By Kate Matsudaira

How to Create a Yearly Theme


What do you have planned for this year? This year, I think you should skip your annual resolutions and do something different. This year, I think you should set a yearly theme. We created a custom Yearly Theme worksheet in the Spark Notebook, which you can use to plot out your Yearly Theme for free […]

What do you have planned for this year? This year, I think you should skip your annual resolutions and do something different.

This year, I think you should set a yearly theme.

We created a custom Yearly Theme worksheet in the Spark Notebook, which you can use to plot out your Yearly Theme for free here. To check out more of the layouts from the Spark Notebook and order your very own, head over to The Spark Notebook’s Shop page

What is a yearly theme?

A yearly theme can be a word or a phrase that you choose to define what the next year of your life is going to be. It is an idea that should speak to you, and that should guide you to make more of the choices you think will lead you where you want to go in life and if your career.

It will be your constant guide that informs your choices as you go about your life in the coming year. Rather than trying to achieve 5 big goals, a yearly theme helps you focus on the thousands of small decisions you’ll be asked to make all throughout the year and making sure those decisions are taking you where you really want to go.

Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? Your yearly theme will be the little voice in your head reminding you, every day, where you want to go and helping you get there.

Why you should set a yearly theme instead of resolutions

We all know how often people fail on their New Year’s Resolutions. It happens for a lot of reasons, but it happens most often because resolutions almost always require some big, out-of-the-ordinary change. Whether you’re deciding to go to the gym every morning or to speak at a conference this year, it requires a new way of thinking and a fair amount of work you hadn’t been doing before to accomplish those goals.

Resolutions often feel like distractions from your normal life. In addition to your regular responsibilities of work and family, now you’re adding something else you have to do. That’s why they’re so easy to quit when life and work make us busy or stressed.

This is why I always advocate consistency through the power of small changes, rather than trying to make one big change you think will improve your life.

Success comes from focus. In the book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller explains how focusing on one thing — the thing that will move the needle forward most, right now — is what makes successful people so successful.

You don’t need to take on something new in order to be great. In fact, you shouldn’t.

You need to create a mindset where you can work with what you have to maximum advantage. Don’t add some new task, hoping it is what will make you more productive or happier. Instead, get focused on what will make the biggest difference for you and then work at that thing only, until it’s done, to the best possible quality.

A yearly theme works the same way. It gives you a simple framework for moving through your life, so you can make the most of what you have every single day. It gives you a focus for your life, even as you evolve and change throughout the year.

Rather than choosing a big, new goal and trying to find time, effort, and energy to make it happen, a yearly theme helps you focus on creating a complete life where you are doing more of the things you want all the time.

How to create a yearly theme

We created a custom Yearly Theme worksheet in the Spark Notebook, and you can download it now to plot out your Yearly Theme for free here.

1. Set aside a block of time to think

Reflect on the last year. What do you want to leave behind? What went incredibly well? What do you want more of?

The more you think about what you really want — how you want to feel, who you want to be — rather than just what you want to get (promotions, raises, etc) the better your theme will guide you to have the kind of year that will lead you where you want to go.

Think about the kind of person you aspire to be. Imagine meeting the perfect version of yourself in 5 years. What does that person know that you don’t know yet? What do they do? Who do they know? How do they spend their time?

Draw inspiration from the person you want to be, to help you decide what words or phrases will inspire you to be more of that.

2. Write out lots of ideas

Here’s a look at a sample Yearly Theme worksheet — you’ll see the final theme at the bottom, but at the top you can see lots of different ideas the writer was working through before she got there.

It will probably take you a while to work through your ideas and come up with a word or phrase that resonates with you, so don’t try to force it if it doesn’t happen right away.

3. Come up with your favorites and then come back later

You’ll probably have a few top choices for your yearly theme by the end of your brainstorming session. Let them simmer for a while, and revisit the exercise in a few days to see how each of your possible themes feels later on. You may find that one stands out clearly above the rest, or that you want to tweak your top choice to better match your hopes for the year.

By giving yourself some time to step away and think about your themes, you’ll make sure they fit what you actually want as well as possible, so that you are actually inspired to stick with it throughout the year.

4. Write it down and keep it somewhere you can see it

Your theme is only as powerful as you make it! Write it down somewhere (in your Spark Notebook, perhaps!) like at your desk, in your day planner, or on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror.

Your yearly theme should inspire you to be the version of yourself that you dreamed about back in step one. And it can only do that when it is at the front of your mind, so make it easy for yourself to remember and keep it present.

Check in on your theme from time to time. Ask yourself if you are fulfilling your yearly theme so far. How has your work reflected your theme? In what ways have you not lived up to it, or missed the target at times? How can you make sure you don’t miss it go forward through the rest of the year? Have you evolved – and does your definition of your theme need to evolve?

We would love to hear what YOUR yearly theme is in the comments section, or if you have other advice for making a yearly theme work. Let’s make it an amazing year.