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#53: The Personal Annual Review

How to design your career strategically across 5 time horizons

Last week was my birthday 🥳

Couple that with 2024 approaching in only 15 days, and I’m feeling reflective. That’s why, each December around this time I sit down and review my personal horizons of focus.

I’ve tried many different year-end review approaches before, but none have stuck. Until I found the 5 Horizons of Focus.

It helps me build a plan today to get me where I want to go tomorrow (both personally and professionally).

Here’s how it works:

5️⃣ Purpose and principles
4️⃣ 3 - 5 year vision
3️⃣ 1 - 2 year goals
2️⃣ Areas of focus
1️⃣ Projects

In today’s edition, we’ll explore this framework and I’ll share how I use it to plan strategically across different altitudes to intentionally design my lifestyle and my career.

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The 5 Horizons of Focus

The 5 Horizons of Focus framework was developed by David Allen in 2001 as part of his personal productivity system Getting Things Done.

I stumbled across it a few years ago and have been using it ever since. I was drawn to the framework because as a strategist, I love to plan across multiple time horizons. When I was the Chief Strategy Officer at Unbounce, I thought about strategy across three horizons: the next 12 months, 1-3 years, and 3 years and beyond.

The 5 Horizons of Focus apply this at a personal level. The first time you complete this exercise, you’ll need at least a few hours. You may even want to return to it a few times after you’ve had time to think. Then, once you have the foundation, you can review it each year to see if you’re on track, make any adjustments, and set your annual goals.

Here are the 5 time horizons to focus on:

#5: Purpose and Principles

This is the 50,000 foot view.

What is the broader purpose for your work and life? What values will drive future decisions and tradeoffs? This level should articulate your ultimate intention for your life, and the standards for its success.

For example, here is one of the principles I wrote for myself:

I return to level 5 - purpose and principles - when I need to anchor myself in my core values or if I am considering large tradeoffs in decisions. I make sure that I am making these decisions in line with the principles I’ve committed to.

#4: 3 - 5 Year Vision

This is the 40,000 foot view.

What, and where, do you want to be 5 years from now? What will success look, sound and feel like? At this level, it’s easy to over-index on the destination. I like to set an intention, rather than a destination, to keep myself open to whatever path may lead me there.

#3: 1 - 2 Year Goals

This is the 30,000 foot view.

What are the goals and objectives you need to achieve in the next few years to reach your 5-year vision? Get specific about what you need to accomplish.

#2: Areas of Focus

This is the 20,000 foot view.

What do you need to focus on this year to move the needle on your 2-year goals? Equally important, what areas of focus will you avoid?

#1: Projects

This is the 10,000 foot view.

What are the specific projects you need to tackle first? Projects should be multi-task, and often last at least several weeks or months. Consider if the sequence of these projects matter, or if you can run multiple projects in tandem.

Here’s an example of how you might take a 5-year vision and break it down into these last 4 levels. This is an excerpt from what I wrote last year:

Hopefully you can see how my project of hitting 150 PMM Camp community members ladders up directly to my goal to build multiple income streams which supports my 5-year vision of being financially free.

Too often in life we over-index on our short term goals without focusing on the bigger picture or the “why” behind what we’re trying to do. That’s why I love this framework.

When you inevitably experience a bump in the road, you can return to your purpose, principles and vision to get you back on track.

Happy planning ✨


🛠️ Tools: Looking for a more classic review tool? I love YearCompass, a free booklet that helps you reflect on the past year and plan for the next one. I often use YearCompass as an input to my 5 Horizons

🎧 Playlist: Tim Ferriss and James Clear (two of my faves!) discuss their process of personal annual reviews in this episode of the Tim Ferriss Show

Until next week,


P.S. PMM Camp community registration closes today (December 17). Grab your spot and join an active community of 150+ product marketing leaders. The next registration isn’t planned until March 2024. Join now before the doors close!