Happy “Quitter’s Day”!
In case you’ve never heard of Quitter’s Day, it’s the day most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions. And it’s notable because it’s only 17 days into the new year.
In honor of Quitter’s Day, I’m adding the third installment to my series on Annual Planning That Works. I already described the annual planning process my husband and use that allowed us to quit our jobs, start two businesses, and retire early. It requires: 1) creating a vision for your life, 2) generating goals for the year from that vision and 3) translating those goals into a 90-Day Action Plan. Now it’s time for a weekly ritual to implement the plan on a daily basis.
If you routinely make annual goals you don’t meet, plans you don’t execute, and/or you’ve already forgotten what your word of the year or resolutions are, that’s okay. Today is a new day and you can always make a fresh start.
My 30 Minute Weekly Ritual
Each week, I sit down for 30 minutes to plan the week ahead. It’s an enjoyable and important ritual that:
- keeps me moving forward on my annual goals. The tricky part about annual goals is that while they are important and move me towards my life vision, they aren’t the kind of goals that are screaming for attention every day, have externally-imposed deadlines, or any built-in accountability. They just sit silently waiting for me to do the work (which means they are easy to ignore or forget).
- enables me to concretely measure my progress from week to week, instead of months and quarters flying by without any progress towards my annual goals.
- keeps me touching the vision of what I want every week by reminding myself what I desire.
- reduces my stress because I trust that if I execute the plan each week I’ll achieve my annual goals.
Even more importantly, the weekly ritual ensures that I don’t make a common mistake: spending time each day figuring out what specific work to do instead of actually doing the work.
For example, if I have something vague like “writing time” in my calendar, when the time comes I have to first figure out what I’m writing before I can actually start writing. By the time I figure it out, find the file, settle in, and get everything I need to write: poof! My designated writing time is over!
But if I my calendar says “draft 4 ugly paragraphs for a blog post on Weekly Planning”, there’s no ambiguity about what needs to get done. It’s clear, specific, and feels doable. And most importantly, I can focus all of my energy and writing time on generating those 4 ugly paragraphs.
Step 1: Start With The Foundation (5 minutes)
Whatever commitments you have are your weekly foundation. I see it as the foundation because it’s solid, un-moveable, and I build all the activities from my 90-Day Plan on top of it. When I was working full-time, my foundation was composed of the 40 hours I worked at my job. That time each week was already spoken for and reserved for projects and tasks related to growing my company. The biggest challenge was finding time for all the other things I wanted in my life on top of that foundation of 40 hours of full time employment.
The joy and the challenge of retirement is that 40 hours per week are no longer consumed with by my job. I’m not going to lie, it’s quite delicious to have those hours available for anything! But it also means that each week starts with a mostly blank slate:
My foundation is small because I don’t have a job and I have few standing commitments. Your foundation probably looks different than mine, but the point is the same: you have to figure out when you will do the work necessary to meet your annual goals. When I had a job, the work required to meet my relationship, health and growth goals took place in the evenings and on weekends. But when you’re retired, you can fit the work towards your goals into the 9-5 framework.
Step 2: Pull Out Your Life Vision and 90-Day Action Plan (5 minutes)
That 90 Day Action Plan wasn’t just an exercise. If you completed all of the steps, you have a list of projects (generated from your life vision and annual goals) for 12 weeks. I like to start by quickly reviewing my life vision in order to remember what I desire for my relationships, health, growth, and purpose. Then I see what’s on the agenda for the upcoming week in my 90-Day Action Plan. For example, this week my action plan has the following items:
- run and drink a glass of water every morning [the Annual Goal was “experiment with variations on morning routine”]
- Sunset picnic on the beach for date night [the Annual Goal was “up-level the romance factor of our weekly date nights”]
- Read The Power of Meaning [the Annual Goal was “read 52 books in 2019”]
- Draft 1 new blog post [the Annual Goal was “Draft 52 Blog Posts”]
- Be available for mentoring calls [the Annual Goal was “be a generous mentor and teacher for entrepreneurs and emerging leaders”]
The whole point of creating an 90-Day Action Plan is to provide myself with a weekly breakdown of what needs to be done in any given week to achieve my annual goals. Here again, your goals are likely different than mine but the action plan chunks them down into weekly projects so you know what work needs to get done.
Then when you sit down each week to plan, you can figure out when the work will get done.
Step 3: Put The Work Into Your Calendar (20 minutes)
Here’s where the fun begins! For every item in my 90-Day Action Plan for this week, I have to find a specific time and day in my calendar to do it.
Some of the items are easy because they are straightforward and only require a single task. For example, one of our annual goals is to up-level the romance factor of our weekly date nights. After 23 years of marriage, we’ve gotten into a date night rut (we go out to dinner every week). Both of us want to increase the romance because our shared vision is that we have “a happy, healthy, fun and sexy marriage that keeps getting better”.
Some projects are more nebulous and involve several different tasks. For example, “be available for mentoring calls” is important to me but vague. I can block time out of my calendar, but I still have to sort through requests, prioritize (some are crisis calls, some are standing appointments), schedule the calls and prepare a bit.
Similarly “write a blog post” requires several different tasks: 1) choose a topic, 2) outline, 3) complete an ugly first draft, 3) revise, 4) get feedback, 5) make a final revision, 6) design the featured image, 7) press the publish button and 8) promote it. Each of those tasks take time, sequencing, and need some space in between to let an idea percolate, revisions become clear, and incorporate feedback.
The more specific I can be about what work needs to get done and when it will get done, the more likely I am to do the work. And as a retired person, I am also creating a structure for my days to replace the structure that a job provides.
After my weekly planning, every task that will move me towards my 2019 goals has a designated time my calendar.
A quick pro tip: I color code the blocks to correspond to the 4 areas of my life: relationships, health, growth, and purpose. This isn’t necessary, but I like to be able to quickly glance at my calendar and know that I’m moving forward on all fronts every week. For me, this is what balance looks like in retirement.
When You Have More Tasks Than Time
When I had a job, I faced a sobering reality when trying to complete this step each week: I always had more tasks than time. This is normal for anyone with a full time job (and even more so if you have children, a side hustle, and/or eldercare). But it’s better to know that “all your shit ain’t gonna fit” at the beginning of the week than at the end of the week. That’s because at the beginning of the week you have choices. You can prioritize, delegate, outsource, ask for help, rethink your timeline, lower the bar, or let some things go. But if the week flies by and you realize after it’s over that the tasks to achieve your 2019 goals didn’t fit, you’re only left with frustration, disappointment, and declining momentum.
The Best Laid Plans…
To state the obvious, the best laid plans can be thrown off by life happening and factors outside of your control. This week, it rained on date night, so there was no sunset picnic. I’m on Pacific Time and all my mentoring calls this week were with people on Eastern Time so they didn’t neatly fit into my afternoons. And I was contacted by two reporters this week so I had to drop everything to add these deadline-sensitive conversations into my schedule.
Because every week is full of good, bad, ugly and beautiful curveballs, I try to keep a spirit of flexibility about my plan (which is admittedly far easier in retirement than when I was working). Changes require moving blocks around in any given day or throughout the week.
That’s it! A simple weekly ritual that serves as the mechanism I’ve used to bring my life vision into reality. All it takes is 30 minutes per week to insert the projects and tasks from my 90-Day Action Plan into in my calendar.
All that’s left is to show up and do the work.