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How to create a 5 year plan that fires you up (with examples)

a 5 year plan is a helpful tool to achieve biggest ambitions in life

Do you know what you’re doing in five years? Or, do you know what you want to be doing in five years?

While it seems like a silly question, it’s something you should ask yourself. Too often it’s easy to focus on getting by day to day but completely lose sight of the goals and dreams you have for the future.

If this sounds familiar and you feel like you’re going through life without any direction, a five year plan might be a good solution to put yourself on track.

This goal-setting technique is commonly used by career coaches, successful business owners and managers, and even world leaders to provide a long-term vision and outline the key steps to achieving that vision.

We’ll walk you through what a five year plan is, how they can be beneficial, some real-life examples, and the steps to take to create a plan of your own.

Table of contents
What is a five year plan?
Do five year plans actually work?
Five year plans aren’t just for individuals
How to write your own five year plan
A 5 year plan can remind you of where you want to go.

What is a five year plan?

A five year plan (you might see it abbreviated as FYP) is a timeline of short term goals that you set for yourself to accomplish in five years, usually leading you up to achieving a long term goal by year five. The smaller goals are set on specific timelines and may increase in difficulty as you build your way up through the plan. You can have a five year plan for your personal goals, career aspirations, or both!

Do five year plans actually work?

Five year plans can help you be successful because they help clarify your goals and encourage you to set deadlines to achieve each step you’ve outlined in the plan. And if you’re writing SMART goals, each milestone is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. The plan and that level of clarity can keep you accountable and is a strategic way to see if you’re on track to achieve your short term and long term goals.

In addition, five year plans can be beneficial when it comes to thinking about where you want to go and your dreams for the future. Most people aren’t constantly thinking about what comes next, so this is a good way to focus on where you see yourself going and how you’re going to get there. The plan can provide you with direction and help you articulate that direction when you’re asked about your future goals (whether you share a personal goal or career goals) in an interview or in other settings.

Plus, here’s a handy trick all the best goal-getters use: Place your five year plan in a visible spot, like your closet door or on your refrigerator. That way, you see your goals every day. That means they’re always on your mind and you don't lose sight of the bigger picture you're working toward.

Five year plans aren’t just for individuals

Five year plans work so well, they’re used for more than just personal or career achievement. They guide large-scale or national initiatives, too. One of the most famous examples of a five year plan (albeit, ultimately not a positive one that we'd suggest emulating) is the Five Year Plan introduced by Joseph Stalin for the Soviet Union from 1928-1932.

This plan focused on economic development by rapid industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture, with the goal of boosting the country’s economy. For the next few decades, Stalin implemented several other five year plans following the initial plan and the Soviet Union also assisted other countries, like China, in creating their own plans for economic growth.

This model of goal-setting is still used in China today. Recently, the Chinese government released its 14th Five-Year Plan in April 2021 that largely focuses on decreasing CO2 emissions and reducing energy consumption. These climate goals are meant to slowly decrease carbon emissions so that the country can reach its ultimate emissions goal by the year 2030.

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan provides a high-level overview of how the government will plan for the country’s economic and social development for the next five years, with subsequent sector-specific and regional plans following with the details of how things will get done. By creating a plan, the government is sharing its goals for the country and it serves as a roadmap for citizens and global partners to understand where the country is going and how they can fit into that picture.

How to write your own five year plan

Despite the fact that five year plans have found a place in history among world leaders, that doesn't mean this type of strategy is inaccessible for you. You can create a plan to identify your concrete goals and hash out the details of how you'll get there.

Ready to write a five year plan of your own but wondering where to start? Look no further. We have some simple steps for you to follow here.

1. Decide what you want your plan to focus on

As mentioned above, your five year plan can focus on an objective in your personal life, it can outline stepping stones for your career, or it could help you hit milestones for some of your hobbies. You can also create a five year plan that includes all of those categories and more. It’s up to you how broadly you want to plan out the various aspects of your life. Typically, five year plans include goals from the following life categories:

  1. Career
  2. Relationships
  3. Financial
  4. Health
  5. Miscellaneous (depending on your values or interests, this could be something recreational, spiritual or faith-based, or travel-related)

As you contemplate what you want your plan to focus on, it may help to consider your dreams for each of those categories. Do you want to become an executive at a company? Do you want to run a 5K? Or, do you want to do volunteer work at a nonprofit? Think as big and bold as you want for each life category.

2. Write down your big goals

Now that you have an idea of what you want to focus on in terms of life categories and the dreams you have, it’s time to write down your big goals. Try to have one big goal for each category, but you can also add more than one if you think it’s realistic to achieve those goals within a five year time frame.

While you’re writing down your goals, make sure they follow SMART goal guidelines. As a refresher, a SMART goal is:

  • Specific: What exactly do you want to accomplish? What nitty-gritty details can you include?
  • Measurable: How will you know when this goal has been accomplished?
  • Achievable: Is this goal realistic or within your current abilities? How will you accomplish it?
  • Relevant: Does this goal make sense and is it worthwhile to pursue?
  • Time-bound: What milestones and deadlines will put you on the path to achieving this goal?

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3. Find your "why"

As you write down the big goals you want to accomplish in five years, make sure you know why you want to reach that goal. A best practice is to write down your “why” so you can remember your purpose when you start to experience difficulties or challenges in pursuing your goal. Looking at your why statement will help remind you why this goal is important or meaningful and where you’re hoping to go in the future.

