First Published:  | Last Updated: December 3, 2022

The gist: Don't be so excited to start the new year that you don't take what you need to from the current one with a year-end review. Here are 4 personal reflection questions (plus a few bonuses) for a New Year's Life Review in Work Brighter style.

At the end of the year, most of us feel one of two ways:

1. Excited and motivated for the new year, and ready to skip right ahead to January 1 and your new year's goals

2. Exhausted, overwhelmed, and burnt out, wanting to hibernate until January 1 and let it pass as slowly as possible, not even thinking about the new year.

But neither scenarios are ideal.

One of the best end-of-year rituals you can hone is doing an end of year reflection.

Even if it was a poopy, poopy year.

Moving on without some end of year reflection first, would be like not even cleaning up the poop before going back to your life.

My point is, it's a missed opportunity to rush into the new year without reflecting and reviewing on the past one.

Be Kind, Rewind: Why Bother With a Reflection?

In the Work Brighter-verse, we have our own spin on the old Blockbuster reminder: be kind to yourself, rewind your life.

Rewind your day before the next one.

Rewind your weeks and months before a new one.

Rewind your year before moving on from it.

And to me, the harder a time period was, the more important it is to do a personal reflection. Because having some distance from the experiences can give you a new perspective on them.

Like, when I'm talking about mental health and self-care, you might've noticed I talked about 2017 a lot. That's because 2017 was a really hard year for me, but I've now learned so much from it because of the time spent looking back.

You know I'm not about toxic positivity BS and saying stuff like, "everything's okay as long as you learned a lesson."

Maybe thing's aren't okay.

And being able to say "I learned a lesson from this" won't cancel everything out.

But it can still make things feel about 2% less crappy, and that's still something when the crappiness level's off the charts.

A Simpler Type of Reflection

Unfortunately, a lot of reflection frameworks and journals are VERY complex.

After being so overwhelmed by how in-depth goal-setting planners got…needing to set aside entire days just to go through them…leaving entire pages blank…I realized I needed something simpler.

As an alternative, I came up with this 4-step framework for reflecting on your past year.

So here are 4 simple end of year reflection questions for rewinding your year with a year-end review.

(What you see me walking through here is a Notion reflection worksheet that you can download for yourself.)

Grab a notebook or document to write your answers in, and let's get started.

If you kept any logs of your year, like a stream of consciousness journal, gratitude journal, planner, or habit tracker, you can grab that to help you get a better picture of the year.

Free Notion Annual Review Template

If you want to conduct your year-end review in Notion, duplicate this free Notion template with the personal reflection questions and journal prompts from this post all set up for you already!

Annual Review Step 1: Identify the Year's Yays 🎉

A whole year is hard to get through. But you did it! 

hey look at us gif

And you did accomplish a lot this year, even if it doesn't feel like it.

You're here, and that's enough.

What's more, I bet you made progress on a lot of things, even if you're not as far as you thought you'd be.

So for the first step of your end of year review, I want you to celebrate.

Think about both your personal and professional life.

Think of all the projects you finished. Think of all the projects you're closer to finishing. Think of the problems solved. The relationships nurtured. The laughs and smiles shared. New daily habits or any bad habits broken.

Don't leave them behind to be forgotten about.

Name them. Celebrate them!

No matter how small they feel.

Look at them as proof of how much progress you made this year.

Step 1, Part 2: Dig Deeper

Part 2 of this question is to dig deeper into what these accomplishments mean and how you can take that into account in the future.

What can you do to keep up momentum?

To lean into and double down on your wins?

To nurture the seeds that you've planted?

"They" say you're better off optimizing your strengths than correcting your weaknesses, right?

To me, that means learning from your wins might be more important than learning from your losses, so don't skip this step.

Annual Review Step 2: Recognize the Rough Spots 

In any given year, it's a given that not everything will go as planned.

Focusing on your wins doesn't mean you need to be in denial about your losses.

Like I said before, no room for toxic positivity here.

Acknowledging weak or rough spots in your year can be really freeing once you've had some distance from them.

Step 2, Part 2: Dig Deeper

Not only can it just feel really restraining to continue pretending everything's fine, but not examining your failures or mistakes means you'll never learn from them.

So depending on what they are, there's a chance of getting stuck in a repetitive cycle with them.

So real quick, we're going to acknowledge them. what lessons there might have been in them, and then say "thank you, next."

thank you next

Annual Review Step 3: Grin About Growth 😁

(Yes, annual reviews are objectively better when they contain alliteration. Thanks so much for asking!)


Now it's time to look at the ways you've grown and learned this year.

Because between the wins and the losses, and the moments in between them both, you grew so much this year.

Growth isn't always linear, and it isn't always vertical.

Maybe one branch of your "life plant" didn't grow taller, but a new one sprouted and another had a new leaf bloom.

(Can you tell I got into houseplants lately?)

So now I want you to take things from the first two steps, and write down how you grew from them. That might be new skills learned, new habits built, new perspectives gained, and more.

Some people say that hard things are what make you strong, but I've been trying to reframe that for myself.

There's a fantastic Twitter thread from Sam Dylan Finch about neurodiversity and mental illness and how it's not the hard things that make you strong, it's actually you and the coping mechanisms that you developed in response to those things that make you strong, and you deserve credit for that.

So while we're not just talking about your neurodivergence or mental illness here specifically (although feel free to include anything related to it!), that mindset is a valuable one to hold whenever we're talking about growth.

Annual Review Step 4: Start to Look Forward 

Alright! Now that we've spent some time looking backwards, it's time to turn back around and face front.

This step is not the time for full-on, full-out annual planning (try the Work Brighter Practical Planning process for that), but it's getting that process started.

I want you to start thinking about the big picture you want to paint next year.

Consider yourself Bob Ross and 2021 is little happy trees.

bob ross saying believe

What goals do you want to reach?

What new habits and routines do you want to have?

What kind of person do you want to be?

How do you want to spend your time?

What kind of work do you want to do?

Which relationships do you want to nurture?

This is all info that's helpful to think about before you actually dive into your yearly plan.

That way, when you get into actual planning, you know your vision for it.

More Year-End Reflection Questions

If you want to go a little deeper than the 4 basic steps, here are a few other prompts you can add to your personal year-end review:

  • What words or themes could sum up your year?
  • Which area of your life grew the most this year?
  • Which relationships were you most grateful for?
  • What songs would be on the soundtrack to your past year?
  • Which activities that you do felt the most nurturing?
  • What do you wish you had spent more time doing?
  • What do you wish you had spent less time doing?
  • Where did you energy go?
  • What were your favorite movies, books, TV shows, and other media this year?
  • Where did you find pleasure this year?

Bonus: Go Through This List of Questions Regularly

You can easily swap out any mentions of "this year" with "this month," "this week," etc. And doing so will only make these bigger reviews easier.

If there's one thing I learned from the book Bullet Journal Method, it's that regular review makes planning and doing so much easier. That's the foundation of the "Plan. Do. Review." system inside Practical Productivity.

These same questions are also built inside its quarterly, monthly, weekly, AND daily systems. They can be used any time to hone your self-awareness.

And if you're interested, all of those other templates are included in the $50 Work Brighter with Notion bundle if you want to supplement your free annual review Notion template:

Free Notion Annual Review Template

If you want to conduct your year-end review in Notion, duplicate this free Notion template with the personal reflection questions and prompts from this post all set up for you already! 🙌

But before you go, don't forget to share this...