The three questions to ask yourself at the end of every year
December 4, 2022
Since I started writing online, I took a week or two at the end of each year to review how things went in the year. And then, I published them on my blog to share my journey and things I've learned along the way.
Occasionally, I read these reviews myself to relearn the lessons from the past.
This episode is not a 2022 review. I will be writing that in a week or two. Instead, I want to take this episode to share how I review my year with a few tips after doing it for the past six years.
People love New Year's resolutions. While it's good to plan for things you want to do and accomplish in a new year, it's equally, if not more important, to sit down and review the things you've done and accomplished this year.
What did you achieve? Have you done what you said you were going to do? What are the big and small wins? And most importantly, what have you learned?
These are important questions we should ask ourselves regularly. Be it every quarter, every six months, or every year.
The answers reveal insights you potentially miss in your planning, help you gain better clarity, and create the spaces to celebrate the wins and thank yourself for all the work.
The first tip is to keep the review process simple. We all have the tendency to complicate things. Because the more complicated something is, the smarter we look.
At the end of the day, all you need is three simple questions:
Start by listing things you've accomplished in the past 12 months.
You started a blog. You got promoted. You doubled your business. They could be desired outcomes you've gotten, bucket list items you've crossed off, or habits you've successfully put in place.
When you're done, take a moment to be grateful for all the good things that have happened. At the same time, celebrate the small wins you've worked hard for.
The list is also helpful when planning your new year because now you know what works. All you need is to do more of them.
Next, make another list of things that went poorly in the past 12 months.
It could be setbacks in a project, difficult moments in relationships, or fitness goals you've failed to hit.
Doing this might be uncomfortable, and reminding yourself of some of these incidents could be emotional. The trick is to be easy with yourself and do it with little judgment.
The goal isn't to guilt-trip yourself. Instead, it’s to lead you to the next step: figure out what needs work.
Answer the question reveals insights from past mistakes and uncover steps you can take to improve next year. Think about what you would do differently next year to make things better. Also, how you could be better prepared for things outside your control.
Remember that the question "What needs work?" often focuses on corrections of the system instead of the strategy.
If this is your first time doing an annual review. Answering the three questions (What went well? What went wrong? And what needs work?) should provide you with enough feedback when planning for your next year.
But if you want to take things to the next level, there are two other things I do in my annual review.
The first is to turn the answers I gather from the three questions into lessons and principles. I do that by removing the details and nuances.
For example, calorie counting has worked so well for me this year compared to things I've tried in the past. And because of that, I got from 22% body fat to 14% in six months—which is the leanest I've ever been. So I strip away the details and turn the experience into two lessons.
By doing that, I can refer to them anytime when I want to optimize my systems or introduce new strategies.
Do this enough time for every life area; you will have a playbook that cuts your decision-making time in half or more, at the same time, increase the success rates—whether it's in your health, relationships, or business.
Another thing I do is to rate different areas of my life based on my long-term vision and how I feel about them at this very moment.
In my post on How to Think About Your Life, I break my life into six different areas: work, money, fitness, relationships, learning, and hobby. During my annual review, I will score each area on a scale of 1 to 10.
If an area aligns with my long-term vision and I feel good about it now, I would rate it with a high score. On the other hand, if an area is out of alignment and I feel really bad about it, it gets a low score.
How you feel about a life area is subjective and usually not outcome-focused. Because of that, scoring them using a simple scale is a great way to measure them. The goal of this exercise is to find the imbalance that frustrates and bothers you.
It's common for high achievers to hit all of their goals and KPIs but still feel off. Often, that happens because their lives are out of balance. They might be performing well at work but neglecting other areas that don't have a KPI, such as health, family, and personal growth.
If it sounds like you, scoring your life areas give you a clear picture of what needs work—especially on things that are not outcome-driven and don't have KPIs.
Now you have it. To make things easy for you, I've created an annual review worksheet based on a few things we've just gone through. You can download it here.
Again, you can expand your review with more questions and exercises. But I recommend keeping things simple.
Remember to give yourself enough time to gather all the necessary information. But not too much time that makes you keep putting things off. One to two weeks is an excellent timeframe to set.
Another problem is that you might not remember everything from the past 12 months, especially when working in a fast-paced environment. That's where practices like daily journaling, weekly reviews, or even the brag folder come in handy. It's okay if you don't have them now, but do consider adding them to your system in the coming year.
Once you're done reviewing your year, take a few days to let things sink in. Reward yourself with good time off. Reach out to people who have helped you in the past and thank them.
And when you're ready, it's time to plan for the next year—which I will cover in the next episode.
Three to five things I learned—that will help you work less, earn more, and live a better life. (Also get notified of new posts and masterclasses)
👆 Join 3,100+ leaders, creatives, and knowledge workers today.
Dean is a strong voice in the self-mastery space. His newsletter consistently delivers insightful ideas on how to become a better version of yourself and is the only newsletter that I always read.
Head of product and engineering