Creating a Life Plan

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I have met very few people who have a plan for their lives. Most are passive spectators, watching their lives unfold a day at a time. They may plan their careers, the building of a new home, or even a vacation. But it never occurs to them to plan their life. As a result, many end up discouraged and disillusioned, wondering where they went wrong.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/jodiecoston, Image #4990849

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/jodiecoston

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can live your life on purpose. It begins by creating a “Life Plan.” This won’t insulate you from life’s many adversities and unexpected twists and turns, but it will help you become an active participant in your life, intentionally shaping your own future.

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About six years ago, Daniel Harkavy, CEO and Head Coach of Building Champions, helped me create my very first Life Plan. It was the first time I ever thought systematically about what outcomes I wanted to see in the major categories of my life.

About a year later, Dan Meub, one of Daniel’s associates, began to work with me. He’s now been my executive coach for almost five years. During this time we have reviewed and updated my Life Plan numerous times. I now also review it formally during my Quarterly Review.

This process of creating and regularly reviewing my plan has been transformational. As my family, friends, career, and other interests have grown, this document has kept me on track, ensuring that I keep everything in balance (more or less). When things get chaotic, it serves as a map, telling me where I am and how to get back on the path to my intended destination.

In this post, I want to share with you how to create such a plan for your life. My comments will get you started, but I would also suggest that you read Chapter 5, “Your Life Plan,” in Becoming a Coaching Leader by Daniel Harkavy. The whole book is excellent, but this chapter in particular will describe the process in more detail. You should also note that my Life Plan outline is slightly different than Daniel’s. I have modified it through the years, but the essence remains the same.

My Life Plan is surprisingly short; it is only five pages long. It consists of three sections:

  • Outcomes
  • Priorities
  • Action Plans

Outcomes

In the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, bestselling author Stephen Covey says that Habit 2 is to “Begin with the End in Mind.” Similarly, I have written in another place, “What Will They Say When You Are Dead?

This is an incredibly powerful question. To answer it, you have to “fast forward” to the end of your life and look back. You are forced to think about the things that matter most.

I selected six key constituents or audiences: God, My Spouse, My Children, My Parents, My Colleagues, and My Friends. (You may have others.) I then simply answered the question, “How do I want them to remember me?”

For example, I said this under the “My Spouse” category:

I want Gail to remember how I loved her, understood her, and helped her accomplish her dreams. I want her to remember specific times that we shared together—times we laughed, times we cried, times we spent discussing things that were important to both of us, and times we just held one another and watched the sunset.

Under the “My Colleagues” category, I said this:

I want my colleagues to remember my servant-leadership, my integrity, my humility, and my commitment to having fun. I want them to remember how much they learned and grew as a result of knowing me. Most of all, I want them to remember how I empowered them to accomplish far more than they ever thought possible.

As you go through this exercise, I would encourage you to visualize your own funeral. I don’t intend this to be morbid, but you must understand that life is short. When you are gone, the only thing left are the memories that you have created.

What will people be saying about you at your funeral? What will think as they reflect on their relationship with you and your impact on their life? The good news is that you can shape these conversations beginning today.

Priorities

Next, you need to identify and prioritize your “life accounts.” As Daniel explains in his book, life is like a collection of bank accounts. Each has a certain value. A few have giant balances, a few others might have respectable balances, and a few might be overdrawn.

For example, your career might be going great, but your health account is overdrawn—you are eating too much junk food and you are getting absolutely no exercise. Or perhaps you’re in great shape physically, but your marriage has gone flat. You and your spouse have become two strangers living in the same house.

In the Priorities section, your goal is simply to answer the question, “What is important to me?” By way of example, I have eight accounts:

  1. God
  2. Self
  3. Gail
  4. Children
  5. Friends
  6. Career
  7. Finances
  8. Ministry

I actually cheated a bit by creating three sub-accounts under my Self account. Under it, I have Health, Growth, and Rest accounts.) Fewer accounts are better, of course, but you also want to make sure you cover everything. If you want to know why I put Self second, read my earlier post in answer to the question, “How do you balance work with the rest of your life?”)

Action Plans

This is where it all comes together. You take each account and think through where you are and where you want to be. I break each account down into five parts:

1. Purpose Statement:

This is where you state what your purpose is with the account. Again, using my Health account as an example, I say this:

My purpose is to maintain and care for the temple God has given me.

The Statement of Purpose for my Friends account is this:

My purpose is to befriend and love a few people well who will in turn love, challenge, and hold me accountable.

2. Envisioned Future:

This is where you describe how the account looks when you have a positive net worth. In a financial account, it is easy to see. If the number is positive it is good; if it is negative (or red), it is bad.

Here, however, you have to do a little more work. You need to describe the account when it is functioning at its best, using the present tense, like it is already a reality.

For example, here’s the Envisioned Future for my Health account:

I am lean and strong, possessing vibrant health and extraordinary fitness. My heart is strong and healthy. My arteries are supple and clear of obstructions. My auto-immune system is in excellent condition; I am disease-, infection-, and allergy-resistant. I have more than enough energy to accomplish the tasks I undertake. This is because I control my mental focus, workout six days a week, choose healthy foods, take supplements as needed, and get adequate rest.

3. Supporting Verse:

A Bible verse is optional, of course. It may not be important to you. But it is important to me, because I want my life to be built on transcendent values that have stood the test of time.

The Bible verse I chose for my Children account is this:

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” (Psalm 127:3-4, NKJV)

The Bible verse for my Career account is this:

“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” (Matthew 25:20-21, NKJV)

4. Current Reality:

Now it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself. Where are you in relationship to your Envisioned Future? Don’t pull any punches. The more honest you can be, the more progress you will see.

I list these as a series of bullets and try to write down the first things that come to mind without too much analysis. For example, here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago in my Health account:

  • I feel great. My stamina is great. It’s been a long time since I have been sick.
  • I feel good about my weight and my overall fitness.
  • I am running (or cross-training) four days a week for at least 60 minutes.
  • I am not presently doing any strength training. I am concerned this will eventually catch up with me.
  • I am eating pretty well, but I could be more consistent in choosing more healthy foods.

I would share more, but, frankly, it’s too personal. And that is just how you want it. You want it to be so personal and so honest that if anyone else read it, you would be embarrassed.

Keep in mind that you will not be sharing this document with anyone, except for one or two people you will intentionally enlist to keep you accountable. (In my case, I only share my Life Plan with Dan, my coach, and Gail, my wife.)

5. Specific Commitments:

This is where you specifically commit to certain actions in order to move from your Current Reality to your Enhanced Future. Again, I list these as a series of bullets. Again, using my Health account as an example, here are my specific commitments:

  • Run (or cross-train) four days a week.
  • Do strength training three days a week.
  • Drink four liters of water a day.
  • Make healthy food choices, as recommended in The South Beach Diet.
  • Get an annual physical and semi-annual dental check-up.

When you initially create your Life Plan, I recommend that you set aside a full day to do so. It’s not the writing that takes this long. It’s the thinking. In fact, this is the most important aspect of Life Planning: thinking long and hard about your life and where it is going.

To get you started, I have created a Life Plan template. It is a simple Word document, which you can modify to meet your needs.

Question: What could a life plan make possible for you?

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