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Joseph and I are huge planners. We’re all about structuring our lives and making tweaks to those plans as we go along. That way we’re always building a life that gets us closer to our ideal. Our life plans include everything from where we live, the kind of work we do, how often we work from home, and the amount of money we want to make. Since we always have new goals and ambitions, we’re never finished making adjustments to our plans.

What Do I Want?

The first step in planning the life you want is to get out a piece of paper and actually write down all the things that you want in your life. Brainstorm where you want to be three to five years from now. Sit down, close your eyes, and imagine who is around you, where you’re living, and what kind of career you have. Three to five years is more than enough time to switch careers, so think hard about what is going to make you happy and what your ideal life would be like.

It’s okay to go back and forth about what you want. Sometimes we have a hard time deciding exactly where we want to live. What if there are several places that fulfill all of our major requirements? If there are multiple scenarios that could make you equally happy, one strategy to use instead is to jot down what doesn’t work for you. Sometimes it’s easier to narrow down options by identifying the things we don’t want.

Another technique to help you prioritize your life plans is to look at your past. What did and didn’t work for you before? The things that didn’t work out before aren’t mistakes. We all do the best we can with the information we have at the time, and it’s only in hindsight that we can realize the things we could have done differently. Review your life with critical and compassionate eyes, and incorporate that feedback into your life moving forward. We’ve lived in apartments several times over the years, and that has taught us that we are just not apartment people. We have kids and a dog, and we are all much happier being in a house with a yard compared to an apartment.

After reviewing your past, it’s time to assess what is currently going on in your life. What about your life makes you really happy right now? What do you enjoy? What causes significant friction in your life? Asking these questions helps you identity the things you need to protect and those things you might want to change going forward.

When you review what you don’t like, think specifically about why you don’t like it. It’s easy to say you hate your job, but what exactly is it about your job that you hate? Is it your coworkers, the assignments you receive, or your lack of autonomy? Once you have the real answers, you can create a plan to get you to where you want to go. That way you’re not just jumping from job to job—you’re looking for specific things to improve to make your life better.

How Do I Prioritize My Goals?

The next step is to categorize your goals by the time it will take to achieve them. At this point, you likely have some short-term goals, some one-year goals, some five-year goals, and some goals that are even further out, like retirement. Categorizing your goals like this is important because it helps you prioritize. If you have all of your goals on one long list, it’s easy to start thinking your goals are all equally important and need to be taken care of right now. That can get overwhelming fast.

So break your goals down. Make timelines for them, including both start and end dates, so it’s easier for you to prioritize the goals in your day-to-day life. For example, we want to have a child this year. Since we will be using IVF, a lot of our time and money will be dedicated to it in the short term. We also have the goal of being able to travel once we’ve retired, which is a long-term goal. In order to achieve more than a bare-bones retirement, we’re saving money for that goal right now and will keep putting money toward it over the years. Joseph also has a goal of climbing Kilimanjaro, but we haven’t even started saving for that yet because it’s not our primary focus compared to having a child or saving for retirement. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a life bucket list item that is still five to ten years out. We’ll start working toward it when Joseph is forty.

How Do I Achieve My Goals?

With your list of prioritized goals in hand, dig deep into your five-year goals. Since they’re so far out, these kind of goals need to be broken down into the steps. This is where your planning really comes into play. When I wanted to get out of a job I hated, I knew exactly what I disliked about it. I figured out the specific kind of job that I wanted and what industry I wanted to work in, and from there, I decided on the steps I needed to take to get a new job. I set goals for how many job applications I did every week and what I could do to take my mind off the job I hated. (One of those things was making YouTube videos, and even though I’m now in a job that I really enjoy, I’m still making videos.)

Once you break your long-term goals down into a plan, it feels so much more achievable. Based on your plan, all you need to do is take small actions on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. You want these steps to be simple nudges toward your goal so you don’t have to constantly think about them. Turn these steps into habits that can help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you eat out a lot and want to lose weight, you might have a daily goal of bringing lunch to work instead of going out to get food. Your next step then is to plan how you can pack your lunch every single day of the work week. Figure out how you can make your success inevitable, and then take those steps.

One thing to keep in mind about your one-year goals is that they aren’t just the short-term goals that will happen in the next five years and then be over. Saving for retirement can take thirty years, so you should be asking yourself, what goals can I set for the first year so I will reach my thirty-year goal? With something that long-term, you need to start immediately. For retirement, you’ll need to calculate how much money you need and then work backwards. Ask yourself how much money you need to save every month this year and what behaviors you need to change in your daily life so that reaching this goal is inevitable. Once you know that, you can set yourself one-year goals that will help you achieve your thirty-year goal.

What If Things Change?

It’s important to not just set and forget your goals once you have enacted your plan. You need to periodically check in to see if you’re hitting your milestones. If you’re not hitting those milestones, then you need to figure out where you’ve gone off-course and make changes to get back on track. However, it’s always possible that one of the goals you set isn’t something you want anymore. If that’s the case, cross it off your list.

It’s totally okay to do that. People often reach out to us about our one-year spending plan to ask about what to do when things change. The answer is, you tweak your plan. None of this is set in stone; you can always shift or reevaluate your priorities. We encourage people to acknowledge when their original plan doesn’t end up working out the way they wanted it to. The way you make sure your life stays on track is not by sticking to a rigid path but by course-correcting as you get more information and figure out what is important to you. That way you don’t wake up years later and have a midlife crisis because your life looks nothing like how you wanted it to be. You have the chance right now to prevent that from happening.

Make sure you celebrate your accomplishments along the way, even if they’re small. Bask in the glory of all of your successes. We always urge people to create individualized plans for what they want their lives to look like. Spend time thinking about what matters to you and what you find to be meaningful. Invest in those things. It’s wonderful when you can live your life in accordance with your own values rather than what other people tell you you should want. Leave everything else behind because it really doesn’t matter if it doesn’t bring you joy.

No matter how old you are, how much money you’re making, or whatever your potential roadblocks are, start planning your life and creating a life you love. It might take some time for you to reach your goals, but it is truly possible. Believe in yourself, start planning, and begin making changes.