Annual Review, Part I: What It Is and Why I Do It

Every year, I spend a few days on my personal Annual Review. I think and write about the last year, goals I set, things I accomplished, and how I feel about what I did and how I did it.  Most importantly, I think about the upcoming year… where I want to be at the end of the year, how I could get there, and what goals I should set to support my plans.

My Annual Review is a look back and, crucially, a look forward.

I also review (and often rewrite from scratch) my mission statement, roles, and values.  I typically write each from a blank sheet of paper, then update the previous year’s list. By starting fresh first, I get a look at what is important to me now. I don’t want to forget things that are essential though, hence the look at my previous versions.

The key is keeping my vision relevant, engaged, and at the forefront.

My next step is to develop 20, 10, and 5 year vision mind-maps. I start from long-term to short-term intentionally. I’ve found that our ideas of where and who we want to be “someday” tend to be clear… it’s the path to get there that can be hard to find.

Often, my 10- and 20-year vision maps are similar, but I start each from a blank sheet and take a break between to ensure that my mind is clear. The three mind-maps together provide a good sketch of how I could see my life developing. This is probably the most important piece of the review. With all three maps complete, I can look back from the end state to the intermediate goals and see if they make sense.

This big picture look at my life is the essential first step that keeps my planning centered. After this, everything is relatively straightforward. The difference between my current situation and the 5, 10, 20 year visions provides the basis for what I should be working on.

  1. Decide on the four or five areas* of my life I want to focus on for the year, and WHY.
  2. Compile a list of goals for the next year, with a timeline for each.
  3. Compile a list of habits that I want to develop.**
  4. Make a worry list — everything on my mind that is producing useless stress.
  5. Make a stop doing list — habits I want to break, wastes of time I want to avoid, anything I want out of my life.
  6. Decide what I am going to optimize for this year, and prioritize everything based on that.
  7. Finally, go through with my “evil editor” pen and cut as much as I can bear. There’s always next year, and this is a life-long process. Trying to do too much too quickly is one of the worst things you can do.

I take this plan out once a month to review and think about what I’m doing and how it compares, and once a quarter I spend a day making a full revision, updating with goals I’ve accomplished or added, and changing timelines where appropriate.

* I’m still working to find the right number… ten is definitely too many, two seems to be too few. I imagine it’s a little different for everyone, and I’m interested to hear what you think.

** Don’t confuse habits with goals… habits are things that you do consistently, and plan to make a part of your life indefinitely. There is no end date, and you should only work on one or two at a time.

Sources of Information

I’ve borrowed liberally from a whole range of sources, some of which may be obvious, like Steven Covey. Others are probably so modified that they’re unrecognizable. Obvious or not, the influence is real, including friends like Chris GuillbeauSarah Peck, and Kat Tepelyan.

Most of my work is a result of the wide net I cast in reading and making connections, rather than an attempt to create something wholly new. My contribution is more about integration of disparate sources and ideas than it is about creating something wholly new. I’ve found that everyone thinks and plans in their own unique way. If my favorite techniques don’t work for you, I’ll bet that there’s a set of tools out there that will, and I’d be happy to help you find it.

Great artists collaborate and curate ideas, and great people also acknowledge and say thanks. So, thank you to everyone who has helped me grow and develop, and whose ideas are reflected here.*

*If you recognize a technique that I’ve not attributed, please let me know, so I can give credit where it is due!

Next week, I’ll review my planning workbook, and how I use it.

Do you do an annual review? What tools to you use for it? How often do you review your plans?

People Who Make You Feel More Like You

One of my take-home ideas from the World Domination Summit (WDS) 2014 was: “Spend time with people who make you feel more like you.”

As that idea has proven itself true over the last few years, I’ve added a complimentary thought… Spend your time doing the things that make you feel more like you.” We tend to find a lot more of “our people” and opportunities that are more right for us when we’re doing what we love than when we are doing what we think we ought to.

Sounds simple, right? But how much of our lives do we invest in the things we do because we have to, because someone else wants us to, or that we feel like we “should”?

I don’t believe that it is necessary to renounce conventional ideas of success or ignore the opinions of the people who matter to us.  We need to understand why we are doing things, and if what we’re doing isn’t right for us, we need to stop.

When we are with those people who make us feel more like us…

and we tell them about what we are doing…

how do they respond?

These are people who recognize when you are on the right path and will help keep you there. Some call this your tribe. Finding your tribe takes time and commitment. If you’re anything like me, keeping these people in your life can be a full-time job. My tribe is international, nomadic, and entrepreneurial, which can make them hard to keep track of. That said, the return on investment for me is amazing, hands down the highest return of anything that I do.

About two years ago I gave a great friend that I hadn’t spoken to in a while the rundown of what I was doing with my life. There was silence at the other end of the phone when I described a full-time office job, move to DC, another masters degree, a “grown-up” lifestyle, reasonable work hours… but when I mentioned my new sailboat, trip to Thailand, non-profit board opportunity, and plans for this blog and consulting… “Oh, thank God – you’re still the person I know.”

