Well, another year is almost in the record books.  How did you do?  Did you accomplish what you’d hoped?  Did you achieve any key milestones during the last eleven months or did you find yourself a slave to daily maintenance (those things that take up a lot of time, but don’t provide a whole lot of meaning or get you any closer to your goals)?  If you’re like me, there were some of both, but you’d love to do better in 2012.  After all, the clock is ticking and retirement is a year closer!

In my last post I mentioned how I spend time at the end of each year thinking about life, reviewing the past year and planning for the next.  Doing this has made a huge difference and has helped me with key goals like running a marathon, starting a business, being a better husband and father, and writing two books.  Below I take a detailed look at my simple, three step process, but first…

More than just resolutions

Don’t confuse this article with the usual New Year’s Resolutions talk that you hear this time of year.  It’s more than good intentions and wishful thinking.  It’s about setting measurable goals in key areas of your life so that you can make huge strides in the coming year.   With that said, let’s jump right in.

Step 1: The annual review

I kick off my planning each year by reviewing the past year.  I look at what I did well and not so well; at what worked and what crashed and burned.  I’ll go through my plan for the previous year and see which of my goals I was able to accomplish and which are still in process. I’ll also look at a number of metrics that I use to gauge my progress, such as words written, books sold, and new clients served.

This review process gives me a good overview of what I was able to accomplish as well as what still needs to be done.  Once I know the “state of the union” I can move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Outline specific, measurable goals for each key category

After reviewing how I did the previous year, I spend time thinking about the things I’d like to accomplish in the coming year and what I’ll need to do to make those things happen.  For me, it’s easier to break my life down into major categories and then spend time planning and setting goals in each area.  My categories are marriage, parenting, faith, finances, health, business, writing, pursuits (e.g. guitar, photography, reading), and travel.  For each area I’ll lay out between three and six specific, measurable goals for the coming year.

Step 3: Strategy and tactics

Once the goals are in place, I spend time thinking through the steps (strategy and tactics) that I will need to take to accomplish each goal.  To stay on track and to make sure that I’m focused on milestones instead of just maintenance, I start each month by filling out a simple spreadsheet that I call my 4 x 4.  On it I list the four key goals that I will be working on over the next four weeks.  That sits on my desk each day as a reminder of the key things that I should be working on.

That’s it.  Pretty simple really, but don’t underestimate the importance of planning.  The type of life you want to live—one filled with meaning, accomplishment, and purpose—does not happen by accident.  You need to be intentional.  You need to know what kinds of things you value and work toward making them a reality.  Intentional Retirement is here to help, but as the old saying goes, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

A few more things to keep in mind as you plan…

Dream Big

When you dream big, something happens.  It changes how you think and how you act.  It changes the types of questions you ask.  It inspires and changes those around you.  Dreaming big has led to things like cures, computers and space travel.  Don’t limit yourself to those things that seem “reasonable” or “probable.”  Take a risk and dream big.

Start small

Someone once said that people tend to overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.  That is so true.  Don’t put so much stuff on your to-do list that you don’t know where to begin.  Big goals (like retirement) can take years to plan and execute.  Don’t try to do too much too soon or you’ll just find yourself overwhelmed and discouraged.  Outline your strategy and then take the smallest step possible to get started.  Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Before you know it, you’ll have some real momentum.

Allow room for serendipity

Goals are great, but don’t be a slave to them.  Be open to opportunities that you hadn’t anticipated or planned for.  One of the coolest things that happened to me this year was not a part of my plan and I initially turned it down.  The Financial Planning Association asked me to write a monthly retirement column for them and I said no because it didn’t fit into my schedule.  Luckily I changed my mind and that opportunity grew into not only a column for them, but a column for the Omaha World Herald and a broader platform for my ideas on retirement.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

Have a vision for your life

Imagine trying to put together a puzzle without the picture on the box.  It would be incredibly difficult because you wouldn’t know the end goal.  The same is true of your life. Your goals are important, but you need to have a vision for where you want those goals to take you.  What are your dreams for the future?  What is the vision you have, not just for retirement, but also for the rest of your life?  If you can’t answer that question or if your answer doesn’t really inspire you, then stop everything else you’re doing and really think that through.  It’s your life.  No one else is going to know more about it or take it more seriously than you.

Celebrate along the way

Don’t forget to celebrate along the way.  Take time to enjoy your incremental progress and reward yourself for a job well done.

Good luck with your planning!  Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.


Monthly rewind: November edition
Commander's Intent (a.k.a. Eisenhower's advice for your retirement)