I do an annual review every December as a precursor to goal setting. In this article, I will explain the following:

  • my exact review process
  • how I set goals, and
  • how I keep my goals visible.

Annual Review

Before setting goals, reflecting on how this year has gone is essential — this reflection should inform your goal setting. You can do this with pen and paper or in a blank document on your computer or mobile device.

First, I recommend dividing your annual review into life categories:

For me, these are:

  • Health and fitness
  • Work and business
  • Friends and community
  • Personal life and family
  • Learning and knowledge
  • Travel and culture
  • Hobbies and creativity
  • Emotions and spirituality
  • Money and finance

You can choose the categories that work for you. I recommend you include a category for any goals you set for this year, too, so you can reflect on your progress with them.

I use the Ness Labs plus, minus, next journaling method (Cunff, 2019) to review each life category. I spend three minutes on each category - one minute identifying what went well (plus), one minute on what didn’t (minus) and one minute on what I probably want to do ‘next’.

After that, make a note of the following:

  • your proudest accomplishments of the year, and
  • your biggest challenges.

All of this information should inform your goal setting.

Goal Setting

Now, set your goals for the coming year.

I use a mix of goal-setting frameworks. I’m not a fan of SMART goals (making goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). I usually have to Google the acronym to remember each letter's meaning! Instead, I focus on making my goals specific and realistic (but not easy - there should be some stretch).

I also try not to set too many goals - three to five seems to be the sweet spot. Any more, and my efforts become too diluted, and I feel overwhelmed.

In his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, James Clear recommends focusing on systems rather than goals. He explains, ‘Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.’ (Clear, 2018) - this is solid advice. I suggest you select your goals (it’s important to know where you are aiming - what success will look like) and then spend some time devising the systems you will implement to achieve those goals. One of those systems will be a weekly review to help keep your goals visible - more on that in a moment.

Word for the Year

This next step is optional, but I find setting a word for the year helpful. Your word is a trigger to remind you of your one overarching focus. This year my word has been ‘one’ to remind me of a more comprehensive statement: ‘one day and one thing at a time.’ This year I focussed on slowing down and focusing.

Much like goals, you should keep your word for the year visible to be constantly reminded of it. I like to treat myself to an inexpensive necklace with my word engraved on it (I love Mantra Jewellery for this). Other ways to keep your word - or statement of the year - visible include designing a wallpaper image for your mobile device or using your sentence (not just one word!) as a password.

Weekly Review

Visibility is essential if you want to achieve your goals - otherwise, you will forget them. The main system I have in place for this is my weekly review. Every week I review my progress against my goals. You can find out about my weekly review process below:

The Weekly Review: Why it’s Essential for Wellbeing-Driven Productivity and How to do it Consistently
This post will explain what a weekly review is, why you need to do it, and how to do it consistently. I will also share a free template.


Get my annual review template and workbook by becoming a member of The Library.

Over to You

Hopefully, you have everything you need to review this year and set goals for next year. Let me know how you get on in the comments.


Clear, J. (2018) Atomic habits: an easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones: tiny changes, remarkable results, London, Random House Business Books.

Cunff, A.-L. L. (2019) ‘Plus Minus Next journaling’, Ness Labs [Online]. Available at https://nesslabs.com/plus-minus-next (Accessed 21 November 2021).

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