Annual Review: Back to life

Kevin's 2010 Annual ReviewNear the end of each of the last several years,1 I’ve conducted a personal “annual review” to assess what I had accomplished during the past year, and to establish my goals and direction for the coming year.

Since I began conducting my own annual reviews, I’ve felt more in control of what happens in my life, as well as in control of where my life ultimately is going. For that reason alone, I believe conducting a personal annual review is one of the most powerful and effective personal improvement steps an individual can take. 

At first, my annual review was a very informal, unstructured process, taking at most a few hours to complete. Then in 2008, I learned about Chris Guillebeau’s (The Art of Non-Conformity) annual review process and began leveraging several of the tools and processes he developed for his review.2 Also following Guillebeau’s lead, I added structure to my overall review, incorporated metrics in order to measure success, and continually revise and refine the review process from one year to the next.

My current annual review process breaks down in three stages, typically spread out and conducted over a week or more:

Assessment of the Previous Year: To start, I look at the goals and action items I had developed for the previous year, ask which I successfully accomplished and which I didn’t accomplish, and then inventory the factors that impacted both the successes and failures of the past year. (Time Required = 1–2 hours)

Brainstorm About What’s Next: The second stage involves structured brainstorming about several “big picture” items such as what direction I want to take my life, what I still want to accomplish, and what I want my ultimate legacy from this life to be. The context covered by this brainstorming is not just the coming year, but the entire remainder of my life. (Time Required = 2–4 hours, typically divided into multiple sessions over several days)

Identify Goals and Action Items for the Coming Year: The final stage takes the ideas from stage two’s brainstorming and determines which to focus on and pursue (either in part or in their entirety) during the next 12 months. The result is a list of measurable goals, a series of actionable steps toward achieving each specific goal, and a target completion date for each action item. (Time Required = 2–4 hours)

Here are a couple of tips if you’re considering using a similar annual review process.

  1. When reviewing the factors that prevented achieving a specific goal during the past year, make sure to differentiate which of those factors were within your control and which were beyond your control. That breakdown will aid you in preparing your action items for the coming year, because ideally you should plan differently for how you address those factors within your control versus those factors you cannot control. (For example, you might choose to eliminate a negative factor that is within your control, but map a detour to avoid a negative that is beyond your control.)
  2. Even if a desired goal will require more than one year to achieve, you should still include it in the coming year’s goals and action items. For example, let’s say you have a goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. Obviously it will require years of medical school and training to achieve that particular goal, but if you don’t break the goal into smaller pieces and get started now, you will never get any closer to achieving that goal. So for the coming year, you could identify action items that will prepare you for admission to the desire medical school, as well as the action of actually applying to that school.

If you’re one of those individuals who values setting and working towards goals in your life (as opposed to a more typical “go with the flow of the universe” approach to life), then conducting an annual review can be a valuable tool in your personal and professional life.

Do you conduct annual reviews? What has been your experience with the process and the outcome of such reviews? Please share your stories below in the Comments section.

  1. I’m not sure exactly when I started this practice, but it was before I retired from Accenture in 2007, which means I’ve conducted such annual reviews at least since the end of 2006. []
  2. To learn more about Chris Guillebeau’s annual review process, check out this “How To” article from December 2008, as well as his December 2010 update on the origins and background of his annual review process. []

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