Reviewing Your Year: An Annual Discipline Worth Embracing

Each year as everybody is getting excited about the holidays, I also get excited. Albeit at the same time, my excitement is about something else all together. My own seasonal ritual, an annual review! I have been developing this habit over the course of the last 6 or so years. It has been a fruitful and actually fun exercise for me and I have only become more convinced that everybody should consider such a habit. You won't believe how many incidents you will find happened this year that seem like forever ago. Other things that you were thinking about last January are still on your mind, or in process. Some things fly by, other things seem to drag on. How many balls were dropped? What unexpected events effected my trajectory? 

Below is just a quick sketch of my process. As I have been working on this year's review and shared what I am doing with a few friends, I have gotten the impression that others were both challenged and appreciative of the idea. I also feel like it's been such a gift to me that I want to share it with others. So here ya go.

It's quite simple really.
I begin by creating a new Document for the review on which I simply list the twelve months as headings. 

Once that simple template is laid I throw on some music and start digging through the year. 

Start with what is obvious. Your calendar. Go back to January and just scan through events, appointments, etc. Just use your gut. There are a lot of things that won't stand out. Though as you comb over your year, there will be things will do jump out. Add it to your Document. Typically I will just use bullet points under the months heading. If I know an exact date of something I will put it in order on the list and include the date. If it just happened over the course of that month or I don't have a date, just add it under the month. 

Typically, after scanning the calendar I will scroll through any tweets (or other social media posts) from the year. Turns out this is a great source of reflection. Things that were on your mind, and when. Things you did that you posted a picture of or comment about. Things that you did with others. Local news that you shared. Since I work with the homeless, and don't hugely differentiate between personal or professional domains of life, I will usually find and include important city council decisions, laws, protests, or other things that effect the lives of those with whom I stand. Perhaps your social media posts will help you find those environmental or world events that you should include in your own year end review. 

You want to include anything that might serve to paint the picture of the year, that will help later when it is time to sit and extract conclusions about the data you have compiled. 

I have found that scanning through my 'sent' email is quite helpful. This will include any thread that you initiated or responded to. Obviously this is most likely a large number of emails to scan through and that is exactly what your doing, just scan. Whats the subject line? who is it to? when was it sent? Just go back to January and start scrolling. As you do there will inevitably be things that jump out. Each year as I do this I start remembering people I want to follow up with, projects that I should circle back to, and many other things worth jotting down. If its something that happened in the year, put it on your list. If it's something you realize that you want to do, put it elsewhere, maybe your inbox (if you  use GTD) or to-do list. 

Read over any blogs you posted, newsletters you sent, or anything else you might have. 

Since I began doing this review process, it has only encouraged me to record things throughout the year. Something as simple as recording weigh-ins with little notes about any dietary changes. So come year end, I use that to graph the years weight changes. 

Include any data from sleep tracking that you may have. 

Flip through any journals you kept. 

Perhaps there is a relationship or two that might even be worth scrolling though texts or other messages between you. 

After this list/picture of the year is completed, review it.  Inevitably, you will already have started the reflection process as you compiled. Still, it is best to set aside a chunk of time to process the year. Typically I will print all of what I have compiled and then take it with me to retreat for a day to just chew on and process. Write all over the print out. Looking for patterns, repetition, and trajectories. 
Are there any significant overlaps between weight gains/losses and major life events? 
What about sleep habits? 
Any months seem more productive than others? Why? 

Really, once you get to this point, it's on auto pilot. I am always impressed by how much you can learn about yourself, your relationships, habits, etc. as you go through this process. 

Typically, by the last third of the day away to reflect, I will naturally turn my gaze to the year to come. What is happening next year? What do I want to record? What changes do I want/need to make in my life? Forget simple new years resolutions, this is a rich place to make objectives for the following year and write goals for the first part of that year. 

Speaking of goals, I still use the school year calendar to write them. So this year as I complete this process, objectives for next year naturally emerge from that process, and I will write spring goals for January-May. 

Goals should be SMART. 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Sensitive (as in jan-may)
This way you can review and write goals each semester throughout the year. I will usually give myself a grade, based on number of completed goals each semester. You know 93% or 84% etc. Do not allow yourself to get C's. Also you will get better at writing goals each semester so if you don't score too well the first few rounds, it may be that your not so good at writing goals as much as it could be that you are slacking off. 

Anyway, I wanted to mention goals, for a few reasons. First off, I get excited about them and can't imagine living a life without being intentional in this way. But also because these goals are another resource to comb through at the end of the year as you do your year end review. 

Thats all folks. I really hope this is helpful to someone and I wish you all a happy new year!