Creating an Annual Review

I’ll admit, I’m feeling a little bit lost on how to tackle 2017.  If you’re like me, 2016 was an unexpectedly rough year.  That’s not to say it was all bad.  2016 had its good moments: there were some peak experiences, and I made some amazing connections with other people.  But there were hard times that I certainly didn’t anticipate.  

Since I’m drifting rudderless when it comes to the new year, I’m going back to an old standby: my annual review.

You’ve probably heard of an annual review before; I know of countless artists and entrepreneurs who use one.  I was first introduced to the idea by blogger Chris Guillebeau (you can read his original post here).  Since then, I’ve been collecting each annual review I come across, and culling them for ideas for my own.  Because of this process, each year is a bit different.  In the past, I’ve included everything from a questionnaire to a theme word, intentions, mantras, and various metrics.  They’ve been so complex that they can take me up to a week just to fill out.

Despite all these experiments, over the years my annual review has boiled down to something surprisingly simple.  All I need are three columns.  In the first column I list my goal for the upcoming year.  The second is for tracking completion at the end of the year—“done,” “progress,” or “didn’t do.”  The third is for notes on how I completed it, what progress I’ve done, or why I failed.  That’s it.  I use a spreadsheet for my three columns, because spreadsheets are cool (at least, they are when you’re an organizational and productivity nerd like me).  But really, I could easily do the same thing with a pen and a blank piece of printer paper.

The usefulness of an annual review isn’t in any fancy formatting or complex questions. It’s in the goals that I put on the list.

For me, the usefulness of an annual review isn’t in any fancy formatting or complex questions.  It’s in the goals that I put on the list.

I’ve found that coming up with yearly goals is actually a really hard process.  I rarely estimate correctly how much I can actually get done in twelve months.  Instead, I usually end up writing “ought to” goals: ones defined by where I think I should end up, rather than taking into account the resources I have available.  After all, I ought to be able to work full-time as a professional model.  And I ought to be able to finish a novel in a year at the same time.  And I ought to be able to maintain a blog, keep up with my relationships and social life, restart a piano business, and finish a dozen “smaller" projects all in one year too, right?  Turns out, I can tell you from hard-earned personal experience, I can’t.  I just get frustrated that I’m not superhuman.

Instead, I find my annual review works best when I treat it as the final part of my triad of goal setting tools.  The other two I’ve written about before: my life list and my three year plan.  First, I go through these two lists, category by category. (For me, these categories are Love and Relationships, Modeling, Writing, Music, Travel, and Other/Adventures, but as mentioned in previous essays, they should correspond to the important areas in your life).  From that, I figure out what my concrete goals are.  So for writing, these goals might be “publish a novel” or “finish 50 short stories.”  But these are not the goals I put on my annual review.

I leave the end points on my “bigger picture” lists, and only put process-oriented goals on my annual review.  So in example, my writing section looks like this:

1. Write a minimum of 2000 words a week.

2. Write a minimum of 200 days a year.

I’m convinced that life is just a continuous process of trying to suck less at the things you care about.  Each year will have its high points and accomplishments, but really it’s the habits and daily grind that lets you achieve them.  Hence the process-oriented, small, achievable goals.  I still need to be careful to make sure that my goals are concrete and completable.  I don’t just say “write more,” for example, because it begs the question: write more than what? But ultimately, I’m trying to set myself up for routine success.

Even if you’re not big into goal setting, there are still reasons to keep an annual review.  I’ve been doing an annual review every year for just shy of a decade now.  That’s long before I ever started modeling.

Going through my old annual reviews reminds me of all that I’ve done in the past decade, so time doesn’t feel like it’s slipped through my fingers.  It’s both embarrassing and inspiring to look through them all.  I’m reminded that ten years ago I was an idiot—and I’m sure I will think that I currently am ten years from now, just in different ways.  And I think that’s a good thing. An annual review isn’t just a way to track how much I’ve done.  It’s a reminder of how much I’ve changed and grown.