It’s an old tradition to make New Year’s Resolutions every year. It’s an equally old tradition to completely forget them by the second week of January.
Savvy authors don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. They make an Annual Plan. But what is an Annual Plan? Why is it better than New Year’s Resolutions? How do you make one? And how do you stick with it?
What is an Annual Plan?
An Annual Plan is just a list of achievements you hope for in the coming year. I can think of three main types of achievements that have gone into my own Annual Plans over the years:
- Things you want to get.
- Things you want to do.
- Things you want to learn.
Maybe you want to buy a house. Or a new car. Or a bike. Or whatever. These are things you want to get.
Maybe you want to hike the Grand Canyon. Or swim the English Channel. Or take a vacation in Italy. These are things you want to do.
Maybe you want to learn how to build websites. Or how to speak French. Or how to fix your car. These are skills you want to learn.
Note that some of these have endpoints and some of them don’t. If you buy a house or a car or a bike, then you either own them or you don’t. If you take a hike or a swim or a vacation, you either did it or you didn’t. But if you learn a new skill, then there are levels of skill, and you may never really be done. So in the case of a skill, it’s always good to specify what level of skill you’re talking about.
Why is an Annual Plan Better than New Year’s Resolutions?
If you ever made a New Year’s Resolution, think for a moment what went wrong. You almost certainly didn’t follow through on it. Hardly anyone ever does. But why not?
There are several problems with New Year’s Resolutions:
- They are often not well-defined.
- They are often about things beyond your control.
- They usually just state the endpoint, without any clear path to get there.
A common resolution is “I want to lose weight this year.” That’s not well-defined. How much weight? What control do you have over your body to make it lose weight? What actions can you take to lose weight, if any, and how much of them do you have to do?
Another common resolution is “I want to get fit this year.” You can see this has the same problems. What do you mean by “fit?” Stronger? More endurance? Higher oxygen uptake? Better-looking? Those are not the same thing, and they may be working at cross-purposes.
An Annual Plan doesn’t just say what you want to achieve. It maps out a path to get there. And part of the path is to make a periodic review of your Annual Plan to keep you on track. That means scheduling a weekly review into your life.
How Do You Make Your Annual Plan?
Your Annual Plan will not live in isolation, as if it is the only thing you want to achieve in life. Your Annual Plan needs to be part of something bigger. Something that will motivate you to actually follow through on it. And to keep it up to date and make changes to it as your life evolves.
Because your life is going to evolve in unexpected ways. Remember what you intended to do two years ago, at the very beginning of 2020? You had a bunch of things you wanted. And then covid hit. You had to evolve very rapidly to respond to covid. We all did. Because bad stuff happened. Bad stuff happens every year, and good stuff. You have to evolve to respond to both.
So your Annual Plan is only a part of your life, and it all comes from your Massively Transformative Purpose. If that term isn’t familiar to you, then read my blog post, Your Massively Transformative Purpose.
Once you know your Massively Transformative Purpose, (your MTP), you need to spell out what Steven Kotler calls your “High Hard Goals.” These are concrete achievements that may take several years. Like graduating from law school. Or launching a new business that achieves $1M in gross sales. Or creating a nonprofit. Or whatever’s in line with your MTP.
Your High Hard Goals don’t have to be earthshaking. They just need to matter to you, and be difficult enough to challenge you for years and years.
Once you’ve got your High Hard Goals, you can set up an Annual Plan with a few achievements that you can reasonably make in the coming year that will move you closer to your High Hard Goals.
Your Annual Plan should include the following:
- Achievements for this year.
- Achievements for the next quarter in this year.
- Achievements for the next month in this year.
- Achievements for the next week in this year.
- A specific time every week when you will review the whole thing and make changes to it as your life evolves.
How Do You Stick With Your Annual Plan?
The secret is in that #5 above. You need to review the whole thing every week, and make adjustments. This is a bit like driving through the fog at night. You keep a sharp eye on the road and make adjustments every few seconds as needed. Because you can’t see very much of the road.
This is why you don’t need to map out your achievements for more than one quarter at a time. The achievements you define for the next quarter should be things that you expect will take you closer to the achievements you defined for the full year. Not the whole way. Just part of the way. Because stuff will happen this quarter, and your life will evolve in ways you can’t predict, and your plan will change.
And likewise, you don’t have to spell out all three months in the next quarter of the year. Just the first month. Because stuff will happen this month, and your life will evolve, and your plan will change.
And likewise, you don’t have to spell out all four weeks in the next month. Just the first week. You know the drill. Stuff will happen this week, and your life will evolve, and your plan will change.
Evolving Your Annual Plan
Every week, review the whole plan. You can do this very quickly, because the plan is not complete. It only targets the next quarter, and the next month, and the next week. If you made your weekly goals for the past week, congratulate yourself. You did well.
If you didn’t make your weekly goals, don’t jump on yourself. Ask why and adjust your plan.
- Did you make too many goals for the last week? Lighten up your schedule for next week.
- Did something bad happen that blocked you? Make a decision on how to deal with that going forward, and push back last week’s goals to next week, or throw them out and make new ones.
- Did something good happen that got you moving in a new direction? Great! Run with that, if it fits in with your Massively Transformative Purpose. Adjust your Annual Plan all the way up the chain, starting with this coming week, then the current month, then the current quarter, and finally the current year.
In a word, adapt. Every week. Your Annual Plan is not set in stone. Your Annual Plan is short and easy to adapt.
And if you keep reviewing it and adapting it every week, it’ll take you somewhere wonderful. You can’t possibly predict exactly where it’ll take you, because you can’t predict what future stuff will come at you. All you can do is play the cards that life deals you. And keep moving forward toward your Massively Transformative Purpose.
Your Annual Plan is your roadmap to do that efficiently.