Create_Annual_Plan_blog

Believe it or not, the first month of the new year is almost over! Are you on track for your goals for 2015? Or are you already finding it hard to stick to your plan? Did you have time to plan for the year?

If you missed out on the New Year’s resolution train, no worries! There’s always time to plan for the year ahead and it doesn’t need to be January 1st to do so. But the sooner you create your plan, the better. In this post I’m going to share some of the resources I used to create my own plan, not only for my business, but also for all aspects of my life. Hopefully this will give you a framework to develop yours.

A good plan starts with a good framework to get you in the right mindset. These are the ones I found to be most helpful:

For my annual plan, I used the template suggested in Chris Guillebeau’s article, How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. You can download the template here. I customized my copy to suit how I like to plan things, so my template didn’t look exactly like the one he created. But I used the same process to arrive at what I think is a good plan. Here’s how mine looked by the time I finished:

CW_Annual_Review

Once I found a template that felt right, I went through the planning process step by step. Here are the main steps:

Step 1: Review the past year

Just about every annual plan I studied started the same way. You look back on the previous year and ask yourself two questions:

  1. What went right?
  2. What didn’t go so right?

The first question gives you an idea of your past wins and an idea of what you’ve accomplished so far. It also gives you an idea of what worked in the past and how you might apply that to your goals in the future.

The second question isn’t meant to make you feel bad. Examining what didn’t work out for you will give you insight on what you may need to improve for the coming year and what you may decide to avoid.

How deep you want to go in reviewing the past year is up to you. In the article by Fizzle, The End of Year Review and Planning, they go through a pretty elaborate process of reviewing all of their creative work for the past year and applying some math and metrics behind it. For my purposes, I didn’t want to explore that deep for my first plan, but I may include that process at this end of this year.

Step 2: Categorize your major goals

In Chris Guillebeau’s plan, major goals are categorized, such as Health, Business, Income, Learning, etc. Some of my major categories in my plan were Business, Health, Home, Reading. Whatever area of your life you want to focus on for the year is a category. You probably have some big goals in mind for your art and business as well as some big goals in mind for your family and finances. Categorizing them helps you to focus the most important ones.

Step 3: Write down specific measurable goals for each category

Goals are more likely to be accomplished if they are specific and measurable. If they’re vague and/or you can’t measure them, how will you know if you accomplished your goal? So instead of “I want more subscribers” my goal is “Build the mailing list to 3,000 subscribers”.

CW_Annual_Review_goal

Step 4: Write down next steps for each goal and a deadline

This is one of the things that keep your annual review from being an academic exercise. For each goal, write specific tasks you have to take in order to accomplish that goal. Then set a deadline to it. Sometimes it will just take a few action items, or if it’s a really big project you may have to break the goal down into many action steps. You can do this directly in your annual plan spreadsheet, but for my purposes I logged these steps into my task management app. I use an app called Todoist, which I wrote about here. For yourself use whatever app, software, or method you prefer to log your tasks and deadlines.

Many of my goals are large projects that have a lot of steps and subgoals. So I broke those down into separate projects with their own deadlines. Other goals like, “Read at least 36 books this year” are repetitive with daily deadlines, so I set them up as repeating tasks. I also labeled any task related to my annual plan as high priority, so that on any particular day I know to finish these first, instead of say, vacuuming or going to the grocery store. Essentially, this put the most important tasks in my to-do list first before I fill up the rest of my year with tasks not related to my overall goals. Basically this is the old “Big Rocks First” concept from Dr. Stephen Covey’s First Things First. By the time you finish your plan, your calendar and to-do list should have everything you need to do in order to accomplish your goals for the year.

CW_Annual_Review_todoist

Step 5: Set some metrics

I’m a total measurement nerd. So I found the “Metrics” tab in Chris Guillebeau’s plan to be the most interesting part of planning. For me, I’m motivated by results and it’s fun to see visual confirmation of what I accomplished. I made a small alteration to the original template so that I can track each metric every quarter.

