What a former Navy Seal & a Special Boat Service operator taught me about analyzing actions to constantly improve.


I never used to analyze the outcome of successful or unsuccessful decisions I took within my business.

I read two books this year that made me change this approach - David Goggins' You Can't Hurt Me and Jason Fox's Life Under Fire.

One of the key lessons I took from these Special Service operators is the concept of carrying out an After Action Review once a project, decision, or action has been completed.

What is an After Action Review (AAR)?

An AAR is a structured review process for analyzing:

  • What happened;
  • Why it happened; and
  • How it can be done better next time.

The aim of an AAR is to help you or your team learn from the actions and decisions that were taken in order to avoid failure and promote success in the future.

An AAR provides clarity

The purpose of an AAR is to answer 5 key questions:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What was the reality?
  3. What went well?
  4. What did not go well?
  5. What should be changed for next time?

Answering these questions provides clarity about the actions and decisions taken and how these contributed to the final result.

Carrying out an AAR leads to you or your team capturing the lessons learned from the actions and decisions taken.

How I'm currently using AARs

I've applied AARs into my life at different levels, here's how:

1. Weekly AARs

I use a Bullet Journal and at the start of every week, I outline my commitments for the week:

  1. My Must Deliverable Tasks
  2. Secondary Tasks (Nice to Haves)

At the end of the week, I'll review my Must Deliverables and Secondary tasks and determine:

  • How many tasks I complete
  • What worked that week
  • What didn't work
  • What did I learn
  • List the outstanding tasks to consider for next week

That's it, the whole process takes about 30 minutes.

2. Project-Based AARs

At the end of each project - whether that's work for a client, completing an online course, or implementing something new in my business - I carry out an AAR. I have an AAR Notion template, which includes:

  • What, when, and how it happened
  • What I observed, what was expected and unexpected
  • What were my strengths and weaknesses, where are future opportunities
  • How can I improve future performance
  • Corrective action to take on future projects
  • Summary of the review

I'll spend about an hour as part of my monthly review.

3. Quarterly Reviews

Every 3 months, I'll spend some time reviewing my AARs and pick out consistent themes or trends.

These might be actions that I take consistently that are detrimental and I haven't yet changed or learned from.

Or they might be decisions that I've made, which have yielded great results that I haven't acknowledged or doubled down on.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, AARs have helped me make incremental changes in my business and life, which have yielded marginal gains and improved my overall performance.

The insights I've gained and the learning I've experienced since carrying out regular AARs have been transformational.