For years, I would get to the end of December and choose to move into the New Year with a mental picture of what I wanted my life to look like. All while trying to ignore the fact that I never managed to make this year look the way I had hoped it would turn out when it started.
I basically lived in a perpetual cycle of hoping for the best and not acknowledging that I didn’t actually know how to make my hopeful albeit unclear vision for the future a reality. All I knew was that I didn’t want to keep living the way I was… Expect, I kept living the same way I was.
Still with me? I’m going to guess that if you can relate at all, you totally know what I’m talking about. It’s the whole “ignorance is bliss” thing. As long as I could pretend I was trying to do my best, I just kept pushing forward hoping this would be the year that God, or the universe, or the lottery would blow some fairy dust in my direction and things would finally change.
But year after year, it was just me getting to the end of it making wishful plans in my mind that next year would be different.
… And then finally, one day, something did change.
I wish I could say I suddenly married a real live prince who I accidentally bumped into while traipsing through a small town field (que Hallmark movie). Or that I had actually won the lottery… but neither of those things are true.
The truth is that I changed… I changed my mindset, my goals, but most importantly, I changed my tactics.
My 3 Steps to New Year Planning
A few years ago, I started down a personal development journey that’s caused me to re-evaluate pretty much everything in my life. Including, the way I approach a new year. In fact, this year, I gave myself permission to do the bare minimum for the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s to solely journal, evaluate, and plan for the coming year.
It’s a complete change in the way I approached a new year even just three years ago and I know it’s going to make all the difference in how I feel at the end of next year. I want to quickly say that for this year, I got to the end of it and it looked very different than I expected it to/planned for, BUT for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t disappointed.
I did a lot of planning and goal setting at the beginning of the year but life threw us some major curveballs. Thankfully, we rolled with it in a very new way and kept adjusting and giving ourselves grace. I know a lot of changes are coming again in this next year and I fully plan for having to adjust the plans I’m making now. The difference is that I’m setting up this year in a way that plans for what I want to change and allows me to make adjustments at the same time.
Here’s what I’m doing to create a new year plan…
1) Do a Calendar Time Audit from Previous Year
I heard about this from Rachel Hollis – the queen of all things personal development and it’s been gold. I’d also like to note that she said she got it from John Maxwell. Essentially, it’s like a New Year planning staple for making the next year better than the last and I’m not sure how I ever lived without it. It’s a tool that’s here to stay in my life for pretty much ever.
The gist is that you spend a few hours going over every single appointment in your calendar from the year before. You look at every hour of every day as best you can and then put that activity or time into one of three categories…
- Worth the time
- Waste of time
- Brought me joy
Doing this makes you super aware of the things that proved to be needle-moving time takers versus the things that didn’t get you closer to your ultimate goal.
Once you have finished, you’ll have a list that can help build the foundation of your next year. If it’s worth your time, consider doing more of that. If it’s a waste of time, let it go and it if brings you joy, spend more time being intentional about doing those things.
*Side note – my husband, Josh, and I have each created a list of activities that make us happy to pull from. Some things overlap and some things are definitely lone activities but that’s completely fine! For instance, I enjoy sewing and crocheting – Josh does not.
Chances are, the first time you do this your “waste of time” list will be quite full. It’s a hard thing to face but worth it in the end. Give yourself some grace and applaud yourself for having the courage to face it.
2) Get Some Clarity for the Next Year
Now that you’ve cleared some space on your calendar by letting go of things that were a waste of time, you can fill it with things that help you build the kind of life you want.
I do this by asking myself a series of questions that help me figure out what the gap is between where I am now and where I want to be. Grab a piece of paper and pen if you can and write out the answers to these questions for the most impactful clarity.
Question 1 – What is my current status?
Aka, where am I with things? This is the point at which it’s really important to be honest. Which, sometimes is not fun but the more real we can be with ourselves and others, the more real improvement we can make in our lives.
Question 2 – Where do I want to be in a year?
