How to Do a Monthly Review

In 2012 I wrote a fairly popular post about my monthly review template. Since then, I’ve updated and changed my monthly template, and followed it diligently for the last two years. It’s what I use to teach in my mastermind groups. For the end of the year and those planning the upcoming year, I thought I’d share the template and how to use it.

In this post, I’ll share the high-level outline, and then break down what’s involved in each question.


Monthly Review Template

Part 1: Journal Reflection

  1. Reflection: Where I started last month, what’s changed, and what lessons have you learned over the last 30 days?
  2. Intentions: What are your intentions and goals for the upcoming month? By the end of the month, I want to have done, felt, or discovered:
  3. Measurement: How will you know that you’ve done this thing? What will be the clue, the evidence, the metric?
  4. Ways of being: While doing this, I want to feel like … The way I want to show up for this in my actions will look like …
  5. Mantra: What’s a simple mantra you can use to remember this goal?
  6. People and Community: Who are the people I connected with this past month? What people can I reach out to this month for support and guidance? Which people do I want to remember to reach out to to support them?

Part 2: Planning

  1. Key projects for the month ahead
  2. The most important business thing (there can only be one priority)
  3. The most important personal thing (there can only be one)
  4. What goes in the parking lot?

How and why it works: Breaking down the logic behind each question

Alright, now I’m going to break down what I do, exactly, and why each question is written the way it is.

Taking the time to reflect

The process of reflection is one of the most important tools we can use to change our behavior. Without studying what we do and what we want, it’s hard to know how to change and what’s working or not working

First: the date and the commitment

Every time I start the reflection, I write down the date and day that I’m writing. Some days I don’t get to the reflection until the 15th of the month. As far as I’m concerned, that’s fine. It’s a process, and noting what’s actually happening is more important that what’s not happening. The date tells me how long it takes me to do it, reminds me that I’m too busy, and still provides valuable insight even if I’m “two weeks behind.” There’s still a lot to be gleaned and learned.

Q1—Reflection: Where I started last month, what’s changed, and what lessons have you learned over the last 30 days?

This is the chance to write down what I wanted from the last month, and then write down what actually happened and compare what I wanted to what transpired. Often, the journal entries will look something like this:

I wanted to get halfway through my book chapter and submit a new chapter by the 15th of the month. Instead, I got bronchitis and Leo was home sick as well. I ended up having to cancel choir and got so frustrated I finally signed up to do the Whole30. I got back into writing on the 20th and still submitted the chapter draft by the 28th, but not quite how I expected.

What’s important here is that it’s an accurate catalog of what happened, and how I either made it work, or whether I bit off more than I could chew. Here’s another example:

Holy shit, I had no idea how much work it took to launch a podcast!!! That’s all that I really did in September, and it was a month later than I expected (told all the sponsors it would be out in August), but here we are, and the pieces are coming together.  Lessons learned: launching a podcast takes a tremendous amount of time, but it’s launched!!!

By asking myself how the last month went, and what I learned, I can catalog lessons and start to more accurately project time in the future. Part of the fundamental goal here is to continue to hone my ability to make projections about my work efforts to gain mastery over my project management skills and time focus. One of the major lessons learned from the 2017 year is that I plan about 3-4x the amount of time I have in any given day or week, and if I truly want to get work done well, I need to do a better job up front of saying no to secondary and tertiary projects.

Q2 — Intentions: What are your intentions and goals for the upcoming month? By the end of the month, I want to have done, felt, or discovered:

This question looks at planning the upcoming month. Because this culture is so focused on DO-ing, and achieving in terms of metrics of business or project success, I’ve crafted this question to encompass feelings, learnings, and doings. Some months in the year my business is humming along, and my work practice isn’t the most interesting question of focus.

Some examples of different types of monthly goals: By the end of the month, I want to feel healthy and strong again. Or: I want to be reconnected to my community. Or: I want to focus on my meditation practice and find mental clarity. Or: I want to take time to rest and not feel so exhausted.

Q3 — Measurement: How will you know that you’ve done this thing? What will be the clue, the evidence, the metric?

This question is paired with the question above deliberately. One of the ways in which people don’t set great goals is that they set goals that are immeasurable. Time has a way of slowly changing our awareness of what is, and we forget how we felt a month ago.

Then, you wake up a month later saying, “I think I feel better? But I’m not sure?”

This question gets at metrics and measurement. (It’s the heart of the OKR system, as well, if you’re familiar). Great goals have two parts: an objective (“what do you want”) and a way of measuring it (“how will you know?).

Designing great goals is an art. The trick is to be able to know that your future self will be able to look back and say, “Wow, I really did it, and here’s how I know I accomplished it.”

