Yearly Focus

Yearly Focus – v1.6 Release Notes

Each year I focus my attention on a few named goals as a way to be more intentional about the pursuits I direct my energy towards. The way in which I do this has evolved over time and these release notes serve to document the current state of the process and changes I’ve made recently.

Review Of v1.5

For v1.5 I made only a few minor tweaks. The yearly focus remained centered around the idea of focusing on single topic, which the challenge, habit & exemplar would all relate to. The full details of v1.5 are located here but the main three adjustments were:

  1. Introduced the concept of a Sabbath Cycle Vision item
  2. Specified difficulty progression by quarter for the habit
  3. Added details to the description about each item in the release notes

I set my newest Sabbath Cycle Vision but don’t yet have feedback on it.

The main item I have feedback on is the adjustment to how I structured the measurement of the habit over the year in order to progress the difficulty. Having different goals for each quarter, with some flexibility to change mid-year based on learnings was extremely helpful. It meant success was achievable early in the year, but progress was possible throughout the year.

Changes for v1.6

This year, for the first time, I got wind of someone else following my yearly focus format and applying it to their own theme. I love that and am inspired by it.

I can’t really take that much credit for this format of setting a yearly focus, though. Plenty of other people have set yearly goals for themselves or studied the habits of successful people. I’ve just had a few years to hammer on the process unify it a bit and make adjustments so that things go smoothly. I did recently hear about some great ideas that come from research about how to make goals and measurements that stick, so I’ve brought into the fold for this version, which should help refine this process even more.

I’m also adding a new category, emphasizing something I’ve often neglected and making a few tweaks to the wording to make it more consumable.

  1. (re)Introduction of the Bucket List Item
  2. Adding celebration
  3. More emphasis on focusing on the process
  4. Rewording the descriptions to make them less about me and more consumable by others


Sabbath Cycle Vision – A guiding vision for the the six years between sabbath years. This broader theme will help guide many aspects of life during this period, including big life decisions, the selection of themes for individual years and prioritization decisions when taking on new projects.

Example Sabbath Cycle Vision: ‘expand your horizons & do new things’ or ‘settle down and establish roots’ or ‘fight the destruction of the planet’.

Due to the longer period, this item can be much larger in scope. This will help in thinking about priorities that are larger than what can be accomplished in a single year. Due to the longer period, there will also be less certainty about specifics, and so it needs to be appropriately broad.

Theme – A central topic for the year that is important enough to focus a large amount of energy on. A single word can suffice or perhaps a few are needed. It is something to spend time thinking about and take a few concrete efforts towards. Because this exercise is designed to help grow as a person, the theme will likely not be something you are awesome at today. Instead chose something you would like to explore for the first time or something that is holding you back from getting to where you want to be.

Example Theme: ‘living within community’, ‘healthy’ or ‘defending freedom’

Challenge – Something related to the theme that you have never done before, but that you would like to attempt. This is a chance to stretch yourself, step outside of your comfort zone and grow your experience of the world.

Example Challenge: ‘run a marathon’ or ‘play an original song at an open mic night’

These challenges might often be something that you feel is important, but the act of doing new things is important in itself. Attempting new things forces us to learn, which keeps our brains sharp, and it forces us to stretch our comfort zones, which gives us a larger area we can operate in the future. It also helps us become more comfortable with the idea of being out of our comfort zone, which makes future uncomfortable things less uncomfortable.

The challenge is setup so that accomplishing it is binary, but you can also add stretch goals for an extra challenge after you achieve the initial success.

I’ve found it helpful to pre-negotiate artificial limiters, such as budget or time commitment, to ensure that I don’t strain other priorities to accomplish this.

Habit – A behavior to improve or adjust that is related to the theme. Usually something you have done before but that you want to focus on in order to do it more frequently, less frequently or with better results.

These habits are a way to focus on the process and make adjustments to who you will be in the long run. They might be things that make you look more like the person you want to be or those that you believe will make you capable of achieving the things you want to achieve. By measuring the habit for a single year and making small improvements it is possible to make changes that will stick. A lot of this comes from the hard work during that year of overcoming the challenges that pop and making lifestyle adjustments. Once you have done those, you are much more likely to last beyond the year, instead of reverting back to the old ways once the year concludes.

The habit should be something that is repeatable somewhat regularly and measurable.

Example Habit: ‘exercise X times per week’ or ‘decrease sugar consumption to <X grams per day’.

This element is most likely to create lasting results when the targets are difficult but achievable. One way to ensure things remain progressively difficult as you get better is to break the year down into four quarters of three months each and make the target a bit higher each quarter. That way the year starts off pretty easy and gets harder once you’ve built up some success. Since you will be planning before you have much data, it is ok to adjust the target during quarterly reviews based on how things have been going. If you thought exercising five times a week was a good target but have only been doing it two or three times, try dropping your target to four for the next three months to see if having the goal within reach gives you the boost you need to make it happen – you can then increase it back to five the following quarter if doing four went well.

Depending on the habit you’re attempting I’ve found it is important to take into account seasonality when planning – some things are easy to do a lot of in the summer but get harder later in the year which could be discouraging if you didn’t plan for it.

Finally, celebrating success is important, especially with this category as it requires the most continual work. Each quarter as we review the habit, we should think of an appropriate way to celebrate that is proportionate to the results.

Exemplar – A person that exemplifies the values or principles of the theme or who is notable for their relation to it. This will be someone you might spend time reading the writings of or if available, spend time learning from directly.

In studying their lives, you will be able to identify; thought patterns that shaped their worldview, motivations that drove them, behaviors that helped them succeed, and decisions that proved favorable. You can then benefit from that knowledge by applying it to your own life.

I’ve created an exemplar review template that helps me focus on things that will ultimately be actionable as I learn about them.

Example Exemplar: ‘George Washington’ or ‘Martin Luther King Jr’

Bucket List Item – Something you really want to experience before you die. It doesn’t have to be related to the theme, but it is great if it does.

It could consist of a place you want to visit, an activity you want to participate in, or an accomplishments you want to achieve. The idea behind having a bucket list item is twofold.

First, if you, like me, have a long bucket list, you’ve got to get started on it if you want any chance of finishing it before you kick the bucket.

Second, I’ve found that achieving important goals often requires a lot of sacrifice and hard work in the present. I’ve found that if I can doing at least one big, exciting, memory-worthy thing a year – like a bucket list item – it makes the whole year seem pretty good, even if it was actually really difficult. So this is a nice way to have some fun with your yearly focus. Perhaps you can even use the bucket list item as a reward for doing a good job with the habit or challenge, especially if it is a bit of a luxury.

Quarterly Review – In order to have the best chance at succeeding, you should have some form of accountability. I personally blog about my yearly focus. That isn’t the only option though, personal journaling, sharing your focus with those close to you or even a social media post can be equally effective forms of accountability.

At the very least, you need to write it down somewhere though, so you don’t forget the details. You should also review your goal every three months or so, jot down some notes about how things are going and what you can do next to keep progressing. That quarterly review is also a good time to readjust targets as necessary. Sometimes a year throws surprises at you, it is better to adjust and succeed than to fail and lose confidence unnecessarily.