New Year Planning: A Simple 3-Step Process to Clarify Your Priorities
On a scale of 1–10, how excited are you about planning for the New Year?
Is it something you even do?
For the last 5 years, this has been a process I look forward to, but that wasn’t always the case.
There were a few reasons I was uninspired about New Year planning:
- I equated it with setting New Year’s Resolutions, which get a bad wrap (rightfully so, in my opinion)
- I wasn’t sure what was special about the New Year vs planning for goals throughout the year
- The process of thinking about an entire year felt overwhelming
One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is figuring out how to capture everything in my vision for the New Year and then actually distill it down into something specific, concrete, and easy to follow through on.
After experimenting with different methods of reflection and visioning during the last five years, I don’t worry about that anymore. What helped me look forward to the process was deciding to let go of any expectation to have something really concrete come from New Year planning.
You may be asking, “So what’s the purpose then?”
The benefit of New Year planning
In my view, New Year planning is about planting seeds at a subconscious level that will help us get to where we want to go. Every time we take the time and energy to consciously reflect on our past and imagine the future, we move closer to where we want to go. Is that all we have to do? No, but it’s a necessary part of the process.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of ways we could go about planning for the New Year. Now I can appreciate that I have options and just pick whichever ones sound like fun. A few of these options could be:
- Reviewing past goals or measurements of success
- Reflecting on your biggest energy gains and drains (Tim Ferriss wrote about his process here)
- Celebrating your biggest accomplishments or what you’re most proud of
- Imagining and setting “impossible” goals
- Visioning an ideal lifestyle (what do I want to be, do, and have in the next 5–10 years?)
And the list goes on. The point is, there are many, many ways to do this, and the process I’ve outlined here is just one way.
In my experience, this 3-step process is one of the most helpful ways to establish your priorities for the New Year. As a result of this process, you should be able to distill your priorities onto a single page and they’ll actually be specific enough that you know where to start. Note: this could really be done anytime throughout the year.
It doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty details of creating a habit and drilling down to weekly goals. However, if you get into February and feel like you have no idea what’s going on anymore (anyone?), you could pull out this sheet and feel like you have a sense of direction.
Let’s get into it…
For me, it’s important to give myself a whole day for New Year planning. I usually spend about 2–4 hours casually going about this, but the idea that there is an entire day dedicated to this helps me have fun with it and relieve any kind of pressure to “get it done”.
So, find a favorite spot and get comfortable when you settle down to do this. Get your favorite snack, tea, coffee, candles, whatever your jam, and have yourself a mini-retreat.
Special request: Please don’t read through this article and imagine you can do this exercise in your head. It’s like the difference between thinking about building a business and having an actual business plan.
OK. Three steps. Let’s go.
Step 1: Fill out a Wheel of Life
I’ve been completing a Wheel of Life at least once a year since I was introduced to the tool in my professional coach training program.
The thing I love most about this tool is that you can adapt it for almost any use. Here, we’re trying to carve out the different areas of life, but you could also create a “Career Wheel” or a “Personal Development Wheel.” Want 12 slices instead of 8? Want to name them something different? Make it your own.
On the wheel below I made one of my typical edits, which is separating “friends” and “family.” Feel free to print the wheel below, or simply recreate one in your notebook.
1. Review each category — think briefly about what a satisfying life might look like for you in each area. Feel free to customize further.
2. Seeing the center of the wheel as 0 and the outer edges as 10, rate your current level of satisfaction with each life area by drawing a straight or curved line to create a new outer edge and write the score alongside. Keep in mind this is your level of satisfaction right now. For example, you may want more money in the bank 10 years from now, and you may also be completely satisfied with this area of life right now.
3. A few questions to reflect on after completing your wheel (bonus points for writing out your answers):
- What has helped create my current level of satisfaction in this area?
- What would a 10 look like in this area?
- What impact is this area having on other areas?
Step 2: Apply the 80/20 rule.
Now we want to use the 80/20 rule and find out what changes would actually have the biggest impact on your wheel.
Consider the question for each area:
What is one thing you could do that would have the biggest impact on your level of satisfaction in this area?
Write this answer out for each area and stick to one thing (or two small ones if necessary).
Step 3: Choose your top priorities for the next three months.
You now have a list of around 8–10 things that would have the biggest impact on your overall quality of life. Here is where we go back to the 80/20 rule and choose the top 1–3 things that are most important for you right now.
I agree with a lot of the current advice that says it’s less effective to set goals/priorities for any timeframe longer than 3 months. While long-term visioning and ideating are helpful, setting goals/priorities are different. There is simply too much that can happen within the next three months that it rarely makes sense to try and hold all of that in your mind.
A few questions to help narrow down your top priorities:
- What are you most inspired to focus on?
- What priority, if you were to focus on, would make the other ones easier?
- What is realistic for the next three months?
Taking it a step further:
After choosing 1–3 things to prioritize over the next 3 months, you can continue to break it down further. In my opinion, that is another exercise that consists of monthly/weekly/daily planning.
If you feel like you don’t know where to start, I would recommend using a planner to make the process easier.
I’ve tried the Passion Planner, the Best Self journal, the Productivity Planner, a regular Moleskine planner, Excel spreadsheets, and simply writing down my weekly to-do and daily priorities in a notebook. Honestly, I don’t have a particular favorite because they all have great features and they’re all missing things I want.
If you haven’t tried using a planner, my best advice is to simply pick one and find out what works for you and what doesn’t. (If you have a favorite, I would love to hear about it in the comments!)
Remember, planning and prioritizing is an ongoing process and a perfect system doesn’t exist. What works for you will partly depend on your lifestyle and priorities, which are constantly evolving over time.
If you made it through this process, you’ve probably done more than most when it comes to New Year planning. Even if you close your notebook and never look at it again, you WILL see a benefit from having gone through this process. You’ve consciously done the work of creating new neural pathways so your thoughts (and therefore your feelings and behaviors) have a direction to go — towards the things that are most important to you.
If you tried this process, I’d love to hear what worked for you? What didn’t? Do you have a favorite process for New Year planning?
Let me know in the comments below, and Happy New Year!