End of year reviews are essential, right?

Around this time of year many of us engage in a ritual of reviewing the past 12 months. We celebrate our accomplishments, make note of what went well and what – well – didn’t. We catalog (totally without guilt, I’m sure) those things left undone.

Then, with list in hand, we gamely plan for the next 12 months. Task lists, editorial calendars, marketing strategies, new eating plans, exercise routines, morning rituals and meditation commitments all blossom into life.

The pace and timing of squeezing all this activity into a few weeks has always felt unnatural. Then when you add holiday chaos into the mix during those weeks, the whole experience can tip over into “That was nuts!” territory.

Yes, December into January is currently accepted as the turning point in our year. But that’s based on the artificial and somewhat arbitrary Gregorian calendar. This is a tool developed by people so superstitious about the number 13 (the number of lunar cycles in one full solar cycle) that we ended up with 12 months of varying lengths and an extra day every four years.

A few years ago I decided I’d had enough of this awkward dance and developed something different for myself. After using it for the past two years I can say it definitely works much better for me. The bet part? The end of the year has become more oasis, less to-do list.

Acting like an evergreen

I – and you – are integral and important community members of the ecosystems we inhabit. We are human being living systems in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with the larger living systems of trees, grasses, hawks and rivers outside our doors. Thinking like a living system changes how I approach my life. It means I try my best to live my life by natural rhythms; moving at the pace of my home ecosystem.

To do this, I pay attention to the ebb and flow of my energy and creativity and schedule tasks, meetings and down time accordingly. I also work with the pace of each season, riding waves of growth in the summer or easing into quiet rest and introspection in the winter. I’m following the natural rhythms of my body (personal living system) and of my environment (global living system) to make the most of the time I have.

What I’m doing differently

The components of a year-end review have separate, distinct rhythms and are best supported by different natural rhythms or seasons. Squishing them into one small time-frame means everything gets short shrift.

For example, in my own system I’ve felt like reviewing is best done in autumn. Reviewing, purging and storing activities harmonize well with the rhythm of my ecosystem as leaves fall & seeds plant themselves. We (the ecosystem community members) are all stashing what’s important and sloughing what’s not, so we go into the gestating – in the case of human members, planning – energy of winter well prepared.

Whereas winter’s dark and cold encourages more sedentary pursuits so dreaming and planning find their place.

The system in all its loose and simple glory

So here it is – the process I use instead of a year-end review.

In Autumn: harvest and gather. Review what’s been learned, gathered or accumulated during the spring and summer. Slough away extraneous ideas, beliefs — or actual stuff.

In Winter: dream, vision, play in the imaginal, tend idea seeds, gestate, make plans.

In Spring: move new ideas, your fresh self, the offspring of winter’s gestating and planning into the world. Announce new things. Implement new systems and ideas.

In Summer: dance, play, learn, connect, revel, drink deep of experience, tend flourishing projects, prune unhealthy or extraneous bits, surge with creativity, share, grow some more. Then…back to Autumnal rhythms for another cycle.

Making this work for you

As with all things, I don’t think we need to be rigid with this. Can you review or plan or birth projects at another time of year? Of course! What’s most important is noticing both your personal and your ecosystem’s rhythms then experimenting to find the system that works best for you.

OK, it’s your turn! Go forth and notice. Then stop back here and share what you uncovered. You know we’re itching to hear…

Tracie Nichols writes poetry and facilitates group writing experiences from under the wide reach of two old Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is the co-founder of the Embodied Writers writing group and a Transformative Language Artist helping women write themselves home. You can find Tracie on her website.

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