to get high-impact thinking done. Honestly, I was a little skeptical beforehand. Would this be an effective way to give people some deep thinking time? I knew it would be fun, but would it also work?

The answer is yes, it worked.

The event itself was simple: I arranged for good coffee and a fantastic lunch. No dreadful keynotes. No motivational speeches. No forced get-to-know-your-neighbor exercises. Just the time and space to think. And that worked out really well. I’ve never seen such a large group working with this level of focus and intensity. A key insight from the day for me was that in a digital-first world, this kind of live, shared experience — meeting and eating together — can make your initiative stand out.

“This day made me change my perspective on my work, projects, and plans. GRIP gave me a fresh overview and this day offered me surprising insights.”

Something else that was spot-on: offering a side track with optional extra sessions. Iris van de Kieft ran two awesome sessions of guided meditation, which were well received and a good fit for a day of strategic thinking. In the afternoon, Fokke Kooistra led a great discussion where he fielded questions about setting goals and forming good habits.

“I loved the fact that there was room for mindfulness, and that there was someone to help convert goals into concrete plans.”

Another big hit is the Slack channel I created for those attending. That makes it super easy for people to make connections and ask for help throughout the day, and it keeps voices down too. After the YearPlanDay itself, people kept on sharing and motivating each other in Slack. I’m thinking about next steps for the channel and may open it up to more members.

There’s one thing I’m not only thinking about but am absolutely going to do: organize more events like this. Turns out it’s a fantastic way to help people make the jump and get started with the more time-intensive parts of GRIP (like finding an accountability partner or doing a full yearly review). Plus it’s a great way get to know new people. But looks like I’ll have to find a larger space next time.

“It shouldn’t really matter whether you do this at home or with a group. But…it did matter. This day truly brought me something important and meaningful.”

I couldn’t agree more. This was something truly special and I can’t wait for the next edition.

Want to create your own plan for 2020? It’s not too late!

In my newsletter I walk you through the steps you can take and here’s my basic template for your own YearPlanDay. Carve out as much time as you can for some deep thinking about the past twelve months, and set yourself up for a great new year.

On to a fantastic year ahead!

Rick

PS I write a free weekly newsletter about work, called Work in Progress. Sign up! If you want to reach out, you can email me at rick@gripboek.nl.

Thanks to Erica Moore for helping me write this. All photos by Merel Mollema.

I wrote the Dutch bestseller GRIP, working to bring it to English.

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