The Importance of a Written Life Plan
Do you ever go to the grocery store and forget to buy something? I can almost guarantee that happened because you didn’t have a a list. At least, that’s why I forget things when I go grocery shopping.
As we get older, our brains tend to get a little crowded – and we become a little more forgetful. (My kids always make fun of me for not remembering movies we’ve seen together.)
When you develop the habit of writing things down, you prioritize what’s important to you. You also increase your motivation to get those things done.
It’s helpful to write lists, keep a journal, take some notes. But, groceries and movies are not that big a deal.
However, when it comes to your life, the importance of having a plan takes on a much bigger significance. And, not just some ideas in your head. What I’m talking about is a written plan.
There’s power in putting your plan on paper. Writing things down makes them happen.
We all think we can remember when we need to. And maybe sometimes this is true (but I’m guessing not too often). But why rely on your brain so much? It has other, more productive things to do than memorize a list of tasks.
The best thing you can do is write your plan down. And I don’t just mean a daily to-do list. That’s helpful, but I want you to think beyond today or this week. I want you to think about a plan for your LIFE.
I know, I know, it’s enough that you can keep up with today. Just checking off those 7 things on your to-do list is all the good feels you need to think you’ve accomplished something.
But I’m going to challenge you on that, and give you 11 reasons why you need a written life plan. I think it will help you to focus on the bigger picture, and free up more brainpower for accomplishing your goals.
Once you know the why, I’ll explain the how.
But first, let’s go through the benefits of writing a life plan.
11 Benefits of a Written Life Plan
#1 Maximize focus
Let’s go back to the grocery list example.
I am not crazy about grocery shopping. In fact, it really wouldn’t hurt my feelings if somebody (anybody!) told me I was never allowed to go grocery shopping again. But, we have to eat, so there’s that.
So, when I go shopping, I want to accomplish my ultimate goal of replenishing our food supply as quickly as possible. I’m not interested in wandering up and down the aisles, trying to remember if we have any ranch dressing. I want to know exactly what I need to get, and know exactly where I can get it.
In other words, I want to be focused. Because focus will keep me on track, increase my efficiency, save me time, and get me to my goal faster.
This is why planning is important in life. Knowing what you need to do to get to where you want to be is critical to a successful life.
If you write down your life plan, you will have a written roadmap to guide you.
So, when you start to wander off into no-man’s land, your plan will pull you back to where you need to be, in the direction you need to go.
You can’t reach your goals without focus, and a written plan will help you maximize yours.
#2 Minimize distractions
Putting your life plan in writing is an excellent way to map out the journey toward achieving your goals. In addition to helping you stay on the right path, a written plan will also keep you from exploring side trails and rabbit holes.
As you start making progress, you will inevitably encounter opportunities to explore new ideas or suggestions. You might think ooooooo … this looks fun and interesting … let’s see where this little trail leads …
And before long, you look around and don’t recognize where you are. You may not even remember where you were going.
I’ve done this so many times. I would think of a goal, start working towards it, get distracted with – oh, I don’t know … *life* – and then just wander off like a toddler to the toy section.
A written life plan will help you resist distractions that pull you away from what’s most important to you.
When you’re tempted to wander off, just look at your plan to remember where you’re going and why.
#3 Identify knowledge gaps
How many times have you tried to put together some new doohickee without reading the instructions? And then got stuck at a certain point before surrendering to the fact that you need some help?
You just want the dang thing to work, and now you gotta slow down and actually *read* through 4 pages of text and diagrams to find the part that’s helpful. I hate that!
But how frustrating would it be without those written instructions? Without something to tell us what we don’t know, so we can figure out how, so we can keep moving forward?
When you write down your plan, you figure out what you don’t know.
The knowledge gaps you’ll encounter become apparent. And, as you determine the steps to get from where you are now to where you want to be, you’ll be able to see the areas that need extra instruction.
