How to Do Your Life PlanScott Williams
The old adage that ‘money isn’t everything’ is very true. Wealth, in its own right, is a pretty limited description of what goes together to make a life worth living. In 12Faces, we stress the need for a clear sense of direction for your business by way of having clear goals. This Recipe covers similar ground for yourself. Yellow Belt
The following material is written in the first person (i.e. I did this or that) as it reflects one 12Faces team members’ personal opinions and experiences. We felt you might be able to relate more to a personal approach, rather as a type of case study.
It might read as though it is directed at young people. That is not the case. We think that people of any age can benefit from setting up or reviewing life goals. As the saying goes, “today is the rest of your life!”
We focus on comfort here. We assume readers want a pleasant and fulfilling life; a comfortable life. There are plenty of other very worthy life goals but we assume you would be reading different books to this one if you wanted to follow some other path. No life goal (other than perhaps genocide and ones of that ilk) is better or worse than another. It’s a matter of what works for you. Society would be a funny thing if we all got turned on and off by the same things.
A Business Plan for Your Life
Personal goals and opinions are just that! They are not right or wrong and they only suit one person-yourself. This material is an example only, not something we are pushing you to adopt or follow.
Now read on in our case study.
I have been on the governing body of a couple of universities for about 19 years at the time of writing. Every year I go to the graduations of completed students and nearly always find myself looking back on my own time at university and being amazed yet again that I really had no idea what I was going to do after university and what direction my life would and should take. I wonder how many of the newly graduating students are in the same position. I wouldn’t mind betting that the majority are in coasting mode.
Sometimes when I am asked to address students on this topic I use a ship as an analogy.
Imagine you are setting out in a gleaming new vessel, the SS The Rest of My Life. The ship is all fired up and ready to go. Down in the engine room, the stokers have the boilers fired up to their maximum with all the stuff you learned at university. The SS The Rest of My Life is fairly flying through the water – pushing up a giant bow wave and leaving a churning wake behind. All systems are go!
But, up on the bridge where they keep the steering wheel thingy – there is no one at home.
No one to set the course and make sure it is followed.
So the SS The Rest of My Life ploughs though the water without any sense of direction!
All sorts of things can happen to our ship:
- It might run into shallow water and get stranded. This happens when your career comes to a halt.
- It might run into a reef or the mainland. This happens when you have a disaster in your life or career that it is going to be hard to recover from.
- If you are lucky, you make it into a harbour and can pause and rest and recharge.
- But, because you don’t have a course plotted out, you have no idea if this is the best harbour or one you want to stay in. All you know is that it is better than running aground out there in the real world!
- For safety sake, you might choose to stay in this harbour rather than venture out again.
- If this was your career, it just came to a halt!
In contrast, with modern day navigation systems and auto pilots, you can be almost 100 percent certain that your ship will get to its required destination once you plug the course into the navigation computer. You can also program in way points along the route where you want to take on fuel, food and water and to carry out timely repairs to avoid a mid-ocean breakdown.
Even if you inevitably get blown off course, the navigation software will plot you a new route to your destination.
Stop reading for just a minute and reflect on whether you have a course plotted out in your mind.
- Do you know how to make enough money to live comfortably?
- Do you know what it will take for you to feel comfortable?
My guess is that you don’t have a clear picture of where you want to go, beyond maybe some vague ideas about getting a job and moving up the ladder or something similar if you want to start up a business.
Business people face this uncertainly all the time when they are planning and running their businesses. They overcome the uncertainly by developing a ‘business plan’. This looks at the risks and uncertainties and plans ways of compensating for them. It looks at various business options and arrives at one that seems the best. It explores the human, money and other resources that are necessary for the plan to succeed. It works out how to sell the product to others.
As a consequence of this business planning process, the business has a far higher probability of success than if the owner just crossed their fingers and went off and started a business one day.
I feel very strongly that it is the same with your life. You can just let it happen and you can be confident that you will hit a few reefs along the way. Even when you get to port you won’t know it is the best harbour around or just the one you ended up in.
Consider the alternative. You set out at any point in your working career to plan your life as best you can at that point in time. You plot in a course to whatever harbours seem attractive at the moment and off you go!
Like any ship’s course where unexpected changes, for example weather and currents pop up from time to time, your navigation computer, once given a destination, automatically and easily recomputes the compass bearing you need to take to get to your chosen port of destination.
