Life Maven

A Guide to Simple End of Year Reviews

There is a lot of content out there at the moment about doing an end of year review.

How to do one. When to do it. What questions to ask. Stand on your head and get a PhD in self-reflection first.

It’s a lot of noise and it’s a lot of pressure to do something in the right way.

It becomes very easy to put it in the too hard basket. Which of all the possible courses of action you can take, that’s probably the only wrong one.

The right answer is to keep it simple.

At it’s most basic, you can sit down with pen and paper (or your laptop if that’s more your style), an hour of uninterrupted time and write about your year.

I find, however, that a little more structure goes a long way to increasing the effectiveness of my end of year review. Only a little more.


Reflecting on your year doesn't need to be arduous

Benefits of Structuring Your End of Year Review

The benefits come from solving two common problems with this kind of review – recency bias and getting stuck wondering where to start. Or stop. Or do in the in between.

First up, recency bias is our brains’ strong tendency to overemphasis events that happened more recently. If you simply sit down and write, you’re very likely to focus on the last couple of months and forget about what happened in January.

Which isn’t really doing a year review is it?

If you only focus on the last couple of months, it’s harder to see how far you’ve come in the past year. And how much you’ve accomplished. When you start going through month by month (more on that in a tick), you’ll be amazed by how much you’ve done and experienced and how that’s moved you forward.

I can promise you that you’re not the same person you were 11 months ago. You need to look at the whole year to see that. Being methodical makes sure you do.

Second, having a structure stops the brain wondering if I’m doing it right. Or am I missing something? Am I getting off track? Or stream of conscious writing for ten minutes then moving on without really distilling the lessons. Frameworks are liberating.

Think about when you’re asked what your favourite book is. Instant overload. Is my favourite book on habits more of my favourite than Harry Potter? You draw a blank because there are too many options. If someone asks you about the last book you read and why you read it, it’s much easier to answer. No overload.

How to Structure your End of Year Review

Now I have you convinced that you need a structure, I bet you’re asking, well what is the best structure?

Now, figuring out how to reflect on your year is a personal choice. You might want to do quick fire questions with your best friend over wine. Or go for a run to mull over the questions. Perhaps revisiting it multiple times over a week is your style, letting the ideas percolate. Or maybe you want to smash it out in half an hour.

Again, the only wrong way to do this is to not do it at all. Make it feel good and you’re on the right track.

Now for the questions.

I have three structures for you. All from my favourite lifestyle thinkers. Two are super simple and quick. One is more involved.

My suggestion is you look at all three and see what resonates. I imagine one style will jump out at you. Go with that. Don’t think too much. This is supposed to be simple remember?

Danielle La Porte – 5 Q’s for a Deeper Year in Review

This approach is quick and instinctive. Answer from the heart. Don’t think too much, whatever comes up first is where you’re at.

What I like about it:

  • It can be a conversation. Share it with your friends.
  • No need to think too hard or peel back the layers. Just feel it.
  • It has a what next component. Translate what comes up into what comes next.

It’s all about more of the good stuff. I can get behind that.

Tim Ferriss – Why End of Year Reviews are More Effective

Getting slightly more involved and definitely more structured here. But it still takes less than an hour.

What I like about it:

  • It’s methodical, just work your way through it.
  • Distil the learnings. Take immediate action on what you’ve learnt.
  • Again, not heaps of brain power required here, just quiet time.

This is more of a just do it approach but the outcome is pretty much the same.

Chris Guillebeau – How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review

The next level approach, involving spreadsheets and spread out over a week. Which makes it sound intense. Which it isn’t. Simple is best remember?

What I like about it:

  • It’s an all in approach without getting complicated.
  • Advocating for taking time, this is the slow and steady approach.
  • Very concrete outcomes and defined categories for those outcomes.

The final structure is the only one that has steps for setting goals for next year (that’s where the spreadsheet comes into it).

You can set goals as a result of the reflections in the first two structures. No reason you can’t. Danielle and Tim present the actions more as intentions, so the goal setting is you adding an extra step. Making the process work for you.

Personally, I’ve started Chris’s more involved process but I’m feeling like Danielle or Tim’s approach will suit me better. Both approaches seem to me to be different ways of saying a similar method and my version of that it what feels good.

You’ve got to make it work for you. And just because you start with one structure doesn’t mean you can’t change to another part way through. If it’s easy and feels good, run with it.

We’re all about keeping this simple!

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Bringing It All to Life

Now you have a month to get organised and build momentum.

If you think about it, January 1 is an arbitrary date to level up. There’s no need to wait.

If your goals or intentions are things you truly want, you’ll be itching to get started. If not, ask yourself why you’re not excited. Are you taking on other’s expectations and focusing on what you think you should do? Or are you really putting yourself out there and dreaming big, scaring yourself?

If the former, go back to what made you happy this year and dial it up. Focusing on more of what feels good will always put you on the right path. Next year, you’ll be more discerning on what you want to achieve.

If you’re the latter, time to break it down. Find some teeny tiny steps. Just do the first one. Then focus on the second. Then one more. Learn and readjust as you go. Good on you for setting a big goal. You can do this!

Whatever your approach, I hope you find some learnings and remember some incredible experiences. One thing I’m always amazed by when I do this is just how many adventures I’ve been on and memories I’ve made. Even in the years that felt super challenging, there are always bright spots.

Now get started on creating the best 2019!

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