A Year End Review and Preparing Your 2024 Strategy

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19 min read

Every year, I make time for a year-end ritual for my business. This year is no exception. I would like to share it with you.

Many year end rituals end up being a fun exercise, like journaling a snapshot of what’s going on in your life and business, coming up with a “word of the year,” or other “self help” ideas that never really translate into real action or results.

These rituals feel good, but usually look something like this:

  • Making futile plans and resolutions that will probably need adjustments or even an overhaul in 6 months (because things can and will change rapidly)
  • Having no clue what really developed over the past year (no documentation)
  • Lack of a solid frame of reference for where you are headed
  • Thinking that a journaling session will be enough to carry a vision and actually implement it
  • Entertainment value only. You feel good for about as long as it takes to binge on a Netflix series.

This ritual can (and I believe should) be a pleasant experience and also useful. Over the years I have developed a system/ritual that actually sticks with me.

Note: This ritual works best when you are in the habit of doing weekly and monthly check-ins and documenting them. For me, weekly doesn’t always happen, (I do my best) but monthly check-ins do, because I make it easy on myself with my own templates.

Otherwise you’ll be trying to re-create details of an entire year through the lens of the moment you are currently in. This won’t give you the best insight needed for this exercise, but you can certainly get started by going ahead with the ritual anyway and setting up your documents, journals, spreadsheets, notebooks, or whatever medium you prefer.

I’ll guide you through the basics here in this blog and give you some other resources if you want to take it to the next level.

Just as CEO’s probably won’t be able to get into planning and visioning modes if they did all the admin and documentation work on the fly (the brain goes in to many directions) I have made it much easier on myself by now by having documents needed for this ritual at my fingertips.

(One day I would love to aggregate as much as I can into a dashboard..  not this year, but I still have everything at my fingertips)

THE YEAR END RITUAL

I start by slowing down, taking time to clear my mind. I’ll then sit down with a cup of coffee and begin. I may also take  a walk or engage in a  relaxing activity that lets clarity and creativity bubble up.  I get in the “zone.” I light a candle and pour a glass of wine.

I have a presentation/slide deck that guides me through this ritual so that I don’t have to think about where to find stuff. I even included slides that guide me through the first steps of the ritual.. with pics and links to playlists, reminders, a mini meditation, and pictures.

I have also bookmarked a group of tabs which I then open so that everything is at my fingertips

This could also be a Trello board, a document, a video, or even something completely analog. It’s about what works for you.

The core documents:

  • A journal of accomplishments
  • Quarterly CEO reports (For me, these are slide decks)
  • Any relevant spreadsheets

I recommend keeping everything cohesive. If you have random files all over the place that are not contained in a document with links or a project management system, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll go through this process.

That’s not all.. in order for this to “stick,” my entire brain must be relaxed and on board:

At the end of this ritual when I’ve completed all the “left brained” reflection and analysis, I let the creative and subconscious part of my brain take over.

This may include photos and videos, or perhaps movies that have a particular meaning for me, which are a powerful accompaniment to the words and lists I write. I may even include a “soundtrack.” It becomes a story, something my entire mind.. both conscious and subconscious.. can get on board with and enjoy the ride.

The goal is to make it come alive, using all your senses, so that it sticks with you and has far more impact.

Let’s get started!

ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2023

Actually, this process starts with a regular habit. Each year, I take time to write down all my accomplishments in one document. This is an informal running list I keep in a simple Google doc, with headings for each month of the year.

If you don’t have one, your ritual could include creating this simple but powerful list.

At the end of the year, I read it.

I actually read it twice.

Once on an objective level. I take notes:

What got done?
What didn’t get done?
What produced the best results?
What was a waste of time?
What would I optimize? (If something works, how do I take advantage of it?
What would I tweak?
What gaps in my systems can I clearly see now that I didn’t before?
What did I enjoy that I’m also good at and want more of?
What did I resent doing and want less of?
What would I do differently?

The answers to these questions will go in my CEO yearly report, along with links to some spreadsheets. I highly recommend keeping track of important data. (More on this in a moment)

You could also use software to help you with this, such as AirTable. I will probably keep refining my systems but for now I’ve got some great spreadsheets.

Then I read it again.

This time, it’s about how I FEEL about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Some surprising things come up from this exercise.

