Just some more hours left for this year to fade away and the new one to rise. Have you thought about your plan and goals for the new year?
For a few days, somewhere between the end of December and the beginning of the New Year, every year, I go into a “pause and reflect” mode. This is a ritual I have followed for close to 15 years. Although the exact process has undergone several iterations, the core essence of the practice is to pause, reflect and plan. (I say iterations because with each passing year, my process gets a little more refined thanks to some immense lessons life sends my way).
As you use this time to reflect on this past year and plan for the new one, I outline below a thinking map that has served me well to help you go thru the process.
When I sit down at the end of the year to go thru my review & planning process, I like to keep a series of questions in front of me to guide my thinking. I cannot take credit for all of these questions. While some of them are my own, I have collected the others from several people I admire and follow.
Why go thru this exercise at all?
I sense that my life keeps moving continuously frame by frame. It’s like a movie that I am simultaneously watching and participating in, creating it from moment to moment. Given this non-stop advance of life, there should be a small gap during which to press the pause button on this movie. Then, I must look at what has conspired thus far, and what I would like to see happen once I hit the Play button again.
But why do it during the New Year?
Why do we treat the New Year’s Eve and New Year as a definite grand point? Isn’t it really like any other time of the year? Do the days really look any different? Does time behave differently on these days? Or is there some magical power the New year that makes it so auspicious to use it as a “Launch Date” for our grand plans?
May be. May be not. I don’t know. But here’s what I do know. Human beings create constructs, constraints, boundaries and meaning from almost everything. It allows us to operate logically and assimilate chaos. To make sense of amorphous concepts like time, and “beginning & end”. (Is it any surprise that we still cannot wrap our heads around the concept of endlessness, eternity etc.) For us, “cause and effect”, and “start and end” are operational requirements.
And therefore, New Year and other such special days are good solid demarcations in the general flow of our life-time to use as Event-markers. I have found that it serves me well to use this mental construct called “End-of-one-year-and-beginning-of-the-next” to take stock of my life direction.
So what do I do during this time?
As much as I can, I try to put everything I am doing on hold. The idea is to stay out of the bushes so that I can create some room to do an audit of my existence.
I look back at the last 365 days and ask myself some questions. I read my journal entries from this year to look at the ebbs & flows of my mindset at critical junctures. The idea is to be an outsider peeping into my life as it happened this past year. (Very objectively… or so I hope)
Finally, I set out to put together some broad brush-strokes of what I would like the next 365 (or 366 in case it’s a leap year!) days to look like.
The nitty-gritty of the 3 steps above has undergone changes. My process was far more material and superficial when I first started many years back. If earlier it was all about having a audit and a detailed map, now its more about having a report and a compass.
Why? Because An audit only tells you if you did well or not. A report gives you descriptive lessons and insights to ponder, improve and change.
A map gives you a prescriptive path to follow (less useful), whereas a compass gives you direction (more useful)
There are 3 parts to this Review & Plan process.
- Remember the highlights of this past year. Glean lessons from it.
- Get an Ideal Picture in mind for the next year.
- Write the Implementation Plan – Goals, timelines and tasks.
How to reflect on this year
Here are the questions to answer, to guide your thinking about how this year played out –
- What am I most grateful for this year? People, events, achievements, my unique skills/ talents, words, thoughts, ideas, material possessions? Why?
- What did I accomplish this year that I feel really proud of?
- What about this year makes me feel happy? What brought the most meaning & fulfillment to me? What were the peak moments?
- Where did I experience grace this year? (There’s always something in our life that we did not work for, where we just got lucky, someone else made it happen for us, or it went well despite our efforts to screw it up)
- Who brought the most love & joy to my days?
- What role did I play best? What role could have I done better in?
- What are the 3-5 main lessons & insights I gained from my experiences (good & bad)?
- What are my wins this year? What about me made that happen?
- What are my losses this year? What about me made that happen?
- What one thing did I do this year that, knowing how it played out, I wouldn’t have done in the first place?
- Did I have a clear plan for this year at the beginning of the year? Clear goals, things to accomplish? Did I stick to the plan & accomplish? Why, why not? Was my plan realistic? Did it lose its relevance mid-way? Did I grow on the way to achieving my plans?
- How well have I managed or taken responsibility for my – attitude, priorities, health, family, thinking, finances, commitments, faith, relationships, generosity, values, personal growth?
- On a scale of 1 -10, how would I rate the quality of my Physical Health, Finances, Career/ Biz, Spiritual well-being, Mental/ intellectual growth, Family Relationships, Quality of Life, Social & Community involvement, Giving back?
