What’s a Personal Annual Review & Why is it Important?

Does your boss sit you down once a year to evaluate how you measured up against your professional goals that help your team and at a larger scope, your organization? Then why are most of us not using the same rigor in our personal lives to ensure that we achieve our life goals and dreams?

We all have big goals. Wild dreams that sit deep within the crevices of our souls. Maybe you want to visit every country in the world. Maybe you want to build your own flourishing Etsy business. Whatever your goals might be, they require planning. They need to be penned down. They need to be broken down into actionable steps. As I always say to my clients who want to eat better, if you don’t prepare and plan for your weak moments when you need a snack, you will go for that packet of chips. Any goal that we want to achieve, we must plan for. Without planning, our dreams will simply remain just that, lofty dreams that never get actualized.

As the end of 2014 approached, I was searching for resources about conducting personal annual reviews when I came across Chris Guillebeau’s blog post on this topic. I am already a big fan of Chris’s work and writing. I love his blog about the Art of Non-Conformity that challenges the idea of following a predictable and socially-acceptable path in life instead of listening to your heart’s desire and forging your own trail. I also recently read his newest book, The Happiness of Pursuit, which talks about finding a meaningful “quest” or long-term goal that speaks to you. Chris went on his own personal quest to visit every country in the world. It took him almost a decade to achieve this goal, but he completed it because of deliberate and careful planning. He is a big believer in taking stock of the year that has passed and setting goals for the year that is yet to unfold.

Chris provides a Microsoft Excel template and instructions on how to conduct your own personal annual review. Here’s how I did mine. I changed things around a little and tweaked his template. The whole process can be broken into 3 simple steps:

  1. A Year in Review: how did last year go? What went well? What did not? Let’s take stock of the year that has passed before we move on to goal setting for the next.
  2. Goal-setting for Next Year: determine the key areas of your life that you want to improve upon and start writing goals for each. Also, what will be the key purpose of next year? A core theme? Do you have metrics you want to track (eg: number of marathons ran)?
  3. Tracking: schedule time once a month or once a quarter to review your goals and how you are tracking against them. Do you need to course correct or make some adjustments?

1. A Year in Review

The first step before you dive into setting goals for the upcoming year is to sit and note down what went well last year and what did not. I changed Chris’s template a little and added a new tab ‘2014’ to record how the past year went.

Here is my personal list. I wanted to be as open and transparent with my readers so that perhaps my experiences can help others. Also, once you start searching for all the good things that happened (even if it feels like the worst year of your life), you might be surprised at how many positive situations also unfolded for you. This exercise certainly changed the way I viewed 2014!

What Went Well?

  • Got promoted at work to a position I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from
  • Planned a 300+ guest wedding, which required a lot of planning and organization
  • Bought a house and managed the renos for it
  • Travelled to India and reconnected with my family while we shopped for the wedding. That week was very special to me
  • Bonds with my family and close friends grew a lot stronger as I reached out them for help after the breakup
  • Sold or donated almost everything I owned. Scary and freeing at the same time!
  • Quit my job of 8 years which was hard to do since I love the people I worked with. This decision doesn’t squarely fall under the “went well” category. However, a change of job was probably way overdue for me. I just kept waiting for the “right time” when I could afford to quit and focus on my nutrition career. That “right time” never came. This was my way out of an industry that has been very kind to me, but was not my calling
  • Moved to Dubai. I am not sure this city will become “my city”, but the move has given me a new environment and allowed me to move on faster than I would have back in Toronto. The move to Dubai also gives me the opportunity to finally focus on my nutrition career
  • Visited good friends in London and had a blast with them
  • Took a sabbatical from working; took time to rest, mourn the relationship and recharge my inner batteries for the next phase in life
  • Went to Nepal and trekked to Everest Base Camp which was a dream come true!

What Did Not Go Well?

