How I plan my year in advance

How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity

The joys of January. New year, new possibilities. Everyone is bursting with productive energies, making plans, setting up challenges, and writing resolutions. If only this blissful state could survive the first couple of weeks back at school/work and the long, dark winter nights. But sometimes we lose track of the goals we set, the many amazing adventures we envisioned for the new year and quickly settle back into our everyday routines. We may rediscover that ambitious and exciting list of New Year plans sometime in the summer, but those fresh energies are already gone, so the goals list goes back into the drawer. Been there, done that. And of course, it’s silly, as it’s never too late to change things.

For me, the best way to ensure that I do not lose sight of my goals, or of the things I want to do is planning, organizing, and constant tracking. Yes, while I do like spontaneity to some degree, it IS a quite low degree – I much, much prefer planning everything in advance when it comes to the major areas of life (at least the things I have power over).

My system is a mix of:

+ Big dreams

+ SMART steps – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound

+ Budgets

+ Bucket lists

+ Yearly goals

+ Monthly plans

While it may seem a little too complicated, it is easier than it seems. Usually, it takes me an hour at most to put together the yearly plan and 20-30 minutes at the end of each month to review and make the next monthly plans.

How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity
How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity

How to make sure your awesome New Year’s resolutions make it past January


Be specific

First of all, I don’t like resolutions. They seem too vague for my taste. I much prefer goals, and very specific goals with concrete step-by-step plans.

Making a decision about a goal, a habit or change is only the first step, and to be honest, the easier one. Following through is much harder. I think one of the reasons most resolutions don’t survive January is that they weren’t very specific or realistic to begin with.

Say, you’d like to lead a healthy lifestyle this year. What does that even mean? Try setting very specific rules and an actionable plan on how you’re going to achieve them. Like cutting out soda for a month. Setting up workout goals, whether it’s going to the gym 2 times, running specific distances, or lifting more weights.

Devise a plan and take it step by step

Once we have established our goals, it is time to devise a plan. I firmly believe in gradual improvement. Habits are hard to break or get used to. Some researchers say it takes at least 60-90 days and constant dedication for a new habit to stick. It is not possible to reform our lives in 2 days. Success takes time to achieve.

One thing that changed my outlook on habits and change was the realization of the limited capacity of our brain and willpower. Motivational quotes and books preach that it is possible to achieve anything by sheer willpower. Well, yes, but it has its daily limits. It is not an infinite resource, so we have to be very strategic with how we use it.

It is not realistic to stop smoking, desserts, and comfort food and start training as an athlete at the same time. Often, it took months or years to automate bad habits or the old way of doing things, is it really realistic to think they can be changed overnight? It will be pure suffering, and the chances of giving up will be very high, as we would push our willpower to its limits.

So, make a plan with actionable tasks and stick to it. Remember how marathon runners prepare for their big race. Are they running 40 km every day, from the first day they decide to run a marathon? No, they break it down into smaller sections, gradually increasing the distance or speed.

It’s the same with ambitious goals or new habits. Set a goal and then work backward and list the steps you should make towards that goal.

How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity

How I plan my year in advance


I use a simple excel to do my yearly planning (as I do with my blog planning). It’s nothing fancy, but totally does the job. I dedicate a separate spreadsheet to each area and month, and this way I have everything in one place. These are the main spreadsheets I use for my planning:

1 // A yearly theme

This is the only area where I do not set specific goals. I like to set a couple of keywords for each new year. It’s like an overarching theme – words that define my year, where I am at life, and what my focus will be.

For 2018, it’s:

  • Creativity – I would like to focus more on writing, photography, videography, doing different projects, finding, being inspired by and possibly cooperating with creative talented people
  • Adventures – stepping up my “dare to step outside the bubble” game, trying different things, hopefully traveling to one of my bucket list destinations
  • New beginnings – Career-wise, I’m going full freelance this year, so the focus will be on building my own clientele. On the personal front, we’re moving into a new apartment that will be the first one we can decorate and furnish as we like, so it’s a pretty big project.
  • Conscious choices – I’d like to be more conscious of what kind of choices I make and how they affect my own life as well as the bigger world.

2 // Personal goals

Some personal goals I set for myself, related to my relationships (dedicating time to family and friends, organizing programs), health (workout and health goals), personal growth (skills and habits I’d like to work on).

3 // Professional goals

I try to be very specific with this one, whether it’s about the skills I would like to acquire, job changes, or financial goals. It can range anything from the type of new job you would like to do, the website you would build for your business, the events, conferences you would attend, the clients or salary you would like to have this year etc. The more specific, the better. And always include the steps/tasks needed to achieve those goals.

4 // Financials

  • Potential income for the year
  • Potential bigger costs
  • Aligning the two
  • Spending rules, whether it is about an allocated monthly budget for things, or a limit on different spendings.

// Travel plan

  • My yearly travel wishlist
  • Potential destinations
  • Potential dates – looking at national holidays, bank holidays, long weekends, as well as commitments I know well ahead of
  • Approximate financial budget. Having traveled a lot these last few years, I can kind of estimate how much one trip will cost. I make a rough plan, based on the financial sheets, of how much travel can be crammed into the year.

6 // The mini bucket list

My favorite part. This is a running mini bucket list, not the “once I will climb the Mount Everest“-type of stuff, but the “I would like to go to this restaurant, cook vegan food, see this exhibit or play, go jetskiing or throw a Christmas party” kind of things. Whenever I come across something interesting, whether it’s a good program idea or a place I would like to visit, it goes onto the list. A more advanced version is a seasonal spreadsheet, listing different activities and program ideas specific to seasons.

7 – 18 // The monthly sheets

  • Every month has a separate sheet
  • This is the place where I register the monthly costs, as I find it very useful (and sometimes shocking and eye-opening) to go through them regularly and see where the money goes
  • I also determine special monthly goals and review the months in these sheets at the last day of a month. I don’t do a daily journal or something like that, but I like to write down what I did in a month, where I went, what I did.

How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity

The planning process

  • The annual goals plan aka the first five spreadsheets: As I said, I like to do them at the end of December or the very beginning of January. It really does not take more than an hour. I might revisit these occasionally and add something, but it is more or less set.
  • The mini bucket list I like to update continuously.
  • The monthly reviews and planning – Every last day of a month. I transfer my list of costs (that I write in Notes in my phone), I go through my calendar and write down the most important things I did, from work assignments to programs. Last, I open next month’s sheet and set down 4-5 things I want to do next month. Usually, the monthly summary is approximately 20-30 minutes the most.

That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing too time-consuming, but for me, it ensures I have a clear vision of the coming year and I never lose sight of my goals.

Let me know, how do you plan your year ahead?

How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity

How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity
How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity
How to plan a year ahead New Year's resolutions / goals / work / business / organizing / productivity

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