December is one of my favorite times of year.
I do my best to reduce my client load so I can spend about 50% of my time looking back on the past year and looking forward to the next year.
I assess how the year went asking, what went well, what could have gone better, and what do I want to do differently in the coming year.
I set goals, design systems to hit those goals, and assess what habits I need to develop to maintain those systems.
I’ve been doing it for years and it works well for me.
As an employee, I would often use the outcomes of these exercises in my performance reviews and to make sure that I was aligned with my manager and team.
The Power of an Annual Retrospective
I start with the same two questions Chris Guillebeau starts with in his annual review:
- What went well this year?
- What did not go well this year?
I cover all aspects of life – personal and professional.
This exercise is primarily a free-form brainstorm and I continue to add to both lists over the course of a couple of weeks.
I’ve already started this year’s retrospective. These are some of the things on each list.
What went well:
- I moved to Portland
- I completed my MS in Learning and Organizational Change from Northwestern University
- 14 friends celebrated my birthday with me in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- I exceeded my income goal by 25%
- I stayed on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean, learned to sail in Croatia, taught a workshop in Santiago, and spent 34 days in Budapest, Hungary.
What did not go well this year:
- I worked and traveled too much. This was a blessing and I found my limit. I’m tired and want to stay home.
- I’m still struggling with my fitness goals. I did very little running or anything else fitness-related for that matter.
- I only wrote 18 blog posts this year – the fewest since I launched Product Talk. My goal was 50.
I had a pretty amazing year on most fronts and I suspect my first list will be much longer than my second.
But I try to pay equal attention to both.
The first list helps me see how much I can accomplish in a year and helps me to celebrate those wins.
If I don’t pause and look back, I often underestimate what I’ve done which leads me to underestimate what I can do in the coming year.
If you don’t reflect on what you accomplished this year, you’ll underestimate what you can do next year. – Tweet This
The second list shows me where I need to revise my efforts.
The Power of Aspiration
I also like this Jack Canfield “101 Lifetime Goals” exercise as it helps me maintain an abundance mindset rather than a scarcity mindset as I approach the new year.
Look at the upcoming year with an abundance mindset not a scarcity mindset. – Tweet This
I create a fresh list from scratch each year and then review prior years’ lists to see what I missed or what no longer interests me.
Here’s are some longstanding items on my “101 lifetime goals” list:
- Become conversational in Spanish – I’m close, but a reluctant speaker.
- Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – I did this in 2013.
- Go to the Olympics – I went to the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.
- Go to Thailand
- Develop a comprehensive product management curriculum – I’m working on this now.
- Write a book
- Start a podcast – I’m working on this now.
- Run the Boston Marathon
- Learn to draw
And some more recent additions:
- Move away from the SF Bay Area (added in 2013) – I moved to Portland this year.
- Take a reading vacation (added 2014) – inspired by Brad Feld
- Read Warren Buffet’s shareholder letters (added in 2014)
- Speak at the Lean Startup Conference (added 2014) – I did that this year thanks to Laura Klein
I haven’t done this exercise yet this year, but I am sure I’ll uncover a few new things to inspire me.
You can see that the list is a mish-mash of big ticket items (i.e. write a book) and more approachable items (i.e. take a reading vacation).
The intent is to check-in with myself about what I want in my life.
My goal in creating the list is to not censor myself. The sky is the limit. If I could do anything, what would I want to do.
Ask yourself, if I could do anything, what would I want to do? – Tweet This
These lists may or may not influence my goals and priorities for the coming year, but it helps me expand my thinking and pushes me to consider what matters to me.
I learn a lot about myself from making this list. Year after year my list is populated with learning goals, travel destinations, and professional accomplishments. I tend to prioritize experiences over possessions and I’m often struggling between wanting to spend time alone and wanting to invest in relationships.
After seeing the same item pop up year after year, I’ll move it to my priority list for the coming year.
Identifying Priorities for the Year
Both the annual retrospective and the “101 lifetime goals” exercise help me think about my priorities for the coming year.
I consider the following questions:
- What do I want to do more of?
- What do I want to do less of (or stop doing)?
- What are my priorities for this upcoming year?
I won’t get to these questions for another week or so, but here are some examples from previous years.
Heading into 2013, my priorities were:
- Sleep 8 hours a night
- Eat well
- Connect with People
- Expand my comfort zone
- Primary Income
- Side Income
In 2013, I was a full-time employee, maintaining my consulting business on the side. I didn’t want my side income to dry up, knowing that if it did, it would be much harder to jump back to consulting when I was ready.
I was also focused on developing habits that supported both physical health and my own development.
Heading into 2015, I was consulting full-time and my priorities changed. They were:
By this point, I had confidence that my consulting business would continue to grow, my healthy habits were strong, and my primary focus was on increasing the types of activities I knew I wanted to do more of over the long run.
Looking back on the year, I excelled in the coaching, teaching, and adventure priorities. I read a lot, but not quite as much as I wanted to, and I blew it on the writing priority.
I also have to acknowledge that my fitness habits were not as strong as I had hoped and that should have continued to be a priority. But that’s exactly the value of this process.
Decide on annual priorities so that you know when and where to invest. – Tweet This
Goals, Systems, and Habits
After I’ve identified my priorities for the year, I set goals, design systems to help me achieve those goals, and develop habits to maintain those systems.
I’ll share my methodology for this process next week. Don’t miss it, Subscribe to the Product Talk mailing list.