Life planning can include yearly intentions, quarterly goals, daily habits, weekly habits, monthly goals, weekly to-do’s… the list goes on.
I’d be amazed by anyone who wasn’t questioning how they could keep track of it all.
Proactively planning our lives can feel like an impossible juggling act, whether or not one is a Type A kind of person who just loves making lists (not me).
It’s one thing to plan our life for the month or the quarter. This step can be fairly straightforward with the right process. What’s more difficult is staying on track when life starts shaking shit up.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get to a place where you can feel clear and confident in your direction on any given day, week, or month throughout the year?
Better yet, the more established your planning process is, the more spontaneous and present you can be while still moving towards the future you want.
I believe it’s much easier if we establish three specific “anchors” to help keep us grounded when life is, as one client put it to me, “like playing chess… in a hurricane… with a toddler.”
3 Essential Anchors for Life Planning
The three essential anchors critical to planning and prioritization:
- Setting Intentions: Your process for imagining future possibilities and connecting with what you truly want.
- Task Management: Your process for scheduling and tracking your intentions and associated action items (plus miscellaneous to-do’s).
- Habits: What you do on a daily basis (or almost) that helps you stay centered and supports your plan.
Through my own trial-and-error process, I’ve seen how each of these components is interdependent, and when we focus on one without clarifying the others it can result in confusion.
With these components in place, we can be inspired by our to-do list; the mundane becomes more compelling when we have a clear direction of where we’re headed, a process for checking in, and established habits to keep us centered and energized.
I also believe that if we really want to own this process, we must create it for ourselves.
Hopefully, by providing some examples and tips associated with each anchor, it will spark ideas for how you might be able to enhance your own process.
Anchor #1: Setting Intentions
The first component to consider is how you establish your direction, vision, and outcomes you desire.
I prefer the process of setting intentions over traditional goal-setting for several reasons (more on that below) but to each their own.
Establish Your Frequency
It’s easy to get lost in setting intentions for multiple time frames, so I think it’s important to consider how often we want to do this and what the process looks like.
In my experience, the two timeframe perspectives that are MOST helpful for me are monthly and yearly.
A month provides enough time for specific intentions to come to fruition. It’s also not so much time that I end up feeling lost because so many things have shifted.
On the other hand, a yearly check-in provides a big picture view of where we’re going and helps us plan for training, experiences, trips. It’s a great time to take stock on our energy gains and drains and map out our desires for the months ahead.
Of course, setting intentions can be done quarterly, bi-annually, or at any other interval.
What feels right to you? Choose whatever you can fully commit to setting aside time for on an ongoing basis. Remember, this will likely change and that’s OK.
Intentions vs Goals
I now keep a specific notebook for intentions each month while continuing to revise them as I go along.
A few of the reasons I prefer intentions over goals:
- They are more flexible, allowing for more possibilities to arise (while also reducing a sense of “failure”).
- They emphasize a way of thinking and being, which is ultimately what will help us achieve any goal.
- They encourage us to tap into the deeper “Why” behind whatever it is we say we want. This is true desire and authentic motivation, and it’s a powerful force when consciously directed.
- Focusing on a goal can take us out of the present and can encourage us to attach to a specific outcome (“When I get X, I’ll be happy”). Intentions give us a level of detachment, which is also one of The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success.
You might think, “But isn’t it helpful to set a specific goal and commit to achieving it no matter what?”
I do believe commitments are important because following through on them can prove to ourselves (and our brain) that we can do whatever we say we’re going to. I think of commitments as inflexible and apply them to habits and specific weekly action items I want to follow through on no matter what. Basically, where exercising discipline is more important than the result.
There are many, many ways to mine for intentions based on different time frames.
Ideas for both a long-term and short-term intention setting:
- Clarify your current core values and notice where in your life you’re in alignment with these, or not.
- Use the Wheel of Life (an example of this is my New Year planning process which can be done at any time)
- Using reflection questions to tap into your desires, for example:
– What/Who do I want to BE?
