2010 Annual Review: The Beginning

Every year since 2006, I’ve set aside an entire week in December to review the year that has almost passed and look ahead to the next one.

I certainly don’t think I’ve got everything figured out in my life, but I can honestly say that this practice has been the most helpful exercise in all that has happened since then.

The Annual Review is usually a private practice, but I decided to share some of my thought process starting in AONC’s first year (2008). You can read last year’s series here, here, here, here, and here.

I said last year that so much happened that I had to take two weeks. This year was even bigger, but I don’t have the luxury of two weeks this time. My 53-stop U.S. book tour is ending in Portland, Oregon Thursday night, and literally the next morning I’m heading out with Jolie for a week away to work on the review.

How It Works

You can read the original process I wrote here. In short, I look back on the year and ask myself a series of questions, journaling the answers in a paper notebook. The questions start very simply:

What went well in 2010?

What did not go well in 2010?

The main part of the planning session focuses on the year to come, but before looking forward I spend at least one of the days reflecting back on the year that is ending. I can usually identify a number of answers for each question—successes and failures, times where I was happy or proud and other times where I knew I fell short.

Next, I’ll review all of the goals that I set the previous December, and write out the results. Did everything happen as I expected? Probably not, but it’s interesting to compare results with expectations and see what overlaps and what diverges. In addition to personal lessons, I’ll also write down a list of business lessons I learned during the year, and a roundup of all the countries and cities I traveled to.

This leads to the next, longer stage of the planning process where I look ahead to the forthcoming year, carefully thinking about which projects I’d like to pursue and which actions I need to take to ensure their success.

Coming Soon: The 2010 Review

The series I’ll publish here over the next few weeks will be written in real-time. I’ll share some of my own answers for those who are curious, but I also encourage you to consider undertaking this exercise yourself in some form. You can either do it the same way I do (I’ll share details as we go along) or modify it to suit your own needs.

By the way, this is not meant to be a restrictive process in any way. Whether you are right-brained or left-brained (an admitted oversimplification), a creative or an analytical, a review like this can help you. It’s your life, so why not be intentional about it?

A good plan allows for plenty of spontaneity and room for change, but without a plan at all, it’s difficult to work toward something significant over time. I want to live the most meaningful and fulfilling life possible, and as mentioned, this process has helped me more than anything else.

I hope to see some of you on my final three tour stops—details here—and here on AONC, I’ll look forward to hearing about the fun plans that many of you have for 2011 as well.

Until then, here’s wishing you well from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

– Chris


Image: Olivander

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  • Matt Coffman says:

    Just yesterday, I was reviewing the posts on the annual review from the last two years and strategizing with my partner about how we’re going to do ours this year.

    The Annual Review is my favorite holiday tradition that I’ve discovered in my adult life.

    Thanks, Chris, for spread the word about it so effectively.

  • Elizabeth says:

    One line in this post really caught my attention (and is now one of my favorite quotes):

    “It’s your life, so why not be intentional about it?”

    This line just “makes sense” to me; I get it. I’ll be borrowing it as my 2011 motto.

    Thank you for the (continuous) inspiration, Chris!

  • Gillian says:

    We’re ready to do our first annual review this year. We have it marked off in the calendar and are ready to go. I’m excited to see how it affects my 2011! See you in Vancouver! Cheers!

  • Katie says:

    I’m partipicating in Reverb10 this December. It’s a reflection intiative started by writers and its slightly geared towards writers, but even though I don’t consider myself one I’m having fun answering the daily prompts to guide reflection that will continue to throughout December. Anyone can submit a prompt. Maybe you should check it out.

  • Jay de la Torre says:

    This practice is by far one of my favorite lessons learned from AONC. I did it last year while I was going through a very difficult time personally, and while I achieved much less than I wanted this year, the Annual Review process gave me something to look forward to when things were looking pretty bleak. I think the theme of my review and plans for 2011 will be FOLLOW-THROUGH, as I’ve grown even more ambitious this time around. Thanks so much for all your work, Chris, and I’m bummed I didn’t get a chance to see you out here in Los Angeles.

  • Dave Ursillo says:

    Having come to realize that I tend to neglect the value of objective- and goal-setting, I’m preparing to write my first annual review for 2010 and subsequently set a variety of goals and objectives for 2011.

    I think it’s an important process so long as, as you mention Chris, to remember to keep fluid and open throughout the year and to allow “for plenty of spontaneity and room for change.”

  • Contrarian says:

    Chris – the annual review is a great recommendation, and your two simple questions provide a solid foundation for building something great in the upcoming year.

