Applying Agile to New Year’s Resolutions – Part 1

It’s that time of year when a lot of us are thinking about new year’s resolutions. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to think about next year. But there are some common problems that I see with the traditional way of setting new year’s goals. I decided to dedicate the rest of December to addressing these problems.

new year's resolutions

Problem #1: New Year’s Resolutions Stay The Same

When analyzing my own new year goal-setting process, I saw the fundamental issue with it. Years went by but my goals stayed pretty much the same. I had 2-3 goals that I kept cycling through. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Why do these goals and resolutions stay the same? We attempt to do the same things every year, fail at it and yet set the same goals next year.

Now, that I embrace the Agile philosophy in my personal life, this approach seems fundamentally problematic.

Problem #2: We don’t learn from our experience.

When setting new year goals, we don’t do much analysis of what happened up to this point. We just pick a goal on December 31st and run with it. No wonder, this approach stops working by the end of January.

We attempt to achieve a goal. We fail. We don’t analyze why we had failed. Next year we take exactly the same approach and fail again. It’s like using the same disastrous recipe for a pie that didn’t work last year and being surprised it doesn’t work this year. Duh…

We don’t spend any time analyzing our previous attempts and planning our next attempt based on our own learnings.

Let’s look at how we can apply Agile tools to fix these problems.

Sprint Retrospective in Agile

If I were to boil down agile to its pure essence – you want to embrace the idea of continuous learning, continuous improvement, and a continuous feedback loop. And you want to embrace the feedback from the real customers, real worlds, not some imaginary projections or estimates. You build something. Ship it. See how real people react to it.

Once you get this feedback, you adjust your product accordingly, ship it to the world and see the reaction again. And you do this as many times as needed.

You build something. Then you pause and review your results thus far. What worked? What didn’t? What can be improved?

This pause in between sprints is what we call a sprint retrospective (or a sprint review).

Under agile, you always create your next sprint’s plan based on the learnings from the previous sprint.

Applying Sprint Retrospective to New Year’s Resolutions

Step 1: Celebrate your accomplishments from this year

First of all, let’s focus on the “Done list” vs. “To-Do List”. What were you able to accomplish this year? What was done? Focus on the things that you’ve created, made, and manifested into existence from all the areas of your life.

Look at work, health, family, friends, home projects, and community service.

Have you started a new business venture or launched a YouTube channel? What about some parties or dinners that you’ve hosted? Home renovations you were able to complete?

This celebration time allows you to reinforce the idea that you can create things, and that you are capable of doing hard work.

Instead of focusing on what hasn’t been done, it’s a nice idea to begin with the focus on what has been done.

Step 2: Use sprint retrospective to analyze this year

Now, you can apply the sprint retrospective template to analyze your progress thus far. There are basically two templates that you can use.

Sprint Retrospective Template 1:

You grab a piece of paper and divide it into three columns:

sprint retrospective template 2

Sprint Retrospective Template 2:

This is the template that I use. Again, you divide your paper into three columns:

  1. Start: What are the activities you should start doing?
  2. Stop: What are some of the harmful behaviours or habits that you have that you should stop doing?
  3. Continue: What worked thus far? What should you continue doing?

sprint retrospective template 2

Take a day or two to think about it. Go for a long walk, come back, and continue filling out this table. Spend time analyzing your previous year because it’s going to be the foundation of your successful 2023.

Why you shouldn’t set new year’s resolutions without reviewing your progress thus far

There is so much to learn from your own experiences, from your own attempts at achieving specific goals, from your own successes, and from your own failures.

Sometimes you can learn so much from succeeding in one area of your life and then transfer these lessons into another area. Don’t use cookie-cutter templates for achieving your goals. The more customized the approach is to your unique situation, personality, and history, the more likely it is to succeed.

Instead of buying another self-help book or watching another motivational video on how to achieve your goals, your time will be better spent if you sit down and analyze your own progress so far. What worked? What didn’t? What can be improved?

It’s usually 2-3 goals that we keep cycling through each year. The chances are high you have attempted to achieve these goals before. Why didn’t it work last time? Then you can create a plan for next year based on these learnings.


Now it’s time to create a backlog file (if you haven’t created it yet). It’s a simple text file that is ideally synced between your phone and your laptop. You call it a backlog. And you record all the actionable items from your sprint retrospective into the backlog file.

Check the actionable items you wrote down in your sprint retrospective table. Transfer them to the backlog file.

There’s no need to act on any of these items yet. No need to organize them or make them pretty.

All you need to do is to have a place where you can capture all your ideas safely. Then your brain is free to brainstorm further, to brainstorm deeper, and come up with even better ideas. 



  1. Celebrate what you have achieved so far. Focus on the “done list”. You want to draw as many lessons from your successes so that you can later apply them to other areas of your life. Your wins have the magic keys to unlocking wins in other areas of your life. If there is a strategy that worked really well for you to finish that work project, there is a high chance that the same strategy will work for you in order to achieve a health goal or something else.
  2. Review last year. What worked? What didn’t? What can be improved next year?
  3. Record action items from the year review table in the text file called Backlog
  4. Continue recording any potential action items throughout the week. The more you think about your previous year and plan for the next year, the more ideas will pop into your head. Record them in the backlog file that is easily accessible when you are on the go (Notes file on your phone is perfect.) 

I really hope you take the time to do this process. If you spend time reviewing what worked and what didn’t last year, you will set yourself up for much greater success next year.

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of this series!

Explore this topic further:

  1. Sprint planning for personal productivity
  2. Sprint retrospective for personal productivity
  3. How to use product backlog for personal productivity
  4. Why long-term planning is not as good as you were taught

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