7 Best Practices for Life Planners

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the Building Champions Experience. I spoke on the topic of “Making a Greater Difference Outside the Office.” I specifically focused on how the discipline of life planning had made that possible for me.

Man Sitting on a Dock with a Laptop - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Claudiad, Image #10484365

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Claudiad

Note: I originally learned about life planning in 2001 from Daniel Harkavy. He is the CEO and founder of Building Champions and the author of Becoming a Coaching Leader: The Proven Strategy for Building Your Own Team of Champions.

In my speech, I outlined seven best practices as it relates to life planning. Whether you are just getting started with life planning or have been doing it for several years, you can improve the effectiveness of your life planning by employing these seven practices.

  1. Recruit a life plan accountability partner. If you want to finish your life plan and make sure you actually implement it, recruit an accountability partner (see Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10). The best option is a coach who is trained in life planning. The next best option is a close friend who learns along with you. Regardless, having an accountability partner is an important key to success.
  2. Regard your life plan as a work in process. Don’t shoot for perfect—that day will never come. Instead, complete your first draft and assume it is a living document. You will revise it as necessary, always fine-tuning, always tweaking.
  3. Recognize the season you are in. Are you in a spring, summer, fall, or winter season? It makes a difference. You may not be able to do what I do. I may not be able to do what you do. The critical thing is to each be doing what we should be doing in this season of our lives, focusing on what matters most now.
  4. Realign your priorities as needed. Earlier in my life, my children were a high priority. Friends were a lower priority. Community service wasn’t even on the list. Now that has changed. This is natural. You have to adjust your priorities as circumstances change. Be flexible—while remaining true to your values.
  5. Review your life plan weekly. It is not a document you finish and then file away. The key to implementation is visibility. You must review your life plan on a regular basis. Daily is too much for me. Monthly is not frequent enough. In my experience, weekly is just right. I review my life plan as part of my Weekly Review Process.
  6. Revise your life plan quarterly. Plans are only useful if they are relevant. Your circumstances can change quickly. Your action plans must shift accordingly. That’s why I recommend getting away for a half-day to day-and-a-half on a quarterly basis. Use part of this time to review your life plan and revise it. I refer to this as the Quarterly Review.
  7. Reserve time annually for your most important priorities. This has been a huge help to me, particularly as things got crazy. I reserve the week between Christmas an New Years to plan out the coming year. I don’t plan every detail—far from it. But I do put the big rocks in the jar first by scheduling my most important priorities. I have created a tool for this called the Annual Time Block.

Trust me. I don’t have life planning all figured out. I am still learning and adjusting. But after a decade as a practitioner, I wanted to share these “best practices” with you in the hope that they will benefit you on your journey to living with more intention.

Question: What best practices have you discovered with regard to life planning? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    I’ve learned how important accountability is. I still have a hard time sticking with it. I get excited to do create the plan and live it out, for about a week. It looks great on paper. But when it comes to living it, I still have a lot of work to do. 

    • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

      What things have you been able to stick with? What was it about them or the situation that enabled you to be consistent over time?

      Michael’s advice to work with a trained coach would seem to apply here as well. Coaches aren’t experts of your life or industry. But they can provide needed questions, ideas, and accountability to help you reach your goals.

      • BethMcKamy

        Brad, how would a person go about finding a trained coach?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Look here. These guys are the best!

          • BethMcKamy

            Thanks Michael…..will do!

        • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

          Beth, In full disclosure I’m an executive coach (trained by the Institute for Intercultural Coach Training and Leadership Systems, Inc.). However to answer your questions:

          1) International Coach Federation – This is the largest COACH training and accrediting organization in the world. They have a “coach directory” on their website. I do not have much experience with ICF to endorse any particular person or training program by them.

          2) Building Champions – (http://buildingchampions.com/) Recommended by Michael Hyatt and many others. See their website for more information.

          3) Leadership Systems, Inc. – See (http://www.leadershipsystems.net). I received part of my training here and currently am an adjunct executive coach. LSI has provided coaching to many Fortune 500 companies in the USA and internationally.

          Contact me directly (http://www.bradandlindsey.com) if you need more specific information for a specific situation or are looking for a referral to a coach with experience in a certain niche. Hope this is helpful.

      • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

        Well, I stick with what my general goals are and what I need to do to get there. But saying, for example, I want to do A, B, and C by so and so date doesn’t always get done. 

        Having others ask me about it though and holding me accountable to reaching my goal helps. 

  • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

    This is very helpful for me!  

    I created my life plan just over a year ago and have been amazed at the results!  I am so much more intentional with my time and resources now.  I am more focused from week to week on what I believe God has called me to do with my life in this season.  I am also preparing for the next season!However, I do not have an accountability partner for this plan.  I had never thought of that…I like the idea!  Now I just need to find someone to do it!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Having an accountability partner is a great way to both hold yourself accountable and introduce someone else to the whole process. Good luck!

      • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

        Thanks!  

        By the way, I enjoyed you “heart” talk this afternoon at Catalyst!  I am looking forward to going back to my business and looking for what is “missing” versus what is “wrong.”  That struck a chord with me.

        It was also good to finally meet you and have a few words with you outside.  As I expected, you are just as real in person as you appear here on your blog!  Thank you for that!

        I continue to appreciate your selfless sharing of your wisdom and experience.  I am impacted.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your kind words. It was good to meet you, too. Enjoy the test of the conference!

  • Alan Kay

    Love the list, thanks. 
    My contribution would be…at points where you are reviewing progress add in the questions,- What’s working (that we want build on)- What could be done differently- What would be a small first step (to see ourselves making progress)

  • Marcus Bigelow

    Great post, Michael.  I find that every year, on New Year’s day, it’s time to pull out my life plan and do a thorough renewal–marking accomplishments, changes and new directions.  

    My accountability partner and I review our lifeplans twice a month to keep us on track.

  • http://twitter.com/jerburroughs Jeremy Burroughs

    Michael I appreciate so much your leadership with the life plan. Creating my own life plan has helped me so much. And I appreciate your reminders about the weekly reviews. That is something I want to be more faithful with. Thank you again!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome, Jeremy.

  • http://www.patrickruggeri.com Patrick Ruggeri

    Great list! I appreciate that you point out that a life plan is a living document. I am still working on my life plan and I find myself concerned with making it perfect. A living document can be refined as we live it out and that helps busy people like myself gain perspective. Thanks again!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great! The key is getting that first draft done. It gets much easier after that.

  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher

    Mike,  Good stuff.  My biggest ‘challenge’ is #5.  The weekly review, AND I have a process.  THe biggest challenge is me.  When I do the review, I am assessing whether or not I adhered to my disciplines and like a good BC client should do, I ask myself what I need to Keep, Start, and Stop doing to get better.  I write no more than 1 of each and then pray over those things.  Now, if I could just KEEP myself doing this discipline weekly!!  One thing I found useful was that I traveled a good bit and the life plan can be a bulky document, so I created a “one-pager”  that has all my accounts and my disciplines to review.  Eliminated that excuse.  Anyway, thanks for sharing and for exposing another of my gaps!!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s the biggest challenge for all of us, including me.

      I now keep my life plan in Evernote, so it is instantly available on all my devices.

      • Cgrady

        I am a Newbie to the Life Plan.  I’m glad I ran across your post to keep my life plan in Evernote.

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        oh… Great idea!

  • Gabriela Lytle

    Letting go the mistakes and keep going knowing every day is another step towards my goal..forgiving myself and not dwelling on the past…my present is also my future (:

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Thanks for leading the charge on Life Planning, Michael. One of the important things that I need in a life plan is a goal that is bigger than me. Something that stretches me and helps me wake up excited everyday. As we get older, it’s easy to give up and say that there are things we can’t do anymore. It’s easy to be complacent and just take life as it comes. 

    So many people that I know have two goals in life. One is to win the lottery, and the other is to reach retirement so they don’t have to work any longer. Unfortunately, the lottery never pays off,  and without a goal, the average lifespan after retirement is about four years.

    My dad has always been my greatest mentor. He made it to the age of 94 by having a great attitude, a cheerful heart, and a dogged refusal to grow up. He never wanted to be called a senior citizen. He rode his bike over 10 miles every day until his late 80’s. He loved his job and worked until they forced him to retire at 75. Growing up, he always had a positive and contagious spirit. He would always remind me that I could do amazing things if I would just put my mind to it. He truly believed in me.

