Last week, I posted my annual review of 2015 and was overwhelmed by the email responses. Among the many thank you and happy holiday notes, I noticed a constant question being asked: how do you conduct an annual review? This week’s blog post addresses that question, along with the inclusion of a free, downloadable annual review template document.
What is an annual review?
As employees of other companies, we have all gone through annual performance reviews with our managers. These are ways for companies to track the improvements (or lack thereof) made by their employees. Once you stop being someone else’s employee, the need for an annual review seems less pressing, unless we look at annual reviews (or annual reports) the way that Wikipedia does:
An annual report is a comprehensive report on a company’s activities throughout the preceding year. Annual reports are intended to give shareholders and other interested people information about the company’s activities and financial performance.
According to this definition, every creative person or entrepreneur who is self employed has a huge incentive to do annual reviews as a way of not only keeping themselves on track, but as a way of alerting their shareholders (ie. investors, clients, industry network) informed of what they’re up to. After all, if you’re selecting a photographer for a job, wouldn’t you feel a bit more secure choosing one whose business is transparent and financially sound?
How often do you conduct an annual review?
As its name suggests, annual reviews are typically conducted on a yearly basis. Personally, I do my typical annual review (typically my longest blog post of the year), but I also opt to do smaller monthly reviews in the form of my Monthly Highlights blog series. I find that monthly reviews not only make the annual review much faster and easier to do, but monthly check ins also help me stick to my goals over time. Whether you opt to do weekly, monthly, or yearly reviews is up to you. But having some degree of dedicated frequency is a must to make this practice most effective.
Annual Review Template
There’s no right or wrong way to conduct an annual review. I prefer to use a PDF document with guiding questions or ideas, and a Moleskine notebook to handwrite my thoughts. There’s something about writing goals and commitments down by hand that makes them more solidifying. Below are links to a free annual review template that I use to compose my Monthly Highlights and Annual Review posts.
Download: Annual Performance Review Template – Microsoft Word
Download: Annual Performance Review Template – PDF
Annual Review Tools
There are many different approaches to conducting annual reviews. What’s different about mine is my heavy emphasis on data. Inspired by the quantified self movement, I spent 2015 optimizing my life with as many tracking tools as possible to get realistic measurements of what a snapshot in my daily life looks like. Many of these tools are free or relatively affordable. I’ve spent less than $300 on my tracking tools. But the real investment comes in the time needed to collect, analyze, and sometimes input the data yourself. Are there better tools out there? Probably. If you have any suggestions, let me know!
- FitBit (daily steps and mileage): How many steps/miles did you walk this month?
- Strava (running and bicycling mileage): How many miles did you run this month?
- Toggl (work hours): How many hours did you work this month?
- MileIq (driving mileage): How many miles did you drive this month?
- QuickBooks + Excel spreadsheets (financials): What was your net income for the month?
Annual Review Tips
I set goals constantly of all different types. For the purpose of this article, I’ll use my recent big goal example: to improve my copywriting by enrolling into CopyHour, an online course aimed at improving writing skills.
1. Everything takes time.
While it’s important to set deadlines and timelines, it’s also crucial to remember that sometimes life happens and things take longer than expected. That’s ok, but be sure to update your goal sheet and calendars to keep up with deadline changes. Alluding to my recent goal with CopyHour, the program itself is set to last exactly 90 days; you don’t rush through it all, and instead allow you to make the new ritual a short part of your day.
2. Schedule your most important tasks early.
The more important the goal or task, the earlier it should appear on your calendar and to-do list. Get these things done as early in the day and early in the week as possible. With my CopyHour homework, I tend to tackle it first thing in the morning, when I’m freshest. This way, I make sure to get this task completed, and learning in the morning tends to solidify in your brain better.
3. Acknowledge that sometimes you just can’t do it all.
Even the loftiest planners can’t always fit everything in at once. If you don’t meet your goals for the month/week/year, don’t give up on them, but do consider breaking down that goal into something more bite-sized and manageable.
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