Take Stock: Build Success on the Lessons of 2017

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It’s December and like Dr. Seuss, I’m musing, “How did it get so late so soon?”

I know it’s kind of lame to lament about how fast time passes. Time clearly flies: when you’re having fun, and when you’re not. It’s basically one fast ride, no matter the mood or circumstance.

And in the speed of it all, amidst the frantic antics of the year-end holiday season, in the giddy glow of a big, brand new year just ahead, it’s oh-so-easy to let this little ‘ole year slip quietly by….  It’s yesterday’s news. On to bigger and better things.

But tomorrow’s progress is built squarely on top of yesterday’s effort. We build brick by brick. Day by day. Year by year. Yet, if we don’t have a clear accounting of this year, we will not have ready access to the assets we’ve accrued.

It’s the proverbial if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-and-no-one-is-there-does-it-make-a-sound quandary.  

If you don’t account for the progress you’ve made, if you don’t even notice it, does it even exist?

 

Taking stock. It’s not a fancy task, but it’s what those who achieve success and fulfillment,  whether professionally, or at the game of life generally, do as a matter of course. It’s built into their operating system.

Reflection. It’s not a new app. You could say it’s old school. But it’s the tried-and-true gold of success. Without it, we’re destined to live on the slippery slope of events, and rise and fall with little rhyme or reason. Or, we cover the same ground again and again and again - like a spinning merry-go-round. 

There are many ways to make reflection a habit. And certainly there is no time like the present. Or, as is the case now, there is no time like this natural, seasonally-constructed, socially-reinforced moment: the end of a year. And if you are reading this in the New Year (or mid-year, or whenever), no worries. You can still secure the assets of the past year and invest them. And then, watch while time (+ your action) compound their value. 

4 Steps to Take Stock

I've created a simple, 4-step process to assist you in curating the value of the past year (since curating is such a cool thing).

The steps include questions designed to help you tell the story of the year. Think about it: do you remember what happened last year? Or the year before? Or maybe the year before that?

Time has a way of blurring events and burying lessons. But what if you could easily review the years and consciously build a narrative of progress and impact going forward? What if you could really learn the lessons of each year? What if you could more easily connect the dots, and rise even higher? Well, then the sky would be the limit. Truly.

What is the story your work and life are telling? Do you know? Certainly, it's hard to see when you are the main character. You are wrapped up in your storyline. That's why the habit of reflection is so essential to progress.

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Reflection keeps a success from being a fluke, and a failure from being catastrophic. But if you don't know the story you are in, it is virtually impossible to build on lessons learned. And, back to the accounting analogy, that's like leaving money on the table. 

Reflection keeps a success from being a fluke, and a failure from being catastrophic.

 

When you go through this reflection process, chances are you are going to discover assets from this year that you didn't know you had. And, if the past year did not live up to your expectations, this process is a surefire way to redeem its value. I promise.

The very act of doing this stock-taking exercise will bring a return on your investment this past year and will position you ahead-of-the-game in the coming year. What's there to lose? Ready?

 

Here's what you will need:

  • Blank paper, pen
  • Computer
  • 2 hours, or so
  • Beverage + snacks (optional)
  • Music (optional)

 

Step 1: Answer The Questions (Brainstorm)

FYI: My preferred brainstorming mode is mindmapping. My mind-map game is pretty basic. I just put the question or topic in a circle in the middle of a blank page and then draw branches out and list my ideas on the branches as they flow. Simple.

Below are questions that will help you recount what happened in 2017. Looking back at the events of the past year, brainstorm answers to four questions. Brainstorm - Remember? The more the merrier. Don't censor, or edit, or hesitate. Don't think too hard. Let it rip.

 

PROFESSIOnAL Life

1. What did you accomplish? Consider:

  • High points
  • Wins
  • Achievements
  • Lucky breaks
  • Products or services you developed or delivered or both
  • Connections or collaborations
  • Events you hosted or participated in
  • Things that excited you
  • Things you learned
  • Skills you developed
  • Contributions you made
  • Unexpected delights
  • Etc.

2. What challenges did you face? Consider:

  • Mistakes
  • Misses
  • Failures
  • Expectations not met
  • Disappointments
  • Unfavorable conditions
  • Unfavorable reviews
  • Unlucky events
  • Poor results
  • Skill/knowledge gaps
  • Weaknesses
  • Things you meant to do but didn't
  • Etc. 

Personal Life

1. What did you accomplish or were high points? Consider:

  • Health
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Finances
  • Home environment
  • Passion projects
  • Interests
  • Community, civic duty
  • Spiritual life
  • Intellectual pursuits
  • Enjoyment
  • Events
  • Personal development
  • Etc.

2. What challenges did you face? Consider:

  • Mistakes
  • Misses
  • Failures
  • Expectations not met
  • Disappointments
  • Unfavorable conditions
  • Unlucky events
  • Poor results
  • Skill/knowledge gaps
  • Weaknesses
  • Things you meant to do but didn't
  • Etc. 

