A Process for Year End Reflection and Goal Setting

It’s December 31, time to reflect and resolve. I’m incredibly goal-oriented and nearly always set a New Year’s resolution or two, but a year ago, I moved the process into much longer-term thinking. This year, I set both “life goals” and 2019 goals because a colleague (h/t Dobromir) shared his life goals with me. I thought this was a fantastic idea for helping me move from a tactical mindset (executing on projects in the here-and-now) to a more strategic mindset (thinking very long term, and then aligning current projects, or blowing them up altogether for a bigger, bolder vision).

After a run this morning, I headed to my favorite cafe with my laptop, journals, and other notes to spend two hours on starting this process. I need a space where I can focus, and with family home for the holidays, somewhere not-home definitely helps.

Here’s are the steps I went through today.

Step 1: Review life goals.

These life goals go way out into the future. For example, under Marriage, the big goal is “Be married for 50+ years.” Under Kids, it’s “Raise teens into adults who thrive…” Under Charity, it’s “Donate ${bigmoneydollars} to charity over our lifetime…”

In this first step, I need to review these long term goals to see if they still make sense. In some cases, my thinking has shifted, and I need to refine. Today, I ended up adding a couple of new categories to better justify and quantify my efforts in those areas. For example, I added the Home category; last year, we refurnished the living room; next year, we’re planning a kitchen remodel. I needed a place for those big efforts to be captured.

  • My personal categories (in no particular order):
    1. Marriage
    2. Kids
    3. Charity
    4. Travel
    5. Finance
    6. Spirituality/Faith
    7. Health/Fitness
    8. Home 
    9. Friendship
  • My professional categories:
    1. Engineering management
    2. Leadership
    3. Growth 

Step 2: Review previous year’s goals.

Next, I grade last year’s goals, adding data wherever possible. For example, I had a health and fitness goal to show progress in upper body and abdominal/core strength. I was able to use some periodic InBody machine measurements I got at my gym to show a measurable increase in SMM (skeletal muscle mass). Goal met! (In no small part due to my excellent trainer who’s a Marine.)

I use these emojis for visual grading.

  • ✅🔥- overdelivered goal
  • ✅- met goal
  • ⚠️- partially met goal
  • ❌- did not meet goal

Step 3: Add accomplishments that were not previously set as goals.

Since I’m not a fortune teller (or, if you’re into puns, I don’t have 20/20 vision…), I couldn’t predict all of the things I’d accomplish this year. I try to keep open to opportunities that come along; plus, sometimes work priorities shift, or we need to move to a Plan B scenario. In any case, next I add in (to the above categories) lots more unplanned accomplishments. Examples include conferences I was asked to speak at, like the Calibrate engineering leadership conference, and getting listed in LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Software Development for 2019.

I use these emojis to distinguish from the graded goals.

  • ✳️🔥- major accomplishment
  • ✳️- accomplishment

Here are a couple of screenshots of my graded goals and accomplishments:

Screen Shot 2020-01-02 at 2.13.24 PMScreen Shot 2020-01-02 at 2.07.50 PM

Step 4: Add list of low points. ⬇️

It’s not all sunshine and roses. The more ambitious the plan, the more risk, the more challenge, the more failure. That’s okay – but I think it’s an important growth step to capture these to reflect on those things that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. This helps me stay humble and remember I still have plenty of growing to do. One example? I’d meant to do more blogging last year. See the growth happening before your very eyes?

Step 5: Make other lists for the things you care about.

Like many people, I like to keep a list of books I’ve read, and I’m always hoping to drive up the number of books read (this year’s count: 16). I also keep a race history spreadsheet with various half marathon and other race stats. I have friends who keep lists of new music, or movies they’ve seen. 

My eclectic list of books this year:

  1. Creative Quest
  2. Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life
  3. Between the World and Me
  4. The Color of Life: A Journey toward Love and Racial Justice
  5. Circe
  6. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  7. The Wreath (Kristin Lavransdatter, #1)
  8. When Life Gives You Lululemons 
  9. Dare to Lead
  10. Educated
  11. Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love
  12. Sweethearts
  13. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
  14. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
  15. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
  16. Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall?

Step 6: Create new year’s goals. 🎉

Finally, I copy last year’s goals and update for the coming year. I include big projects, trips I’m hoping to take (I’m looking at you, Tokyo), even friendships I want to invest in and develop more. I try to think big, bold, risky. You’re 42% more likely to achieve the goals you write down. So they better be good!

This year, the whole process took me about 5 hours – but I like to pull in lots of data, read past year’s accomplishments, take breaks and ruminate. I tend to run through my life at a million miles a minute, and I always have too many things to do. It’s become increasingly important for me to reflect on my higher values and make more critical choices about what I will and won’t take on, so that I can live a life I can be proud of.

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