This is the perfect opportunity to dream a bit – it’s where I like to call my shot. Sometimes I think about it this way… If I could jump myself to one year in the future, what are the things I will want to have accomplished? Whatever they are, I write them down unashamedly. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t always realistic because I get to that part in the last step.
Questions 3 – Why is this important to me?’
Often thinking about what making these changes would mean to me or my family can have a bit impact on my mindset when I approach it. You can think about it from one of two ways really: first, what would this change make possible? second, what will things be like if I don’t make this change?
Question 4 – What capabilities do I need to make my one-year dreams come true?
In the last year, the thing I’ve heard over and over is that the thing standing between me and my goals is a new set of skills. The reality of this is actually kind of relieving to me. It means what I want is possible, I just have to learn how to get there. And I know I don’t have the skills yet because if I did, I’d already be there.
This is also where I double-check if my goals are realistic. It’s not that I think they aren’t ever going to happen, but I can analyze if the skills I need are something that I can do in a full year or if I need to pull back my expectations and give myself grace to get there and time to get there with quality.
As an example, it’s a bit unrealistic for me to set a goal of being completely fluent in a new language in a year. However, I feel very confident I could be conversational if I spent enough time practicing. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever be fluent in a new language though.
3) Map Out the First Quarter
As a whole, don’t be surprised if you spend more time looking back at the previous year than you do planning for the following year. This is how things go for me too.
Figuring out what did and did not work in the past is perhaps the single greatest information we can gather for the future. If we don’t look at what isn’t working and take note of what is, a lot of wasted energy is put into the same actions over and over.
So, now that you’ve got a plan of where you want to go, it’s time to make an outline of what tactics you need to get there.
First – I figure out what my first quarter goal is
Second – I brainstorm on what 3 mini goals I need to hit to get there
Third – I establish the habits and tactics that will achieve each of those
When I’m done, I have a 3-month plan that’s broken down into segments and action steps for me to work off of. At the beginning of each week, I check in to make sure I’m still on track and at the beginning of each day, I look to see what needs to get done that day. Usually, I have three most important needle-moving tasks a day. I do those things first before anything else.
Related post: The 8 Areas of Life to Set Goals
Things I’m Doing Different This Year
The biggest thing I’m doing differently this year is the calendar time audit. I’ve never done such an in-depth time audit before to really establish what worked and what didn’t.
I’m also establishing categories for my goals. We have a lot of changes coming this year which means I can’t truly plan set goals quite the way I would hope to.
So, instead, I’m planning for what I want to create and learn. Both are things I can do no matter where we are or what our lifestyle looks like. I’ve established four big things I want to create for the blog and four things I want to learn. Both for the blog and personal goals.
Accomplishing everything would be huge accomplishments and make me feel good about my work and life. Having said that, I’m also not going to beat myself up if I get to the end of the year and haven’t done quite everything. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t accomplish everything because they’re big scary audacious goals.
Don’t get me wrong, I WILL do what I’ve set out to do, but the first two things in each category are my main goals and the next two are my stretch goals. The important part to me is being able to say “yes” when I get to the end of next year and ask myself – did I show up this year the way I wanted?
Lastly, I plan to do throughout the year evaluations. I’ve never done it before but it will be a real game-changer to stop each quarter and do a mini planning session. You know – just evaluate if I’m still headed in the right direction to hit my original plans or if I need to adjust my sails a bit.
I have to say, I feel VERY good about my approach to this next year. Also, super excited about the potential of it all. There’s nothing quite like coming at a new year plan with a new approach.
The biggest reason I think it’s so important to make changes is this – if what you were doing was going to work, it would have already.
I used to live in fear of change because at least I knew what kind of results my current methods got me. But I got tired of never moving, never changing, being stuck. So many years were spent where I felt like I was just spinning my tires stuck in a rut.
It wasn’t until I started to get real with myself and apply tools like the ones I’ve laid out above that my life started to change. I truly hope you find them to be as impactful as I have and I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing things you do this year!
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