- What identities have I gained this year? How are they helping me, hindering me? What identities have I lose this year? How are they helping me, hindering me?
- Decision-making: where did I make good decisions/ choices this year? Where did I make poor decisions/ choices?
- What do I regret? Is there anything that I would like to rectify, go back and fix, undo?
- What people & events created the most stress, pain and grief for me? Why? What did I learn? What do I need to do with these? Decrease, eliminate, accept?
- What did I learn about myself this year that I was previously not aware of?
- What have I taken for granted? People, opportunities, stuff, love, support etc that I have become blind to?
- Which 5 people in my circle have had the most influence on me this year? How did I change (for better or worse) as a result?
- How much do I allow fear, anxiety and worry guide my daily schedule, work & relationships? Where am I self-sabotaging? Where am I playing small? Where did I play at less than my potential? Where should I have been courageous and haven’t been? Where have I been taking the easy route but shouldn’t?
- What are the 3 major personal improvements I made?
- What is the relationship I improved?
- What’s the biggest risk I took this year?
- Where did I provide service, add value, give of myself (without any reward or expectation of it?)
Questions to ask for the next year
- What one thing must I start doing that will make a significant difference in my life?
- What one thing must I stop doing that will make a significant difference in my life?
- What must I do more of? Less of?
- What are my 3-5 keystone projects this year (projects that will create significant growth, benefits & fulfillment)? What is a meaningful goal for each one to accomplish this year?
- Which goal/ project from (4) is the most important (such that its accomplishment will make everything else easier, unnecessary and will possibly create significant positive ripple effects)
- What mental programming must I practice daily to put me in a beautiful state to enable my best self at work and life?
- What daily actions would I take if I new I couldn’t lose/ fail, if I show up at my most courageous confident 100% self?
- What daily code of conduct must I follow so that I can have a sense of progress, meaning and fulfillment every day?
- What strategies must I use when I go into derailment or self-sabotage?
- What routines, habits and disciplines must I employ for peak outcomes in my roles & goals?
- What will my daily rhythm look like (set of rituals, habits, disciplines to be practiced daily)
- What will my weekly rhythm look like (set of rituals, habits, disciplines to be practiced once a week)
- What must I do on a daily basis to get out of my own head, stay in the productive/ creative/ progress zone?
- What radical actions must I take to reset myself this year (for physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, career health)
- What is my keystone habit this year? – the one habit that will make all other habits possible/ easier?
- What 3-5 positive personality traits must I focus on developing/ polishing/ practicing?
- What 3-5 rare, valuable skills must I work towards developing this year?
- What’s my plan for getting mentors, building worthwhile connections and putting myself out there as a helper, value-adder? What forums, vehicles, methods will I use?
- What actions and activities are required to create real impact in my career?
How to put your Plan together
- Write a page on what would make the coming year truly satisfying and fulfilling for you? In other words, when you look back on the last day of the year at all that transpired, what would you like to see?
- Write 3-5 words, phrases or sentences to describe your Archetype for this year. This archetype is your persona that will be in action throughout this year. This ideal empowering persona is how you plan to show up everyday – in all your roles and goals, at home & work, to yourself and to others.
- Write your Big 3-5 Goals: Put specific time-bound targets to each of your 3-5 Keystone Projects.
- Write your Keystone Habit. And how specifically you plan to practice it daily.
- Write your Vital 5 functions: these are the critical activities you must do daily in order to continue to be effective in your work/ career.
- Write your 5 Vital Rituals: these are the 5 daily habits you must engage in to keep yourself in peak performance in life and work.
- Write your 3 Guiding Principles: that you will embody every day, in everything in think, say and do.
- Create a Daily Checklist: Write down a set of habits, routines, disciplines, behaviors that you will practice daily. This checklist is derived from items 3,4,5 above (plus any additional ones you may need). Also allocate time-blocks of the day during which you will accomplish these.
- Create a Weekly Schedule: Assign time-blocks for your major roles & goals.
If you only just go through the above exercise, you will sense an uncommon clarity and feeling of direction for the coming year. Not everything is going to go as planned. In fact, derailment will happen from time to time. That’s why I trust a compass more than a map. When you go by a map, you feel compelled to follow the prescribed route. The trouble is maps generally don’t show dead-ends, detours or newly laid paths. So when you have to make changes to the route (your expectations), its only natural to feel frustrated and dejected.
On the other hand, when you rely more on a compass and use the map only for a rough guidance, you can easily handle detours and obstacles, in the knowing that you are still headed in the right direction.
Try this process and let me know how it goes. If you have a yearly planning process that you have been using, I am interested in knowing about it too.
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