So you don’t get your personal business plan and your actual businesses’ plan mixed up, we will refer to your personal business plan as your “Life Plan” from here on. If you Google that term, you will find quite a few references to the concept and even some phone apps!
There is another aspect to building a Life Plan fairly early in life. Elsewhere in 12Faces we talk about Compound Interest. Basically, Compound Interest tells us that the longer the period you have placed an investment for, all things being equal, the more it will amount to if you keep reinvesting the interest. And it will grow exponentially (that is, faster and faster) – not in a straight line. If you invest $100 at 10% for 10 years, you will have $259 at the end of 10 years. If you made the same investment for double the time (20 years) you would actually have more than double the outcome; $673 to be exact. So you can see, the money grows disproportionately faster the longer you hold it in the investment.
Go to the article: How to Take Advantage of Compound Interest Accelerator
If you start a profitable business at 30 and hold it until you retire at 60, you will have much more than double the income than if you start it at 45 and run it for only 15 years instead of 30.
The moral of the story is, that the sooner you can get your business plans in place and profitable the better off you will be (all things being equal) than waiting till later in life – as I did somewhat to my regret. I got side-tracked for 7 years and missed out on starting my business that much sooner.
This is also true of your non-money goals and objectives in your Life Plan. The sooner you start a good relationship, the disproportionate benefits you will get from it compared to someone starting later in life. The same applies to building your reputation as we discuss later.
Building the Life Plan
Any plan you do will be unique to you and should cover the things that are relevant and important to you at your particular point in life.
The following are headings I suggest to get you started. You should add your own to this list.
I suggest you begin with a statement of your life goals.
By way of example only, this might be something like:
- To have sufficient income to
- Generate enough savings for me to retire comfortably by age 45 and
- To finance a good life for my family
- To make a worthwhile contribution to my community by involvement in community groups while I am alive and
- To leave sufficient funds to a charity in my Will so others can benefit.
- Etc. etc.
I encourage you to stop reading now and try to put together some life goals.
Did you try? Did you find it a bit of a challenge? Maybe you can now see that your life is something worth pondering about. Just like a business without a Vision or Mission Statement or core purpose, if you can’t write down some goals for your life, it’s going to be a bit of a hit and miss affair.
If you would like to read a bit more about this process, I recommend a five star book by Stephen Covey “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (Covey, 1989). His Second Habit (Begin with the End in Mind) covers this topic.
One suggestion on how to arrive at some life goals is that you imagine yourself at your own funeral. What would you like it to say on the epitaph?
Getting a handle on your life goals is arguably the most important step in your Life Plan. Remember my shipping analogy above. If the good ship SS The Rest of My Life doesn’t have a destination in mind, it is only going to get there by accident – and probably won’t even have a clue that it has arrived.
For this reason, all the rest of your Life Plan is going to hang off this end point or destination. As Covey says in his second habit of effective people, ‘begin with the end in mind’.
Don’t worry if you can’t get too far with your life goals as long as you can get a few down. This is a cyclical process that is likely to go on for the rest of your life so you have plenty of time to refine these goals as we go.
If this were a plan for a business, we would now begin to flesh it out with such major topics as:
- Competitor analysis.
- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis (SWOTS).
- Customer relations.
- Etc. etc.
So let’s have a look at some of the candidates for major topics in your Life Plan. My suggestions are only samples. Covey (Covey, 1989) has others and you can probably come up with some of your own.
House and Home
Here you might note down such things as where you want to live (town, countryside, seaside, high rise, suburbia, garden block etc.). You might want to note a shorter term location and type and a longer term aspiration as you gain your wealth. You can add holiday homes to this list if important.
We add this as, if these things are important to you, they will govern the type of business you will run. If you think you will be happiest at the seaside, running a business hundreds of kilometres inland is not going to make you too happy.
You might think you have to surrender a lot of business opportunities by being so specific. But later, we will show that there is no shortage of business opportunities and having a few selection criteria, like location, can help you prune down what is otherwise a big list.
Also, once you start your business, you probably can’t relocate it too quickly (for example: the staff won’t relocate with you) so you could be in the same location for years. Better to think ahead a bit as to whether the location suits you now rather than be restless at that location for years.
