The last couple weeks of each year, I take a break from my author life to focus on Christmas, look back at the past year, and refocus my attention on the new year. I have some things I want to do! And as Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
The first several times I heard that quote, I could see the wisdom. But planning for a whole year seemed daunting! Where do you start? How do you know what to plan for? What if something unexpected crops up? What if an incredible opportunity that you didn’t foresee comes available?
And then finally, I came across a process that not only made sense to me, it was flexible enough to change with my year.
First, decide what you want to do with your life.
Some will ask you where you want to be in five years, but I tend to do better if I ask myself this: Five years from now, what memories do I want to have? What about ten years down the road, or thirty?
Pray, and then make a list. Go ahead and dream a little. Dream BIG. It’s just a list that you can modify and change, so don’t be scared to write down ideas that would make your time on earth incredible.
Now, go back and prioritize your list. Narrow it down to the most important ideas. Some activities might be better suited to a bucket list or the goal list that we’ll get to in a few minutes. Keep this list to your foundational values. In broad terms, what would you classify as a successful life.
When I first started doing this about four years ago, I decided that I wanted these things:
- I want to still be married to my husband and love it.
- I want to have great relationships with my kids. I want to not only love spending time with them, but also be a great influence in their lives.
- I want to have wisdom to teach and mentor women throughout the US and to have a positive, Kingdom-impact on their lives.
- I want to have multiple encouraging books on the market.
That was a HUGE list to me, particularly since I prefer the background and avoid the limelight whenever possible. But, it’s how I thought God was directing me, so, it’s what I wanted.
Next, evaluate everything in light of these long-term goals.
I carefully looked at my life—how I spent my time, what events covered my calendar, who I talked to through email, what I was doing on social media—and I started taking out what didn’t support where I wanted to be.
The easiest part was finding those things that were counter to my goals. Out they went, mostly without a second thought. The things that weren’t directly opposed to my goals were much tougher. Asking for God’s perspective, I examined each thing to determine whether I needed to cut it out of my life or tweak it so it didn’t consume so much of my time.
For example, I used to watch quite a bit of television. I justified this habit by saying that I needed to monitor what my children watched, or that my family loves to watch movies and I needed to spend time with them. Both are true. But, I couldn’t spend time watching TV and get a lot of writing done. So, TV had to decrease so writing could increase.
Break the big goals into smaller targets.
Now that I knew where I wanted to end up, I need to break those big ideas into smaller targets. The easiest way to do that is to split life into segments.
These segments were categories likes Physical, Spiritual, and Intellectual Health because I know I need to take care of myself. Since two of my foundational values include family and two more include career/ministry, I added those two categories. To be less stressed in my family life and more effective in ministry, financial health needs to be a part of the equation.
Once categories are defined, it’s time to start listing goals! Experts recommend you only pick 7-10 goals in any given year. Since I have six categories, that means I need to pick one, or at the most two, priorities to work on in each segment for my year.
One or two. That’s it. In order to have a successful year with my family, I just need to pick one or two things to put my time, energy and focus. Same thing with my career. And my spiritual life. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me. It adds up.
Don’t leave out grace.
I have a bad habit. When God tells me to do something, I assume He means now. All of it. Immediately.
When I first started this, I struggled to give myself time to ease into my new habits. I tried to invest in my husband and invest in my kids and influence women and write books and be great at all of it without any kind of learning curve.
What I needed to realize is that this process is itself a process. Some days are not going to go well, and that’s okay. Some days I will focus more on my husband and less on writing, and that’s okay. Some days my family will fix their own dinner because I’m in the middle of writing a really good chapter, and that’s okay too.
Grace. Because God expects me to try, and to get better. He never expects me to start at my destination.
Don’t despise discipline.
This is the part that trips up most of us, including me. Once my goals are listed and I’mare ready to proceed one step at a time, then I need to do exactly that: proceed one step at a time. Faithfully. Consistently.
I had lots to learn back then; I still have lots to learn today! But I had to start, and I need to keep going. I learned to break my big goals into small chunks, making weekly or monthly goals and then holding myself accountable to meet them. Yes, sometimes life happens, and in those moments I offer myself grace. But I try to keep in mind the first question I asked: what memories do I want to look back upon?
Re-evaluate each year
God has yet to change my foundational values. The four I started with are still my focal points. But every year I find I need to declutter, because life sneaks in and takes over when I least expect it. And every year I find I have learned something new that’s helpful, and I find I still have additional tweaks to make.
I also try to look ahead to the next year and what I expect to happen. Travel plans, a new job or volunteer opportunity, and much more can dramatically affect life for a while. Building those changes into your plan will be very helpful.
So the question you need to ask is this: Are you happy where you are?
If so, then keep doing what you’re doing.
But, if you want anything—even a small piece of your life—to be different next year, then you must change something.
If you know that God is asking you to fit something into your life and you don’t know how, then start by writing down your goals. Just see where it leads. A year from now, you might be surprised.
If you’d like to try my process, I created a worksheet to walk you through it. Click here to open and print the document: Goal Setting