How was your 2015? Did you achieve your goals and make progress in the ways you envisioned twelve months ago? Were there areas in life where you struggled or found distraction? If your year was anything like mine, you had a wide variety of experiences ranging from fantastic victories to complete failures, and touching upon all varieties of outcomes in between. Do you know why certain projects went well and why others failed? Have you set aside any time at year’s end to try and understand the difference? Have you thought about what decisions you need to make and actions you need to take to achieve the greater levels of success you have in mind? You should.
At the end of every year, I take the last week or two to review the past year, and think deeply about what I want for the next year. Achieving the successful outcomes you have in mind for the future requires making time to review your accomplishments against your goals. It also requires you to set clear and compelling goals going forward. This is easy to say but requires real and dedicated thought to accomplish. Why? Because setting clear and compelling goals requires you to understand what you really want.
This is my process for ending the year positively with a clear understanding of where I am, how I got here, and where I’m headed next.
Reflect on the Past Year’s Accomplishments
The first step in an annual review is to sit down and reflect on the year’s accomplishments. This takes real time to do properly, because chances are that you’ve done a lot over the past twelve months. I start with a review of my client-based practice. I review my year’s calendar, project list, and task list for all of the client projects that I’ve completed, as well as those that remain open at year end. I consider outcome, revenue, speed to completion, efficiency, and client satisfaction. I identify key decision moments in each project, and ask myself if the outcomes of those decisions were consistent with or different than my predictions. I make a list of the successes I had. I repeat then repeat this exercise for the management of my business, my personal goals, financial goals, and family goals.
Reviewing experiences leads to insight, and this exercise will let you identify the principles and habits that led to success.
Be Honest about Failures, and then Move on
My year wasn’t all success. I bet yours wasn’t either. I find it important to think honestly about the places where I didn’t achieve my goals, made bad decisions, or otherwise experienced a bad outcome. The point here is not to wallow. Just as with accomplishments, a review of negative experiences will create insight and let you create new habits to strengthen these problem areas as you move forward. Just as important as identifying failures, though, is moving on after you’ve found insight. The goal of this entire process is to put you in the right frame of mind to move forward and achieve, not to end the year caught in negative traps.
I ask myself two questions after reviewing accomplishments and failures. First, what am I thankful for this year? Second, what do I want to be thankful for at this same time next year?
This might be the most important step in the process of reflection. Regular expression of gratitude is shown to improve relationships, physical health, psychological health, self-esteem, and mental fortitude. Write down a list of the things you’re thankful for. I guarantee you’ll be in a better frame of mind when you finish the list. And you’ll probably have a clearer understanding of what’s truly important to you.
Time is our most important resource because it is nonrenewable. You’ll never get this moment back again. The key to being productive, fulfilled, and rested is to avoid wasting your time on things that don’t matter and things that you don’t care about. More difficult to realize is that it also means avoid investing your time in things you do care about, but which are not delivering the results you need or want. Give some careful thought in this process about whether there are projects or engagements you should cut from your life. Your decision-making heuristic for projects should be “Hell, yes!” or “No.” Do not invest yourself in projects that you are 51% excited about.
Set Compelling Goals
Specific goal setting is the key to achieving the results you want. I think this is where most people encounter the greatest difficulty in the process of finding happiness and success. It’s not enough to set a vague, conclusory goal, such as “I want to be financially independent,” or “I want to get in shape.” These are fine visions of a life, but they will not serve you as a goal because they are not specific. They do not tell you what you need to do each day to succeed. Instead of, “I want to get in shape,” your goal might be, “I will join a health club and exercise three times each week before work.” Keep your goals specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
To succeed in this goal setting process, I think hard about the most important values I want to focus on for the coming year. This lets me visualize the way in which I will interact with the world, my work, and my family. For example, in 2016, I intend to value presence, mindfulness, health, decisiveness, curiosity, and honesty. These values form the frame of mindset for the year.
I then look at my top three targets in life, and how I will get closer to them. These include goals for family and personal relationships, health, and intellectual work. I then consider what my top three goals are for the next three years. These goals are more specific and granular than my life targets.
Break it Down
It is awfully hard to wake up each morning and decide what your important tasks are if you only have an annual goal. Success requires breaking down your annual goals into manageable, measurable, and specific quarterly or monthly goals. If you do the type of big picture framing described above, it becomes much easier to set compelling and measurable goals for the next calendar year. Sit down and chart out the year. What does each season look like? What does each quarter of the year feel like? What are the must-do actions that you must take each month, week, and day to keep you on course for the year? These goals then become the framework for your weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews as the year goes on (more on that process another day).
Identify New Ideas
It’s a new year. You’re not limited to your existing project list. Brainstorm about new ideas. Incorporate them into your goals and plans. Pick one new habit for the year that you’ll incorporate.
Schedule the Year
How often do you hear someone at the office say, “I really need a vacation but I don’t have time.” How often do you say the same thing. Do you know why you don’t have time for vacation? Because you never set aside the time. Do it now. Schedule your year, including time for vacations, reflection, quarterly and annual reviews. Consider adding a brainstorming day each quarter or “Think Week,” where you shut off all outside inputs and focus on reading, considering new ideas, and fostering creativity for your business. Think you’re too busy? Bill Gates makes time for it, you can too.
This process takes me about a week. Some people can get it done in a day, but it will take time. It will also take effort and hard work. When you’re done, unplug from it all. You should finish the process revitalized, happy about achievements, grateful for much in your life, and excited to begin again. So take some time to appreciate that feeling. I take the last week of the year off to enjoy family and rest.
I hope this encourages you to do some thinking and reviewing this holiday season. It’s an extremely valuable process in achieving what matters most to you next year.