The Annual Review: the best way to finish the past year, and start the next one
A step-by-step guide to wrap up 2022, and set the stage for a splendid 2023
Welcome to the first day of a new year. New beginnings, clean slate, blank canvas. New year, new you.
But not so fast. Before you dive into the coming year, please stop, pause and reflect on the one you leave behind. Not to linger excessively in with the past, but because closing off 2022 with intention will help you make 2023 even better.
Take a few hours (or, ideally, a few days) to conduct a proper Annual Review process before jumping into the hustle and bustle of everyday life in 2023.
I’ve done this for the past five years, and it’s one of the most impactful things I do each year. It helps me seriously question the direction my life is moving in, and to make adjustments intentionally.
So, what exactly does an Annual Review process look like? Glad you asked.
Below, you’ll find a step-by-step Annual Review template which I’ve developed for myself over the last few years. To conduct your own review, feel free to complete all the steps in order, or just pick and choose the reflection exercises that speak to you.
Whether you spend 30 minutes or 30 hours reviewing the past year, I guarantee it will help you start the new one with more intention.
Best of luck, and happy new year!
Thank you for following along my writing in 2022,
Jacob’s Annual Review Template (as of 31.12.2022)
Step 1: Review and reflect on the past year
Free form writing: Write out what this year was like for me, stream-of-consciousness-style, from memory.
Compare the year with my expectations for it. Revisit the ambitions, expectations and predictions I had for this year from 12 months ago. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Where did I succeed and fail, and why?
Audit how I spent my time this year: Go through my calendar, photos and credit card statements, and write down my Highs and Lows from the year in two separate columns.
What gave me energy? What drained me?
What do I want to do more / less of? What should I stop doing alltogether?
Who do I want to spend more / less time with?
Bonus: Send pictures from great memories to friends and family as I go through my photos from the year.
What did I learn this year? Write down any lessons learned this year, especially things I want to remember for the future (e.g. mistakes I don’t want to do again).
What am I grateful for from the year that passed?
Big picture stuff: Reconsider the big, important things in my life, like my personal values, principles, and beliefs. Should anything change? Why / why not?
Bucket list review: Did I check off anything from my “life goals” list / bucket list this year? Can I schedule something for next year?
Answer any questions that grab my attention from the list below:
Which of my decisions led to the most unexpected outcomes? Where were my predictions most off, in either positive or negative regard? How might I use that information to improve my predictions and decision making processes in the future?
What were my top 3 wins from this year?
Where was I most wrong? Which false assumption(s) did my wrong decisions or thought processes rest on?
What did I (or should I) change my mind about this year? (And the opposite: what did I strengthen my convictions about this year?)
Which aspects of my life did I over- and underinvest in? How might I find a better balance going forwards?
How far off am I from living my ideal life? Where are the biggest discrepancies? What might I do to minimise them?
Where was I most fragile this year? How can I make myself more robust/antifragile?
When and where did I take smart and stupid risks this year?
What am I most and least proud of having done this year?
What made me overreact the most this year?
What is left undone from this year? What do I have to do to "complete the year” mentally and emotionally?
What is one word or sentence that best summarizes this year?
Step 2: Set direction and ambitions for next year
After reviewing the past year, I like to keep the “reflection momentum” going by immediately start thinking about the coming year.
The step-by-step process for that looks like this:
Write out in detail what my life looks like 12 months from now. Where do I live? What am I thinking about? How’s my health, relationships, work, financial situation, mental state, rate of learning et.c.? Dare to be ambitious in this exercise.
Set goals and ambitions for the year: What would have to have happened by the end of next year/quarter for me to reflect on it and consider it a big success?
Via negativa / "anti-goals": what good (but not great) goals/directions will I NOT pursue this quarter, in order to make time and space for what truly matters?
How can I get help achieving my goals going forwards? Can I hire a professional? Ask a friend?
What will I do more/less of next year? What will I stop/start doing?
Which books do I want to read?
What skills do I want to develop, or what knowledge do I want to acquire/strengthen? Which courses do I want to take? Which personal development focus areas/directions am I working towards this quarter?
Which memorable experiences do I want to create for myself and others?
After deciding on a general direction and a set of ambitions for the coming year, there’s only two things left to do: operationalise my ambitions, and start making progress.
Operationalising my ambitions simply means putting stuff into my calendar and todo lists. An ambition without time dedicated to its pursuit is almost worthless – it has to make its way into my calendar to have any chance of coming true.
Finally, do something right now to start making progress towards your goals and ambitions. This can be ridiculously small and simple, the point is just to create some minimal momentum in the right direction. If you want to get in better shape next year, do one single push up right now, for example. If you want to learn a new instrument play one chord on the piano. If you want to start writing online, publish a single Tweet. Then do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on.
That’s it! You’re off to a great year ahead. Good luck!