CW_Annual_Review_metrics

When choosing what metrics to include in your plan, I found that it’s a good idea to measure things that track your process as opposed to things that track your results. So if my goal is to read 36 books this year, I’ll break that goal down into how many pages I’ve read in a day. Or if my goal is to build my mailing list to 3,000 subscribers, I’ll measure the things that usually result in more subscribers, like the number of new blog posts I write and the number of tweets I send or the number of times I post on Facebook. Why process instead of progress to your end result? Because process is in your control while results aren’t necessarily so.

Here’s an example…last year I lost about 30 pounds. Partly it was through making minor changes to my diet, but mostly it was by getting really serious about exercising and getting in shape. Like most people, this wasn’t the first time I tried to lose some extra pounds, but this was the first time I actually lost a significant amount of weight. What did I do differently? I didn’t focus on what I saw on the scale, I focused on how many workouts I completed in a week. I made it my goal to exercise every single day, twice a day most of the time…a mixture of cardio, weight training, and yoga.

Focusing on how much I lost each week was pretty discouraging. Short-term weight loss results usually aren’t in your direct control. There’s a whole lot going on in the body beyond the gallons of sweat you expended that day that goes into what you see on that scale. But you can control whether you exercise or not. In the long run, despite the day-to-day fluctuations in my weight, I did eventually lose the pounds because I focused on sticking to my routine that week instead of the fact that took a week to lose a half a pound. Lots of people complemented me and asked how I did it. My answer was pretty boring and completely true, “One workout at a time”.

So if your goal is to land 10 new gallery accounts this year, don’t measure on how many you land in a week. Measure the things that will eventually bring you new accounts, like how many you call, or how many portfolios you send, or how many you visit. You can’t control whether one particular gallery accepts you or not, but you can control how many galleries you pitch in a week.

There’s a great article called “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead” by James Clear that outlines this concept beautifully. He also has some other great articles on productivity and habit-creation, so feel free to check out the rest of his website.

Step 6: Add some maybes

Got some goals that don’t necessarily fit anywhere or ones that you would like to keep on your radar? Add them to the Possible Additional Goals section. You don’t have to set dates on these or put in next steps. This section is strictly for goals that you want list as something you may want to tackle this year. Who knows? You may have the time to get to some of them. If not, there’s always next year.

Step 7: Review your plan regularly

Chris’ template includes dates for reviewing your annual plan every quarter. I altered my plan so that I can also update my metrics every quarter as well. Schedule quarterly reviews of your plan in your calendar or todo list. Reviewing the plan regularly is another thing that keeps it from becoming an academic exercise. In the past I’ve created a plan, tucked it away in a drawer, and then forgot what my goals were in approximately a week.

This year I’m reviewing my plan pretty much every day. I refer to my annual plan during my Weekly Review Session (more on that later) and I read the main highlights during my Morning Startup Routine (more on that later too).

This keeps my goals fresh in my mind and also helps me to adjust my plan as needed. I’ve already made some minor adjustments to deadlines and action steps because I found that perhaps a deadline is a bit too aggressive or I needed to add or subtract a task in my action steps. Or because maybe a task didn’t take as long as I thought so I could accelerate a particular goal. Or because life happens. One of my goals is to run an 8K in March, but an injury has made me sideline my training for a week. So I adjusted my training schedule and adjusted my activity mix to include more yoga and flexibility training to avoid further injuries. Things change, there’s nothing saying that your plan can’t change as well.

An annual plan is not set in stone. It’s a roadmap, a place to start, a living document. If things change, change the plan.

So there you have it! That’s how I generated my roadmap for the next 11 to 12 months. I’ll check in on the blog from time to time to report back on how well I’m sticking to it. Feel free to use the links above to create your own plan or to re-create your existing one.

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A bit of advice for all the perfectionists out there from a fellow designer I work with. His rationale? “Perfection is often impossible and gives you no room to grow. Progress always gives you something to shoot for”.

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