At the end of every year I like to do a general end of year reflection. However, I don’t usually do an overly structured review and planning for the year ahead. This year’s reflection came to happen very randomly and it led to a 3-step annual self-review & goal planning process. Now that I’ve done it, I’ve found it immensely helpful in gaining perspective and especially adding much needed structure to my thoughts and plans, something I was definitely feeling that I was lacking.
I also have to say that I’ve had a hard time intentionally sitting down and reflecting on the past year or even thinking about setting goals for the year ahead. I’ve been feeling low energy, uninspired and unmotivated lately so even though I really wanted to get this done, I could not find the energy to do it. That was until one of my last days in the office for the year, when I had some quiet time and decided to start documenting what I worked on this year. And actually, as soon as I started with it, things started flowing, and I ended up following the 3 steps below.
All that to say that whether you take some inspiration from my approach or you follow your very own, whether you do it at the end of the year, at the start or in the middle, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that you take time to reflect and use that to organise your thoughts.
So here’s how I approached it and the three things I’ve done to help me reflect on the past year at work as well as plan the one ahead. And if you read til the end of the post, you might also get a little surprise as I’ll be sharing my 3-step annual self-review & goal planning process template.
1. Documenting Projects, Highlights & Wins
This one is not exclusively an end-of-year review exercise only, but rather it’s meant to be a living document that is continuously being updated. As I progress through my career, I want to make sure I document my successes and learnings so that I can come back to them whenever I need to. So it’s not a strictly end-of-year exercise or document, but something you can do at any time and that you can and should update on an ongoing basis. I took advantage of the time and I (finally) documented the projects I worked on this year and my successes. I included specific project details, KPIs I moved (actual numbers), and most importantly how I contributed to them. This is evidence that then served me as I reflected on the past year, so it was perfect timing.
Regardless if you do an annual review or planning, you should not skip this one. I want to highlight that this is an extremely useful and necessary document for anyone with two key purposes. First of all, it’s your emotional support and hype document where you have clear proof of everything you’ve accomplished so far. If you’re ever doubting yourself or your ability to do something, this is where you come to get a boost of confidence. Second, it’s a practical summary that you can tap into for different needs. That could be updating your CV, interview prep, performance review season, self-reflection, or else. Especially when thinking of all the layoff rounds happening around the (tech) world, it’s a must to have an up-to-date document with all your projects and successes. So even if you don’t do a full self-reflection and goal-planning exercise this season because you are not feeling it or don’t have the time, I do strongly encourage you to document your projects, learnings and wins.
To do this, I created a simple table in my Notion app that included the following columns: project name, short description, KPIs and metrics moved/achieved, how I contributed precisely, and what I learned. Those would be the main things plus a few tags such as when I worked on them and the type of projects. I make sure to include both “hard” and “soft” projects I worked on. For example, process improvements I led, projects delivered, team mentorship & coaching, and everything else in between. If you read til the end of the post, you might get a little surprise.
2. Annual Self-Review
Next, I did an annual performance self-review of 2023, and reflected on what went well, what didn’t, and also how I can use that in 2024, and where to pour my time in the next 12 months. I used a simple template from Notion that contained some simple but triggering questions to help out which I then adapted it to my needs. I will outline the main parts below:
- Step 1. Count The Year’s Wins. This one was about recapping all my wins of the year and celebrating my successes. Since I had already listed my yearly highlights, this was a quick exercise for me, yet still valuable since it was a bit broader. Here I included also problems solved, relationships built or strengthened, and other smaller wins and highlights. They will help give me confidence I can handle what next year brings.
- Step 2. Acknowledge the Rough Spots. While celebrating wins is always great, acknowledging failures, losses and weak spots from the year can feel very liberating. Looking back at past failures and mistakes is a great way to reflect, learn from them, and most importantly, move on. There’s no mental capacity we want to spend on reliving failed scenarios x10 a day. So next I focused on acknowledging the rough spots and the lessons that came with them.
- Step 3. Find Your Growth Space. Next, I took things from the first two steps and wrote down how I grew from them. That might be the difficult things I did, new skills learned, new habits built, and more.
- Step 4: Start to Look Ahead. In the last step, I focused on how I want my next year to look like. Here I kept it general and focused more on the qualitative side of things rather than detailed goal setting. What kind of person do I want to be, what high-level goals do I want to reach, how do I want to spend my time, what habits and routines do I want to have, etc.
3. Setting 2024 Goals & Improvement Areas
The last step for me was defining my high-level goals (more like improvement areas) for next year, alongside specific actions I can take for each, as well as hints to help me execute them. I followed a bit of an OKR approach this year, simply because I worked on business OKRs so much at work it just felt natural. If you are not familiar with OKRs, they’re a popular goal-setting framework popularised by Google and widely used by successful organisations today. Here is a quick overview but of course, a Google search will help you dive as deep as you want to into the topic.
Anyways, going back to my goal setting. When I say I was inspired by them in setting my own goals, I mean it more in the structure. I first defined 3-4 areas (the objectives) that will help me grow this year on a career level. These were the qualitative objectives. Then I mapped specific goals or more measurable outcomes (these would be the key results according to OKRs) to help me quantify or make those objectives more specific. While I kept it quite simple, I went the extra step of adding some actions that can help me achieve those goals or hint me how to tackle them so I get a bit of a headstart.
One More Thing
Thank you for reading my 3-Step Annual Self-Review & Goal Planning Process post and I hope you found it useful. By combining the three steps ahead, I ended up doing a very complete end-of-year review and I’m very happy with the end result. Doing this helped structure some of the thoughts I was having, fill in some gaps, and visualise the year ahead. With that said, I am leaving a little surprise at the end, since I wanted to share this with you in case helpful. You can get my Annual Self Review & Goal Planning Template here (for free of course).
Now I am curious, have you done a similar exercise this year? How do you usually approach it? I’d love to read more in the comments.