The “Awards”: A Super Fun and Insightful Way to Review Your Year
Photo courtesy of Brad K..

The “Awards”: A Super Fun and Insightful Way to Review Your Year

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Annual Review

Note from Emilie: Happy New Year! In last week’s post I shared my very free-form annual review and goals for the new year. I tend not to have any specific procedure for doing this, and I like it that way. But after reading about Neil’s method, I find myself wanting to head to a coffee shop and decide on some “award winners”! 


Ever since 2003, I’ve been reviewing my years using a system which I call “The Awards”. They began very simply, but they’ve grown into a useful and fun way to process the past and choose a new direction.

Step #1: Preparations

First, I head to a cafe*, along with a nice notebook and some pens.

* café is optional but highly recommended

I only have one rule: the Awards MUST take place in January, as otherwise the year isn’t yet finished. It’d be a disaster if I gave out an award on the 30th December, only to discover on the 31st that it should have gone elsewhere!

Step #2: Quick Review

Using my diary (actually my Google Calendar, these days), I quickly read over the events of last year and write a little bit about important things that happened, places I went, things I did, people I met, highs, lows, etc.

I keep this fairly free-form, without letting myself worry about getting every last detail down, or in the right order. It’s always amazing how much I forget about what I’ve done until I put in the effort to go back over it. There’s usually a lot of “Oh, THAT happened this year?!”

After writing a couple of pages, my memory is sufficiently refreshed for the main event…

Step #3: The Actual Awards

For each category (more on those in a moment) I write all the nominations as they come to mind.

Then I choose a winner (using a special red pen, for maximum ceremony, although this, also, is optional), including a little explanation as to why they won, and what this person/thing/event meant to me.

Here are the categories I’m currently using:

  1. Favourite New Person– Who is the best new person that I met for the first time in this calendar year? (This means everyone I meet is only ever eligible to win this ONCE so it’s important to put in the effort early if you want to win it. ;)
  2. Most Improved Friend– I like this award a lot. Who did I grow closer to this year? This has to be someone I knew already (i.e. everyone who wasn’t eligible to win Favourite New Person). This award really shows who has stuck around, and reading back the winners of this over the last decade and a half is like reading a list of the best people I know.
  3. Best Memory– What moment comes to mind as my favourite one from this year?
  4. Most Exciting Moment– Not necessarily the same as the best moment!
  5. Most Frightening/Worst Moment– Can be fun to look back at these in years to come, believe it or not.
  6. Miscellaneous Award– At this point I like to arbitrarily give an award to ‘something’. It can be a good cup of coffee I remember having, a random stranger I talked to once, an unusual experience – what random memory jumps to mind from this year that would be good to honour and remember?
  7. Quote of the Year– What memorable thing has somebody said – whether funny, meaningful, deep, or silly?
  8. Family of the Year– Sometimes I’ve felt a whole family has been important to me during a year, and it’s been good to recognise that here.
  9. Place of the Year– What place had the biggest emotional impact on me this year? Where will I look back on as “this year happened THERE”?
  10. Song/Film/Game of the Year–Did some media have a big impact on me this year?
  11. The 100% Clare Martin Award– Named after the award’s first winner, back in 2003, this is an award for a person who most deserves an award but didn’t win any of the earlier ones.
  12. Best Virtual Person– Who’s my favourite person this year that I know purely through the internet?
  13. Most Significant Blunder– What’s the worst mistake I made this year? Any lessons to learn from it?
  14. Greatest Life Lesson– Any useful life lessons I could take from what’s happened this year?
  15. Accomplishments List– What did I actually accomplish in the previous year? Even in ‘bad’ years there are usually quite a few things to still be proud of. And if not… that’s what next year is for.
  16. To Work On Next Year–Usually by this point it’s obvious that there are a few things I could do differently, so I write a simple list of priorities for the coming year.
  17. Theme Of Next Year– Is there a theme that ties together many of the aspects from #16? It’s fine if not, but it can be helpful to identify a unifying theme if one exists.

You can write a lot for each award, or just a sentence. And of course you shouldn’t feel constrained to use the same categories I do!

Step #4: The Future

Usually by this point I’ve been writing for a while and I really can’t face any more of it, but I like to end the process by writing a few paragraphs looking to the year ahead:

What am I hoping for? What good things are coming up? What challenges?

I don’t do “resolutions” but usually after this process there are some actions I can commit to just for the first few weeks of January, to give myself a good start.

Maybe somebody comes to mind that I’d like to get back in touch with. Maybe I’ve realised I ought to alter my plans.

Having done this process for so long, I love going back and reading the old awards and seeing who/what/where was important to me at the time, and who has stuck around over the years.

Your Turn

How do you review your year? Do you have any particular plans for the year ahead? Share with the community in the comments below!

(And if you do try out the Awards maybe drop Neil an email in a few weeks to let him know how it worked for you as he’s super curious. ;)

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.


  1. Anna W. says:

    Love the awards system! I may have to steal that for next year. I do a lot of rumination at the end of the year and come up with a theme as well. There were so many misadventures in 2017 that I kicked it off a couple months early and just decided to start over. So 2018 is the year of the reboot!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      “Reboot” seems like a great theme for this year – I may borrow that one myself :) Really glad you liked the system!

