Well, it’s that time of year again.  As many of you know, each December I spend a few days reflecting on the previous 12 months and planning for the coming year.  Going through this exercise helps me to reflect on past successes, fix problems, set priorities and generally be more intentional during the year ahead.

I write about the process here in the hopes that some of you might find it helpful as you make plans and set goals of your own.  As in years past, I will use a simple, three step process: 1) Do a quick annual review (i.e. what went well and what didn’t go well), 2) Set specific goals, 3) Outline strategy and tactics.

Review: What went well in 2013

Work.  As many of you know, I’m a financial planner.  The primary focus of my practice is helping people plan for retirement.   I work with clients in about 25 states and, for the most part, business was good this year.  The markets had a great year as well and it was nice to finally regain the level in the stock market where things abruptly fell apart five years ago.  One other milestone: earlier this year I passed a major exam that I’ve been studying for and was awarded the CRPC® designation (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor).

Writing.  In addition to writing for this site and my local newspaper, I also started to write for Dow Jones MarketWatch this year.  That has been a rewarding experience, because it gets my writing in front of a much broader audience.  In fact, many of you probably found your way to Intentional Retirement from one of my articles at MarketWatch.  For the year I wrote about 35 posts for Intentional Retirement, several dozen articles for the aforementioned news outlets and one manifesto called A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss.  I hope you all found something from that list that was entertaining, informative and helpful.  More good stuff is on the way for 2014.

Travel.  Travel is one of my top priorities and I made it to a few cool places this year.  Inside the U.S. we made it to Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Minnesota.  There wasn’t much international travel this year, but I did manage to make it to the Cayman Islands and Canada.  The high point of all of these trips was getting to spend time with family and friends, but we also managed to do some fun activities like scuba diving, beach volleyball, hiking, camping, biking, horseback riding and rock climbing.

50 State Challenge.  While we’re on the subject of travel, I have a goal to get my daughter to all 50 states before she graduates from high school.  We made it to three new ones in 2013: Kansas, Missouri and Washington.  So far we’ve done 18 plus Washington D.C.  32 to go.

Subscribers.  I enjoy writing, but I primarily see it as a vehicle to spread my ideas about retirement and living an interesting, rewarding life.  Viewed that way, it’s important to me to get my writing in front of as many people as possible.  One metric I use to track that is subscribers at my site (that’s you!).  I set a big goal for new subscribers this year and ended up surpassing it by about 60 percent.  Thanks so much for the part you played in that.  If you find anything interesting, helpful or entertaining at Intentional Retirement, I would really appreciate it if you’d pass it on to people you know so that we can continue to grow our little community.

Review: What didn’t go so well in 2013

As you might imagine, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns this year.  Here’s a few of the things that didn’t go so well.

Consistency.  I had a lot on my plate this year and I feel like one consequence of that was a lack of consistency in several key areas.  For example, posts at the site were sometimes irregular, my learning challenges were up and down and I didn’t do a great job keeping my regular date night with my wife.  Some of this busyness is unavoidable, but much of it is self-inflicted and the result of poor planning.  For 2014 I’m going to try to cut, simplify, focus and delegate so I can be more consistent with the things that are most important to me.

Physical fitness.  Speaking of inconsistency, my physical fitness was up and down this year.  I had periods where I was working with a trainer and doing great, followed by periods where I took lethargy to new heights.  I’m hoping that simplifying my schedule a bit will help correct this problem.  I’ll keep you posted.

New Products.  I had a goal to launch The Ideal Retirement Design Guide before Christmas this year.  That self-imposed deadline turned out to be a bit optimistic.  It’s coming along, however, and it’s turning out even better than I’d hoped.  Stay tuned.  It should be ready early next year.

Helping others.  I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about how to live a full life.  If you’re not careful though, constantly looking for ways to suck the marrow out of life can leave you feeling self-centered and narcissistic.  Yes, I want to enjoy life, but I also want to use my time and resources to help others and leave the world a better place than I found it.  Next year I want to do a better job in that regard.

So that’s my list of what went well and what didn’t.  I’m sure I could add more (especially to the “didn’t go well” list!).  I’ll spend time over the next few days outlining some specific goals for 2014 as well as my strategy for accomplishing them.  I hope you’ll do the same.  Don’t just leave your year to chance.  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.

A few 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.  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.

~ Joe

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