My wife and I spent a couple of weeks planning for our 10th anniversary trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan a couple of years ago. We planned out where we wanted to stay, what sites we wanted to see, and what restaurants we wanted to eat at. We even made elaborate plans for how to get from the small town airport we flew into, to Mackinac Island via a long disance shuttle and a ferry.
Like us, most people spend a lot of time planning their vacations, or the latest birthday party, but when it comes to planning their lives, far too often it doesn't get done. Instead they just sort of drift through life aimlessly, without any true idea of where they are or where they want to be.
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Why A Life Plan Is Important
As I was preparing for a recent episode of the Money Mastermind Show, it hit me that I hadn't ever taken the time to write out a life plan. Yes, we have a general idea of where we want to be in 30 or 40 years, and we're saving for retirement, but we haven't ever laid out a solid plan for our lives.
On our show we talked about making a life plan with expert Andrea Travillian. Watching the show should give you a basic understanding of why a life plan is a good idea.
A wise man thinks ahead; a fool doesn’t, and even brags about it! Proverbs 13:16
In preparation to write out my own life plan, I dug deep into the topic, reading up on life plans via several different sites. One site that had resources that really resonated with me, was the site of author and speaker Michael Hyatt. On his site he talks about how you can live your life to be reactive – and a passive spectator in your own life, or you can take a proactive role in planning out where you want to end up.
A life plan can help you to figure out where you are now, where you want to be, and how to bridge the gap to get there.
Michael Hyatt puts it like this:
People may plan their careers, the building of a new home, or even a vacation. But it never occurs to them to plan their life. Sadly, I have met very few people who have a plan for their life. Most are passive spectators, watching their lives unfold, one day at a time. They are reactive rather than proactive.
Without a life plan you can unintentionally drift, and end up where you don't want to be.
Michael Hyatt illustrates the point by telling a story about how he and his wife, on a recent anniversary trip, decided to go snorkeling. After some brief lessons in a pool they headed out into the ocean for an afternoon of snorkeling and checking out the beautiful fish and other aquatic life. They were having a good time swimming in the lagoon, but when Hyatt raised his head out of the water he quickly realized that they had drifted. A riptide had carried them out to sea without them realizing it. They were in a very precarious situation. They were only saved because they had a boogie board with them, and they were able to hold onto that while they swam furiously back to shore for the next hour.
In the same way, you can drift off course in life if you don't have a plan, and end up where you don't want to be – metaphorically out to sea.
If we would only give the same amount of reflection to what we want out of life that we give to the question of what to do with two weeks’ vacation, we would be startled at our false standards and the aimless procession of our busy days. — Dorothy Canfield Fisher
So why do you need a life plan? Three reasons:
- Clarity: You'll gain new insight and clarity about where your life is headed.
- Balance: You'll know better what your priorities in life are, and you'll be able to keep balance when things start to get hectic.
- Peace of Mind: You'll have more peace of mind knowing that you are keeping in touch with those aspects of your life that matter the most to you.
What Questions Are You Answering In A Life Plan?
According to Michael Hyatt, when you sit down to write out a life plan, there are three main questions that you're answering.
Question 1: How do I want to be remembered?
How do you want to be remembered by the people that matter most to you? This question is really about identifying the people that matter most in your life. For me those would be God, my wife, my son, my parents, my family, friends and colleagues.
List out everyone who is important to you and then actually write a detailed description of how you want them to remember you.
For example, for your spouse you might write about how you want them to remember how much you loved them, how you always took the time to understand their feelings, to remember all the wonderful times you shared together, how you banded together in tough times, and rejoiced together in happy ones.
The point of asking the question is to think about who is important to you, and how you want to live in order to be remembered positively by them.
Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry. – Mark Twain
Question 2: What matters most to you?
In writing your life plan you'll not only need to think about who is important to you, but what your priorities in life are. Hyatt uses the metaphor of having “life accounts”. Like a bank account, you can make deposits into your life accounts, and each life account has a certain value to you.
For people of faith like myself, the spiritual account usually comes first. Next is my self account (if you don't take care of yourself, how can you adequately take care of others?). Third is my wife, fourth is my son. From there accounts go like this: parents, friends, career, finances.
