Published 19/12/2019
Updated: 28/12/2021

It is the last few days of the year!  Can you believe it? At this time of year I get to do one of the most exciting things I do each year!  I get to do my annual review and start to think about what I want the next year to be like!

Are you thinking about 2022 yet? What you want life to be like in the next decade? What you want to get rid of? What you want more of?

Alan Donegan reviewing his goals from 2019 and thinking about 2020

Alan reviewing his 2019 goals
10 or 12 years ago I started to do annual goal setting and reflection and have slowly developed my list of questions and process over that period.  I have run it with everyone on the Rebel team and shared with friends to great impact but not published it yet!  This is what I want to give to you for Christmas this year.  This is my Christmas present to you……………

Building the future…..

………. starts with reviewing the past.  In 2018 my wife (Katie) and I travelled to Talinn, Estonia for our annual review retreat.  We love to take a week out to reflect, eat amazing food and feel Christmassy.  We have long chats over hot drinks and amazing food about what we have loved about the year, what we have hated and what is to come in the next year.

Now you don’t have to go as extreme as we do but there is HUGE value in taking time to reflect on the year passed and setting up the next year.   There is even more value doing it with the people you love.

At the heart of Katie and my process is a set of questions that we ask each other, answer and discuss.  This helps us to formulate our plans and work to make our lives better every single year.  The questions are the main part of the process but I will write a second post about the other elements that we do each year.

Questions are the answer

The quality of the questions you ask determines the quality of answers you get.  The right question can unlock your thinking, free you from past thinking and help you make incredible progress.  Simon my business partner at Rebel Business School and I have become collectors of powerful questions over the years and ask them regularly at our events and to each other.

I have taken the best of these questions including ones I found online through countless hours of research and compiled them into a set of annual review questions that Katie and I go through each year.    If I ever feel lost in the middle of the year I go back to these questions as well; why does it have to be January to plan?

I create a blank set of questions each year for us both and we type out our own answers.  We add graphs, pictures and more to the different sections and have a lot of fun reviewing the year!  Have we made progress? What happened and where did we go?  What are we going to do differently?

Some of the questions are tough and make you think about what didn’t go well in the last year and this is really important as it allows you to think about what you want to change. There is no point just reviewing all the good stuff and avoiding the real issues.

The process of answering the questions takes us several sittings and I get lost for hours in warm coffee shops in a wonderful haze of self reflection and learning.  We type and tap out our thoughts, feelings and reflections.

We do the same thing at Rebel Business School.  We create a page of questions for every team member who then goes through and fills them out!  This forms the basis of a lot of powerful conversations that we have at our annual Rebel team retreats!

Sometimes the questions have shown that working at Rebel is not right for some team members and they move onto new careers, sometimes it uncovers deep problems that we can tackle and improves life for all of us. They are incredibly powerful questions.

I wanted to make this available for you too!  You can download the questions and use them with your family, your loved ones, your friends or your company as the basis of an annual review!

The questions for you to download

2021_annual_review_questions.one
File Size: 4575 kb
File Type: one

Download File


This is the OneNote file.  You will need to use OneNote online or have the app on your computer or phone to use it!  This is the one I highly recommend!

2021_annual_review_questions.pdf
File Size: 237 kb
File Type: pdf

Download File


This is a PDF of the questions to make it easy for you to print out or use

2021_annual_review_questions.docx
File Size: 421 kb
File Type: docx

Download File


This is a Microsoft Word Doc of the questions for those of you who are fully old school!

Sharing and commenting

There is incredible power in self-reflection but where I really think our process comes to life is when we share our answers.  If you are a couple you can do this together, if you don’t have a partner right now find a friend you want to do it with, or the team you work with.

Katie and I write our answers to the questions in Microsoft OneNote which is a free tool from Microsoft that gives you a virtual notebook. It is one of my favourite tools in the world and I use it to run most areas of our lives!  I am able to see Katie’s answers, comment, add thoughts and more for our discussion.

Writing it down and sharing comments before you discuss in person can take some of the heat out of it and help you to have better conversations when you talk face to face!  This is especially if there is one of you that is more verbose or a stronger personality than the other, writing first gives you both an equal voice.

I remember one particular monthly reflection where I wrote “I am not sure I have had any fun this month!” I had a negative view of the month.  Katie then read what I had written and put a note next to it saying “I disagree” and then she listed all the fun things we had done together that month.

I was blown away by the fact that my mind had conveniently removed all those great things from my memories to back up my belief that I hadn’t had that much fun!  Katie helped me to see a completely different world to the one that I was seeing at the time and helped me to reframe my thoughts.

This process of writing out your thoughts and getting perspective from outside is so powerful.

Freezing your thinking

Writing your thoughts out has incredible power.  It allows you to take what is so fluid and shifting in your mind and freeze it on paper or the screen for evaluation.  Your mind chews over thoughts in your head and rolls it around.  If it is something difficult we can get stuck on it for days, weeks or even years thinking of different angels and going over the same thoughts again and again.

But if you get it out on paper, if you freeze your thoughts you can float above them, reflect and evaluate them. It gives you the ability to start to look at your own thoughts objectively.

