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You've probably never seen planning like this
#managing_yourself I share with you how I calibrate the GPS of my life and why achievement is ultimately the outcome and not the goal.
Just as I mentioned, that fear could be self-fulfilling last week. I’ve personally observed that goals have a remarkable way of being self-fulfilling too. At the risk of sounding decidedly New Age, which I am most definitely not, I do believe in the law of attraction but not for the same reasons as the New Agers.
My theory is that the law of attraction works because when you have a goal that is top of mind, there’s a natural tendency of the brain to observe opportunities for you to reach those goals.
If you’re at all intrigued, then read on. I’m the most maniacal planner I know. In this article, I’ll discuss the methods that I’ve spent years honing and why achievement isn’t the real reason I do this.
Before you begin
These are the essential tools I use for my workflow:
Time: I budget 30 minutes to an hour a day goal setting and planning with an additional 30 minutes on the weekend to prepare for the week and review my annual goals.
iPad with Apple Pencil: I’ve experimented with paper systems and other pseudo-digital systems in the past, and while I find paper to be the most gratifying from a user experience perspective, the sheer volume of paper I generate makes it impractical. The iPad preserves the handwriting experience and helps me save trees and makes backups.
Notability: I’ve played with dozens of note-taking applications, including One Note on the Surface Pro. In the end, I keep going back to Notability for its ability to import PDF files, which allows me to use them as templates with aplomb. I’m also able to scan in paper journal templates and instantly convert them digitally.
Day One: I use Day One for long-form journaling. The end-to-end encryption gives me the security that my data isn’t on someone else’s server at rest. The iOS app is excellent too. The only downside is that the information is not encrypted at-rest on the client.
Templates: I’ve built several templates over the years, which I am sharing with you today. The ones I am actively using have a modified date of at least June 9, 2019+, as of this writing.
If you’re new to planning, I recommend using a paper process for everything until you’re committed to the habit.
Han’s Planning Process
My process for goal setting includes the following steps:
Every five years, I define wildly important goals for the next five years. I review these goals weekly, but they rarely change midway.
Every year, I set annual goals for what I want to achieve at work and in my personal life that align with my 5-year plan.
Every week, I review my annual goals, review major upcoming events, conduct a review of what went well last week, what I learned, and my three big goals for the following week. I also re-plan my entire calendar, scheduling all important-not urgent tasks as meetings with myself.
Every day, I review the day’s calendar and make adjustments as needed. I consider my todo list and schedule work that I can’t slip in between interstitial moments. I also block out time to long-form journal my thoughts of the moment.
Except for long-form journaling, I write everything down by hand. I do this because I’ve discovered that over some time, my retention is far higher when I write things down versus typing. I’ve read some research that suggests this is true for most people, so I would encourage writing things down when you can.
5-year planning and review
Every five years, I come up with a grand 5-year plan, which I’ve been doing since I was 25. Back in those days, this was the only planning I did. I wrote down what my life would be like when I was 30 in the form of a few bullet points, but I would review this periodically. When I turned 30, I had discovered that many of them had become a reality with a couple of notable exceptions:
I failed to get married and have three kids
I was unable to dunk a basketball (and woefully to this day I am still unable to do so)
To this day, I always write 5-year plans. Your mindset when you’re younger is remarkably different as you mature, so I don’t recommend writing down your ambitions that exceed 5-years. Along the way, it’s reasonable that your plans may change. I’m working on my before-45 project at the moment, and I have one year to go. Dunking a basketball is no longer on that list. I gave up on that, and it’s okay!
Annual planning and review
Each year, I write one sentence for each goal I want to have for the year by carefully selecting goals that I can achieve within a year that make progress toward my 5-year plan. I limit my goals to between five and ten, but I choose to focus on only three at a time during the year, and I mark the ones I am focusing on as such. I use an *.
When I perform my weekly review, I look at my list of annual goals and ask myself what got done? If I check one off the record, I pick the next one to do.
I also identify habits I want to build each year and input them into a habit tracker. I find that positive habit development is an excellent tool for achieving your goals.
