By: Taylor Martz

Whether you’re just wrapping up final exams, graduating from college, or nearing your performance review at work, it’s important to look forward, look backward, and plan for what’s to come. When is the last time you sat down to assess what you accomplished, what you’ve learned, how you feel, and decide what lies ahead? Do you remember the last time you sat down to review how you spent your time and how you could improve? If you read these questions with an answer already in mind, you’re ahead of the game! If not, don’t panic— you’re not alone.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that an annual review consists of goal-setting that is vastly different from New Year’s resolutions typically broken after a month, vague goals such as “Be Happier,” and inflexible timelines or plans that leave you unmotivated or dreading your upcoming month. None of these “goals” are successful in reflecting on your past and getting you excited for your future. This annual review will focus on a blend of what you’re doing well (affirmation) and where you can improve (constructive criticism), and its success will depend on you!

This process is going to rely heavily on your ability to ‘review’ and ‘preview.’ When we review, we want to look at our previous month, quarter, or year by recalling your accomplishments and lessons learned to see what worked and what didn’t. The preview part comes in once you’ve outlined your game plan for future progress, growth, or goals.

If you have no idea where to start and your past year feels like a blur, you’re in the right spot. Let’s ease into it! Before you start, in order to conduct an annual review, you have to be in the right mindset—so schedule some time on your calendar, find a comfy spot, turn off your phone and all notifications, grab a pen and paper (or your computer and a blank document for you millennials), and settle in.

1. Start Easy

We tend to overestimate what we can get done in a day’s work, but we underestimate what we can accomplish over the course of a year. So, take a look back— whether that’s professionally, academically, or personally— and ask yourself these two broad questions and aim to come up with at least 5-7 answers for each:

  • What went well this year?
  • What did not go well this year?

2. Identify Lessons

When looking at your two lists, ask yourself these questions to identify lessons you can reflect on:

  • What are the three accomplishments I’m most proud of?
  • What are the three areas where I have the most room for improvement?

3. Review What’s Happened

A lot happens in a year, so it’s important to take some time to round up the year’s events. Ask yourself these questions to review what’s gone down:

  • When was the last time I made my boss/professor/parent/loved one say “wow”?
  • What major turning points took place?
  • Which significant events stand out?

4. Refocus

Life moves fast. Sometimes, it’s easy for one year to blend into the next. How many times have you sat back and thought, “Wow, summer flew by” or “How has it already been three years of college?” It’s easy to fall into a routine and have life pass you by in the fast lane. Take a moment to look at your map and decide where you are and how far you’ve ‘traveled.’ Next, ask yourself this:

  • Where am I right now?
  • How far have I come?
  • Where do I want to go next?

5. Plan Ahead

Now it’s time to turn these ‘review’ items into ‘preview’ items. Think about how you will turn these aspects into measurable goals to review next year and the steps you need to take to get there. (Hint: It may be helpful to separate these areas into categories to better organize your thoughts— think: career, health, financial, social, etc.)

  • What would my ideal growth trajectory be for the next year (i.e., raise, promotion, higher GPA, graduate school)? What are the steps I need to take to get there?
  • How can I be bigger and bolder next year?
  • Review my top 3 areas of accomplishment. How will I continue to improve in these areas?
  • Review my top 3 areas for improvement. What are the action steps I can take to improve each?

6. From Plan to Preview

Finally, you’ll need to find a way to hold yourself accountable. Look ahead: Where do you see yourself? What needs done to get you there? Ask yourself these:

  • How will I follow up with each of these action steps and/or goals to stay on track?
  • Do I need reminders? How will I hold myself accountable?
  • What are three things outside of work/school I can do to improve my performance at work/school? (e.g., self-improvement books, morning routines, self-care practices)

I’ve found a personal annual review to be a powerful tool for productivity and growth in my personal and professional life. With the proper steps outlined, the process won’t seem so daunting. Hopefully, my version will help you— let me know what you think!

Have you ever conducted an annual review? What do you have to gain from reviewing and previewing your goals and accomplishments?