A 4-Step System to Plan Out Your Whole Life
Being more structured will actually give you more freedom
Four things every person needs: a five-year plan, a one-year plan, a monthly plan, and a daily plan.
It sounds like a lot, I know. But it’s not hard to do. And working according to this four-step-system — something I was inspired to try after watching the entrepreneur Jim Rohn’s seminar How To Take Charge Of Your Life — has transformed my life and career in surprising ways. Rohn points out that with so many shiny things constantly grabbing our attention, it’s easy to get paralyzed by indecision and drift through life without a clear purpose. But with a little planning, you can avoid that type of time-wasting and aimlessness.
There’s one big caveat to any type of planning, of course: You can set goals, but you can’t control outcomes. In fact, planning has nothing to do with control. But it has everything to do with getting started.
To plan your life effectively and make sure those plans are executed, I recommend creating a five-year, one-year, monthly, and daily plan.
How to create a five-year plan
Picture yourself very far into your future. Where do you want to be? A plan is nothing more than a combination of goals (what you want to achieve) and actions (how you’re going to achieve them). When I started writing five years ago, I started with the nonsense goal: “I want to make a million bucks a year!”
I don’t set goals for things I don’t control anymore. But it was a good goal at the time because it helped me think differently. I realized that to make large sums of money, you can’t be an employee; you have to be an entrepreneur.
In addition to earning more, I also wanted to live somewhere warm, and have a few people working for me. Notice that my five-year plan was very ambiguous. I wanted to stay flexible because that seemed more realistic. I didn’t achieve all my five-year goals, but that’s fine. Having a plan guided me in the right direction.
A note: If you’re unsure about where you want to be in five years, I recommend keeping a journal. Writing makes you better at expressing yourself, your wants, and, eventually, finding your true path. That’s why I always encourage my readers, even those who say they “aren’t writers,” to write down their thoughts. The better you become at writing, the better you become at thinking.
How to create a one-year plan
The purpose of the five-year plan is to help you move in a certain direction. The goal of the one-year plan is to help you execute by forcing you to prioritize.
For example, let’s say your overall goal is to quit your current job and become a full-time entrepreneur. You’ll need to create a business plan, build a website, hire people, build products and services, and so forth. Can you do all of that within a year? Probably not. So you have to decide what you will focus on first. So ask yourself: What do I need to achieve this year to move a little bit closer to my five-year plan?
How to create a monthly plan
Once you land on your five-year and one-year plans, start breaking things down into monthly actions. Every month, pick something you will focus on creating — something that brings you closer to achieving your one-year goals. I like to focus on one thing per area of my life.
Once you have your one thing in mind, make a list of all the steps you’ll take to create it, from beginning to end. Let’s say your goal is to build a website this month: Creating your monthly plan means getting clear on every action that will go into completing the project. (When it comes to my monthly plan, I like to use Trello to manage my projects.)
A Better To-Do List, According to a Scrum Master
The personal task board helps you see how your actions move you toward your goals
How to create a daily plan
Once you’re clear on all the steps you need to take each month, simply pick three to four actions you will focus on each day. I usually take a few minutes every night to look at my Trello board and ask myself, “What’s important? And what do I feel like doing tomorrow?”
First, get the important stuff done. Then, do whatever you feel like working on and are excited about. I have the same approach to writing. I have a huge list of article ideas and before I write, I scroll through it and pick the one I feel like tackling. When you’re excited about a task, it’s so much easier to execute
Keep reviewing your plans
In my own life, I’ve noticed five main benefits to this type of multi-level planning:
- Clarity: When I don’t know what to do next, I procrastinate, waste my time, and feel bad. Knowing my next step helps me avoid that mental trap.
- Efficiency: When I think about what I want to do in advance, I’m more effective when I get around to doing it.
- Creativity: Planning helps me come up with more creative things to do in my life. It also helps me come up with creative solutions to my challenges.
- Momentum: Planning helps me keep moving forward, so I hardly ever get stuck.
- Better thinking: The process of planning forces you to think hard about what you want to do and how you’re going to do it, so that you can approach each project more thoughtfully and look at your plans with a critical eye.
One thing to avoid, however, is creating a life plan and then blindly hewing to it. No one wants to go through life like a dog chasing cars.
That’s why I regularly review my days, weeks, months, and years. I give myself the time and space to re-evaluate them. If your plan isn’t working out, don’t put your head down and keep working without seeing any results. If your plan doesn’t work, adjust, and keep adjusting until it does.
Otherwise, you can’t grow. And growth is the true secret to lasting career satisfaction and happiness. If you don’t grow, you die.
So, what’s your plan?