How to do a Yearly Review (Instead of New Year’s Resolutions)5 min read

Published by Zach on

“Next year will be better… next year I will get in shape… next year I will start my business… next year I will x.” Sound familiar? It does to me. Most New Year’s Resolutions don’t stick, they are too vague and unactionable. How about, instead, we take the time to review our past year and learn from what actually happened, as opposed to fantasizing about what might happen.

I have been doing this for a couple of years now and find the insights, lessons, and actionable changes exponentially more beneficial than flimsy New Year’s Resolutions.

This will take about two hours and you will need:

  • Something to write on (notepad, poster board, word document)
  • Your Phone
  • Your Calendar
  • Your Journal (if you keep one)
  • Two Hours

1. Start Broad

Set a timer for two minutes for each of the following questions:

  • Highlights: what went well this year?
  • Lows: what didn’t go so well this year?
  • Learned: what did you learn this year?

Try and keep writing for the full two minutes for each section, it’s ok to go over time. Don’t worry about fanciness this is just for you.

Done? Great. The point of that was to start you thinking about what happened last year, what were the stand-out moments? At this, it’s fun (but not necessary) to come up with a name for the year.

For example, my name for 2020 was: The Year of Learning Known Unknowns.

You can checkout my premade Notion template here.

2. Delve Deep

Now grab your writing document, flip the page, scroll down, whatever, and create a two column list: “Positives” and “Negatives”. As we go forward we will fill this list.

– Visited Europe– Yelled at My Brother
  • Start with Calendar
    • Go through every single week starting with January 1st.
    • What things do you remember that made you feel happy? Excited? What made you feel good after you finished them? Those things would go in the “positive” column.
    • What things didn’t you like, what made you feel hurt, angry, overstressed, or sad? Those go in the “negative” column. This applies to people too, if anyone made you miserable add them to the list.
    • Go through this carefully, week by week, starting in January of the year before.
  • Next, grab your Phone
    • Sort your photos and video so you only see what happened in the year before. Start looking through them (this is fun in itself).
    • Ask those same questions, what made you feel happy? What made you feel sad? Try and remember your state of mind when these pictures or videos were actually happening, what was happening?
    • Populate the “Positives” and “Negatives” list with these things.
  • Optional: Grab your Journal (If you have one)
    • I personally have a journal that I write in for 5 minutes as soon as I wake up.
    • If you have a journal look through it, and ask yourself those same questions.
    • Populate the list.
  • Admire the list! You’ve done a lot this year.

3. Apply the 80/20 Rule to Positives

That was the tough, but probably fun, part. Now we get to maximize our gains from this list.

  • Read over the positive column first, is there a theme? Are there certain things that are popping up over and over again? Did you feel great after that trip abroad? The camping trip? What things stand out and provided the most reliable positive feelings? Usually, there will be 20% of that column that accounts for 80% of the “happy” outcomes.
  • So now we know the 20% of things that create 80% of results, let’s do more of those things!
    • Pick one to start and schedule it! Book the flight, the hotel, add it to your calendar, spend the money. Deciding now, putting down the money now, will make sure we do this activity.
    • Even better? Call your friends and decide to book it now with them. Not only are you guaranteeing a good time for you, but also for your friend!
  • Continue with your top items and add them to your calendar. Just do it.

4. Identify and Remove the Negatives

This next part is a little awkward and hard. What is making our lives more miserable? What takes up most of this negative column? I like to just consolidate this list into a separate document. Just like the 80/20 rule applies to positives, it applies to negatives.

  • Read over the negatives, what, or who, made you miserable or feel bad this year?
  • Do you have plans or things that you will be doing next year that are a part of this negative list? Can you get out of them? If you can, cancel these things.
  • The rest of the negatives are mostly unplanned things. Things that just happened that didn’t sit well. Identifying these things is half of the battle. After applying the 80/20 rule to this list, however, you should know for sure what things make you sad. Try, at all costs, to avoid those things this year. This is as close to “resolutions” as we will come with this review.


  1. Start broadly and ask yourself, “What went well? What didn’t go well? What did I learn?” Write out answers to each of these questions for two minutes at least.
  2. Delve deep: go through your calendar, photos and videos, and journal and identify positives and negatives. Create a two-column list, “Positives” and “Negatives,” and populate this list with everything you learn from going through all the past year’s data.
  3. 80/20 smackdown the positives and negatives: what are the 20% of things, from each list, that created 80% of the outcomes? For the positives book, schedule, plan, and PUT IN YOUR CALENDAR, those things now. For the negatives, if they are scheduled for this year, get out of them if you can otherwise avoid them as best as you can.

Have a fantastic New Year!


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