  • A painful and shocking end to a long-term relationship. Being left 6 days before the wedding was traumatic. There is a silver lining here. It’s better that it ended before the wedding than after
  • Leaving my dear friends behind in Toronto. I miss them a lot
  • Financial losses for me and my family as a result of the wedding being cancelled and the end of the partnership between me and my ex (which meant selling the house that took us over a year to find, at a loss)
  • It was an emotionally draining year due to the wedding planning, the relationship and then the breakup
  • My nutrition career took a complete back-seat due to the above reasons

2. Goal-setting for Next Year

You can come up with various categories in your life that you want to focus on and add them to the spreadsheet. I love this concept because this is what I call “putting your goals in different baskets”. It is SO important to have goals in all areas of your life. If you only have professional goals and end up losing your job, it will throw you for a loop. However, if you have travel aspirations and have personal relationships that bring you happiness, then you have other areas of your life that you can focus on while you find your bearings again in the job market.

Here are the categories that I came up with:

  1. Health
  2. Professional
  3. Financial
  4. Service to Others
  5. Spiritual
  6. Learning and Personal Growth
  7. Personal Relationships
  8. Travel

You may have anywhere from 1-5 goals in each category. Just don’t overwhelm yourself! It’s important to make the goals as specific and measurable as possible. So don’t say “make more money” under your financial goals. Instead be specific like “increase income by 25%”. Also it is important to identify the next step you need to take in order to achieve that goal and also set a specific deadline.

Here are some examples of my goals:

  • Professional
    • Have 10 corporate nutrition clients in Dubai by the end of 2015 (next step: email 5 personal contacts in Dubai that work at large organizations)
    • Get on the radio 4 times this year as a nutrition expert (next step: call the 3 media contacts I have in Dubai and start pursuing this)
    • Revamp the Anona website by mid-year (next step: write down the target audience and vision for the new site)
  • Travel
    • Participate in a yoga retreat in Bali (next step: short list the retreats happening in the spring)
    • Travel to Peru and trek the Inca trail (next step: create a budget for this trip)
    • Explore new countries in the Middle East that I haven’t been to before (next step: make a list of the countries that are safe for travel within the region and start looking for weekend deals!)

You get the idea. You can also fill-in the top portion of the spreadsheet where you can articulate a Purpose, Key Outcomes and a Theme for 2015. Personally, I think a Theme or Purpose suffice, all three are overkill. In addition, you can also track key metrics on the “Metrics” tab. Chris has provided some examples there. You can add your own.

Personally, if 2014 was the year of change for me, then 2015 is going to be the year of self-love and transformation. I want to focus on doing what is right for me so that I have a better sense of self in any future relationships. I need to build my self-confidence again after a tumultuous year of change that has resulted in the loss of a relationship, leaving my friends, a job, and moving to the other side of the world. As they say, if you don’t love yourself, no one can love you like you deserve to be loved. Everything comes back to having a strong relationship with yourself, and that my friends, will be my focus for 2015.

3. Tracking

What good are goals if you just write them down and never look at them again? Well, no good at all. Which is why it is important to set aside time once a month, just an hour a month to look at your annual goals and assess your progress. Look at:

  • How are you tracking against your most important goals?
  • Is there a category that you are putting on the back burner? Maybe your professional goals are right on-track but you have been ignoring your personal relationships. Do you plan on switching focus halfway through the year? Come up with a plan to find balance between the various areas of your life
  • Were some of your goals simply too unrealistic? Then adjust them to be more realistic. The key to a well-written goal is that it should challenge you, yet should not be impossible to achieve (because that would just be demotivating!)
  • Were some of your goals too easy? Then adjust them to add a bit more challenge
  • Did you give yourself enough time for certain goals you are struggling with? Maybe you can’t be ready for a marathon in 6 weeks with your busy work schedule and you need 16 weeks instead. That’s ok. Adjust and move on

That’s it folks! Spend some time this week and write down what you want to achieve in 2015. I promise the time spent will leave you feeling at ease about where you are headed this year, instead of just being pulled into 10 different directions that are not deliberate or planned. Let’s be honest. Sh*t happens in life. Loved ones get sick. People lose their jobs. Relationships end. But there are so many other aspects to our life that we can make progress on. You may lose your job unexpectedly, but if one of your goals is to volunteer your time at a shelter then you can do just that with the additional time you have on your hands.

Happy goal-setting!

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