Several times in our lives together, my husband and I have done a “5 year plan” for ourselves. I’m not going to spend much of this post convincing anyone about Why. I’ll just say this – you may have heard the line “most people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their lives”. That’s not how I want to live my life – I don’t want to wake up and find out that I’ve run out of time – I want to live it with intention.

Last year, we realized two things: we hadn’t gone on an international vacation in 5 years (a resort in Mexico just doesn’t count), AND it was about time for another 5 year plan. We decided to up the ante with how we had typically gone about it in the past.

I looked to my creative life, my work in leading Agile transformations, and online, and I pieced together some simple writing exercises that my husband and I could both resonate with. We refined together, and here’s what we ended up with.

Principles we learned:

  • It’s more like a design than a plan. Just roll with it and don’t worry about perfect outcomes.
  • Do it together. It was more meaningful to create it together, and then I knew I wasn’t forcing us into something.
  • Have fun! Find an awesome place to work on it together, have a fun weekend getaway, go hole up in a booth at the most expensive breakfast buffet in town and make them regret serving bottomless bloody marys (yes, that’s what we did).
  • Don’t give up. We did have to convince ourselves a little bit. If this sounds too formal, see Why above. If this sounds like something you don’t know if you’ll ever find the time to do, see Why above. If you think you can’t write, this isn’t a contest and no one will see it – just write whatever comes to mind, even if you think it might be silly.

Prep exercises:

A. Name the different areas of our life.

Here’s what we came up with:

  • Family
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Health
  • Travel
  • Intellectual pursuits or hobbies
  • Social
  • Lifestyle/environment (where we live, how we live etc.)
  • Spiritual
  • Emotions/Behaviors
  • Volunteerism

B. Define the timeframe.

For us, 5 years made sense, but it could be different for you.

C. Brainstorm an awesome place/way to create the first draft. (See Bloody Marys above…)

Creating your first draft of your AWESOME life plan!

We thought we would get through all of the questions in one day, but we quickly realized that two days, even separated by some investigation time in between, was more realistic and fun – no pressure!

Day 1

Bring: paper, pencil/pen, and these questions. Optional: markers, art supplies, your dog, etc.

Get comfy. Start writing…

  1. List Roles
    • What are the roles I play in my life? (Just list them out… mother, aunt, daughter, Software Programmer at work, Friend, writer, etc…)
    • Also just write the first thing that comes to mind for “Who am I?”
  2. Describe Roles
    • What is the purpose of each role?
    • What is the priority of each role at this point in my life?
    • This helped us focus and come up with ideas for the next section
  3. Describe Future
    • Refer to the areas of your life. For each area, describe: What are my goals? What would my life look like in 5 years in this area?
    • Note: it’s helpful to think big: What is possible? What would my future self want?
  4. Describe Today
    • What is my/our current reality?
    • What do I currently like about my life?
    • What’s working well?
  5. Create Actions
    • What are some steps I could take to get to my goals?
    • Be specific:  What will I do? Who will I do it with?
  6. Share goals and actions with each other

We wrote on our own and then shared at the end. I thought maybe we would share after each question, but we each went down our own paths and didn’t exactly follow the order, so it made more sense to share later when we were ready.

We were happily surprised to learn that some important stuff synched up (like wanting to spend more time at the ocean, wanting to travel more, wanting to find a way to connect with something more than material, etc.), and I feel really lucky about that.

I could see how it could be scary to explore future desires with your partner, only to find out you want drastically different things. Of course, everything we want does not line up perfectly, but we looked for the similarities and focused on the positive overlap.

Day 2

We waited about three weeks, unintentionally, because the holidays were upon us.

Prework – we pulled out our budget together and revised it, and we were thinking about which of our actions required money. Do some investigation on costs of things, for example, if you’re going to go back to school or something.

Found another comfy spot – this time a coffee shop for a morning, and splurged on breakfast burritos and huge lattes.

Bust out that paper and pencil again:

  1. Clarify Actions and Prioritize
    • Reread the specific actions from #5 last time. Make sure they are clear. Write more if we need to.
    • Prioritize the categories for ourselves – this means number them in order from 1-whatever.
  2. Identify Help
    • What obstacles might I encounter?
    • What support do I need?
    • What do I need to do, daily/weekly, to meet my actions this year?
    • Who do I need help from? ID some people we need to ask for help – either to just support me/us in what we are doing, or help with some kind of information or assistance
  3. Budget
    • What is our budget?
    • Share actions and ideas and make budget decisions based on actions
  4. Checking In
    • This is about frequency – we didn’t want to go a whole year (or more) without thinking about this work, so we brainstormed holding our selves accountable with some kind of planning board, and then doing another coffee shop retreat about half way through the year. And then I put a calendar reminder in my phone right then and there.
  5. Retrospective
    • What parts of this process worked for us?
    • What would we adjust next time?
    • I would not be a respectable Agilist without doing a “retro” – and we found this useful too! Terry thought it was good that we had a break between part 1 and 2, so that things could sink in. He also suggested we get out of our element a little more – go up into the mountains for a night. We both agreed that bottomless bloody marys and omelets and shrimp cocktail was key to us making it through day 1.

Whew! Done!

What we experienced was a little mind-numbness right after – like, wow, that was a bit of work, and wow, we have all of those goals, and wow, life is short, and cool that we are thinking about it, but it feels a bit daunting and what if we never do any of it, won’t that be more depressing than never having explored it at all?

But we had actions – things to do (and stop doing) and clear steps that we could focus on in the meantime.

We felt really good about what we created together and just the possibility of living some of our dreams was really inspiring and motivating. And sharing it together brought us closer together, which was probably the best part.

And now we are doing the work. Stay tuned for more…

[Note: I have a backlog of posts that I didn’t publish – I’m backdating the post to around the time that I worked on the print. Current date: 9-2015]