How to Make a Life Plan: Easy-to-Follow Steps and Template
We all have our own interpretation of what happiness looks like, and most of us have some idea of what we want for our future – be that in regard to our finances, family, career, health or relationships.
However, despite our best intentions, many of us go from one day to the next without any clear sense of direction. We might know what we’d like to achieve in the back of our minds, but we rarely sit down and address how we’re going to achieve it.
If this sounds familiar, and you feel like you’re not reaching your full potential, you may benefit from creating and following a life plan.
A life plan is essentially a structured outline of how you intend to achieve the goals that are important to you.
More than simply a list of hopes and wishes for the future, a life plan incorporates measurable factors and milestones that help you work toward those hopes and dreams.
A core aspect of a life plan is personal development. Creating such a plan forces you to assess your strengths and weaknesses and work out how they might be impacting on your sense of fulfillment and what you can do to change that.
More often than not, a life plan is a physical (or digital) document that can be constantly referred to and updated.
You can create it at any stage of your life and it may focus on any or all of the following:
- Career goals – Whether it’s your first steps into the professional world, a plan to start over with a career change or an ambition to run your own business, career goals are perhaps the most popular focus of a life plan.
- Financial stability – Your life plan may incorporate one of the many aspects of personal finance, such as repaying debt, investing in secure assets or saving for retirement.
- Relationships and family goals – You might be ready to progress your relationship and start a family, you may be single and looking to settle down or you may simply want to extend your circle of friends.
- Health and well-being – Losing weight, keeping fit, eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are all examples of things you may choose to include in your life plan.
- Community and giving back – For many people, making a difference contributes significantly to their sense of fulfillment, whether as an active member of the local community, doing charity work or campaigning for a cause close to their heart.
Though they fall into different areas of life, the examples above have one thing in common: they are all end goals.
It’s these end goals that will inform your life plan. Once you’ve identified them, you can begin to plot the activity that will make them a reality.
It’s important to note here that nothing is set in stone. Circumstances may change – as may your hopes and dreams – and your life plan should adapt to suit your personal development.
Now we’ve established what a life plan is, let’s take a closer look at the value of putting one in place.
While there’s no one single reason for their implementation, a life plan may prove beneficial by:
- Helping you make better decisions – When you construct a life plan, you become more self-aware. This helps to inform how you make decisions, keeping choices aligned with your goals and values.
- Highlighting your priorities – That deeper level of self-awareness puts life into perspective. You’ll know exactly what is important to you and will prioritize the things that matter.
- Keeping you motivated – Dreams can often feel unobtainable, but when you break them down into small steps, they seem far more realistic, and your motivation will increase as you tick off your milestones.
- Holding you accountable – Though we’ve established nothing is set in stone, the mere act of writing down what you want to achieve makes you more likely to follow through, because you’ll have to answer to yourself if you don’t.
- Putting you in control – Life can be pretty full on at times, and it often feels like our destiny is out of our hands. Creating and following a life plan puts you in the driver’s seat and reminds you you’re in control of your own future.
Before you start plotting where you want life to take you, take stock of where you are now and how you got there. Think about parts of your life that you’re happy with, things you’d like to improve on and things you’d like to eliminate completely.
It’s important at this stage to address your strengths and weaknesses, as your life plan must be realistic to have any value. If you identify a weakness that stands in the way of your dream, you need to ask yourself honestly if you are able and willing to overcome it.
You should also look back on your past successes and failures. Though we’d often prefer to forget them, failures can be particularly insightful. After all, we should make a point of learning from our mistakes.
It’s useful to document this self-reflection – in a journal, for example – so you can refer back to it as you move through the stages of your life plan.
Your values dictate your priorities in life, but few of us rarely take the time to think deeply about what they are. As a result, we can spend a disproportionate amount of time on things that mean very little to us.
For example, you may focus for years on climbing the corporate ladder, only to realize that family is much more important to you but that you’ve sacrificed it in favor of career success.
A life plan is like a roadmap that enables you to take the direction best matched to your values.
If you’re not sure where to start, look back on decisions you’ve made in the past. Consider what prompted you to make them and how happy or unhappy you are as a result. Assessing negative experiences can be particularly useful, as it helps you understand what you truly value by highlighting what you hope to avoid.
By this point you should have a deeper level of self-awareness. You should know what your priorities are in life, what you’d like to change and the strengths and weaknesses that may help or hold you back.
Now it’s time to look into the future and ask yourself what you see. How far ahead you stretch with your life plan is your decision. You might cover the next five or 10 years, or you may plan as far as your retirement.
Whatever stage of life you’re looking towards, the aim here is to establish what the best possible scenario looks like for you. Consider your long-term career goals, where you live, how you spend your time and who you spend it with.
Be honest about the type of lifestyle you want to lead and what that means in terms of your working status, relationships, finances and physical health.
With your long-term goals established, you can work backwards and determine what steps you need to take to achieve them, setting specific milestones to work towards.
For example, if your life plan focuses on professional progression, there will be several short-term career goals to accomplish along the way. These could include extending your network, earning a new qualification or developing your leadership skills.
Whatever area of life you’re focusing on, the steps you plan out should follow the SMART model. They should be:
- Specific – Well-defined with clear objectives
- Measurable – Quantifiable, so you can track progress
- Attainable – They should be realistic and within your means
- Relevant – Aligned with your values, strengths and long-term ambitions
- Timely – Plotted with achievable deadlines that keep you moving forward
This is the step that will make your dreams seem obtainable by breaking them down into component parts, so be sure to address this step thoroughly.
What you’ve created so far is the theory of your life plan. Now you need to start thinking about its practicalities.
This can involve removing things from your life that could be considered roadblocks, and/or bringing in new practices that give your life structure.
For example, you may have a short-term goal of losing 10 pounds. You might remove that Friday-night takeaway and implement a weekly meal plan that helps you control your calorie intake.
The key here is to ensure that any changes you make are sustainable. To use our weight loss example, it’s impractical to cut out treats completely – you’ll likely crack because you’ve restricted yourself too much.
It’s all about finding the right balance and implementing small, viable changes that make your theoretical life plan a practical reality.
As the saying goes, no man is an island. To get where you want to go in life, you’ll need help along the way.
Ask yourself what support would be beneficial, then seek it out. This could be from your employer, co-workers, family, friends or a professional coach of some kind.
It could be in the form of a community network, be that a physical one or a social media community.
Having the right support system in place brings you the resources, encouragement and motivation to succeed at each stage of your life plan.
Flexibility is key if your life plan is going to work. Circumstances change, as do hopes and dreams, so it’s important to check in with yourself at regular intervals to make sure you’re still on the right track.
As you grow, your life plan needs to grow with you, so make a habit of regularly sitting down and re-evaluating the path you’ve planned out for yourself.
However old you are, and wherever you see yourself in the future, a life plan is a valuable tool that will help you find a greater sense of fulfillment and achievement.
It will guide you in the right direction, help you make decisions based on your core values and keep you motivated as you work towards your ambitions.
Whether you stick to one single path from start to finish or continually move the goalposts, a life plan can be the difference between simply living and living with purpose.