I invite you to suspend your disbelief for a moment and pretend it’s still 2019. (Technically I’m sitting down to write this in the first full week of January, so I’m not that far off.)
As we come to the end of something, it’s natural to want to spend time reflecting. It doesn’t have to be the end of a year or decade, but since this tends to be a time when it’s cold and unpleasant outside (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere), and we’re going to be snuggled up in front of the fireplace anyway, why not spend some of that time productively?
Some people are very into goals, checklists, and short- and long-term planning.
That’s definitely not me.
Personally, I find the concept of goals to be intimidating. What if I say I want to achieve something and I don’t actually do it? This idea stresses me out!
But if I reframe my thinking slightly and think more about what I like and don’t like or what I want more or less of in my life, I find this makes it much easier to approach this task of reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the future.
I sometimes have to remind myself that goals don’t have to be about something I dread—in fact, it’s much more fun to set goals around something I’m really excited about.
Goals don’t have to be about something I dread—in fact, it’s much more fun to set goals around something I’m really excited about.
For example, over the past few years I’ve been dipping my toes into the vast ocean of travel hacking (using points for flights and hotels). Last year, I set the goal of using points to travel first class on Singapore Airlines. Initially, I was hoping to fly first class from San Francisco to Singapore, but that proved to be a little out of reach, so I adjusted my plan and instead traveled business class between Bali and Singapore and then first class between Singapore and Tokyo. It was so much fun to figure out the logistics of how to make that happen and then to actually experience it. So yes, goals can be fun and exciting.
At the same time, I also find it more useful to think about ways of changing my behavior in a realistic manner (gradually and consistently) rather than making these huge and drastic changes that New Year’s resolutions tend to encourage.
Here’s the TL;DR version: Rather than focusing on goals, I generally like looking at trends in my life and identifying what I want more and less of.
Rather than focusing on goals, I generally like looking at trends in my life and identifying what I want more and less of.
My year-end review
With that in mind, here’s how I approach my year-end review and planning for the next year.
As I looked back on 2019, I divided my life into the following categories:
- Doing good
I think this list reflects my top values and priorities—the things I care about most. I’ve spent some time thinking about my values in the past, so coming up with this list was pretty easy. It’s not necessarily all-inclusive or comprehensive, but it works for my purposes!
I do a lot of writing online, but I decided to go analog for this activity, so I pulled out my trusty little notebook to write out all my notes by hand.
First, I went through my calendar and filled out each section. For travel, I was pretty detailed about each place I went and the highlights of each trip. Travel is my favorite, so travel gets a lot of extra attention. For other sections I chose to focus on a few key points for each one.
Next, I distilled all of that into the following sections: Highlights, Meh, and Takeaways for 2020. The idea is that Highlights captures the best things—the things I want more of—while Meh gets at what I’d like to avoid or reduce in the future. And the Takeaways are the lessons I’ve learned from this self-reflection exercise that I can hopefully bring with me into the new year.
Here are a couple of entries to give you a sense of the level of detail I included.
- Thailand with fellow Boss Lady Raubi from February 27–March 15 (Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui)
- Tokyo–Bali–Singapore May 15–June 3 (Yoga retreat at Soulshine, sightseeing in Singapore, catching up with friends in Tokyo)
- Speaking at Top Talent Summit in North Vancouver
- Creating and launching my course on Skillshare (it’s now available on Udemy, too!)
- Having a Friends marathon (3 friends selected our top 5 favorite Friends episodes to screen before going to see a drag version of Friends live in San Francisco)
- Doing a girls’ weekend in Kyoto with one of my best friends in Japan
- Volunteering with CreativeMornings (I started helping out my local chapter of CreativeMornings with social media to promote our events and community happenings)
- I raised money and participated in the Dancing Saved My Life Zumba-thon to subsidize the costs of wellness retreats for local women with cancer
Once I filled out each section, then I wrote up my Meh and Takeaways sections.
I don’t need to bore you with all the details here, but I’ll give you one example of each.
In 2019, I did a lot of business travel. I spoke at a conference in Vancouver, attended conferences in New York, Portland, Boston, and Vancouver, and participated in the Boss Lady Retreat in LA. While I love travel (have I mentioned that already?) and getting to explore new places (or revisit old favorites), I can’t just sign up for every single conference or travel opportunity that comes my way.
Looking back on 2019, there were a few conferences that I didn’t feel were worth the time and money for me. So I decided that for 2020, I’m going to be more strategic about which conferences I choose to attend. I’m planning to attend fewer conferences overall and I’m prioritizing the ones that are smaller and more closely connected with my professional interests.
Takeaways for 2020
When I look back on 2019, what really stands out are the things that are novel or things I’d been looking forward to for a long time. Singapore had been on the top of my list for several years, and my trip there was bookended by luxury travel using my points, so it was easily one of the highlights of my year.
When I visited Japan in November, one of my friends joined me for a girls’ weekend in Kyoto. Even though she has two young children, she took time away from her family to hang out in Kyoto with me. It was incredibly special to be in one of my favorite places in the world with one of my closest friends, especially since it was the first time she’d spent that much time away from her children.
In 2020, I’ll keep daydreaming and looking for ways to make those dreams become reality. And as much as possible, I’ll say yes to spending quality time with friends and loved ones.
What about you? How do you approach your end of year review and new year planning? What are you looking forward to most in 2020?