This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure policy here.
Before you jump into planning for next year, follow these 5 simple steps to create a personal year-end review.
Listen to the audio version of this piece below or on The Optimized Mom Podcast.
This time of year is exciting isn’t it? We’re about to have a shiny new year on the calendar. We are starting to think about resolutions, words of the year, and new year’s intentions.
As we start to imagine the people we will be next year, we picture ourselves at our best. Next year, we’ll exercise daily, never yell at our kids, and finally work on that novel we want to write.
I think it’s wonderful to capitalize on this energy and enthusiasm as we look forward. It’s essential, though, to review your last year before you do so.
Why? So we can celebrate all that we’ve already experienced, accomplished, and done well. So that we can build confidence for our upcoming hurdles by reminding ourselves of the struggles we have overcome. And finally, so that we can avoid carrying negative baggage from the previous year into the new one.
I say this often, but I’d like to emphasize again that reflections like this can happen any time of the year. There is nothing magical about New Year’s Eve. You will not automatically be a different person on January 1st, your next birthday, or next Monday, for that matter.
You become different by taking the lessons learned as you reflect and then actively working each day to embody the person you’d like to be.
How to Do Your Personal Year-End Review
So, how do we do a personal year-end review?
Well, first, block out some time over the next couple of weeks. As you know if you’ve followed me for any length of time, I like to work at pretty much anything in blocks of 10 minutes or 25 minutes. Knowing that I only have to free up a relatively small amount of time helps me talk myself into starting intimidating tasks.
If setting up these time blocks feels impossible for you, get creative. You almost certainly have more time than you think.
- Could you consider these prompts while pushing the stroller on a walk, speaking your thoughts into a voice memo?
- Maybe you could plan to set a ten-minute timer and go through your own photos from this year anytime you have the urge to check Instagram.
- Perhaps you could replace part or all of your evening tv time for the next week with a bit of journaling on the prompts below.
Reviewing where you’ve come and ensuring that you’re pointed in the right direction is worth the time you take. I promise.
Personal Year-End Review Step One
Step one of your personal year-end review is to gather your data to remember what happened last year. I like to do this one month at a time so it isn’t overwhelming.
Under each month, make a list of the major events that happened this year. If you’re thinking, “this year was a blur, how the heck do I remember that?” Look back through your calendar. Even better, look back through your photos. Remember all of the magic that you undoubtedly helped create for your family.
Other holes can be filled by looking back through emails, to-do lists, or journals.
Note any major projects you undertook, completed, or put down. Write down your accomplishments. And make note, too, of all the life changes you made. Did you start tracking and prioritizing your sleep? Maybe you started studying Spanish every day. Perhaps you went through a divorce.
Spend a few moments each day enjoying the walk down memory lane and gathering your data. The goal is to get a clear picture of where your time and energy went this year.
Personal Year-End Review Step Two: Your Wins
Take some time to celebrate your wins for each month. Although we all tend to downplay our accomplishments, I am certain that you did lots of amazing things this year, both big and small.
Remember that our lives are incredibly multi-dimensional. Your wins could come in any of the following categories: business, finances, health, home, inner growth, family, lifestyle, relationships, and spiritual.
In those months when you’re tempted to say you “weren’t doing much of anything” were you actually:
- Growing a small human
- Figuring out how to manage a gluten-free diet for your family
- Finally cleaning out that spare bedroom
We don’t need our wins to be as impressive even as the ones I listed above. The goal is to collect everything, big and small, that you’re proud of.
If you’re still struggling to find some wins, answer these questions for yourself:
- What goals did you achieve?
- What projects did you complete?
- Did you add any positive habits? Make any lifestyle changes? Acquire new skills?
- What, looking back on the year, makes you feel proud?
- What happy events were a part of your year?
As you look back on these victories with a smile, make note of anything this “winning” version of you does that you’d like to carry into the new year.
Personal Year-End Review Step Three: Your Struggles
Alright, you’ve looked back at some fun pictures and collected a bunch of wins to make you smile. Now it’s time to look back at some of your struggles this year. Remember that we are ideally always either winning or learning (which actually means we win no matter what).
Without wasting any energy beating yourself up, shaming yourself, or feeling guilty, make a list of some of the difficult things that happened this year.
- Did you lose a job?
- Did a loved one pass away?
- Perhaps you struggled through an illness.
- Where do you feel that you failed this year, or hovered close to failure?
- Where did you hope to succeed, but you didn’t quite make it?
Remember that this is for your eyes only. You can be as honest, raw, and real as you want to be. List all the places that feel painful for you and where you fear you might have caused pain to others.
What did you learn from these struggles that you can carry into next year? How did the obstacles you faced make you stronger? What relationships could you work to repair? Does that goal you struggled towards need more dedication, or do you need to gracefully let it go?
Personal Year-End Review Step Four: Areas Where You Fell Short
The best way to build trust in ourselves and in others is to do what we say we will do. Every one of us, though, commits to projects, goals, and even relationships where we fall short. Often, we avoid looking at these areas because we feel a lot of shame about them. Shame, though, is a waste of energy unless it inspires us to take action.
In this section, consider those areas where you fell a bit short.
- Did you let someone down?
- Procrastinate on your goals or give up on them entirely?
- Spend too much time on low-value activities?
You always have the ability to start again, to make amends, or to change your mind and pivot in a new direction. As with the struggles we mentioned above, choose to take a “win or learn” attitude about the things on this list. Note what you learned from the things you list here, and consider how you can use this insight to help you grow.
Personal Year-End Review Step 5: Letting It All Go
As you collected your struggles and areas where you let yourself down, you undoubtedly found some dead weight that you can let go of before the new year.
Remember that you are choosing to learn from these trials, and now that you have gotten the lesson, you can let the painful part of these experiences go.
Inspired by the data you’ve collected above, make a list of anything for which you’re feeling guilt, shame, fear, sadness, anger, or resentment. Note anything that feels like it’s holding you back or weighing you down.
I love making a little ritual out of disposing of this list. You could burn it up. Tear it into a million tiny pieces. If the ground isn’t too snowy and hard where you live, you might even write it on seed paper and bury it in the ground as a powerful symbol that your struggles and shortcomings lead to growth.
So there you have it, a framework for your personal year-end review. I urge you to take the time to both celebrate yourself and learn from your mistakes. To bask in gratitude at your good fortune and to let go of all the crap that’s weighing you down.
Sure, this process is time-consuming. It’s essential, though, to take the time to get our heads straight to ensure that we’re pumped up for our life’s journey, heading confidently in the direction that we want to go, and not weighed down by a lot of nonsense.
Do It Now
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Look at last year’s calendar, open up iPhoto, grab a journal–decide where you’d like to mine for data first–you can’t go wrong here.
- Make note of what happened, and begin adding items to your “My Wins”, “My Struggles”, and “Areas Where I Fell Short” lists. You can download my Reflect and Dream Workbook to help you with this process.
- Over the coming days and weeks, continue to set aside small blocks of time to look back at the year and add to these lists.
- Once you feel your lists are reasonably complete, it’s time to mine them for gold. You’ll create a list of lessons you’ve learned and a list of things you’d like to let go of going forward.
- You might display your lessons in a place you’ll see them regularly as you start the New Year.
- Consider performing a ritual to dispose of your Let Go list–burn it, tear it up, or bury it.