31 December 2021

My guide for a great year ahead: Year-end review

2020 was tough. We were looking for hopes from 2021. But it turned out to be a difficult year too. We saw light at the end of the tunnel as the COVID vaccines came out. With the omicron variant spreading rapidly, 2021 is ending with signs of darkness. Global economy swings and macro factors are outside of our control. I generally focus on things in my control and influence. These last few weeks are when I spend some quiet time. It is when I do my yearly review. It is often said that one should not live in the past. Instead, use it for reflection. Learn from it. Build on it. That is my interest too with this exercise. In this article, I am going to share specifics of why I started doing these reviews, share specific examples of what value I have drawn from them. I will guide you on doing your review using my template.

What is the value of doing a personal yearly review?

It is said don't live in the past, but reflect upon it. Past is for us to learn from it and get better. History teaches us lessons. When we don't acknowledge those lessons, then history repeats itself. 

Great behaviors must be repeated. 

Bad practices must be dropped.

It is all about getting that 1% better in everything we do and incremental improvements.

And those improvements only come from pausing and reflecting.

Think about it-

  • Are we busy pounding away or, are we doing the right things?
  • Are we making progress or standstill?
  • Are we headed towards our goal or in a completely different direction?
  • How much have we achieved? (it is not just about financial metrics)

Since when did I start doing yearly reviews?

For the past 3 years, I have been doing my yearly reviews. It feels like second nature. When I come to think about it, people in the industry (especially IT) would fill out long-form reviews - quarterly, yearly and sit down with their bosses in a review session. It is seen as a mundane, energy-sucking activity.

How often do you hear a friend excited about submitting their yearly reviews?

How often do you hear a friend or colleague looking forward to their yearly reviews with their bosses or their subordinate or peer?

the reality is those discussions are tied to monetary benefits- a raise, or a promotion. It's mostly reactive and hardly proactive. There is little to no discussion on future challenges. It's almost like a delayed feedback session.

Secondly, it is a push and not a pull. An organization is pushing employees to fill these reviews up and submit them. It is pushing bosses to finish reviews within a stipulated period.

No one wants to submit the reviews, and no one wants to review those reviews.

When I started doing my yearly reviews, my inspiration was opposite to the system I have seen closely. My inspiration came from listening and following closely the likes of Tim Ferris, Naval Ravikanth, and more folks who use reflections and reviews as a massive driving force. My motivation was to reflect and gain value from my patterns. 

Have I gained tangible benefit from doing these year-end reviews?

Yes. Let me share an example. During my 2018 year-end review, I noticed a pattern. I called myself out on it. I was starting too many new projects, then interest faded and I would drop them. On closer inspection, I noticed that on some of these projects(like my photobook, a business idea, a technology certification), I was much closer to the finish line. Breaking the initial inertia is hard, but in my case, I would do the difficult work of starting but then would drop it. 

I took a note. I promised to take smaller projects or break larger ones into smaller chunks. Not to take more than 2 personal projects at a time. And just doing it.

As a result of this small change, during 2019,2020, 2021 I have been able to lock myself in and finish my IELTS(8.5 Band in 40 days prep), AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification in 25 days, AWS Solution Architect Associate in about 40 days, and a massive list of items which I am proud of. I published more than 15 posts on LinkedIn each year and made significant progress.

This was one of the simple changes which I needed to do, and it emerged from the end-of-year review of my patterns. Hope this inspires you. 

How do I review my year?

My process and template are simple.

In 1 sitting, I typically allocate 4 hours of thinking and writing time. I allocate 2 hours on the next day to schedule action items on the calendar.

In 2018 and 2019, I carried out the review using physical paper & pen.

In 2020 and now 2021, I reviewed using OneNote and digital template.

The approach you could follow to do your year review

Here is a simple template you can use to do your reviews.

The whole process focuses on two aspects- 

Reflect on the past, learn in the future.

Every time you review a past event, it should not go Gaga over the achievement or get drowned in pain over the horrible mistake you made.

Let it hurt or feel amazing, only shortly. 

We are reviewing to learn and observe patterns, not daydream.

#2: My focus for learning is around reading, writing, and real-world experiences. Hence I actively track specifics around how many books I read, how many articles I write. For you, this could be different, hence adapt accordingly.

In conclusion, I find the year-end review extremely helpful for personal and professional growth. It is an investment to make next year better. I encourage everyone to do this. The first week of the year is also a good time for this activity.

If you need any help with it, don't hesitate to ask via the comments or email me at quitefar@gmail.com.

Have a great year ahead. 

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