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For the last few years, I’ve sat down at New Year and done two things: reflected on the year I’ve just had and planned for the year ahead.
You’ll find comprehensive guides on this practice online with a quick search. This is not one of them. The purpose of this “No Bullshit Guide” is to tell you what I feel is valuable at New Year without too much fluff.
Sometimes, processes like these can become too big and clunky and can actually stand in the way of achieving magical shit. Other times, by simply planning everything, we can feel like we’ve achieved something, and that takes the pressure off us just enough so we actually do fuck all to achieve our goals.
So, the solution to these problems is to create a flexible plan for the year ahead that integrates into your life pretty easily, and looks to incorporate the key lessons you’ve learned in the previous year.
It’s tempting not to concern yourself with planning and organising your life. It’s a fucking hassle at times. I get that.
But countless studies confirm what we all know: without planning what we’re going to do we’re always going to get much less done.
The annual review is more than just planning though. What many people miss is incorporating the lessons from the previous year so that they can continually grow and improve. So many people make the same fucking mistakes at 35 that they were making at 25. That’s simply not the way to living an exceptional life.
The No Bullshit Annual Review below gives you a basic system to follow that’ll take no more than a couple of hours each year but will pay off dividends in the long run.
I find the key to maximising the benefit of reviews without spending too much time is to focus on the negative. I know, that sounds depressing – but hear me out.
While acknowledging your achievements is always a good thing to do, our successes teach us far less than our failures. What we do well doesn’t need fucking with – it’s where we lack that gives us the most opportunity to grow.
So, bearing that in mind, here’s how I do my annual review.
First off, I split my life into 10 areas.
There are loads of ways to do this such as friends/family/work/etc – but I think these areas forget the underlying reason these elements of our lives exist and have us boxed into what society thinks is a balanced life. (Tip: society doesn’t give a shit about your happiness.)
My 10 areas are focused on what I believe are core to a happy and healthy life. They are:
I can go on about these points all day as defining this list took work. Since this is the No Bullshit Guide though, I’ll just say this: I believe this list covers everything of note – but if you decide to use completely different categories that’s fine. The important point is that everything worth anything in your life is covered by these categories.
From there, I comment on each category about what’s going great (I use a spreadsheet), and what is lacking. I spend twice as much time on the second column as I really want to pull out as much of the shit as I can so I can look for trends and where to focus my goals.
I also give each area a score out of 10 based on what I think would be perfect for me in that area.
Make no mistake – where your life ends up is majorly dictated by your actions. So, in planning my year, I like to think of what I want my life to look like and work backwards.
To do this – think of what your perfect day/life would look like, what shit you would get up to if money wasn’t an issue, and write that down.
Think about each of the 10 areas above. Think who you’re with, what your health feels like, what you look like, what work you’re doing and where you are. All of these things can inform your goals later on.
The kind of shit I have here includes: writing, doing work that matters, connecting with good people, exercising, travelling, reading and feeling healthy as fuck.
Next, it’s about figuring out what you need to achieve to create the life you want.
I’m lucky in the fact I’ve already spent a few years working towards the life I want, but previously some of my goals involved gaining skills, setting up a side business and starting healthy habits/eliminating unhealthy habits.
For each of the 10 areas, look to identify 1-3 goals for the year.
This is where being a lazy bastard pays off. I always look for goals that give me what I want in more than one area.
Creating my own business gave me the flexibility to travel more, a better income and allows me to be creative. Yoga improves my physical health, emotional stability and inner peace. Going Rogue allows me to be creative, learn more about psychology, give back to people and connect with others.
Here, reviewing the disappointments and areas you’re lacking from the year just gone is the best way to identify ‘low hanging fruit’ – the stuff that you can easily improve. Taking your health from an 8 to a 9 might take a lot of work because you’re nearing the elite category. Instead, taking your finances from a 2 to a 5 might be easier. From experience, bringing up the lowest areas can have the biggest net impact on your life.
Finally, when setting goals, make them as actionable as possible. ‘Earn more money’ might be one of your goals, but it’s not really well defined as it doesn’t say how you’re going to do that. Instead, saying “pick up 5 hours per week overtime and invest this money” is much more actionable.
At this stage, you should have 10 areas written down alongside your strengths/weaknesses and goals for each one.
The final step is to turn those goals into habits or actions.
The more you can turn into habits, the better. That’s because by doing a little bit of something every day, you can quickly become the type of person who does this thing, which in turn helps ensure long term success.
As an example, meditating daily can create a peaceful mind, and this in turn creates an identity of you being a peaceful person, which fuels the habit further. Similarly, exercising every day creates the feeling of being healthy that then fuels healthy decisions, such as exercising more.
Each habit should be defined clearly including when/how often you’ll do it, how long it’ll take, and what exactly you’ll do.
Finally, for the remaining goals that aren’t compatible with habit format, write down the next action that needs to be taken. Find a way to manage your tasks (I use a task manager but calendar or diary format works just as well), and add the next step to a date/time when you think you’ll be able to do it. Then, each time you complete an action, plan the next step as you go.
The final step is to actually do the work. This is where it gets real.
For habits, I use a habit tracker (see resources below). The allows me to incorporate the habits I need to do on the daily to achieve what I need to achieve. I also use a load of tactics that you’ll find in Step 3 to make them stick.
For actions, I use my task organiser to keep on top of the ‘next action’ that works me towards my goals.
I spend 5 minutes every night journalling, including what has gone well that day and what hasn’t. Then weekly, I pull out key messages into my weekly reviews. This is where I look at my habits and actions and see if I’m filling myself full of shit, or if I’m actually moving closer to them. For me, this is Sunday evening every week without fail.
I’m not scared to change my actions, goals or habits to make them more achievable – as this is much better than pretending that everything is working when it’s not.
Finally, I look at my weekly reviews each quarter and pull them together so I can see exactly where I’m falling short over time, what is consistently holding me back, and where I can improve. Again, here I might change my goals, or as I achieve them I might set more.
This might sound like a lot of work – but it literally takes 5 minutes each night, and half an hour every 3 months. In exchange, it keeps me accountable to myself and able to progress over time.
For resources and copies of the documents I use, please see below.
Your life can be whatever the fuck you want – you just need to put the work in. The annual review is one way to make that work a little bit easier and more effective, so you can spend more time doing whatever the fuck it is you like to do.
My annual review document, my habit tracker and my daily/weekly review documents are all on one nice google doc. Here it is.
Sometimes, there are habits we really struggle with. For me, I work so much that I find it too easy to sack off my studying/cooking and order takeaway. Additionally, I lift weights consistently, but I use this as an excuse not to do cardio exercise. This year, for the first time, I’ve employed an accountability contract to make the pain of not doing these habits worse than the pain of doing them. You can find it here.
Any questions on this or anything to do with getting your shit together – please give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org