    One of the best things we can do is help others see the potential that they have to change the world and make it a better place. We all have abilities and talents. We just need a path to see them to fruition. A life plan is a great place to start.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I love the story about your dad. Awesome!

  • http://smallgroupbooks.com Ryan Knight

    I always immediately think of Michael Hyatt when considering my Life Plan. He’s the go-to guy on the subject. Great stuff.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ryan.

  • http://www.blogwithcareracter.com Rashad Morris

    A couple of best practices that I find helpful are consistent review, immediate action and ongoing conversations with your accountability partner. This helps to keep you moving forward and continues to provide clarity to your plan.

    The,other thing I found is helping someone else plan theirs and/or holding them accountable. It helps to shed light on areas of your life plan that may need work or action and it also encourages you to move forward.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I really agree with your second point. That has helped me more than anything.

  • http://www.solobizcoach.com SoloBizCoach

    Great advice Michael. I really need to start reviewing my life plan more regularly. I love the idea of a weekly review, but I worry that I will put it off too often.

    On a separate matter, would you mind sharing with me the tools you used to create and publish your Life Plan ebook? It looks like you used Adobe Acrobat, but I would be interested in knowing the details of what you used and whether you liked it.

    Thanks,
    Fred

  • http://expatlifecoach.com John Falchetto

    Thank you for this post Michael.
    The most common challenge I see is individuals who choose someone else’s life plan.
    I was speaking with a client who is a father, a husband, a business owner and he wanted the life plan of a single, man who spends 20 hours a day on his business.

    We have to recognize who we are and then design a life plan. Not choose someone’s else.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s a really good point. Thanks.

  • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

    Life planning has been tough for me. I’ve read your ebook and all of your posts on the subject. I’ve taken your template out and started it several times, but I can never seem to get it off the ground. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s where getting an accountability partner would really help. Do it with someone else. It will make a difference.

      • BethMcKamy

        Eric, I have the same problem, and also it has been difficult for me to find an accountability partner. Part of my problem with “getting it off the ground” is that I have a tendency to schedule something into every minute of the day. Then I get overwhelmed and shut down the process. But when I try to simplify, I leave important task out. I guess I am having problems identifying priorities because to me everything is important. I also find that doing my review once a week can also be overwhelming. When I look at my outline and plan, I find myself spending too much time disecting it all and tweeking. In other words I can’t seem to be happy for any length of time with the outcome, so I am constantly changing it, almost obsessively. I need to find a way to limit the process to a certain block of time either daily, weekly, or monthly, or if not I will find myself spending all my time on making the plan instead of living it!

        Any ideals from anyone that might can help me with this?

        • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

          One idea might be to simply start with one section of your life plan at a time.  Add the rest one at a time as you go.  I tend to be the perfectionist also.  I want things to be in their place right away.  So Istarted with my personal life, marriage and family, and my ministry.  Health and exercise came later.  (Or will come later…  Still not doing to well with the whole exercise thing…)  And now, over a year later, I can see things being where they need to be.  For now.

        • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

          I know the feeling. I’ve gotten pretty good at getting done the things that need to be done, but it’s hard to prioritize and think big. I read GTD in 2005 and I’ve never been able to get a weekly review off the ground.

          A few things I’ve done lately to get traction are to use Remember The Milk and Evernote. If I have an idea that I don’t know what to do with, I email it directly to Evernote. If I come up with an action I need to do, I email it to RTM. 

          For priorities, I think them through. When I’m presented with a choice between two actions, I do a quick process of urgent/important. 

          But if I expect to achieve greatness, I need to take this to a higher level.

          • BethMcKamy

            Thanks Jeff and Eric….that’s a big help!

      • http://emuelle1.blogspot.com Eric S. Mueller

        For some reason, I had the idea that my accountability partner wasn’t interested. But I brought the idea up today, and he said to send him the link because it sounded good. Awesome. I thought I brought it up before. Maybe I did a better job of selling the idea this time. I put it in the context of IT projects, since we’re both IT managers. I told him “We wouldn’t upgrade a server without a plan. Why do we live our lives without one?”