The first is, even if I’ve kept telling myself that I’ve had a “meh” or even shitty year, this exercise, thus far, has always had me feeling better, in control, and the author of my own destiny.

I find that not only do I have a pretty good list of accomplishments, but I’ve “leveled up” in most years.

Then I take time to reflect on NOT just each individual item on the list, but the overarching THEME of that particular year.

For example, some years were about physical and athletic accomplishments. Other years were all about making ONE pivotal move.. 2015  was about making my first trip to Zagreb happen, and having faith that it would.. and also in learning the language. (I still have a long way to go)

2020 was also a pivot for me.. intentionally, before the pandemic, but I also had to adapt in other ways. I’m sure I’m not the only one!

The past few years have honestly been challenging, but I’ve also built systems that I’m SO glad I put into place because without them, I would really be lost (screwed)

It’s hard to see this during the course of daily life. Often it feels like I am plodding along, tired, inefficient, and slow, or blindsided by something outside of my control.

It’s amazing how powerful this simple document can be in putting everything into perspective. Best of all, there’s no special skill required. Make it a habit!

Extra credit: Go back and read one of these documents from a few years back to see how you and your business has grown.

DATA COLLECTION and DOCUMENTATION

Ok.. don’t skip over this just because it sounds boring.

I’m a bit “over” the idea that decisions are to be handled solely via intuition or whatever external forces are currently poised to wreak havoc on us: (Energy fields, the Economy, etc)

Just as it’s pretty much impossible to be the pilot of your own aircraft without learning to make a plan, observe external influences like weather, trust your instrumentation, maintain situational awareness, make adjustments, value the skill of developing good judgement, knowing when to fly on autopilot and when to fly (or land) manually, all while communicating with ATC.. (air traffic control)

We also need to do the same.

Because intuition is a wonderful tool. It’s what makes us not robots, and why we still have humans flying planes.

I have an equation I often mention: Data + Intuition = Insight.

That’s what we’re going for. In order to do this, we need to pay attention to and intentionally gather and analyze DATA  as part of our decision making process.

Making data-driven decisions is also key to making course corrections in business and also in getting great results for clients.

Data is our friend.

And that’s why my spreadsheets play a role in my year-end review. It gives me honest feedback. When combined with more of the “softer” tools of a year-end review, both are more powerful.

My spreadsheets include:

  • KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) where I keep track of things like Pinterest engagement, email opens and clicks, website traffic, and more.
  • An email marketing spreadsheet to track what’s working with my newsletter content
  • Keyword spreadsheets (although I prefer to use software for this)
  • .. and probably a few more I can’t think of off the top of my head at the moment.

These don’t have to be complicated, especially when you first start out.  (I have a theory that we tend to go from simple, experiment and maybe get a little messy and complex, then go back and do some pruning and streamlining)

THE CEO REPORT

I also take a close look at the goals I outlined in what I call my CEO monthly report. If you don’t like the word report, that’s fine.

Call it what you will, but the end goal is the same: To integrate data, intuition, ideas and implementation so that we can make the most effective decisions and create a plan to make sure those decisions are executed throughout the year (or at least the next 90 days)

You can also design it however you want. That’s the good news: My report and yours will not look exactly alike.

The bad news is that it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to even start or include in your report, even if it’s basic. ( I do go into this in detail and provide templates inside the Future Proof Academy)

Over the years I’ve developed my own monthly CEO ritual and a slide deck that guides me through it.

If you want to do something similar, it doesn’t have to be a slide deck. It can be a doc, a notebook, or even a video.

I find that a Google slide deck works best for me to capture all the pieces I look at each month in one place. Honestly there’s nothing high tech about it.. there’s title slides, text, links to other documents, and screenshots. That’s it.

Starter topics/title slides might include:

  • Short term goals
  • Long term goals
  • SEO/Google analytics screenshots
  • Social media analytics
  • Sales goals and projections
  • Projects
  • KPI (Key performance indicator) screenshots
  • Gaps (What’s missing?)
  • Trends
  • Insights
  • Your word of the year, anchors, your big WHY, and other mindset work. Yes! I still love this stuff but only in context of everything else.

Again, one day I may come up with something more sophisticated, but this works for me right now.

It’s also easy to make a new copy each month so that I can track progress and see where I’m going from month to month without overriding the previous data and insights.

