2013 Annual Review: Introduction and Invitation

Annual Review

Hi, everyone—the 2013 Annual Review is here! All posts will be open for comments from readers, and I’ll share a roundup of reader reviews at the end of the process.

In this post: how it works: an overview and explanation.

“Most people who talk about goals just say, ‘you should have goals.’ They don’t tell you how to set them.” -Craig Swanson

For the past eight years, I’ve conducted an “Annual Review” every December, where I look back on the year that’s ending and set a series of goals for the future. More than anything else, this process has helped me reach higher goals and continue to improve.

I began writing about the Annual Review in 2008, the first year I published AONC. You can read the original post that contains the basic instructions, as well as many archive posts along the way.

Last year the Annual Review was greatly abridged due to a book tour in India. The tour was good, but I definitely missed being able to spend more time on the planning process. This year I’m taking the full amount of time. I just started two days ago, and so far it feels great. I’ve missed this.

General Principle

As the quote from Craig illustrates, we often hear about the general notion of goal-setting, but without much in the way of specificity. The Annual Review process is a way to create structure around the life that you want to create.

The goals you’ll set will be specific and measurable. Also, they’re your goals—not mine or anyone else’s. If you end up changing your mind at some point, that’s OK. You can simply adjust the plan.

Maybe you don’t like goals, or maybe you just like to take things as they come along. It’s OK if you feel that way. But trust me: life planning can change your life. Or don’t trust me: just give it a try, in your own way, and see what happens.

How It Works

The original post from way back in 2008 outlines the general process:

To begin the Annual Review, I ask myself two questions and try to come up with at least 6-8 answers to each:

What went well this year?

What did not go well this year?

For these answers, I’m mostly interested in events I have control over. If something didn’t go well that I couldn’t prevent or control, it doesn’t need to go on the list. (Hint: you have control over most things.)

Next, I start looking towards the future, setting specific goals for a number of categories. Here are some of the categories that I use:

Writing, Business, Friends & Family, Service, Travel, Spiritual, Health, Learning, Financial (Earning), Financial (Giving), Financial (Saving)

While thinking about each category over the course of a week (off and on), I set an average of 3-5 measurable goals for each.


As explained in the original post, the goals should be concise and measurable. Eventually I create an overall theme and one-paragraph outcome summary for the year—but I only do this after I go through the whole process of thinking through goals and outcomes.

For example, 2007 was the year of Learning & Preparation, as I focused on completing most of the requirements for a graduate degree and getting ready for the next stage of life. A few years later was the year of Convergence, as I sought to tie together a number of unrelated projects. (There was also the year of the Cantaloupe—a long story.)

Here are a couple of links to the template I use →

Annual Review – Free Template (Direct link)

Annual Review – Free Template (Dropbox link)

You can use this same tool if you’d like, modify it for your own needs, or create something more visual. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a spreadsheet; the important thing is to start with the lists of what went well and what didn’t, and then proceed to the setting of goals in different categories for next year.

Most important, take the time to reflect! Don’t go on book tour to India and skip the process. Adapt it in your own way. This will help you.

The next couple of weeks of AONC posts will consist entirely of Annual Review posts, and each post will have open comments for you to share whatever you’d like.

Do you have any kind of review? How do you do it?

Feel free to share your comments for other readers.


*AONC Holiday Party! If you’re in Portland or nearby, join us on December 28th.

Image: Imuttoo

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  • Nora says:

    What do i wish i did more of. What do i wish i did less of. Learn the lesson. Improve constantly.

    What single project [s] was the best and what about it made it the best – keep and add more.
    What single project [s] was not great, uncomfortable, maddening – learn the lesson and don’t do them again.

  • Jassen Bowman says:

    I enjoy your annual review process. You’re incredibly open and transparent about your goals, which as a reader I appreciate. I’m sure it gives you some accountability back, at the same time.

    I don’t utilize a formal review process like you do, but I do select two overarching themes by which I choose to define each year. One is business related, the other is personal. For 2013, my business goal was to transition my income source from my tax practice to my writing/speaking, and I achieved that. My personal goal was purely travel related, and I achieved that, spending the entire summer in Europe and then spending the fall on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington (where I am now, for another 5 weeks).

    In 2014, my goals are also just as simple. On the personal side, 2014 is finally the year that I will qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, meaning I have to stay out of the country for at least 330 days. I’m moving to the country of Georgia in January to volunteer for 6 months, coming back to attend WDS, and then going elsewhere. In business, I have an income goal tied to writing, speaking, and the launch of a mentoring program.

    2014 shall rock!

  • Delores says:

    One day I sat down with a blank sheet of paper. On the top left corner I put today and my circumstances. On the bottom right I put where I wanted to be in 18 months. I drew a long curvy line between the two and started mapping in things that needed to change to get from where I am to where I want to be. For big items (sell my current small business, refurbish my boat) I made a list of tasks on another paper and taped the task lists around the edge. This visual journey has worked better for me and my spouse than anything else. We can cross off tasks, regroup when we see the path needs to change or we change and discover something new. It’s always been hard to wrap our heads around the list of goals but a roadmap seems to be the ticket for us. And you can doodle to your heart’s content.

