Running your own Annual Review (and a new way to set goals for 2019)

Annual review with description.png

It’s the time of year when we reflect back on how things went and begin to look ahead. For many of us, looking ahead involves setting goals, and if you’ve set goals or made New Years resolutions in the past, you know how hard it is to achieve them (or even just stick with them past January). That’s because the typical goal-setting approach is effectively an ambitious to-do list… and it’s hard to get excited for a to-do list.

This post is a step-by-step walkthrough of the approach I created for myself after years of frustration at failing to achieve the majority of my goals. It includes honest reflection on where and who you are; makes sure the goals are truly exciting to you; and has ways to keep you going throughout the year when motivation is low and obstacles are high.

This method led to my most successful year (where I achieved big milestones like starting a new job, launching an app, and buying a house). It also helped me break through bad habits that were holding me back. I hope it helps you have a great year too.

Let’s start.

The rest of this post details the steps but I’ve also created a template you can use. There’s an Evernote version (if you use Evernote like me) or a PDF you can print (if you rather go analog).

🐘 Evernote template here
🖨 Printable PDF here

What you’ll need

  • A quiet place with no distractions

  • Alone time (this is just about you)

  • ~3–4 hours; more if you have a lot of changes to make

  • Pen and paper

  • Computer (if you’re using the digital version of this guide)

  • A shoebox (optional, more on that at the end)

The parts

There are four parts to this:

  1. Reflecting — A look back on your past year

  2. Setting — Deciding what you want to achieve in the next year

  3. Charting a path — Making a plan to get from here to there

  4. Creating artifacts — Physical things to help you stay motivated throughout the year

Each part is important so give it as much time as it needs. If it’s taking longer than you planned and you need to stop, that’s ok. Put it down and come back later. Take your time. Each minute now pays itself back many times over the coming year because you’ll be more focused and motivated.

Part 1 — Reflecting

Before we decide where to go, we need to know where we are. There’s no teleporting in life; you have to get somewhere by starting from where you are.

These questions will help you look back on how your year went — everything from big achievements, to memorable stories, to what didn’t work out — so you can write realistic and meaningful goals.

This step requires reflecting back on your year. Review journals, photos, calendars, social media… anything that can help you form a picture of what happened this year — then answer the questions below. This can be a long step but it will provide many insights and sets the stage for everything that follows. So take your time.


  1. What were the most memorable moments this year?

  2. What were the toughest?

  3. What were your proudest achievements?

  4. What did you not achieve?

  5. What are 3 great stories from this year? (think great stories to tell at a party)

🗓 Last year’s goals (if applicable)

If you made goals last year, how did you do? What percent did you achieve? Do you feel good about how you did, or could you have done better?

🏷 Name your year

Give your year a name to remember it by — a big milestone or event. It’s a fun way to look back after a bunch of years and see the path you took. Picture yourself reminiscing twenty years from now and thinking, “Ah yes, 2018. That was the year of [year name]. Those were interesting times”

2018: The Year of ____________________

Part 2 – Setting

Now that we know where we are, it’s time to decide where we want to go. Remember, your goals must be believable to you. If you can’t see how they’re possible you won’t know what actions to take and will get discouraged. If you have a big, multi-year goals write just the parts you’ll do this year.

(Optional) Capturing future future goals. If there are goals you’re excited about but 2019 isn’t the year, write them in the ‘Future goals’ section at the bottom of this page. Keeping them in mind will keep you excited for the future.

🧘‍♀️Nirvana moments

A “Nirvana moment” is that moment when you’ve achieved your goal or when you’re in the middle of enjoying it. A goal with a description is much more motivating than just the bulleted “todo list version”.

Here are some examples…

  • If your goal is “Travel more” include the Nirvana moment, “I’m driving down a dirt road in the desert with my backpack in the back seat of a truck on the way to the start of the Telescope Peak trail”

  • For “Run a marathon” the Nirvana moment might be something like, “I’m just a few hundred meters from the finish line of my first marathon. My legs are burning and I can hardly breath but I’m gonna make it!”

  • For “Start my own business” maybe “I looked down at my phone and saw a notification for my first sale of my ________________”

Write down your goals in the form of “Nirvana moments”



  • ETC.

