The End of Year Reflection You Need

’Tis the season. The year is coming to an end, everyone is thinking about holidays, food, putting up a tree, buying gifts, finalising travelling plans (now that we can do it again), losing weight, not wanting to gain too much weight during the holidays and everything in the middle. Some of us are also thinking about our new year plans and resolutions. Thinking about making 2022 our best year by doing away with bad habits and picking up some good ones from the 1st of January. Ahh, 1st of January — that magical, mystical time of the year filled with endless possibilities and opportunities.

But in order to make our plans successful for the new year, we must also capture and review how we did this year. Without it, how do we know we won’t make the same errors again?

What is an end of year practice?

Have you ever had a plan not come through? Something went wrong somewhere and all the pieces didn’t fall into place as you anticipated? I’m sure you have, there is no such thing as a perfect plan in real life — only in the movies or in project plans (I am a project manager, I should know). The thing about plans going sideways is that we often look back and think how we could have avoided it but few of us actually think how we can avoid it the next time. Very few of us reflect and take a lesson that can be implemented in the future. Well, how about multiple plans over the course of a year? Or the year itself? How many of us actually sit down at the end of the year and reflect back on the year to capture all our lessons learned and analyse how some, if not most mistakes can be avoided in the next year?

This is where the end of year review and reflection comes into play. Think of this as a grade on the year. Looking at different areas of our lives to figure out how we did and how to improve for the next year.

This is a practice I started doing in 2018 and it has paid astronomical amounts of dividends over the years. I used to have new year resolutions much like everyone else; get in shape, read more, eat healthily, make more money and so on. But instead of having new year resolutions I started defining new year’s projects and started detailing goals around those projects — that however, will be a topic for another article but also equally importantly, I started reviewing my year to capture all the ups, downs, frustration, struggles, wins, joys and everything in between.

In this practice, I spend a few days asking myself various questions, that have evolved over the year based on practices of other people, to determine how the year went and what could be done better the next year. This is also the time where I audit the various projects from the year and bring them to a close in addition to defining the aforementioned projects and goals for the next year.

Why bother with it?

Some of the benefits that I see in my life from this practice:

  1. I reflect on the year to capture an overall feel for how things went.
  2. Learning from the experiences, mistakes, decisions and judgements of the year.
  3. Ensuring those learnings and lessons are incorporated in the coming years.
  4. Bringing the year to a close — to get closure on things finished and unfinished.
  5. Zooming in on different areas of my life to ascertain the performance, attachment, efforts and struggles.
  6. Reflecting on my efforts and the produced outcomes in the various projects I had taken on.
  7. Reflecting on my plans and their progress.
  8. Simplifying my life by letting go of too many commitments, plans, goals, attachments and people.
  9. Reflecting on what is working and what is not.
  10. Assessing my habits and taking a tally of the good, the bad and the ugly.
  11. Being conscious of spending my time in the coming year more intentionally as at the end, there will be a reflection where I want to have more wins than failure. More finished than unfinished projects.
  12. Remembering the wins as keenly as the failures and lessons — creating motivation to keep going and do more in the new year.

What does my practice look like?

There are as many ways to do this as there are people. Everyone has unique aspects and circumstances in their lives so my examples below may not work all the way but they will be a good starting point.

I have divided my life into 7 distinct categories, some with their own subcategories, this is a slightly modified version of Stephen Covey’s Wheel of Life.

The categories are:

  • Health
    – Physical
    – Mental
    – Self Care
  • Mind/Intellect
    – Knowledge and Learning
  • Family
    – General (parents, siblings and extended)
    – Partner / spouse
    – Child/ren
  • Social
    – Friends
    – Community
  • Work & Career
    – Financial / Investment
    – Business / Job
    – Personal projects
  • Spiritual / Grounding / Connection / Religion
  • Environment
    – Physical environment around me (home, office, gym, work zone, recreation zone and so on -
    the physical places I use to create my work and life)
    – Holidays / Break / Down Time

In each category and subcategory I capture:

  • Highlights of the year — free text to capture as much or as little as needed, this is like an overall field for that category to journal my thoughts.
  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better / What could I improve?
  • What do I want to avoid next year?
  • What did I learn?

Once I am done asking the above questions I then progress to answer the questions below for the overall year which are not category-specific. Some of it may feel like a repeat of the above but the idea is to reinforce and repeat some of the key positives and negatives to drive the points home. These questions are asked for the overall year.

  • What went well?
    – Highlights
    – Achievements & Successes
    – What am I grateful for?
    – What would I like to appreciate more?
  • What were the best decisions over the last year?
  • What were the bad/worst decisions over the last year?
  • What are five habits I would like to leave behind in this year?
  • Am I holding onto any;
    – Grudges?
    – Frustrations?
    – Resentments?
    – Emotional baggage?
    – Attachments?
  • What were the low points and how could they have been avoided?
  • What were the major
    – Struggles?
    – Frustration?
    – What were the lessons of these struggles and frustrations?
  • Things I want to let go or leave behind in this year
    – Too many commitments — can I let go of some to narrow my focus?
    – Too many goals and aspirations?
    – Pleasing everyone, comparing myself?
    – Worrying about everything?
    – Anger, past injuries?
    – Judging myself or others?
    – Complaints?
    – Perfectionism?
    – Procrastination?
    – Hiding, playing a smaller game, doubting myself?
    – Trying to control everything?
  • What were the major fears this year?
  • What were the limiting beliefs this year?

To complete this entire review process, I allow a week. I prefer not to do it all in one sitting, which could be done but instead, I want to come back to it over a few days with different emotions, feelings and perspectives to try and get a wholesome picture. The idea is to capture as much as possible over multiple sessions as opposed to this being another chore that needs to be quickly ticked off the list.

I have developed a Notion template for this, which you can find here. Or a website version here.

I hope you find as much benefit in this process as I have — not just this year but for the years to come. If you have never done something like this in the past I strongly encourage you to start and give it a crack this year. These last two years have been long and rough due to the pandemic, take the time to start this practice.

If you end up modifying this template to suit your life, please do share it with me. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this practice template.

Now go and be awesome.