Why I Plan a Year in Advance

There is something magical about the beginning of a new year, and even more so a new decade.

Practically speaking there is nothing different about December 31 or January 1, but the idea that a new year can bring about change, a new sense of purpose, or a new outlook stirs optimism which enables us to be able to visualize a better, more productive future.

We can be active in planning our days, months, and years, or we can be passive and let life take us where it may. The later usually propels us onto the gerbil wheel or “grind” where we are simply reacting to what is happening around us and unconsciously making decisions not related to our goals, but just in an effort to keep up. On the gerbil wheel you keep working furiously, but you don’t actually get anywhere.

Proactively taking steps to set goals and make plans in fulfillment of our own vision is the opposite of slaving away on the gerbil wheel. Life happens, work piles up, deadlines loom, and weather (hello polar vortex!) all make things difficult, and daily responsibilities can get in the way of those bigger goals and dreams. But I have found that by sitting down and at least trying to plan out the year in advance gives me a roadmap which I can come back to throughout the year when I need to remind myself what I was so inspired to accomplish on January 1st.

Planning for an entire year may seem daunting if you have never done it before. But it will change the way you look at your months and weeks if you take an hour or so and sit down and really think about what you want to accomplish over the next twelve months. If you are thinking that there is no way that you can sit down and actually plan out a full year in advance, here are some reasons you may want to reconsider.

If you don’t think about, and at least loosely plan your year in January, it will be June before you know it.
It’s already the second week of January and most of us are just getting back into the work routine. Before we know it, February will be here – the dark days of winter. The days are short. It is cold. We are in the post-holiday slump. Work piles up and to do lists become longer and longer. We tell ourselves that we still have the entire year ahead of us – plenty of time to launch into those big goals. We tell ourselves that it’s okay to put off planning our big goals for a couple more weeks because we will have time later in February, or even March.

You know where this is going. Pretty soon it will be spring and you will wonder where the first quarter went. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t start your “plan” in the spring. But if you aren’t going to sit down and plan in January, is it really likely you are going to do it in the April? Or June?

Big goals don’t happen overnight.
When we were children a year felt like a lifetime. Heck, two weeks felt like an eternity. But as busy professionals, now we mostly think “Where has the time gone?” We marvel at how fast a year (and a decade!) passes.

We know that twelve months can be both a significant amount of time in which to accomplish something as well as a fleeting moment in the larger picture. And while a full year seems like a long time, twelve months is not that long when planning for big goals and dreams. It will go by in flash, and if you don’t plan out those twelve months and decide how to tackle those big goals and dreams, your chances of ever starting down that path shrink dramatically.

Big goals need to be broken down into smaller goals and tasks in order to come to fruition. When we plot out smaller goals and tasks out over the course of the year, they seem more manageable, and therefore are more likely to get completed.

You need a check at the beginning of the year.
If one of your goals is to spend more time with your family over the course of the year, you need to take a hard look and your calendar and actually decide where and how that is going to happen. By calendaring your big work events, conferences, trials (for litigation attorneys), and other obligations that you know of at the beginning of the year, you can get a sense of how much free time you realistically are looking at. You may only have the first few months of the year mapped out with work obligations, but that is a great start.

If you know that you are going to be traveling for business or working a significant amount of time during a certain part of the year, noting that will help focus your attention on looking for where you can find time to spend more time with you family. And that leads right into the next reason to plan a year in advance.

Schedule your time off now.
Speaking from personal experience, if you don’t schedule your time off for the year well in advance, it just won’t happen. It won’t. Let me stop you from thinking that it will. It just won’t.

You need to take out your calendar and decide how much time you want to be away and put it down. If you are thinking, there is no way I know a full year in advance when and where I want to go, that’s fine. But earmark some time away. Until you book the flight or hotel, the arrangements are flexible, but by committing to some time away you have at least designated the time. If you need to move it a week or two (or a month or two) as the time draws near, no big deal. But you are more likely to take the time if you have it one your calendar.

You need a framework in which to operate mentally.
There is a reason that businesses operate in quarters and report quarterly earnings. It helps give them a sense of where they are and how they are doing throughout the year. It also helps them plan for big expenditures, expansions, reductions, and new initiatives. If you think of yourself as a business and your goals and dreams as new initiatives, it is easy to understand that you need to plan several months in advance in order to accomplish those goals.

If one of your goals is to increase your revenue by 50% in the first half of the year, you cannot start working on that in March. You need to implement your plan now. And if you have that same goal, but you are planning on taking a long vacation in the second quarter, you need to assess whether that goal can be realistically accomplished. Do you have a system in place to grow your revenue while on vacation or do you need to adjust the timing of the goal?

There is no right or wrong answer – just planning. Planning is the key to success and to accomplishing what we want to achieve. And then once you have your plan – go DO!