Discover more in the Best of OPEN Forum series

New Year, New Goals: Rethinking Resolutions

It’s easy to let resolutions fail. So don’t make them—try a yearly review instead.
December 14, 2015

It’s that time of year again—the time for resolutions. But oftentimes, people have a hard time sticking to those ideals.

Instead of setting New Year's resolutions, I’ve switched to a different model—the yearly review. I’ve done a yearly review for the past four years, and the process has provided amazing insights into both my business and my personal life.

Here’s how the yearly review works and how it can help your business.

The Basics

I was introduced to the concept of the annual review by traveler extraordinaire Chris Guillebeau. (See how he conducts his annual review here.) This yearly review focuses less on metrics and more on personal goals, emotions and other factors that are hard to quantify in a spreadsheet.

For this review, you won’t need to crunch any numbers or check out your bank statements. Instead, you’re going to:

  • Look back on the previous year, and then
  • Look forward to the next year.

Before you get started, however, let me offer a quick word on goals versus plans. There's a fundamental difference between a goal and a plan. A goal is an end destination. Finishing a marathon is a goal. Training for the marathon is a plan.

In order to achieve a goal, you have to work hard to attain it. If you don’t care deeply about achieving it, you won’t put in the effort it takes. When you plan, however, you’re not thinking about goals—you’re focusing on the process it takes to achieve that goal and making a road map to follow. Many resolutions fail when we choose what we want to achieve without thinking about how we’ll actually achieve it.

When assessing the previous year and mapping out the next, it’s crucial to have both goals and plans. But before you can look forward and establishing those goals and plans, you have to start by looking back. 

I’ve done a yearly review for the past four years, and the process has provided amazing insights into both my business and my personal life.

Looking Back

Start by writing down everything that happened in the past year that you considered an achievement. It could be anything: a great sale, a new baby, getting married, a successful hire or branching into a new market. You’ll probably be surprised at all you accomplished over the past year, which will give you momentum for the next step.

Now take a while to reflect on what went poorly, both personally and professionally. Make a list, but don’t dwell on it. It’s important to acknowledge that not everything went perfectly, but don't linger on this for too long. (Some people even go so far as to crumple and throw this list away, as a symbolic gesture that it’s in the past and done.)

Looking Forward

Now that you’ve spent some time looking back on your achievements and missteps, it’s time to look forward to the coming year. What I like to do is to separate my life into the following categories and create goals for each of them:

  • Business
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Spiritual
  • Health
  • Finances
  • Giving

Your list may look a little different. For example, for some people, travel is incredibly important, so they'll add a category for that. Remember, these categories are yours to customize—it is your life, after all.

The goals you set for these categories can be whatever you want them to be, but they should be concrete and achievable, and you need to have a plan that outlines how you'll achieve them. For each of the goals you set, be sure your plan includes a realistic estimate of the amount of time, energy and resources each will take.

For example, losing weight takes plenty of planning as you decide how you'll be eating differently and what type of exercise you want to do. Then you'll spend time shopping, cooking and exercising. You might also need to set aside time to get to the gym or buy workout gear or running shoes. That’s a lot of time and effort.

And your estimates may not even be close. For instance, if one of your goals is to learn Mandarin, you may find it takes twice as much time each week to learn the language than you first imagined, but that’s OK. The important thing is, you’re thinking about what it takes to actually complete each of your goals.

If done correctly, you’ll start to set attainable goals that you can realistically achieve with the amount of time and resources you currently have. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the yearly review: You’re creating the goals that you’re most likely to hit.

Read more articles on productivity.

This article was originally published on December 30, 2014.

Photo: Getty Images