Sketchnoting My Annual Review - Verbal To Visual, Doug Neill, new years resolutions, yearly planning, goal-setting

Sketchnoting My Annual Review

As a follow-up to my recent video, 2019: What Will Your Story Be?, I would like to share my own annual review by taking a look back at how 2018 went and doing some planning for 2019.

The Three Buckets

To help me look back and then look forward, I use a three-bucket framework from Jonathan Fields of Good Life Project:

The three-bucket framework of connection, contribution, and vitality. Are you regularly filling each?

I think about contribution: the work that I put out into the world (hopefully to make it a little bit better); connection: the ways in which I’m building relationships with other people; and vitality: how I’m taking care of my mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

The idea here is that if you neglect any one of those buckets, then you’re essentially poking holes in all of them. If you ignore even just a single bucket, that will have a negative impact on your life as a whole.

With that as our framework, first I will respond to the prompt “2018 was the year I…” and I’ll follow that up with “2019 will be the year I…”

Those are the two prompts that I encourage you to spend some time considering in your annual review.


So let’s start with that contribution bucket in 2018.

The three primary contributions I made to my work here at Verbal To Visual in 2018.

Here at Verbal To Visual I published 41 new sketchnoting videos (along with these corresponding blog posts).

If you look back on those videos you’ll see some differences in style and some experimentation in format, but with each of those videos I’ve tried to explore a particular idea related to a sketchnoting: how you might build your sketchnoting skills or some examples of how you might use your sketchnoting skills.

I hope that you enjoyed those videos because I did enjoy making them!

If you’re interested in checking out the most popular of those videos, I compiled them in a post called The Top 10 Sketchnoting Videos of 2018:

Top 10 Sketchnoting Videos of 2018 - Doug Neill, Verbal To Visual, visual note-taking

Click on this image to check out the most popular sketchnoting videos from last year!

In addition to making and sharing these weekly videos and blog posts, I also created two new online courses.

First I launched a course called Learn a New Language with Sketchnotes, which took a deep dive into how you might use your visual note-taking skills to help you learn a foreign language.

That was a fun intersection to explore. The way that sketchnoting activates the visual and verbal parts of your brain simultaneously makes for a pretty powerful language learning tool.

From there I created and launched a second resource: Build an Online Course with Sketchnotes.

Throughout the entire process of creating the language learning course I was having weekly conversations with three internet friends of mine who were also building online courses and using sketchnoting to help with the development and delivery of their course.

Those webinar workshops resulted in stage one of that resource, and I’m now in the process of finishing stage two, creating more polished video lessons and resources for any of you who might be interested in building your own online course using sketchnotes as a primary tool.

With that trio I feel pretty good about my contribution bucket in 2018.


But that contribution bucket has never really been a problem for me. It tends to be the other two that I occasionally neglect, so let’s take a look at how those went, starting with connection.

The three primary ways that I filled my connection bucket in 2018.

The biggest news from this past year is that I got engaged! Later this year I will be marrying a wonderful woman named Shelby, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.

This past year I also added a new piece to my weekly routine: I established a weekly co-working session with my good friend Austin, who has been a regular collaborator here at Verbal To Visual.

We meet up at a coffee shop at the end of each week, chat about the creative projects that we’re each working on, and spend a good chunk of time plugging away on our own individual project.

Those weekly co-working sessions have been a great opportunity to not only refill my creative energy tank (thanks to that in-person connection), but it’s also been a great time to get some solid work done at the end of the week, which gives me a good amount of momentum moving into the next week.

This past year I was also more intentional about putting energy into family and friendships. Sometimes it’s hard for me to actively reach out to others and foster those family relationships and friendships, but I think this past year I got a little bit better at doing that, and I hope to keep that trend going in this next year.

Because of those three pieces, I feel like I’ve also done a decent job of filling the connection bucket in 2018.


Let’s turn to that third and final bucket of vitality.

How I took care of my mental, emotional, and physical health in 2018.

As a follow-up to a previous year’s theme of mindfulness, in 2018 I re-established a daily meditation practice.

I’ve got a dedicated space in my home where I do that meditation and a time that I set aside as well: 9:00 a.m., after I’ve had the chance to wake up, get some breakfast, have some coffee, and do a little bit of work.

Following up that morning work session with a 20-minute meditation has been really helpful in fostering mindfulness throughout the rest of the day. Since most of the challenges related to doing creative work are mental and emotional, for me I found it to be very impactful to strengthen that mindfulness muscle.

I also stopped drinking in the middle of this past year.

After going through a handful of cycles of fairly heavy drinking followed with light drinking then heavy drinking then light drinking over the past three or four years, I realized it was time for me to just cut that out of my life completely.

Though it has been at times challenging (especially in a place like Portland, Oregon with a strong craft beer culture), the cutting out of alcohol has had a very positive effect on my daily mood and energy levels.

