My process for reflection and goal-setting at the start of the new year
Heads up: this will be my last newsletter for a little while as I settle in for the holidays, and await the arrival of our baby. I’ll see you in the new year! Probably in February, when I’m sleeping for more than 2 hours at a time again.
There's a four-step process that has become a routine for me at the end of every year:
Step 1: Reflect on the last 12 months
Step 2: Set goals for the next 12 months
Step 3: Do a "Habit Audit"
Step 4: Frog January 🐸 (I'll explain...)
This process has been life-changing for me. It's my big reset. It's where I get to decide who I want to be. Today I’m going to walk you through it.
I created a free template you can use to run your own annual life review. Feel free to copy it and make it your own!
Let’s dive in…
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Step 1: Reflect on the last 12 months
I always feel the urge to jump right into setting goals.
Immersing myself in where I've been helps ground me, and gives me better intuition for where I want to go.
There's no right way or wrong way to do this step. The important thing is that you dedicate time to it.
I start by doing a lot of reading:
Review the goals and intentions I set the previous year
Read all my journal entries and notes from the last 12 months
Identify my biggest accomplishments and life events
Look back at my calendar to identify any significant events
Next, I do an audit of each area of my life:
I put it all into the life audit tab in the spreadsheet, rate each area (1-5) on how well it’s going, and add any reflections that come to mind.
As I go through the reflection process, I'll write down any thoughts, feelings, and observations that come up.
I'm always amazed at how many things I forgot about. I realize how much I've focused on the negative when, in truth, I've grown and accomplished a great deal.
Step 2: Set goals for the next 12 months
With a more clear understanding of how things went in the last year, I'm ready to start looking forward.
The hardest part of this step is keeping things simple. I limit myself to:
A. Three career goals
B. Three life goals
I've found that having more than three goals for an area of my life spreads my focus too thin.
I start by getting all my ideas down without worrying about prioritizing. I put it all into the goal braindump tab in the spreadsheet.
After I get my ideas down, I go through and rate each goal based on:
Joy: How much joy would it bring me to accomplish this goal?
Impact: How impactful on my life/career would it be to accomplish this goal?
I reflect on each one and work to narrow it down to three life goals and three career goals.
Step 3: Do a habit audit
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle
You can't achieve ambitious goals by doing things the same way you've always done them.
Goals are ambitious because they're something you haven't achieved before. To grow to that level YOU have to change.
You achieve a goal by becoming the person that can achieve the goal.
That's where habits come in. You are your habits. Our goals are what we want to achieve and our habits are how we'll achieve them.
To bring more attention to my current habits, I start by doing a "habit audit" in the spreadsheet.
I write down anything I feel has become a habit in my life, and any new habits that I'd like to add. Again, just get all the ideas down without worrying about prioritization.
Once I have all the ideas down, I rate them by:
Joy: How much joy it brings me
Health: Impact it has on my health (physical, mental, spiritual)
Goals: Impact it has on achieving my life/career goals
I'll find that there are habits that bring me joy but aren't necessarily good for me or impact my goals. Video games and drinking are two examples.
And I'll find habits that are good for me and impact my goals but don't bring me joy in the moment, like exercising and waking up early often.
Most interesting is seeing which habits bring me both joy and health, and have a big impact on my goals. I double down on those. And habits that bring me neither joy nor health are obvious candidates to cut.
After I rate and reflect on each one, I decide if I'll Keep/Cut/Change existing habits and Add/Save any new habits.
To make everything easy to track in one place, I add everything to the master tab with my life goals, career goals, and habit changes. I create a column for each month that I can update later.
This master tab becomes a helpful north star throughout the rest of the year when I lose sight of my goals.
Step 4: Frog January 🐸
Ok, let me explain this one...
My uncle, Robin Spinks, who's a world-class project manager, once taught me the phrase, "swallow the frog".
It means that you should start the day by doing the most difficult task, or the task that you most want to avoid.
Once you finish that task, the rest of the day is gravy! But if you put off that task until the end of the day, when you've already used up all your energy and focus...
The same advice applies for your annual goals. It's best to get the hardest stuff done early. Then the rest of the year is gravy.
And of course, when it comes to habits, there's no time better than right now to get started.
I call it "Frog January" because I use it to get a head start on my goals, starting with the most difficult tasks. It also reminds me that cutting bad habits is extremely difficult, but if I just get started it will become easier.
To really “eat the frog” and make my January as impactful as possible, every year I cut a number of habits that I know I’ve been using as a crutch, or that have been a distraction.
It started for me with Dry January, where I would quit alcohol for the month. I did this for several years and loved the impact it had on my life.
So I started to add more. Last year, I cut weed, video games, tv, tiktok, and coffee.
It creates this perfect storm where I have the most clarity on my goals, I’m clear-headed, and I have the least distractions.
It also helps that it's January when the weather sucks and there isn't too much happening. FOMO is at an all-time low.
I'll leave you with an example of how this process changed my career...
Two years ago I set the goal to "sign a book deal".
I had been trying to write a book for five years. I had written two 70-page drafts twice that never saw the light of day.
The problem was that I enjoyed writing, but I didn't enjoy the task of putting together a book proposal and pitching publishers. So I made my goal focused on securing the book deal (the frog), not on writing.
I then spent all of January working on the proposal and reaching out to anyone in my network who can help make introductions. I got momentum. By the summer, I had signed a book deal with Wiley. Nine months later, I published The Business of Belonging.
Of course, serendipity went into getting the book deal. But it was setting the goal and giving myself momentum at the start of the year that put me in the position to get lucky.
I hope this process helps you get a clear picture of where you’ve been, where you want to go, and who you want to be.
The holiday break is a great opportunity to set aside a few hours to work through it. If you try it out, let me know. I’d love to hear how it goes!
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That’s all for this week!
If you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, hit reply and let me know. I love hearing from you!
To all who are celebrating, I hope you have a wonderful holiday and new year.
I can’t wait to pick up this newsletter in the new year. I have a lot of posts tee’d up that I’m really excited about.
Until then, I’ll see you in 2023!