Maybe you’ll need to learn a new skill, or hire a pro, or seek out a mentor. Your written life plan will point out what you don’t know, so you can be prepared to get the help you need, as you’re building your ideal future.
#4 Increase confidence
Whenever I go on vacation, I start a list of tasks I need to do about two weeks before we leave. This gives me time to remember all the little things I wouldn’t normally remember if I’m just throwing everything together at the last minute.
And then, I don’t worry about forgetting something important, or feel anxious wondering if the house will be safe while we’re away. I am confident and relaxed, because I spent time thinking about everything that needed to get done.
Having a detailed plan for your life will give you a sense of confidence and assurance that you’re prepared for where you’re headed.
Once you’ve written out the steps you need to take, your mindset will be more positive about reaching your goals.
#5 Improve time management
One time I was driving my son to a basketball tournament and I got lost. Like, not just a few minutes late lost. I ended up in totally the wrong city, 45 minutes away from where we needed to be.
I totally blamed it on Google Maps. I had definitely entered the right address when we left the house.
Okay, I know that’s not realistic. I mean, Google Maps just gives me directions based on what I tell it. So, somewhere between my house and the wrong destination, I must have accidentally entered some incorrect instructions.
My son totally missed the entire first game of the tournament, because I got lost. #momfail
Write your plan down so you don’t get lost and waste time.
Be specific with your goals so you end up exactly where you want to be.
#6 Engage your subconscious
Your subconscious has so much power over you than you would probably care to admit. It drives all the functions and habits of your physical and mental being that have become automated over thousands of repetitions.
For many things, I’m grateful my subconscious is in charge. After all, I really don’t want to have to worry about forgetting to breathe or how to fall asleep. I’ve got way too many other things on my mind.
But there are other situations where my subconscious does not have my back.
Like, how I only tend to acknowledge experiences that confirm my belief that I’m a boring person. Or how my mind tortures me by jumping to the worst possible outcome because I grew up with a dad that was always worried.
Some people have read the research, and learned to harness the power of the subconscious mind to serve them instead of enslave them. For the rest of us (which is most of us), we allow our subconscious to keep us from fully enjoying the life we’ve been given. But we don’t have to!
You are totally capable of reprogramming your subconscious mind to break the cycle of negative thought patterns and build positive, productive ones in their place.
For example, if you have a long-standing habit of overspending, your subconscious will confirm your belief that you are no good with money every chance it gets. When you think about trying to adopt better spending habits, your subconscious will not take you very seriously because it’s been programmed with a persistent, opposing belief.
But, if you write down a plan to become a better saver, and read your plan every day, out loud, with a deep emotional connection, and visualize yourself saving money, your subconscious will start to come around. And, after a while of repeating this ritual daily, you can actually convince your subconscious mind that you have, indeed, become a master saver.
Then, when you’re walking around Target, your subconscious will speak softly in your ear, saying you don’t want to buy that pretty blouse because you have the self-control to save your money for more meaningful purposes.
Pretty cool, eh?
Of course, same goes with any plan. When you write down your plan for your future, and repeat it often, your subconscious will take you seriously and start helping you get where you want to go.
#7 Generate motivation
I’ve already mentioned that having a written plan can help you stay focused and increase your confidence in being successful. But by reading your written plan every day, you inevitably stir up the willingness, the motivation, to achieve your goals.
When you see a big goal broken down into smaller, more attainable steps, you feel more capable of actually fulfilling the dreams you have for your life. And once you believe it’s actually possible, you’re not willing to give up so easily.
It’s not enough just to have a written plan. You need to review your goals every day.
But – not just read them.
You must read them with a compelling emotion attached to them. You have to *feel* the emotional benefit you’ll get from reaching them. This practice of reading your written plan will provide you with the motivation to persist, even in times of adversity.
#8 Identify specifics
My husband tells me he wants to buy 100 acres that’s laid out in a perfect square, and build a house smack dab in the middle.