Weekly planning and review
Each week, I write down:
What were my biggest wins?
How did I do against my big three goals from last week?
What lessons did I learn?
What will I do differently this week?
What are the big three goals next week that align with the annual goals I need to do?
I also make sure I’ve:
Reviewed my notes last week
Reviewed my annual goals
Reviewed my calendar for upcoming events
Reviewed my todo list and scheduled all time consuming or important-not urgent tasks
Notably, I do not separate work life from personal life, but I have strict rules imposed on myself that I do not do work more than 45 hours a week. I do this by imposing strict hours dedicated to non-work. Typically, this is between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. I find that this pattern works well for the people I work with as well and keeps all of us off a 24x7 work clock.
Daily planning and review
Each day, I long-form journal. My journal contains the following prompts, and because I tend to be more extemporaneous in my journal, so I use Day One to type in my thoughts. If I could write faster than I can type, I’d do everything by hand.
My journal contains the following prompts:
I’m grateful for
I’m excited about
I write down my thoughts at the start of the morning.
Often, I reflect on interactions with other people as well as events in my life. I try to add a reasonable amount of commentary to capture the moment. I find that this exercise often helps me extract new insight into how I can be a better person. Occasionally, I will re-read notes I wrote to understand what I was experiencing during extremely trying moments and the lessons I’ve learned.
I’m grateful for
I write down three bullet points to express my gratitude.
Historically, my sentences change rarely, but I find that it grounds me as a person and helps me not get too caught up in the whirlwind that is the day-to-day. When I know the day is stressful, it’s remarkably smoothing to be grounded in the big picture of all of the positive things that are happening in my life.
I’m excited about
I write down three to five bullet points regarding exciting happenings in my life.
These tend to change weekly, but I find that this exercise motivates me to start the day. Typically, these come in the form of describing signposts in my life and work.
I write down three bullet points that describe who I am.
Each sentence begins with “I am.” I didn’t believe in such a ritual for years, as I mostly wrote it off as nonsense. However, in more recent years, I have found that it grounds me daily and helps me stay true to my values. I’ve made hard decisions based on my self-identity, and I believe the daily reinforcement has helped. One of my affirmations is “I am a good person who tries to do the right thing.” I never knew how hard it was to try and do the right thing every day until I reminded myself of who I aspire to be every day.
I write down what I need to focus on today.
A matter I need to focus on might be something to do, but often it can be something more ephemeral. For example, I may remind myself to stay calm for today’s tense executive meeting.
I note down what exercises I plan to do or note that I chose to rest that day.
I am notoriously unathletic, but in my 20s, I discovered that being out of shape impacted my energy levels. In the decades since science has shown that exercise improves not only health but also intelligence. A ten-year-old study found that improvements in cardiovascular health could result in up to a 50% improvement in “verbal intelligence.” Ultimately, you cannot take care of others as a leader, if you cannot take care of yourself.
I write down three bullet points for things that I want to get done today.
I typically do this while I review my todo list, and when I am planning the day. If I have trouble prioritizing items, I use a worksheet that depicts the Eisenhower Box, and I use it to provide clarity on what I should do if I run out of time. It’s okay if some things roll over, or my planning is imperfect, but the ritual of distilling success down to just a few things each day is clarifying for me.
At this point, you might be wondering. WTF? Rather than spend all of this time planning, shouldn’t you spend the time and do things? I understand that perspective. However, I argue that activity does not equate to effectivity. Time spent prioritizing is well worth spending, and I’ve found that applying this rigor off and on for the last 20 years has made me more effective in both my work and my personal life.
We use a GPS to guide us to where we want to go; when you’re distracted and led astray, a GPS gets you back on track. By laying down plans and reviewing them regularly, you will create a GPS for your life. It keeps you on track and prompts you for waypoints along the way.
Ultimately, it’s not the achievements that drive us; it’s the sense of progress. When the signposts of your life whizz by, there’s an indescribable feeling of joy and purpose, and therein lies the rub: I make plans because I believe it supports my pursuit of happiness, and I hope my advice is helpful in your search as well.