Seven Questions to Ask About Last Year

The week between Christmas and New Years is one of the most unproductive times of the year. While retailers are as busy as ever, many businesses just shut down. Even businesses that stay open run on a skeleton crew. Many employees take the week off, benefiting from the additional holidays for an extended vacation.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/BrianAJackson, Image #6409322

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/BrianAJackson

However, as a leader, this can be an incredibly productive time—a quieter time—when you reflect on the past and look forward to the year ahead. Today, I want to focus on reflecting on this past year. It is important that we complete that before we move on to the future.

I suggest that you find a quiet place with just a journal, a pen, and a cup of coffee. It might also be helpful to have access to your calendar, so that you can review the major events of the year. Now write out the answers to the following questions:

  1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be? Drama, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, or a combination?
    • One of my friends who lost a son, said simply, “Tragedy.”
    • Another, who got engaged and married said, “Romance.”
    • Still another, who experienced one misfortunate after another, said “Comedy—in fact, slapstick!”
  2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? These can be single words or phrases. For me, they were:
    • Deeply moving times with friends and family
    • Making difficult decisions in the face of the economic crisis
    • Learning to get along with less and enjoying it more
  3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of? These can be in any area of your life—spiritual, relational, vocational physical, etc. Be as specific as possible. Here are some of mine:
    • Running the half marathon in April, even though I almost didn’t at the last minute
    • Cutting our company’s expenses to maintain the health of the business
    • Having eight of the top ten books on the November Christian bestsellers list
    • Getting my oldest daughter married and seeing her relationship with her new husband flourish
  4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t? Okay, this is a little too personal for me to respond to directly. But here are some examples of what others might say:
    • Working two jobs as a single mom to provide for my family
    • Not giving up on my marriage when it would have been easier to quit
    • Making time to workout, even though I wanted to sleep in.
  5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? As leaders, we naturally have high expectations of ourselves and others. Where did you let yourself down? Where did you let others down? Here are some of mine:
    • Laying off so many of our employees, including some very dear friends
    • Failing to articulate the vision and be a better source of encouragement to my team
    • Not really unplugging from my vacation in October like I had planned
    • Losing focus on my exercise regimen and having to keep re-starting it
  6. What was missing from last year as you look back? Again, look at each major area of your life. Don’t focus now on having to do anything about it. For now, just list each item. Here is my list:
    • More time spent on strategic planning, particularly vision and strategy
    • More time reading offline (i.e., books)
    • Time to really unplug and not think about work
    • More time with my parents
  7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year? Boil this down to a few short, pithy statements. For example:
    • There comes a point in every experience where I am too far in to quit but almost certain I can’t finish. If I keep moving forward I will eventually get to the other side.
    • Being present with the people I love is the most important gift I can give them.
    • Don’t over-think the outcome; just do the next right thing.

It took me about an hour to go through this exercise. But it was well-worth the effort. So often, life goes by so fast that we don’t take time to process it.

Now that you have your list, it is time to acknowledge the past and complete it. It’s over. There’s nothing you can do to change it. This is hugely important. What was done was done. It’s time to close that chapter and turn to the next one.

I suggest you write at the bottom of your list, “This year is over. I declare it complete!” Now double-underline it for emphasis. Tomorrow, I plan to write about looking toward next year.

Question: What were your major life lessons from this past year? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/adrianwarnock @adrianwarnock

    Great questions @michaelhyatt I had a go at answering them over at http://adrianwarnock.com/2010/01/the-year-that-wa

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    I read this post when you first published it and I've re-visited it often over the past few days. I'm still working my way through the questions. I love this exercise.

    Between finding your blog (along with a few others) this year and reading Donald Miller's Million Miles, I think 2009 was a foundational year for something fantastic God has planned for 2010. And I can't wait! I'm more excited about this year and new beginnings than I've been in a very long time. Thanks for your influence. Looking forward to learning more from you this year.
    My recent post Wii Fit™ and the Word of God…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

    These are awesome questions! Thanks, Michael.

    I'm actually not generally very reflective, but I should be. Knowing how I got where I am now would be remarkably insightful to explain where the heck I'm supposed to be going next.
    My recent post Top five posts for December 2009

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AaronArmstrong Aaron Armstrong

    Great questions, Michael. I took a stab at answering them here: http://hardwords.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/conside

    Thanks for taking the time to pose these questions.
    My recent post D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Be Different from the World

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  • http://christopherscottblog.typepad.com/blog/ Christopher Scott

    Great post Michael.

    At the end of every year I ask two main questions:
    1) What do I want to keep doing?
    2) What do I want to stop-doing?

    My tendency as a leader is to always be doing new things. I find myself starting new projects and habits throughout the year, so by Dec 31st, I need to purge a few activities or habits. This also allows me to make sure I am working in my strength areas.

  • http://christopherscottblog.typepad.com/blog/ Christopher Scott

    Great post Michael.

    At the end of every year I ask two main questions:
    1) What do I want to keep doing?
    2) What do I want to stop-doing?

