My Powerful Annual Review Process

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person.

Always looking forward and setting goals for myself …. Then working tirelessly to achieve them, it seemed like a good process.

The setting & working toward goals thing was never really been a problem for me. For the longest time, around the end of each year, I would then reflect back on the previous year and start thinking about what goals I wanted for the following year. That was the extent of my "annual review." Did I achieve my goals or not?

Life is Not just about setting goals

Writing things down can have a profound impact. With goals, individuals with written goals are ~40% more likely to succeed. This number jumps up to ~77% if these individuals write their goals and send progress reports to their friends. Part of the reason why I believe in the accountability factor of mentors, coaches  and mastermind groups.

I knew these things. Always writing down my goals and sharing them with people, I get it

In 2016, I actually had a bit of an epiphany. As I was going over the Annual Reviews for my subordinates and filling out my own professional Annual Review to discuss with my manager. It suddenly dawned on me that I had never officially done this for my personal life.

Why on earth did I not have a written process for reviewing my own personal life and having an official ‘check-in’ to make sure I was tracking toward the life I wanted to live?

I’m actually making a more (truncated) public version this year that I’ll share with my email list, as I believe there are many benefits of sharing what you’re working on with your people.

"The unexamined life is not worth living"


What makes a good personal annual review?

Zooming out, what even makes a good personal annual review?

I knew how to do one for my professional life, but a personal annual review is a HIGHLY personal process. Ultimately, what works for me might not work at all for others

Honestly, for me, a good personal annual review is not only about looking back, but it’s also about looking toward the future, and deciding what my trajectory is headed toward. But it's the looking back part that is not to be overlooked.

With this process, the overall idea is that by doing a personal annual review, this process will force you to look back at the past 12 months and ask: “Am I working toward living the life I want to live?”  Am I living the life that I had imagined? Am I living a life building toward a larger mission?

We’re going to be alive a long time (thanks science), and I suppose there’s plenty of time to straighten out your course (but not THAAAT much time).  

The idea is not to compare how much or how little you have done compared to someone else.  This review process is about YOUR life, YOUR actions, and what YOU want to do for yourself.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.”

Steve Jobs

Personal Annual Review - The (pre-work) Process

Over 4 years, this annual review process is constantly evolving and will continue to for the foreseeable future. This is the internal checklist I used for my 2019 Annual Review:

  • Review 2018 Annual Review
  • I find this extremely helpful to see what frame of mind I started the year. This is the benefit of storing these electronically (I use Evernote) as I can quickly reference the previous years’ reviews (and search). I tend to skim the last few reviews as it typically helps set the tone for how much growth I’ve had over the years. I tend to forget simply how much I’ve grown and focus on where I want to go and the impatience of why I’m not there yet.
  • Review 2019 Memories
  • During the year I actually do a monthly review most months (ok, sometimes it’s every other month) which contains a number of items. One thing included in these monthly reviews are ‘key memories’ for the month. Little things I don’t want to forget. I love going through this to remind me of all the great things I’ve experienced during the year.
  • Review 2019 Goals
  • Next is to review the goals that I had set out for the year. What was I focused on and planning on accomplishing during the year?
  • Review 2019 Monthly Intentions & Notes
  • Each month I’ll write down my focus and intentions for that month. As part of the annual review I’ll go back and look at these. Where was I spending my time and energy during the year?
  • I also am a voracious reader and note taker. I’m constantly jotting things down that resonate with me (e.g. quotes, key concepts, etc.). I’ll go through and review these. This is a lengthy process, but I typically have a lot of gems in here that are worth revisiting.
  • Review 2019 Books
  • I read, a lot. It’s always helpful to look back at the books I’ve read during the year and reflect back about what I’ve learned from them. A new process this year is to actually buy the book and send it to friends/family members that I hope it would help the way that it’s helped me. In 2020, I’m actually going to try to use GoodReads more.
  • Do 2019 Annual Review
  • After all of that pre-work, I can actually do my annual review. I’ll outline the process for it below.
  • Set 2020 Goals
  • After looking back, time to look forward. Not covered in this article.

Personal Annual Review - The actual review

While doing all of this pre-work, I’m constantly copy/pasting key thoughts into my 2020 Goals or 2019 Review.

This is a fluid process, not starting with step one and working through. There is a lot of overlap and jumping around. Something I will notice from your previous year review might be relevant for later, etc.

Overall: What patterns do I see?

I’ll typically start with this list, but I’ll constantly be coming back to it as I’m doing the review. What trends or patterns do I see with my life? What sort of books was I reading and how did they influence me and my thought process? Who was I spending a lot of time around and what do their lives look like? What am I missing?

Wins and Losses for the Year - By key Hotspot

Then, I’ll go through and start this process by listing out as many “wins” and “losses” for the year.  What have I done well?  What areas did I not do as well as I would have liked?  

I organize this thought process by breaking up my life into key ‘hotspots.’  

Looking at these Hotspots, you evaluate yourself in each of them.  These are a simple way to zoom out and look at the bigger picture in your life.  I tend to get so caught up with the day-to-day it is hard to zoom out and think about the larger picture.  

Choices of "hotspots" are essentially endless, but the ones I consistently use are:  

  • Mind
  • Health
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Relationships
  • Fun

Note: These were originally inspired by some other blog post, but I cannot seem to find it now.

Either way, when looking at my wins/losses for the year, I’ll want to make sure I include a win/loss for each of these hotspots.

  • Wins - what seemed to go well this year
  • Losses - what could I have done better on this year?

This part of the process is really the meat of the annual review. Looking at each one of these hotspots and reflecting on it, writing down key points. I really spend some time here, then I review it to see if I had a negative tilt (perhaps situational) to the items and will revisit on another day to make sure that's not the case.

Overall:  What did I learn? How have I changed?

After going through each hotspot for wins/losses, it’s easier to start to wrap it up a bit more here. Starting to try to summarize as these reviews get a little lengthy :)

Zooming out for the personal annual review - what did I learn? We're constantly changing and growing, but what stood out? How have I changed?

Overall:  How do I feel about the year? What’s next with my life?

Now I have fully reviewed the previous year, and it’s finally time to start looking forward a bit.  This is just a primer to get me thinking about the upcoming year.  I’ll use this questions to get me started:

  • What’s missing from my list of accomplishments?
  • Where would I want to spend more time on next year that I didn’t spend enough time on this year? What did I feel like I ‘wasted’ a lot of time on this year?
  • What are my big goals or dreams that I want to achieve next year?

After this, I’ll move on to starting to clean up and set my goals for 2020.

My goal setting process is also fluid. I find it helpful to make goals for each hotspot, which keeps everything a bit organized when I start to review how the year is goinng.


Reflection is very useful, but not a good substitute for action. Therefore, although it’s very important to examine your life and think about these things, it’s also equally (or more) important to actually go out and enjoy and experience all the amazing things that this life has to offer and/or take action on those items that you’re carefully planning out.

Here’s to constant growth and getting wiser every year!