June 5, 2019

How to Create a Life Plan that Actually Works.


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We create plans for everything, from vacations and work projects to grocery shopping and picking up the kids.

But do you have a written plan for what you want to accomplish in your life, identifying the major outcomes you’d like to achieve in the time you have left?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably no. Eighty-seven percent of Americans do not have written life plans, according to a recent groundbreaking study by DHM Research, a respected leader in opinion research.

A life plan is your strategic road map to accomplish your major goals; it should be informed by your life philosophy or mission and values. It’s all about your hopes and dreams. None of us wants to be lying on our deathbed saying, “I wish I would have gone to Paris.”

When I directed PR at Nike, we had plans for everything—from the launch of the next Air Jordan to the upcoming Olympic Games. We had a limited time to get a product or initiative launched.

It should be the same with life: We can estimate our expected launch into the great beyond (aka death)—take this life expectancy calculator to try for yourself—and see what can we plan to do with our valuable time left.

Here are four steps to create an effective life plan that will help you lead a more intentional life:

Step One: Uncover Your Life’s Wishes

Start with soul-searching: What is your life’s purpose? What do you want to do with your time here on earth? What are your goals and wishes?

Write about what you dreamt about doing as a child. Reflect back on your life so far: What are your biggest accomplishments? What were the best moments? Looking ahead, what’s left undone in your life? What does a successful life look like to you?

Step Two: Build Your Intentional Life Timeline

For your life plan to be effective, it must be visual. Get out a 6-to-12-foot-long sheet of butcher paper and a good supply of sticky notes. On the left side, write the current year, and on the far right your expected death year (using a life expectancy calculator like the one mentioned above). Number the years in between and add key milestones (graduation dates, anniversaries, social security/Medicare eligibility, retirement). Then divide the years into decades; step back and evaluate how many decades you have ahead. What do you want to do with that precious time?

Write down every major life goal you might want to accomplish on individual sticky notes: traveling, quitting your job or starting a new one, buying a new home, and more. These should be your “bragging rights” goals—the major things you want to do that will have a big impact on your life.

Add the sticky notes to your butcher paper—include no more than 10 life goals per year, with the most important yearly goals at top. Spread them out by years and decades. Review and ask yourself, what’s missing?

Then—and this is key—hang your intentional life plan timeline somewhere in your home that you pass by regularly. Do not file your plan away. We human beings are visual creatures, and we need to be actively aware that our timeline is with us to activate our synapses.

Step Three: Turn Your Timeline Into an Actionable Plan

We’ve all heard that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. People start at the gym at the first of the year, go for a few weeks, then decide to quit. So how do we realize our major life goals?

First, evaluate your goals using the Peter Drucker/George Doran SMART formula, making sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Do your goals live up to these standards?

Next, break your goals of the year down into quarters. What can you get done in Q1 (January to March), Q2 (April to June), and so on? Be realistic; life is busy enough as it is with our daily work routines. What life goals are really possible for you to focus on at different points throughout the year?

Then develop an action plan for the more complicated life goals and break those down by quarters, too. Want to remodel your kitchen? That’s a big project. What’s the first step? Call a contractor? What’s second? Develop a budget? Break down each major life goal into actionable steps by quarter.

Finally, take that first step toward the goal. The first step is the hardest, but it puts things in motion, and, step-by-step, you will start making progress on our action plan.

Step Four: Keep to the Plan

Create a calendar reminder to review your intentional life plan every month. Make this fun. This is your L-I-F-E, and it’s not work or another obligation. You might review your life plan monthly in bed with your spouse or partner, or turn on your favorite music loud as you walk to wherever your life plan is hanging in your house.

Check off your life goals as you accomplish each one, but leave them on your plan so you can celebrate them. We all know “life happens”—and the beauty of this sticky note process is you can move a life goal you don’t accomplish from one year to the next, or take it off your timeline should you change your mind. Then recalibrate your plan annually.

My wife and I developed our first intentional life plan 18 years ago. Looking back today, we’ve accomplished 90 percent of what we imagined.

What do you want to do with your one extraordinary life?


Go to Write, Open, Act. to learn more and start your own life plan timeline.

author: Lee Weinstein

Image: YouTube

Image: @elephantjournal on Instagram

Editor: Kelsey Michal

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natasha.oilar Jun 12, 2019 9:13am

This is excellent! Thank you, Lee. You have inspired me once again.

lee Jun 9, 2019 8:02am

From the author: We had the opportunity to ask people who have written life plans about their value. Here’s what 177 people said:

My life plan helps lay out my future goals and provides a game plan to reach them.

It’s a personal compass which guides me through life.

Life is too random and unknowable. A written plan helps to keep one grounded and focused on the goals and things that are important.

Most people spend more time planning a one-week vacation than identifying what outcomes they want to see in the major areas of their lives.

Every time I see my life plan, I become inspired. It gives me energy to work hard to achieve my goals.

It gives me something to look back upon so I can see how far along I am, what I need to work on.

Things in writing feel more concrete and really helps to commit. If I just said it out loud, I wouldn’t feel motivated. That written piece makes me want to accomplish it.

Without a plan and goals, you’re wasting a lot of your life.

When I’m having a bad day, I’ll read over my life plan to remind me for things I should be grateful for.

shelleytoon68 Jun 7, 2019 2:42pm

Great article. So excited to get started on a life plan with my husband.

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Lee Weinstein

Lee Weinstein is a former Nike, Inc. executive and author of Write, Open, Act: An Intentional Life Planning Workbook, available at bookstores everywhere and at Write. Open. Act. He is also president of Weinstein PR, a boutique public relations agency based in Oregon.