Learn how to prioritize what matters most so you can live your best life

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

If you are really being honest with yourself, how happy are you with the life your living? Are your relationships authentic and meaningful? Is your career going from strength to strength? Are you fit and healthy in body, mind, and spirit?

Or have some aspects of your life been sidelined and neglected?

If that’s the case, you might tell yourself it isn’t your fault. If life weren’t so hectic, you’d have time for that loved one, or that creative project, or that community because that brings you a sense of fulfillment. You promise yourself that you’ll find time for the things that matter – soon. But demands never ease up, and that day never comes before you know it, your life doesn’t look anything like what you’d imagined.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. You have the potential to take control of your time and live the life you want. All you need is a pen, paper, and the commitment to create your own Life Plan.

To Take Control of Your Life, You Need a Life Plan

Imagine you’re on a surfboard, out beyond the breaking waves you’re enjoying the sun and the fresh sea breeze, patiently waiting for that perfect moment. But when you look back at the coastline, you realize you’re being carried away by a riptide. You paddle against the current, but its stronger than you and bears you out into the sea, far from where you want to be.

For many of us, that riptide is life.

By the time we hit forty or fifty, we find ourselves disorientated, exhausted, and adrift. We’re overworked, our health isn’t great, and our relationship have deteriorated. Life doesn’t look anything like what we previously imagined – and we have no idea how we’ve drifted so far off course.

The key message here is: To take control of your life, you need a Life Plan

Your life circumstance plays a major role in how far you drift away from your ideal life. You might not always have control over these circumstances. But you can control how you respond to them.

Maybe you already know this. You know that being overworked and living near a fast-food restaurant – your circumstances—doesn’t mean you should regularly eat fast food. And yet, you consistently delay addressing you’re eating habits. You think “ill stop eating fast food after this work deadline. I’m too stressed to change my diet now.” But once that project is done, you find another reason not to change your diet.

Other times you might incorrectly assume that certain circumstances are beyond your control. You tell yourself you can’t help eating takeout every night because your boss pressures you to stay late, so you don’t have time to shop for groceries and cook at home these kind of thought patterns trick you into thinking that you cant take control of your life. But that’s simply not true! You can regain ownership of how you live. All you need is a life Plan.

Creating a life plan means taking responsibility for your life. It will help you proactively and intentionally make decisions that lead you in the directions you want to go. It will act as a reference point you can use to make sure you don’t get carried off by the current. And importantly it will empower you to stand up against those external influence that lure you away from the life you want to live.

Your Life Plan will help you identify your priorities, set goals, and create a strategy to actualize them

A GPS is a great tool for helping you reach a new destination. What’s more, if you accidentally take a wrong turn, it’ll reroute your journey without judgment or criticism. Wouldn’t it be great if navigating through life were just a straightforward?

Unfortunately, life is far more complicated than just getting from point A to point B. Sometimes new roads appear out of nowhere. Or a tree unexpectedly falls and blocks your path. In situations like these you need to be paying attention to the changes around you so that you can reassess where you are going—and how you’re going to get there. This is precisely where a Life Plan can help.

The key message here is: Your Life Plan will help you identify your priorities, set goals, and create a strategy to actualize them.

Many of us have detail career, exercise, and financial plans. And Yet very few people have plans that encompass other aspects of life—like relationships, creative pursuits, or spirituality. On top of this, the plans we have rarely intersect. We view them as separate compartments instead of deeply interconnect components that affect one another. Other career flourishes at the expense of our health and marriage. Or our fitness skyrockets, but we lose touch with our community because we spend every free moment at the gym.

My clients have experience dissatisfying imbalance at difference stages of their careers. And then they implement Life Plans to help them evaluate how each aspect of their life they were tracking. In accordance with their individual’s priorities.

So, let’s get down to specifics. What exactly does a Life Plan look like?

A Life Plan is a document, between 8 to 15 pages long, that you would write, describing what your ultimate life looks like. This vision will help you identify your personal priorities and create an action plan to support each of them.

Because these priorities will change over your lifetime, your Life Plan is a living document—meaning you’ll regularly review and adjust it. This is what makes it so powerful. Just like a GPS system, you Life Plan will help you continuously evaluate where you are, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there. This way, you can correct your course if necessary.

There are three crucial questions that will help you create your very own Life Plan.

What will my legacy be? What’s most important to me? How will I get from where I am to the ending that I’ve imagined?

