The end of the year is typically a quiet time where we turn inwards. I wanted to briefly drop in, wish you well, and share a simple approach to closing out the year.
We’ve made it though another unprecedented year of change. I saw a funny tweet about this the other day that hit home – it said something like, I’m definitely ready for some good ole “precedented times.” Enough of this unprecedented stuff!
That resonates with me for sure. I don’t know about you but I’m 110% ready to close the books on this year. For me, 2021 was a much harder year than 2020. I’ve heard that from many friends also. While a year of great challenge, it was also a year of incredible growth. This one had alllll the feels: joy, love, heartbreak, curiosity, sadness, confusion, hope. And so much more.
But as hard as this year and the pandemic have been, I still have a deep faith that humanity will metabolize this into a net-positive experience. Wherever this finds you, I wish you a healing and rejuvenating holiday season and transition between years.
I used to think that doing an end of year review was too formal or stodgy, or that it was a formality. After all, the end of year—it’s an arbitrary deadline! It’s not even a real thing, except by virtue of societal agreement. So I didn’t start doing an annual review until a few years ago, but since then I’ve found it to be an amazing practice. I first did one at the end of 2015 and it was a holy shit kind of moment, where I got smacked in the face with some truths about my life that I had avoided facing.
It’s an easy thing to get overwhelmed with—or feel like it’s not worth the effort. I totally get that, and almost skipped it this year myself. My energy levels have been slowly recovering over the last two months. So I ended up simplifying my process, which I’ll talk you through in a second to provide some simple scaffolding.
Whether you do this, or just take some quiet time for yourself, my wish for each of us is that we complete and release whatever we need to in order to step into 2022 from a posture of possibility. At a minimum I hope you take some quiet time to nourish your soul and reflect.
One book that I highly recommend for this period of time is called “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.” I just read it, and immediately started reading it a second time. It’s that good.
Alright, let me talk you through this simple approach to close out the year, and then let’s all get on with it.
It’s a simple 3-step process.
- Complete: Remember + review
- Center: Reflect + recharge
- Create: refresh your intention going
The part that I’m going to be prescriptive about is the “Complete” step, which can be done in an hour or two tops. It’s going through a set of questions and reviewing what happened in your life over the last year. For centering and creating—or recharge, reflect, envisioning, whatever words you want to use—there are a million ways to do it. If you don’t have an approach that works for you, I’d recommend some quiet time in nature, some journaling, and setting up a long conversation with an inspiring friend to brainstorm together about what you want to bring forward next year.
Let’s get into it.
I encourage you to use what I’m about to share as a jumping off point or inspiration for your own process. If it feels like too much, pare it down. Go for the simplest thing that works for and feels good to you. I don’t even answer all these questions, I probably actually address half or 2/3rds.
So take what resonates, add your own spin, and drop the rest. My current approach is a mashup of my own stuff with templates that others have shared such as Kevin Lee, Tim Ferriss, Chris Guillibeau, and many others. I’ve put the full list of questions below for you to pull from.
As you go through the questions, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Look for the good: I find it’s very easy to be solely focused on what isn’t working or remember the painful moments. The negativity bias of the brain doesn’t help with this. No matter how hard the year, there are always things to celebrate. Find them. Call it gratitude practice.
- Look holistically across your life. Don’t solely focus on your career.
- If you do nothing else, do the exercises on remembering favorite moments and the past year calendar review, which I learned from Kevin Lee and Tim Ferriss, respectively.
- What was your favorite music playlist?
- Who was your favorite artist?
- What was your favorite song?
- What was your favorite concert?
- What were your favorite photos?
- What were your favorite videos?
- What was your favorite movie?
- What were your favorite articles?
- What was your favorite travel?
- What were your favorite experiences?
- What was your favorite speaking, teaching, awards, or recognition?
- What were your favorite memories?
- What was your favorite restaurant?
- What was your favorite meal?
- What was your favorite first meeting?
This is an exercise I learned from Tim Ferriss, and it’s great. If you do nothing else, I’d do this.
Simply put, you go through the entire past year on your calendar, and make a list of the people, activities, and commitments that triggered peak positive/negative emotions on a weekly or monthly basis. Then, find the 20% of each list that produced the most reliable or powerful peaks. Proactively schedule the positive ones now, and avoid/reduce the negative ones.
Look holistically across your life. Don’t solely focus on your career. I tend to go through the following eight areas of life:
- health & wellbeing
- creative expression & fun (hobby, travel, adventure, etc)
- wealth / finances
- relationships (family, friends, romance, other)
- personal systems (habits, routines, processes) & personal development
- emotions / spiritual
For each area, I ask the following five questions (I don’t necessarily answer all of them every time though):
- what was accomplished?
- what wasn’t accomplished?
- what worked?
- what didn’t work?
- what was missing?
Lastly, I like to have a freeform section that is just “is there anything else I need to say about this to feel complete?” I’m often surprised at what comes out here, so don’t underestimate this question.
Once you’ve completed the review, this is the time to really recharge. Shut down the engines, and let it all rest and integrate. You’ll inevitably start having thoughts at some point about the future you want to create, and that’s fine. I recommend taking a break between reviewing and creating to let things integrate, and then create from a wiser, recharged place.
Here are five reflection questions I’ve found helpful to explore as I move into the centering step, which has more reflection time and sets up the creation step.
- what shifts would I like to make in my life? (If you’ve been doing personal work such as therapy, might consider core themes and what you want to bring more of into your life)
- what might it look like to build my life around my joy, to prioritize joy in life on a daily basis?
- which relationships / activities / commitments fill me up and source me? Which drain me?
- what would “10 years from now” me advise me to do?
- what would I regret not doing next year?
Here’s what this whole process actually looks like for me this year:
- Complete: I did the written review and reflection in about two hours on a flight the day after Christmas. I brain dumped and scribbled answers to the remember and review.
- Center: I’m going on a silent meditation retreat for a week, which is always a recharging and centering experience. As this episode goes out over the intertubes, I’ll be 2-3 days into the retreat. Send me some good vibes if you don’t mind, on previous retreats that has been the hardest point.
- Create: when I get back from the retreat, I a session with a friend on the calendar for us to brainstorm together. To discuss the output of our reflection and centering time, to envision, and to game plan for 2022.
I like this sequence, with re-creation coming after a review and recharge/reset, because I feel like I can create from a more authentic place. After a break and a reset, I feel like I can better hear that quiet inner voice that whispers to me about what I really want and care about. And I’m less influenced by societal pressure and conditioning. I like that.
Also, remember that it’s not a purely linear process. Before going into the retreat and written part, I had already started thinking about these things and am pretty sure that my big 3 themes for next year are going to be career, creativity, and community. But we’ll see what’s there after I let everything integrate.
I wish you a rejuvenating, reconnecting, and and invigorating experience as we turn over the year.
How did your review go? What did you learn from it? Please let me know on Twitter, and what resonated with you from this.