I think it’s sweet that he’s actually thinking of the future. He’s typically a day-by-day, whatever lands in my lap kinda guy. So, believe me, I appreciate his effort.
But I know that, unless he starts writing stuff down, he’s never going to get the full picture. Pieces will be missing, and he won’t know it until he needs them. And then it will probably be too late.
Writing down your plan gives you a way to identify all the specifics that are necessary to achieve a big goal.
And sometimes figuring out what those details are only reveals barriers you’ll need to overcome.
But your dream is worth it. Write down your life plan so you’re prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. Write it down today so you’re not waking up at 65 to the harsh reality that you didn’t prepare thoroughly enough.
#9 Prioritize opportunities
As you make progress and get closer to your life’s plan being fulfilled, you’ll start to experience more success in your life. This is a natural result of being focused on achieving your big life goals.
But as you experience more success in your life, you will also encounter more opportunities. As your bank account gets bigger, more doors will open up to you.
And if you don’t have a clear direction where you’re going, you could easily be swayed to take actions that don’t line up with your values and priorities.
By having a written plan, you always know what opportunities align with your ultimate goals.
You won’t get drawn in to circumstances that don’t serve your vision.
Having your plan in writing gives you the insight to make decisions that keep you moving closer to your goals.
#10 Overcome procrastination
Ignorance is bliss, right? Wrong.
Ignorance keeps you in a state of denial that prevents you from engaging with the reality of your situation. You put off dealing with a problem because you’re not allowing yourself to fully acknowledge the impending consequences.
I think this is one reason so many people find themselves in midlife with very little savings. They ignored fixing their poor money habits and denied how far they were getting behind. So, they procrastinated with planning their future, until reality came knocking at the door. (At least, that’s *my* excuse.)
That’s a scary place to be, and my heart breaks for those who feel they have no chance of enjoying their golden years in financial independence.
When you write down your life plan, you come face to face with what’s possible for your future, if you start now.
Seeing your plan in writing is a reality check that puts denial in a choke hold and demands it to say “uncle”.
For every moment you procrastinate, you push your dream a little farther into the future. Write down your plan, and start working on it today.
#11 Track progress
Most people tend to focus on their failures rather than their successes. Or they remember the memories filled with mistakes instead of ones filled with joy.
Folks, we can’t rely on our memory. Especially as we edge over the top of the hill and start sliding down the other side. We’re getting older, peeps, and our memory will betray us if we leave it in charge.
That’s why it’s so important to journal. Write down your experiences, your thoughts and ideas, what you’re grateful for, the small moments of joy throughout your days. Because if you don’t, you’ll forget how awesome your life actually was.
Writing down your vision for your life, your goals, and your life plan will remind you of how far you’ve come.
You’ll have a written record of the obstacles you pushed through, the successes you fought for, and the progress you achieved on the way to your dream life.
Don’t let yourself forget all you’ve done and will do. Those memories are precious, and will push you forward in times of challenge.
Write down your life plan. Write out your goals and everything you need to do to achieve them. Record the milestones you’ll reach and the failures you’ll learn from.
Write it all down. Don’t leave it up to chance.
It’s your one and only life.
How To Create A Life Plan In 5 Easy Steps
Now that you know why having a written life plan is so important, let’s jump into how to write a life plan.
You can do this with pen and paper, or on a computer. The important thing is writing it down in some form. (Personally, I like writing my life plan on my laptop. It’s much easier to edit!)
Now, don’t overthink this process. Sometimes, our brains can trick us into thinking something is too complicated.
This is not rocket science, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. Push past any resistance and just start writing.
Start with knowing there will be changes along the way, so you don’t fall into any perfectionistic tendencies.
1. Create a vision for your future.
This first step requires some intentional reflection.
To envision the future life you want, you must address any present circumstances you don’t want.
Ask yourself some questions, such as:
- what’s working in my life now, and what’s not working?
