January 2, 2021

My 2020 Annual Review Process

In 2018, I did my first proper annual review. I followed the process outlined in this document, and it took absolutely ages.

I followed the same process for 2019, and it was a little faster since I was mostly able to just describe what had changed since last year rather than having to start from scratch. But it still felt like a lot of work, and it felt silly to be giving all the different life areas equal attention when it was clear that some areas were going fine and others could do with more in-depth analysis.

So this year I changed it up - I didn’t follow a template and instead just wrote about whatever felt alive’ to me. This is the structure I ended up with:

What Was Good This Year?

Here I listed anything I felt positively about. This included:

  • Habits I successfully adopted
  • Quality of life upgrades (like moving house, getting laser eye surgery, salary increases, etc)
  • Skills I improved on
  • Cool experiences I had
  • Projects I completed (both work and personal)
  • Positive world events
  • Podcasts, books, blogs, etc that stood out
  • Positive interactions and relationships
  • etc

What Was Not so Good?

Here I listed any negative stuff that had been on my mind. This included:

  • Goals or habits I didn’t successfully achieve
  • Stuff that was stressing me out
  • Stuff that I felt anxious about
  • Stuff that felt unresolved or confusing
  • Negative world events
  • Challenges (both at work and personal)
  • Stuff I want to improve on
  • etc

What Did I Learn About Myself?

Here I listed any insights I had about myself. This included:

  • Changes in my values
  • Significant updates to my beliefs
  • Realizations about my personality, preferences, or tendencies
  • How I like to spend my time
  • Hypothesizing what my ideal life would look like given all of the above
  • etc

Reflections From Last Years Review?

Then I read through my previous annual review and wrote down any remarks as they came to me. This included:

  • Things that surprised me
  • Things I had forgotten about
  • Things that I had planned to do but didn’t/couldn’t (last year I had planned to host more parties in 2020… thanks covid)
  • Progress on any of the goals/habits I’d listed
  • etc

What Do I Want to Focus on for 2021?

This was a bit of a brainstorm about where I want to direct my attention for the upcoming year. It helps to look at the twelve life areas’ in this guide, to see which ones you’ve been neglecting, or where there is room for improvement. This year, mine were mostly focused around health, creative output, and friendships. I kept them pretty general, stuff like eat more vegetables” and publish more” - in the next section they get more concrete and actionable.

Concrete Strategies?

Here, I tried to think of concrete things I could do to improve on the areas of focus listed in the previous section, like make sure 50% of each meal is vegetables” and publish one thing everyday”. I tried to make sure they were actions within my direct control; more like habits or systems than goals.


Here I collected key numbers like:

  • Finance metrics (e.g. income, net worth)
  • Health and fitness metrics (e.g. weight)
  • Books read
  • etc

Fun Things This Year

Here I listed fun activities that stood out to me, including:

  • Trips I took (not many this year!)
  • Dinners or social activities with friends

Themes for 2021

Finally, I picked 1-3 themes for the year ahead that I’ll use to guide my focus. This year my themes are: Consistency and Playfulness.

I chose consistency because I have always been terrible at sticking to stuff that takes a long time to pay off. Even though intellectually I know that compounding returns are a thing, if I don’t see immediate gains I start to think it’s not working. This year, I want to commit to consistency and stop focusing on the end result. It’s an experiment - if the consistency pays off and I see long-term improvements, I hope my brain will start to internalize this. If the consistency doesn’t pay off and I still don’t see improvements, I can stop feeling guilty about all the habits I gave up on.

I chose playfulness because I love being silly, but I’ve started to feel like I’ve been taking myself too seriously recently. With all that’s going on in the world it’s easy to just feel heavy and dark, especially when you can’t see friends to lighten things up. My work basically involves thinking about all the ways AI can be harmful and trying to put structures in place to mitigate this, and although I’m very grateful to be doing meaningful work it can also take quite an emotional toll. I find writing to be a great benefit to my mental health, but I’ve been nervous about publishing stuff due to worrying about what other people think. This year, I’m trying to take a more playful approach to everything, and to just get over it and publish stuff, even if it’s silly.