I LOVE After-Action Reports. Here’s why…

You have finished a huge project. You rolled the product out. You launched the initiative. The “go live” date has gone live. You cut the ribbon.

You take a deep breath; you’re ready to move on. You likely have a hundred other tasks that have been languishing on your list.

You are done with that project, right?

Not quite.

You owe it to “Future Self” to make an After-Action Report (AAR).

Wait. What? Who?

When I am coaching a client to improve their productivity, we talk a lot about Future Self…and love. For example:

    • My definition of procrastination is Today Self being cruel to Future Self.
    • Today Self should assign tasks (to-dos, action items, etc.) to Future Self with love and respect.
    • Future Self should not be set up for failure before their day even begins.

Why do I have to do an After-Action Report for Future Self?

An AAR can and should be done for all major projects. If there is anything you think went particularly well or otherwise, there is a need for an AAR.

After-Action Reports are simple and consist of three lists:

  1. What went well
  2. What went poorly
  3. What to do differently in the future

Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “Surely I’ll remember to do XYZ differently next time!” That is an unrealistic expectation of Future Self.

The AAR is a gift to Future Self. It releases Future Self from having to remember things that she simply will not remember about this project. It can save her from repeating mistakes or forgetting successes.

Case Study: AARs and an Annual Gala

I have been a board member of the Greater Savannah Black Chamber of Commerce (GSBCC) for several years. Each November, we host a gala event celebrating Black business. The GSBCC has no paid staff (yet), and our volunteer board carries a heavy load of tasks to make this event happen.

For the past three years, I have created post-Gala AARs on our shared Google Drive. I sent each AAR to board members to populate with bullet points of what went well, poorly, and what we needed to do differently next year.

Oh goodness. The first year’s AAR was tough to read. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

The second year’s Gala AAR showed improvements but still stung.

The third? Whew! It was evident on the AAR that we had learned from past successes and failures. Despite there (always) being room for improvement, the feedback was constructive, focused on the future, and implementable.

Board members come and go. Each year, the GSBCC Gala has some continuity of volunteers, but mostly new folks. The AARs in this case are less of a gift to Future Self and more of a gift to Future Board.

Or maybe I’m wrong about that.

The three Gala AARs remind Today Board that we have made significant strides forward and that we put on a grand event.

Part of my feedback on this year’s Gala AAR specified that we need to make sure we announce the closing of the silent auction more prominently.

Because I noted it on the AAR, I can mentally release that minor flub. I can focus my remembrances on things like the beauty of the room, the grandeur of the attendees, and the overall feeling of celebration.

Perhaps AARs are a gift to Today Self as well.

I suppose that almost everything we do with love, respect, and desire for success affects who we are today and in the future.

In my work, productivity is not a cold, judgmental practice. Whether in the form of AARs, task lists, daily rituals, or other productivity practices I’ve described in 250+ blog posts, they are acts of love…

…acts of love and respect for you.

…acts of love and respect for me.

And a desire for our collective future success.


Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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