Reflection: Annual Planning Process – Part One

Reflection is the activity of thinking about your own feelings and behavior, and the reasons that may lie behind them.

Week one in the annual personal review and planning process is all about Self Reflection.

If you missed the “overview” post which explains the when, why, and how of the process, you can click here to go back and read from the beginning.

Why do we start the Process with Self Reflection?

Starting the review and planning process by looking back over the last year has multiple purposes.

  1. Helps you learn from your experiences;
  2. It lets you see what areas of your life are under control and which ones need more attention;
  3. Recording the major events of the year provides you with memories for years to come; and
  4. It gives you clarity about your current situation so you can move forward.

While we should always strive to live in the present, taking a brief look at the last year from an objective standpoint is a valuable exercise.

According to its Wikipedia entry, reflective practice is “not just looking back on past actions and events, but is taking a conscious look at emotions, experiences, actions, and responses, and using that information to add to … existing knowledge base and reach a higher level of understanding.”

Let’s Get Started!

Okay, I lied. Before we get started, I will share with you the most important thing about the reflection process. The number one most important thing is to be kind to yourself throughout the process.

Reflecting doesn’t mean beating yourself up for mistakes you’ve made over the last year. This reflection process means recording events, feelings, and happenings from an objective standpoint, thinking about them, and considering the past year on a deep level.

If you find things about the last year that you are not so happy with it only means you have a great opportunity to grow. The fact we are here and have the opportunity to improve is something to celebrate.

Remember, no one is perfect, and, regardless of their status in life, everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time in the morning.

Okay, for Real Now – Let’s Get Started!

The reflection approach we will use is to think about the past year in terms of categories. This is to help focus on specific areas one at a time. By focusing on one area at a time it is easier to look at things more objectively.

As explained in a previous post, there is no special place to work on this. A notebook, phone, or laptop is perfectly acceptable. The only recommendation is that you write or record in a place that you will keep for following years.

This is a very personal process and each one of us has different priorities in life. I will explain which categories I write about each year and why, and then give you some other options and why you might want to consider each category. Once you have decided what categories apply to you, simply write or record the happenings in each category.


The Self Reflection Categories

We are all in different places in our life journey. Pick only the categories to reflect on that apply to you, and don’t worry about the others.

These are the categories that I use. Rather than reading the whole post and then getting started, as you read each catagory, follow along and note down your reflections on that category. This way you avoid being overwhelmed and are easily able to focus on that specific area of your life.

1. Health/Self Care

This category is first for self-reflection because you are the most important person in your life. Health and taking care of yourself build a strong foundation from which you can do other things. Without taking proper care of yourself, it is hard to have long-lasting success.

There is a popular theory in psychology, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, that puts basic physical needs, such as food and water, as the base of the pyramid. In other words, all our other goals and needs build on basic self-care.

In this category, you may want to reflect on:

  • health issues
  • exercise
  • diet
  • state of mind/mental health

Here is a fictional example:

“In March, due to many years of sitting at a desk and not exercising, my back went out and I could not walk for two days. In July and August, daily walks and running got me energized and I felt great. During the fall, I felt really low, and I don’t know why. It could be that the Covid restrictions were getting to me.”

As you can see, from that one short paragraph, the writer can make a few conclusions.

2. School/Education

This category is broader than just ” I finished xx degrees” or I attended “x” university and took “xxx” classes. Of course, you should definitely record those things! Because, although those achievements may be fresh in your memory now, they will not be forever. Ten years from now, without a record, you may struggle to remember what courses you took, or a favorite teacher’s name.

New skills you pick up on your or own at work can go into this category too. For example, I learned to set up a website this year. Maybe you attended work seminars or worked on learning a new language.

3. Work/Career

This category is third instead of first, because for much of life and quite often, we get wrapped up in work. What we do for a living becomes our identity. The first thing we ask a person when we meet them is often, what do you do for work? Placing them in a category based on their answer. We are so much more than just our work, and it would be nice if we could push aside societal pressures and accept people in a broader context.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important to reflect on your work and career. These are some of the things to consider in your review.

Did you start a new job? Quit or lose an old job? How long have you been at your current workplace?

Are you happy with your work, if so have you been happy all year or just part of it? What was the cause of your feelings about work?

Is there something you are particularly proud of work-related this year? A problem you have overcome? A project that came to fruition?

What did you learn this year at work? Remember to think about soft skills and hard skills.