When you spend time on one of those accounts, you make a deposit in it, and when it comes down to it, if you're not making a life plan the account values can get out of whack. You might spend too much on your career account, and not enough on your spouse account or children account. A life plan can help you to put your priorities – and your life accounts – back in the correct order.
Question 3: How can I get from here to where I want to be?
When making a life plan the most important part is putting together a plan of action with specific commitments to make sure you end up where you want to be. So how do you do that? Take the time to write the following things down.
- Your envisioned future: How do you want your major priorities (your life accounts) to look in the future? How do you want your relationship with God to look, or your relationship with your spouse? How do you want your finances to look?
- Your current reality: Where are you in relation to your envisioned future? Maybe your finances aren't where you'd like them to be, but you relationship with your wife is good – but could be improved upon.
- Your specific commitments: What specific actions can you commit to in order to end up at your envisioned future? If your health isn't great, but you want to be in good physical shape when you retire, you might want to write down some actions that can help you improve your health like eating healthy, working out 3 days a week, etc.
What Form Should A Life Plan Take?
What form should the life plan actually take? There are plenty of resources out there that will give you some structure when creating a life plan. For me I used the book from Michael Hyatt called Creating Your Personal Life Plan. In the book he lays out the structure and content of a life plan.
- Your life plan should be a written document, 8-12 pages or so in length.
- It should describe how you want to be remembered (by God, my spouse, my children, my parents, my colleagues, and my friends.)
- It should articulate your personal priorities: You have different accounts (with sub-accounts at times). Hyatt lists his as: 1. God/Spiritual 2. Self (health, growth, rest) 3. Spouse 4. Children 5. Friends 6. Career 7. Finances 8. Ministry
- It should provide an action plan to take you from where you are to where you want to be – in all areas of your life. This may involve specific action items you will be doing to to help reach your goals.
- It should be a living document that you can modify and revise over time as your priorities change.
If you're married you and your spouse should probably sit down and each write out your own life plans, and then come together to talk about where they overlap, what your shared goals are and how you can help each other out along the way.
Review Your Life Plan Weekly, Quarterly
Once you've created a life plan, Michael Hyatt suggests doing a weekly, quarterly and annual review of your plan.
Hyatt likes to do a weekly review every Sunday night to go through everything from the week.
In the weekly review he suggests doing a look back at the previous week, organizing paperwork, to do lists and calendars from that week. Next, you would review to do lists, project lists, calendars and so on for the coming week. Finally, after you've basically planned out your coming week, it's a good time to review your life plan and shore up where needed. Think about the things you're doing, and whether or not your investing in the things that should be a priority in your life.
While your weekly review will be looking at everyday details of your life during the week, every quarter or 6 months it's a good idea to do a more in depth review of your life plan. Hyatt suggests even taking out a weekend or a full day off-site to do this.
Set aside some time to pray, review your written life plan, and review your vision for your personal life and for business. Then write some goals to help you achieve your life plan for the coming quarter. Set aside some time to work on projects that you might not otherwise do.
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.” — Daniel H. Burnham
Set aside time every year to look at your overall life plan and think about whether or not it needs to be changed due to the fluid nature of life and priorities.
Also think about setting aside time on your calendar for all of the important things in your life like birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, and other important events. Oftentimes if we don't put things on the calendar, they don't happen. I use Google Calendar for this, and my phone, computer and tablet all tell me when something is coming up.
A Life Plan Is All About Giving Your Life Direction
Sitting down to write a life plan doesn't sound like the most fun you could have with a free day, but when it comes down to it, it will allow you to live life with more clarity, more balance and more peace of mind. To me, that makes it completely worth it.
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week. – General George S. Patton
While it may not be easy to come up with the perfect plan the first time you sit down to write a life plan, the good news is it doesn't have to be. Life plans are meant to be revised as time moves on and priorities shift. So just sit down, think about your life, and start thinking about how to achieve your dreams.
Have you written a life plan? What process did you use to come up with your life plan? What resources would you recommend?