How to choose your Word of the YearStep-by-step guide to choosing a word that will guide your year!
How to choose your “Word of the Year”
Choosing a single word to shape your entire year is a concept I first began in 2007 – way back when Ali Edwards was the only one talking about it and she called it her “One Little Word.” I was inspired by the idea of uniting all my New Year’s resolutions, annual goals, and big plans for the year into a single word that would give me focus and a clear direction. Nowadays the concept of “Word of the Year” the hot new buzzword (buzzphrase?) and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and I’m so excited! If this is your first time choosing a word, hold on tight! I truly believe this is going to change your life!
If you’re like me and have been choosing a word for many years, I’d love to hear your story and how this practice has impacted your life, your goals, and your well-being. I spent some time digging through my old journals and blog posts (I’ve had a bunch o’ blogs over the years).
I’ve tried to recreate a list of the words I’ve chosen over the years. Twelve years of journals, scrapbooks, art projects, and blog posts later, my Word list is incomplete, but here are some of the words I’ve chosen over the years:
Create • Believe • Action • Be • Finish • Fun • Growth • Explore & Be Present • Stewardship
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a routine for how I choose my word and I hope you might get some ideas for your method too. My method for choosing a new Word of the Year happens in roughly this order:
- Annual review of this year’s goals, actions, and achievements
- Create a rough outline of what next year’s goals will be
- Start compiling a list of words that seem to fit with the goals outline
- Think. Pray. Meditate. Journal. Generally “noodle” about the list for a week or so.
- Pick my Word of the Year
- Set my goals for next year
I typically start this process around mid-December and spend some quiet time over the holidays to work on the decision. Quite often there’s a large gap of time between steps 5 and 6 because I don’t actually set all my annual goals until my birthday in February (more on that later). Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail.
My Annual Review
I set goals in three areas of my life: personal, business, and career. So when it’s time to review the year and look back at how I did with those goals, I separate those three areas into their own review process. This is something I’ve tweaked and refined over the years and as you do it more often, you’ll figure out the best way to do it too. But here’s a quick overview.
> Personal Goals
My personal goals are exactly what you’d expect. Eat better, exercise more, learn new stuff, read more books, go on more vacations, and all the normal things we are continually improving in our lives year after year. And inevitably there are things that make the list that never gets done (like organizing my digital photo files) but often I’m pleased to look back and find how well I’ve done.
> Business Goals
Besides working my normal 9-5 job, I also run a small side business doing graphic design and brand management for small businesses. I’ve been downsizing this in the past year as I work to grow Stationery Nerd more and more (it’s so much more fun to play with paper and chat with all of you!). Because some of my past clients have needed help with general business coaching, I’ve had lots of practice helping others conduct an annual review of their businesses. I’ve been using this review process with clients (and myself) for the past several years, but last year I actually put it all together into an actual book and published it on Amazon. The Next 365: Annual Business Review and Planning Workbook.
> Career Goals
As much as I’d love to be a Stationery Nerd full time, that’s a long way off so every morning I clock into my 9-5 job as a graphic designer. As a designer, it’s important that I stay on top of the latest trends in design and keeping up with the new digital tools I use for my job. The goals on this list include a lot of educational or training types of goals, as well as always working to advance my career and remain a valuable part of my team.
Writing an Outline of your New Year Goals
The next step is starting an outline of my goals for the New Year. I never start with the detailed goals that I want to accomplish. Instead, I start with a rough outline. As I go through my annual review (above) it naturally becomes clear what I need to focus on for the next year so I jot down ideas throughout the process. I would guess I spend only 10-20 minutes on this step. Maybe less. Don’t over-analyze at this point. This outline is an important first step in figuring out what my Word of the Year will be. My outline might look something like this — just some thoughts scribbled down on paper to get my mind moving in the right direction. When I say rough, I mean rough. Don’t get carried away. The list you see below is my actual outline. And yes, I make little notes in the margins as I think through this list and need to add ideas or additional information to consider.
Writing a List of Possible Words
Once I have a general idea of what I want my goals to be for the next year, I start to brainstorm some words that might fit all of those goals. This list might take a week or two to compile. As I think of words I just add them to the list. Over time I’ll cross some off because they don’t feel right. Once I have a few solid possibilities it’s time to just go about my life for a couple weeks and let that list marinate in my head. I spend some time reviewing the list every couple of days (just a few minutes) and think about the words, cross some off, add some new ideas. I pray about it. Meditate or journal while I think about how each word might affect my year ahead. Some years it’s easier than others. There have been times when I knew my word without ever making a list but there have been times when I agonize over picking just the right word and it takes weeks. Because I know that choosing One Little Word that will guy my year that giving this step the thoughtful consideration it deserves is one of the most important parts of this process.
Time to Pick your Word of the Year
Once you have your word you’ll know it’s right because it feels right. But don’t worry about it being perfect. If you get to the middle of the year and that word you picked no longer applies to your life or goals – it’s perfectly alright to pick a different word. In fact, there are many people who choose a new word at the start of each new month. I have a friend who chooses a list of 12 words to guide her year – one for each month. They usually relate to each other or to the seasons of the year or to the things happening in her family’s life during each month. For instance, January might “renew” and June might be “play” and December might be “connection.”
Setting Goals for the Year Based on Your Word
The final step is to fill out the details of my goals on that initial outline. Each area of my life gets some dedicated time to solidify what I want to work on in the new year. Once my goals are set, I fill in “action items” for each goal. In fact, when my list is finished the list is literally called “Goals & Actions” and I refer to it often throughout the year. The goals on my list can be further broken down into monthly goals and then into action items (tasks) for each week.
One of the things that drive me to continue working on these big annual goals is this formula: 20 minutes every day on a single project equal 120 hours in a year.
20 minutes per day X 365 days = 120 hours
Imagine how successful you will be at achieving your goals if you just commit to spending 20 minutes each day on that goal. As I’m writing my goals and creating my action list, I work hard to figure out how my Word of the Year relates to each goal on the list. Can I adjust my goal to more fully reflect my overall intent of what that word means to me? Or can I expand the meaning of my word to more closely reflect my goals?
Making Art out of my Word of the Year
For the past several years I’ve taken the time to create some type of art piece with my Word of the Year being the focal point. I like to include a definition of the word and what it means to me as well as a quote or saying. Whether I frame it and hang it in my home (usually near my desk) or print a copy to add to my journal or planner. It’s important to keep that word at the forefront of your routines. If you hide it away and forget about it, there’s no way it can have an impact on your life like what I have experienced.
Need Ideas for your Word of the Year?
I’ll be adding to this list as I hear of more great ideas or examples of words and their meanings. Feel free to use any of these for your own word. Do you see that inspires you? I’d love to hear what your plans are this year. Leave a comment below and let’s chat.