What did you struggle with this year? What would make your job easier?

4. Home/Environment

Were you happy with your living arrangements this year? Were there any frustrations or struggles? Did you move to a new city or home?

Also in this category, you may want to write about any major home projects, maintenance, and the like that happened over the last year. What made you feel comfortable and at ease or the reverse.

You may also want to record any big home or tech purchases you made this year. It is nice to have a place to look to remember when you bought your laptop, fridge. Assuming you decide to make this an annual practice, it can be really useful for planning, if you know how long ago you bought this or that.

I have to be honest. Normally, my entry in this section is a list of items that need attention that I have not dealt with. From this, I have learned (although it should have been fairly obvious) that home maintenance is not my strong point.

5. Finances/Money

This is a practical self-reflection process, and so we need to consider where we are financially this year. This part of the reflection is about getting an idea of where you are, so you can make a more detailed plan later in the process.

Basically, this is usually a general statement about how money management has gone over the last year.

Here are a few examples:

“I got a raise this year and money is good. I have no idea how much I’m spending and haven’t bothered to keep track. I should probably be saving but I haven’t been”

“I am in so much debt I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Money is tight but my debt payment plan is going well and I feel positive about the future.”

I also have a separate practice that is strictly about the numbers. Every January, I write down my net worth – assets, savings, and debts, and list out all my bills, then, in December do the same thing for comparison. This way, I can see very clearly if my net worth is trending up or down. I can also see all those little increases my service providers tacked on over the year to see if I need to make a plan to reduce bills.

6. Family/Friends

This is a section to record things, not about ourselves, but a summary of what happened in the lives of the people that are important to us this year. Family means different things to different people. Don’t think about it too deeply and just write about those people that YOU consider to be your important people.

If you are like me, remembering these kinds of things does not come naturally. It is so helpful to be able to look back and remember when someone got married, started a new job, reached a milestone, or dealt with a life challenge.

It is also about taking a moment to consider those important people around us, how they have helped us, and how we can help them.

If you are feeling alone, this is a moment to write about that too. There is nothing wrong with being alone. Learning to live alone can bring you a special kind of strength.

7. Other/misc.

A place to put anything that doesn’t fit into any of the other categories. You can also use this to write about trips you took (or had to cancel), special memories, or other milestones.

reflective glass ball

To summarize, the categories listed above are:

  • health/self-care
  • school/education
  • work/career
  • home/environment
  • finances/money
  • family/friends
  • other/misc.

Here are some other categories that may resonate with you.

  • Athletics
  • Art and Projects
  • How World Events affected your Life
  • Vehicles
  • Social Life/Connections
  • Side Hustles
  • Travel
  • Technology

Further Tips on Self-Reflection

No one else is going to read your reflections, so when writing is honest and true to yourself. Don’t sugarcoat and be real. You may end up with one page of notes, or ten pages. It depends on how detailed you feel like being.

Remember, at this point, you are only objectively recording what happened. Don’t make too many judgments on it. It is what it is.

Success means different things to different people. Reaching your goal doesn’t necessarily mean you will be happy. A man calling a financial advice radio show comes to mind. This man had been working hard for years to become financially successful, striving towards a goal. He now had reached the goal, was rich, and in a position to give back. The radio host enthusiastically congratulated the man. However, the man had called to ask a question. “I’ve reached my goal and now I feel empty and unhappy. I was much happier as I was working towards my goal.”

Make a note of the things that made you happy or dissatisfied this year. These are clues to what “success” means to you.

You can reflect and make notes, but don’t start making crazy big plans just yet. We will get to that in future weeks.

Next week the process will be less intensive, as we release or let go of specific things from the last year.

Click here for – Let it Go – Annual Planning Process -Week 2

5 thoughts on “Reflection: Annual Planning Process – Part One”

  1. I love that you suggest to include a summary of what has happened in the lives of our loved ones! When you think about it, their life experiences either directly or indirectly affect our own lives and plans.

  2. Reflection does take a bit of courage-but is a necessary human process I think. This year truly was a year to figure out what is most important.

  3. This is a really good blog post. Reflection is so important. I am so guilty of being hard on myself and sometimes not proud of the achievements I have made. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Self-reflection is so important for growth. I think a lot of people fall into the trap of routine and forget that there is a purpose for being on this Earth. I love your categories and your examples. Thanks for sharing!

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