The Best Thing I Have Ever Done for Myself

Why Everyone Should Create a Life Plan and How to Get Started

By far the best thing I have ever done for myself is create a life plan. A life plan is a simple document that you create as an intentional way of envisioning and committing yourself to a future you desire–in every area of life.

I wrote my life plan about seven months ago as I write this, and within weeks I saw remarkable results. Here are just a few:

  • I lost ten pounds and weigh less than I have in five years.
  • My relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues are the healthiest they have ever been.
  • I have renewed direction, focus and energy for my work at Baker.
  • I have goals and commitments in place for you—the community of folks who read this blog.
  • I have an acute sense of the areas of my life that need more attention, and I am making progress in each of them.
  • My financial situation has never been better. My family is on a budget, and we are more secure financially than we ever have been.
  • And for all these areas, I have a vision for where I want to go.

The Back Story

In late 2014 Baker Books, the division of Baker Publishing Group I work for, entered a publishing agreement with Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy to write a book titled Living Forward: How to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want. Michael Hyatt is the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, a New York Times bestselling author, and a highly rated blogger and podcaster in the leadership space. Daniel Harkavy is an executive coach, author, and the CEO of Building Champions, a successful executive coaching firm.

Living Forward is a user-friendly guide to creating a life plan. I was the acquisitions and developmental editor on the book, and within the first few chapters I was hooked. I knew I had to do this. The rest is history. Creating a life plan has been one of the most significant things I’ve done to improve my overall well-being.

And because of the transformative impact it had on me, I want to encourage everyone to create a life plan. It really is a game changer. If you can commit twenty-four hours to this, I promise it will make a huge impact on your life and on the lives of those closest to you.

The purpose of this post is to give you the basic steps of how to get started. Along the way I’ll share how I went about the process.

Set a Date for Creating Your Life Plan

I arrived later in the day than I wanted to, but I was so excited to begin this journey.

I arrived later in the day than I wanted to, but I was so excited to begin this journey.

The single most important step in creating a life plan is setting a date.  Think of it as taking a brief retreat. Even if it’s six months to a year from now, set a date. I recommend blocking out a two-day window just to make sure you have ample time to complete your life plan.

I looked at my calendar in the spring of 2015 and saw August 5-6 was open. My plan was to arrive in the afternoon on August 4, get settled, create my life plan on August 5, and finish it up on August 6 before returning home. On the church calendar this just happened to be The Feast of the Transfiguration, which seemed fitting enough!

Decide on a Place

The second most important step is deciding on a place where you can get away from the normal distractions of life. I went to a spiritual retreat called The Hermitage in Three Rivers, Michigan. It’s just a few hours from where I live, and I knew it would provide the solitude I needed to think carefully about the questions Living Forward asks.

The chair and fire ring is where I wrote the majority of my life plan. I wrote it long hand on a legal pad first, then typed it out at the desk in the shack so I would have a digital copy.

This chair and fire ring is where I wrote the majority of my life plan. I wrote it long hand on a legal pad first, then typed it out at the desk inside so I would have a digital copy.

I stayed in a little shack affectionately called The Hut. It was 12 x 8 room with a wood stove and no electricity or running water. I spent most of my time by the fire ring outside. One morning I was greeted by a doe and her two fawns. It was a beautiful setting.

Your idea of getting away may look very different. A colleague of mine went to Estes Park and hung out at a coffee shop. Others may want to check in to a nice hotel. Budget is obviously a consideration here. The point is to pick some place that you consider awesome and inspiring if you can. And if you can’t, at least pick a place that will be quiet and distraction free.

This is the desk where I transferred my written life plan to a typed version. Those cooler jugs to the left were my only source of water at the Hut, and yes, that’s an oil lamp on the desk–my only source of light at night. I felt like Thoreau!

Setting a date and reserving a space—that’s the hard part. Once you’ve done these two things, you’ve set yourself up for a great experience.

Go Through the Process

The process of actually creating your life plan has three main steps. The first step is imagining how you want the people you care about most to remember you.  The second step is identifying your “life accounts” or “life areas,” as I prefer. The third step is writing out your purpose, envisioned future, current reality, and commitments for each life account or area.

If you can only block off a day or if you want to do some of the process before your retreat, you can do the first step and probably even the first and second steps beforehand. The process of writing out your purpose, envisioned future, etc., does take time and a significant level of concentration, so I would reserve this step for the retreat.

I took these pictures thinking, "Maybe I'll write a blog post about this some day..."

I took these pictures thinking, “Maybe I’ll write a blog post about this some day…”

Take Care of Yourself

The questions Living Forward asks are penetrating, deep questions. This may well be an emotional experience for you. It was for me and for the colleague to whom I referred earlier. Drink plenty of water. Get as much sleep as you can in the nights leading up to the retreat and during it.

IMG_0301[1]

I lamented the fact that it was too warm to use the wood stove–a good reason to go back!