Based on the above examples, here are a few ways to implement metrics:

  • I want to feel healthy and strong again. I’ll know because I’ll have gone to the gym and lifted weights at least 10 times, and I won’t have any more soreness in my muscles from that awkward re-entry gym phase.
  • I want to be reconnected to my community. I’ll know because I’ll have done at least 10 phone calls with friends to catch-up, and I’ll have learned the names of at least three new neighbors!
  • I want to focus on my meditation practice and find mental clarity. I’ll know because I’ll have logged at least 4 hours on my meditation calendar, and I’ll write in my morning pages at least three times per week this month. Each week I’ll ask myself how I feel at the end!
  • I want to take time to rest and not feel so exhausted. I’ll know because: I won’t be sick! And I’ll go to bed before 10pm most weeknights. Ideal outcome is that I’ll be able to wake up without an alarm clock once or twice before the end of the month!

Q4 — Ways of being: While doing this, I want to feel like … The way I want to show up for this in my actions will look like …

This is where I ask myself how I want to show up for the goal. As a recovering over-doer, I can push myself to get and achieve things, but I don’t want to show up as a rushing, busy person in the ways that I do things. This question asks me to think about how I want to be while I’m pursuing my monthly practice.

Here are some examples from past months:

Would like to not feel so crazy and frenetic the way that social media makes me feel with constant checking. If things feel like I’m behind or missing a deadline, I’d like to slow down to enjoy it more.

How can I achieve this goal by making it simpler? I have a tendency to overwork things. The question for this month is: how can I get similar impact with less intensity of effort?

I think this project is going to take a lot of slow and steady work, instead of sprints. I’d like to make sure I show up consistently and patiently, even if it feels interminably slow.

Q5 — Mantra: What’s a simple mantra you can use to remember this goal?

Behavior change is not simple. It’s easier to do things the way you’ve always done them. Trying to do new things, for me, requires an effort and commitment. One of the ways that I help myself remember is through the creation of a mantra to hold onto. A mantra is a simple set of words, or a mind tool that I can remember when things get tough.

For example, if my goal is to stay slow and steady, my mantra might be: Slow and steady. A little every day is a lot.

If my goal is to make it simpler, I could say: How can I make this simpler?

If my goal is to be more present in the moment, I could make the following mantra: Slow down to enjoy it more.

The mantra is a tool to use when you catch yourself in the old ways of being, and need a reminder to return to the practice you’re cultivating. When I’m stuck with a big puzzle, or a tangle of logistics, I can use the mantra. There’s only one mantra for the month, and often I’ll carry the same mantra over a series of months.

Here’s an example of how it works: I recently had a dinner party and decided to make a complicated meal that had ingredients and tools I’d never heard of (flame tamer? bermix?). After thinking I’d have to take the day off to plan an elaborate holiday dinner and meal, I exhaled and realized that for some reason I was choosing to make this complex. Why?

How can I make this simpler?

Well, for starters, I could make a recipe I already know how to do. I could ask other people for help. And—I could order food in!

The mantra helped me release the expectations that I’d accomplish this super-hero feat of hosting.

Q6 —People and Community: Who are the people I connected with this past month? What people can I reach out to this month for support and guidance? Which people do I want to remember to reach out to to support them?

Most goals forget to include the value of people and connections, and it’s one of the most important tools we have for our well-being, happiness, and health. The more diverse communities we’re a part of, the healthier we are. In connecting with people, I follow Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Rule of 50’ and try to stay in touch with at least 12 people during any given week (phone calls, texts, in-person, coffees, etc). Each month I write down who I had a chance to connect with, who I want to make sure to make space for in the upcoming month, and who I want to support.


Part 2: Planning

Then I take about 20 minutes to plan and craft the goals for the month ahead. First, I write down all of the projects I’m doing and thinking about for the month ahead. Then—and this is the important step—I ask myself what the top priority is for my personal life and my business. If I only get one thing done in each category, what is it?

This is based on some critical reading of the books The One Thing and Essentialism, two books that have really changed my thinking. Often having too many projects leads us to not finishing anything, or doing a partial job on each one. If I truly simplify to one business project, what would that look like, and why? By forcing myself to choose the most important thing, I help myself both by creating clarity and by implementing boundaries on my work.

Consider the alternative: you write down ten or so projects, and you get halfway done with three of them. What’s better, a finished book, or three half finished ones? It’s always better to focus on completion, and this asks me to decide, in advance, what the most important thing is.

Key projects for the month ahead

The important elements here are to write down all of the biggest projects under “Key Projects” (usually using the categories of each project name, like Podcast, Book, Mastermind, etc), and the projects or steps I want to take for each one.

The most important business thing (there can only be one priority) +

This is a forcing function. If I only get one thing done, what is it, and why?

The most important personal thing (there can only be one)

I allow myself one personal and one business priority. That’s it.

What goes in the parking lot?

The parking lot is a holding space for future ideas. I’ll often move projects off the forefront and into the parking lot once I’ve decided the priority for the month.


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