How I Do A Personal Monthly Retrospective

In this post I’ll walk through the process that I’m currently using (going on 5 months in a row now) to do a personal retrospective.  Each month this shouldn’t take more than 10-20 minutes but the benefits have been tangible for me thus far.  I’ll describe the process next but provide some  additional context in the conclusion.

Guidelines

A few guidelines first.

  • Consistent day – Pick a set day of each month to do your retrospective (ex. 1st day of the month, 1st Saturday, 3rd Wed, whatever works best.)  For me the last Friday of the month is my day.
  • Remind yourself – Schedule a reminder, a recurring meeting invite, or some other way to track the day for your retrospective.  I use a recurring meeting scheduled in my work calendar.
  • Timing – Spend no more than 20 minutes on the retrospective.  This keeps things succinct and easy to  complete each month.

Monthly Retrospective Process

  1. What to record
    • What is going well?
    • What are blockers / is not going well?
    • What would you like to accomplish going forward? (To-Do)
    • Why are you here? (see section below, we’ll come back to this)
  2. Write simple phrases or sentences for anything relating to personal life, work, career, family, etc.  Nothing is off limits.

 

At the next month use the following process to review the previous month and then write for the new month.

  • Review last month’s “To-Dos” and mark if completed
  • If an item is in “what are blockers / not going well” for 2 months in a row but no improvement or action taken then make a To-Do for it
  • If an item is in “To-Do” for 2 months in a row but not worked on then drop it off as it is not a high enough priority for you
  • Review last month “what is / is not going well” and see if anything points to future goals or direction (Why are you here)

 

Why are you here?

The “Why are you here?” question takes a little bit of a different approach.  The goal here is to find long term direction in your life.  This could take many forms including “what motivates you the most?”, “what do you see yourself doing when you retire?”, or “if time and money were of no concern, what would you be doing?”  The way to start with this question is to ask yourself the question 5 times in row until you get to the same answer multiple times in a row.  This may not happen in the first few months or even years, but over time you should be able to sharpen your answers until you get closer to your true answer.

Example

(Month 1) Why are you here?

  1. I want to have a good job… why?
  2. I want to make good money… why?
  3. I want to provide for my family… why?
  4. I want to spend more time with the people that I love… why?
  5. I want to bring joy to others because it makes me feel fulfilled…

[Now that you’ve arrived at wanting to bring joy to others, start at that point and continue forward the next month]

(Month 2) Why are you here?

  1. I want to bring joy to other people because it makes me feel fulfilled… why?
  2. I’m good at making other people feel included and that is the best way that I can make other people happy… why?
  3. Someone once helped me to feel included and I realized that I had a natural ability to make others feel included and I feel compelled to help other people and pass along that gift… why?
  4. Someone once helped me to feel included and I realized that I had a natural ability to make others feel included and I feel compelled to help other people and pass along that gift… why?

 

Notice 2 things here.  1st is that we’ve repeated ourselves so we’re getting closer to a true answer.  2nd is that as you continue answering usually you start to add more details and clarity to your responses.  In this example we went from 7 words up to 34 words with much greater detail and intentionality.  These answers aren’t set in stone and you may find that things change over the months / years.  What once was important may be replaced by something else that takes on greater priority.  The important part is that you ask the question and be honest with your answers.

Conclusion

Earlier this year I was speaking with my mentor (if you don’t have at least 1 mentor I highly encourage you to find one as soon as possible, they don’t even have to work at the same company as you) trying to answer the question “Why am I here?”  The question was posed to me at a technical leadership training event that I had attended.  I didn’t have a very good answer for the near or long term in my life.  In order to find some direction I used the simple questions in the retrospective above (you may recognize some of these from an agile retrospective meeting).  The benefits from this process have been very real for me.  I’ve found things that I’ve not enjoyed doing in my life and stopped doing them or found ways to transition that work to others who do enjoy it.  Conversely I’ve also found things that I do enjoy in my life and worked to position myself to have more opportunities in those spaces.

If you try out this process I’d love to hear how it works for you, even a follow up after you’ve been through it a few months.  Good luck and keep searching until you find your Why.

 

-Frog Out

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