042: Conducting an Annual Review

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An annual review is a great time to get a big-picture view of your life and the upcoming year. In this episode, Justin walks you through his process of conducting an annual review.

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The Theme System

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00:00 Hello and welcome to Process, a podcast by Effective Remote Work. My name is Justin DiRose and today we’re talking about conducting an annual review. Well if you are seeing this for the first time, you are seeing our very first podcast episode that has video on YouTube and for those of you listening via your podcast player of choice, welcome to this episode of Process. I am now back from my leave with my baby having come, so now I’m chasing around three kids and it’s a lot of fun. Before we dive into today’s topic, I wanted to spend a moment shouting out Mike Vardy at productivityist.com. He recommended this podcast to his listeners and I definitely recommend his resources. He’s a fantastic author and podcaster about productivity, so if you haven’t heard of Mike Vardy or you haven’t checked out his stuff, I highly recommend going over to productivityist.com and checking it out.

01:01 Now on to today’s topic, which is conducting an annual review. I did this for the very first time last year in 2018 in a highly structured fashion and it was very successful for me. It didn’t necessarily happen the way I wanted it to like longterm over the year of 2019 but I will have to say that the process that I went through prepared me for the year in a way that not doing it definitely didn’t do. So I wanted to spend a little bit of time going through what my process looked like last year and what I’m going to do this year as well for the annual review. So the very first thing I did in my 2018 annual review was a time and money audit. Now I went through and I pulled reports from both Toggl and Timing, which I was using at the time and just tried to get a gauge of where my time went.

01:55 I also did the same for my personal and business budgeting to make sure that I had an idea of where my money was going. The whole point of doing these is to note any areas that stand out, note any areas that seemed excessive or any areas that seemed like there was too little either time or money spent. And that’s just a way to kind of get a frame of where you’re investing because your time or your money is going to be a signifier of what you value. It’s also going to be a signifier of what’s important to you and what you’re wanting to invest in or what you’re carelessly investing in so you can make conscious decisions going forward. So like I said, I use Timing and Toggl last year for this. I haven’t really been running time-tracking this year because my needs have changed, but I’m still using You Need a Budget for a budget tracking application both for my business and for my personal life.

02:52 The other accounting software that I use is Wave for my business. And if you know, it’s a great free option if need something simple, you don’t necessarily need to, you know, have a bunch of invoicing or anything like that, Wave is an excellent choice for that for small businesses. The next thing on the list is I went through the wheel of life. I’ve talked about that on the podcast a number of times before, but it’s a concept that I’m familiar with through Zig Ziglar. And then some other folks in the productivity space are talking about it a lot as well. But basically I go through each of the areas that are focused on the wheel of life and then I rate them from 1 to 10. 10 being this is the best it could ever be, 1 being this really some serious attention.

03:41 And I do this so that I get a sense of what needs some growth or intentional focus on in the next year of my life. Last year, one of the things that came up was health and fitness. And so I’ve been trying to be intentional to incorporate exercise into my routine on a weekly basis and make sure that I’m intentional about what I’m eating. This next year I’m sure that’ll land on the same list, but also too, I’ve got a number of other things going on that I know I’ll probably end up focusing on. The next thing that I did, which was actually really helpful is I just spent some time writing. It was just all thoughts and ideas and stuff that came to mind that as kind of a brain dump over the year dreams about the next year, things that I wanted to do, things that I’ve been thinking about.

04:30 And then it kind of just all boiled down into this big massive mind map of things that I wanted to focus on over the next year. So relationships that I wanted to build, courses or videos, podcasts, that’s actually where the idea for this podcast came from, was that brainstorming session. I would have to say that I’m really grateful that I started this. I just spent some time writing and it actually turned out that I was a member of my coworking space in town at the time and they had a massive meeting room and that’s what I booked for this time period. I booked four hours in there, and they had one whole wall that was just a big whiteboard. And so what I did is I, instead of writing this all down on paper in my notebook, I just started diagramming these ideas out on the whiteboard and then I took some pictures of them and saved them into my note taking tool and then ultimately transferred them into a MindNode mind map, which I can have referenced back into over the course of the year.

05:33 After that, I spent a little bit of time going into my core values and just trying to figure out like where am I making decisions from. And then I spent some time doing a retrospective. This is something that I pulled from Mike Schmitz’s personal retreat course, which I’ll put a link to in the show notes. It’s an excellent resource, I think on framing your review and how to conduct it. Whether you’re taking time away for a day or a weekend, or even just a couple hours in the afternoon or whatever time of day you have available to process through what’s going on in your life. And these questions basically just involve what went well, what didn’t go so well and what can you improve on in the future. Next, I spent some more time dreaming and this is where kind of the just writing section and the dreaming session kind of mushed together where I just started listing out everything that was on my mind that would be cool to do in 2019. Now it’s not necessarily a session where you’re just saying, these are my goals for 2019 it’s more of like, this is what’s on my mind, this is what I’ve been chewing on.

06:36 This is what’s kind of deep inside that would be really cool to focus on. And honestly out of these this dream list, I did maybe one or two of them because you can’t really plan ahead for a year, but you can at least get on paper what you’re thinking about because these dreams they might be for some time in the future. They might not be for the season that you’re in right now, but they also might be seeds that spawn other ideas or can birth other ideas down the road or even throughout the year, you might be able to riff off of these ideas and create something that’s pretty cool going forward. Next thing that I did is I set my word for the year. I like to spend some time in prayer and reflection just trying to figure out, okay, what, what is this upcoming year going to be about?

