The Personal Annual Review
Today at a Glance
- The end of the calendar year presents us with a valuable opportunity to reflect on the year that was and plan for the year that will be. It's easy to glaze over the former and focus on the latter, but failure to reflect will eventually manifest as a failure to grow.
- The Personal Annual Review is 7 questions: (1) What did I change my mind on this year? (2) What created energy this year? (3) What drained energy this year? (4) Who were the boat anchors in my life? (5) What did I not do because of fear? (6) What were my greatest hits and worst misses? (7) What did I learn this year?
- You can download a beautiful (and free!) printable PDF of the template here.
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It's hard to believe that 2023 is already coming to a close.
Another year, come and gone.
The end of the calendar year presents us with a valuable opportunity to reflect on the year that was and plan for the year that will be.
It's easy to glaze over the former and focus on the latter, but failure to reflect will eventually manifest as a failure to grow.
“We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.” ― John Dewey
I started conducting a Personal Annual Review 10+ years ago as I was nearing the end of college. It has been an immensely helpful exercise to which I would credit many of my greatest areas of progress.
This piece shares the template for my Personal Annual Review. I hope that it will spark you to conduct your own before year-end, as I'm highly confident you will gain the same value that I have from the exercise.
You can download a beautiful (and free!) printable PDF of the template here.
Here are the 7 simple questions that may change your life...
Question 1: What did I change my mind on this year?
I used to assume that the most successful people had all the answers—that they just knew more than the rest of us.
But as I spent more time with these individuals, I came to realize that this simply wasn’t the case:
The most successful people don't have the best answers—they ask the best questions. They realize that finding the truth is much more important than being right.
In fact, they legitimately enjoy being wrong. They embrace new information as “software updates" to their brain.
The Personal Annual Review starts here:
What did I change my mind on? What "software updates" did I have this year?
To paraphrase Mark Twain, what did I know for sure that just ain't so?
If you can't think of anything, that's a bad thing.
Sahil Response: On the professional side, I changed my mind on the idea of when it makes sense to build businesses with friends. I used to think it was a great idea to start a business with a friend or family member, but have since refined my view. John D. Rockefeller once said, "A friendship founded on business is a good deal better than a business founded on friendship." Those words aptly summarize my new perspective. It's certainly possible to have an incredible working relationship in business with a friend or family member, but business can get messy, and with the most valued relationships, I never want to put them in jeopardy.
Question 2: What created energy this year?
I have a framework I call the Energy Calendar:
In simple terms, the idea is that you reflect on your calendar from a day or week and color code the events according to whether they created energy (green), drained energy (red), or were neutral (yellow).
The Energy Calendar is a great, visual way to course correct on a weekly/monthly basis if there are specific activities that are highly positive or negative for your energy.
Question 2 asks you to examine this on a macro annual scale:
- Review your calendars from the year.
- What activities, people, or projects consistently CREATED energy in my life?
- Write them down.
- Did I spend ample time on the Energy Creators or did they get neglected?
Goal: Spend more time on these in 2024!
Sahil Response: My calendars from the year revealed consistent energy creation from in-person meetings and early morning focused creative time.
Question 3: What drained energy this year?
Question 3 asks you to continue your macro scale calendar examination, but with a focus on the negatives:
- Review your calendars from the year.
- What activities, people, or projects consistently DRAINED energy from my life?
- Write them down.
- Did I allow the Energy Drainers to persist or did I cut them in real time?
Goal: Spend less time on these in 2024.
Sahil Response: My calendars from the year revealed consistent energy drainage from remote podcast appearances, calls and video meetings, email processing, and late dinners in the city. I plan to take a few actions on this front: (1) No more remote podcast appearances (only in person); (2) Significantly higher bar for doing a call/video meeting, always batched onto Thursdays; and (3) Try to keep dinners to earlier starts.
Question 4: Who were my boat anchors in my life?
Boat anchors are people that hold you back from your potential. You're trying to push, full speed ahead, but they literally create a "drag" on your life.
Boat anchors are people who will:
- Belittle, put down, or diminish your accomplishments.
- Laugh at your ambition and tell you to be more realistic.
- Harm the quality of your environment through negativity and pessimism.
- Make you feel bad by consistently showing off all they have (to remind you that you don't have it).
Question 4 asks you to identify who they are.
Goal: Minimize or eliminate the energy you give them in 2024.
Sahil Response: A mindset shift we all need to have: It's ok to lose friends along the way. Just because people were a part of your past doesn't mean they have earned a right to be a part of your future. If someone isn't supporting your goals and ambitions, you need to minimize the energy and headspace you give them. Without naming names, there are a few people in my life who fall into this characterization. They helped me in another phase of life, but now provide much more harm than good, generally because they subtly try to put me down or belittle my big ambitions. I'm going to slowly separate and distance myself from these relationships and conversations in 2024. Remember: It doesn't have to be explicit to the other person, but you need to be intentional about it.
Question 5: What did I not do because of fear?
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca
We have to get closer to our fears in order to fight back against them.
Fear distorts reality—Question 5 forces you to confront and reflect on it.
Deconstruct the fears that held you back:
- What was the downside if you had taken action?
- What was the upside if you had taken action?
Goal: Get closer to your fears in 2024.
Sahil Response: Making the decision to walk away from a business I had been working on with close friends was the right one, but I made it six months too late due to fear. I was afraid that moving on would harm our relationships, when the reality was that moving on was progress towards my ideal day and life. The structure and flow was not a fit and I allowed the fear of losing the friendship to keep me involved for far too long. This burned a ton of time that could have been redeployed into more energy creating activities (or into time with my wife and son!).
Question 6: What were my greatest hits and worst misses this year?
Your natural bias skews how you see your year:
- The optimist sees all hits.
- The pessimist sees all misses.
The objective with Question 6 is to take a balanced view.
Write them all down.
Reflect on why the hits hit and the misses missed.
Sahil Response: Greatest hits: (1) Finished an early draft of my debut book that I'm proud of, (2) Business holding company ecosystem crossed $10 million annualized revenue, and (3) Hired a rockstar Chief of Staff and built an incredible working and personal relationship with him. Worst misses: (1) Saw a few of my startup investments fail in the challenged economic environment, (2) Neglected a few important friendships while in the heat of battle on several important professional endeavors, and (3) Missed several ambitious growth targets on social media platforms.
Question 7: What did I learn this year?
“When you stop learning you start dying." — Albert Einstein
The Personal Annual Review ends here.
It's easy to lose sight of growth in the trenches—zoom out to reclaim perspective.
Take your time on this one. Reflect on the other questions from the exercise.
Write down what you've learned.
Sahil Response: I will detail my 23 learnings from 2023 in an upcoming piece! Stay tuned.
Conducting Your Personal Annual Review
My 7 question Personal Annual Review:
- What did I change my mind on this year?
- What created energy this year?
- What drained energy this year?
- Who were the boat anchors in my life?
- What did I not do because of fear?
- What were my greatest hits and worst misses?
- What did I learn this year?
The Personal Annual Review is a life changing exercise. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
To get even more out of it, consider conducting the Annual Review in a small group format. Go through it individually, but then get together with a small group of your intellectual sparring partners and walk through it. Pressure test, question assumptions, and provide feedback. This is a great way to reflect on the year that was and prepare yourself for 2024 to be the best year of your life.
As a reminder, you can download a beautiful (and free!) printable PDF of the template here. Please share the link with anyone who you think will benefit from it.