    Looking back provides us the only opportunity we have to “course correct”, while looking forward (with a goal) provides the only assurance we will arrive at our chosen destination.

    Example: The airline pilot cannot see his destination for a full 99.9% of his voyage, and is off course far more than on due to currents, wind, and turbulence. He must “course correct” frequently while in mid-flight and even though he is off target for the majority of his voyage, 100% of the time he arrives at his port of call. Why? Because he has a flight plan. He reflects on where he has been, knows where he’s going, and doesn’t quit or give up just because he’s off target.

    Cheers, and here’s to a successful voyage ahead for all of us!

  • Jason Ford says:

    I am so glad you are writing about your annual review process again Chris. The importance of taking this time cannot be overstated.

    If you are new to the AONC community I suggest you take time to put Chris’s suggestions about this processes into action. The gold that will result will amaze even most skeptics.

  • Andréanne says:

    I saved the post “How to conduct your annual review” when I first read it few months ago and I just began my own review last week. It’s really a pleasant thing to do. This is not the first I tried do to something like that, but I start it again with pleasure and enthusiam because 2011 is the year of Renewal for me!


  • Connie Myres says:

    I’ve downloaded the spreadsheet and can’t wait to get started!

  • Suzie Cheel says:

    Thanks for the inspiration and I have just found the excel spreadsheet- I will be following along and doing my own review

  • Jim Johns says:

    Heya Chris – Your posts on the annual review process is what brought me to AONC for the first time a few years back. I liked what you did and took your thoughts / spreadsheet and modified to fit my needs. I just finished my 3rd year of annual review/planning, and it’s great to see how goals build upon goals to make something really amazing.

    This style of mindful and cohesive planning is really helping me move my life in the direction of my choosing.


  • Kelly says:

    Hi Chris – I just signed up to AONC this year so 2010 is the first time I’m seeing your Annual Review process. It’s just what I need right now and it’s fantastic to have a template to start from and spur me into planning action for the upcoming (and future) year(s); thanks so much for sharing it with your readers! Hope to make your meetup in Toronto in January. Happy December!

  • halley says:

    On a trip with my grandma and cousin, we drove around Albuquerque looking for a vegan-friendly place for lunch and saw what at first glance appeared to be a little shop. This “shop” turned out to be a Holocaust memorial museum; however, they also have a number of exhibits showing other historically prominent and present day genocides. While there I learned that the local high school is somehow involved in it’s function and displays. If you or anyone really get a chance to drop in, it is well worth it. This is a great little museum to raise awareness of the problem of genocide in our last and present.

  • Knapyhed says:

    Terrific idea. I do a variation where I plan ten yr, five year, three year, one year, six months and three months. It helps me stay focused. The key is to review it on a regular basis. It’s amusing to look back at your plans and see what you thought was so important 3 or 5 years ago. But a bad plan is better than no plan

  • Catherine says:

    LOVE this! While I’ve dabbled with goal setting I’ve never closed the door and focused properly. As someone with more ideas than hours I think this review (which I begin tomorrow) will allow me to visualize and reach my goals and dreams. Kudos Chris. I see a 44′ sailboat in my future from which I blog about cruising and life outside the cubicle. Funded by glass jewelry.

  • Michel J. Gagnon says:

    This is great Chris. I’ve set goals before, but never in such a structured way. I really like the idea of having some sort of a roadmap that leaves some room for spontaneity, as you mentioned. I’ll try it out this year. I’m also seeking to “live the most meaningful and fulfilling life possible.”

  • Erin says:

    I will certainly be joining you. I’ve been gathering the raw materials to start reflecting and goal-setting. Thank you so much for providing this roadmap to get started.


    The founding and presiding bishop of Living Faith Church(Winners Chapel International)responsible for the building the largest auditorium in the world(Guinness book of record) expounded on documented and achievable strategic plans from now to 1938. I was pricked about this and it dawned on me that most people including me walk through life without a realizable annual plan. I was just looking at seating down to do this road map when i saw your mail saying same thing. please let me be the first recipient immediately you begin the review process.
    Thanks for this piece.

  • Brett says:

    Hey Chris,
    I am looking forward to reading the annual reviews! I think I’ll have to take some time to do mine as well, but it’ll have to be packed in to a shorter time frame! I’ve done this in various forms over the years, but this time I’m inspired to really make it count and put everything I can into it. Good luck on the rest of the book tour!


  • Kimboosan says:

    My own year has been like a roller coaster, and I admit I’m even a little scared of sitting down and facing off with everything that’s happened, both good and bad! So reading your own review as you go at it will be quite inspirational. Thank you so much for your honesty and willingness to share!


