How (and why) you should give yourself a year-end review

If you’re serious about achieving your goals in 2020, this is why you should make time for a self-directed look back at your past year.

How (and why) you should give yourself a year-end review
[Photos: severija/iStock; maurusone/iStock]

Companies like Adobe and GE are doing away with year-end performance reviews, providing frequent feedback instead to boost engagement and productivity. Taking time to examine the past entire year in its entirety, however, is still a valuable exercise—and it’s one you can and should do for yourself.


“If we don’t look back, how do we move forward?” asks impact coach Katie Sandler. “This is the time of year when people look forward and decide what their resolutions are going to be. Whether they realize it or not, creating those resolutions comes from taking inventory of what they have been doing. As you move into 2020, it’s important to first look back.”

Take inventory

A self-directed year-end review can be done in a few different ways, says Sandler. You can break down your year in quarters, review past goals, or review the main areas of your life, such as career, finances, health, personal development, and relationships.

Once you’ve broken down the year, Sandler suggests asking yourself five main questions:

  1. What were three to four highs and three to four lows? This is where you start taking inventory and building awareness, she says.
  2. What enabled or motivated you to reach those highs, and how did you successfully move through the lows?
  3. What worked and didn’t work? In other words, what do you need to do more or less of?
  4. What stressed you out the most, and how could you navigate it better?
  5. And, most important, what were you most grateful for in 2019, and how can you take that into 2020?

The answers to these questions will help you set goals for the coming year. Make sure your plan of action has a way to measure your progress, says Sandler. “Set smart goals,” she says. “And leave space for the unknown. It’s okay to move into 2020 not knowing the answer to everything.”

Celebrate the accomplishments

One mistake people make when reviewing the year is only focusing on what they want to improve instead of also celebrating their accomplishments, says Laura Juarez, author of Ignite Your Impact: A Field Guide to Embody Your Potential.


“It drains our energy to focus on where we derailed and try to course-correct, putting us in a compromised mental state of doubt and fear of failure,” she says. “And it assumes that it is all about result versus impact.”

Review the new skills you’ve acquired, says Dr. Greg Barnett, senior vice president of science at the Predictive Index, a talent optimization platform. “Often people don’t realize how much they learn in a given year,” he says. “They just keep moving from project to project and rarely take the time to reflect. So by doing this it helps a person to be thoughtful about all of the experiences they had and where they became stronger.”

Once you identify them, double down on the skills you learned in the prior year, says Barnett. “Make sure you either give yourself a chance to continue practicing that skill or search for opportunities that allow you to learn, grow, and excel at that skill.”

Most people accomplish way more than they think, and putting pencil to paper can be really eye-opening, says Maureen Considine Gharrity, a certified life, business, and health coach.

“So many people resist celebrating accomplishments,” she says. “As though you are not allowed to, especially if it involves something that is not fully complete. This vision of oneself and accomplishments can lead to a negative spiral, that you never accomplish anything, [and] thoughts of not being good enough.”


Using your review to further your career

Now that you’ve tapped into a source of personal motivation, use your year-end review to grow in your career, says Laura Handrick, senior careers and workplace analyst for the career website

“Keep track of all the good things you do throughout the year,” she says. “Then, at quarter-end or year-end, you’ll have oodles of examples to bring to your manager’s attention regarding things you’ve accomplished, [including] projects and initiatives she’s possibly forgotten about.”

Handrick suggests using numbers in addition to words. “Companies are in business to earn profits,” she says. “That’s the bottom line you need to start with when you want credit for your accomplishments. So as you’re documenting what you do, be sure to include a note about how it made a difference to the bottom line.”

When you have check-ins with your manager, don’t be afraid to share your accomplishments, says Handrick. “Be your own performance advocate,” she says.