- what do I love about my life now, and what would I like to be different?
- what areas of my life do I want to improve?
- what relationships do I want to keep, and which ones do I need to let go?
- what roles in my life are important to me, and which ones do I need to eliminate?
- what are the qualities about myself that I want to strengthen, and what do I want to change?
You answers will help shape your vision and the life you want to create.
When you imagine your ideal future,
you need to THINK BIG.
Don’t shortchange yourself.
Don’t make assumptions about what can and can’t happen.
Don’t limit your thoughts to only what seems reasonable.
You have one life. Make it the one you really want.
Using your imagination, look into the future and envision your ideal life in detail. Write down what you see:
- where you work, what you do, what a typical day looks like at your job
- what your income is, how much you have in savings, what you spend money on
- where you live, what your house looks like, what cars you drive
- where you go on vacations, how often you go, and who goes with you
- how you spend time with your kids and grandkids
- who your friends are, and what you do together
- what skills or hobbies you have, and where you volunteer
- anything else that fits into your ideal life
Having a very clear vision of the future you want will help you create a life plan that’s thorough and meaningful.
Getting to know your future self will also give you guidance for the decisions you make in the present. When you can see who you want to be in the future, you know what you need to do today to be that person.
And remember – write your answers down.
You can write them as a list, narrate them as a story, create a mind map, or record them in a journal. Choose any format that makes the most sense to you.
Just keep those written thoughts somewhere you can look at them often.
2. Identify your priorities and values.
Everything you wrote down in step 1 needs to be based on the values you identify in step 2. The vision you see for your ideal future says a lot about what’s important to you.
When you’re clear on your priorities, you can be more intentional about how you spend your time, efforts, and money.
If you don’t know what you truly value, you’ll waste energy on areas or relationships that don’t bring much joy and meaning into your life.
We all have roles we fulfill, and areas we segment in our lives. In this step, you need to decide what you value and how you’ll prioritize what’s important to you.
The first step with prioritizing is to arrange the following life roles and areas in order of greatest to least importance:
Those you placed at the top of each list are what you value the most and will require more of your attention. You will want to create goals (step 3) that align with these values and allow you to maximize your investment in them.
What is truly important to you in life should influence your decisions. Be specific about your priorities so you know what is non-negotiable and what can be compromised.
For example, if spending a lot of time with your grandchildren is a high value to you, then you may want to plan for living close to them, having a house big enough for sleepovers, taking them on vacations, etc.
The second step is assessing how your life reflects these values today. Consider the following questions:
- Are my decisions influenced by my values?
- Do my actions and behavior reflect what’s important to me?
- How can I align my values with my goals for the future?
- What decisions can I make that will better support the values I’ve identified?
This assessment will help you know what you need to do to get your life in greater alignment with your priorities. You’ll know where you need to spend your time, and what actions will bring the most meaningful results.
Then, you’ll be ready to set some goals.
3. Establish your high-level goals.
For the areas and roles that are your top priorities, identify those big goals you need to accomplish to create the life you want.
Maybe you need to generate a higher income, or retire by a certain date. You may need to go back to school, or learn new skills. Your values may guide you to plan a big move, or start a business.
The goal is to clarify those high-level objectives that will get you where you eventually want to be – 5, 10, or 15 years from now.
Just make sure they are realistic, and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely).
And, these aren’t just practical steps for tangible results. When you think about your values, and how you want your life to reflect them, this also includes the person you will become. What work do you need to do on the inside to achieve your ideal future self?
This could include challenging limiting beliefs, fostering more compassion, deepening your spiritual faith, or breaking unhealthy habits.
Approaching your life plan from a holistic viewpoint will ensure your personal transformation affects every part of who you are.
Once you know what needs to happen to achieve your big goals, you can start outlining an action plan.
4. Plan your steps.
Now that you have a big-picture view of life goals that align with your highest values, it’s time to bring it down to ground level.