Here are a few examples of including the “why” in a goal:

  • I want to run a marathon in the next five years and will spend the next five years training by running a 5K, 10K, and half marathon annually and will work my way up in distance each year to reach a marathon by year five. This will fulfill my passion for running and exercise as well as make me feel empowered that I can train for and accomplish a feat like running 26.2 miles.
  • I will boost my retirement savings by increasing my savings contributions from 15% to 20% in five years. This will help me stay disciplined in my spending and set me on a path for a secure financial future.

4. Determine the steps to achieve the big goals

You’ve got the goals and you’ve got your “why.” Now, it’s time to write down the steps you’ll take to reach those dreams. For a five year plan, it’s usually helpful to create annual milestones that you’ll need to achieve to hit your big goal by year five. Then, you can create a weekly goal or monthly goal for each year that will get you closer to those annual milestones.

For the example of running a marathon, the annual goals could be:

Year 1: Run a 5K

Year 2: Run a 10K

Year 3: Run a half marathon

Year 4: Run two half marathons

Year 5: Run a marathon

From there, you can create monthly goals to help yourself prepare to run each race designated for the year.

5. Research your goals

While you’re creating your five year plan, it doesn’t hurt to put some research into your goals to see how other people are achieving similar dreams and what preparation can be helpful for the journey. If you have friends or family who have gone after similar objectives, ask for advice or what steps they took to reach success.

You also could pick up trade publications or books published on a topic related to your goal to learn about best practices and guides to follow. For the marathon example, online trainers may have running schedule templates or eating guides you can follow to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself and are fueling your body appropriately.  

6. Find a community

Many people going after their goals find greater success when they can lean on a community of like-minded people. Whether it’s a group of friends, a partner, or an online community, having others to talk about your goals and share the experience with will help you stay motivated and energized about your dreams. A personal coach or trainer is another way of finding someone to lean on and keep you motivated in the pursuit of your goals.

It’s an idea that’s been proven to work. Multiple studies have shown that people who set goals with a partner and work together to achieve them will have greater success. Why? Because you have someone that will keep you accountable. For example, if your motivation has dwindled or disappeared and you don’t feel like going for a run, your goal buddy who usually runs with you can be a source of encouragement to get you off the couch.

Finding a person or group to be at your side as you chase after your dreams can not only help you be more successful in accomplishing those goals, but may open the door for new friendships or to grow closer to the people in your life.

What’s an example of a 5 year plan?

Here’s an example of a high-level five year plan that covers goals in the following life categories: career, financial, relationships, health, and travel.

Career long term goal: Work up to become a manager of a team.

Year 1: Tell your current manager about your goal and ask for advice and coaching.

Year 2: Ask for a stretch assignment at work.

Year 3: Become a mentor for someone at work.

Year 4: Lead a large team project.

Year 5: Ask for the promotion.

Financial long term goal: Save $10,000 to pay for home upgrades.

Year 1: Start putting aside $100 from every paycheck.

Year 2: Sell any unneeded or unwanted home items in a garage sale.

Year 3: Increase paycheck savings to $150.

Year 4: Limit spending on eating out, new clothes, etc.

Year 5: Start the upgrades!

Relationships long term goal: Make time for long-distance college friends and plan a trip together at least once a year.

Year 1: Offer to host everyone for the weekend to catch up. Set up a monthly Skype chat.

Year 2: Continue monthly Skype chat. Plan a weekend trip to Chicago.

Year 3: Continue monthly Skype chat. Visit another friend’s home for the weekend.

Year 4: Continue monthly Skype chat. Offer to host another weekend get-together in addition to a weekend trip to the city later in the year.

Year 5: Continue monthly Skype chat. Plan a week-long trip to the beach.

Health long term goal: Practice meditation and mindfulness to decrease anxiety.

Year 1: Say no to extracurriculars that don’t fill you up. Start meditating for five minutes every day.

Year 2: Increase daily meditation to 10 minutes every day.

Year 3: Continue daily 10-minute meditations and spend five minutes journaling every day.

Year 4: Take 30 minutes every day to complete a 10-minute meditation, five minutes of journaling, and a 15-minute walk.

Year 5: Continue your 30 minutes routine of meditating, journaling and walking. Book yourself a weekend retreat with a friend to work on mindfulness together.

Travel long term goal: Visit 25 states in five years.

Year 1: Visit three states within driving distance and visit two states traveling by plane.

Year 2: Visit one state within driving distance and visit four states traveling by plane.

Year 3: Visit one state within driving distance and visit four states traveling by plane.

Year 4: Take a two week road trip and visit five states relatively far away from home.

Year 5: Visit one state within driving distance and visit four states traveling by plane.

A 5 year plan can remind you of where you want to go.

Creating your own five year plan is a great way to set a direction for yourself and see your dreams come to life. The plan can keep you motivated and remind you of your purpose if you start to lose sight of what you’re working toward. Plus, if you work on your goals with others, they can help keep you accountable.

Of course, there may be times during your journey where you might get off course from the timeline or decide some goals don’t fit into your life anymore. That’s completely normal. Think of the plan as a living document that can evolve with you as you go through your life. It doesn't have to be set in stone if you decide you’d like to no longer work toward a goal or you have new aspirations. As long as you keep working toward something and push yourself to achieve the dreams you want, a five year plan can be a useful tool.

As you begin to put your dreams into action, F4S has free personalized coaching that can help you achieve every goal that's a part of your five year plan. Try getting started with the Goal Catcher program to set yourself up for success as you tackle each step of your plan.

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