I promised that I’d give a report back here after I finished my year end Solstice review. Recently I have added 12 Week Year planning systems to my normal quarterly reviews. I have also incorporated Mike Schmitz’s Personal Retreat Handbook questions into the system. I purchased the Shawn Blanc’s 2020 Plan Your Year planner both the digital version and the PDF. My idea was that I learn from many of these things and I wanted to do some comparisons. Briefly here was my procedure this time.
Normally I would do my “ordinary” review first but this time I decided to go back through the Personal Retreat items first. I cannot get away from here so I did it all at my desk but I did schedule time to work on it and cleared the decks so I wasn’t swamped with other stuff to do.
Personal Retreat Handbook/Course
I printed out a fresh copy of the Handbook and started in. First task, look at core values. The questions at the beginning are fairly easy to run through for me. I already have a very good feel for what legacy I want to leave behind, what I am passionate about, what makes me happy, what I value etc. So I quickly wrote down the answers. My core values have not changed in decades so again that part is easy. The wheel of life was where I started to diverge. For me my 8 main areas correspond to my major areas of focus. Family and Friends, Health and Fitness, Sheep and Farm Management, Household Management, LambTracker Programmer, Personal Growth and Development, Community Involvement and finally World Traveler. I relabeled the segments to correspond to my own 8 main areas and then colored in the segments that corresponded to the scores for my satisfaction. I like the tactile coloring in of something so for me the paper is critical here. Looking at that I see whether my wheel is rounded or not. If it’s “flat” in some area that’s a clear sign to me that I need to look at that area. Last time around I had a hard time with the 5 year future. Lots of things were in flux and I had problems really deciding what I wanted to be and do and experience in 5 years. This time around I was able to quickly write down the things I expect in 5 years. The retrospective portion was a bit tougher. I went back through my calendar and was able to come up with things that I considered accomplishments but in general I haven’t done a great job documenting my successes. I made a note of that and moved on. The what could have gone better was initially huge but I was able to distill it down to 3 main things that all the other things I found out were really small pieces or parts of. I also was more able to fill out the what I should start and stop doing portions. Neither of those were something I could really do last time. I also was able to pick out a few things that I wanted to keep doing. Then I got to the goals. I went back to my wheel and picked the 3 that I really wanted to work on. It turned out that 2 of the goals I chose were from the 2 worst scoring areas and 1 was from an area that is really important to me. Milestones are fairly easy to determine for me but the daily tasks and habits are still a struggle. I did a good first attempt and then considered this Personal Retreat done.
2020 Plan Your Year
I waited a day or 2 before doing my next major review. This one was using the 2020 Plan Your Year stuff. Again I printed out the PDF on paper and did it by hand. Similar procedure, first look back, then start looking forward. The questions in this are different. Some of them I had no answers for. For example the section to write in “Though it was challenging, I am celebrating having walked through…”I couldn’t really think of anything that I felt could go in here that wasn’t just simple stuff. What was useful about this in the 2020 Planner was that there are a lot more questions and they are more thought provoking. The life assessment section has 11 sets of things that are your areas of life. Just like the wheel of life from Personal Retreat I do not find that the categories listed are the ones I care about or wish to track. So the section to score or rate them was less than useful to me. The planning section is very similar in that you first put in the known events with known dates, then start adding in the known events with unclear dates and finally a series of questions to ferret out what big ideas and dreams you have. Since I already ha a huge list of someday/maybe ideas and dreams I had a hard time with this one as it felt like duplication of effort. So instead I referenced my existing lists and pulled out the things I would really like to move forward this year. Then we get to the nitty gritty of planning. After picking the 3 main areas to focus on then you are asked to limit it to just 2. For me that is just really not reasonable. I have a hard enough time on just 3 main areas since there are so many life areas that must be maintained and in my situation maintain is what 80% of my job is. The detail parts of this were pretty much the same as the Personal Retreat. For the major goal or project what do you need to do to make it happen in what schedule. The wording of the questions was different but the overall goals and procedures are the same. The last section is a calendar plan for the year with a focus for each month, the most important project for the month, how success is defined and what is required to get the required margin or space to work on that. I don’t do well scheduling things on a calendar. Calendar times are sacred for only those things I have to do on that day or time or those things that I might do but can only happen on that day or time like attending a concert. To me it just feels wrong to put work projects into a calendar format. It flies in the face of all the GTD systems that I’ve proven for over 12 years. So I basically was able to fill in the most important items for each month and success but did not and could not fill in an actual calendar date for things. Farming, my life and how I work best just do not mesh with schedules on a calendar. By the time I got to June I wasn’t even able to fill in the top part of major focus as what I will be doing then will depend in large part on what happens and how I do in the previous months. For example, if lambing goes badly, or we have a lot of bottle lambs or weak sheep, then June will still be entirely focused on saving the sheep. If Lambing is a wild success, with all ewes raising their own lambs, the weather holding, good water, no ditch problems etc. etc. etc. then June can be me time to do almost anything. All of the conditions that will determine what I can do in June are completely out of my control so it’s a waste of time to plan for that timeframe.
Now what I did like about the 2020 Planner is the file for iOS. The app/file is pretty much just an iOS version of the paper planner. However it adds a daily log and habit tracker place where you can write down basic habits. I’m having some issues with the fact that my Pad is only able to run rev 12 and it is not pen enabled so writing to fill in the blanks in GoodNote is difficult. I haven’t yet really mastered it yet. However, I have used some paper based habit tracking stuff that I am keeping up with that works but having it on my iPad will be better. I can also tell that when I do replace my iPad (scheduled for this year, as soon as the new iPad Pros come out) and get one with a pencil this will be more useful. I’m still deciding whether to include all the work I did on paper and duplicate it in the digital version or not. I do plan to use the daily log/habit trackers though.
