How to plan your best year

What if I told you that every year can be better than the last?

That this year can be better than last year. And next year can be better than this year. And on and on.

This is the belief system I operate under.

I don’t believe in the “good ole days.”

I intentionally believe that I can make every year better than the last.

How amazing is this?

And it’s not just fluff. It works.

This year was better than last year for me. And next year will be even better.

You can have this, too.

You can create a year that you remember for the rest of your life. You don’t have to squander another year. Life doesn’t have to be so hard. You don’t have to be in the same place next year. You can take advantage of the time you have now and make next year your best year yet.

I’m not suggesting you can control the outcome of your year. Things happen all the time in life that you can’t control. But you can control what you make those things mean.

One Friday last year, I thought I was going out of town to get engaged. It turned out that the releationship ended suddenly, and I never talked to or saw the guy again.

At the time I was completely devastated. It was bad. But even in that place, I knew somehow it was happening for me. I was so determined to make the next year my best year no matter what it took.

And by leaps and bounds, that following year was my best year ever.

Not by accident. Not by chance. But because I did the work.

I share this only to show you that you can’t control your past, other people, or circumstances, but you can control what you make it all mean and how you take action into the future.

Okay, let’s get started!

 

1. Reflect on the last year

The first step to planning your best year is to reflect on last year.

Experience teaches you nothing. Evaluated experience teaches you everything. – Andy Stanley

The first step to planning your best year is to reflect on your last year. You need to look back at what you did last year and compare it to your goals and visions for your life.

Your experiences from last year can help you create your best year yet, but you have to evaluate those experiences so you know what worked and what didn’t.

To do this, I recommend using:

InThe 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, Maxwell writes about how, at the end of each year, during the week in between Christmas and New Years, he looks back through his calendar from the previous year and reflects on how he spent his time. He looks at his calendar – day-by-day, month-by-month – and takes inventory of what he did. Then, he compares his time spent to his goals and visions for his life. Doing this shows him the good, the bad, and the ugly from the last year. Then, he takes that information and plans the next year, aiming to make it his best year ever (each year is better because it’s planned intentionally).

This is also what I teach in Dream Year, with corresponding workbooks to make it easy to do.

The key is to just do it (more than it is important how you do it).

So, look at your calendar from last year and see how you spent your time each month, week, and day.

If this is the first time you’re doing this, you may not have as detailed of a calendar as you would have had if you knew you were doing this. But do your best. In the future, put everything on your calendar so you not only plan the right way but also so you can reflect back more easily.

I track everything from the activities I do, to the appointments I have, to when I’m sick (yes, I have the exact days I have a cold on my calendar!), to everything in between.

Once you’ve taken a look back at your year, ask yourself these questions…

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself in each of the eight life categories last year?
    • The eight life categories I teach in Dream Year are: health, relationships, finance, career/business, personal/spiritual development, recreation/play, environment, and service/contribution.
  • What did you like about last year? What did you accomplish?
  • What didn’t you like about last year? What disappointed you?
  • If you could change anything about the last year, what would it be?
  • If you had to name last year, what would the name of the year be (examples: “The Year of Apathy” or “The Year of Hustle”).

Write the answers to these questions down.

But really – write them down! It’s so much more effective if you write down the answers because writing down words on a page forces you to organize and bring clarity to your thoughts.

Once you have taken inventory from the last year, it’s time to move on to step two!

 

2. Write down big visions for your life

Next, write down big visions you have for your life.

You need to have a vision of where you want to go. Without that future-focused intention, you will wander and end up somewhere you never intended to be.

Think about your life from a very high level, and think about how you want to be remembered. Make a list of visions you want in each of the 8 life categories.

Your list can include anything you want. This is a list of what you want to do, so make sure it reflects your deepest desires.

Examples of big visions you want for your life overall and in each of the 8 life categories are:

  1. Overall: Be an example of what is possible.
  2. Health: Prioritize mental, physical, and emotional health above immediate desires.
  3. Relationships: Put family first above everything else and be a people person, where I love people, especially when it’s hard.
  4. Finance: Become financially independent.
  5. Career/business: Contribute to the world through my business, serving young professional women.
  6. Personal/spiritual development: Serve God and love Jesus, being his disciple as best I can.
  7. Recreation/play: Be a person who lives by “this is all for fun” and doesn’t take life too seriously.
  8. Environment: Doing my part to keep a clean, organized, and clutter-free home and work space.
  9. Service/contribution: Make the world a little bit better of a place.

Notice that these visions are very broad. That’s by design. Visions give you direction, but they don’t give you the specificity, timeline, or steps. These are components you get from setting goals (see below).

On a daily basis, I use (and am obsessed with) the Productivity Planner for creating my priority list. It keeps me focused on making sure the results I prioritize are aligned with the visions I have for my life. You can get started with a free PDFProductivity Planner Quick Start PDF.

 

3. Set goals

The third step is to set goals.

Goals are the road map that move you toward you vision in bite size pieces.

To set goals, use the SMART method. Under this method, goals should be:

S — Specific
M — Measurable
A — Achievable
R — Relevant
T — Timely

This means when you create goals, they should be narrow, in writing, achievable, related to your vision, and have a deadline. Write your goals down. Give them a deadline. Hold yourself accountable. Make sure they’re realistic.

