As we wrap up the year, it’s a great time to review this year’s accomplishments and give some thought to the coming year. What would future you thank you for doing today?
Planning for the new year with future you in mind
I spend the last two weeks of the year focused on an annual review and planning for the coming year. In this post, I share some of my process in case some parts of it might be useful to you.
My approach this year has a slightly different focus inspired by something I read recently, which is to focus on future me, both as I’m identifying my goals and planning for the year but also as I’m making day-to-day decisions about what to do when.
This idea of taking care of “future you” came from chapter 6 of Chris Bailey’s book, The Productivity Project, in which the author discusses a study involving looking at brain scans of people in certain interactions with people they know and with strangers. Through this study, it was discovered that the brain scans of people thinking about themselves in the future looked very much like those of people interacting with or thinking about strangers. This discovery has a bearing on us because that is behind the unconscious thinking that leads to procrastination and other decisions that put commitments into the future:
“The more you see yourself like a stranger, the more likely you are to give your future self the same workload that you would give a stranger, and the more likely you are to put things off to tomorrow–for your future self to do. Since you see yourself from the future as no different from a stranger, you also see her . . . as less tired, busy, and more focused and disciplined that the [current] version of you. . . .”
“The more disconnected you are from your future self, the more likely you are to do things like:
- Give your future-self more work than you would give your present self
- Agree to unproductive or pointless meetings far off in the future
- Continually transfer aversive tasks to tomorrow’s to-do list
- Save less money for retirement.”
The Productivity Project
Below are some suggestions Bailey offers to connect more with your future self:
- Create a simulated photo of your future self
Use an app called AgingBooth (available for both Android and iOS; free) and post it where you see it regularly.
- Send a letter to your future self
He recommends FutureMe to send an email to your future self
- Create a future memory
For this suggestion, Bailey was inspired by Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct. The idea is to use visualization to “create a memory of yourself in the future, like one where you don’t put off a report you’re procrastinating on, or one where you read ten interesting books because you staved off the temptation of binge-watching three seasons of House of Cards on Netflix.”
Simply imagining a better, more productive version of yourself down the line has been shown to be enough to motivate you to act now in ways that are helpful for your future self.”
The Productivity Project
On this idea of taking care of your future self, Bailey points out that “When you put something off or waste time, you’re almost always being unfair to your future self.”
My Year-End Process: Look Back and Look Forward
While I do spend time at year-end reviewing the past year and making tentative plans for the coming year, I think it’s important to keep a clear perspective on this process. I try to find a balance between being present in the now and planning for the future. The past is gone and can’t be changed. It can inform our thinking about the now, but it doesn’t have to define our present.
On the other hand, the future doesn’t exist except in our minds. Still, in order to achieve the results we want in the future, we do need to think about it and take steps to prepare for it.
With those thoughts in mind, here is a brief outline of some of the steps I take in my year-end review and planning process. A lot of the steps involve thinking, and maybe journaling, about my answers to a number of questions.
First, a look BACK
1. Ask yourself:
- What has changed this year? (How is my life different now than it was on January 1 of this year?)
- I changed law firms.
- I let the apartment in the city go.
- I work from home, and no longer commute.
- Our middle son got married at our farm, so all my children were here together for the first time in many years.
- What is working in your current life?
- I have a new morning routine, using my own combination of elements of the Miracle Morning (made “famous” by writer Hal Elrod in his book by the same name) and my version of writer Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.
- I use a combination of digital task managers and my Bullet Journal to stay connected to the things I need and want to do.
- I make more time to read and allow myself to underline passages that speak to me. I purposefully slow down my reading, which gives me time to process what I’ve read.
- What feels not quite right?
- I have fallen off my exercise habit due to lots of travel in September followed by back pain followed by illness.
- I have not been writing as much as I wanted to, which is very unfair to my future self. (My December 2017 self isn’t too happy with my January through November 2017 self!)
- I’ve been spending a lot of time on administrative tasks and not being as responsive to email and TPW social media as I’d like to be.
- I’ve been spending too much money, buying things when I’m feeling bored or anxious
2. Evaluate the tools you’re using
Review your project/task manager, calendar, writing tools, etc. I’m feeling the urge to simplify, prune, and create space on my phone, in my calendar, in my mind.
3. Evaluating your workflows
- What am I doing that doesn’t need to be done?
- What am I spending more time on than it needs?
- What am I doing that somebody else could do?
4. Evaluating how you’re using your time, energy, and attention
Does your calendar reflect your truest values?
- Do you make time for yourself?
Do you make time for activities to grow, develop, rest, relax; things that contribute to your physical, mental, and emotional health?
- Do you make time for your significant other?
Mike and I have been married since we were 18 and our kids are mostly gone, so now we are “all we have.” So I ask myself . . . what am I taking for granted after all this time?
- Do you make time for your time for extended family?
How can you stay a relevant part of their lives when they live far away and have their own lives?
- Do you make time for your time for friends?
Honestly, this has been virtually nonexistent for me for years, largely due to the time and energy demands of my legal career. I have acquaintances but no local friends with whom I can share heart-to-heart moments. How do I feel about that, and what will I do about that? How can I stay connected with longtime friends who live far away?
- Do you make time to contribute positively to the world around you?
What do you have to contribute?
- Do you make time for work?
Next, look FORWARD:
After I finish the review of the past year, I evaluate what I discovered and consider what I want for the coming year.
- What actions do you want to take as a result of what you learned in your look back?
- What do you need or want to learn?
– I want to improve my coaching skill.
– I would like to learn to paint with watercolors.
– I would like to improve my fitness level.
- What do you want to accomplish by this time next year?
I would like to set a challenge for all of us for the last weeks of the year. Yes, we should set goals and look at the various areas of our lives – personal, professional, relationships, health, etc. But I also encourage you to spend some time laying a foundation for the new year, acknowledging the lessons learned from this one.
1. List 10 or more things (big or small) from 2017 you’re grateful for
Try Brooke Castillo’s idea of making a list of 20 things you want, but every other thing on the list has to be something you want AND already have.
“Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have.”
2. List your wins from 2017
List the things you’ve accomplished, efforts you made, new things you tried. Give yourself credit for those things. If you can’t think of anything, ask those who know and love you.
3. Think of your future self and take care of her
Spend some time thinking about the coming year. How do you want to feel this time next year? What will you need to do to feel that way, regardless of whether anything changes in your circumstances? In the same vein, what’s one thing you can do, starting today, to make yourself happier, healthier, stronger?
4. Think of others
Think of 5 people who’ve supported, encouraged and/or taught you this year, and write them a thank-you note.
Also, think about what’s one thing you can do for someone else to make their life better? Is there someone in your life who could use a word of encouragement, a bit of support? You might be surprised if you start paying close attention. Sometimes the people who seem to have it all together are the ones feeling the most lonely, isolated, discouraged. Pay attention, and listen to your instincts.
The beginning of a new year is a good time to start something new, to make a small (or big) change in your life or your mind, to take a step in a positive direction. But we don’t have to wait for January 1. We can start today, this minute. And each minute we can start again.
What do you think?
Do you use the year-end to do any sort of analysis, review, or planning? What’s working in your life? What’s not? Please share your year-end experience in the comments section at the bottom of this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
A last word of thanks . . .
This is my last post for 2017. I’ll be back the first week of January with new guests and more thoughts on making a life that matters. Thank you again for listening. Best wishes for a merry Christmas and the happiest of holiday seasons.
Resources and Links
- The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey
- The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal
- The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
- The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
- Some of the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year:
Announcements & Reminders
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