Each year since 1997, Jeff Bezos publishes an annual letter to shareholders. There, he outlines the achievements of the year and sets the stage for the upcoming year. This is moment of celebration and a moment of focus. Each year since 2009, Bill and Melinda Gates publish their annual letter of their foundation. There, they outline their achievements as a family, as philanthropists, and as professionals. How do you celebrate your success over time? Are you ready to start an yearly review process?
The process of reviewing your year at a macro level comes on top of the First Things First process and the Monthly Reflection processes. As you work on and complete your goals you will change. Also, as you change some of the things that meant the world to you last year may no longer be relevant. This is why you take some time each year (it does not have to be Jan 1st, the actual timing is up to you) and evaluate everything you have done. Gratitude is a big part of this exercise. Yes, you have only yourself to thank for all the hard work that you’ve put and all the long hours. But can you honestly say that you did not have some luck here and some luck there? Can you diminish the help that you’ve got from other people, circumstances, and fate in general?
Time to read
Time to read: 12 minutes (based on 150 words per minute).
What is an yearly review?
The Yearly Review process is twofold. First of all, you draw the line and review what you’ve accomplished. Ideally, you compare it with your previous review to see how much of what you set yourself to accomplish, you’ve actually accomplished. Did you get that promotion? Did you spend enough time with your family? What about that car (apartment, house, garage, etc.) that you wanted? Do you feel that you are in a better relationship than last year?
Then, you make a list of all the important topics in the year and write about them. Structure does not matter, the process of thinking about them matters. And also, the process of putting them on paper matters. Add a short paragraph or a bulleted list to each topic. Write to yourself one year from today, or ten years from today. If was a good year, write about the good stuff. If was a bad year, write about the bad stuff. And remember to put down on the paper how you felt, how you succeeded, how you failed.
Think about the whole year form the lenses of the roles that you play in your life. In general these are the hats that you wear each day of your life. You can be a spouse, a professional, a parent, and a child. You can be a sibling, a student, and a friend. What did you achieve in each of these fields? What did you fail to achieve?
Finally, the second part of the Yearly Review is forward-looking. What goals will you set yourself to achieve in the following year. What habits will you develop? And what habits will you try to stop? Image yourself a year from now, writing next edition to the Yearly Review. What would you like to write? Where was your emphasis for that year?
What is the benefit of an yearly review
The benefit of the First Things First weekly process is to concentrate on the week ahead of you, forgetting the long-term. The long-term usually never plays out the way you were planning. The benefit of the Monthly Reflection is to do a reality check of your current direction. You put so much effort week over week into a goal, but does it still make sense? This allows you to correct your course and to continue to strive in the correct direction.
However, the Yearly Review is about the journey toward the end goal. The benefit of the Yearly Review process is to take a moment and tap yourself on the back. Do not neglect this part of life. But also, to set your course for the following year. Did you start a family? Concentrate on it, if this is important to you. Or do you want to provide the best possible life for your family? Concentrate on your career. Do you feel tired by your current career? Set yourself on a new path, take personal goals of obtaining certificates that will be application to your desired career.
My personal story dates back to the times before I internalized this process. When I was in high-school, I was very good at Math and Informatics. And I loved programming my super-old, 8-bit computer. Using it I had created numerous simple programs. My long-term goal was crystal clear at this point, enroll in the best university that my family could afford and start studying Computer Science. I aced the entry exams and started my education with a dedication that only a strong, long-term goal can give you.
Without doing a proper review of my achievements after the first two years in the university (I did not know that process back then), I decided to concentrate on software development. I took all the classes that would get me there. I studied all the relevant software development platforms and languages. When I graduated my bachelor program, I continued my education targeting a Master in Software Technologies.
Soon after, I started my first job as a developer. I earned two promotions within the first 2 years of my career. And once again, I decided to correct my course. I felt that software development was fun, but it was not enough for me. I was a decent developer, but not an excellent one. So, I set myself to try people management.
It took some time to get there, but when the right opportunity came up, I was on board. I failed miserably as a people manager. I tried a few other things in between, but I could not find my passion again.
Once again, I reviewed my accomplishments so far and decided to go for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to learn more about business and management. I graduated two years later and meanwhile I had become an entrepreneur with a small start-up company. I was moderately successful for a few years and then I decided to start a family. So, naturally, I took a goal to dial down my business and find a stable job.
This is, so far, the story of my life. The main point that I want to make is that at different times of your lives, there will be different drivers and different things will seem important. This is why you take time each year and evaluate how far have you gone and set yourself on a path to your future.
As we already established, there is no proper structure of the Yearly Review. You will figure out what works for you as you keep doing it. My recommendation is the following:
1. Decide on the timing
If you are a Jan-1st person, then feel free to do that as early in the year as possible. On the other hand, if you a financial guy, maybe the end of Q1 will be more appropriate. The most important thing is to set it and try to stick to your timing for a few years.
2. Block time on your calendar
Make sure you have time, preferably alone, to be able to concentrate on the process and dive deep into yourself. It will be even better if you can afford a day off and do only this for the whole day. If you are worried about your job or your day-to-day goals and activities, try to look it from a different perspective. Do your efforts matter if you are moving in the wrong direction?
3. Start top-down
Put each of your life roles as a header and start from them. List a few bullets about which you want to write in each section. Do you feel particularly proud of something? Or, do you feel that you’ve missed an opportunity anywhere? Write these down.
4. Review your Monthly Reflections
If you have accumulated enough monthly reflections, go back to them and read them. Maybe you’ve forgotten about some of your achievements, but this is why you put them on paper every month. Once again, try to find common themes in your monthly reflections. Did you concentrate a lot on your technical skills? Or on your soft skills? Call these out in the yearly review. Maybe, you did not concentrate enough on a particular skill. In this case, set it as a goal for the future.
5. Put content
Then, gradually expand each bullet into a paragraph or more. If you spot any patterns, or general challenges that you seem to encounter in more than one role, move that out as a separate section. Write about whatever comes to your mind. Write for yourself in the future.
6. Write about the future
Finally, start filling the section about the future. Where do you want to be in 1 year? Which misses would you like to correct in the future.
I do not believe in New Year’s Resolutions and I have outlined my arguments in this article. Remember to work with SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant and Time-bound) goals. Just setting yourself to “lose weight” will not help you.
Come back in one week and read the paper in one go. Are there sections that seem weak? Or out of place? Re-write, add content, or delete content. The goal is not to create a literature masterpiece, but to make sure it feels right.
Store the paper somewhere and come back to it next year. Or even better, come back to it several times during the year, to make sure your are still on the right path and that the path is still right.
The Yearly Review process is a habit of looking inside and feeling proud of what you’ve done during the year. Your mind tends to concentrate on the future, on the failed past, and never on the present and the achievements that lead to this present. This is why, I like to take some time each year and review the past 365 days. Just thing about how much happens in a year. In 1 year your body (source: https://curiosity.com): produces 15 cm of hair; 80 litters of tears (Wow! Right?); 1,400 litters of sweat; 3.5 cm of fingernail.
What are the next steps?
If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.