Many of us enjoy the excitement of setting a new goal or working on a new habit, but it’s a good idea to take time to review your current situation before rushing to create new goals. An effective review helps you realign your progress with your priorities, identify barriers, create solutions, and document success and lessons learned so you can be more effective in the future.
Although it’s common to review our lives at certain points, like at the end of a project, the end of a life phase (like graduation, job transition, etc), and around birthdays or New Year’s, I’d recommend also doing a review in the middle of a year or a project. This way, you can change anything you discover that’s preventing you from making progress, before too much time has passed.
Here are the steps and questions I’ve found work well for me when I do any review.
5 Steps for effective life reviews
Refresh yourself on goals and priorities
What do you want? What’s important to you?
Sometimes, no matter how much we want something, we get off track because it’s hard to stay focused on the goal. Having a regular habit of reviewing goals for a project or for the year is a good way to stay motivated and focused. Reviewing your priorities is just as important, because that will help you create better goals and give you a reminder of what to say “yes” and “no” to.
I review my bucket list a few times throughout the year, along with my goals for my business and personal life, so that I don’t lose track of the direction I want to go. Reviewing my priorities makes it easier to make decisions about how to spend my time, and who to spend it with. In a job situation, this helps me use my time to do the things that matter most to my business and the people I work for/with (because there’s always more work that can be done than there is time).
Where are you in relation to your goals?
You won’t know unless you periodically check in with yourself (and whoever else is involved). Once you remind yourself of what you want to accomplish, figure out how far away you are from those goals. If you’re really far away from the goal, or haven’t made any progress since your last review, you may also want to ask yourself if you actually want to pursue this goal, or if your priorities have changed (and then so should your goals).
When I see that I’m still on track to achieve a goal, for example: to post something every week on this blog for a year, it gives me more motivation to continue. When I notice that I’m far from a goal, for example: exercising the recommended 150 min per week, then I know there’s a problem.
What are the barriers keeping you from crossing that finish line?
It’s one thing to nebulously say there’s a problem, but it’s hard to do something about it if you never discover what’s causing it. Or, if you’re having success so far, but can see that there may be trouble on the horizon, take this opportunity to identify potential pitfalls so you can maintain your progress.
Continuing with the example of exercise, one of my barriers is my approach to it. I’ve been trying to get it done in 30-60 min chunks of time, because then I only have to do it a few times a week, but that means I have to block out larger chunks of time. While health is a priority, exercise hasn’t been (although I know it affects other areas of wellness). This means that every time something unexpectedly comes up in my schedule, and I don’t have 30 min to exercise anymore, I decide that it’s not going to happen.
What’s the plan? What will you do to make progress despite challenges?
When you figure out what’s making progress difficult, you can start to come up with plans to work around those barriers and push through the challenges you experience. Identify specific actions you can do to change the situation or your reaction to it.
For me, this usually involves thinking about the situation in a new way. Sometimes I have to ask other people for help and advice (outside perspectives can give fresh eyes), and other times I just need to try a new strategy (or an old one that’s worked for me in the past). To do more regular exercise, I did a few things: layer exercise on activities I’m already doing (making it a part of my normal life, for example, a walk around a lake with a friend instead of talking at a coffee shop), and breaking it down to smaller, more realistic chunks of time (10 min twice a day is much easier for me to schedule than a 20 min session). Now I do one session as part of my morning routine and one in the afternoon as a break.
Track progress and lessons learned
Is what you’re doing working? Compared with the last review, did you make progress?
Seeing a string of successes, no matter how small, can be helpful for those times when it seems like there’s no forward movement. Also be sure to record the lessons you’re learning so that you don’t have to relearn them (because let’s be honest- lessons are mostly learned from uncomfortable situations, and who wants to repeat that?). Recording lessons learned can also be helpful for the times when you feel like you’re a total failure (it happens) because then you can see that it’s not wasted time–you’re learning from what you’re experiencing now so you’ll be one step closer to success on the next attempt.
I know that 10 min chunks are more realistic for me to schedule because I’ve done it successfully in the past and been able to maintain the habit for a long time (lesson learned, but why did I stop? I lost track of my goals. Another lesson learned). Now I’m restarting, and so far I’m a few days in (yes, only days – every accomplished goal has to start somewhere). I’m keeping track of every 10 min, because monitoring these small successes really works for me (yet another lesson learned from accomplishing goals like posting weekly to this blog, or writing 50,000 words on a story in a month, or any number of other goals). It also gives me a record of the process of accomplishing a big goal, which is more challenging to value while I’m experiencing it, but is always the part I learn the most from in retrospect.
So… do you do regular reviews? Leave a comment with your methods, and share something you’ve learned from your most recent review.
Or… Are you a person who never stops to do a review, because – why live in the past? Let me know that too, and share what you do instead to learn from your experience. If there’s enough people who comment on it, I’ll write a post about it.