Looking back and looking forward

Have you ever felt unsure about whether you’re moving forward or where the time went? A friend called me up and asked for help on being able to see the progress in her life. I walked her through the process of doing a weekly review using a Google Docs document.

A weekly review is really simple. Write down the dates you’re talking about, and then write down what you did. Look at your calendar, e-mail, and to-do list for hints. Don’t worry about pinning things down to a specific day; just write down what you remember. Set yourself a reminder to do this again next week – it might be a calendar appointment, it might be an item on your to-do list. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When she got to the end of the things she remembered about last week, I asked her some questions about relationships and life, and we turned up quite a few more things to celebrate.

She was surprised by how long the list was. People do a lot, but it’s hard to remember what you’ve done. You make progress an inch at a time, and you don’t see the miles.

I can remember about a week back, and that only with the help of my notes. Any further back, and I know I’ll be missing important things. I write so that I can remember. Daily blog posts roll up into weekly reviews, which roll up into monthly and yearly reviews. I can tell you where the last ten years went: where I’ve gone forward, and where I’ve lost something along the way.

It’s good to celebrate the little wins, though, and that’s part of why a weekly review is so useful. We forget where life goes.

It’s also good to see the gaps, to come a little closer to what you really want. Writing down your ideas for the next period keeps you from forgetting. You can move away from the plan, especially if other opportunities come up, but the plan is a useful default.

Reviews are so useful that I do several yearly reviews, even though that can be a little confusing. The New Year holiday is a natural time to do an annual review, one synchronized with other people. My birthday is another review point. It’s useful to summarize life as a 28-year-old or 29-year-old. It helps people relate across the years. My experiment anniversary is February and my fiscal year ends in September; both are occasions for a mini-review. So I’m regularly looking at a sliding window of time, figuring out how far I’ve come and what I want to do with the next year. Sometimes this confuses me, but still, it’s handy to periodically check. (See my previous reviews.)

I also regularly look forward. When I analyzed the phrases I used on my blog in 2012, “I want to” and “so that I” were my top two phrases. I write about what I want to do. I mindmap and draw my ideas. This looking-ahead is part of my regular weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews. Thinking about the future pulls me forward so that I don’t get stuck in the past. It makes the present more vivid, more real.

January is named for the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and transitions (or at least that’s what Wikipedia says he is). He looks towards the past and the future, and so do we.

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