It’s the last week in January so I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce you to the monthly review. I’m going to assume you’re a ‘writing things down’ rockstar by now but, even if you’re not, this week’s post will still benefit you. The monthly review is all about reminding you of your achievements, flagging areas for improvement, and keeping you on track towards your goals, both big and small. It only takes me a few minutes on the last day of each month, but it helps me focus on what’s important and forget the rest. (And I’ve got a lot of forgetting to do.)
And hey, don’t forget to grab your FREE printable at the end. 🙂
As is pretty standard practice for me, I don’t use anything fancy for this — just a word processor. I’ll take you through the headings I use, how I fill them out, and why I find them helpful. Obviously if you’re going to do a monthly review you don’t have to use the exact same ones, but I think they’re pretty good guidelines to get yourself started.
Monthly review heading #1 — WHAT WENT WELL
This is where I jot down all the things that went well that month. (Rocket science, I know.) These could be big things, like completing a work project or a personal milestone, or they could be relatively small, like cutting back on evening snacks. Sometimes, if I’m struggling, I’ll take a look back over my to-do lists for the month or my mind sweep notes and glean some information from there. But it’s usually pretty easy to point to a handful of things that went well, even if one of them is just surviving another month.
It’s often hard in the day-to-day to feel like you’ve really achieved anything, but when you take the time at the end of the month to look back and really focus on what you accomplished — even little things like doing a pile of laundry — you’ll realise you’re a fucking superhero after all. Monthly reviews are all about giving you a renewed appreciation for all you get done. No-one expects you to be churning out novels every month (unless you’re Stephen King, of course) or curing cancer or ending world hunger, but if you can say that you showed up for work every day, or you kept your kids alive, or you got a fresh set of sheets on the bed, you’re doing A-OK in my book. Virtual hugs and high fives for you.
Monthly review heading #2 — WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED
I can finally stop adding “exercise” to this list ‘cause I joined a gym this month. Huzzah for progress! (Boo to achey arms, though.)
Sometimes this list is short, and sometimes it’s “re-evaluating my entire life” long. The point is, it’ll identify areas that need a bit of work. NEVER assume that this list should be empty — if you’ve nothing left to improve upon, you’re living a lie. And never assume that you have to work on everything that’s on it — pick one or two to focus on and take tiny little steps towards them.
This quick exercise is designed to show you different ways you can make next month better than the last. It’s not meant to make you feel bad because, let’s face it, there’ll always be room for improvement in every aspect of our lives. The point is to provide you with a few solutions to problems you’ve been experiencing. You should think of it like a buffet — sure, you could try everything, but you’ll most likely end up rolling home regretting it. Instead, pick and choose the best options so you end up satisfied and still feeling like you got your money’s worth. Just because it’s all there for the taking doesn’t always mean you should take it all.
Personally, I generally only start working on things that have consistently appeared on this list for several months, or that are closely connected with my priorities for the coming month. Everything else I consider standard “that’s life” stuff. Sample the buffet, but try not to stuff your face.
Monthly review heading #3 — FOR NEXT MONTH
This is a quick list of things I have to or want to do in the following month, usually about 10 items long. It could include a work project with an upcoming deadline, or it could be something as simple as finishing the book I’m reading. I don’t include routine tasks like cleaning or writing blog posts here (unless there’s something particularly notable or time-consuming, or something that’s long overdue).
I try to keep it quite specific but, at the same time, I don’t feel pressured to get everything done; I accept that they’re subject to time, energy and resources. When doing a monthly review, you can never tell with any certainty where the following month will take you. You can draw out a map but, more often than not, you’ll end up off-roading. That’s half the fun.
Make your list and use it to kickstart your month, but be prepared to throw your map out the window a mile down the road. Stick to it if you can and if you want to but… Well, shit happens.
Monthly review heading #4 — PRIORITIES
This is where I pick my top one or two items from heading #3. I mark them in bold so they stand out. If all else falls to shit, these are the items that still need to get done. They’re the ones I try knock out first before moving on to anything else. If I can get these done, I’ll feel pretty smug for the month. Anything after that is a bonus.
Monthly review heading #5 — NOTES
This is where I quickly jot down anything noteworthy — feelings about how the month went, ideas for how I can improve on certain things, explanations for why I failed at some things and succeeded at others, observations about my productivity, etc. While the other headings are more of the ‘what’, this is the space for the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.
It’s the “fill in the blanks” bit where I get to put my brain to good use, processing and analysing.
It helps me connect the dots between certain pieces of information — so I may be able to see, for example, that the reason I didn’t get much work done was because I was attending more events than usual. Or maybe I was feeling particularly tired, so I need to try different things to keep my energy levels up. Or perhaps my productivity was through the roof and I need to know how so I can bottle that shit and sell it.
And there you have it — that’s how I do a monthly review. As I said, it takes me a matter of minutes, but helps me focus on what’s going well and why so I can continue it, and also on what’s lagging behind so I can improve it. The headings above help me do all that, and more, to ensure I’m always on track with my goals, and my productivity is focused on my priorities.
Try doing your own monthly review and see how you get on, but don’t be too hard on yourself ‘cause, in fairness, January is generally a tough month for most people. The idea is to recognise where progress was and can be made, to make each month even better than the last. Just think where you could be in December!