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How to do a Personal Yearly Review

2021 calendar review

If you have things you want to do before you croak it, or generally want your life to go well, then you need to have an idea of what you’ve already done, and of your current status. If you don’t take a look back on what happened, you can’t tell if you’re achieving what you want to do or not. In the productivity ‘world’, people tend to do reviews on a weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly basis, but the most enjoyable to me is the Personal Yearly Review.

This article will take you through how to do a Personal Yearly Review so that you can have a good idea of how your year went, and how you can improve the following year. It really helps for planning the following year. It’s also a nice reference to look back on in future, and consolidate your memories of the year.

What is a Personal Yearly Review?

The type of yearly review I’m talking about doing is a personal review, separate from any review you might do in your place of employment. The idea is to cover all the things that make up your life, rather than just what you do for money – that’s only one aspect. Later in the article, we’ll discuss some of the different areas of your life you might want to reflect on.

Why do a Personal Yearly Review?

As far as I see it, there are four main reasons to do a Personal Yearly Review:

  1. Find areas for improvement

If you don’t identify what went well or poorly, it’s hard to know how to improve. Doing a Personal Yearly Review helps you be clear about where you fell short, so you can account for that in next year’s plan.

2. Celebrate the year

It’s not all about constantly striving to get better. It’s important to take time out to celebrate things that went well, and be grateful for the things you enjoyed.

3. Nostalgia

It’s nice to have a Personal Yearly Review to look back on some time hence, so you can bask in the nostalgia, cringe about the things you cared about that didn’t really matter, and laugh at your former self.

4. Motivation

From week to week, it can seem like we’re barely making any progress. But over a year, it’s likely you’ll see progress towards goals, even if it’s not achieving everything you ever wanted. And if you look back on a Personal Yearly Review from 10 years ago, you can see the distance you’ve come. Knowing that progress is possible helps make you more motivated for the future.

How to do a Personal Yearly Review

Alright, preamble over. Here’s how to get it done, step-by-step. I find it best to do this process over the course of a few days, so I have time to ponder things in my spare time, but you may prefer to block out a chunk of time (I’d say at least a day) and do it all in one go.

1. Break it down into categories

Your life is too big to review all in one go, so it’s best to break it down into different areas. How you decide these is up to you, but remember that they’re a rough guide and don’t have to be perfect. If you change them for next year, that’s fine. It’s also OK if they overlap.

The first time I did this, I agonized over the process, but I’ve since re-jigged the categories a lot, which suggests it’s better to make some swift decisions and not worry about it too much. Just make sure that the areas do cover the important parts of your life.

My life areas

The areas I’m currently using as of 2022 are as follows (in alphabetical order, rather than order of importance):

a. Admin, Productivity & Organisation: How effectively I do the business of running my life

b. Altruistic Impact: The impact I’m having on the world around me (positive and negative)

c. Business & Career: What I’m doing for money, now and for the future

d. Finances: What I’ve got in the bank, but also how well I’m managing my money

e. Fun & Adventure: Culture, travel, and bucket list-type experiences

f. Happiness, Satisfaction & Meaning: My mental wellbeing, and sense of satisfaction with my place in the world

g. Health & Fitness: My exercise, diet, sleep, illness, and energy levels

h. Knowledge, Education & Skills: All sorts of learning, from formal qualifications, to informal skills and wisdom

i. Living Situation & Possessions: My accommodation, environment and tangible items

j. Partner: The relationship with my romantic partner (or pursuit thereof)

k. Social Life: Relationships with people that aren’t my romantic partner

2. Gather the data and make notes

Once you’re happy with your categories, it’s time to start writing some notes. You might be able to do this off the top of your head, but I find it helps (and is also fun) to go through my records, including the following:

a. Calendar

b. Task Manager

c. Habit tracker

d. Photos

e. Health app on my iPhone

f. Social media accounts

g. Email

h. Previous Daily / Weekly / Monthly reviews

i. Last year’s plan

j. Bank balances

k. My Read It Later app, Kindle, and Audible accounts

l. Any other apps that store useful data, like workout or language learning apps

Make notes as you go

At this stage, I like to note down the key things for each life area in a free-form way before doing the evaluation at the next stage. You can make these notes how you like: with pen and paper or on a computer, with bullet points or a mind map, in full sentences or in shorthand. If you had a plan for the previous year, or a list of goals, then it’s important you go through this and record which of your goals you achieved or didn’t achieve.

Some areas (such as Finances) might have key metrics you want to gather, whereas others (such as Fun & Adventure) might be more vague. Other things to look out for are: major accomplishments, completed projects and milestones. I also like to take this time to make a list of all my highlights and lowlights for the year, although that’s more of a bonus than a fundamental part of the yearly review process.

If the data you have at this stage is lacking, you might want to think about how to improve that over the coming year. Each year I make a note of the key data I’m going to record, and what systems I’m going to use to do it.

3. Evaluate

Once you’ve got your notes, it’s time to go through and analyse them. The way I do this is to ask some general questions (which you can ask of each area, too), as well as some that are specific to each area. You don’t necessarily have to write specific answers to all these questions, but you can do if you like.