    My tendency as a leader is to always be doing new things. I find myself starting new projects and habits throughout the year, so by Dec 31st, I need to purge a few activities or habits. This also allows me to make sure I am working in my strength areas.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Michael for sharing these questions.

    Major life lesson in 2010 for me – the incredible power of conversations. I launched a podcast show this year and the tag line is “through conversation, life happens and finds meaning.” Now more than ever I believe this to be the case. I’ve discovered that when I am open to the conversation wonderful things happen.

    Blessings to you and your readers in 2011!

  • Shari Henry

    My major life lesson from last year is that I have a breaking point. So, I need to adjust. Thanks so much for this post. I will print it out and take it with me to my quiet spot tomorrow as I reflect & pray & plan for 2011. As an aside, it reminds me of a great question a sweet friend asked when I moved from Alabama (after living there for 15 years) to Virginia a few years ago. She said, “What will you take with you to Richmond that you learned in Huntsville, and what will you leave behind?” Thanks, Michael, and I need to go thank Charlotte too! Happy New Year.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Your friend asked some very good questions!

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  • Velta Virginia KeckLong

    Lots of fun reading all the comments. I too have to review 2010 with all that happened. I do know starting November was a big change for me. Found out in ER that I have a brain tumor. Went in for surgery 12-3-2010. Dr. Hawk neurosurgeon at Kasiser, Sacramento. CA removed in in 2 1/2 hours. Was told a 6-8 hour surgery. I woke up immediately after surgery and asked, ” Can I go home now.” I had complete recovery. Not paralized, no numbness to left side. My surgery in right side of the brain. Dr Hawk did a good job. I had miminal swelling, not much bleeding and no pain. I recovery in ICU for two days and was doing excellent. I give God all the Glory, All. He alone directed in it all. I have excellent doctor A #1 team of doctors, RN and other staff at Kasier. I had appoint with onocologist Dr. B. C. Ark on Tuesday. She has referred me to Radiation treatments. In this all is what I want to tell you. God has given me inspired by God only two books to write and publish. I am not a writer. I had dexleia. He took it away when I started writing His two books. I am working with Thoms Nelson Publishing thought WestBow Press. I really don’t have the money to publish. I charge the money on a credit card. Praying for funds to pay for the monthy payments. God will provide, I am sure of it. I also enrolled in on line classes at South University for Health Care Administration. So I am excited for the year 2011. I am planning to work for Kaiser. So pray with me in getting a job with them.

    • VeltaVirginia KeckLong

      I forgot to spell check my comment. See some mispelled words. Oh well this will help me to spell check before I post again.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        No worries. It happens to all of us.

  • caroline c wilson

    awesome….

  • CAROLINE WILSON

    Hi Michael, my husband and I were at the Ken Davis Communication summit in October, and i have really just got my self to blob via wordpress. I have been trying for a while to subscribe to your blog, how do i do this? Caroline from New Zealand.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Just click on either the RSS button on the top right-hand side of any page or, if you want to receive my updates by email, click on the email button. I hope that helps.

  • Hilarybarnett

    These are wonderful questions! I will be using these for every New Year’s reflection. Thanks!

  • Toni

    These questions are really thought provoking.. i hope you don’t mind but I will publish it in my blog.. and link you to it.. thanks

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  • CindycHope7

    Great questions…worth honest responses. Thanks.

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  • http://justmerach.wordpress.com/ justmerach

    This exercise is very insightful, thankyou! I’ve saved it for a point when I had time to do it justice, so even
    though we’re way past New Year, here I go:
    1.
    Endurance resolved into Triumph.  I clocked up 4months of going 100% cold-turkey on gluten
    2. Health – getting beyond survivalChurch – the privilege of belonging to a healthy part of the church body
    3. I am proud of organising, financing (temporarily), and coordinating my first road
    trip
    4. Pain management – I’ve preferred to be in denial about how much I was suffering.  Finally getting relief from some of that pain has made me realise what a substantial additional tax I’ve
    been paying: and having more leftover energy as a result, to get caught up on things and enjoy activities during my time off. 5. Disappointment: informed of a significant delay to my greencard.Regret: Allowing myself to be overtaken by depression from time to time
    6. Mutual relationships.  I’ve poured myself out as a mentor, without getting properly filled myself.  Used to being almost empty most of the time, I took half-full as meaning I was overflowing… and got frustrated at the
    burn-out.7. I am not living in a holding pattern.Investing in myself is not wrong, and I should not feel guilty about it, or ashamed to admit it.

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  • Michelle Hoverson

    Perseverance is definely a verb.

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  • Evan Pham

    hey michael, i just listened to you on The Smart and Passive Income podcast and Beyond The To-Do list podcast. Excellent content you provided us! You mentioned your 7 questions, so I went back in history to look for them. I answered these for myself just now as an exercise to reflect on 2013 and reinvent for 2014.

    7- it’s important to be yourself. if you’re not being yourself, you have no chance of becoming the great at anything. don’t let others tell you who you should be, otherwise you’re no longer living your own life.