How to Review Your Year and Set Goals for the Next

How to Review Your Year and Set Goals for the Next

2020 is a year unlike any other. Many people lost their jobs or started working from home, began schooling their children at home, changed careers, got sick, or faced many other personal challenges.

Yet, here you are at the tail end of the year hoping to reflect on what you’ve learned, what you’ve accomplished, and how you can take the lessons you’ve gained from your challenges to better yourself in 2021.

You thought this review process would be simple, but you’re finding that it’s leaving you with more questions than answers.

Did you accomplish anything that you’re proud of? Were there any valuable lessons you’d like to bring into the new year? Did you embody the personal values you hope to live by? Did you support or mentor others who may have been struggling? Were you a good parent, sibling, child, friend, or colleague? Can you be a better you? If so, how? 

Yikes. Are you overwhelmed yet?

The problem with traditional yearly reviews is they rely so heavily on shown or proven accomplishments. While all the aforementioned questions are valid and worthy of being considered, if the answer doesn’t quite hit the mark, then you’re forced to look at yourself through a negative lens, be harder on yourself, or ignore small wins that don’t quite seem worthy of these high expectations. Traditional yearly reviews generally focus on living up to a certain expectation of yourself — one that can be hard to attain, especially so in a year filled with such uncertainty.

See, there are many ways to review your year, and some work for some people, while others need a different approach. Here, you’ll find various methods for reviewing your life in 2020, with additional notes on how to set strategic and achievable goals for 2021. Remember: one method may suit you perfectly, while others will fall flat. Find what works for you and stick with it.

Your Year-End Review

There are many ways you can approach looking back at your year and analyzing what lessons you’ve learned, as well as how you’ve succeeded. Here are a few tried and true methods for reflection.

Go month by month

Quick, list out the 12 months on a sheet of paper, leaving room to jot down a few notes next to each month. Now that you’re finished, work backward from December to January and write down anything that sticks out for you — personally and professionally. Maybe there was a memory that’s important to you or a win that you didn’t expect. You might indicate if there were any financial successes in a certain month to help you forecast in the future. Possibly, you’ll list trainings you attended or maybe even ideas of things that didn’t actually happen, but you’d love to focus on in the future.

By ruminating on your year in a month-to-month format, you may be able to think of more to list as your brain works in reverse chronological order.

List out your wins and losses

It’s time to grab another piece of paper and a pen! This time, fold the paper vertically. On one side, write “Accomplishments.” On the other, write “Challenges.”

Then, spend some time brainstorming your big and small wins, while at the same time noting anything you struggled with or didn’t go your way. This exercise is particularly helpful for the people who might struggle with reviewing their year chronologically, but do well categorizing their experiences.

To take this to the next level, write a few notes that explain what factors led to both your wins and losses. What can you take from your accomplishments to help you replicate these achievements in future years? What lessons did you gather from the more challenging moments in 2020? How can you avoid or adjust for 2021?

Journal about the previous year

Remember those questions listed above? If journaling helps you process your thoughts, use each question as a prompt to get your thoughts out on paper. Try not to self-edit as you answer each question. Just write for as long as you choose until you have nothing else to answer. Then, move on to the next question. Interested in a few more journaling prompts to reflect and review? Here are eight to get your creative juices flowing:

  • What new relationships did I form this year?
  • Who supported me both personally and professionally?
  • When did I feel skilled and use my expertise best?
  • At what moments did I feel most at ease and excited to be doing something?
  • What habits did I create this year? How did they serve me?
  • What was my approach to self-care like this year? What would I do the same or differently?
  • Who were the least-obvious, but very important people in my life?
  • How did I react to difficult situations or challenging moments?

Review how you spend your time

How much time do you spend scrolling through social media? All right, shame on me for calling you out like that — but unnecessary content absorption is one of the biggest time-stealing culprits, and something that so many people find themselves doing.

Time is a resource — a very precious one. With one-third of your life being spent at work and another third spent sleeping, you don’t want to waste time what’s left of your precious moments.

Analyze how your time was spent in 2020, and remember to give yourself some grace if the results aren’t exactly what you were hoping for. This year has been challenging in so many ways, so there’s no shame in spending an increased amount of time binge watching your favorite shows or working late into the night to try to catch up. But knowing where your time goes is the first step to choosing how you’ll make adjustments for the future.

