jungle in colombia

Happy 2017!

Early January is one of my favorite times of the year; so full of possibilities for growth and change.

For example? I just moved to Oaxaca, Mexico. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

But you don’t need to be addicted to personal development books (like, um, me) to know nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t make concrete goals and plans.

So every year, I complete an annual review to assess the last year and create goals for the next one. I think you should, too.

How to Do a Personal Annual Review

I’ve written in more detail about my annual review in a previous post — but basically, I take a cue from Chris Guillebeau and ask myself three big questions:

  • What went well this year?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What do I want to accomplish next year?

Other entrepreneurs like James Clear and the guys behind Fizzle have a similar process.

Once you’ve thought about the year prior, it’s time to look to the year ahead. Write down individual goals in several different categories (mine are business, health, money, personal, learning, and fun) and the action steps each will require.

Want to see how it works? I made a FREE annual review template just for you!

You’ll notice I included sections for your word of the year (find out mine below) and books read. (I’m always trying to read more, and this motivates me.)

One tip when creating your goals? Make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Sensitive.

Instead of saying travel more, for example, say I’ll travel to Lisbon for a week in October, and write out all the actions that will get you there.

For that goal (a great one, I might add!), I’ve even got tools to help you: this 7-step travel action plan and this 35-step checklist for planning your big trip.

Chomping at the bit to get started? Here’s that free annual review template again.

My Annual Review for 2016

In case you’re curious, here’s part of my annual review for 2016. It’s a bit different than most years, since I was working for a company — rather than for myself — but was still a helpful process.

What went well…

I spent the entire year working as the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. It was incredibly exciting to watch us grow; we went from four employees to more than 50 in the year and a half I was there. (Inc. named it the fastest-growing private media company in the country!) I undoubtedly improved my writing, as well as skills in headline creation and SEO. 

I worked with some really smart people and got to lead Purple Friday, one of the coolest projects I’ve ever been a part of. It was amazing to be on the inside of such a dynamic company, and I’ll always count my time there as a success.

Aside from work? I survived.

I can’t discount that. The last four months of 2015 were the worst of my life, so my main goal in 2016 was to renew myself. To simply make it through.

And, although my expectations weren’t high, I exceeded them. I grieved, a lot. But I also found ways to integrate Bob into my daily life — without letting his memory overwhelm it.

I got a back tattoo directly behind my heart. I wear two pendants — one containing his ashes, and one I gave him many years ago — each day. At the end of each yoga class, I give thanks for the time we had together.

So even though I remember him every day, I don’t cry about him every day. Sometimes I even smile.  

And, in an extremely unexpected turn of events, I managed to open my heart up again: I started dating someone. He’s wonderful.

Other wins? I redid my website (what do you think?!). I got bylines in Cosmo and Travel and Leisure.

I made some great new friends in Florida. I traveled to the Bahamas, Cuba, Iceland, London — and six weddings where I spent time with the people who matter most.

I learned some fun new activities — tennis, swing, and salsa — and hope to continue them in the year to come.

What didn’t go so well…

I felt constrained working in an office. I didn’t like having to sit in front of my computer for eight hours a day, and not having the brain space to work on other creative ventures. I dearly missed the flexibility to work when and where I want.

In other words, I discovered I really like working for myself — so maybe it was a win after all!

I didn’t enjoy living in Florida. It didn’t have many of my favorite activities — skiing, hiking, camping — and was infernally hot.

I continued to overcommit myself. Even though I was working full time, I took on new freelance projects — sometimes when I didn’t really want to. I was too tempted by money.

So back on the list for a second year? Only commit to things I’m 90% yes about. As Greg McKeown advises: If it’s not a 90% yes, it’s an automatic no.

Oh, and I barely did any travel writing at all. Not on this blog, and not on other outlets. I haven’t even shared a single photo from Cuba!

What I want to accomplish next year…

Rebuild my freelance writing business. Strengthen the SusanShain.com brand. Get some badass bylines. Improve my Spanish. Live in three new places.

To that end, I’ve created lots of specific goals in the business and learning categories, like finishing an ebook, writing one essay per week, starting a mastermind, and launching a new website (stay tuned…).

In other categories, goals include finally organizing all my photos (maybe printing a few!), taking more salsa lessons, and limiting social media usage to one hour per day.

And my word for the year? DELIVER.

My words for the last few years were: balance (2014), accept (2015), and renew (2016).

Though the process is a bit woo-woo, I enjoy setting a direction each year. I’ve found the words are a helpful guide when it’s May and I can’t remember what the hell I wanted the year to be about.

Like it does most years, 2017’s word kind of jumped out at me. DELIVER means I will follow through on everything in 2017. On my freelance assignments, my wild business ideas, my relationships, and my personal commitments.

I won’t just start projects; I will finish them. I won’t just say things; I will do them.

How about you? What will YOU deliver on in 2017? Do you have a word picked out? PS. Here’s that spreadsheet one more time, in case you’d like to share it with someone.