Annual Planning Part II: How To Move From Goals To A Plan of Action

I’m delighted to see how many people have used our annual planning process this year to reflect on 2018, clarify your desired vision for every area of your life, and create goals for 2019 that will move you towards your optimal life.

I’ve received many sweet thank you notes and lots of pictures of planning pages, goal lists, and words of the year. If you made it all the way through the annual planning process, CONGRATULATIONS!

But my inbox is also full of people asking “now what?” It seems that some of you are with your list of goals for 2019.

Personally, if I stop with a list of goals, affirmations and a word for the year, I know that nothing will happen because there’s a difference between creating goals and doing the work to achieve them. For me, goals require a concrete plan in order to be achieved.

Our annual planning process is how we create our life vision and generate goals for the year that will move us to ward that vision. For people who already have effective project and time management systems, that’s enough. They are off to the races! But I want to share the process I use for moving from 2019 goals to an Action Plan for those of you who may not know what to do with your goals.

A few caveats before I describe the steps. I’m retired so I have full autonomy over my time, projects, and pace. The examples I use are from my current life. So if you’re already retired, about to be retired, or curious about how people work towards goals post-FIRE, these examples will resonate with you. But if you’re currently overwhelmed by work, you may want to focus on resources that are specific to your profession. For example, Every Semester Needs A Plan is a great webinar for academics that will teach you how to create a strategic work plan for your semester.

Step 1: Review your vision (5 minutes)

Start the process by grabbing that big beautiful vision you created in the annual planning process and read it. Reconnecting with your vision puts you in the right frame of mind by reminding you what you want and what you’re working towards. Personally, I keep my vision in the front page of my Hobonichi so that I can look at it and re-read it whenever I want or need to do so during the year.

Your Life Vision

Step #2: Identify The Rhythm of YOUR Life (5 minutes)

Most planning processes assume everyone lives by the same rhythm. But one thing I’ve learned is that different chapters of my life have had different rhythms that require adjusting my planning units.

For example:

  • when I was a professor, my life hummed along to the rhythms of semesters so I planned my year in 3 15-week blocks.
  • As an entrepreneur, my year was divided into quarters so I planned my year in 4 12-week quarters.
  • And during my first year of retirement, I was in a major transition so I planned 12 30-day sprints.

Each of these different planning units was a perfect match for the rhythm of my life at that time.

It’s important to choose planning units that align with the actual rhythm of your life. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a plan that doesn’t fit with how you live.

This year, I’m using 3 90-day planning units because the rhythm of my life in retirement flows with the seasons: Spring (February – April), Summer (June – August), and Fall (September – November). There’s no winter in my life because we travel in December and January.

I’m sharing this example to illustrate the following:

  1. your rhythm can be unique to you,
  2. you don’t have to plan every single day of the year (it’s okay to have unplanned time!),
  3. the rhythm of your year will determine the number of action plans you create to achieve your 2019 goals (each planning unit = one action plan), and
  4. your planning will be most effective if it is conceptualized in planning units that match how you actually live your life (not some idealized notion of a time management guru).

In my case, I’ll be creating 3 90-day Action Plans. For now I’ll think of these 3 plans as 3 separate buckets. It doesn’t matter if you have 12 buckets, or 4 buckets or 2 buckets, it only matters that your buckets correspond to the natural planning units of your life in 2019.

Step 3: Assign Your Goals To A Bucket (10 minutes)

Pull out your finalized list of goals for 2019. Here again, it helps to have them readily available. I wrote my 12 annual goals in my Hobonichi because I use it every day and I can access the information I need quickly and easily throughout the year. In this step you will sort your goals into the buckets.

Example: Sort Your Goals Into Your Buckets

As you re-read your goals, you may notice that some of them are inherently time-bound. For example, on my list of 12 goals for 2019, I have some that are time bound: “Write 1 blog post per week” or “Attend FI Chautaqua in June”. Other goals are more nebulous and open-ended. For example, my favorite goal is “Travel to 3 magical places in 2019”. The ones that are time-bound are easy to put in a bucket while those that are open-ended will require some decision-making about where they fit.

Since I’m working with 3 90-day Action Plans, I’ve got 3 buckets to sort my 2019 goals into.

  • Write 1 blog post per week: it goes in all 3 buckets because I want to blog all year
  • Attend FI Chautaqua in June: it goes into my summer bucket because June is in the summer
  • Travel to 3 magical places in 2019: I’m sprinkling that goal across all 3 buckets because we’ll plan and take 1 trip in Spring, 1 trip in Summer, and 1 trip in the Fall.

All you do in this step is put goals into buckets. The beauty of this step is that you’ll only be planning the first bucket today. You can rest easy knowing that when it’s time to create your next Action Plan, your goals will be waiting for you in your next bucket. That way you can start the process at Step 4. In other words, right now I’m only creating 1 90-day plan for the Spring. In May, I’ll make a new 90-Day Action Plan for the Summer. And in August, I’ll make another 90-Day Action Plan for the Fall.