What’s on your mind? How do you feel?

Now that you know how you’ve spent your time, there’s one more extremely important exercise you must consider when reviewing your year: considering your mental space during these last 12 months. Your mindset can make or break your goals, challenges, achievements. It determines what you believe, how you react, what you accept from others, how motivated you are, and what you dream to be possible. Is it in the best shape possible?

How did you feel in 2020? 

This question is important for both your mental and physical review. Were you happy? Stressed? Anxious? Content? Did you trust your gut? Ignore important “feelings”? Did you eat healthy foods and move your body? Was anything aching? Should you work with a medical professional on any of these questions?

Bottomline: while your personal and professional accomplishments and challenges may be the first things you think of when doing an end-of-the-year review, your time, mind, and body are the are just as important — if not more so — than these other categories. 

Setting Goals for the Year Ahead

You’ve performed an extensive review of 2020, and you’re feeling ready for 2021. Heck, you were ready to give up on 2020 in March or April! Now that you’re in December, you’re feeling a bit more confident about actually setting the goals. Sure, the uncertainty of our current socio-economic climate is still weighing heavily on your mind. You know your goal list won’t list vacations you’d like to take or conferences you were hoping to attend, but you’re feeling a bit less anxious about actually setting goals in the first place.

Just like in the review section, there are various methods for setting goals, and some will work well for you, while others will not. Here, we’ve shared three different approaches to goal setting. Test them out. Approach them in a way that works best for you.

Categorize first, then set goals

One of the easiest ways to determine what it is you’d like to have, achieve, be, or do in the year ahead is to create a shortlist of the categories in your life, and then brainstorm goals that fall under each category.

For many people, categories may include their

  • Career
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Health
  • Personal Interests

However, other people might choose to niche down or take a different approach. Their lists might look something like:

The categories you choose are personal to you, and there is no wrong way to approach this goal-setting exercise. 

Once you’ve determined your categories, then, sit down with your list and jot down some goals that would fit in each category. You might choose to list our multiple things you’d like to see come to fruition, or you may decide to have just one item to focus on in each category.

Time-based goal setting

Do you have a five-year plan? This was once a very popular question — and for good reason. Having a trajectory helps people set clear and measurable goals. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? The next five? The decade ahead?

If you’re wondering why I’m suggesting you look so far into the future, it’s because some goals take time to achieve, and you must start working on them now to be able to achieve them in five or ten years. Take college for example. If you always wanted to finish your degree, you might need to begin this year to finish in the next five. Maybe your goal is to work your way up to an executive position, and you’ll need to work through a few levels of promotions to get there. Or, maybe you simply want to pay off that last tiny bit left on your car loan by the end of the year. The common thread with all these goals is that they’re created with time constraints in mind.

If you want to try this method, create three rows on a piece of paper — one for a one-year goal, one for five-year goals, and the last for ten-year goals. Then, brainstorm what you’d love to see happen before you reach the end of that time period.

Choosing a word for the year ahead

There’s been much talk in the past decade about choosing a word of the year. The word may act as an intention, a beginning place for investigation, an inspiration, or anything you want! 

Instead of picking achievement-based goals, some people might like to focus their energy completely on a word that can take them through the entire year. They let the “goals” happen naturally as they would anyway, and doing this frees them from an end-of-the-year dissatisfaction or let down if they don’t check off all the to-dos on their wish list.

I first read of this practice from designer and author, Ali Edwards who so aptly states, “A single word can be a powerful thing,” in her One Little Word project. If you’re looking for a list of words to spark your creativity, here’s one from her blog.

Implementing Your Plan Moving Forward

All that work you did thinking about the year passed and your goals for the future will be nothing if you don’t move past simply thinking about them. It’s time to take action. Take a look at what you’ve written down about what’s important to you, what you’d like to replicate in the next year, and what you plan on leaving behind you. Then, start to make some plans on how to put these into practice.

Wishing you the best as you reflect on this year and health and happiness in your year ahead.

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Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila is a content strategist and writer who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform — and even transform — its intended audience. Reach out to her on Instagram at @ErinOllila, or visit her website erinollila.com.