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We all have goals, dreams, desires, and aspirations. We all have plans, too – that’s not the issue. The problem is that most of us aren’t consistent and deliberate enough with our approach to see substantial change.

Before you set yourself up for failure, you need to realize that change takes time. You need to take things slowly, improving the areas of your life one at a time. If you try to do too much at once, you’ll eventually wear yourself out and quickly give up.

Most ‘ultimate guides’ to life planning bombard you with tips and information on how to be a perfect human by doing everything right and leading a happy life as a result. Unfortunately, that’s not the most efficient way to go about it because perfect situations are rarely encountered in life – shocking, right!?

The thing is, we’re all different. And rather than trying to fix everything at once, it makes more sense to take a step back and evaluate your current life situation first. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how to bring about positive life changes and prepare for the future by asking the right questions.

How to create a 5-year plan

You want to start with looking very far in the future. Where do you want to be roughly? To give you a better idea of the full process, I’ll walk you through the 5-year plan I created in 2015 before I started my blog and online career.

A plan is nothing more than a combination of goals (what you want to achieve) and actions (how you’re going to achieve it). Like most amateur goal-setters, I started with nonsense like, “I want to make a million bucks a year, five years from now!”

I don’t set goals for things I don’t control anymore. But it was a good goal at the time because it helped me think differently. To make large sums of money, you can’t be an employee. You have to be an entrepreneur.

To create your 5-year plan, simply write down a few big goals you want to focus on. If you’re not sure about your 5-year plan yet, or if it feels like your goals are too vague, then you might have a general lack of direction in life. And that’s okay. The important thing is that you’re now aware of it and you can make a positive change.

Other than earning more, I also wanted to live somewhere warm, and have a few people working for me. Notice that my 5-year plan was very ambiguous. “Somewhere warm” could be many places. I like to stay flexible because that’s the most realistic approach to life.

I didn’t achieve all my 5-year goals, but that’s fine. Having a plan guided me in the right direction. I’m financially free now and have two people working for me as well. And though I don’t currently live somewhere warm, I will probably make that move soon.

How to create a 1-year plan

You might think, “Why jump from a 5-year plan to a 1-year plan?” Creating a plan for the next 2, 3, or 4 years doesn’t make sense to me. The purpose of the 5-year plan is to help you move in a certain direction. The goal of the 1-year plan is to help you execute.

It’s always important to set realistic goals. And the process of making your 1-year plan forces you to evaluate whether your goals are achievable in that timeframe. For example, let’s say your overall goal is to quit your current job and become a full-time entrepreneur.

Can you do all of that within a year? Probably not. So you have to decide what you will focus on first. So ask yourself: What do I need to achieve this year to move a little bit closer to my 5-year plan?

The biggest mistake I see with ambitious people is that they overestimate what they can achieve within a year. Remember that the key to continuous progress is making consistent steps forward. But you’ll be surprised what you can achieve over five years.

How to create a life plan in 5 easy steps

You can do this with pen and paper, or on a computer. The important thing is writing it down in some form. (Personally, I like writing my life plan on my laptop. It’s much easier to edit!)

1. Create a vision for your future

Getting to know your future self will also give you guidance for the decisions you make in the present. When you can see who you want to be in the future, you know what you need to do today to be that person.

2. Identify your priorities and values

Everything you wrote down in step 1 needs to be based on the values you identify in step 2. The vision you see for your ideal future says a lot about what’s important to you.

Those you placed at the top of each list are what you value the most and will require more of your attention. You will want to create goals (step 3) that align with these values and allow you to maximize your investment in them.

What is truly important to you in life should influence your decisions. Be specific about your priorities so you know what is non-negotiable and what can be compromised.

For example, if spending a lot of time with your grandchildren is a high value to you, then you may want to plan for living close to them, having a house big enough for sleepovers, taking them on vacations, etc.

This assessment will help you know what you need to do to get your life in greater alignment with your priorities. You’ll know where you need to spend your time, and what actions will bring the most meaningful results.

3. Establish your high-level goals

Maybe you need to generate a higher income, or retire by a certain date. You may need to go back to school, or learn new skills. Your values may guide you to plan a big move, or start a business.

And, these aren’t just practical steps for tangible results. When you think about your values, and how you want your life to reflect them, this also includes the person you will become. What work do you need to do on the inside to achieve your ideal future self?

4. Plan your steps

You need to identify the actions that will move you toward your goals. Do this by breaking down your high-level objectives into annual, monthly, quarterly, weekly, and daily steps.

Two great books that helped me with this process are The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran, and The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. Both books focus on how to identify the smaller, short-term goals you need to accomplish in order to reach the big ones.

This could be something as simple as a calendar, as common as a daily planner, or as complex as a multi-page spreadsheet. You can be as creative or nerdy as you want – just make sure it’s not complicated or uninspiring to you.

So, it’s *especially* important to incorporate a plan to deal with these events. Know what you’ll do when something goes wrong or unplanned. Know how you’ll respond to mistakes and failures. Know which way you’ll turn if there’s a roadblock in your way.

5. Have accountability

If you have a spouse or partner, I’m sure he or she is a big part of your life plan. So, make sure you’re both on the same page. One way to do this is by having weekly or monthly date nights to go over your progress and discuss upcoming action steps.

Hold each other accountable when motivation wanes and vision blurs. Remind each other of the reasons for the decisions you’ve made. Encourage one another when it seems like nothing is working.

Another way to foster accountability is by creating a progress tracker that’s kept in a common space, such as the kitchen or TV room. You could get creative with a poster board or just print something out.

Let your kids, extended family, and friends see how much you’ve accomplished and how far you have to go. This is a great way to inspire questions and conversations about pursuing a life plan.

Finally, ask people that you respect to check in with you occasionally. They can ask what steps you’re working on, celebrate your success with you, and some may even offer to pray for you.

How to make a life plan at 50

After all, statistics increasingly lengthen longevity as new medical treatments are developed and people learn how to live healthier lives. If you’re in your 50s now, you very well could still have 40 years of life left – so don’t just wing it!

The advantage of being older is that values become more clear, and maturity is in our favor. We’ve learned a lot from past mistakes, and how to distinguish the fluff from the substance. We can also let a lot more stuff slide off our backs, and don’t tend to be as worried or anxious.

In the end, the process really isn’t that different. The 5 steps outlined above still apply – even as you close out your career, become an empty-nester, and enter a new season of retirement.

Having a vision and a written plan is still important, because there are still people in your life that you value. There’s still that bucket list with items not crossed off. There’s still levels of growth to achieve, so in your final moments you can say … no regrets.