How to Make a New Year Plan That Actually Works
If you want your new year plans to stick, a faint hearted and unstructured attempt won’t cut it. A focused and structured enquiry into where you really are and where you’re really going, will.
When I was 17 I was sitting in my back garden at the beginning of the new year. It must’ve been freezing so I’m not sure why! But there I was... I wanted to change my life. I’d just left school and it had been an utter disaster. 5 years of living hell! I had an instinctive urge and I followed it. I wanted to organise my brain, analyse my my problems, think about my ideas, reflect on my friendships. I’d never done anything like that before but the idea gripped me. I bought a notebook and sat in a cafe for an entire day, just thinking and writing. I discovered that day the power of writing down my thoughts. I found I could think clearly for the first time in my life. With a pen and paper I could trap the important thoughts on a page, isolate them, prioritise them and delve deeply into them. It took me places. I made my first ever new year plan and it changed my life forever. It was so successful that I’ve done it ever since, gradually perfecting the process. I’ll share with you how I do it today…
There are 5 steps:
- Make time and space
- Think about who you are becoming
- List and prioritise your goals
- Plan each goal intelligently
- Decide on your habits
Make time and space
It takes time to make a good plan. It just does. That first time I took a day, today I take a week. I book a little holiday somewhere every January and just think through my life. You don’t need to be as extreme as me, but you do need to give it some serious headspace! A half-hearted attempt is pointless. I’ve found there’s something particularly effective in changing your environment. That first time a local cafe was good enough… this January I flew to Tenerife! Something happens to us when we get away. I can’t explain it fully, but it opens us up somehow. Being somewhere new releases all sorts of inner restrictions and constraints at a very subconscious level and this makes fertile ground for transformational planning. If you can’t get away though, do whatever you can to make genuine time and space. This process will demand a full day of uninterrupted focus at the absolute minimum.
Think about who you are becoming
Before you start thinking about what you want to achieve, take a moment to realise where you are, who you are, what’s been going on for you this last year and who you are now becoming. What’s important to you now? How are you going to show up in your life? What will you no longer tolerate? What sort of contribution do you want to make in the world? Take stock, contemplate and write.
List and prioritise your goals
Make a list of the big, important things you want to achieve this year - in life and in work - and then number them in order of priority. They should be clear and compelling goals, outcomes, results. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many and don’t dream up impossible ones either. Just get real with yourself about what’s actually important at this point in your life.
Plan each goal intelligently
- Think (and write if necessary): Thinking about your goals is hard, but the further you can delve into your mind the more intelligent your actions will be. It can help to write about and around your goal before actually planning it. Look at your goal and ask yourself “what is this really all about?”. Send that question into your mind as you would a web search… and write down what comes back.
- Get clear on the end game: Before making any plans, it’s crucial you have the end game right. So close your eyes and visualise what this will be like when it’s done. Forget about how you’re going to get there, just see the end game and write down a few bullet points that describe it. When you read it back it should energise, motivate and compel you.
- Consider your resources: What resources do you have available to help with this? What things and people can you draw on to support you? List them.
- Make an action plan: Now, carefully think through the things you are going to have to do in order to achieve your goal. Take your time and do your best. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the perfect plan; you will learn as you go. But you should end up with a ordered list of things to do. When you’re done, check the list against your end game… does it get you there?
Decide on your habits
Imagine this plan you’re making is a magnificent house. If the goals are the floors, then the habits are the structural foundations. You must have strong foundations, and the right foundations, if you are to successfully erect your magnificent house, floor by floor. There are two types of habit: new positive behaviours you want to promote, and old negative behaviours you want to restrict. Let’s say one of your goals is to further your education in world history. And let’s say you spend an unhealthy amount of time browsing the internet looking at useless nonsense (not talking about me, of course!). You may want two new habits: 1) restrict pointless web browsing, and 2) promote regular reading. Generally speaking, you should have habits that support your mind (e.g. reading), your body (e.g. running) and your soul (e.g. meditating). You don’t want too many habits, though, or it will become overwhelming... so choose wisely.
Good luck with your planning… and let me know how you get on in the comments!