General questions

a. What went well?

b. What didn’t go well?

c. What did I put into succeeding in this area?

d. What did I achieve?

e. What did I want to achieve but failed?

f. What key data should I record here?

g. How would I describe the status of this area (to a friend or mentor)?

h. Am I on track to meet my longer-term goals?

i. What are my good and bad habits?

j. Am I happy with how I spent my resources (time, effort, money)?

k. How could I have done better?

Questions for specific areas

  • Admin, Productivity & Organisation

How good are my systems? Do I keep track of what I need to do? Am I working at something like my capacity? Am I on time for things? Do I know where all my stuff is? Do I back up my important things? Are my daily routines working for me? Do I use templates and checklists where possible?

  • Altruistic Impact

How much did I donate? Am I confident my donations are having a big impact? What was my carbon footprint like?

  • Business & Career

Did I build career capital? What was my effective hourly wage? Did I improve my position within the company/organisation? How was my performance rated by my employer?

  • Finances

What’s my net worth? How well did I stick to my budgets this year? Did I have any big wastes of money? How did my investments do?

  • Fun & Adventure

What did I tick off my bucket list? How many new places did I visit? How many highlights did I have? What cultural events / exhibitions / galleries did I attend?

  • Happiness, Satisfaction & Meaning

How satisfied am I with life? How were my emotions this year? What was the balance of highlights and lowlights?

  • Health & Fitness

What were my personal bests this year? What was my average sleep time? Did I generally feel energetic enough to do what I wanted to do? How many days was I ill? How healthy was my eating? How did I manage my alcohol intake?

  • Knowledge, Education & Skills

What big things did I learn? What did I change my mind on? What skills did I maintain or develop? How am I wiser?

  • Living Situation & Possessions

Did my living situation contribute to or detract from my wellbeing? Was I mobile (if I wanted to be)? Do I like the area I live in? What big ticket items did I buy, or lose/damage? Am I lacking any items I need?

  • Partner

Are my partner and I communicating well? Are we agreeing on the main things? Are we supporting each other’s endeavours? How is our sex life?

  • Social Life

Am I seeing enough of, or communicating enough with, my friends and family? Do I have friends and family that would turn to me in a crisis, and do I have people I could ask for help? Do my friends and family know what they mean to me?

Giving yourself a score

Once you’ve been through these questions, you should have a good grip on how well each area of your life is going, and be able to write a short summary for each area. For some people, that’s enough, but I prefer to put a numerical value (out of 7, so I have to think a bit more than 5 or 10) on it, which helps to compare with previous years.

4. Make recommendations for next year

Once you know the status of each area of your life, it’s time to think about the things you can do better. I like to make a couple of recommendations for each area. Again, I find it helpful to answer some questions:

  1. What is the biggest problem in this area? What am I working on? Are these things the same?
  2. What is holding me back in this area?
  3. What are my strengths and weaknesses, and how are these affecting what I’m doing? Can I take greater advantage of my strengths, or better address my weaknesses?
  4. Am I putting the right resources (time, effort, money) into this?
  5. What would have the biggest impact if I improved it?

Some specific examples from my 2021 Personal Yearly Review are as follows:

AreaIssue identifiedRecommendation for next year
FinancesNot sticking to budgetsMoving money into automated sub-accounts within my bank account
Health & FitnessNot doing workouts when no gym availableWorking out minimum effective dose of cardio and weight training for times when I don’t have a gym
Social LifeNot seeing enough of friends due to travellingPut reminders in my task manager to arrange four social events with friends over the coming year


How to use your Personal Yearly Review once it’s finished

If you’ve got this far, you should have a solid Personal Yearly Review done. But the journey isn’t over once you’ve completed it. For your Personal Yearly Review to have maximum impact, there are several things you need to follow up with. First is the Personal Yearly Plan, which should build on the successes and failures of your previous year. I’ve done a separate article on How To Do A Personal Yearly Plan.

I like to set reminders to look over my Personal Yearly Review during the course of the following year. I build this into my Personal Monthly Review process, but you can do it whenever you want – as long as you don’t forget it till it’s time to do the next one. Even if you haven’t perfectly planned the following year, looking over your previous year’s review will help keep you moving towards your goals.

Motivating yourself for the next year

I also find looking over my previous Personal Yearly Review gives me a boost of motivation, so it’s good to turn to when you’re struggling to get going. It can also be a nice reminder of the fun things you’ve done, and progress you’ve made, whenever you’re feeling nostalgic. For those reasons, it’s worth storing your Personal Yearly Review some place safe, and backing it up digitally if you’ve done it on paper.

Finally, I recommend taking the opportunity of the New Year to thank the people who made your previous year a good one. Thanking in person, or sending messages to people who have contributed to your happiness is not only nice for them to know, but it also feels really good to do.

Further Resources

My Yearly Review process has been influenced Alex Vermeer’s 8,760 Hours, and James Clear’s Annual Reviews. If you’ve got a bit of time, I recommend checking them out too.

If you’ve got any comments or feedback on my Personal Yearly Review process, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me an email at tom@effectiveliving.co. I reply to everything I get.

Thanks for reading,

Tom