Can you believe we're already one-sixth of the way through 2017? You've probably been too distracted by unexpected election results and their aftermath, the holiday season, and some impressive winter weather to really sit down and think about how 2016 went for you or what you want in 2017. But it's high time you did.

That advice comes from executive coach and bestselling author Wendy Capland. For the past couple of years, I've been working with Capland as my coach and writing about what I've learned in the process. In a recent coaching session, she suggested I try a strategy-setting exercise she and her husband do every year, taking stock of the previous year and setting their most important goals for the current year. "We have loved this exercise and find it helpful," she says.

Any time in the first two or three months of the year is a great time for this goal-setting exercise. If you'd like to try it yourself--and increase your chances of reaching your "stretch" goals this year--grab some paper and a pen (or perhaps a tablet) and write down the answers to these questions:

1. What went really well for you in 2016?

"What were you proud of? What were you delighted with?" Capland asks. Because of our human tendency to focus on the negative, it's really important to start your annual review by taking a look at the things you're happiest about. These should include your career, but also your relationships, health and wellness, and personal development. Whatever made you happy or gave you a sense of accomplishment last year should go on this list.

2. What didn't go well in 2016?

After you've taken the time to write down what you were happy with, write down some things you weren't happy with in 2016. What were the most disappointing things that happened to you last year? What did you think you could have done better? What didn't go the way you wanted it to? What losses did you experience last year? It's important to make note of these things as well as we head into the new year.

3. What are your most important goals for 2017?

"What are your top goals for this year? What do you really want to put a stake in the ground for?" Capland asks. She recommends coming up with a theme for the year that can keep you on track through the hectic twists and turns of business and life that are sure to come at you. One way to do this is to come up with a single word to guide you through the year, an exercise I started last year and intend to do every year from now on.

Share your answers with someone.

It's no accident that Capland does this exercise with her husband. "It's good to share the answers to the questions so we can be a witness for the stuff we were disappointed about," she says. "It helps us close the old year off."

At the same time, sharing your goals and aspirations with someone else makes them more real. It also makes it likelier that you'll reach them, if only because you have someone to remind you about your goals as the year goes by.

Now divide by 10.

If there are 10 months left in the year, you have those 10 months to reach your goals for 2017. Capland suggests taking your big goals and breaking them down into 10 pieces that you can tackle each month. This works really well with financial goals. For instance, if your goal is to earn $1 million this year, you'll have to hear $100,000 every month (less if you've already gotten partway to your goal in January and February).

But it works with other goals too. Let's say you want to launch a new app by the end of the year. You might spend the first month researching the different app platforms and development tools, the second month reviewing any competitors to your app, the third month recruiting the development team you'll need to launch the app, the fourth month researching exactly what data you'll need for your app and so on.

Most huge tasks can be broken down into manageable chunks. Spreading those chunks out over 10 months can make a daunting task seem doable. Even more important, it can help you make sure that you stay on track to reach your objective by the time New Year's Eve rolls around again.

Published on: Feb 27, 2017