  • Stormy says:

    Annual reviews are great. Thanks for posting on this topic and sharing your review process, Chris. My parents were way into goal-setting and reflection when I was a kid, and the process stuck. I’ve been doing annual and other periodic reviews for almost 30 years. It’s incredibly helpful to look back on what you’ve done and a) learn from it, b) appreciate it, and c) figure out what to take forward and what to leave behind – and then, to set specific short & long-term goals, as well as plan the activities that will get you there. So much is possible if we set our minds to it.

  • emma says:

    Hey Chris,
    I can’t believe it’s that time of year again! I utilized your system for the first time last year. To be honest, I’m a little terrified to review it all because I know I veered fairly radically from my goals. But that won’t stop me from doing it again for the coming year. It definitely helps that you so willingly and honestly share your own process. As always, thank you for that!
    On a side note – I’m so bummed I didn’t get a chance to see you at Book Soup last week. Instead, I spent Friday night like the preceding 24 hours and following 48 – in bed with a miserable cold that has decided it wants to stick around to see what Santa’s all about. Hopefully, you’ll be back in sunny SoCal soon.

  • Maia says:

    Like so many others have commented, the annual review is a wonderful practice — highly recommended! My birthday happens to fall at the end of November, so I’ve taken the time starting from my birthday to the end of the year to do a lot of journaling on just those questions that you ask here, Chris — what went well this year, what didn’t? And just as importantly, setting an intention for the coming year. I am reminded of the old axiom: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”

    And like Emma, I too am bummed that I missed you in Albuquerque last night due to a cold bug. Ah well… hope you come down to sunny [but cold] New Mexico again some time!

  • rob white says:

    That’s a powerful exercise, Chris. It is of utmost importance to celebrate our victories along the way. At the same time we have to look at the ruthless rules of reality to see where we can improve. We live in a world of polarity and for every positive thought, there is an equal and opposite negative thought available. To experience ‘SOARING HIGHS’ we must be willing to glimpse at the ‘TUMBLING LOWS’?

  • Nada H. says:

    Thanks Chris, really love the spreadsheet you provide. Its been such an excellent tool in planning for my 2011 goals. looking forward to the Montreal meet up. Have a safe and happy holiday!!!

  • AJ Leon says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Chris!! VERY useful stuff 🙂

  • James Patrick says:

    Really enjoyed this post. Every year I myself do an annual review and focus on what worked well and what would be improved. I also talk to some of my new as well as some of my top clients for their candid feedback. I truly valued the information on the detailed goals you set for yourself (with the spreadsheet). I am really looking forward to doing this practice myself!

  • marianney says:

    i just wanted to say i got your world domination xmas card and it’s awesome! what a thoughtful way to stay connected to your readers. you just seem more and more genuine every day Chris. Keep up the good work and sorry for posting this on this post, i know it’s not really related.

  • Darrell says:

    I have not performed an annual review in a few years but this year I am taking the week between Christmas and New Years to go through the exercise. 2010 has been a tough year with many set-backs personally, professionally, and economically. Things are moving forward now, but there is still much ground to be reclaimed and planning for 2011 will go a long way to laying out the path for recovery.

  • Tilen Krivec says:

    Thanks, needed something like this

  • Steven | The Emotion Machine says:

    It’s that time of the year again where many are becoming more reflective.

    I too like to reevaluate my life and ask myself, “Where am I going? Do I like where I’m going? How can I make the journey better?”

    I wrote about these things a bit last year on my blog. Not sure how much I’ll be sharing this year, but I’m sure it’ll leak out in my writing in small doses.

    Looking forward to seeing how things worked out for you this year Chris!

  • Brandon says:

    I have to thank my friend Erika in Dallas, Tx for turning me on to your blog. It’s come at time when I needed a breath of fresh air in my life. I’ve printed out your manifestos and I’m currently on the hold list at the library for the book. I haven’t been successful in the past with goal setting for number a reasons, but this annual review is something that I’m excited to start and spend time on. 2010 hasn’t been a productive year in many ways, and I think utilizing this tool for 2011 will be a great help. I look forward to reading future posts. Take care and happy holidays!

  • Wyman says:

    Hello everyone,

    I have started my daily walks again. I am weavy so have to sit down a lot on my walker as I do about two miles.

    I have a note book that I usually write one or two pages on various topics. I will use the next few days to work on my goals and review. This is also my thankful walk. I stole this idea from a Tony Robbins CD.

    I am going to start a audio or video blog from this material in addition to my other website.

    I hope to be thankful for losing 50 pounds by the June Aonc meeting in Portland.

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