Stephen Lynch personal annual review

(My) Personal Annual Review

“The unexamined life is not worth living” (attributed to Socrates)

As we move into a new year, I find it useful to conduct a Personal Annual Review exercise with my executive coaching clients. I have seen this exercise be life-changing on more than one occasion, with people making bold decisions that took them in new directions. In the spirit of “eating my own dog food” I have decided to share my own review this year.

1. What were my wins?

  • Make a list of all your wins from last year and the key lesson you took from each win

At this stage of my life, I’m optimizing for “lifestyle” and have put a cap on the number of hours I wish to work and/or clients I want to take on. As a business coach, my key Metric/KPI is “revenue per available consulting hour”. My allocated consulting time is a finite and perishable resource. With fixed capacity, maximizing utilization is key (similar to selling airline seats or hotel rooms).

The big win for me in 2023 was getting the revenue/lifestyle balance right. I achieved my revenue goal with a select portfolio of ambitious clients whom I thoroughly enjoy working with, supporting them to grow the value of their businesses. I also got to spend quality time with my wife Bianca.

The lesson I take from this win is the same as I tell my clients, “Focus”. Focus on your ideal target customer that sits right in the center of the “bullseye”, and optimize your offering for that type of customer.

2. What were my losses or failures?

  • Make a list of all your losses or failures, and the key lesson you took from each loss

I feel fortunate to have not experienced any significant losses or failures this year. 2020 was another story, but I’ll gratefully accept 2023 as one of the good years! I’ve heard it said, that if you aren’t experiencing any failures, you aren’t taking enough risks. Perhaps I need to push the boat out a bit more in 2024?

3. What did I change my mind about?

Think of updating your beliefs as “software updates” for your brain. If you can’t think of anything you changed your mind about, this is potentially a bad sign. It could mean you have stopped learning, or you are not open to updating your beliefs with new information. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” (attributed to John Maynard Keynes)

  • Make a list of all the “software updates” you installed in your brain

I started working with clients virtually in 2009 when I lived in Calgary, Canada, and picked up several USA-based clients. Back then I used GoToMeeting and Webex (does anyone still use those?) and figured out how to deliver strategic planning and business coaching services without ever meeting a client face to face. I’ve had clients around the globe that I worked with for years that I have still never met in person!
I became convinced that 100% virtual consulting was the way to go, and am grateful for the technologies that enable me to work from my home office anywhere in the world.

However, this year I modified that stance, and now travel to see each client face to face once per year, usually for their high-level annual strategic planning session. Even though I deliver a lot of talks and presentations, I’m an introvert by nature. Getting out of my comfort zone to spend time with people has been more fun than I thought it would be, and has deepened my client relationships.

4. What activities, people, or projects energized my life?

  • Review your calendar for the period and list all the things that energized you (work-related and personal).
  • Did you invest enough time in these areas, or did they get neglected?
  • What specific changes will you make to the way you allocate your time this year?

I’ve been coaching businesses for 2 decades, but have never considered myself an “executive coach”.
A couple of years ago, a client asked me to work 1-on-1 with members of their senior leadership team to grow their capabilities and coach them through their leadership challenges in a confidential setting.
I’ve found these meetings to be immensely rewarding. It’s a privilege to have another human share their private thoughts and allow me to support and challenge them to achieve their goals. I’ve started to extend this service to other clients, as it supports my overarching goal of driving strategy execution at the company level.

5. What activities, people, or projects drained me?

  • Review your calendar for the period and list all the things that drained you (work-related and personal).
  • To what extent were you able to reduce the amount of time you invested in these areas?
  • What specific changes will you make to the way you allocate your time this year?

In 2023 I curtailed my recurring contribution to an organization I have deep fondness for. Their strategy is taking them on a path that I do not want to commit energy to. I’m still cheering them on from the sidelines, and happy to add value where it makes sense, but out of respect for the people and their chosen journey, I realized I needed to get off the field if I’m not willing to commit 100%.

6. Who (or what) are the “barnacles” in my life?

Barnacles are crustaceans that love to cling to boat hulls. The U.S. Navy estimates that unchecked barnacle growth on ships can increase drag by as much as 60 percent. I think of barnacles as people or situations that hold you back from realizing your full potential (work-related and personal). You’re trying to push forward, but they create a “drag” on your life, slowing you down from achieving your goals.

  • List all the people or situations that seem like “barnacles” in your life
  • How can you eliminate or reduce their impact this year?

The most common word people use to describe me is “discipline”. On weekdays I get up at 4 am, read for an hour, and exercise for an hour in my home gym before starting work. I also track the food I eat using an app to calibrate my calories and macronutrients (a holdover from my competitive bodybuilder days). However, this year I allowed myself to relax a bit on the diet front (Carbs! Musashi bars!), and I’m not maintaining the body fat % that makes me feel good about myself. Most people would not notice, but I know I can do better. I resolve to kick my own backside and get back “into the zone” in 2024.

Why do I subject myself to this morning routine? I’m optimizing for how I want to live in future decades. When I reach 90 years old I want to:

– Run 100m (it might take me a long time, but I still want to be able to run that distance)
– Carry 2 bags of groceries up a flight of stairs
– Get down on the floor and get back up again without needing to hold on to anything
– Front squat to pick up a toddler (or equivalent weight) off the floor
– Swim in a pool and be able to pull myself out without needing to use the ladder
– Fly on a plane and put my own luggage into the overhead locker
– Have the mental acuity to continue to advise businesses and pursue board of director roles

The barnacle that is holding me back is my aging metabolism! Every year, I curse the fact that I need to lower my calorie intake another notch just to maintain the same body weight. Of course, I can’t stop these biological changes, but hopefully, I can slow the rate of descent and take the right actions to increase my “health-span” as well as my life-span.

7. What issues do I regret not taking action on?

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality” (Seneca)

  • List the issues you regret not taking action on
  • What reasons did you use to rationalize your inaction?
  • What are the potential benefits if you did take action?
  • What courageous actions will you commit to taking this year?

I lived in North America for 12 years and would fly back to New Zealand every year to visit my mother in Oamaru. Since returning to live in New Zealand in 2020 I still only visit my mother once per year.
My sister lives 4-hours’ drive from where I live in Waiuku, and recently told me (to my shame) that I visited her more frequently when I lived in the USA! I resolve to be a better brother and son in 2024.
No excuses. I’m not even going to try to rationalize my inaction.

8. What do I need to say NO to?

“The difference between successful people and very successful people, is that very successful people say NO to almost everything.” (Warren Buffett).
If you’re not saying HELL YEAH about an opportunity, say NO.” (Derek Sivers)

  • What are you going to say NO to and stop doing?

In 2023 I delivered presentations on behalf of banks (ANZ and ASB), to the Canterbury University MBA program, and to various industry organizations at their annual conferences. These keynotes and workshops take a lot out of me in terms of preparation time and stress levels. I probably over-prepare, but that is how I am wired. I intend to be much more choosy about which speaking engagements I take on in 2024.

I’ve been getting better at saying “No” in recent years, and have adopted Derek Sivers’ mantra as one of my personal core values. My wife Bianca likes to challenge me when such opportunities come up by asking, “Is this a HELL YEAH for you?”


We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” (John Dewey)

I hope I’ve inspired at least 1 of you to conduct your own Personal Annual Review


Until next time…