If you do this over time your effort compounds as you start to better understand yourself and the way you think.   The thing I have become addicted to is looking back at my thinking from years passed.  I get to see what I used to think and see if it has changed or not.  If you do this process this year and then review it as part of your yearly reflection you will start to see if you are changing over time or stuck in an endless loop.  It is such a powerful tool.

You could use the questions I am sharing with you to inspire a conversation and just sit round a table but I think the real power is in taking the time to write out your comments first and to freeze your thinking!

​Set aside a few hours, download the questions and head to your favourite coffee shop and get the thoughts out of your head.   Put the kids to bed and then give yourself the gift of self-reflection and time with your thoughts.

Discussion

Want to 10x the power of self-reflection? Then discuss your answers with a coach, friend or loved one. in 2018 for the Rebel annual company retreat we all went to G’Dansk in Poland and stayed there for a week planning and thinking!  Why G’Dansk? You can find out here about geo-arbitrage meetings!

In the evenings after working through our business ideas and plans we would go out for dinner as a team and work through a few of the questions from The Annual Review.  James would choose a question and we would go around the team each individually sharing our answers.

At times it was painful, at times it was inspiring and emotional but it always helped us to work through what had happened over the last year and get us focused on the next.

After you have worked through the questions choose your favourite cafe, restaurant or space and head their with your partner/friend to share and discuss your answers.

Keys to making the discussion work.  Sometimes discussing these questions can be difficult so here are a few ideas of how to increase your chances of the conversation going well.

  • Listen to the other persons complete answer.  Make sure you listen to the entire answer that the other person says before commenting, give them space.  When you have finished listen try sentences such as “what I heard was…………….”  This shows you were listening and checks comprehension.
  • Listen without judgement.  If you want people to be open and honest with you then you need to listen without judgement.  Accept what the other person says to you and don’t judge it, don’t make them wrong, don’t ask negative questions such as “WHY are you doing that?”
  • Take breaks!  You can only do this sort of stuff for so long before you need a break!  Make sure you relax through the process and enjoy.
  • Ask questions.  Before replying to the answer your partner gave you; ask them some follow up questions.  The more and better questions you ask the more conversation and progress you can inspire!

​There is so much power in the open discussion of these questions afterwards!

Overall process

The questions are the main element of Katie and my Annual Reflection and this is what this article has been about. I will write another article soon about the rest of the process. To make it easier for you here is our full annual review question process:

  1. Find someone or a group of people to do this with.  Your partner, business team, group of friends or family.
  2. Create a blank doc with all the questions in it.  We use OneNote to do it but you can do it in anything you can type or write into.   Everyone gets their own copy. You could just download multiple copied of the files above.
  3. Answer the questions in as much detail as you can.  Spend time, do several passes and write out your answers.  You aren’t going to be able to write all the answers in one sitting; there are just too many so take your time and luxuriate over the process of self-reflection.
  4. Share your answers with you partner.
  5. Read their answers and write separate comments.  Maybe in a different colour or next to their answers so it creates a discussion.  Add positive thoughts, comments, questions and more.
  6. Swap back again and read the responses
  7. Organise a time to chat through it all.  Meet for a hot chocolate, do a zoom call and organise a time for you both to talk through the answers and have a really good chat about the future
  8. Create a list of actions from this process.  Self-reflection without action afterwards is vanity

Thinking: the thing people avoid

Thinking is one of the most powerful things you can do.  You can build businesses, create worlds and improve your situation through the power of thinking.  Obviously you have to act afterwards but it all starts with thoughts, your thoughts.

Most people avoid thinking.  They watch television, listen to music, go out drinking.  Anything to avoid doing the work of thinking.  Most people don’t like to think and avoid it at all costs.  Deep thinking and reflection is not always comfortable.

I don’t care whether you do it in pen and paper, in OneNote, Evernote or a word document (how 90S!) what I really care about is that you take the time to think deeply and freeze your thoughts so that they can be examined.

If you are thinking “this is sounding like too much work I just want to watch Love Island instead” then this is EXACTLY what you need to do!   Become a conscious creator of your own life by thinking about it.

On the Rebel Entrepreneur podcast I keep repeating: the extraordinary belongs to those that create it.  This is the root of that idea, you have to think about your life, come up with ideas, reflect and consciously create it.  If you want an extraordinary life no-one is going to hand it to you; no-one goes around the neighbourhood asking if anyone fancies an extraordinary life.  YOU HAVE TO CREATE IT.

Stop avoiding thinking and dive in, relish it, luxuriate in self-reflection that can inspire you and the people around you to build the life of your dreams.

Self-care is not a bubble bath or watching a box-series on Netflix.  TRUE self-care is desiging a life you don’t want to run away from.

Taking the time to think beyond the normal automatic responses and standard three things you tell every body.  Taking the time to go deep into your mind and really explore and learn about yourself.  This; I promise; will help you to start to make progress and if you keep it up year on year will create magic results.

The extraordinary belongs to those that create it

Review 2021 and set up 2022!

All that remains now is for you to take the set of questions I have curated and to use them!

I would love to hear how it worked for you.  What problems you had, if it worked or didn’t!  I am always looking to improve my processes and this is one that I have found very powerful for us so I would LOVE to hear your experiences!

My reason for sharing this with you is that I believe it will help you to set up 2022 to be the best year ever for you.

I want nothing but success and happiness for you in 2022!

Love Alan

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