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How to Run Your Own Annual Review

Forget Resolutions—Here’s Your Blueprint for Making Next Year a Smash Hit

Jason Shen
Dec 19, 2017 · 11 min read
Icons by Freepik & Smashicons from flaticon.com

New Years Resolutions

Let’s get something out of the way: New Year’s resolutions have a bad reputation.

  • Thought about the severity of the problem, and how it was impacting their life
  • Reminded themselves about their resolution
  • Avoided situations where they would give in

The Annual Review

I’ve experimented with various strategies for making the most of the self-reflection and psychological power of the New Year. I’ve found the approach I give you here to be simple, straightforward, and the most powerful.

What You Need

  • 3+ hours of uninterrupted time — you need the time to go deep, reflect, formulate your thoughts, and to set intentions that feel right.
  • Large paper and/or Post-It notes—an activity like this often is better without the distractions of a computer or phone (and you may be using those to look up information as you go). You can start with Post-It notes and move to complete on the large paper if you’d like. (If you must, a digital device like a laptop or tablet can also suffice.)
  • Sharpie or other writing instruments—you might want different colors, highlighters, etc. to help organize material as it.
  • A writing surface or a wall—it can be helpful to review your thoughts / ideas in one big place. Clear a table, use a whiteboard if you have one.
  • Journals, calendars and other personal data — since you’re reflecting on the year, it’s helpful to have things that can jog your memory and remind you of all the things that have happened.
  • A few people you feel really close to — you can do this exercise alone but it’s definitely more powerful if you can share it with one or two people you really trust.
Gather all your materials and give yourself space to work.

Step 1: Reflect Back

Looking back is about closing the chapter on the last year of your life. You can start by just going through your photos, journal entries, update emails and calendar to remind yourself of everything that you’ve done and experienced in the last year. You can even look at text messages or emails with people who are close to you. You might want to set a timer for an hour or so to do this.

  1. What were the low parts of the year? What was hard? What made you feel hurt, angry, or sad?
  2. What did you learn this year? What do you now know about yourself, other people, and the world at large?
  • Low parts — things to be grateful they are over, or at least acknowledge that they didn’t end you. Put these behind you. (You can even burn or tear up this page or these post-its if you’d like).
  • Lessons — what your hard-won experience has taught you. Time does not automatically become wisdom. You have to squeeze it out.
  • Name the year—this is an optional step that can help further bring closure to the year. By giving the year a name, like “The Year of Exploration” or “The Year of Stumbles and Scuffles,” you can encapsulate what the biggest takeaway was from that year.

Step 2: Life Audit

Once you’ve looked back at the year that was, it’s time to look at where you are now, in this moment. It’s time for a life audit.

  1. Friends + Community
  2. Love + Relationships
  3. Family
  4. Creativity + Adventure
  5. Career
  6. Money & Finances
  7. Emotional Well-Being
A quick radar chart via Online Charts. See below for my own example using bar charts.

Step 3: Look Forward

In this phase, the goal is to start thinking ahead to next year. What are the bigger aspirations you have, and what steps do you need to take to realize them? You want to dream big, but also develop a plan to get there.

  1. The Short List. Look through that long list of aspirations/goals. What are the 3–5 things that, if you achieved them, would make next year a huge win? What really matters? Try not to overthink this; focus on the “must haves”, not the “nice to haves”.
My 2016 reflection exercise.

4. Chart The Path

You’re almost done! Now that you’ve defined that castle in the air, it’s time to put the foundations underneath them, as Thoreau once said. This final series will be about making sure you have a realistic path to achieving those awesome goals you’ve defined.

  1. New practices: In order to reach those goals, what are the habits, behaviors, and attitude you’ll need to adopt in the next year?
  2. Connections to make: In order to reach those goals, who do you need to build or deepen a relationship with? Who can inspire, teach, and support you in this journey?
  3. Things to give up: In order to reach those goals, what are the habits, behaviors, and attitude you’ll need to drop in the new year?

Final Thoughts

It has been said that we overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can do in a decade.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Jason Shen

Written by

Serial entrepreneur & Asian American advocate. Co-Founder and CEO of Midgame.gg - esports analytics co. TED, Etsy, Stanford, Y Combinator alum. BOS ✈ SF ✈ NYC.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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