Here are a couple of words that may conjure up some positive or negative memories depending on what your academic track record looked like back in your K-12 school years: ‘Report Card.’ Personally, I was never a big fan of report card day. They tended to bundle and deliver an entire marking period worth of my wandering attention and lackluster study approaches onto one summary sheet of paper. Not a lot of wiggle room when the letters (or numbers) are laid out for easy parental review. A one-page indictment; verdict rendered.
On the other side of the coin, though, it was a fantastic day for plenty of my classmates! For those more committed to their studies, test preparation and timely homework completion, report card day arrived with some excited anticipation to see the outcome of their efforts and the progress since the previous marking period. (And possibly a gift from their parents for a refrigerator-worthy set of grades.)
If you currently have one or more kids that are school age, no doubt you’re aware that we have once again arrived at…report card time! (In my middle school memories, the teacher would always start with the joyous announcement of “report card time!” before distributing the sealed envelopes, so the exclamation points are a permanent association for me.)
Thankfully my daughter has not followed in my 7th grade footsteps with her approach to schoolwork, and her report cards are always full of the letters we love to see as parents, but looking at Riley’s report card this week made me realize what a helpful tool it actually is for tracking progress in various areas. Specific to this column, though, it occurred to me how valuable a tool report cards can be in our adult lives if we want to keep an eye on how we’re progressing in the various core aspects of our life for a defined period.
Instead of the report cards of our youth listing all of the subjects we have in school, our adult report card would include our top four or five priority areas. For example, perhaps your career is at an all-time successful high (A+), but your eating habits have taken a big hit working late hours and relying on drive-thru windows twice a day as your primary meal source. (Diet: D-)
Or how about this scenario: Your “Ultimate You in 2022” resolution has reignited your passion for the gym. You’re now exercising five days a week at 4 a.m. and loving the results you’re seeing (Fitness: A). But…wait for it… that new gym routine means that you chopped your sleep down to five hours a night to get that gym time in before work, and now you find yourself losing your car keys or cell phone a few times a day and falling asleep at red lights (Sleep Hygiene: C-).
The concept of creating a report card for ourselves is an easy exercise that provides a real-time and dynamic dashboard on the critical focus areas of our life and is likely not a self-assessment tool that we currently have in use.
For some easy suggestions for grading areas that many can relate to, consider these options: diet, exercise, family time, career, finances, social network, sleep, hobbies, community volunteering, reading and personal development.
What’s important is that the list includes the most important priorities to you, whatever the number of areas ends up being.
If this is something you would like to try in your life, especially if you currently have goals or resolutions in place for 2022, here are some basic starting steps.
How to Get Started
- Using an Excel doc (or pad and paper if preferred), list out the ‘subjects’ you will be grading yourself on. Skip rows between the subjects for comments or notes you may want to make. (Column A if using Excel.)
- If you start March 1, give yourself a current grade in each of those core, priority areas of your life. That’s your starting point, based on honest self-assessment, which you can mark down in Column B. If for any of the areas you find it challenging to grade yourself objectively, ask someone near and dear to you for their feedback to come up with your starting grade.
- Columns C, D, E and F will be the four marking periods. This trial can be a short experiment until the end of June, bringing you right to summer vacation just like back in the day! With that, your quarterly report card days will be 3/31, 4/30, 5/31 and 6/30. (Set reminders in your phone calendar. I’ll go ahead and suggest the tried and true: “Report Card Time!” as the reminder note.) On those four days, you will be going down the list, putting in a grade for yourself in the various areas based on your candid and honest mental review of the previous month. One of the most valuable aspects of this exercise is the concept that you are developing the daily habit of 360-degree mindfulness to equally distribute your focus and attention across all of your priority areas. Again, using the dashboard example, you can make the comparison of being in your car and having an easy view of all of the gauges providing current status levels of the key functions that keep you moving down the road towards your destination. This report card serves as your various gauges of life and will act as a ‘check engine’ light when any area is starting to falter. Enter in the grades for that ‘semester’ along with any comments or insights that will be useful moving forward.
- At the end of the four marking periods, take a look at your grades and see how they measure up to your expectations. Some areas will likely show significant progress, some will still have “room for improvement” and there may be some dips in your grades as you work to get your focus and attention to the various areas optimized.
It’s no revelation that balancing the many different aspects of our life is a tricky thing to pull off. Like any other skill, our continued effort at practice and repetition will provide the results and ongoing improvement. I hope that having a tool where you can keep an eye on everything in one spot will make it much easier to catch any slipping grades before they ever get anywhere near an ‘F.’
If you decide to give this a try, I’d love to hear your feedback on how the report card experiment worked out for you. I will be doing a podcast episode on the topic in July and will need a few guests with new report cards they would like to show off! Email me at email@example.com if interested, and we can coordinate details.
Eric Bartosz is the founder of BAR40 and the author of the internationally acclaimed and bestselling book ‘BAR40: Achieving Personal Excellence.’ He lives in Center Valley with his wife Trish, daughter Riley and pug Piper, is an adjunct MBA professor at DeSales University and serves the community as an Upper Saucon firefighter, a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lehigh Valley and a local race organizer. Eric is a 20+ year runner and racer and can often be found logging miles on the Saucon Rail Trail.