At the end of the year, I have a collection of 12 of these. I don’t go over them in great detail but I find highlights.

This document is a great way to easily see where I’m going, what gaps and challenges are, and make course corrections as I go. It’s highly visual and divided into sections so that it’s easy to follow.

The report exists to make sure that I’m acting as my own CEO, not just as the employee who can easily become a slave to daily to-do lists.  Again,  I do go into this on a deeper level and have templates available inside the Future Proof Academy.

Even though I have other tools to help me manage tasks on a weekly level (Which I could save for another blog) the running list of accomplishments and the CEO report help me discover just how much I really am building my business one brick at a time.

“We tend to overestimate the work we can accomplish in a day, and underestimate the amount of work we can accomplish in a year” 

CONSISTENCY

Consistency is something that tends to be underrated these days, in favor of multitasking, coming up with new ideas, or quitting when things become challenging.

These documents can demonstrate the power of showing up consistently.

I’ve long stretches of time in which my days could be classified as boring and uneventful to most. Studying, training, and preparing.

Other years I made radical, dramatic changes. In 2017 I sold or got rid of almost everything I had and moved to Europe to become, for lack of a better word, a “digital nomad.”

My documentation and rituals show me at a glance that I’m making progress even when things appear boring or messy or scary.

EMERGING PATTERNS

When you get into the habit of year-end reviews, you’ll start to see an overall (life) pattern emerge, which can be very insightful.

For example, if I wanted to do a decade review, I would see themes and patterns emerging: My experience as a graphic designer, training as an athlete, getting through acupuncture school, building a practice, learning a second language, learning how to build a 100% remote business, or setting up technical systems that would be the foundation of what I am doing today.

This gives me context to ponder: “What’s next?”

What skills have worked well together? What provides the most meaning for me? What is the best way to serve?

And also..

What long-term patterns may be holding me back?

Examples: consistent under-earning, people pleasing, or self-sabotaging behaviors.

We need to look at it all: Good, bad, and even ugly.

COMFORT ZONES

On one hand, one of the main reasons for doing this ritual is about taking action, which includes areas that maybe we typically avoid. For example, it’s very easy for me to create content and systems and spreadsheets all day, but I tend to isolate myself and this has hurt me. This is something I need to be aware of.. it’s scary for me to reach out to people or to promote myself directly or to form alliances and partnerships. Or to ask for help.  But I must do these things.

On the other hand..

I’m about to say something radical: Screw the idea that we’re all here only for the sake of pushing past comfort zones, growth, and “learning experiences”

Because we’re also here to enjoy life.

The lesson here is also about knowing when to work outside our comfort zones, and when to (gasp) go ahead and do something rebellious: Intentionally enjoy periods of enjoyment for its own sake.

I believe that when comfort is intentionally cultivated, there is less need to rely on (or become addicted to) the kind of comfort that’s all about numbing/escape.

What’s the point of constant growth if you never get to take time out to enjoy what the growth has produced for you?

CULLING/PRUNING

One of the things I really like about this ritual is about deciding what to let go of.

It’s like dropping a huge burden.

When we document what we’re actually doing on a weekly basis (the accomplishment document) in a way that is very specific, sometimes what may have looked like an accomplishment at the time was in fact, the wrong path.

Examples:

  • Learning about a new platform/software/latest thing and then never using it
  • Working for the wrong kinds of clients: You know this happens when you spend hours tailoring and adding services outside your wheelhouse because, well, you need the money and you might learn something. (This is when I’ve learned to simplify and stick to my core offers)
  • Tasks that felt important at the time but ended up being more like busywork
  • “Procrasta-learning.” Documenting the time spent on every mini-course, book, or workshop can be revealing. Some end up being worth every penny. But sometimes people avoid activities that move them forward and focus on passive learning, because it feels safer. (I have totally done this)

Sometimes I still struggle with trying to be everything to everyone and trying to keep up with it all.

I decided to only work with a very specific type of client. I got rid of doing certain types of work, like VA work or anything that didn’t allow me to do my best work that I can be proud of.. to focus on building my own empire.

These year-end rituals are like moments of truth. I can’t bullshit myself when I see what I actually took time to document during the past year (or years)

THE RITUAL AS A PEP TALK/MOTIVATIONAL TOOL

Sometimes reading a book or listening to a TED talk can be motivating. But what if you could prove to yourself what you are capable of, simply by documenting every moment and then later reflecting on how the sum of all these moments is getting you further than you thought?

