How I Plan My Year

In 2019, I was spending a tropical Christmas in the Philippines, a stark contrast to Finland where Christmas time is the darkest time of the year. I was in the middle of listening to James Clear’s audiobook Atomic Habits, which introduced me to the concept of an Annual Review. To put it in a nutshell, an Annual Review is when you look back at the year and review the various aspects of life that are important to you. As 2019 was coming to a close, I found it an opportune time to try out this new habit.

Divide and conquer

I went to work, and divided my life into 7 aspects:

  1. Professional life
  2. Education
  3. Teemu (incl. hobbies, productivity, etc.)
  4. Social life
  5. Relationship
  6. Health
  7. Financials.

Next, I needed a template that would help me to review my progress. I did some research online, and finally came up with a standard template in the form of a simple table on a Word document. I put the 7 aspects of life, which I had determined earlier, as headings on the Word document, and copy-pasted the template under each heading. Now with the ground workdone, it was simply the matter of answering to the questions that I had presented myself with.

The template covers a dozen items, and the idea is for it ask me the right questions to provoke insightful answers. The questions include the following items: my successes, gratitude, daringness, altruism, things finished, things unfinished, influential people, big surprises, recognition, satisfaction score, and a summary of the year in one sentence. I wish I remembered the sources where I got these questions from so that I could provide due credit.

Setting up goals and measuring progress

I also created another document called Annual Goals. This document is somewhat similar; the 7 aspects of life work as headings, and each has a table underneath. The questions are different, however, and cover subjects such as what I expect my biggest successes of the year to be, advice I need to hear every now and then, the completion of things that would make me happier, and so on. Once again, I did not write down the source for this template.

So how do I use these tools then? At the end of the year, I first conduct an Annual Review by answering to the questions in the template. Simple as that. I then compare my answers with my Annual Goals for that year. What is the difference between reality and expectations? I also look back at my Annual Review of last year to review my progress in a bigger picture. What were my triumphs and tribulations back then, and how does the present compare with the past?

One year is long time, though. While you set your goals at the end of one year and review the progress at the end of the next year, what happens in between? In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear also introduces the idea of an Integrity Report. You can check out his blog for a more comprehensive description. Personally, I am currently using a more simplified version of the Integrity Report where I go through and adjust my Annual Goals document around mid-year to stay on track.

Work in progress

Please note, however, that the documents and the process described above is a work in progress and subject to changes. A productivity tool works best when it is customized for the individual using it. I would like to underline that I am not marketing or selling, or taking credit for any of the ideas discussed. Instead, I want to describe them with a motive of better clarifying them in my own mind. These are the reasons why I do not provide any templates but rather encourage you to draft something that works for you.

What could be improved or done differently? It really depends on the subjective circumstances of each individual. Some people might want to include areas such as religion and spirituality or expand relationship to also cover family life, in case that applies to them. Others might want to break down the aspects of life even further by differentiating between areas such as mental, emotional and social well-being. This article gave me lots of ideas and inspiration, and I will be sure to reference it in the future.

In case you are interested in other book recommendations, do check out the previous blog post about my 2020 reading list. I have also written a post about my quest for increased productivity, which you can find here.