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    One thing I have  discovered is the need for flexibility during this entire process of life planning. (point # 4).  My primary intention is to keep reminding myself the destinations to be reached utimately. I ensure that I enjoy the journey during this process. This life planning exercise has served as a good and valuable sign post to me.

  • http://www.linchpinbloggers.com/ Don McAllister

    Your life plan was what introduced me to your website. Love it and love your posts here! I have to get better at reviewing mine more frequently. 

  • http://twitter.com/jamespinnick7 James Pinnick

    “Realign your priorities as needed.”

    I’m trying but its difficult when you have 17 different things pulling you in each direction and you feel they are each important. I just have to figure it out! Thank you always Mike-

    James
    Author-The Last Seven Pages
    http://www.jamespinnick.com

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    I have struggled with your second point. There are so many things that I plan out or have to have down perfectly that I forget life changes, it shifts and plans change. It makes sense that our values hopefully wont change, especially when founded on Biblical truths but that what is important may. I find myself wanting to write down a copy of my life plan and I want it to be perfect the first time. I keep getting frustrated because it is not. Thanks for the reminder that it is ok for change to happen and it just takes review and revision!

  • http://golfwisdomlife.com Larry Galley

    Michael –
    Thanks for sharing this piece.  I have passed it on to other members of my family and will be doing so to some of my colleagues.  While I am sure it is implied, I think it is worth noting that for my Life Plan to be an effective life management tool I need to be thoroughly objective and honest with myself when executing the process. That is why step one  is so important to me.  He helps “keep me honest” and on task.  I appreciate all of the input you are providing. 

    Larry Galley

    • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

      How did you go about seeking out an accountability partner? I have been wondering this because I have just moved over a month ago and I do not know anyone here and the people I do know do not seem to be very purpose driven or are too busy with other tasks.

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        Step one.  Pray.  God sends people into our lives.  Step two.  Pay attention to those around you.  It might not be the one you expect it to be.  Step three.  Start asking people.  Easy as that for me.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Great advice, Jeff. Thanks for stepping and offering it.

          • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

            Thanks, Michael!

  • Eduardo Petrecca

    Thanks Michael for your advice. I’ve learned to have a small print of my quarter objetives in my wallet so every time a pay for something it reminds me my targets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laura-Krämer/100001481863376 Laura Krämer

    Thanks for validating the need to change with the season we are in. I am currently making changes to flex better with the season I am currently in. It is important to recoginze when the season shifts from one focus to another. I’m finally learning to embrace it, rather than fight.

    I confess I downloaded your Life Plan ebook months ago with every intention of opening it and at least reading it…I failed even that. If I can’t do a project with excellence I tend to become a bit paralyzed and let it sit. With the recent book cover change and this post I think it is time to stop procrastinating and do it–and be ok if it is not perfect.

    Thank you for your encouragement.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Go for it!  I found it refreshing to have a plan in place that would actually help me accomplish what I wanted out of  life.  And, as mentioned above, it is a work in progress…. every day, week, month, quarter…

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good for you. It is never too late to start.

  • http://highpointchurch.us Andrew VanDerLinden

    This is one area that is so easy to procrastinate.  Thank you for the very easy and practical steps.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Great points here!  I’ve been writing goals for years, but they never seemed to do much for me.  Then, a couple of years ago, I started breaking down my yearly goals into quarterly goals.  That helped immensely.  After I started using your life plan ideas, I now have that in place, and use the quarterly goals to make sure every Quarteyly Review shows some preogress in my different areas.  Thanks again for all your help! 

  • Anne J

    Ask God for his wisdom on a daily basis.

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    I think one of the keys to having a successful life plans is taking the time to review it frequently. In times past I’ve done well with goal setting and planning but things usually fell apart because I did not schedule regular time to review what I was doing to be sure that I was on track.

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  • Holly Moore

    Mike

    This was an incredibly helpful post, and I appreciate you taking the time to write on this topic frequently and in-depth.  I have done some planning and goal setting throughout my life, but believe that getting more intentional about developing a detailed life plan as you described is somthing I must do!  I plan to get started this fall, and then take a block on time over the holidays to plan out 2012.

