How to Conduct an Annual Life Review That Will Catapult You into the New Year

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“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” -Meg Wheatley

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. It symbolizes family, friends, vacation and of course plenty of good food. I also enjoy it because it marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. This is an ideal moment to reflect on the past twelve months and to define what we want to achieve in the year ahead.

So much happens over the course of a year. Lessons learned. Victories. Hardships. Physical changes. Special moments. Personal growth. New relationships. But by the time New Year’s rolls around, we often forget most of what happened because life gets in the way.

Many of our employers have us complete an annual review and set goals before year end. This makes good sense. It’s difficult to know where to head if we don’t know where we’ve been. But this leads me to the question: why don’t we conduct an annual review for all the components of our life? The answer is simple: we don’t create the time necessary, feel any pressure to or have a blueprint to guide us.

For the last three years, I’ve carved out time at the end of the year to conduct a comprehensive annual life review. The process has been not only cathartic but also illuminating and empowering. In fact, this exercise has helped me identify what’s important, shed what isn’t, and transform in many ways. As a result, I decided to get sober, leave a job that wasn’t the right fit and pursue coaching as a profession.

Several clients and friends recently asked me to share my annual life review blueprint. What follows is an attempt to provide the framework and hopefully the nudge to complete your own annual life review.

Setting the Stage

First, I recommend giving yourself a week to complete the entire process. Don’t try to breeze through the exercises in one sitting. Make sure you have time to carefully review, internalize and complete the exercises. In fact, I recommend blocking out several 30–60min if you can make that work. I typically complete my own annual life review between Christmas and New Years. I find this week tends to work well because many of us are away from the daily grind and have ample downtime.

Second, I recommend creating your ideal environment for deep, focused work. Power down your devices. If you are using your computer, I suggest turning off wifi and quitting your web browser. Find a comfortable place that you find suitable for work. Perhaps you’ll need a pair of headphones and relaxing music. I also recommend having a notebook by your side to take notes, brainstorm and capture anything that comes up during the process. You know yourself better than anyone. Do what it takes to get into the flow.

Third, be genuine. Be bold. Be selfish. Be completely honest with yourself. This is for you. No one else. You will get what you put into it.

Finally, this framework is not meant to be prescriptive. You can move sequentially through the four steps or just focus on a few. If you don’t feel like answering a question, skip it and continue. You are in charge here. This is for you. You will get out what you put in. Remember that.

All that said, I can’t promise this framework will help reveal the meaning of life or solve your biggest problems. Here’s what I do promise: you’ll end the year with way more perspective and have a compass for what you want to achieve next year.

In closing, best of luck on your journey. I hope you find these exercise to be thought provoking, empowering and motivating. At any point in the process, feel free to email me at steveschlaf@gmail.com with any questions, comments or feedback. I would be delighted to hear form you. Good luck!

Your Annual Life Review Blueprint

Step 1: Plot Your Moments & Milestones

I always start my annual review by making a timeline that plots the major moments and milestones from the current year. In order to kick-start the process, I first review my calendar to recall what happened and then see what other events, moments, etc. come to mind.

So what could be included as a moment or a milestone? That is entirely up to you. Remember this is a personal process. You can incorporate a range of activities, actions and accomplishments. Below are some ideas to help stimulate your memory.

Did you? Complete a course. Take a big risk. Create a new habit. End a relationship. Fall in love. Make a new friend. Get an award or promotion. Take a memorable vacation. Visit a new city or country. Change professions. Get married. Learn a new skill. Launch a company. Move apartments. Fail at something. Achieve a big goal. Start a family. Visit a museum. Attend a big game or concert. What were the big moments and milestones in your life?

Any timeline will work. I typically use a vertical one. If you prefer a horizontal timeline that is ok. Do whatever suits you. The format doesn’t matter as much as the moments and milestones that you plot on your timeline. Here is a simple template I created:

And is here is my timeline for the current year:

It should go without saying that my example isn’t comprehensive but hopefully it provides a sense of what your timeline could include. Once you have your annual timeline, it is time reflect on the past year.

Step 2: Reflect and Examine

This is where the real fun and work begins. Below is a series of questions designed to help you reflect on and examine what you experienced this year. Prepare mentally and emotionally to look at your successes, failures, relationships, lessons and themes. We’re going to cover a lot of ground. Remember to take your time, be honest and enjoy the process.

Success & Growth

  • What were your two or three biggest accomplishments / successes? What contributed to them?
  • Are there any other goals you achieved that you are you proud of?
  • How did you grow over the past twelve months? What’s different?
  • What are some healthy habits you integrated into your life?
  • What are some new skills you developed?
  • What were the biggest obstacles you overcame this year? What happened?What internal and external resources did you use use?
  • What were the two or three best decisions you made all year? What did you learn from those experiences?
  • What risks did you take and what were the rewards?