I know, it’s fun to daydream about “what could be”. But all you’ll accomplish is “what could’ve been” if you never make a plan.
You need to identify the actions that will move you toward your goals. Do this by breaking down your high-level objectives into annual, monthly, quarterly, weekly, and daily steps.
Two great books that helped me with this process are The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran, and The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. Both books focus on how to identify the smaller, short-term goals you need to accomplish in order to reach the big ones.
Breaking things down into small, manageable steps will make your big picture seem much more attainable.
And, as you succeed in the short-term goals, you’ll build the motivation and perseverance needed to keep moving forward.
Creating a system that works for you is also critical to success. You want something that’s easy to follow, update, and access.
This could be something as simple as a calendar, as common as a daily planner, or as complex as a multi-page spreadsheet. You can be as creative or nerdy as you want – just make sure it’s not complicated or uninspiring to you.
The last point I want to mention is one that’s often overlooked, and the most likely to result in abandoned goals.
If you don’t expect mistakes, roadblocks, failures, and detours along the way, you’ll likely be discouraged from moving forward.
So, it’s *especially* important to incorporate a plan to deal with these events. Know what you’ll do when something goes wrong or unplanned. Know how you’ll respond to mistakes and failures. Know which way you’ll turn if there’s a roadblock in your way.
Because, believe me – these things will happen. And, that’s okay.
You just need to expect them and be ready to face the adversity. You’ll be amazed how much you can overcome when you’re led by your values.
5. Have accountability.
Some say that self-accountability is the only accountability that really works.
That may be true for some, but many need a little encouragement sometimes.
If you have a spouse or partner, I’m sure he or she is a big part of your life plan. So, make sure you’re both on the same page. One way to do this is by having weekly or monthly date nights to go over your progress and discuss upcoming action steps.
Hold each other accountable when motivation wanes and vision blurs. Remind each other of the reasons for the decisions you’ve made. Encourage one another when it seems like nothing is working.
Another way to foster accountability is by creating a progress tracker that’s kept in a common space, such as the kitchen or TV room. You could get creative with a poster board or just print something out.
Let your kids, extended family, and friends see how much you’ve accomplished and how far you have to go. This is a great way to inspire questions and conversations about pursuing a life plan.
Finally, ask people that you respect to check in with you occasionally. They can ask what steps you’re working on, celebrate your success with you, and some may even offer to pray for you.
When others take a genuine interest in your journey to a better life, it’s easier to stay on track and keep moving forward.
How To Make A Life Plan At 50
Because you’re reading a blog named Finance Over Fifty, there’s a good chance you’re closer to retirement than college.
So, I just wanted to encourage you that even those of us in our 50s should create a written life plan as we head into our later years.
After all, statistics increasingly lengthen longevity as new medical treatments are developed and people learn how to live healthier lives. If you’re in your 50s now, you very well could still have 40 years of life left – so don’t just wing it!
The advantage of being older is that values become more clear, and maturity is in our favor. We’ve learned a lot from past mistakes, and how to distinguish the fluff from the substance. We can also let a lot more stuff slide off our backs, and don’t tend to be as worried or anxious.
On the flipside, you may have gotten stuck in your ways and aren’t really open to change. You may not want to risk trying new things, or challenging your long-held habits.
This is where your values should guide you. Because, what’s important to you is worth the sacrifice.
In the end, the process really isn’t that different. The 5 steps outlined above still apply – even as you close out your career, become an empty-nester, and enter a new season of retirement.
Having a vision and a written plan is still important, because there are still people in your life that you value. There’s still that bucket list with items not crossed off. There’s still levels of growth to achieve, so in your final moments you can say … no regrets.
So, it’s time. You know what to do, and why you should do it.
Start dreaming. Get planning. And put it in writing.
I’m so excited for all that life holds for you in the future! Can’t you just feel the joy from here?