    Thanks for being a great mentor “from afar”.  

    Sorry I missed seeing you at Catalyst this year.  Know you’re session was terrific

    Holly Moore

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Holly. Missed you today. Tim interviewed me, and it was great to see him.

  • Roland

    Another odd post! 
    [7 Best Practices For Life Planning, 5 Ways To Retain Top
    Talent, 9 Suggestions For Taking Better Headshots, 7 Characteristics of Landing
    Pages That Get Results, 3 Blogging Experiments That Might Make You A Better
    Writer, 7 Ways Successful Creatives Think Differently, 5 Ways Leaders Can
    Instantly Shift Momentum, 3 Keys to Marketing Fiction In The Current
    Environment….etc., etc.];-) 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Copy writing research shows that people respond better to odd numbers than even. Go figure. (No pun intended.)

      • Anonymous

        Ok.  I almost typed “that’s odd”.

      • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

        Wow, that’s something I never knew. I always wondered why so many lists had odd numbers.

  • Anonymous

    I especially needed to hear #2.  The need to create THE perfect plan often overwhelms me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/louise.thaxton Louise Thaxton

    I really enjoyed hearing you speaking at the Experience!  My best practice has been to reserve time annually for the priorities in my life.  It seems for the last three years one of those “annual” events has been the Building Champions’ “Experience” – a time to get away to reflect, renew, retreat.   But one thing I need to work on is the “reviewing the life plan weekly….” –

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. The Experience is a great time to reflect, renew, and retreat.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    The accountability piece is huge. As a life coach myself, I enlist the help of other life coaches to guide me through the empty nest transition.

    I greatly appreciate Michael’s point of not aiming for “perfect.” Life is a journey of perpetual transitions and transformations. We don’t complete this journey till we go home to see the Lord.

    I would like to add one “Best Practice.” It’s critical to include your spouse of significant other in the conversation. In some ways, my husband is one of my accountability partners.

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    One of the most unforgettable principles I’ve learned with regard to life planning was what a supervisor taught me some time ago: If you don’t plan it, it is at least 50% less likely to ever get done.

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    Perhaps you could separate them into Thematic and Actionable/Tangible Goals. This way you could have more broad goals (thematic) under which you could list out your tangible goals for the day/week.

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  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Michael, I agree that having an accountability partner while creating a life plan is a huge help. Knowing that someone is walking alongside you as you both are crafting out your life is an encouragement.

  • http://simplemom.net Tsh @ SimpleMom.net

    I find it helpful to regularly make sure I’m looking ahead, behind, and next to me. By that, I mean I’m being mentored by someone ahead of me in the game (maybe older than me, in a farther-along life stage, or more successful professionally, etc.), I’m mentorING someone behind me in the game (not in a derogatory sense, of course—simply that they’re younger, in a earlier life stage, or are just getting started as a blogger, etc.), and that I’m being held accountable with someone next to me (a peer). If any of those pieces are missing, I tend to feel imbalanced.

    I’m starting training as a life coach along with continuing as a writer, so I really appreciate your thoughts here, Michael!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Laura-Krämer/100001481863376 Laura Krämer

    I had to find this post again.

    I remember reading it at my dining table and when I read #3 (seasons) and #4 (realign priorities) everything clicked. I knew my priorities were wrong. Everytime I said yes to ministry I was saying no to my marriage and my young boys. I justified it. Afterall ministry is “important”. But my spirit was not settled. I was striving most of the time–in everything. Life was passing me by and I knew it. Somehow God used your post to give me permission to pull back and refocus. It’s only been a little over a month from when you originally posted this…and my life–is forever changed to say it mildly.

    Thank you.

  • Joseph Film

    Setting aside regular time to plan next steps. Frequently measuring progress. Constant course correction. Grading myself on how accurately I followed steps. Listing possible reasons I will slack off, list things I will do to counteract them. Asking myself where I’m kidding myself. Communioning with the parts of myself that have something to say. Knowing the next step. Having a process to remedy my lack of forward movement. Discussing with myself, anything I am avoiding. Having a process for resolving fear. Visually representing next steps.