The (Personal) Yearly Review: Why You Need One and How to Do It

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Mon, 2016-01-18 08:08.

If the only yearly review you've experienced is the kind where you sit down with your boss (or your employee) and go over a careful list of praise and critiques, you're missing out. The personal yearly review is one you conduct yourself, for yourself. Not only will a personal yearly review help you gain more value from what you've experienced in the last year, it will also help you prepare for an even better next year. 

Learning from Experiences 
Every experience you have can teach you something. But you'll only gain knowledge and insight if you're open to learning, consciously analyzing situations and outcomes. Both the good and bad experiences can teach you lessons on success. A yearly review is a way to dedicate time to gaining the knowledge that's already there, waiting for you. 

Set Aside Time 
A thorough yearly review will take anywhere from two to eight hours; you can dedicate an entire day, or spread your review time out over several consecutive days. You can even stretch it out over a few weeks or a month, if you'd like; just work on it a little bit each day. By taking a longer time to complete your review, you'll have more time to ponder what you're learning as you complete it. By completing your review in a full day or two, however, you'll gain insight from really immersing yourself in your experiences and lessons. 

Ask the Right Questions 
The basic information you want to gain, initially, from your yearly review is what went right and what went wrong. In other words, what were your failures and what were your successes? 

There will be some situations and experiences that you didn't control, and you can still learn from these, but put most of your attention on the experiences, projects, and circumstances you did control. You want to gain insight on how you can change your own thinking and behavior; focusing on what's out of your control is a waste of time. 

Make a list of the Negatives and Positives, or Failures and Successes, from the past year. You can review your year chronologically, listing out each consecutive month's wins and losses. Or you can simply list them out as they come to mind, listing the major moments of the past year. 

Dig Deeper 
For each item on your Win/Loss list, ask further questions to glean insight and understanding. The goal is to understand what caused the success or the failure: what were the major factors? The key behaviors? The important choices, whether good ones or bad ones? And what influenced these key factors? 

For each item, ask questions like, "How did I get this result?" and "What were the important choices I made?" and "Which behaviors, resources, or tools were key in this outcome?" Some answers will be obvious, and it won't take you long to figure out how you achieved success, or why you didn't. Sometimes, though, there are layers of information to dig through; the most obvious factors might not be the key ones. Look for patterns as you dig through your list. Being alert to repeated choices, behaviors, or needs can help you identify the weaknesses you need to tackle, or see missing resources in your life. 

Look at the Big Picture 
Don't get too lost in the details; if you're struggling to identify the factors behind a particular failure or success, step back and look at the bigger picture. If you were in the midst of a personal life change, for example, the added stress and distraction might have caused you to lose focus and produce poor quality work. 

If you find a factor that's outside of the particular 'area' in focus, it's just a reminder that every category of life overlaps with others. You may not need to brush up on your specific work skills as much as learn how to handle residual stress, communicate better, and dedicate the appropriate amount of time to each area. Analyzing each success and failure from the past year will help you see the bigger needs. 

Define Goals, Actions, and Results 
The final step in your personal yearly review should be to set goals for the upcoming year. If you've seen particular areas which you need to improve, your goal might be to get help, take a class, or find a mentor. For the areas which gave you success, set goals that build on your strengths and expand the work you've already done. 

For each goal, you'll want to make a list of specific actions to take and the desired results you expect to achieve from each action. If you don't designate actions for each goal, you're likely to fizzle out of momentum before you get close to reaching it. And if you don't clarify the results you think you'll get from each action, you won't be able to measure the effectiveness of those actions. 

By dedicating time to review and analyze what you've done in the past year, you prepare yourself to start out the next year strong. You'll be more aware of your strengths and abilities and more prepared to handle obstacles. 

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