 

Step 2: Refine. Distill. Cull. 

Review each of the four brainstorm lists and refine.

Is there anything missing? Are there themes? What stands out to you? Cull the most useful and relevant information for your yearly account. That means, maybe you will consolidate some answers or eliminate others. Circle. Underline. Embellish. Edit. Tighten it up. You want to end up with the crib-notes version, not the war-and-peace version. 

Once you've refined, create the master list of your accomplishments - one professional and one personal. There is no set limit on the number of items on your master lists.

Next, select the top 5 items for each of the four brainstorm questions. You will end up with the top 5 for:

  • Professional Accomplishments
  • Professional Challenges
  • Personal Accomplishments
  • Personal Challenges

 

Step 3: Extract the Lessons (Brainstorm)

Accomplishments (Professional and Personal)

For each of your top 5 accomplishments (professional and personal), use a separate, blank sheet and complete the following:

  • Decribe (briefly) what happened.
  • Brainstorm why the accomplishment mattered.
  • Brainstorm why the accomplishment happened.
  • Brainstorm what you learned. Looking back, what can you learn from this accomplishment or high point?

 

Challenges (Professional and Personal)

For each of your 5 top challenges (professional and personal), take a separate, blank sheet and complete the following:

  • Describe (briefly) what happened.
  • Brainstorm why the challenge happened.
  • Brainstorm what you learned.

 

Working Principles

Your working principles are compact, portable reminders of your accumulated experience and knowledge. They are the gold, the asset of awareness that you use to propel your work and life. 

Examples of working principles could be statements like: Less is more; Progress, not perfect; Ask, Why does this matter?; Allocate double the time you think it will take; Debrief every project; Make decisions; Get feedback on your work; Reach out for help; Take small steps every day; Have phone-free time; Follow a morning routine; Move every day; and so on.

The key is that they represent the knowledge of what you have learned-by-doing over the past year. They may be more evocative than prescriptive. In other words, they trigger a storehouse of experience and wisdom on that topic. They are reminders, like alerts on your phone. 

They are called working principles, because they are not vague niceties. They speak to the mechanics of efficacy. They are a work in progress. As you work them, you will refine them, change them, or even toss them out. They are not some ultimate credo. They are your working assumptions about how to make progress and achieve the success you desire, based on your on-the-ground experience and experiments. They are the truth as you've lived it.

  • On a new sheet of paper, brainstorm a list of working principles, based upon what you have learned from the past year of accomplishments and challenges. 
    • You may separate your principles into professional and personal, or combine them. It's up to you. Many principles will transcend those distinctions. However, there may be some principles that clearly fall into one camp or the other.
  • Once you've brainstormed the list, refine and select the top working principles, not more than 10. 

 

Step 4: Create Your Account of 2017

In this step, you create a document that has the results of steps 1 - 3. I've created a free Yearly Account template that you can download to capture this information. Or you can create your own format.

This document is the final product that is your account of the year - the crib-notes version. You will be referencing the notes you've taken so far in the brainstorming preparation, and will select the key points.

You will be able to reference this yearly account and continue to build on the value of what happened in 2017. And should you decide at some future date to write your autobiography, you will thank me. 

Here is the basic outline of the "official" account:

Professional

  • Accomplishments.  For each of up to 5 accomplishments, include (bullet) points on the following. Pick the top points from your brainstorm notes :
    • Description (the basic facts)
    • Why This Mattered 
    • Why This Happened 
    • What I learned 
  • Accomplishments - the full list.
  • Challenges. For each of up to 5 challenges, include (bullet) points on the following. Pick the top points from your brainstorm notes:
    • Description (the basic facts)
    • Why This Happened
    • What I learned

PERSONAL

  • Use the same outline used for professional above.

Working Principles

  • Document up to 10 principles based on what you experienced and learned this past year. 

 

Want the already-prepared-for-you template? It's free! Get it below. You'll get access to three versions of the template: two options if you prefer to capture the account digitally (Google Doc and Word Doc); and an option if you prefer to put pen to paper (PDF to print for the analog lover).

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Curate the lessons of the year before you forget them using this free Yearly Account Template. Create an account every year and watch the march of progress.

 

Moving On Up

For your working principles to qualify as working, you will need to figure out how to bring them into work and life. Post them. Share them. Make a habit of looking at them regularly. Reference them in your planning routines. Test them. Change them. Challenge them.

These working principles encapsulate your hard-earned reflection. They are the elixir of your efforts and your awareness. And they are more powerful than you might realize. They allow you to direct the narrative you are creating in your work and life. These working principles animate an empowering story worthy of the time, energy, and life you have put into it.

So, take stock and take heart. If you know the lessons of 2017 and build on them, you will reach new heights in 2018 and beyond.