Your home is your oasis when you run a business (assuming it doesn’t run out of the home). You should describe the sort of things you want in your oasis to make you as comfortable as possible. They might not all be there on day one but a clear focus on what you want will tend to guide you towards them.
Many people (myself included) make the mistake of thinking they have to start a business where they happen to be at that time and give no thought to a happiness-maximising location as an alternative.
Running a business can be very tough on relationships. You are likely to become very fixated on your business. You should give some advanced thought to your partner, your friends and your family.
Your partner may not share your drive for your business and have other goals and aspirations. This would be more the rule than the exception. If children come along, you may move further apart due to changing focuses for each partner.
If your partner needs to move to follow a job opportunity, that may cause disharmony because your business might not be able to relocate. On the other hand, if you think you will need to move around to follow a partner, you can use this decision to narrow down the range of eligible businesses accordingly so you can have both a partner and a business.
Consider also that some 30 percent of marriages end in divorce and the rate of break-up in de facto relationships is probably higher. If this unfortunate situation should arise for you, should you give prior thought to protecting your business from being broken up in a divorce settlement.
You are likely to find that you and the friends you grew up with at school and in the neighbourhood start to drift apart.
They will largely have other routes for their life and might even find your drive to have a successful business somewhat confronting. This will be especially true once you start to earn a lot more than they do with your successful business.
If having friends is important in your life, you may have to add that to your business plan so that you consciously set out to find them. Most friends are friends of proximity. You move and you get a new set. Some friends are friends for life and are consequently very valuable to your well-being. Maybe your Life Plan should have a few notes about this.
Family can be a support or a challenge. You may have at least three families; the one you were born into and the one you marry into and the one of your own creation. If these families are important to you, maybe you should address them in your Life Plan.
On the face of it, you would be stupid to set out to be comfortably wealthy but, in the process, injure your health so that you die or become incapacitated before you have a chance to experience the benefits of your wealth.
But people do this all the time. They give themselves heart attacks, high blood pressure even diabetes. Some (men in particular) rarely get a medical check-up then get a unpleasant surprise when bad health hits them in the face. Women might forego the various female cancer checks that are unpleasant at the time but can save them from serious problems down the track.
In your Life Plan, you might put some goals about your medical health. One simple one is to have a complete medical check each year on your birthday. I give that date as it is easy to remember and you can be clear that it is 12 months since your last one. Do the blood and cancer tests, the internal examinations related to your gender, get the x-rays recommended, review the medicines and other treatments you already take to ensure they are still the best around for your existing medical conditions.
Much of your health may be genetically predetermined and so possibly beyond your control.
Your diet and exercise are two major determinants of health that are 100 percent within your control.
The old saying that “you are what you eat” would seem to be obviously true. If you consume food and drink of low nutritional value (cola and pizza), you have to imagine that you will be less healthy than if you eat a more balanced diet. When you are young, your body seems to be able to handle a bad diet and lack of exercise better than when you get older. Nevertheless, it probably is slowing you down. A poor diet might be a bit of a peer group thing (everyone else you know lives on pizza) but that just makes you a groupie. In fact, as a business owner, you will be anything but a groupie so why follow them with your diet. Perhaps your Life Plan says you will have 4 out of 7 ‘good’ meals a week as a target.
I find it very hard to get excited about exercise. It seems monotonous (tread milling) or time consuming (30 minutes a day walking) and easy to put off (it’s raining). I bought myself a treadmill so I wouldn’t have any excuse about the weather etc. If it is in front of a TV, you get a bit less bored and you can catch up on recorded favourites. I presently live on the 10th floor of an apartment block and have started walking up and down the stairs rather than take the lift. I am sure 10 flights of stairs several times a day is doing me some good and it only takes a few minutes.
If you are the CEO of your business, you are going to be the main driving force of that business. If the complex machine that is your body is not well tuned, the business will suffer. Use your Life Plan to make some decisions about what you think is necessary to give you the health to have a comfortable life.
Recreation and Pleasure
You probably have a good idea already of what sort of activity gives you pleasure and what things are necessary to maximise that pleasure. There is little point in becoming comfortably wealthy if you don’t get to use that wealth to maximise your pleasure.
