If you want to accomplish something, it helps to set down your goals in writing. I have never been a fan of New Years Resolutions, but I do find the end of year to be a good breaking point to begin strategic planning for my business and my life. Many people separate their business planning from their personal planning, but to me this makes no sense. After all, business and work are a very significant part of our lives, so it only makes sense to plan all of it together.
Ever since I was 14, I have created one year strategic plans for myself, detailing what I would do in the following year. The first step in writing a new plan is to review the previous year and learn from it. In this post, I will assume that you have no previous plan, and will walk you through how I create my own plan from scratch. So take out a piece of paper if you like to write by hand, or open a text editor in a new window!
I always write my plans in the tone and format of a journal entry or letter writing to my future self about what I have accomplished, and congratulating myself on how great it must feel to be where I wish I was today. I break out my life into 6 distinct areas which hold the most importance to me – Family, Significant other, work, business, self, and social life. Your categories may be different, but I find this is a good general starting point for everyone, even (especially) if one of these areas is not going so well for you. In the past, I consolidated work and business into one category. Since I work for a large company and am also starting a business, my goals are very different in these two areas, so they have different categories. You should combine them if it makes sense.
I use the family category to describe what is going well with those in my family – parents, siblings, children – and what could use some improvement. I usually start by describing the greatest successes of the past year – times of joy with those close to me, and then go on to describe how I will continue this trend of being closer to my family and how to improve relationships with them. This might be as simple as committing to writing a letter once a month, or calling once a week. I purposefully leave out wife/significant other, as she gets her own category!
Similar to family, this section has varied widely over the years, from the time I started at age 14, describing all the ways I would win over my crush at the time, to today where I look for ways to deepen and advance my relationships as an adult. If you are single, describe what is important for you to find in another person, how you will go about finding this person, and what it will be like when you do. If you are already in a committed relationship, commit to making it better and more fulfilling, and describing what it is like when you have accomplished it.
Work for me consists of the daily grind in a big corporation. For those of you who have chosen to work for someone else, this section is all about career goals. This also varies widely for me depending on where I am in my career. It can be a section talking about how I will search for and find the job I want, or a discussion of how I will excel in my current role – the skills I will learn, the relationships I will build, the improvements I will make in my corner of the company. Sometimes, I will strategize how to get myself promoted, or a raise.
I am starting a business in January. This section becomes my one year strategic plan for my business. Since I am just starting out, I have outlined goals and strategies for finding customers, how much monthly revenue I will attain this year, which markets I will enter, and how I will grow my customer base and company presence. I have strategies detailing where and how to outsource work, which networks I need to join or build, and how to go about doing each of these things. Every business is in a different cycle and should have a different strategic plan. Don’t worry if you miss the mark at the end of the year. What’s important is that you write down your business goals and then actively work to accomplish them. Last year, my goal was to find an idea for my business, and to build it. I almost made it!
We have a tendency to neglect our personal growth. But I believe that if we stop growing personally, every other area of life will suffer. You can’t neglect anything on this list if you hope to find true fulfillment in life. The Self category revolves around personal happiness, health, and well being. My personal plan focuses on learning new skills of importance to me, reducing wasted time, and improving health through healthy eating, exercise, and meditation. In the past, I have committed to working out 6 days a week, being vegetarian, learning a new language, and understanding women better. I am not always successful, but just the continued effort will have a profound impact in other areas of your life. Many of these goals end up spanning multiple years, and may (should) become a staple of each plan going forward.
I get very wrapped up in my work and relationship, and tend to forget the important aspects of a social life. I feel it is important to have friends, network, and meet people that matter to me. Social life encompasses all the people outside of family and business who you can relax with. I have had goals detailing how many friends I would make when moving to a new city, deepening connections with existing friends, or reconnecting with old friends. This can also include going out more/less, trying new activities like backpacking or rock climbing, or joining networking groups for shared interests like reading clubs.
I would recommend you take everything you write lightly. Make it into a letter to your future self detailing your accomplishments and how you did it, and have fun with it. Your plan should be a pleasure for you to write and a pleasure for you to read. I use mine to review every few months throughout the year. I have found that I will generally accomplish 80% of everything I put in my plan. Some goals will never make it off the ground, while others will develop into something more than I imagined and will consume more time than I had planned. That’s what you want, so roll with it. Next year you can make a new plan and put in what is truly important all over again.
This kind of planning also helps me keep sight of what is important in life, so work, business, or personal life doesn’t take over other important areas of my life, leaving me unfulfilled. You don’t have to show your plan to anyone (I never do), but making it just for yourself is key to achieving your dreams.
What about you? Do you make personal plans? I would love to hear about what kinds of planning have worked for you in the past, and how you put together your thoughts for the future. Share your tips in the comment section!