Our lives unfold in mysterious ways. Sometimes, perceived setbacks turn into serendipitous moments, and rejection redirects you to a path that's better than you could have imagined.
However, that doesn't mean we should simply sit back and let our lives pass us by.
We all have hopes, dreams, and desires. And although there will be inevitable pivots, it's crucial you're in the driver's seat, steering in the right direction. Enter, life planning. This is the process of plotting what you would like to accomplish in your life, in alignment with your values and what makes you happy.
Most 'ultimate guides' to life planning bombard you with information on how to be a perfect human by doing everything right and leading a fulfilling life as a result. Unfortunately, this may set you up to fail because perfect situations are rare.
Instead, we'll give you an actionable step-by-step guide and life plan template that empowers you to take consistent, positive steps toward the future you dream of.
We'll also share plenty of tips and resources to help you stay on track with the goals you've set.
Life planning is a compass that guides you toward your aspirations. By figuring out what you truly want from life, it becomes easier to make decisions and take action.
Not to be confused with end-of-life planning (which is about setting yourself up to be comfortable in your final act and protecting your family through estate planning and survivorships), this involves big-picture thinking about your entire life span.
What impact do you want to create in the world, and what experiences do you want to have?
You might associate the term 'life planning' with retirement and beyond. After all, many of us expect to reach peak life satisfaction when we can finally stop working. Certainly, your ideal retirement experience is something to consider when you're thinking about your dream life.
However, life planning isn't just for your golden years, it's essential for anyone going through any type of pivotal transition. This includes:
Many of us wait until New Year's Day to write down our life goals on a blank piece of paper. This is perfectly fine, as there's nothing like a fresh start to ignite a sense of motivation. In fact, research shows that temporal landmarks such as birthdays or the first day of the week, month, or year can be powerful instigators of positive change.¹
However, it's important to note that life planning is an action plan that spans years. It is not simply a list of New Year's resolutions that falls to the wayside by the end of January.
You don't have to wait until New Year's Day or any other milestone to create your life plan. The perfect time is right now.
The life planning process is just as beneficial to your current reality as it is to your future. It enables you to create a more balanced life by ensuring you're giving attention to all the things that matter to you (for example, your physical health and time spent with loved ones).
It also helps you figure out what you don't want, so you can eliminate options and reduce decision fatigue, for example, during a job search process.
Life planning also has practical implications when it comes to personal finances. For example, when it comes to getting life insurance, it is useful to have a clear idea of how much your dream life will cost and the assets that are important to you.
So, now you understand why having a life plan matters. How do you get started?
The first thing you need to incorporate into your plan is your life's vision. This serves as a force that drives you forward and helps you understand where you're headed and why.
Think of your vision as the beating heart of your life's plan: the dream that gives meaning to every other goal you set along the way. This doesn't have to be a grandiose scheme about making the world a better place or bringing more happiness into people's lives.
It can simply be about how you'd choose to spend your days if time or money weren't an object.
The more time you spend fleshing out your vision or dream, the easier it will be to set tangible goals and milestones.
Once you've answered the above questions, underline words that appear more than once in your answers or values that evoke strong emotions. Use these emotionally charged keywords to come up with a short, deliberate statement about your big dream.
This is your life vision statement, and it will be a pivotal part of your overall plan. Here are some examples:
Feel free to play around with this for as long as you like. Coming up with a short sentence that represents who you are, and what you stand for, isn't easy and that's okay.
This exercise is less about planning and more about getting you to consciously consider what you want from life.
Another important component of life planning is to identify your core values. These are the beliefs or principles that are central to how you live, work, and interact with others. Beyond just being a personal philosophy or code of conduct, your values are about what matters to you.
When it comes to figuring out our own values, a common knee-jerk reaction is to jot down buzzwords like 'freedom' or 'adventure’. While these might indeed be true for you, it's important to go beyond your initial instinct and investigate further.
The best way to get a true glimpse at your values is to look back on your actions over the last few years. If you've been meaning to start your own business for 5 years but have found yourself unable to leave behind a steady paycheck, chances are you value security over freedom, and that's completely fine.
Another helpful way to get a better feel for your own values is to look at how you spend your money or time. As management guru Peter Drucker once said: ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your calendar and your checkbook, and I’ll tell you what you value.’²
For example, if your bank statement shows that you have subscriptions to various fitness and wellness services, chances are that physical health should be high on your list.
If you need a jumping-off point, Brene Brown's list of values can help you get started. Try to narrow it down to 3-4 values if possible, and rank them in order of importance.
Now that you have a better idea of your vision, priorities, and core values, it's time to finally let the goal-setting process begin. You have all the tools you need to realize your vision, and now it's a matter of creating dynamic to-do lists that adhere to set timeframes.
As you've probably guessed, you can't plan every single goal toward your dream. The trick is to remain as focused as possible, concentrating on as few goals as possible at any given time.
One way to do that is by using SMART goals.
SMART goals are targets that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. They're based on research conducted in the 1960s by psychologist Edwin Locke, who found that clearly defined goals were closely linked to increased performance and productivity.³
SMART goals can be used to stay on track with smaller action items day-to-day. However, they're also a great way to align yourself with your long-term aspirations across your various life aspects.
For example, if your 5-year goal is to be in a secure, happy relationship, your SMART goal might be: I will go on at least two dates a month for the rest of 2024, or until I meet someone that I would be happy to introduce to my family.
The beauty of SMART goals is that you start big (think, 10-year plan) and work backward to figure out what you should be doing right now to make that happen.
