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Why doing an annual review is the best way to begin a new year

Why Doing an Annual Review Is the Best Way To Begin a New Year

Two free templates to get you started

Lesser Ury (1861–1931), Woman at a Writing-Desk (1898)

In her essay On Keeping A Notebook, the late Joan Didion, who left this world at the age of 87 just before Christmas, asked herself why we write things down. What is the purpose of keeping a notebook, a record of the events of our lives?

“Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it?” — Joan Didion

It is 2022 already, although for many it may feel like 2020 never ended. Aren’t we all asking ourselves, ‘What just happened?’

Why an annual review is valuable

I always say that in order to be able to look forward, you have to be able to look back. That is why, for the past three years, I dedicate a few hours at the turn of every year to look back on what happened over the past twelve months, to take a look at my journey, where I started, where I ended, and where this path is taking me.

An exercise in remembering

We owe it to ourselves to remember our lives. To pay attention to what happened. Mary Oliver wrote, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” And so, an annual review becomes a method to remember who we were. To be kind to ourselves, but also honest. To celebrate achievements, and to acknowledge where we could have done better.

In The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You, one of the most valuable books I read in 2021, Julie Zhuo writes: “Nothing worthwhile happens overnight. Every big dream is the culmination of thousands of tiny steps forward.” By looking back at a longer period of time, we enable ourselves to see our successes and our progress, an essential exercise, particularly during a point in the history of mankind where it might all feel stagnant, where all our plans bump into obstacles that seem beyond our control.

Remembering to be honest

Everyone makes mistakes, and those who refuse to see and learn from their mistakes are those who remain stationary, who do not grow. An untruthful review will have no value. Be brutally honest with yourself, with facts, with pain points, with your own downsides. Do not embellish, but do not be ashamed to admit where things could have gone better, where your goals might have been too unrealistic, or just not important enough.

Conducting an end-of-year review for yourself

The review provides a natural closure to the year. You can write it all down, put it away, and start afresh. Before rushing into 2022, it is worth dwelling on 2021 just a little longer, especially since for many this might be the first week of the year where you are re-entering the bittersweet reality that only routines can offer.

I tend to use two templates for my end-of-year review. One focuses on my professional growth, the other gives me the ground to explore life as a whole, and key areas of it.

Detailed end-of-year retrospective

The first template makes for a detailed 2021 end-of-year retrospective. It consists of a series of questions that really lean into remembering the details of 2021, even key moments that you may have forgotten. This is the longer version, which is also the one I do with my team. You can get it for free here.

The detailed 2021 end-of-year retrospective is great for:

Teams and managersFocusing on professional and personal growthZooming into your careerSetting professional and growth goals for 2022

A Year in Review

The second template makes for the 2021: A Year in Review. It is the shortest of the two, and the one I do with myself. It is very simple, relying on prose and stream of consciousness, similar to doing morning pages, and covers the main areas of life. When filling out each section, ask yourself, ‘What happened? How did it feel?’ You can get this template for free here.

The 2021: A Year in Review template is great for:

Individuals investing in their personal growthSelf-discoveryIdentifying areas of your life you might be underinvesting inSetting some initial goals for the year ahead

Søren Kierkegaard famously said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We owe it to ourselves to set time aside in order to understand where our lives are headed. Conducting the review needs time and space, a room of one’s own, preferably. Make sure you set enough, continuous time aside for this exercise for maximum impact, and ease yourself into the new year. There are still so many days of it left.

Summary points

The main reasons why an annual review is the best way to transition into a new year:

It brings closure to the year that just endedIt helps you appreciate and celebrate your achievementsIt surfaces what could have gone betterIt points towards what really mattersIt can help unpack recurring themesIt answers the question asked by James Clear, Are my choices helping me live the life I want to live?’It can nudge you towards setting better goals for the year ahead

I write Brain Food, a free daily newsletter that lands in people’s inboxes Monday to Friday, providing daily creative inspiration, tips on self-improvement, and exploring what makes a happy life. For longer pieces, follow me on Medium.

Why doing an annual review is the best way to begin a new year was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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