07:28 What am I going to focus on? What am I going to do and, and what does it really going to be framed by? And so this last year it was framed by expansion. And well that was pretty crazy that, you know, I, everything tended to expand in my life this year. I had a kid, I changed jobs, we ended up moving into a bigger house as a result. It’s just been absolutely insane how that’s all worked. And so this next year I’m thinking about a word for that and it’s kinda turned into a yearly theme, similar to what Mike Hurley and CGP Grey do and talk about on the Cortex podcast with their theme system. I’ll put a link in the show notes to that as well. But for me it’s just, it’s framed a little bit differently. It’s not necessarily about things that I want to do, but it’s more of a kind of a heart posture and a mindset toward the year that I’m going to take and just have in the back of my mind.

08:21 The next thing I did was set directions and I know in the next year it will look a little different for me in this space than it did last year because when I set my directions, which are just really aims and focuses for the year, that I pick maybe one to three of them that I want to focus on. And these are generally influenced by the wheel of life and what I do, what I’ve selected out of that, that needs some areas of attention. But kind of what happened last year is that I set these and then my wife and I found out that we were having another baby and it just kinda blew everything up. And, and that’s really why I don’t like goals in the first place. But basically where this went for me this year is that it turned into I’m setting aims and directions on a more quarterly or seasonal type basis where I have this overarching idea and theme for the year.

09:15 I have these dreams that I’ve listed out and then I’m going back to that list and saying, okay, what’s relevant now? What’s relevant now, what’s relevant now, what’s not relevant anymore either. And I’m pulling from that list and trying to focus on those things in each season. So a season is basically from like January to March every three months or so, every quarter it can be stretched out. Beyond that, it can be a little bit shorter. It just really depends on what the year looks like and what the process looks like as well. What I’m going to do this year is instead of focusing on planning the year altogether, I’m going to start focusing on the first season, season one, which would be roughly January to March to go through that process and set my aims. Then the last thing that I do in this process is a systems review. I’m looking at my equipment, I’m looking at my backup and redundancy systems.

10:09 I’m looking at processes that I’m using in my business and in my productivity system to make sure that I’m staying on target with what I need for the next year. Last year I had a number of equipment purchases that came up out of this, such as a Mac mini, some recording equipment that I’m using now for this podcast and all the stuff that we’re doing at Effective Remote Work in addition to some music that I’m making as well now. Uh and I’m sure this year some other stuff will come up as well. You know, it may be a good idea to focus on, you know, your productivity system or if you’re in business by yourself, this is a good time to focus on saying, Hey, is there anything that I can automate? Anything that I can delegate, anything that I can just completely get off of my plate?

10:56 It’s just a time to back up because ultimately we get so focused in productivity on the day to day so many times we get caught up in the weeds and we don’t really take enough time for ourselves to back up and see the whole forest so we can make decisions on what we’re seeing, what the possibilities are over the next year, and maybe making some strategic choices on what we’re going to focus on for the next year to benefit ourselves, to benefit our families, to benefit our lives. And that’s really the whole idea with the annual review that I do, is to take that time to back up and get a picture ultimately of where we want to go with our lives, where I want to go with my life, where I want my family to go. So that I can start making conscious decisions and conscious efforts to be intentional in those areas over the course of the year.

11:49 Now granted, as I mentioned, things can blow up. Things can change pretty massively over the course of time, but having these plans and having gone through this process gives a frame of reference at least to where we can say, okay, I decided at the beginning of the year that spending my time with my family is the most important thing and that’s a value that you can translate throughout any season, any serious time of your life, anytime at all really. And you can always go back to that and say, am I really focusing on that? Whether this one thing blew up or this one thing changed or not. Ultimately there’s a lot of value in spending some time planning your year. You may have some great projects that come out of it, some great ideas, something that you might work on for the entire year and you might have some things that you scrap six weeks in. It just really ultimately depends on you and where your life is going on what happens. But having the plans underneath your feet gives you a foundation that you can start to build off of for the year.

12:54 Well, that’s all for this time. For a transcript of this, other episodes, and great discussion around productivity and remote work, sign up for a free account at effectiveremotework.com. Be sure to become a supporter through our Patreon at effectiveremotework.com/patreon to help continue making great content for you. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast, and if you liked it, rate us five stars on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast. For those of you watching on YouTube, be sure to subscribe and click the like button if you enjoyed this episode. My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.

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Since I only do this once a year, I’m hoping to finalize my own custom Annual Review checklist to fit my life. Thanks for giving us some questions and insights to ponder about while doing the Annual Review. I will admit that I can’t really see anything more than 7 days into the future. So thinking about the whole year does leave me feeling lost. With so many things that can change over the next year, I felt like a total failure when my goals and milestones for the year gets tossed out when new things show up to change things up. But I am learning to be more forgiving and adapt. I usually like to worry on one Big Rock for the first half of the year. At mid-year, I’ll evaluate and see how much progress was made. I might have to speed up certain projects or re-align my milestones for the second half of the year.

If I’m lucky, I’ll finish my one One Big Rock early. Then I can automatically shift gears and work on the second Big Rock. Focusing one Big Rock or one Big Result actually helped my focus. I tried to think that I could do three Big Rocks in a year but that was way ambitious. If I do complete three Big Rocks, I wonder if I set my sights too low because it was too easy. But If I’m able to get at least 50% by mid-year, I’m grateful and know that I found something ambitious enough to work on.

Happy New Year, everyone! And don’t forget to get your annual review done. Set your sights on the One Big Goal (at least one!) for the year. Check back here in the #personal-updates section with your own milestones. I’m personally using the #personal-updates as my accountability section. It’s tough being naked and showing my victories as well as my setbacks. But Life is a journey. We’ll eventually get to our destination!

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