One good thing about having knocked around the planet for over half a century is that I’ve got enough years behind me to have test-driven a variety of annual planning methodologies, and enough wits still about me to retain some curiosity and enthusiasm over what comes next. (Well, I hope so, at any rate!)
That said, what has worked for me may not worked for you. And what worked 5 or 10 years ago may not work for either of us now. For example, at a certain point in your life, you may want to lean into a detailed, analytical system, like Jinny Ditzler’s Your Best Year Yet. Then, at another point, you may want to go for the more visceral, intuitive experience of creating a vision board. (Don’t laugh—they are powerful stuff!) And who knows? At another point, you may well find it best to take a break from new year’s planning entirely, bug out to a campground to stare at the stars and clear your head, and rustle up a plan in the spring.
So this year, I’m going to describe in more general terms what has worked for me when it comes to planning a great new year—in other words, the best common threads running through the various methods I’ve tried:
1. The best new year’s planning systems are FUN.
You have enough must-do’s in your life. Planning a new year should be a joyful activity, not a hateful one.
So go with what works for you. If you like a lot of structure, look for a time-tested, comprehensive system like Best Year Yet. If you If you like keeping it loose and staying in flow, try a vision board. (Not my thing, but I’ve tried them—twice!—and can attest to their power.) If you want something in between, try my friend Chris Guillebeau’s organized-but-not-overly-structured Annual Review, which he’s been using and refining (with amazing annual and cumulative success) since 2005.
If you’re adventurous, you can even cobble together your own system using the best elements (for you) of a few systems.
My advice with this kind of thing, though, is to make use of what’s worked for others before, adapting as needed to your needs. And do it with a glass or two of your favorite beverage, and some kickass music. It made even the vision board thing work for me.
2. The best new year’s planning systems GATHER MEANINGFUL DATA.
I think the backbone of all the more cerebral planning systems has to be the backward-facing view of what went down in the previous year. You can keep it simple, with a list of what worked and what didn’t or “successes” and “failures”, or you can use a set of questions as a jumping-off point to do some writing around the “why” of it all. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from a decade or two of setting goals, it’s that it’s easier to get somewhere new if you know where you are right now (and hopefully, a bit about how you got there).
3. The best new year’s planning systems INVOLVE OTHER PEOPLE.
I’m a lonesome loner who likes going it alone, but even I take into account other people when putting together my plan for a new year. This means (for me) that my goals should not be exclusively about me me ME, but also about what I can do to help others. I try to include plans for improving my relationships—being a better friend or employee or citizen; when I’m making a financial plan, I’ve learned to put giving back toward the top of the list. Trust me on this one: I’ve made bank and felt broke, and squeaked by and felt abundantly wealthy. What’s made the difference was putting other people first.
4. The best new year’s planning systems TAKE TIME.
There’s a reason these columns come out at the beginning of December: to give you time to plan! (Well, actually, it’s because that’s when our columns are due. But isn’t it great that you’re already thinking about how to plan for a great 2018, when you’ve still got a month left of 2017?)
You may take a few days or only a few hours to actually create your plan. But do take the time to contemplate, to prepare, to gather information in advance of doing so.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, even a good vision board gets better with a little planning.
5. The best new year’s planning systems ALLOW FOR CHANGE.
In case you hadn’t noticed, life happens. A broken limb will sideline you for that marathon; losing (or gaining) a great day job can alter your financial landscape. A system that is too rigid can lead to disappointment and feelings of low self-worth. And when you’re already feeling bad about something not going your way, you don’t need to feel worse by piling on and beating yourself up.
If you have a strong sense of what’s worked (and hasn’t) over the past year, and a clear vision for how you’d like to feel at the end of 2018, all kinds of things can change during the course of the year without bumming you out. And no matter what kinds of particular goals you’d like to achieve, I think we can all agree on “feeling good and useful!” as a great, general goal.
Here’s wishing you a happy holiday season, and a joyful, abundant new year!
Speaking of best of the best, here’s a list of all my previous “planning your best new year yet” columns for Casting Networks:
- Honest year-end reflection (2015)
- What worked this year (2014)
- Clearing the way for a better new year (2013)
- Leaving room for growth (2012)
- Getting a jump on next year (2011)
- Five things to put in place for a great new year (2010)
- What to do on your winter vacation (2009)
- What have you done for you lately? (2008)
Coming in January: Best of my best tools to keep you on track with your goals!