  2. Amanda M. says:

    I love this idea SO much! Even reading through the list of awards got me thinking. I’m definitely going to spend some time coming up with my 2017 winners! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mark L says:

    Great list! You have me thinking of a few ideas already, however here is another one to think about:

    What historical factoid did you learn last year that made you see
    or think about something in a new way?

    Cheers and Happy New Year

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Very cool thought – something that sticks with you for a year like that is always going to be important. Do you have an answer to that for 2017 – I’m curious? :)

      • Mark L says:

        I can think of several over the last 10 years or so, funny how the older we get, the more ‘real’ history becomes. The most recent one I can think of was when I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein I was amazed at how careless he was with his family relationships – especially his children.

        It occured to me right then that there seems to be a bit of a pattern with exceptionally brilliant people – they typically have a ‘blind spot’ in their character, something that most of us would instinctively recognize as immoral or inappropriate social conditioning.

        Anyway, the lesson that I got from it was never look up to others too much, regardless of how smart or well-off they may seem. . . And never underestimate how powerful it is to have a strong family or central community in one’s life. The enduring strenth of common sense basically.

        Thanks for answering!

  4. Kristina says:

    Awesome! I’m working on my own award categories now! It beats the heck out of all those years of writing the New Years Newsletter! Thanks for sharing your creative ideas with us!

  5. Karen Joslin says:

    Love this idea, Neil! I think if I try this I’ll need to use less categories, at least initially, as I feel like my motivation would start to wane or I might start feeling overwhelmed. Overall, though, your awards system sounds really fun and useful.

    Happy new year!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Not a bad idea! I started with only a few and found myself adding them over the years, but definitely can see the appeal in keeping it lean. Of course there are no rules: it’s just however you feel it might be a useful way to review :)

  6. Neil! This is incredible. I’ve been writing year-end awards since at least 2004! Here are my categories:

    Coolest Thing I Did This Year
    Most Important Thing I Realized
    Most Memorable Moment
    Best Book I Read
    Best Food I Ate
    Most Important Thing I Did
    Most Uproarious Laughter
    Most Memorable View
    Best Music I Heard (possibly as a participant)
    Worst Music I Heard (hopefully not as a participant)
    My New Friends
    Happiest Moment
    Best Dancing (Saw or Participated In)
    Most Dougie Moment – These are typically the moments when my internal filter is accidentally switched off and I blurt out what’s actually in my head.

    My categories have evolved over time. Now I’ll have to look at adding some of yours! I really like Most Improved Friend, Miscellaneous Award, and Quote of the Year. I like the idea of Place of the Year, but I think Stratford, Ontario would be the Meryl Streep of that category for me.

    I agree, it is really fun to look back at my old awards lists! Happy awards season!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, no way?! Did we both have the same idea at the same time?? Amazing! I love your awards too – going to consider adding some of those for 2018 :D

  7. Ailin says:

    Neil & Douglas, its interesting how you name this activity “the award system”! I’ve been doing year end reviews like this with a friend for a few years now, but I kinda skip directly to the award in each area of my life instead of naming all the nominees. Indeed the listing has become more detailed over the years. Some of the categories mentioned here are so cool. I’ll probably use them next round. ;)

  8. Mindi says:

    I love This!! Stumbled upon it with a few days left in January so I think I can still do it!! I love that experiences are viewed as positives and valued as that’s what I strive to Have, not necessarily achievements (although they are good too!). ?

  9. Bene says:

    I know that this is way late but I still wanted to thank you for this blog post. Around New Year’s I had the feeling that I wanted to do something with the stuff that happened last year and that was still stuck in my mind. I always hated New Year’s resolutions though because I believe if you really want to change something in your life you could do that on any day.
    Then I read your blog post and thought it would be a really fun idea. So I grabbed my notebook and headed for my favorite café (best tip ever by the way) and wrote my heart out. I had to finish it the next day because the 2h at the coffee place weren’t enough. I also added some more music categories because just one song/film/game of the year award wasn’t enough for music nerd like me.
    Anyways, thanks again for making my beginning of the year!

  10. Mirja says:


    Just wanted to thank you and say I’m looking forwars to The Awards 2018 already!

    Really enjoyed nominating, remembering and trying to learn something, too, from 2017. This year will be a very different one for me.

    That’s why I think I’ll add some categories:
    – Key Learning or Best New skill/insight/something
    – Most important improvement (to health, appartement, psyche, work, anything that I’ve worked on improving and that I’m very pleased With. Also looking forward to appreciate all nominees here :-)

    Again, thank you so much, Neil!
    You’re a big help.
    So long, enjoy summer!


    • Neil Hughes says:

      Oh yay, this makes me very happy! I’m so glad you enjoyed the process :) And I LOVE those category ideas, especially the “most important improvement” one! Thanks for sharing the idea, and good luck with 2018 :D

19 Comments Trackbacks For This Post

  1. My 2017 Recap: And the Award Goes to… | The Alaroro Shopaholic

Leave a Comment