Failure & Falling Short

  • What were your biggest failures? What did you learn from them?
  • What goals didn’t you accomplish? What got in the way?
  • What were some bad habits you followed or adopted?
  • What were the two or three worst decisions you made this year? What did you learn from them?
  • What do you wish you accomplished this year? What can you do about this next year?
  • Where did you spent too much time or other resources?

People & Relationships

  • What new relationships enhanced your life? Who? How?
  • What single person had the biggest impact (positive or negative) on your life? How?
  • Which relationships do you value most personally and professionally? What is it about these people?

Lessons & Themes

  • What were the top lessons that you learned this year?
  • What were the two or three peak moments this year? What were you doing? What did you learn?
  • What were the two or three lowest moments this year? What happened? What did you learn?
  • What five to seven words describe this year?
  • What are you most thankful for?

Step 3: Assess Your Life Right Now

I’ll say it again: it’s difficult to know where you are going if you don’t know where you are. For this step in the process, you are going to assess your life across ten dimensions. These dimensions, taken together, represent a lens to help you look at your life holistically. This exercise is a slight adaptation to the self assessment tool known as the ‘The Wheel of Life.’

I’ve created a ‘Life Assessment Board’ to guide you:

This assessment captures your satisfaction in the major areas of your life. It should be a current snapshot. Don’t worry about how you felt earlier in the year or where you want to go in the future. Reflect how you feel you about each dimension right now. The purpose isn’t to make you feel deficient or lacking. The goal is to help you see where you are/aren’t satisfied and then to help you find more balance.

Now to the scoring system. Assess your satisfaction in each dimension by giving it a value from one to ten. A score of one means “Highly unsatisfied.” A score of ten means “Couldn’t get any better.” Remember to be honest with yourself. Your board should accurately reflect how your feel about your situation.

Here are some questions that might help you assess your life in each dimension:

  • Health: How does your body and mind feel? This includes energy, nutrition, sleep, exercise, mood, mental health, etc.
  • Family / Friends: How do you feel about the quality of relationships in your life? This includes family, friends, co-workers and how you communicate with them.
  • Love: How do you feel about romance in your life? This includes connection and communication with loved one(s), intimacy and sex.
  • Money: How do you feel about your financial situation? This includes income, expenses, debt and financial freedom.
  • Career: How do you feel about work and your career trajectory? This includes your current role, career strategy, industry, work/life balance, co-workers, power and status.
  • Spirituality: Are you connected to something bigger and greater than yourself? This includes religion, beliefs, rituals, practices, meditations, and expression.
  • Personal Growth: How much time do you devote and spend towards self-improvement? This includes reading, training, learning, writing and coaching.
  • Fun: How much time do you devote to recreation and fun? This includes events, shows, travel, time outdoors and anything you consider fun.
  • Technology: How does technology play a role in your life? This includes your relationship to devices, time spent online and ability to disconnect.
  • Environment: How do you feel about your physical environment? This includes your living space, country, city / town and workspace.

This is what my self-assessment board looks like as I head into 2019.

The purpose of this exercise isn’t to score a perfect ten across the board. Instead, the goal is finding balance and achieving satisfaction in each dimension. You should be able to see where you are out of balance. That knowledge is power. And with knowledge and power, you can choose how you would like to move forward and make changes.

To take this exercise one step further, look at the dimensions and ask yourself which area(s) do you want to focus on in the coming year? Try to focus on no more than two or three. That way you can remain laser focused. For me, I need to focus on my phone addiction next year. This is a problem which adversely impacts my relationship and productivity. I hope to make some positive changes in this category.

Step 4: Plan For The New Year

You’ve made it to the final step! It’s now time to define, visualize and plot where you’re heading in the new year. Who do you want to become? What do you want to achieve? What resources do you need? Who is going to be a part of your journey? You’re going to dive into questions like these and more. At the end of this stage, you will have more clarity and a plan to get the most out of your life in the new year.

Goals & Growth

  • What three big goals will you accomplish next year? What’s important about them?
  • What two or three skills / competencies will you acquire?
  • What is one superpower that you will utilize to achieve your goals?
  • How do you intend to be different by the end of next year?
  • Who do you want to become?

Moving On

  • What do you want or need to shed?
  • What no longer serves you?
  • What do you need to walk away from?

Habits & Behaviors

  • What are two or three habits or behaviors you will stop?
  • What are two or three habits or behaviors you will start?
  • What are two or three habits or behaviors you will continue?

Fears + Obstacles

  • How will you step out of your comfort zone and face your fears?
  • What obstacles will you face and how will you overcome them to accomplish your goals?

Relationships

  • Who in your life deserves more attention?
  • Who do you plan to build a new relationship with?
  • Who will you mentor and help?

Next Steps & Planning

  • What are the next steps you can take towards your goals? Be specific!
  • What resources do you need in order to start making progress?
  • Who will you seek help from?
  • How can you crate early wins and momentum?
  • How can you evaluate your progress?

The Author

A mindful VC in NYC

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