– What do I want to HAVE?
– What do I want to DO?
- Take stock of any big, lingering questions you have – the question becomes an intention to find the answer.
Don’t be afraid to simplify it and just capture what you truly desire for that particular time frame.
The process of setting intentions is both an art and a science. If it feels overwhelming, it may be a worthwhile to invest in hiring a professional coach who is trained to help you navigate this process.
Anchor #2: Task Management
OK, so you’ve got your areas of focus mapped out for the upcoming year, or month.
The next question is, how often are you referring back to these and how are you translating them into your days? This is the concept of task management.
You probably have a few categories of tasks, including:
- Specific action items towards intentions
- Various To-Do’s (cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.)
- Work-specific tasks
Establish Your Frequency
Personally, I need to check in with my tasks on a daily and weekly basis.
A weekly check-in helps establish intentions and action items I’m moving toward that week. A daily check-in helps me prioritize/schedule the day and be realistic about what I can accomplish.
It sounds simple, but how often do we actually follow through with this? The key is integrating this check-in process into our habits.
The Task Management Process
What this process looks like is obviously going to be different for everyone, and might include several digital calendars, a specialized planner, an app for reminders and to-do’s, checklists on paper, etc.
Here’s my current setup as an example:
To keep track of all work-related appointments. I also use the ‘Reminder’ feature to keep track of one-off items that have a specific deadline.
It’s a fairly basic calendar planner with enough space to time-block my days and keep multiple lists. I prefer to handwrite when planning my weeks and days, as I usually do it in the evening after I’ve turned off screens.
In terms of action items and to-do’s, I keep two lists; one for things I have committed to, and another for possible action items. This gives me the flexibility to write out any ideas I have without feeling burdened if I don’t get to all of them.
Outside of the above, I use a few different notebooks for various purposes, such as:
- Setting intentions
- Various ideas and inspiration related to work and personal development
- Stream of conscious writing, journaling, and miscellaneous reflections
One of the most important things for me is to keep whatever I use in a spot where I’m naturally going to see it and write in it every day.
Anchor #3: Habits
Our habits are an essential part of planning and prioritization because without them we can easily lack consistency or just keep scheduling things to do until we experience burnout.
Our to-do’s, action items, and intentions are constantly changing. This is why it can be difficult to feel like we’re consistently on track with where we want to go.
Habits are the bedrock. They’re the cornerstone activities we don’t even have to think about, and the correct ones fuel us.
In my opinion, the two best types of habits we can create are:
1) The task management “check-in” process above and
2) Any habit that enhances our physical, mental, and emotional well-being (yoga and meditation are my personal favorites).
With these as our foundation, we always have something to come back to that helps us feel centered and enables us to re-establish a clear line of focus.
The most important factor in creating a new habit
The number one most important aspect of establishing any habit is making sure our level of commitment is a 10/10.
Not a 7/10 or a 9/10.
10/10. ALL-IN. 110%. On whatever it is we decide. It’s the only thing that will help us follow through when our brain resists sticking to the plan.
Remember, don’t hesitate to increase your level of commitment simply by making the habit as EASY as possible (e.g. forget about meditating 20 minutes and establish the practice of 5 minutes every day). Stop worrying about what you “should” do, and just focus on building that muscle of commitment!
Why It’s Important to Create Our Own Process
One of the primary reasons I believe it’s important to create our own planning process is that it’s natural for it to always be in flux. Allow it to evolve. Recognize when that planner is no longer serving you – let it go and keep what works.
Secondly, it’s easier to own what we create. If I don’t see the value of tracking my habits in a certain section of that planner, then I’m probably not going to do it.
Ultimately, this process is about syncing with our authentic state of being. It’s about creating a process that actually helps us be more present. As a reflection of your specific needs, your planning process will evolve into something uniquely different than anyone else’s.
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What is one thing you want to integrate after reading this guide? Let me know in the comments.