Developing world travel and work is one place I find my tribe—I need to spend time in this part of the world, where I can take a moto taxi, listen to the power lines faintly sizzle, and forget the some of the realities of my privileged life. The people you find here are fantastic. On the Thailand trip, I met a disaster logistician on the dive boat… taking a break on his way to the Philippines, most recently working in the Congo. We talked a combination of diving, travel and disaster logistics. It didn’t really matter what we talked about. There was the moment of recognition that he was one of my tribe, and it is always so nice to find them.

It’s as easy and as hard as that. Spend your time with people who make you feel more like you, and spend as much time as you can doing things that make you feel more like you. 

It’s a spiral of positive reinforcement.

Have you found your tribe? How do you feel about the path you’re on? Who and what keeps you on the right or the wrong path in your life? Leave a comment!

Why Are You Wasting Your Time Here?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I worked at a very large organization, full of detail-obsessed people and bureaucratic gridlock.  One day my colleague had had enough, and we spent over an hour talking about our shared frustrations with the organization and its processes.

The conversation eventually turned to her career, where she wanted it to go, the feeling that she was “stuck” and all of the dreams and fears that accompany a big career transition.

Then she said, “So, what’s your plan? Because sometimes I look at you and think… you don’t belong here, what are you doing wasting your time in this organization?” Continue reading

Do You Need a Business Plan?

Does your business plan look something like this?

Ready, Fire, Aim

Fail Fast

Don’t Plan, Do

This is the message that most often gets trumpeted by entrepreneurs.  I agree, to a point.  You shouldn’t let planning get in the way of doing, but let me share a couple sayings that are common in the military:

  • Failure to plan is planning to fail.
  • “The plan is nothing, planning is everything.” – Dwight Eisenhower
  • Planning expands to fill the time available.
  • “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George S. Patton
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1 February 1945, public domain

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1 February 1945, public domain


Continue reading

Building Space to Work

I’m an introvert, and easily distracted. I do much better work when I can get into the flow of things long enough to wrap my brain around a question or project to actually make some progress. Having a TV blaring at me or someone constantly interrupting prohibit me from creating much that is useful, or thinking through a tough question.

For me, focused time is essential to productivity. Continue reading

Mentoring up, down, across, from afar, big and small….

What does mentoring mean?

  • How do you find a mentor or mentee?
  • What do you gain from the relationship?

A mentor is someone who helps you understand yourself and your environment, and helps you grow and develop personally and/or professionally. That’s a broad description, and the corollary is that mentors are everywhere. You are undoubtedly a mentor/role model for someone even if you don’t realize it, and it’s foolish to look for a single person to be your “one true mentor.”

At the World Domination Summit in 2013, the first question for Danielle LaPorte (who was awesome) was “will you mentor me?”  Her answer, “No,” was direct and perfect.  She explained that her time is extremely limited, it takes a lot of time to build a relationship, and that was why she writes and creates.  Another way of stating her answer is: “Yes, but through my work, and if you want to use my work to start a conversation and build a relationship, great!”

Some of the best mentoring relationships are with your peers.   Continue reading

Creativity and Getting Out In Front of the Herd

A herd of goats on the road in the Greek highlands. March 2006, public domain.

A herd of goats on the road in the Greek highlands. March 2006, public domain.

When you’re a creative problem-solver and you see interesting and different ways of doing things, sometimes where you want to go is way way out in front of where everyone else is. The problem is that when you express some of these crazy ideas to colleagues and friends, they might not be able to see far enough to understand or embrace your ideas and creativity. They might not be able to get to where you are intellectually from where they are. You need to help them get there with intermediate steps.

You need to get far enough in front that you’re leading the herd, but not so far ahead that you’ve lost the protection of the herd and you get eaten by a lion. Continue reading

Developing Your Risk Taking Muscle

Lots of people will encourage you to take risks, dream big, work for yourself… but what exactly are they encouraging you to do? Is it as a simple as starting your own business, taking that big trip you’ve been dreaming about, quitting your job to pursue your passion, or is there something more fundamental to the idea of risk taking itself?

I maintain that anyone can take entrepreneurial risks, in almost any situation.  You don’t need to start a business, quit your job, or totally reorient your life, if that’s not right for you.

It can be as simple and as hard as asking tough questions, thinking differently, and being willing to press for what you believe in.

I’ve seen military officers take risks by advocating for organizational change, photographers refuse to shoot a job the way that a client says they want it, pilots propose new operating procedures that upset the established way of things… all entrepreneurial actions.

Of course, starting a new business, going out on your own without a safety net, and trying to build something truly new is entrepreneurial, and involves real risk.  However, the key is that you don’t need to start a business in order to be entrepreneurial.  Like many things, entrepreneurial thinking is a skill that can be developed.

How can we develop our entrepreneurial risk taking muscle while we keep our day jobs? Continue reading