12 Week Year
I started in on a 12 week year style plan but quit almost immediately. What I did keep from that is the 3 main areas form the Personal Retreat work. I realized that a lot of the 12WY planning is how to integrate the ideas into your daily system and your task management tools and workflow. Rather than do that work on paper I decided to jump right into my final review, my normal Solstice review.
Personal Solstice Review System
My normal quarterly reviews fall each year on the solstices and the equinoxes. The winter Solstice is a big one because it’s where I put away and file the last year tasks and projects, do year end clean-up and tax preparation and get set up for the new year. Typically this will take me a week to 10 days working on it at least daily to finish. Have a rough checklist that gets refined each time I do it.
First I take a look at my Personal Statement of Purpose. This is a written description of why I am here on the planet. What is my overall reason for being. Mine has been pretty much the same for over 20 years. The only part that changes are the areas I am focused on., As life changes I have noticed I am more focused on legacy building but after reviewing my latest version done in April 2019 I found no reason to change anything except fix the typo I found in it.
Then I start reviewing my Omnifocus and DEVPONThink hybrid GTD system in depth. First thing is to look at all the existing projects in OF and move any that are not done but can’t be done in the upcoming season back into DEVONThink. I keep GTD style Someday/Maybe lists in DT. They are roughly organized initially by my areas of focus but as certain AOFs lists got too long to comfortably read I’d split it into logical groups. That happens organically over time and now I’m at a current set of 64 separate someday/maybe lists.
I found that moving S/M projects into something other than my list manager provided me the required separation between current projects and potential future projects and reduces my weekly review time in OmniFocus. I am comfortable with long lists so I usually activate any project that I want to or could work on in the coming 3 months. Other people prefer lists that are a lot smaller and might not keep all those projects active at once but it works for me.
My OF projects are sorted into 9 top level folders. Active Projects, Recurring Weekly, Recurring Monthly, Recurring Jan-Mar, Recurring Apr-Jun, Recurring Jul-Sep, Recurring Oct-Dec, Housekeeping Checklists, and Checklists. My checklist folders contain OF projects that are like a pad of paper with a checklist on it. When I need to use one I copy the project, make it active and put it into Active Projects. In many cases these are procedures and things that I have carefully thought about and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel. Recurring projects are those that are limited by the season or need to happen on a regular basis starting in that season.
As I review each project that is active in OF I read it carefully to make sure that it is 1) something I still need or want to do 2) the project plan is accurate 3) the next action is well written and is the true actual next action. I also look at what area of focus it corresponds to and am experimenting with adding that AOF as a tag for the project just so I can get a feel for how many things are happening in each AOF. As I do that I look in DT for the corresponding place it would go if it was a S/M item and make sure that it’s not in there. If it is I delete it from DT or if I am going to remove it I add it in. While I am in the DT note I also look at the other things there and see if I see any that really need to come out and be active this season. If so I add them to the OF system quickly and move on. This back and forth process sounds like it takes a long time and duplicates effort but I find that it goes fairly quickly and each time I go back into a S/M note in DT I can usually add something to it. This year I had my Goals for the season note up too and also the 3 main areas to focus on from the Personal Retreat so one thing that got added was if any given project didn’t relate to one of those areas I took a much harder look at it to see if I could just delete it and never do it (ideal scenario), enlist help from my husband or someone else to do the task (not usually possible but a nice idea) or could I make it inactive for this season. Every time I found myself saying “if you have time you could work on xx” and wanting to either keep it in OF or add it in I reminded myself that I can always add it back into OF if I run out of my primary things to do and that I do review my S/M lists regular so if it becomes more critical I will see it and can bring it back into OF. Then I’d move the project back into DT as a S/M item. At the end of the review I archive everything that is completed in OF and take a break.
I try to leave it like that for a day or 2. Then I go back through DEVONThink and my Someday/Maybe lists and read each one and count the items in it and put that in a line at the top of the note. I like to see how much is waiting for me in each list. In DT I also have a set of notes that are the 1-10 year goals for each area of focus. My last major personal review task is to go over each one of those lists, review what is in it, referencing the work I did in the Personal retreat, my ideal week or day, and any other planning to be sure they are accurate. I also do another review in OF. This one is just a quick reality check that everything is what I can actually do and to catch my inevitable typos.
At the end of this long and rather involved process I feel I am ready to get back to work with a clear purpose and decent plan.
Review of Methods Used
For me I get most value out of my own personal Solstice review system. That’s logical, it’s been honed for years to help me feel comfortable about my choices. The second most useful system is the Personal Retreat Handbook. I find it a good balance between asking a lot of searching questions while not making too many assumptions about the areas I feel are important. I will continue to use this in my future planning but I am going to start modifying the questions to add some that are more relevant to me. The 12WY system of determining leading and lagging indicators is a good add-on for tracking progress towards my goals and I am adding some of that into my system. The least useful was the 2020 Year planning. I found it too calendar focused for my tastes but the iOS habit trackers are something I am going to try.
If you stuck with me through this long discussion give yourself a gold star for perseverance. I hope you have found a nugget or 2 of useful information in it.