🔑 Do your Nirvana moments pass the gut test? Thinking about a Nirvana moment should give you butterflies in your stomach. If it doesn’t, try and find a different way of describing it. If there’s no way to describe it that gets you excited, reconsider if it’s something you really want. Your gut doesn’t lie about these things.

Part 3 – Charting a path

By now you should be excited about what you want to achieve this year — it’s time chart the path to get there. This includes detailing the milestones and identifying the changes you need to make in yourself too. This last part is key and missing in many goal-setting approaches.

💎 Milestones

This section is about how you’ll know if you’re making progress. Break down each Nirvana moment into milestones along the way. You don’t have to know all of them, just write the first few and the rest will come clear later.

MILESTONES for Nirvana Moment #1


🐋 Big challenges

In the process of writing those milestones, you should’ve started seeing the big challenges ahead of you, maybe even getting a little discouraged or anxious. It’s all good. There’s going to be skills you don’t have, knowledge you don’t know, or money you need. Write down these big challenges for each of your Nirvana moments.

🔑 Referring back to this list will keep you honest about what you need to focus on and make you aware of the people who can help you through.


🎭 Behaviours to change

Another reason we don’t achieve our goals is that we behave in ways that are incompatible with them. After all, our lives are a product of what we’ve done (and not done), so changing your life requires changing what you do (and don’t do). This section requires a lot of honesty.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. What things do I always procrastinate with? Why, for real? (You probably need to start doing them)

  2. What things/situations make me feel bad about myself? (These could be standing in your way)

  3. What’s a situation I don’t take action in that bothers me after-the-fact? (You should get into that situation and do that thing next time)

🔑 We often believe achieving our goals requires doing more, but sometimes we need to do less. Less eating chocolate to lose weight. Less Netflix to make time for starting a new business. Less buying lunch every day to save money for more travel, etc.

Write down the behaviours you can stop and start that will help you reach your goals.

🚦Stop doing

🚦Start doing

Part 4 – Creating artifacts

Achieving your goals is hard, so it helps to have a little motivation along the way. Creating some physical artifacts you can see/touch will give you a boost when motivation is low or you’ve lost your way. Reaching a goal is about winning a million little struggles, not one big goal writing session at the start of the year.

Artifacts can take many forms but they should be things you see regularly or have with you and can reach for. Some examples include photos on your wall, quotes in your wallet or notebook, or the behaviours you want to do more/less of. Think of artifacts as messages from the optimistic you (writing this today) to the struggling you (going through a difficult stage tomorrow).

Here’s a few I use.

Rules to live by – These rules hang in my bathroom and remind me when I’m brushing of what’s important. I wrote these in 2016 and still use them.

Wallet quotes – When things aren’t going well, these quotes give me some perspective. The right saying at the right moment can give you a much needed boost. These live in my wallet.

Plain ol’ photos — I want to see these mountains one day so I hung up pictures of them in my bathroom. Simply seeing the thing you want keeps your momentum up.

(Optional) Future goals

Some goals will take multiple years or are for sometime in the future. Put them here to stay excited and open to people that can help you get closer.


(Bonus) Shoebox

I keep a shoebox in the closet and put physical mementos from things that happen — birthday cards, concert tickets, some weird chotchka I find that reminds me of something, that kind of thing. Then at the end of the year I write the name of the year on the outside. It’s a fun little thing I do each year and 10 years these “shoebox time machines” will be amazing to look through!

My shoeboxes over the years — I can’t wait to open them one day

My shoeboxes over the years — I can’t wait to open them one day

Closing thoughts

If you’ve made it this far and answered all those questions, you’re well on your way. It’s never easy to make big changes in your life but it’s important to do — and you’re on your way. Remember to review your goals every 1–3 months to check in on your progress. And if a goal is no longer important or something’s changed, adjust it or get rid of it. No point in spending energy on unimportant things.

Finally, if you use this method and it works, I’d love to know. Send me an email,

All the best in 2019!

Credits: Icons from the Noun Project by Smalllikeamy morganwira wiandaMarion MichalShane David Kenna, and jafar

PersonalMark Rabo