If you’ve felt as if this past year has been disappointing, or feel anxious about your ability to succeed in this upcoming new year..

..taking time to write down even a few challenges you overcame, small steps taken, or things that surprisingly fell into place without much perceived effort, could be just the remedy.

But unless you actually write this stuff down it could go right past you, because the tendency is to focus on what isn’t happening fast enough. The stress, the frustrations. The fact that you feel like a failure in a given moment because you gained a few pounds and your clothes don’t fit well, you look old and exhausted,  your bank account is low, and you have nothing to show for your efforts, or worse..

We all have those moments:

You feel as if all you ever do is fight off entropy, feeling as if it will win by default because of pure exhaustion on your part, or that life is just an endless string of problems to solve but lead nowhere. Those days when life just feels futile.

Or you may have those “my god, what have I DONE?” moments that fill you with intense doubt, teetering on the edge of regret.

Or maybe you just feel a little stagnant, and have lost a sense of purpose and meaning.

Or maybe things are really going well!

Whatever part of a cycle you are currently in..

This ritual helps. It puts things in perspective.

Year End ritual

Why am I writing it on my marketing website? Because this has a LOT to do with marketing,

Because being an entrepreneur is tough. VERY tough. Especially right now.  If you lose site of the big picture and the progress you are making, it’s all to easy to give up and see the whole process as pointless.

For example..

  • Maybe you lost a client or have had some major setbacks and it devastated you. But maybe other opportunities arose that were hard to see.. or are still difficult to see in the midst of day-to-day life, chaos, and other weird and toxic shit happening in the world.
  • Maybe you didn’t realize that this year you really have come far. But you ended up focusing instead on all the stuff that you put on  your to-do list that hasn’t gotten done yet, and it’s making you feel as if you’ve failed, when you actually ARE making progress.
  • Maybe things are going well for you..  but it still has not yet sunk in that you put in the work which is resulting in steady cash flow and maybe just a little bit less stress, even when some days or weeks may still suck.
  • Maybe,  because you took the time to document your processes and outcomes, you’ll discover that you only need tweak one little thing that will make all the difference instead of tearing it all down and starting all over again.
  • Maybe when you look back, it took a LOT more time and energy to accomplish what now, is easier, (or at least doesn’t throw you into a downward spiral) because of your experience.

In other words, you prepared yourself well for both the worst, and for eventual opportunities that could arise out of the challenges of the past few years.

You can’t often see the fruits of your labor until you see it all in retrospect.

This is the perfect time to give yourself a raise, take a bit of a rest, and consider investing in yourself this coming year. To “level up” in an intentional way.

What will this investment look like? A photoshoot? A new podcast? A new website? A coach? Time to just do some things that make you happy? (For me, it’s taking care of 2 dogs here in Bosnia that kind of stole my heart)

What if this past year was honestly a shitty year? It’s still a great exercise. Write it all down. Write down what you can change, and spend some time releasing and letting go of the not-so-great moments. Do another ceremonial ritual that helps you feel lighter or more grounded.

Let yourself begin a new chapter. Allow yourself to have compassion and take some time to rest or do something nice for yourself.

Note: This isn’t the end, but the beginning. You’ll still need to put this CEO level work into action by putting on your manager hat, breaking down projects, prioritizing, scheduling, weekly check ins, and such. This is another topic I’ll be diving into on its own!

And now.. it’s YOUR turn.

A year end review can give you these wonderful “aha” moments that you can OWN.

This year end exercise will help you figure out where to best spend your most valuable resources of time, money, and energy, based on your perspective, values, reflections, conclusions, and intuitions.

Usually this ritual is followed by a period of increased clear thinking, creativity and inspiration.  When that happens, I go with it.

I swear that this method is MUCH more effective than New Year’s resolutions. It’s a whole new way to think about time, patterns, to gain confidence, and jettison baggage.

Will you have your own year end ritual? I would love to hear about it.. truly, and I do respond to replies!

Hi! I’m Julie. 

I’m a self-described nerd when it comes to branding, marketing, and websites. I’m an INTJ/P who loves working with “thinking” introvert entrepreneurs who are also passionate about their ideas and serious about their business.  Feel free to explore a topic or search for something specific. 

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