The Power of The Personal Review
On a sunny morning in April 2015 I woke up early, took a shower, and grabbed my backpack like I do everyday to go to work.
But on that Saturday, I wasn't going to work.
I was heading across town to Portland's St. John's neighborhood - a neck of the woods I don't visit very often.
Over the next 8 hours, I cycled between coffee shops, parks, and walks and conducted a personal review of my life.
A few days later, I started this very website and my writing practice.
Why Isn't This a Thing?
Years back, I was reading an email from Chris Guillebeau in which he described his annual personal review process.
At the time, I was in my final year of school. The future was vast, unknown, and scary.Where would I live? What would I do? Could I get a good job? How would I meet new friends? Online dating?
So when I first read about Chris' personal review process - the idea resonated with me. It seemed like a perfect way to give some structure and direction to the blank canvas in front of me.
It was simultaneously so novel and so damn obvious.
Why I hadn't I thought of this? Why isn't this a thing that everybody does? I mean if you stop and think about it for a second, it's sort of crazy.
We review everything else in our lives, from movies, to restaurants, to the performance of people who report to us. But how often do we take the time to sit down and review ourselves and our own lives?
So that weekend,while I was on the train down to San Diego to visit my friend Adam, I conducted my first mini-personal review.
I don't remember much from that review, besides the fact that it invigorated me, but I am sure when I find that old notebook and re-read the wandering thoughts of young Peter, I will get a good laugh.
In Part 1 of Productivity Week, we looked at the limitations of a lot of the productivity advice out there.
In Part 2, we defined "holistic productivity" and why it's important.
And then in Part 3, we took a critical look at how we spend our time.
So now that you know how much time you actually have, and all the ways you'd ideally like to spend it - it's time to prioritize. And that's where the art of the personal review comes in.
Given our human propensity to embrace comfort and routine, it is easy for our days to fill up with activities that we do simply because that is what we're used to doing.
Unfortunately, that's not a great reason to do things.
For me, the primary purpose of a Personal Review is to:
- Check in with yourself and re-examine your values, hopes, fears, and goals.
- Evaluate how your daily activities align with your big picture.
- And then, based on the results of 1 and 2, make a plan so that your day-to-day life aligns even more closely with your big picture.
There is no right or wrong way to conduct a personal review. That being said, I will share my method with two caveats:
First - just because it works for me doesn't mean it will work for you. I encourage you to steal my method and then adapt it as you see fit.
Second - I honestly don't have any single "method." Each time I have conducted a review, the process has been slightly different.
Here's my latest framework:
I write down each major category in my life:
- Mind and Body
- Love Life
- Side Projects
- Travel and Adventure
(Your categories could be the same or different)
Then, just as one might with an employee or manager at a work review, for each category I meditate on the following questions:
- What's going well?
- What's not going well?
- What are my big hopes and dreams in this category in the next 1 - 5 years?
It's important to write down these questions and your answers.
The reason it's nice to have 24 - 48 hours alone for a full review is because you can't always force the answers. Sometime you ask them, and have to let them marinate in your mind for a while while you go on a walk, or make yourself dinner, or whatever.
After I write down the "answers" to the questions above, the next step is to come up with 1 to 3 SMART goals for each category that I can work toward over the next year.
For the unfamiliar, a SMART goal is:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound
(Wikipedia has more on SMART goals if you're interested)
For example, at the beginning of this post I mentioned that a few days after my last big review I started this blog. That was one of my SMART goals.
Ideally I would like to do a big review once per year (at least 24 hours if not a full weekend) and then mini ones every season (2 to 8 hours). I say ideally because I definitely do not follow through on this timeline at this point.
So that's the framework. Nothing fancy. Pretty straightforward actually.
But what it does is it forces you to come up with goals that reflect your priorities in all of the key categories of your life.
Then as you are planning how you will spend your time, you can use your personal review and your SMART goals as a handy little guide to make sure that your life priorities, hopes and dreams match up with your day-to-day actions.
The Main Thing
Author Stephen Covey once proclaimed that "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."
This quote is probably my favorite productivity advice of all time.
It's memorable, and it sounds so simple,and yet it is so difficult to master.
For me, the personal review has been one of the most effective methods in helping to prioritize and keep the main things the main things.
They may not work for everybody, but I would implore you to at least give it a shot.
And if you do give it a shot - I would LOVE to know how you do it, and how it goes. You can leave a comment, or if you subscribe you can simply reply to the new blog notification emails and those go directly to me.
Coming up in Part 5:
It's execution time!
You want to be more productive. You've mastered your time. You know your priorities.
But are you prepared to level up?
To get Part 5 and future posts delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe now.