I also tweaked my exercise routine this past year.

I’ve now got a three-day cycle that I really enjoy: I’ll go for a run one day, do some yoga the next (sometimes at a local studio, sometimes using YouTube–shoutout to Yoga with Adriene), and on the next day I’ll do some simple strengthening with push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. The day after that I will get the cycle going again with a run.

What surprised me about this three-day cycle is how good my runs feel. As a cross country and track runner in college, it was easy for me to feel like I should run every day (or at least every other day), but now that I’m in my early 30s it seems to be the case that a couple days of rest from running (with some other lighter exercise on those days), is the perfect recovery time that helps me feel strong and refreshed the next time I make it out.

With those as the primary ways I’m addressing my physical, emotional, and mental health, I’m feeling pretty good about how I filled that vitality bucket this past year.

Three Filled Buckets

What’s exciting for me as I look back at 2018 from a more holistic perspective is that this is the first time that I’ve ever done a good job of filling all three of those buckets.

It has taken about five years of doing these annual reviews and using this three-bucket framework to get to this point, and it’s important to recognize that there’s no guarantee that those three buckets will stay filled going into the future. It’s on me to continue putting time and energy into each of those buckets, and that’s what I plan to do in 2019.

When it comes to connection and vitality in 2019, my goal is simply to maintain the good habits that I established in 2018. So here I’d like to focus on what I plan to add to the contribution bucket.

Weekly Videos & Blog Posts

First, I will continue making (and hopefully improving) these weekly videos and blog posts.

In 2019 I’ll continue the weekly contribution of a sketchnoted video and blog post (like this one!).

I very much enjoy creating these as part of my weekly work routine. I like digging into a new sketchnoting topic each week. And for now at least, I’m enjoying the style that I’ve landed on here, a little bit more of a stripped-down approach: just a single frame, using only a black marker, and improvising the narration rather than scripting it.

As I think about the videos that I’d like to make in the year to come, I see two primary categories, the first being “How to…” videos in which I will teach a specific sketchnoting skill. Examples of that category are “How to Sketchnote a Book” and “Drawing Basics for Sketchnoters.”

There are plenty of individual sketchnoting skills worth digging into, as well as specific applications to explore, so I’m excited to continue making those how-to videos and I hope you continue to find them valuable.

The second category is more “Sketchnotes of…”, and with that category I’m using sketchnoting to highlight an impactful idea or set of ideas. An example of that type of video is the visual summary of the book Essentialism that I published late last year.

I really enjoy those videos as a way to explore in depth the ideas that I’m coming across in the books I’m reading and the podcasts I’m listening to.

My hope is that you find those ideas interesting and applicable to your life, but even when that’s not the case, they’ll still be demonstrating specific sketchnoting techniques that you might be able to steal and use in your own work.

Improve What I’ve Already Made

Another thing that I’ll be doing this year to fill that contribution bucket is improving the resources that I’ve already made.

In 2019 I’ll be revisiting all of our online courses and looking for ways to improve them.

For the first time in many years, I’m not planning to build a new course this year. Instead, I want to revisit all of the courses that I’ve already made and look for ways to make them better.

Right now I feel really good about the library of courses that we have in place, and I think it’s a good time to look back and do some maintenance work.

That might not be as exciting as creating something new, but hopefully that maintenance work makes those courses more impactful, more helpful in the lives of the people who decide to pick them up.

Launching a New Podcast

Though I won’t be building a new course this year, I am still starting something new.

I’m very excited to get a new weekly podcast up and running in 2019.

This year (and in fact next week!) I’m launching a new podcast.

In the last few months I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping a daily business log. At the end of each workday, I quickly jot down the things that I worked on, the ideas that I came across, and any insights that might have cropped up.

At the end of the week I’ve been looking back at those daily business log entries and doing a bit of reflecting. It’s within this new weekly podcast that I will be sharing those reflections on what it’s looking like for me to build a sustainable creative career.

The new podcast will not live under the umbrella of Verbal To Visual because it’s not specifically about sketchnoting. Instead, it’s for folks who are in the process of building their own creative career and might want a bit of companionship on that journey.

If that sounds interesting to you, then stay tuned because next week’s video is going to be all about that podcast. I’ve already recorded the first few episodes and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Now It’s Your Turn

So those are some of the highlights of my 2018 and some of my plans for 2019. I hope that seeing these concrete examples from my life has been a helpful case study.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to do some reflecting and planning for yourself, because I think that will help you to be more intentional about how you spend your time every single day throughout the next year.

I wish you the best of luck with whatever goals you set for yourself in 2019! If you’d like sketchnoting to play a supportive role in the pursuit of those goals, then do check out our online courses.

And finally, know that I’ll be here each week sharing a new idea about sketchnoting (and soon, ideas about building a sustainable creative career) to help you keep the momentum going.

Happy 2019!