I worked (and worked out!) many years to get a certain belt in a certain martial arts, and also in that case, direction, energy, and will was enough to get me where I wanted.
Susan Flower, of Uber fame, has a recent interest post on planning.
Walk at lunch every day.
Monday, Thursday and running days.
Tuesday, Friday are push-ups;
Wednesday and Saturday are weights.
I have a paper day-calendar that I mark when I work out; helps in case I miss a day and need to reschedule or get back on track. Seeing the history also gives me a warm and fuzzy "filling XP bars" feeling.
I use sheets of graph paper clipped to clipboards for the push-up and weight workouts so I can track the weight / number of reps I did. When I worked out at the gym I used to use the "Notes" app in iOS for this.
I tried a number of workout tracking apps but was never satisfied with them; too hard to see history or record an unscheduled change.
We can see not all of them succeed but if you "swing for the fences, nobody remembers the failures they remember the homeruns."
I like this model and break up things I want to do into 4 year plans (just mirroring college years). Here, I set out goals of what I want to do. One example is learning Chinese. I make a measurable goal like being able to hold a 15 minute conversation. To reach the goal, I try to a do a bit of practice, in total 20-30 minutes everyday. This includes conversational practice, vocab, etc. Sometimes I feel I'm not being effective enough and will readjust my practice, like changing from apps to flashcards or from flashcards to actual conversation. I think I'll reach my goal but if I don't, my conversational fluency is much better than at the start, when I made the goal. I'll still be pretty happy with that. I make a couple of these goals like career, investing, travel, relationships, etc and make them measurable so I can review and adjust along the process. I think I'll start setting one goal as really ambitious next time to "swing for the fences."
Hope that helps!
1. Buy a notebook. Get a pen and put it to paper. YMMV, but I've found using apps for any kind of deep thought is distracting. It only takes one notification to put you off track. Also I've found writing things has the effect of making it more "real". Use this notebook to keep notes and adjustments to your plans. Don't fall into the trap of keeping it "pretty" like that one subreddit that worships perfectly written out notes. Life is messy, expect this notebook to be so too.
2. Figure out your ultimate goal in life. You should be able to summarize it in once sentence, maybe even just a few words. This may take you some time. It took me years to get down to my ultimate goal: "Age gracefully". Write it down in your notebook. You may go through multiple revisions of this goal. Maybe you start off with a 2 page manifesto, then break it down to 2 paragraphs. Point is you ultimately need to get it down to one sentence.
3. Figure out what obtaining your ultimate life goal entails. For me aging gracefully means having Financial Independence, Being Healthy, Building a Tribe and working on a Passion Project. If you write down your ultimate goal in the center of a page, each of these other sub items should be a circle surrounding your ultimate goal.
4. Write down in detail using numbered bullet points what gaining each of the sub items means. For example Financial independence for me had 4 sub items: Not being in debt, Growing asset portfolio, passive income and adopting a anti-consumerist mindset. Make as many sub bullet points under each of these as you need. Start going into micro details in your sub bullet points. Make plans for how you are going to get yourself to do these bullet points or achieve them.
The big picture goal here is to start with what you want at the end and work backwards by one step thinking of what you need to have done just before goal x to get there.
From there keep coming back to your written goals. Make notes, make updates. Make it a conversation back and forth with yourself. Maybe something didn't need to be a goal, maybe you need more goals. My notebook is full of notes, scratched out things and updates. Seeing my thought process on paper gives me the clarity to keep making the right plans as I move forward in life.
As for timelines, I generally try to set timelines for what I want in:
- This week (short term TODO items and errands)
- Monthly (Bigger picture theme I'd like to accomplish for the month)
- Quarterly (Each month's goals should contribute to my quarterly goals)
- Yearly ( 3 - 4 things that my quarterly goals feed into)
- 3 year outlook (Direction I want my life to be heading into in 3 years. Vague and open ended, Yearly goals sent more detail)
- 5 year outlook (same as 3 year, just another time notch to keep me focused)
- 10 year outlook( see above...even loftier, more grand and visionary)
- Ultimate life goal (should be the 1 sentence goal the guides your life)
I'm still figuring it out as I go, but if I could recommend you do just one thing it would be to get a notebook and keep writing in it to plan out your life. There is nothing quite like thinking on paper.
Gather data, reassess the problem/goal and go again.
(The famous Woody Allen quote is a riff on an old Yiddish proverb: "We plan, God laughs".)