  • juli says:

    Great idea! I already have a theme for 2014!

  • Hasnain Syed says:

    I’m really looking fwd to doing this in 2013. I still remember telling myself I’d do it in 2012 and feel so horrible that I didnt. Any suggestions on how to stay positive? I’m the kind of person who beats himself up and wants more than constructively giving myself positive reinforcement.

  • Sherrie Phillips says:

    I have been doing reviews for the last 13 years. Not usually on a spreadsheet – I’m more of the “wavy line” girl like Dolores. I usually pick a word or phrase for the year. I I try to keep a calendar where I record daily just 1-3 words as triggers for memory so that when I look back at the calendar I have a really good road map for my moods, events, successes, etc. Makes the review easier. This also helps me pinpoint patterns in my life. Some support me – some need to be changed. The most interesting thing is that because many of my events included friends & family I started noticing their patterns! haha and that made my life easier.

  • Tara says:

    This was a really big year for me, in which I accomplished a goal I had been preparing for for 6 years. I moved to Quebec from California, so I could have an adventure in a new city and speak French on a daily basis. Overall, the transition has been very successful, and my goals for the new year are to make more personal connections in my new city and plan for the next phase of my life, early retirement. During the next 3 years I am planning to research what kind of meaningful (not necessarily paid) work I want to do for the second half of my life.

  • Daryl Gerke says:

    Already working on my “2013 Annual Review.”

    It helps to be public and put it in writing – even personal goals. In my case, finally got off the dime and lost a bunch of weight – 45 # in six months. Almost halfway to the goal of losing 100#. A long overdue quest.

    Making progress on biz goals too. So thanks for leading the way!

    Wishing you all the best in 2014. Keep up your good work!

  • Patrick Scott says:

    Chris, thanks for the spreadsheet. Your discipline is extraordinary.

  • Harry Guinness says:

    I’m digging this idea big time! Gonna start working on my review write now. I have some big plans to bring to fruition in 2014. 2013 has been a year of transitioning and it has really put me in a position to take advantage of a few things next year.

  • Lisa Knight says:

    I have been waiting for your Annual Review to start since I found you a few months ago, Chris!
    So excited to start. This year is the first year of my life that I’ve actually achieved goals I set for myself. So far, all of them except being able to do a handstand 😉

  • Ann says:

    About 25 years ago I got a bunch of categories (work, family, financial, spiritual…) and set goals for each for 10 years, 5 years, 1 year, 6 months, 3 months, 1 month, 1 week, 1 day and 1 hour. I’ve done this several times and it’s the quickest way to see what needs to be eliminated and what needs to be added straight away. The goals get realised, but, interestingly, not exactly according to the timeline. Close enough though. It focuses the mind.

  • Michelle C says:

    My husband and I are looking forward to using your Annual Review template for the first time. We’re hoping that after we complete our term with Peace Corps in May, we will continue our “unconventional lifestyle,” revamp our blog, and travel even more through 2014.

  • Fraser says:

    I like this process because it allows me bring closure to the year. It’s also amazing to remember how much you actually achieved.

    There is often more to learn from asking what the difference was between the goals you achieved and the ones you didn’t.

  • Chris - Part Time Vagabond says:

    Thanks for the resource, Chris. I have never done a true annual review, though I have done the “three words” focus exercise. I’ll be doing this review next week. I hope it helps me to focus (a big problem for me) and accomplish the goals I create.

  • kabamba says:

    Thanks Chris for the spreadsheet. Officially, 2014 will be the first year I start giving personal themes to my years. I am excited.

  • maria@moneyprinciple says:


    I’ve been doing reviews for four years now and these have helped me immensely to focus on what I really want, work out the conditions to achieve it and take the action necessary. this is how, in the last three years we paid our large debt, started investing, I got a full professorship in a top university and build a successful blog that has nothing in common with my academic area. To do this, I use mindmaps starting from the future and making the more and more specific in the short run.

    At the same time, for the last three years I’ve been doing your ‘words for the year’ thing and love it – for this year my words were ‘wealth and health’ and I fully intend to use these as the pillars of my annual review.

  • JJ says:

    Congrats on your 2013 achievements, Chris (particularly visiting all the countries)!

    It takes guts to admit to your followers that you may not be perfect and you’ve not achived all you hoped for. I think this actually strengthens your credibility because it paints you like a real person. (I think I remember reading a similarly styled but darker post on Tim Ferriss’s blog about a month ago..)

  • a terrible husband... says:

    I never had a formal review process, but just reflected each year as I plan goals for the next. I like the process and formality though.

  • Sarah Louise says:

    Very impressed by everyone’s efforts at annual reviews and goal setting.
    I would like to try this … Although I feel overwhelmed by events in my life over the last couple of years, I have lost track of my goals and seem to be merely surviving .. literally it has been a day to day existence. However I acknowledge the fact I’m reading this, which is a first step to bringing my life into perspective and to start giving it some focus. The one thing I do daily is be grateful … this I shall carry on. Thank you for sharing the template I will work on it today. 🙂

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  • Marc says:

    How do you guys work live in the present without getting too caught up on focusing too much on the future and your goals

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