Looking Back, to Look Ahead

I’m a big believer in looking back as an important step in dramatically improving the future. While one traditional time to take a big look back is the transition from one year to the next, why wait?

With two months left in 2010 (and holiday vacation days potentially ahead of you when you could be moving ahead on future plans), how about taking time right now to review the year so far? This will allow you to better prepare yourself strategically for 2011, making sure you’re orienting yourself for new, innovative successes when you get a running start on making them happen.

How to do your quick recap?

Go back through your calendar from 2010 to see how you invested your time, effort, and other resources. While you’re at it, take a quick look through emails, online files, or any other sources which trigger 2010 recollections. As you do this, look for events, ideas, projects, interactions, meetings, articles, lessons learned, and anything else that stands out for good or bad from the first part of the year. Ideally, you’ll have a lengthy list of items which made 2010 noteworthy.

After generating your year-in-review list, revisit the items and categorize them items using the eleven groupings below. These categories will help you think strategically about the ideas, events, projects, and lessons learned you have experienced so far this year and what they might mean in 2011:

  • All About You – Are certain ideas, causes, issues, or practices tremendously important to you and the impact you’re trying to make in the world? Find room for these before you plan anything else.
  • Life Changers – Are there BIG thoughts and ideas which could make a HUGE difference in your life five or ten years from now if you got more accomplished on them NOW? What will you do to push ahead on them right away? (And puhleeez, no excuses about why you can’t do more with them!)
  • Distinctive to You – What were the things you did or learned which set you apart? How much benefit did they create for others and for you? Will they still keep you distinctive in 2011 or could they stand some freshening up to continue to be effective?
  • Energizers – What things excited and sustained you through challenging times this year? Trust me; you’ll want some more of those things in 2011 so plan now for where they fit in your calendar.
  • Second Life – We’re not talking the online environment here. How can you take things that worked in one setting and move them into other parts of your life to also have an impact? Additionally are there things which didn’t pan out because they received only your half-hearted effort? Consider giving these another shot as well with the focus and intensity to get them really right this time.
  • Unexercised Ideas – What potential possibilities have been kicking around too long without coming to fruition? Pick one or two and give them both some attention and a 2011 deadline.
  • Teachers – Where did you learn new things this year – either formally (training, conferences) or informally (from successes, failures, etc.)? What can you line up in advance for next year to make sure you’re continuing to develop personally and professionally?
  • Life Savers – Were there ideas or people which kept you from near-term ruin (or at least from suffering a few bumps and bruises)? Think they might do it again in the future? Make sure you don’t lose track of them then.
  • Guilty Pleasures – Admit it. There had to be a few fun things this year you’re not proud to admit you enjoyed. Figure out where they’re going to fit in your future schedule because they’ll be as important to your mental well-being in 2011 as in 2010.
  • Tired Ideas – Are there strengths or techniques you keep returning to time after time that are starting to even bore you? Jettison these and replace them with something new from now on.
  • Pride and Joy – Of everything you’ve been through in 2010, what were the most significant sources of comfort, satisfaction, and smiles? Which of these things (or other new efforts) are likely to do the same for you in 2011?

If you use this approach now, you’ll have done more personal planning than most people do, plus you’ll be two months ahead of everyone waiting for the end of the year to think about the next. Give it a try, even very informally, and improve your success in 2011.

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