Its the season for assessing, planning and dreaming! Does this sound like you: Bucket list? Check! New Year’s Resolutions? Check! Agenda? Digital Calendar? Nozbe? Evernote? Outlook? Check, check, check! All of these systems have one thing in common – they are missing the anchor of an overall life plan.
For a whopping 92% of folks success with resolutions is limited. Only a few weeks after the roaring New Year’s start the list is forgotten, the resolutions abandoned, the agenda and calendar reduced to nothing more than appointment reminders — all until this time next year, when the list is rewritten, the resolutions recommitted, year after year, season after season.
I am writing this post only a few days after visiting the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Izta and Tulum in Mexico (right). The Mayan people believed in cycles. Their calendar of days, months, years and generations reflect an understanding that just as the moon moves around the Earth, and the Earth around the sun at a predictable clip, life too, can be viewed in seasons and cycles.
I recently reviewed my long abandoned Franklin Planner goal setting pages. Some of these entries were written as far back as 1991. I wanted to encourage myself by looking at how much I had progressed, but instead it was a sobering wake-up call. Some of my “goals” were still on my list, unmet and some unaddressed, after almost 25 years! Hello, reach goal weight? Some had fallen off the list, with a check mark signaling “accomplished” – stop smoking – yay! – gone in 1994. Others, had been lost in the busyness of life: write a daily devotional for my children started in 1993; mentoring young lawyers… umm-still a strong desire, but no plan. I was bummed AND inspired.
How about you? Is your bucket list just a list of stuff you’d like to do, but really have no plan to do? Does your commitment to your New Year’s resolutions make it beyond the end of January? If you looked back 5, 10, 15 or 25 years- would you be able to say that you worked your plan or did your plan get waylaid by the demands of the day – the busyness of work, the rearing of children, the getting a business or career off of the ground? When I was a praticing attorney, I assisted clients with estate plans – comprehensive planning to address what happens during the end of life and beyond. Most people think about their will and end of life directives at some point, but incredibly, very few people of any age spend any time thinking about and preparing a plan for living the life they want.
Before you waste another moment’s energy with New Year’s Resolutions – let me suggests another approach. Just like in an estate plan, we begin with the end in mind. Daniel Harkevy and Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward: A Proven Method to Stop Drifting and Get the Life you Want (2016) challenged and inspired me to draft a life plan and then begin to work that plan. So what exactly is it? A life plan is a living document you will tweak and adjust as necessary for the rest of your life. It is:
- A short written document (8-15 pages long)
- Created by you and for you;
- Describing how you want to be remembered;
- Articulating your personal priorities; and
- Providing specific actions to take you from where you are to where you want to be in every major area of your life
What kind of life is it that you really want to lead? Are you doing the things that will get you there? What do you imagine people will say about you when they eulogize you? This is a bit morose, but an important exercise in Living Forward to gain clarity about the life you are living is to imagine what will be said at your funeral if you continue along your current path. More positively, how can you influence how you are remembered by those you care about? Will your children say you were a great provider, but they didn’t really know you? Will your dreams of being a world traveler succumb with you because you never got around to getting a passport? Will you have forsaken significant relationships in pursuit of perfection? Or will they remember you as always full of money-making ideas, but falling short on implementation? The more honest you are in writing these eulogies from the perspectives of those who matter most to you, the better able you will be to make a life plan that inspires you.
When I prepared an estate plan, I gave my clients an extensive questionnaire to complete to begin the planning process. It would take them some time and thought to get through it. Similarly, drafting a life plan is not a 10 minute frantically written wish list completed at 11:50 on New Year’s Eve. This is a thoughtful, multi-phase process. In Living Forward, a full 8-hour day is suggested to prepare your initial draft, followed by daily, weekly, quarterly and annual reviews.
One thing that intrigued me about my old goal setting lists is that several aspects of life were never on the lists. When I was a single, self-employed mother, I did not set goals about things that were not in someway related to making or spending money. My goals were strong on work and on my children, not much on relationships, friendships, hobbies or self-improvement (beyond losing weight). The Living Forward method suggests attention and planning in every area of life, so that financial planning and business planning can be a part of the life plan, but they are not entire life plan. Through an assessment tool, these areas of life are scored by your current passion and progress to determine where you are drifting, lifting, gifting or shifting in each. This is your current rating.
Life planning helps you gain clarity and direction in various “life accounts.” Then your accounts are grouped and ranked in terms of priority. For example, in thinking about what my friends might say of me, I realized that in recent years, I spent little time or energy cultivating relationships with people I think of as my friends. I did not regularly set aside time to visit with my friends and I had not made any new friends. I wanted to be remembered as a good, faithful and conscientious friend. In this area of friendships I developed a purpose statement, an envisioned future and acknowledged my current reality. Then I identified and put on my calendar some action steps I could take to begin to work this aspect of my plan. The first action item on my list was to “set 1 or 2 in-person meet-ups with friends each month.” A couple of e-mails and text messages, and a lunch date was set with one friend and a hike with another. Progress!
Life planning also has great utility in helping clarify priorities. Once your plan is developed, you are better able to see whether a certain activity is really going to move you forward in one of your life accounts or not. For example, an account with greater priority should take precedence over an account with lesser priority. I noticed that often I would let my commitment to exercise (part of my health, vitality and fitness account) go by the wayside because of a work demand. So rather than doing my morning exercise routine, I’d get a “head start” on my work day by checking email or writing. The time I had planned for exercise was lost. However, by gaining clarity of the importance of this commitment, I less frequently miss my morning exercise commitment because I’m distracted by work (okay, I’m a work in progress!)
So who needs a life plan? In short, everyone! Whether you are a Centennial, Millennial, Generation X, Y, Z, a rocking Boomer or a Traditionalist, a life plan will inspire, feed your vision and bring joy.
What about you? Do you have a written life plan? Do you regularly envision your future and evaluate whether you are taking the steps needed to get you to your desired outcome? Respond in the comments and get the discussion going! Until next time,
For more information and some great bonuses from the book Living Forward, check out http://www.livingforwardbook.com. For an interview of Daniel Harkevy by one of my favorite podcasters, Jeff Sanders check out: https://www.jeffsanders.com/step-by-step-life-planning-with-daniel-harkavy-podcast-141/