• Advice

How to kick-off your year with annual review

Being a freelancer is a beautiful thing. It means never having to say “I’ll be back 15 minutes late from lunch, Todd. Hope that’s okay. I have a thing in midtown! Soooooo sorry! Oh wait. Who am I apologizing to? There is no Todd. I call my own shots. See you at 3:30, suckas! That is, if there WERE any suckas to see at 3:30! Bwahahahaha! THERE IS NO TODD!!!”

That said, being a freelancer also means it can be difficult to chart one’s own progress and fill in one’s own blind spots. If you want to take those occasional five-hour lunches with a relatively clear conscience, then you should also be prepared to conduct your own annual Performance Review.

First of all, let’s turn the weakness of this situation into its strength. While tasking yourself with this kind of self-evaluation may seem like a recipe for perspective-less disaster (“I think we’re doing just fine here, me and me!”), you are actually the perfect person to conduct this review.

After all, who’s in a better position to know what you want from your career, and what you’re thinking and feeling about the year gone by? You’re by far the most qualified person for the job. After all...

There is no Todd.

1. This time last year

First of all, when embarking on your year-end assessment, the primary question at hand is: Did you meet your goals for the past year? Perhaps more importantly, did you set goals for the past year?

This is something many of us have trouble with, and it may simply be something you need to get better about in 2017. Being specific about those things you want to achieve and accomplish is as important a guide for assessment as the quality of the work you actually produce.

2. The long(ish) arc of history

It’s easy to find yourself in some itchy winter sweater judging the year gone by in one of two ways: You either see the year as an unmitigated success because you’re cheering some recent run of good fortune/feedback, or you see all of 2016 as a loss because you’re currently lamenting some sort of post-holiday fumble.

But can you remember what happened when the year began? Was the summer as good to you as the fall? Are there lessons to be learned from those March and April assignments?

Really look at your year as a whole before terming it a failure or a triumph (and try to remember that, like all of life, it’s really some more complex combination of the two).

3. The importance of a paper trail (or, more likely, an e-trail)

It can be difficult and even stressful to make judgment calls about your own performance, but reviewing the correspondence and communication surrounding your work can tell you volumes. This will help you to see things more clearly, and paint an honest portrait of your work for the year.

Did you meet your deadlines? Were your clients truly happy? Who called you in for additional assignments and who seemed to fade away? Be honest in your assessment of what you find. You may find in the end that it’s actually a timeline of tiny performance reviews from others that creates your larger self-review.

4. Be Kind, Rewind (not necessarily in that order)

As you look back on your year, try to learn from your mistakes. See if you can chart any stagnation or setbacks, and take a long hard look at what you’re doing and where it seems to be having a cooling effect, so that you can adjust and only repeat the history you want to repeat.

If things seem to be going better for you (happy clients, rising rates), then that’s terrific, and you’re on the right track. As important as it is not to be defensive about your failures, it’s equally important to take pride in what you did well.

Give yourself a pat on the back when you see how far you’ve come. Reward yourself with, oh, say... a five hour lunch? Who’s gonna say anything? Todd?

5. Looking ahead

Now we’re back where we started. It’s time to set new goals and challenges. Where do you want to be when this comes round next year?

Don’t overwhelm yourself, but do try to come up with at least three things about your work and career that you want to improve and give more attention to.

Most importantly, be good to yourself in these reviews. And always remember, as you raise a glass at the end of your self-assessment and toast to a happy and prosperous 2017...


Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.