Johannes Thönes

Software-Developer, ThoughtWorker, Permanent Journeyman, Ruby Enthusiast, Java and Devils Advocate.

Write a Letter to Yourself - Personal Retrospectives Exercises

The write a letter to yourself exercise is an exercise to create continuity between two personal retrospectives. You write a letter - addressed to yourself - where you summarise what you learned and decided in this personal retrospective.


Then you put the letter in an envelope and close it. At the beginning of the next retrospective you open the envelope and read the letter. Thereby you can bridge two personal retrospectives together.


The purpose of the ‘Write a Letter to Yourself’ exercise is to write an essay to document the most important hopes, wishes, lessons and decisions of your personal retrospective. It’s a little bit like the final declaration.

Besides that, you do it create a continuity and strengthen the ritual of a personal retrospective.


  • Get a clean sheet of paper - I always use special letter paper for the exercise.

  • Start with “Dear ”.

  • Summarise the following things (each is optional):

    • What you did in the retrospective.
    • What you experienced in the retrospected time frame.
    • What you learned during the retrospective.
    • What you decided to change until the next retrospective.
    • What you hope or wish to happen until the next retrospective - caused by your commitments.
  • Close the letter positive.

  • Put the letter in an envelop and close the envelope.

  • Store the letter somewhere safe and read it before your next personal retrospective. Alternatively - give it to someone you trust and ask them to send it to you at a defined date.

  • At the beginning of the next personal retrospective: Read the letter and see what happens.


The writing part of the ‘Write a Letter to Yourself’ is done at the end of the retrospective, therefore it belongs to the Closing the Retrospective phase. The reading part will happen at the very beginning of the next retrospective and therefore belongs to the Set the Stage phase.

In a personal retrospective, I think it’s very difficult to have this phases explicitly. The letter exercise helps me to work them out.

I like this exercise a lot, because it helps me to focus on the most important things I hope for and want to achieve for the next few month. It helps as well, to build a continuity between two retrospectives.  I do this exercise in every personal retrospective I hold, except for my weekly heartbeat retrospectives.

Some people asked me, if it isn’t weird to write a letter to yourself. I have to say: yes it is. But it’s an interesting experience and easily done. So you should try it at least once.

I did it first after a seminar in rhetorics about 12 years ago. For me, it was really helpful to get a fresh summary of my own lessons four weeks later. When Linda Rising mentioned an letter exercise during her SE Radio interview, I adopted it to be used for personal retrospectives.


To be honest, I haven’t used any other exercise to creating a final summary of my retrospective.  I can imagine people drawing a picture, creating a mind map or even writing a song about it. But other than that, I don’t know a real alternative which really helps to strengthen the Closing the Retrospective and Set the Stage phases as well as supporting the ritual of a personal retrospective.

Do you know or use any alternatives?

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