Your vision of your legacy will guide the design of your Life Plan

To create a life plan, you must start at the end. The first question you will have to ask yourself is What will my legacy be?

You might think legacy is restricted to important public figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln. But this isn’t the case. Every individual leaves behind a legacy—and you can too. Once your life has ended, your legacy is the way you’ll be remembered by the communities you’ve been a part of. In the context of your Life Plan, your legacy is your destination.

The key message here is: Your vision of your legacy will guide the design of your Life Plan.

Thinking about your legacy can be challenging. It requires you to ask yourself a tough question: When you die, how will people remember you? A tough question but remember thinking about your legacy will help you identify your life priorities, and so it’s crucial. Approach reflecting on your legacy just as you’d approach booking a vacation; choose your destination first and then plan how to get there. Your legacy is your destination. Your Life Plan will be your means of getting there.

To help you imagine your legacy, ask yourself what people would say about your life if you were to die today. Write your own eulogy. Be brutally honest about the highs and lows. This will reveal the areas of your life that are going well and the ones that need more attention.

Reflect on who’s at your funeral, too, and how they feel. What memories will people share? Are those memories rich and loving? Or do they fall a little flat? How does that make you feel? Is there anything you wish people were saying, but aren’t? These reflections will reveal what’s currently missing in your life.

Once you’ve written your eulogy, create a list of Legacy Statements by identifying how you want the important groups of people in your life to remember you. These might include your family, friends, and work colleagues.

Write your statements using specific and emotive language. For instance, for your partner you might write, “I want Charlie to remember the laughter, tears, and quiet moments of tenderness we shared.”

Invest time in making these statements meaningful to you. They are going to help you remember what you value most in your life.

Determine your priorities by evaluating your Life Accounts.

Fifty-two. That’s the number of Saturdays you get every year – not very many, if you think about it! And if you’re spending half of them racing around, consumed by busyness, and preoccupied with stress? That means you have even less time to do what really matters.

Most of us spend a disturbingly large portion of our lives meeting other people’s expectations. It can be extremely difficult to cut through the noise of these demands and stick to our own priorities.

Things get even more difficult if you’re unclear on what your priorities are in the first place. If you don’t know your priorities, how will you know when you’re being drawn away from them? That’s why the second crucial question for your Life Plan is, What’s most important to me?

The key message here is: Determine your priorities by evaluating your Life Accounts.

The question of what’s most important to you may seem simple. But to answer it authentically, you need to put aside everyone else’s ideas about how you should live your life, and reflect deeply on what truly matters to you.

The way to do this is to work out what your Life Accounts are. Your Life Accounts are the various components that make up your life, from your hobbies to your most valued relationships. Typically, they fall under three headings: “Being,” which includes your intellect, spirituality, and physicality; “Relating” – or the relationships and communities you participate in; and “Doing,” which covers work, finances, hobbies, and pursuits.

Once you’ve sorted through all your Life Accounts, choose five to twelve that matter to you the most. Give them specific names. For instance, one account might be called “Reese” – the name of your partner. Or your work account might be called “Teaching.” You may find you have multiple accounts that fall under the same category, like separate “Relating” accounts for your partner, children, and extended family.

Now it’s time to reflect on the health of all your accounts. Which are doing well, and which ones need your attention? Make a note beside each.

Once you’ve done this, arrange your accounts in order of priority. Compare this list to how you rated each account’s health. This will reveal whether you’re investing your time according to what matters most. If your career is a lower priority than your family but it has the strongest health, perhaps it’s time to spend those precious Saturdays with your loved ones instead of catching up on work emails.

To fulfill your Life Plan, you need to commit to a clear course of action.

Life is a bit like running a cross-country race – without a map. You might have already figured out your ideal destination. But if you’re not completely clear on how to get there, you’re at risk of taking a wrong turn along the way.

Taking the wrong turn happens when you follow someone’s advice without questioning whether it aligns with your goals. Opportunities can also take you on a tangent. That work promotion might be, but will it bring you closer to the life you’ve envisioned? To avoid detours that lead you away from your Life Plan, you must ask yourself the final Life Plan question: How will I get from where I am to the ending that I’ve imagined?

The key message here is: To fulfill your Life Plan, you need to commit to a clear course of action.

Figuring out the best route to your destination starts with revisiting your Life Accounts. Look at each one, and write a statement defining what your primary responsibility for that account is. The statement for your “Spouse” account might be something like, “My purpose is to love and support Quinn every day as her soulmate and best friend.”

