By Jiji Lee

An Honest Look at Yearly Planning


How to reflect and plan, no matter how your year went.

You have to reflect on the past, in order to set yourself up for success in the future. 

But what if this year didn’t go exactly as planned?  

In an ideal world, you’d be spending this time of year reviewing your goals and systems, and noting what worked and what didn’t. Reflecting on the past and deriving lessons from it can help ensure that your life is moving in the right direction, and even motivate you for the upcoming year. 

But many of us just might be dragging our heels on our yearly reflection. 

2020 hasn’t exactly been an easy one, to say the least. The last thing many of us want to do is look back on all the plans and projects that we had such big hopes for, or take the time to examine the challenging parts of the year. 

But, at the same time, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the past and see just how far you’ve come over the course of a year. 

We've made a FREE Yearly Planning worksheet series for you to use as you reflect on your year and plan for the future. Download your Yearly Planning worksheet set here!

While it’s easy to use this exercise to dwell on past mistakes or fixate on what you didn’t do, you can use yearly reflection to help you learn from those mistakes and incorporate them in the future. We can’t erase the past, so we might as well take some time to step back and examine the good times and the bad, and figure out a better way forward.

You might even surprise yourself and discover that you’re so much stronger and resilient than you were in the beginning of the year. 

How to gently reflect on your year

If you’re an Ink+Volt reader, then you’re no stranger to big goals and hard work. So just remember to be compassionate and gentle with yourself during this reflection exercise. And take the time to celebrate all of your achievements, now matter how mundane or small. 

Find a quiet space that’s free from any distractions

Bring out your planner and favorite journal. Feel free to add any comforting touches to your space, like a candle or cup of tea, anything that will help you relax and turn your focus inward. 

Here are some questions to help guide your reflection

What are things you didn’t miss? 

One of the questions we ask every year is "were there things you wanted to do this year but didn't?" In light of such a difficult and unprecedented year, let’s reframe this question and put it in the context of this year. So, let’s ask ourselves: 

What are things you didn't miss this year?

For example, one of my goals at the beginning of the year was: “Write a play and put it up on stage.” 

Okay, so this goal clearly did not happen! But upon reviewing it, I realized that I actually didn’t feel any sadness or disappointment surrounding this goal. In fact, I had forgotten that I had even written it down as a goal in the first place! 

At the end of the year, it’s so easy to look at all of our goals and beat ourselves up over what we didn’t accomplish. But, by being completely honest about what you didn’t miss, you can hone in on what truly matters to you.

Now your turn. What are things that you thought you wanted to do but didn’t miss? 

  • Maybe you realized that running a marathon isn’t a big priority after all. 
  • Maybe you realized that learning a new language isn't that exciting for you. 
  • Maybe you realized that you don’t miss attending networking events and, in fact, you’re relieved that you don’t have to go.

This year forced us to streamline our lives and prioritize the very essentials. Although it was scary and challenging, it also helped us realize what we could and couldn’t live without, and helped us come to terms with our non-negotiables. 

So if you didn’t get around to doing everything on your list, don’t self-criticize. In fact, it just might be a blessing in disguise and maybe even a sign that you weren’t excited about it in the first place.

By taking a closer look at our original goals and seeing what we didn’t miss, we can fine tune our goals for next year and clarify our essentials. 

What are things you did miss? 

Understandably, there are going to be goals that we regret not achieving. Maybe you were looking forward to meeting more clients face-to-face or building a portfolio of work or doing some traveling. 

If you’re feeling disappointed or jealous about other people’s achievements, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Write them down in your journal. Exhale.

Sometimes our big emotions can help pinpoint our true desires. They often reveal to us what it is we truly want to be doing. For instance, if you’re upset that you didn’t get to travel this year, don’t push those feelings aside. Clearly, travel is important to you and your well-being.

So ask yourself, is there a way to modify this goal or celebrate the essence of it in your life? If you’re a big traveler, maybe it means keeping a travel wishlist or notebook or learning a new language in anticipation of a future trip. Sometimes just having something to look forward to can boost our mood and enhance our well-being. 

So what are things you didn’t get around to this year that you wish you could have pursued? 

In this New York Times article about marathon runner Sara Hall, she reveals how she had to adjust her training methods during the pandemic, and create new opportunities for herself. This was an inspiring example of how we can find small ways to go for our goals, even in the most challenging of circumstances. 

Not all of us are elite marathon runners, but maybe through reflecting on our own goals and dreams, and identifying what truly excites and inspires us, we can use this reflection to energize us and help create opportunities for ourselves in the new year.

Focus on small wins

Raise your hand if you can remember the last mistake you made. Now raise your hand if you can remember the last time someone paid you a compliment.

If it was easier for you to remember your past mistakes, you’re not alone. It’s so easy for us to obsess over mistakes and failure, yet we gloss over our milestones. But in a year like this one, we have to recognize and celebrate our achievements, big and small.

So look back on your planner and take note of the “Reflect and Celebrate” section. Or, take a moment to write down things that you did and are proud of. Maybe you figured out a great Zoom set up or you nailed a blueberry pie recipe or you rocked an online Photoshop class. 

Celebrate what you learned this year. Did you bake a cake from scratch? Did you paint your bedroom? Did you finally get around to organizing that one closet that’s been driving you crazy? Did you manage to leave your house and take walks every day? 

These may not seem like big achievements to you and they may not even be tangentially related to your goal, but celebrate them anyway (and who knows, they may pay off personally or professionally down the line!). 

Write these achievements down in your journal. Highlight and circle them with your favorite pen. Add a gold star. You earned it! 

Celebrate the things you learned about yourself this year. Maybe you realized that meditating for five minutes a day really clears your mind. Maybe you realized that re-reading old books is your favorite way to relax. Or maybe you figured out a foolproof way to de-stress after work.

Don’t shrug off the lessons you learned, no matter how mundane they may seem. Any opportunity for self-introspection and understanding will help you in the long run. After all, a big part of pursuing a goal is understanding our own habits and behaviors. 

While we can’t change the past and we can’t predict the future, we can take the time to reflect on our past experiences, cherish the good times, and learn from the challenging ones, and find ways to integrate these positive lessons into our present and future. 

We hope this exercise will help crystalize what’s important to you and make 2021 an even better year.