For example, if your idea of happiness means spending your work days however you like, your 10-year goal might be to have a successful business in which you earn more than your current job.
As your deadlines get tighter, your goals should be a lot more focused. For example:
We then take that goal and make it more specific by tightening the time frame further. Here's a 1-year goal example:
And a 1-month goal:
By now, you likely have a clearer vision of the things you'd like to create in your life. But how do you actually make these happen without common obstacles like overwhelm, distraction, or procrastination sabotaging your progress?
Read on for our top tips for future-proofing your life goals.
Right now, you might have a laundry list of things you'd like to include in your life plan. That's great, but how do you figure out what to work on first?
It's important to record your goals in a sequential way that you can take action on. Write down all the things you want to do without trying to put them in order or figure out how you're going to do them. Then, next to each goal, put a number between 1 and 10, with 1 being least important and 10 being the most important.
Then rearrange them with the 10s at the top and the 1s at the bottom. From here, you can decide what needs to be given attention first.
Some things will be more urgent and time-bound, while others might need more effort put in over the long term. But this part is crucial because you simply can't do everything at once.
Need more guidance on putting your goals in order? Check out our handy guide to prioritizing.
Your life plan shouldn't be a rigid blueprint that you follow to the letter. After all, you never know what unexpected curveballs life will throw at you, and that's half the fun of it!
Instead, your life plan should be a dynamic and flexible thing that evolves with you. For this reason, we recommend creating it as a digital document that can be easily edited. Or, if you prefer to write your goals on paper, consider using a pencil, not a pen.
Don't be afraid to break your weekly SMART goals into more manageable chunks if they seem overwhelming. For example, if your big goal is to write a book, you might set yourself a daily goal of writing 200 words a day. Daily SMART goals work for some people, others find them too restricting. It's all about experimenting until you find what works for you.
If you set a weekly goal, you have to make sure you have the resources to see it through. You won't get too much done if you're too lenient with yourself and keep pushing deadlines. Fear of failure will slowly kick in. Set easier tasks if you have to, but make sure you're seeing them through.
Motivation is a tough nut to crack and it doesn't always show up when we need it. This is why it is helpful to have some external accountability, even if it's just asking a friend or family member to check in and ask ‘How's the life plan going?’
Coaching is another excellent way to stay on track, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. Fingerprint for Success’ AI Coach Marlee not only helps you set life and career goals but will keep you accountable with regular, 5 to 15-minute coaching sessions.
Set reminders in your calendar to update and review your plans. Digitize the plans if you have to. Tools such as Trello or other project management software make it easy if you're not a fan of pen and paper. Do whatever it takes to reduce the possibility of skipping your regular check-ins.
Whether you need more help bringing your plan to life or get stuck along the way, it's worth having these resources in your back pocket.
You like some variety, radical changes, doing new and different things in some of your work or business.
With a little bit of development you can become more socially aware of yourself and others.
There are many positive stories from people who have benefited from taking an intentional approach to planning their lives.
In a review of the Designing Your Life book, Jennifer Ridgway found that it shifted her mindset as to what it means to have the 'perfect' career.
‘Designing Your Life will remind job-searchers that there’s no one right thing — at any given time there are multiple right jobs for you, and those roles may change as your life and priorities shift with time. Having this idea in mind, and knowing that I can find happiness in many different directions, made me feel less pressure to make the right decision. It also helped me to realize that I can still change my career at any point and that I’m never done designing my life. It’s a constant project — as factors shift and change, you can, and should, always be thoughtfully designing your life.’
Meanwhile, Indigenous Australian teacher, artist, and singer-songwriter Josie Alec used F4S' self-discovery tools to uncover a brand new life path.
‘My mum was a traditional healer...my passion and desire to heal comes from the long line of healers that I come from,’ Josie says.
When Josie's mother passed away in 2011, Josie's calling to heal others grew stronger. However, she never believed she could be an entrepreneur.
‘To recognize being an entrepreneur… it would never happen. Because I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur. So when I ended up seeing the Fingerprint for Success results and they said, ‘You could be an entrepreneur’, I was just like, ‘Can I really do that?’ And I did!’
Josie's business Indiji Arts, where she sells traditional bush remedies, was accepted into Investible's Business Accelerator Program, where she won second place and was chosen to represent Australia in Beijing.
It would be short-sighted to believe we have complete autonomy over our lives. After all, sometimes the universe just has bigger plans for us! However, we only get one shot at this life, and it's our responsibility to do everything in our power to make the most of it. Living the life of your dreams begins with first understanding what drives you and gets you fired up. Take the Fingerprint for Success assessment to begin uncovering the path toward your ideal life.
Our expert coaches developed this program to help you achieve crazy big goals, or learn how to inspire others to. This is especially helpful for leaders or anyone wanting to achieve awesome things in work and life.
Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to personalize the program so you see results as quickly as possible.
“I was able to see that I would still like to direct and author my decisions more effectively”
“I love how practical this coaching is!”
“I learned to make real progress, take action, review”
“Marlee helped me discover skills in myself and others on how to work together as a team!”
“This coaching program has helped me improve the way I connect, relate and communicate - deepening my relationships with others and also with myself”
"The resources are awesome, I have referred back to them multiple times"
“I’ve always found it daunting to be a leader, I have never sought out to be the one in charge. The positions have always found me. I now have new confidence. I especially like the concept of leadership through context. Very empowering”.
“I learned to manage my stress about details”
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