Note down in your Life Plan some of the things you enjoy and put aspirational goals there for you to aim for. Remember, if you don’t have a route planned out for the SS The Rest of My Life it will only lead you to pleasurable pursuits accidentally.
If you like sailing, start with a small boat then plan to reward yourself with something larger when you hit some milestone in your business – say your first $500,000 profit.
Although you are likely to have a separate business plan, it is possible that you will share this with others like your accountant and staff.
You may well want to have some confidential stuff here that you don’t want them to see.
An example might be that you plan to sell the business next year. Not something that would motivate the staff if they saw it!
It is one thing to make your fortune. It is quite another thing to keep it and to grow it.
You can stop working at any time if you reach your personal level of comfortable wealth but you will probably live until you are 80 or 90 so there is an awful long time to manage your wealth after the machine that made it – your business – has been sold off.
Many self-help authors and successful business people believe strongly in showing gratitude for your successes. Bill Gates of Microsoft fame and Warren Buffet, the world’s best known investor, have both resolved to give away hundreds of millions, if not billions, to charitable work.
You might like to donate time and money as a way of saying thank you to society and whatever Gods you think have looked after you and guided you to success.
In this section of your Life Plan, begin to think of the types of good causes that resonate with you and write them down as the ones you expect to help over the course of your life.
You might not have specific beneficiaries in mind at this early stage but a general direction is quite sufficient. In my case, I enjoy educational philanthropy and my favourite charity has a philosophy rather like “give a person money and you feed them for a day. Give them an education and you feed them for life”.
The following topic is entitled ‘reputation’. One way of enhancing your reputation is to give away your time and money constructively. You can bet Gates and Buffet polished up their reputations by their enormous donations; and so can you.
My guess is that for many of us, an ideal life is about collecting both “fame and fortune”. The rest of 12Faces focuses on the “fortune” aspiration. Here we focus on the “fame” aspiration but we call it reputation.
Reputation is a tenuous thing. Someone once said it takes a lifetime to collect and a moment to lose. If you want a good reputation, you need to set out early to build it. The Law of Compound Interest works just as much for reputation as it does for wealth. The longer you have to build it the better it will become.
By way of example, I have been privileged to be designated a Member of the Order of Australia(AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Australian Honours list. It was one of only 225 given out that year. It is awarded by the Australian Government on the advice of a national selection panel.
Over a very contemplative weekend when this was announced I reflected on a lifetime of community activities (including public radio, local government, university governance ), business and educational philanthropy that were noted in the testamur that came along with the Honour.
I never planned for such an Honour because you can’t buy it, apply for it or be awarded it by any actions on your part – other than the reputation you build during your life.
But, long ago, I resolved to become involved in community activities that interested me and had something to offer me by way of experience. They went into my Life Plan long ago – some of them 40 years ago in hindsight.
Let me ramble on a bit about some of these. Not to feed my ego but to show how each reputation developing opportunity actually helped me become a better business owner.
I assisted in starting one of the first public radio stations in Australia because friends were. I was hopeless at technical stuff and broadcasting on air so I went into the management side of things; eventually acting as Chair of the Board for a while and sitting on the National public broadcasting body. It taught me a lot about managing volunteers who are harder to manage than workers because they aren’t tied by the threat of a salary.
I went into local government out of an interest to broaden my experience in that area. I was Mayor for 3 years while in my thirties and served on the State Executive of Local Government for two terms. In the mayoral role I learned about managing a $14 million budget, big machinery purchases and how to relate to the general public in my local government area. On the State executive, I was one of several other Mayors (and the youngest) and learned how to better relate to people who were already significant citizens in their own local government areas.
I was invited onto the governing body of a university and eventually rose to Deputy Chair of that body. The university had a $200million budget and employed 1,200 people at a time when my business had a $20 million budget and 20 employees. Over 14 years with the university, I learned a great deal about budgeting, HR and risk management that was invaluable in my own business.
So, although I entered into each of these activities for their own sake and for my education and to better my business management skills, they all added to my reputation and years later led to the award of my AM. Something I never planned on but was a direct outcome of the reputation I had unconsciously built over 40 years.
Imagine how great a reputation you could get if you start soon and let Compound Interest take control.