Step 4: Figure Out What Needs To Be Done To Achieve Your Goals  (10 Minutes)

I start with my first bucket (aka, my 90-Day Action Plan for Spring). Inside that bucket there are some (not all) of my 2019 goals — just the ones I need to focus on between February and April. In this step, I want to figure out what work that needs to be done in the next 90 days to meet my goals.

For some goals, the work is clear and doesn’t require complex projects. For example, the goal “write 1 blog post per week” is straightforward and only requires writing a blog post every week.

Bigger and more nebulous goals often involve several projects. The goal “travel to 3 magical places in 2019” has 3 projects: 1) create a list of magical places on earth, 2) select three magical places to visit that fit our budget, and 3) plan three trips.

Example: Goals, Projects and Tasks

As I’m writing down the work that needs to be done, I also notice how I feel about the required work. If I’m excited and can’t wait to get started, then I know it won’t be difficult to get it done. But if I notice a sense of overwhelm or dread about the work necessary to meet a goal (even if the goal itself is exciting), I know I’ll either need to add accountability or outsource the work. For example, while taking three trips is extraordinarily exciting, planning 3 trips is not. So I know I’ll be outsourcing the latter to someone who loves travel planning.

Step 5: Figure Out When The Work Will Get Done (20 minutes)

For each of your goals, you now know what projects need to be done. Some are easy, some are more complex, and some will require extra support.

Go ahead and figure out — loosely — when the projects will get done. This sounds complicated but it’s simple to execute. I just grab some paper, draw out 12 squares (1 for each week in my 90-Day Action Plan). Then I start putting the projects (not the goals or the tasks) into specific weeks until they all have a designated week when they will get done.

I start with the things that have an easy weekly rhythm and that I’m excited about. For example, the goal “Write 1 blog post per week” is easy to plan because I love writing and the work (writing 1 blog post per week) naturally fits into every week. So I add “write blog post #x” to each of the 12 weeks. This is a straightforward example because all the work will be done by me and the work naturally sorts into a once-a-week format.

In contrast, the goal “travel to 3 magical places in 2019” requires me to figure out what week (out of the 12 weeks) I’ll complete the necessary projects of creating a list, selecting the places and planning the trips. Theoretically this work could be done anytime during the 12 weeks. But I chose to front-load it in week 1 (create a list) and 2 (pick the places) because I’m going to outsource the planning and I want to take the first trip in late April.

Example: Sequencing Goals Into An Action Plan

I’ve given examples of only 2 of my goals (and 4 associated projects) for my first 90-Day Action Plan of the year. I only described 2 goals for the sake of clarity. But there are a total of 8 goals in my first bucket with 15 associated projects that need to be sequenced across the 12-week plan. Putting any 1 project into a specific week isn’t that challenging. The challenge comes with fitting all the different projects for all the different goals across the 12 weeks.

It’s like putting together a puzzle and if you decide to try it, I encourage you to approach it with a spirit of playfulness.

I must admit, when I was working I used a similar process but I often found in this step that I had more projects than time. Then I had to make some tough choices. But in retirement, it’s the opposite: I’m 100% responsible for structuring my time, creating stimulating goals, deepening my relationships, serving my community and giving back. Planning that moves from a big vision, to goals, to 90-Day Action Plans is a powerful way (for me) to create structure, meaning, and connections in retirement.

Best of all, once I’m done, I have a guiding set of projects for each week. I can pull out the plan every week to drill down to daily planning (more on that in a future blog post).

Step 6: Consider What Support You’ll Need To Execute Your Plan (5 Minutes)

I like to take one last pause over my 90-Day Action Plan to ask myself if I’ll need any support to meet my goals. Support can take many different forms: a buddy, a coach, mentors, a therapist, a trainer, a teacher, a group, a mastermind, or a community.

For this plan, I’m choosing to get a writing partner, find a workout buddy, post progress on one of my goals daily on social media, continue meeting with my weekly mastermind group, and help with travel planning. I’m not embarrassed to admit I need to build support and accountability into my plan because that’s how I’ve consistently met goals in my life.

If you’re still laboring under the story that you must be perfectly disciplined, motivated, and organized in order to achieve your 2019 goals, I encourage you to consider letting that go and experimenting with adding a layer of support to your plan.

Step 7: Put the Plan Somewhere You Can Access (5 minutes)

You guessed it! I put my plan into my Hobonichi so I can easily access it anytime. Feel free to put yours anywhere that you will regularly check.

I hope all the minutia of detail is helpful to you, but if there’s anything that is unclear from my writing, feel free to let me know below in the comments!

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