Once you’ve defined your primary responsibilities, write a statement that describes how each of your accounts would look if they were flourishing under your care. For instance, your statement for “Fitness” might be “I am strong, vibrant, and healthy.”

Assess how close you are to reaching each aspiration statement. Be brutally honest with yourself. Which accounts are abundant, which are growing, and which are at risk of bankruptcy? Write some bullet points about the status of each to identify whether you’re on track.

Now it’s time to write your Action Plans – the road-maps that lead you to your envisioned destination. Make your Action Plans specific and measurable, and put a time frame on them. So, if your fitness isn’t where you want it to be, for example, you could commit to working out three times a week and eating vegetables with every meal.

Don’t panic if you feel you have more plans than you can possibly implement. In the blinks ahead, we’ll look at how you can prioritize your time to put your Action Plans in motion.

Dedicate a full day within the next two weeks to writing your Life Plan.

Picture yourself standing at the edge of a lake. You’ve just witnessed something extraordinary. A chest holding three million dollars has been dumped into the water, and it’s yours for the taking – if you can get to it.

There’s a rowboat at your disposal, but the chest will be too heavy to lift by yourself. You could call a friend and ask for help. But the current is dragging the chest away, and you’re at risk of losing it. What do you do?

Choosing to write your Life Plan is like this scenario. The treasure is within your reach, but only if you act straight away. If you procrastinate, odds are you’ll never get around to doing it. And your ideal life will slip away from you.

The key message here is: Dedicate a full day within the next two weeks to writing your Life Plan.

Writing your Life Plan means connecting deeply with your feelings. You need to set aside a full day to write it so that you can completely immerse yourself. If you try to do it in fits and spurts, your connection with your heart won’t be as strong and your plan won’t be as effective. And the longer you put it off, the more motivation you will lose. That’s why you should act as soon as possible. Try making two weeks your absolute deadline.

Block out a full day in your calendar and commit to keeping this appointment unless a critical emergency happens. You may need to organize leave from work or arrange childcare. And since you’ll be offline and unreachable for the whole day, put a contingency plan in place for the people who rely on you so that they can manage without you.

Once you’ve chosen your full day, choose a location where you can work without interruption. This should be a new environment, away from home and work. Booking a hotel room somewhere inspiring is ideal, but the local library is a good alternative.

On the big day, check your fears and inhibitions at the door, and aim to write five to ten pages that answer the three Life Plan questions. Don’t aim for perfection; this document is just for you. The purpose of this day is to trust the process, pay attention to your heart, and tap into your authenticity.

Your Life Plan will only serve you if you put it into action.

Years ago, one of the authors, Michael Hyatt, was working at a fast-growing organization that needed a formal strategic plan. The company’s leaders went to a three-day retreat led by an external consultant. It was a huge success. After vibrant discussions, the attendees drew up a detailed plan complete with action points and accountability.

But after the retreat, no one consulted the plan. It just sat on every executive’s bookshelf, gathering dust. As a result, none of its amazing ideas were implemented the way they should have been – nor were they later adapted to suit a new set of circumstances.

The key message here is: Your Life Plan will only serve you if you put it into action.

Your Life Plan is a living document. And like every living thing, it needs tending to. This tending takes the form of regular reviews, which help keep your plan relevant as you move toward your goals.

Once you’ve written your Life Plan, you need to embed it into your consciousness, so it doesn’t end up like that dust-covered, forgotten strategic plan. To do this, read your plan aloud every day for 90 days. This will really cement it in your mind and heart.

After 90 days, set aside 15 to 20 minutes each week to review your plan. During these sessions, evaluate how you’re tracking with your goals. This will help you maintain control of what’s commandeering your time so that you can refocus your priorities, if necessary.

Conduct a full review of your plan every quarter. Read it through once, then write five to seven goals for the upcoming quarter. Reflect on whether you need to make any course corrections. You may have accidentally taken a wrong turn or been unable to achieve your goals from the previous quarter. But you can always adjust your plan, accordingly, based on your current situation.

Finally, and most critically, fully review your plan every year. Set aside a whole day to evaluate your progress. Reflect on what’s happened in the past year that might have changed your priorities and work out what you want to achieve in the year ahead. Remember, your life is the most precious thing you have, and your Life Plan is there to help you make the most of it. The more you tend to your plan, the better it can guide you toward your ideal life.

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