Have You Done Your Personal Year-end Review?

This month I’ve talked with many of my clients about the year-end reviews they’re doing for their direct reports, as well as the year-end reviews they’re getting from their bosses.  Hopefully, December isn’t the only time of the year they’re giving and getting feedback, but for many organizations, year-end reviews still mark the ‘official’ feedback and goal-setting time of the year.

It’s worth noting, however, that when I ask these same people about what’s worked well and what didn’t work so well on the personal side over the past year, I often get a blank stare.   It seems like lots of people aren’t taking the time to step back and review their year.  What do they want to be sure to bring forward with them into the New Year and what do they want to leave behind?  The fact is, reviewing how things went throughout 2012 is key to your success in 2013!

If you’ve not yet done your personal year-end review, I recommend you begin by scheduling time on your calendar. You won’t need more than 1-1/12 hours and if you don’t commit to the time, you’ll surely find something else to do.  You don’t need to do your review before December 31, but you do want to do it before we get too far into the New Year. Once you’ve completed your review, you’re then able to think more broadly about what you want to make happen for yourself in the key areas of your life.

To begin your review, answer the following questions:

  • What worked well for you this year?
  • What didn’t work so well?
  • What surprised you?
  • What disappointed you?
  • Where did you exceed your expectations for yourself?
  • Where did you fall short?
    • When and where were you happiest this year?  How much of your happiness was controlled by external factors versus things you had direct control over?

Once you’ve completed these questions, it’s time to step back and look at your bigger picture — how did 2012 go as a whole?

  • What do your answers regarding what worked well, where you excelled, and what and where you’re happiest, point to?  Are there certain people, things, activities, and/or opportunities you need more of in your life? Be as specific as possible.
  • Look at the disappointments and the places you noted you fell short of your own expectations.  Do you see patterns regarding people, things, activities, and/or opportunities you want less of in your life? Be as specific as possible.
  • What do you want to leave behind in 2012 or turn around for 2013?
  • What do you want to take forward with you into 2013?
  • What do you have to start and/or stop doing to achieve these things?

Now that you’ve completed your year-end review, it’s time to take this information and think about what you want to make happen in the new year. Most of us are familiar with the idea of setting clear measurable goals, in both our work and personal lives.  But in this week’s Harvard Business Review blog, Peter Bregman suggests a pretty radical idea — consider not setting goals, but rather identify areas to focus on in your life.  He says:

“It’s not that goals, by their nature, are bad. It’s just that they come with a number of side effects that suggest you may be better off without them. The authors of a Harvard Business School working paper, Goals Gone Wild, reviewed a number of research studies related to goals and concluded that the upside of goal setting has been exaggerated and the downside, the ‘systematic harm caused by goal setting,’ has been disregarded. They identified clear side effects associated with goal setting, including ‘a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

As a big-time goal-setter, I’m pretty intrigued by Bregman’s idea and was game for trying his approach.  I found, however, that I took a ‘hybrid approach’ and focused on the areas I identified as key to my goals. So for instance, instead of noting that my goal is to finish my MBA in 2013, I noted that one of my 2013 focuses will be on my ongoing learning, both my formal education as well as my informal learning opportunities.

According to Bregman, “A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present. An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.”

Some of the areas my clients most often focus on include:

  • career
  • finances
  • health
  • key relationships (with family, friends, co-workers)
  • leisure time (may be for vacation, volunteer commitment, personal reading)
  • ongoing learning (formal or informal education)

Bergman recommends focusing on about five areas in your life and stresses the need to “resist the temptation to identify the outcome you want to achieve.”  I’ve got my five focus areas identified, I’m resisting setting specific goals, and I’m excited to see what 2013 brings!  Please let me know what you think. Can you be as strategic and focused without relying on the old standby of setting SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timelined?

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