Examples of two goals that are not specific, measurable, or timely are:

  1. Start blogging
  2. Get in shape

Examples of two goals that follow the SMART method are:

  1. Launch a blog and make $5,000 from it within the first 12 months.
  2. Lose 35lbs in 6 months

The more specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely you make your goals, the more likely you’ll achieve them.

Besides knowing how to set goals, you need to know what goals to set.

Use your visions as guidelines to decide what goals to set.

You might find something glaringly obvious, like being a financial mess and wanting to be financially independent.

A good way to know whether you’re setting appropriate goals is whether you are:

  • Staying inside your comfort zone (bad)
  • Getting outside your comfort zone (good)
  • Being delusional (bad)

You want to set goals that stretch you outside your comfort zone (and kind of scare you a little bit), but not so far of a reach that they’re delusional.

For example, I didn’t set a goal to make seven figures from my business before I even had a business. I set the goal to become a full time blogger. This was still a stretch goal, but it wasn’t delusional. Now, after a few years, I’ve become a full time business owner and have set the seven figure goal that is a stretch goal but not delusional anymore.

Here are a few more goal setting posts that will help you set goals if you’re looking for more information on it… 

 

4. Find your why

The fourth step is to find and articulate your “why”.

Finding your “why” means you can articulate exactly why it is you want what you want.

Think about all the things you listed above that you want to do before you die and ask yourself why. Think about your goals that you want to accomplish and think about why you want them. Sounds easy, but the reality is that you likely don’t know your real why. Usually, your real why isn’t the first answer to that question. Instead, it’s much deeper than that. But it’s so important that you find it because without it, it will be really hard for your to accomplish your goals – your reasons won’t be strong enough.

To find your why, ask yourself why it is you want what you want from steps two and three. Continue to ask yourself why over and over – seven times at least – in order to peel back the layers and find your real why.

This step is so important that I recommend listening to this podcast episode with Dean Graziosi, where he discusses how to do this in detail (it’s at the end of the episode so listen to the whole thing).

As an example of what I mean, take what Graziosi says in the podcast. He has to work for himself. His why isn’t because he wants financial freedom or to build a business for his kids. His why is because his parents did such a bad job raising him that he can’t stand the thought of not being in control of his own income and work. He can’t work for other people because he has to be in control. Realizing this makes his focus and commitment greater than if he never knew his real why. It keeps him going.

Knowing your why propels you forward – it keeps you going when things get tough (because they will). 

Once you find your real why, nothing will stop you from living your best year (and life) ever.

 

5. Set up systems to implement your best year ever

Once you’ve reflected on last year and you have your visions, your goals, and your why,  you need to set up systems to implement your dream you so you can actually have your best year ever.

This is the linchpin of making it possible for you to plan your dream year and make it your best year ever.

Here are the systems I use and recommend…

  1. Create a digital calendar. I use gCalendar for this. I keep it in month and week view. I schedule everything from events to my morning routine, to working out, to what I’ll produce during work time.
  2. Put deadlines on your calendar to accomplish your goals. Include lots of mini-deadlines with action steps required to accomplish your goals. This alone is a super tedious process, but it’s 1000% percent worth it because it gives you a specific plan to follow.
  3. Use the Productivity Planner to set your intention for what you’ll produce every day. This is a planner designed to help you reach your goals and stay on track each and every day (I’m obsessed with it!).
  4. Use Dream Year to plan your next year in way greater detail than this post. There are tons of worksheets for you to use that I created in there that will help you make sure next year is your dream year.
  5. Use a productivity app that will help you stay accountable. I use: 1) Evernote, 2) Trello, 3) Day One Journal, 4) the Reminders app, and 5) HabitMinder.

Don’t get hung up thinking there is one right system. As long as you use some sort of planning tool, like a calendar, you will be good to go.

I spend at least 20-30 minutes looking at my calendar every day. Sometimes, it’s more than that. I have things color-coded and very organized.

Take time to do this!

Find tools that work for you and use them.

You don’t need another day planner. You need a plan.

Remember this!

 

A Final Note!

You absolutely can make next year your best year ever.

Follow the steps above, which again are…

  1. Reflect on last year by reviewing your calendar.
  2. Write down big visions for each area of your life.
  3. Set goals in the areas you want to work on in the next year.
  4. Find and articular your why.
  5. Set up supportive systems where you use your calendar to create a plan with deadlines.

If you do this every year, you will plan your dream year and execute it, changing the course of your life forever.

It doesn’t mean things won’t happen or change. It just means you’re in control of how you react and how you move forward in spite of those things.

You can create your dream year. I know it.

 

*Bonus tools for your dream year (and best year ever)*

I recommend reading at least one book each month throughout the year.

This will help you learn and grow as a person. You’ll be more equipped to know what you want and how to be your best self.

Here are three books that will help you understand what it means to live with purpose, which is part of living intentionally and making every year your best yet…

  1. High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard
  2. The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell
  3. The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olsen

And here are my most popular blog posts for designing your dream year that you can read next…

Cheers to making next year your dream year!