One of the most important things I do every year is my annual review and goal setting for the new year. This exercise never fails to provide new insights and the occasional surprise and helps me be more efficient and effective in the year ahead. All of this leads to positive change that endures and compounds, which means it is incredibly valuable if done well (and consistently).
In this article, I will take you through the three steps in my annual review, and at the same time present different options for you to try out as there is no one size fits all.
There are three main reasons for carrying out this exercise:
The goals that come out of the exercise help to provide us with guidance and purpose.
It is a powerful way of reminding us of our achievements and things to be grateful for.
It gives us the time and space to take a step back to reflect - a chance to ask and answer some big questions.
Let's talk about my annual review system.
My system has three core stages:
I - Reflect
December or the start of each new year is typically the time to reflect on and review the progress made on our goals. This regular postmortem is a powerful learning exercise that provides objective feedback from which we can benefit from understanding what went well, didn't go to plan, or was a surprise.
But don't just limit yourself to reviewing your progress versus goals. The reflect stage is the time to be asking yourself questions that go beyond. Questions such as:
If this was easy what would it look like?
What do I know today that I will find out in a year's time?
What did I learn this year and how could I use this in the year ahead
What new things did I discover?
What did I try but didn't succeed at this year?
Whom have I helped?
What am I assuming that is preventing me from moving forward?
If I keep working this way, what will my career look like in five year's time?
I like the Prior Year Review (PYR) that Tim Ferriss carries out at the start of each new year. The PYR allows us to reflect on how we spent our time in the past year and seamlessly connects to the next stage in the annual review, which is to plan and create our goals.
Prior year reviews (PYR).
Start with a notepad or digital notetaking app and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.
Then, for each week in your calendar from the last year record the things such as people, activities or commitments that triggered positive or negative emotions during that month. Put each of them in your respective columns.
Once complete, using the Pareto principle's power, what 20% of each column produced the most reliable or most potent peaks?
The 20% you have identified in the NEGATIVE COLUMN should immediately go into your stop doing list. These are the things that drain your energy and motivation. Choose to take control of your time and attention. We shouldn't allow them into our calendars out of obligation or FOMO.
It would be best if you aimed to do more of the 20% of things that you highlighted in the POSITIVE column. Aim to schedule them in advance - as Tim says, "it's not real until it's in the calendar."
There is no reason why we couldn't carry out the reflect stage more regularly. I aim to do it at least quarterly. There is little to be gained to not being armed with this insight during the year and course-correcting faster.
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
- Soren Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher and theologian)
II - Plan and goals.
Your goals make up your plan for the year ahead. They should have meaningful parameters, especially the big, ambitious ones. As Ryder Carrol (The bullet journal method) says:
"You should know exactly how it would impact your life for the better. This is critical because big goals take time and sustained effort to complete."
Development and growth versus outcome-focused goals.
"What would success be? If we were sitting here in six months and you are saying the coaching has been a massive success because you are now doing x and y - what are x and y?"
I regularly ask prospective clients this question during an initial introductory, and exploratory call.
Some people will say that success will be they attained promotion to Managing Director or Partner. Or they will have been awarded a more prominent role.
Those goals are outcomes. One problem with outcome-based goals is that it is common to not be in control of them. The outcome is the output of a process, often a long, drawn-out one.
A second problem that arises from judging ourselves based on outcomes is that we lose track of the things that get us the best results. It can be a vicious circle, by focusing our energy on the outcomes we can end up getting worse ones.
Instead, we should focus on the development and growth required to get there. These are the inputs to the process or system that will get us the best outcomes and that we have more control over.
Choose development and growth-focused goals that align with your desired outcomes but don't overly focus on things you don't have sufficient control over.
How many goals is the right number?
Having too many choices, or too many goals, has three adverse effects as laid out in the Paradox of Choice:
1 - Too many options can produce paralysis rather than liberation. With too many options to choose from, we find it very difficult to choose at all. The risk is that we put off the hard decisions to focus our scarce time and attention.
2 - We end up less satisfied with the choice than if we had fewer options from which to choose. The main reason being that it is easy to imagine a different, better choice. This imagined alternative induces us to regret our decisions. This regret adversely impacts the decision we make. We may end up focused on the negatives, and FOMO can set in.
3 - Having multiple options brings a cost, the opportunity cost that subtracts from our satisfaction with the choices we have made.
Aim for four to six higher-level goals (I have six for 2021). Then chunk those goals into smaller sub-goals that feed into the larger one.
Staying focused is essential to manage our energy and make better decisions.
"Saying yes to something means saying no to something else."
- David Allen
III - Execute
Having goals is in some ways similar to being coached. Coaching and goals are about creating change, action and accountability. Therefore the annual review exercise shouldn't just be a review, reflect and planning one. We need to action the goals.
An essential first step is, therefore, to write your goals down. Record your goals in something you use as part of your daily routine, so they remain an obvious reminder. I keep my goals on a whiteboard in my office and the inside front cover of my RYSE JOURNAL.
Next, enrich your goals with additional information; for example:
Why are you doing this?
What issues do you foresee?
Whom will you need to collaborate with to achieve it?
SMART goals can be helpful, but only for some. I don't have a problem if they don't strictly follow the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound criteria.
Ask yourself the question "How will I know?" How will I know that I have achieved the goal?
There is a reason why New year's resolutions make poor goals as more often than not, they quickly fail, whereas goals that acknowledge:
actions that we take that may prevent our goals from being realised
competing commitments that we have, and
our limiting assumptions or beliefs
stand a better chance of becoming robust commitments. Ask yourself these three questions as you refine and record your goals.
Monitor your progress. I recommend doing reviews quarterly as there is no reason to restrict it to an annual process. I find that each quarter is a sweet spot for me. It doesn't take too much time to complete. Yet the value I get from doing the review more regularly will compound rapidly throughout the year.
Purpose and why your goals will help
Purpose can be the single most crucial element to help us be more balanced, more resilient, more energised, more fulfilled and more satisfied in our careers and lives.
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why."
- Mark Twain (American writer)
Goals will help you along your path to finding out the why.
If stuck for what should make your 2021 list, then here are some goals that might resonate and help get you started:
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