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.
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:
- 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!”
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.