How to Kickstart Your Year with 12 Key Questions

At the time of this recording, it’s the last week in December 2021. What a year it’s been. In some ways, it was a lot easier than 2020 and, in other ways, it was a lot harder. We might have gained clarity on what we control and what we don’t control, and what to hold on to and what to let go of. And we might have wanted certain things to snap back, but they didn’t and probably won’t, at least for now.

Do you set New Year’s resolutions and forget about them by February?

Are you big on setting annual goals, but often fall short on meeting them?

Have you taken time to reflect on the past 12 months before diving into what comes next?

This is episode 45. How to Kickstart Your Year with 12 Key Questions.

Hello and welcome to The Incrementalist, a productivity show on making big changes in small steps. My name is Dyan Williams and I’m your productivity coach and host for this show.

At the time of this recording, it’s the last week in December 2021. What a year it’s been. In some ways, it was a lot easier than 2020, and in other ways it was a lot harder. We might have gained clarity on what we control and what we don’t control, and what to hold on to and what to let go of. And we might have wanted certain things to snap back, but they didn’t and probably won’t, at least for now.

The start of the new year is an ideal time to take stock and reflect. January 1, the 1st of every month, or the start of a new season are temporal landmarks. This is when many of us set goals or recommit to goals.

A review of the year gives you insights on how to move forward in the next. It’s better to do it in the first week of the year, but no later than before you start planning for the upcoming months.

Invest at least 30 minutes and preferably an hour to deeply reflect on the past year. To go really deep, you could block two hours on two consecutive days or four hours in one day.

With an annual review, you get to appreciate events and experiences that stand out for you. You savor the lessons you learned about yourself and the world around you.

You can do your review at the dining table, at your work desk, on your couch, or outdoors if the local weather is ideal for you. You might want to sit with a bottle of water, a cup of tea, a mug of coffee or a glass of wine. You get to decide what works for you.

It’s hard to remember everything that happened, everything you did and didn’t do, and everything you gained and lost in a 12-month period.

In episode 19, Create Peak Moments, I talked about the Peak End Rule. It’s a cognitive bias that affects our memories and shapes our behavior. We remember fragments of an event or experience. The fragments are the peaks, the pits, and the beginning and ending.

Because life is too complex for the brain to remember everything, we often misinterpret events, make faulty assumptions about them, and recall just the highlights.

Don’t rely on just your memory when you do your review. Go through your personal records, like journals, planners, calendars, notebooks, videos and photos.

Side note: A weekly review at the end of each week makes the annual review at the end of the year, feel more natural, and go more smoothly. Check out episode 8 if you don’t do a weekly review and want to start.

When it comes to the annual review, you will tap into your recollections and records to get a sense of what occurred. Then write down the following 12 questions and spend at least 3 minutes answering each.

While you could do this on your computer, tablet or phone, I recommend you go analog. The tactile, physical experience of handwriting tends to be less distracting and more rewarding than typing on a digital device.

So, here are the 12 questions to kickstart your year:

Question #1: What made you feel the most joy?

Question #2: What made you feel the most discontent?

Question #3: What was your biggest win? How did you celebrate it?

Question #4: What was your biggest setback? How did you recover from it?

Question #5: What do you wish to do or experience more? What would happen if this came true? How can you make it come true?

Question #6: What do you wish to do or experience less? What would happen if this came true? How can you make it come true?

Question #7: Which habit or activity renews your energy the most?

Question #8: Which habit or activity drains your energy the most?

Question #9 What did you do to make life for your [spouse, partner, child, sibling, parent, friend, colleague] more easeful?

Question #10: What did you do to make life for your [spouse, partner, child, sibling, parent, friend, colleague] more difficult?

Question #11: What did you receive from each person that made you most grateful?

Question #12: What was the biggest lesson you learned and are afraid to apply?

If these questions do not resonate with you, be sure to come up with your own to reflect on the past and plan for the future. It doesn’t have to be 12. It could be three. Or just one big one for contemplation.

Reflection encourages deep thinking, creative thinking and critical thinking. It gives you a more holistic observation of who is most important and influential in your life, the things you value the most, and the progress you made.

You’ll gain insights about your why, your drive, your motivation, your purpose and your mission. You will also be more informed about how to become your best self.

Remember the 80/20 rule: 20% of what you do creates 80% of the results, either 80% of your joy or 80% of you discontent.

Make and protect time on your calendar for the things that bring you joy and re-energize you. And say no, gracefully, to events and commitments that create discontent and deplete your energy.

This doesn’t mean you do only easy things. Some things can be very hard to do, but are very rewarding and well worth the effort.

While growth is not automatic, it doesn’t have to be too hard or painful. You just need to take deliberate, consistent steps in the right direction.

Being busy is not the same as accomplishment. Getting to the next level requires deep awareness and action with intention.

Reflection is essential. How else will you know how much you have progressed or procrastinated, and what works and what doesn’t? And how will you connect the dots if you don’t look backwards? Without reflection, you tend to repeat or add more of the same stuff that doesn’t really serve you or the people you serve.

To get a sense of the big picture, you need to review the highs and lows, especially in the key domains of life, like work, business, career; family, relationships and friendships; health and fitness; and creative expression.

A yearly review helps you see reality more clearly, learn how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. And then respond more skillfully to what’s real and what’s perceived.

While the New Year is ideal for reflection, you don’t have to wait until January or another temporary landmark rolls around to look within.

Asking the right questions will lead to more informed answers. Sometimes we avoid questions because they are inconvenient and they hold us accountable or responsible. But if we don’t bring them to the surface, they will linger and keep us from growing and making good decisions.

If you liked this episode, hit the like and share buttons. I also welcome constructive comments and positive reviews.

The Incrementalist podcast was launched in January 2021 and, as of December, it is now also a YouTube channel. We’re looking to add 100 or more subscribers for a custom URL, which makes the channel easier to find. For podcast listeners, the link to the YouTube channel is in the show notes.

You can also join my e-newsletter list at dyanwilliams.com. As an e-newsletter subscriber, you get a part of my book, The Incrementalist, and the show notes in your inbox. You can buy the whole book at leanpub.com. It’s now on sale for $4.99 up to January 31st. After that, the minimum price will go back to the regular $9.99.

If you need training or coaching on how to focus on what really matters, or have a productivity question you want me to cover in a future episode, send me an email at dyan@dyanwilliams.com.

Thank you for joining me and tune in again next time on The Incrementalist.

Join our newsletter

Sign up to get updates on blog posts, online courses, bonus tips and exclusive access to Empower Toolkit

Got it. You're on the list!
© 2021 Dyan Williams