Volume 70: Looking Back

This time of year, we inevitably reflect on what we have, and have not, accomplished in the current year, and look forward to what we hope to accomplish next year.

Benchmarking yourself is an important periodic task: it’s difficult to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. So, for this article, let’s talk about how to effectively look back and review progress.

Taking Out Emotion:
The first thing to keep in mind is to take emotion out of the equation. It’s easy to get angry or upset with yourself (or others) because you weren’t able to accomplish goals, and ignore the positive that’s occurred. In the same way, it can be easy to get caught up in the glory of a single, or even a few, big successes, and let the areas you need to get better, or the things you didn’t accomplish, go unnoticed.

Thinking negatively, without acknowledging the good, is a surefire way to lose hope and burn out on whatever project you’re wrapped up in. Thinking too positively, without acknowledging the areas for improvement, is a surefire way to get overconfident and fail in the future.

So, take a step back and try to view your accomplishments through the lens of a third party viewer, without emotion.

Lay Out the Facts:
For me, I find it important to write everything down for an honest appraisal. So, make a list.

Start with your goals for the previous year: what was it that you wanted to accomplish? What did you accomplish towards those goals?

Again, at this point, emotion is out of the equation, so there are no good answers or bad answers, just facts. By what metrics do you judge success or failure in your goals for the year?

What other accomplishments did you have that maybe weren’t tied to your initial goals? What changes did you make that might help you make progress on your goals in the future? What changes occurred in the environment that might have impacted your goals?

By the end of this stage, you should have a pretty comprehensive list of what happened in the previous year, filled with numbers that indicate degrees of success on your different projects, however those projects are to be graded. Everything should be accounted for, no matter how big or how small the accomplishment seems.

Evaluate:
Now that you’ve laid everything out, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of how and why.

For the things that you accomplished, I want you asking these three questions:

1.      How did you accomplish these tasks/goals?

This is going to be important to figure out how replicable your successes are. If your successes were the result of environmental factors, or luck, then they might not be as easily replicable as if you were responsible for the changes or actions that led to success.

If you made changes or took actions outside of normal to achieve your goals, document those for future reference.

2.      Which of these things do you need to be able to replicate for the next year?

If your goal was to lower your BMI from obese to healthy, for instance, you don’t need to replicate that goal. (You need to set a goal to maintain it, but that’s an issue for next article). If your goal was to take 3 full weeks of vacation without losing productivity, that’s a goal you probably want to replicate (or increase) for next year.

Once you’ve broken down the positive, let’s take a look at the stuff you didn’t accomplish, and ask these questions:

1.      What could you have done differently or better to accomplish these goals?

Take a look at where you fell short. Still working to keep emotion out of it, what needed to happen to reach the goal that was set? What could you have done differently to account better for environmental factors that might have gotten in the way?

2.      What outside resources might be available for these goals that you did not take advantage of?

Do you have coworkers or family members that you could have leaned on for support or help? Are there resources within your company that could have helped you? Essentially, the point here is: did you pursue every avenue to achieving your goal?

3.      Which of these things are important that you accomplish in the coming year?

You fell short. It happens sometimes. Which of these goals need to be accomplished moving forward, and which ones aren’t important enough to carry forward?

Adding Emotion Back In:
The last step for me is always to go back to the things I accomplished and add the emotion back in with one simple question: Which of these accomplishments make you most proud?

Think of which one fills you with the biggest sense of accomplishment and makes you happiest. More than one? Great! Hold onto that.

As I noted before, we all fall short sometimes. The point of this step is that in the future, when things get tough or you fall short, you should always have something positive to push you forward. You have documented evidence that you can be successful.

Now, go be successful again, and Stay Strong.

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