• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • How to Put Together Your Own Annual Review for Personal Growth

Thanh on Stairs

Do you want to make your upcoming year the best year ever?

Of course you’re going to say yes. I did so too for many years. Did I actually succeed?

Nope. I failed most of the time. Most of my new year’s resolutions were the same for a few years in a row.

But then one year I finally accomplished my new year’s resolutions. How?

By conducting an annual review.

The annual review allowed me to set goals that were realistic, achievable and it fixed everything I did wrong while I was trying to achieve my goals.

I’ve been conducting my annual reviews since 2008. Over the past decade, I’ve tried a lot of different things and there’s no standard approach to doing it – everyone does it differently.

I’d like to offer you an insight into how I do my annual review. After experimenting with various review processes I think I’ve found the best way you can do it.

Why Do An Annual Review?

Before I dive deeper into how you can conduct your own annual review, I know some people might be wondering why you should do one at all.

When I first heard about the idea of an annual review, I was a chubby college student with an interest in setting and achieving goals but failed most of the time. I thought the only reason you would do an annual review is to help you set better new years resolutions for the upcoming year.

That’s technically true.

Fast forward a decade and having done a bunch of them, I see the power of an annual review. Yes, it will help you set better goals for the upcoming year. However, the biggest benefit I find from the process is seeing how much you’ve grown over the year and finding opportunities to grow even more than before.

In personal development, growth is hard to measure, quantify and visualize. In fitness, you can have before and after pictures. You can have a starting weight and end weight. There’s a delta that you can measure and see.

In your own intellectual growth, that’s very difficult. You could measure how many books you’ve read, podcasts you’ve listened to, and seminars you’ve attended. Even then, you still find yourself wondering how much you’ve grown.

That’s where an annual review shines with the assumption that you have three tools in place (that’s covered next). When you can see the growth in yourself it will motivate you to keep going and become an even better version of yourself.

The 3 Tools You Need for An Annual Review

A few weeks ago, I emailed all Asian Efficiency newsletter subscribers the three tools they needed to conduct their own annual review. If you missed it (shame on you) or you’re not yet subscribed to our newsletter (click here to subscribe) – don’t worry. You can still conduct a powerful annual review.

In my experience, to get the most out of an annual review you need to have a journal, an Accomplishment list, and a Failure list.

The Power of a Journal


The daily journal is a must-have for everyone who wants to reach their full potential in the most productive way. We’ve covered in-depth the benefits of keeping a daily journal and we even shared a free video on how to journal. If you haven’t gotten into the habit of keeping a daily journal, start now. It will help you decompress, eliminate stress, clarify your thinking, make better decisions and it will keep you on track to achieve your goals.

Where a journal comes handy for your annual review is that you, literally, have a record of all your thoughts, decisions and events that happened. You know how people always say “well that’s obvious in hindsight”….well, when you keep a journal you can evaluate yourself on how you did!

This is crucial for you to reflect on good your year was. It’s December now and you have an opportunity to read about all the decisions you made in January, February, March and so on. Was the decision to end the relationship a good one or do you regret not ending it? Did you do a good job using your time or did you waste a lot of it? Are you happy with the strategic decisions you made in your business or did they turn out to be a disaster?

As you can imagine, when you’re able to read your own thoughts and why you’ve made certain decisions it gives you an insight on how to improve your decision-making for the future.

The 2 Lists You Need

So aside from a journal what else do you need? I recommend two lists you keep:

  • An Accomplishment list
  • A Failure list

These lists are pretty new to my annual review process. I’ve added them about four years ago (this year will be the fourth time I’ll be using them). I forgot who told me about this idea but I’m so glad I’ve been keeping these lists.

As the name implies, an Accomplishment list is a running list of all your accomplishments. It’s a list I like to update every month and something I keep track of in Evernote.

An accomplishment can be big or small. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose like you saving a kitten from a near-fatal car accident or finding a cure for a disease. It can be anything – no matter how small – that you would consider an accomplishment. I’ve written down things like:

  • I ate a salad for dinner three days in a row
  • I followed the three times rule for fixing my washing machine
  • I crossed off an item on my bucket list: attending a hip hop dance class
  • I told my best friend how much I appreciated our friendship for the first time ever
  • Bought the new iPhone
  • I learned how to code PHP
  • I dropped my weight to under 69 kg
  • I moved to Los Angeles
  • I married Scarlett Johansson

As you can tell, your accomplishments don’t have to be big. Anything worth celebrating is worth capturing in your Accomplishment list. Everything you see on the list is something I’ve written down over the years and are all true (except one, I’ll let you figure that out).

The Failure list is the opposite of your Accomplishment list: it’s a list of all your failures. The same rule applies here too. It doesn’t matter how big or small your failure is, just write it down.

The power of having a Failure list, that you keep updated once a month, is that you have a written record of all the little and big failures. We oftentimes learn more from our failures than our wins. I know for some people it might feel painful to write down a list of failures but that imaginary pain is worthwhile to go through to learn from your failures and to prevent them from happening in the future.

How much better would your life be if you learned from your failure? How much better would it be if you could prevent them from happening in the future?

I bet you…it’s A LOT. Think of it as a list of gold to learn from. We’re not here to make you suffer. We’re here to help you become more Asian Efficient.