During the retreat don’t be afraid to take breaks to stay fresh. I remember tackling a life area or two or three and then going for a walk or having a healthy snack. It’s important to pace yourself and practice good self-care along the way.

I took these pictures thinking, "Maybe I'll write a blog post about this some day..."

I took these pictures thinking, “Maybe I’ll write a blog post about this some day…”

Review and Revise

IMG_0302[1]Once you have created your life plan, Michael and Daniel stress how important it is to review it. Daniel encouraged me to review it daily for the first ninety days and then weekly thereafter. I can’t claim to have accomplished this, but I do review it regularly—almost weekly.

I’ve already tweaked my life plan in several different small ways. I have completed tasks and then removed them from the plan. I’ve done some reformatting so it reads easier. I have reworded things so it sounds better.

Goal Setting

When I took Michael Hyatt’s “Five Days to Your Best Year Ever” course earlier this year, which is essentially a New Year’s goal-setting course, my life plan was a key resource along the way. It helped me develop specific goals that were in alignment with my vision for my future. The two together—a life plan and specific goals—make for a powerful combination.

By the way, part of the life plan process is developing what the authors call “commitments” for each life area. These commitments can certainly be worded as goals, so don’t feel like you have to engage in a separate goal-setting process. But once you have your life plan, it will be natural to refer to it whenever you are developing goals for yourself.

Share the Experience

IMG_0299[1]Toward the end of Living Forward, Michael and Daniel encourage leaders to bring life planning to their teams. And again, because I found the process so rewarding, I wanted my team to go through the process too.

I also agree with the authors who in chapter 10 write, “There is no such thing as a compartmentalized life. Every area, space, category, and set of relationships is interrelated. You are a seamless whole.” That’s true!

I know that if my colleagues are living healthy, sustainable, interesting lives; if their relationships are in good order; if they are financially secure; if their spiritual lives are healthy—if these things are true, they are not only going to be happier people and more fun to be around. They’re going to produce their best work, which is good for everybody!

So far two of my colleagues have created their life plans, and the experience has been overwhelmingly positive for both of them. We’ve talked about the parts of their plans that are most relevant to work, and the conversations have been among the most productive conversations we’ve had.

Your Next Step

Have I convinced you? I hope so. You have only one life, and it deserves a plan! Do these two things to get started:

  • Set a date. Better yet, set a two-day window.
  • Get the book. If you preorder a copy before March 1, 2016, the authors are giving away $360 worth of helpful freebies. To find out more, visit livingforwardbook.com.

Challenge: Go ahead, set a date. Even better, set a date and share it in the comments. When are you going to create your life plan? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Danie Botha

    Thank you for such an honest personal story, Chad. I tasted a little of this last year with the Tribe conference, but the commitment was only to launch a new blogging website. This is much more personal. I need to do that. I’m getting the book.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • Chad, this is why I have loved working with you and the Baker team. You have been all-in. I can’t tell you how much this means to me as an author!

    • Chad R. Allen

      We’re honored to be working with you, Michael! This book is going to have a major impact on so many lives–just as it has on mine. Thank you!

  • Tracie Heskett

    I don’t know if I can do this without the book, but I’ll try. 🙂 The dates/window I have open is that we’re going to the beach for 4 days next week. Perfect getaway time 🙂 So I have the date and the place. And I can do some pre-thinking today, since right now I’m between work commitments.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Tracie, the book releases on March 1 so hopefully you could have it for at least part of your time away. It really is helpful. I don’t think I could have created my life plan without it.

  • thank you, this is a gem @chadrallen:disqus . Inspired not only for myself but for others I work alongside with whom I can share it.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Awesome!

  • Love this @chadrallen:disqus. It shows you didn’t just engage the book on a professional level for work…but on a personal level for life. I appreciate you man.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Thanks, Kary, and you know how mutual the feeling is!

  • I would like to create a life plan with my husband. Can this be done as a couple? How would you approach it as such? Or should we each do our own and then develop couple/family goals from that?

    • Chad R. Allen

      Julie, I love this idea, though I’ve never done it, so all I can offer are thoughts. I would think it would be important for each individual to create his/her life plan separately, then confer with the other, and make adjustments as needed.

      • That’s what I was thinking, Chad. Tonight may be the night to get him on board with the idea! Thanks.

  • Anita

    I’m on the launch team, and I just got my book on Monday. I’m so excited for this process and I’m planning on having my retreat March 19-20. I’m curious–what did your wife think of the retreat idea? Has she also gone on a retreat? Do you plan on making a life plan together as well?

    • Chad R. Allen

      Way to nail down a date! My wife is a patient, loving soul, so in addition to tolerating my work travel, she let me do this too! She also read my plan, and we had a good conversation about it. Funny you should ask about whether she’s gone on a retreat. It was because she went on a retreat to The Hermitage in Three Rivers, MI years ago that I went there!

  • Nurya Love Parish

    So cool to read about your plan and get some backstory. I finished the book yesterday and am looking for my date on the calendar.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Awesome, Nurya!