What comes around every year that nobody looks forward to? Annual reviews.

You know that feeling: it’s time to sit down and write those reviews. You’ve finally made the time to do it. And all you can remember is what happened in the last month. It’s called recency bias. And it’s real.

You definitely don’t remember everything that’s happened this past year. And you’re either riding high on that last project where you crushed it, or a bit down in the dumps because the last project didn’t go as well as planned (or because…you know…2020).

Now, maybe your company is a bit more progressive and you’re doing continuous feedback, or at least more frequent mini-reviews. Or maybe you call this process something fancy to make it sounds better. And yes, feedback is super important, but the review process? It’s a slog.

Usually, we’re scrambling at the last minute to put our feedback into the format required, whether for ourselves, our reports, or both. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to this process, even if they find it valuable.

But, as I’m always telling my kids, much to their chagrin, “sometimes you gotta do things in life that you don’t want to do; that’s just part of being a person in the world”.

So, since it’s gotta happen, and no one’s gonna do it for us, how can you make this process easier and faster for yourself next year?:

If you’re an independent contributor (IC):

Leverage email:

  • Create a couple of labels (Gmail) or categories (Outlook). Something like “Feedback/Kudos” and “Feedback/Growth”.
  • Anytime someone sends you an email fitting one of those categories, label it as such.
  • Anytime someone gives you verbal feedback, write yourself a quick email recounting it and label accordingly.

Keep an “accomplishments” doc:

  • Create a doc called “accomplishments” and add to it every time you finish a project or provide significant insight on something.

At the end of the year, when written your self review, peruse your email labels and your accomplishments doc and get to work.

Now instead of wracking your brain trying to remember, you’re just compiling, editing and finessing. So much easier!

If you’re a manager:

  • If you don’t have one already, create a task in your task system for each of your direct reports called “[Name] 1:1”. (Or if you’re not yet using a task system, then just create a doc for each person to keep running notes.)
  • Each week, when you have your 1:1s with your reports, enter strengths and growth areas, successes and failures, etc. into the comments section for each employee. This only take a minute or two.
  • Next year, when you sit down to write your reviews, you don’t have a remember a thing! Just review your notes, look for trends and write those reviews!
  • Pro-tip: Want to make writing your self-review easier? See the process above for ICs and adopt it for yourself as well.

If you work for yourself:

Ok, ok, yes, one of the benefits of working for yourself is that you no longer have to participate in the annual review process. But that doesn’t mean you should take a laissez-faire attitude towards growth and development. Remember, in the wise words of Peter Drucker, “What gets measured gets managed.”

If you want to keep track of your growth areas so you can continue to improve, and your successes so you can celebrate your wins (and double down on what’s working), here’s a low effort way to make it happen:

  • Create a spreadsheet called “annual review”.
  • On the spreadsheet, put 2 tabs: Successes and Failures (or “woo-hoos” and “womp-womps” or whatever you want to call them.)
  • Add a recurring weekly task to your task system to “update Annual Review sheet”
  • At the end of every week, take 2 minutes to write down the things that went well, that you did well, that week, and the things that didn’t go so well, or where you faltered.
  • At least once a year, review the whole sheet and identify trends. This will help you find areas and skills that you want to work towards improving in the coming year.

No matter what your role:

Block time on your calendar right now for the annual review process next year. In fact, just block the time on an annual recurring basis. If next year you don’t want to be trying to figure out how to fit in these reviews you have to work on on top of everything else you’re trying to do, plan for it. Block the time.

No, maybe you won’t do the work next year at the exact time you’re blocking it now, but when you look at your calendar next year, you’ll have a visual representation of this work, you’ll remember it’s coming and how long it’s likely to take, and you might be nice to yourself by factoring it in with your other due dates in advance! (And your calendar has drag and drop functionality, so you can just move that appointment around to fit your needs.)