On a different front under the heading “reputation” on my Life Plan, I intentionally entered my business for public, competitive, business awards. This was a great challenge because I couldn’t control the outcome and our business was competing with other great businesses from all over Australia. We won the Telstra National Small Business Award which is Australia’s leading business award and the Australian Business Best Business award and appeared in the annual Business Review Weekly magazine list of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Businesses in Australia for 4 years – among several others. When we won these, the reputation of my business and inevitably of me was enhanced. The great staff of my business were also very proud of winning these national awards which boosted morale and made staff recruitment much easier. When we came to sell the business to an American company, it did no harm to be able to independently demonstrate the reputation they were buying via these awards.
Above I wrote about the importance of “gratitude’ that many successful business-people appear to believe in; myself included. Donating your time and money to good causes will burnish your reputation.
Because I think there is more to life than money and pleasure, I encourage you to give some thought to what, if any, notes you want to make about your reputation on your Life Plan.
Others to Consider
There is an endless number of other things you can consider here.
Some that might occur to you include:
- Mental health and especially stress.
- Some income parameters; target income, monthly expenditure, savings goals, superannuation/retirement funds, savings etc.
- Travel and holidays.
- Your SWOTS so that you can compensate for any deficiencies you think you should address.
- Education goals etc.
Visualising the Life Plan
By now, if you have done your homework as we went along, you should have the bones of a Life Plan.
If you use it properly, you are going to revisit this Plan on a regular basis so you want to put it into a format that will last over the years and where you can find it next time you go looking.
My original Plans were written out like a report – and were equally boring to read.
I discovered Mind maps (see Wikipedia article) a while back and now use them for any thing I want to visualise rather than read as a report. There is plenty of free and affordable software and mobile apps around to let you Mind map your Life Plan.
Here is a sample of what you might have come up with from reading this article so far. (not mine by the way!)
You can see how the Mind map allows you to visualise your thoughts very clearly. There are links between related issues (like wanting to live in Melbourne). I have used green to highlight areas that are a ‘work in progress’. The ‘Me Incorporated’ title is a play on the personal business plan idea.
You will notice that mapping out your life, as you presently see it, has begun to show some consistent ideas that you might not have thought through clearly before. You are keen to stay in Melbourne so that is going to be a selection criteria for your business. You are therefore going to want to find a partner who also wants to live in Melbourne. You have a passion to improve the control of diabetes so that is starting to guide your community work and how you will show gratitude for your good fortune. You want to sail now and more when you retire so you want a retirement home on the waterfront.
Rather than letting your life blow in the wind, you have started to block out big chunks of it, your route in life is clearer and your internal navigation system and auto pilot have something more to work with than randomness.
Military people as far back as Sun Zu in 300BC say that you can plan as much as you like but the moment the first gun fires everything changes.
That is just as true for both your personal and your business’ business plans. They should be fairly dynamic; always changing with changing circumstances. You can review your plans as often as you like to keep them up to date as your thinking and experiences evolve. The Japanese term Kaizen (a process of steady incremental improvement) applies equally to your Life Plan as to other processes.
Go to the article: How Kaizen Leads to Continuous Incremental Improvement
One thing that is important is to revisit them frequently enough to keep them in your head. If you don’t, you will lose touch with your navigation plan and start to wander off course. It seems that people can remember details for about three months then short term memory gets refiled as long term memory. Therefore you should probably look at them at least every three months to keep them fresh in your mind.
Several well-known life coaches like Tony Robbins, Wallace D. Wattle and Napoleon Hill encourage you to look at your goals every day so that they are deeply ingrained into your mind.
Go to the Menu: Great Business Books
Another good practice might be to spend some serious thinking time overhauling and refreshing your Life Plan every birthday (remember, just like the annual medical check, this is an easy date to remember) or for New Year’s resolutions. Make this a habit!
However, the one thing that should remain fairly consistent is your personal goals (or your Mission if we are talking about your business). Just like a compass needle that is always drawn to North no matter how much it is shaken up, both your Personal and your Business Plans will be drawn back to your principal life and business goals as their reference point.
In this 12Faces article, we have introduced the idea that a worthwhile life goal is to maximise your comfort or well being.
While this might happen by accident, it is much more likely to happen and to reach its maximum if you know what constitutes a comfortable life for you.
After all, if you haven’t thought about what is a comfortable life for you, how on earth will you know when you have reached it? Will you go through life with a bit of a nagging thought that ‘there must be more to life than this’?