No one is perfect – including me. I’ve had my fair share of epic failures and some smaller ones. Here’s an example of my failure list:

  • I didn’t call my dad for over 3 months (insert lame excuse of travel and business growth, not because I didn’t love him)
  • I promised my brother I would help him study but I didn’t
  • I showed up late for my meeting with my team on Wednesday
  • I failed to return my boot stretcher purchase on time and now I’m stuck with it
  • I ended a long-term relationship
  • I dropped my favorite wine glass on the floor
  • I spent more money on “dumb taxes” than needed (changed flight fees due to indecision, paid a higher rate for an accountant to get it done last minute, bought more expensive conference ticket because I missed early bird deadline)
  • My desktop is a hot mess of files and photos

As you can see, nothing is off limits. Anything that you would consider a failure is worth capturing. As I’m reading my own list, I see a lot of opportunities to fix things and introduce rituals to prevent them from happening again.

For example, I’ve since then created a repeating task in OmniFocus to call my dad and I have created a Hazel rule to semi-automate the organization of my desktop. I would have never created these things if it wasn’t for keeping a Failure list.

The other failures made me think about how to change my life for the better. When I ended my long-term relationship with a woman, I didn’t know exactly why I needed to do it. A few months later when I did my annual review, I was over it and it gave me much more clarity about why it was the right decision. I’ve learned from it so I know what to look for in my next relationship.

But I Don’t Have These Two Lists!

Don’t worry padawan, you can still conduct your own annual review. I’ll show you in a moment how to do that. With that said, right now is the perfect time to start and keep track of your accomplishments and failures. Create your Accomplishment and Failure list in your favorite notes app (mine is Evernote) and spend the next few minutes updating it.

Going forward, you want to update your two lists at least once a month. I have a recurring task in my OmniFocus to remind me to update these lists. Part of my thinking time is often updating these lists and thinking about what I wrote down.

I’ve learned that when you update your list only once a year or twice a year, you forget a lot of the little failures and wins you had. There’s a lot of insight and value you can have from seeing them on paper. Otherwise, thanks to the cognitive bias of Recency, we tend to only remember and attribute whatever we recently experienced. In other words, when you only update your lists once a year you will only write down all the major catastrophic failures that you remember and skip all the little ones (that in my opinion are equally valuable).

How To Conduct Your Annual Review (Detailed)

Reading Electronic Journal

Let’s get specific now with how you can create your own annual review process. To keep it simple, I’ll assume that you do have a daily journal, an Accomplishment list and a Failure list. As I describe my process, I’ll show you how you can conduct your annual review without any of these tools by giving your prompts and questions to think about.

Here’s my annual review process:

  1. I set aside a whole day on my calendar for this. Usually it’s a Sunday in December. Nobody is allowed to disturb me or contact me that day.
  2. I read my journal for the year (takes about 2-3 hours).
  3. In a separate notebook or sheets of paper, I am taking notes and highlighting anything that stood out to me as I’m reading my journal.
  4. Once I’m finished with my journal, I will read my Failures list (takes no more than 15 minutes).
  5. I will write down everything that comes to mind after finishing my Failure list.
  6. Once I’m finished my writing down my freeflow thoughts, I will read my Accomplishment list (takes no more than 15 minutes).
  7. I will write down everything that comes to mind after finishing my Accomplishment list.
  8. I will reread all my notes that I wrote down today and summarize my year in one word.

As you can see, it’s pretty simple. It just takes time to go through your journal and two lists. This is something I look forward to every year because I see this as an opportunity to reflect and grow.

Each time you finish reading your journal or lists, you have a lot of thoughts going through your head. It’s important to write them down so you won’t forget. Once everything is captured, it gives you an opportunity to reflect and think about your year. Especially when you have go-to questions you can use to evaluate yourself (I’ll see you in a bit).

The one-word summary is something I’ve found to be really powerful and useful for future-me. I can think back to 2011 and see that TRAVEL was my one-word year. I don’t have to remember everything that happened but I do remember that 2011 was a big growth year for me in terms of personal growth thanks to all the countries and cities I’ve lived in.

What To Do When You Don’t Have All The Tools

I also want to help you even if you didn’t keep a daily journal, an Accomplishment list and Failure list. I didn’t have all of them all at once for years too and I still found a lot of value to doing my own annual reviews.

The best way to recreate the process is by asking yourself a set of questions and pondering about them over multiple days (you’ll see why in a moment). Here’s a list of question that I’ve found helpful asking myself and writing down whatever came to mind:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • Why did this happen?
  • Why didn’t I achieve my goal?
  • What can I do to prevent the bad things from happening again?
  • Of all the things that went well, what did I learn from them?
  • How can I continue to be more successful?
  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I keep doing?
  • What should I start doing?
  • What’s one word to summarize this year?
  • What can I do to make next year better?

The reason you should reflect for multiple days is that you will only remember the most impactful things – that could be both positive or negative. It’s easy to remember that you got divorced this year (Failure or Accomplishment depending how you look at it) but it’s a lot harder to remember that you fixed a flat tire by yourself for the first time earlier in the year.

So even if you don’t have any of these tools you can still evaluate yourself by asking yourself these questions. You don’t have to use all of them. If it’s your first time just take two or three questions. For the experienced Asian Efficiency readers, go through all of them. I still use this list whenever I’m reviewing my year to see where there are opportunities for growth.

One Last Word

You’re now equipped with an annual review process that will skyrocket your personal growth. I promise you: if you follow this process, you will set yourself for a more successful year.

Set aside a whole day to reflect on your year and use the tools I’ve mentioned. Let’s make 2019 your best year yet. I can’t wait to hear from you 12 months from now and have you tell me how much you’ve grown.

You may also Like

Read More

Last Updated: March 14, 2023

Read More

Last Updated: October 20, 2022

Read More


Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Hi Thanh.

    What an amazing concept about failure list and achievement list.I am definitely going to do this and email you my observations.In my opinion, if you have a To-Do-List and a 3,6,yearly and a five yearly plan, you are better than most people out there.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}