What went well this year?

Plan your next year around your victories.

Over the past month, we’ve talked about Quarterly Reviews, Weekly Reviews, and Daily Reviews.

These are mainly tactical reviews of your activity, and plans for getting things done. To view your life from a high enough perspective that you can make serious decisions, you need to look from year-to-year.

The Annual Review is the single greatest thing you can do to ensure your goals are achieved over the long term.


There’s a big difference between an Annual Review and New Year’s Resolutions. While Resolutions are great for starting new habits and changing up your life, they don’t provide the perspective to make the right changes.

For the past few years I have publicly declared my New Year’s Resolutions on my blog, both for public accountability, and so I can easily review them in the future. (Just click on this tag and you’ll see my resolutions from years past.)

New Year’s Resolutions are Great

Behind every New Year’s Resolution is a wish to be someone better than you were before, to gain a measure of excellence. A resolution is usually a change in habits, to increase our personal excellence.

The noblest act we can undertake is to achieve this vision of who we want to be, to attain the life that we want to live.

But You Should Break Them

Making a resolution and keeping a resolution are two different things. You may find out that an unexpected side effect of your new habit is infringing on other areas of your life, or it’s a lot harder than you thought it would be, or it doesn’t give you the happiness / focus / joy / increased productivity / slimmer waistline that you thought it would. (More thoughts on the virtue of breaking New Year’s Resolutions here.)

How an Annual Review is Different

Instead of deciding what you are going to do, the Annual Review lets you identify what areas of your life need more (and less) attention. This strategic information is crucial to deciding on where you want to go, while your resolutions and habits are how you will get there.

We need both sides of this coin, the tactical and the strategic.

How to Do an Annual Review

Chris Guillebeau has a handy guide on How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. It goes into the detail you need to use his system, and he provides an Excel template for you to use. The basics of the Annual Review are:

  • Ask yourself: What went well this year?
  • Ask yourself: What did not go well this year?
  • Which goals from last year did you successfully achieve?
  • What goals do you want to accomplish next year?

There is a lot more detail to Chris’s process, such as categorizing goals together (Health, Travel, Career, etc.) and defining the actions that will be needed to achieve each goal. He also been defines a Theme for the year, a word or phrase to guide his vision.

When Chris Guillebeau first publicly posted his Annual Review in 2006, many of the readers of his popular blog started doing their own Annual Reviews and posting them online. Many people in his community (and beyond) have adopted the Annual Review as a regular habit to recalibrate their annual journey to personal excellence.

Sean Ogle’s Annual Review lists the Top 5 things in these categories:

  • 5 Things I rocked at
  • 5 Things I sucked at
  • 5 Memorable moments
  • 5 Big let downs
  • 5 Bucket list items
  • 5 Measurable goals for the next year

Tyler Tervooren takes a digital sabbatical in December where he asks:

  • What went well this year?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did I accomplish that I wasn’t expecting to?
  • How can I make what I’m already doing even better?
  • What are some things I’m not doing that I wish I was?
  • What do I need to stop doing?

This final question of Tyler’s – for me, this is the real power of the Annual Review. Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about how to get stuff done, how to review what you’re working on, and how to juggle lots of projects together, but the Annual Review starts asking the hardest question of all:

Am I working on the right things?

After an Annual Review, that’s usually when I gain the confidence to cut something out of my life.

It is only when I have the high-level perspective gained from looking so far back, and so far forward, with all my goals and aspirations fresh in my mind, that I can really assess what is and what isn’t serving my grater goals.

This newsletter didn’t make the cut.

I’ll get into more detail next week, but the Habits of Excellence newsletter will be changing again. Thanks for reading along with me thus far, I’ll tell you all about the changes I’ll be making (and why) next issue. Stay tuned!

“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

– Melody Beattie

Some Really Freaking Great Annual Review Resources:

Lifestyle Design Workbook by Vanessa Van Edwards
80/20 Planner & Workbook by Kyla Roma
How to Publish Your Annual Review by Aja Frost