Organized Dreaming: Lifestyle Goal Setting

This post is part of a series that goes into greater detail on the annual planning process. If you've been following along at home, you've completed an external analysis, an internal analysis, and put them together to create a SWOT analysis.
Now we're ready for goal setting.

If you've been doing this as part of a weekend retreat, by yourself or with your partner, I recommend taking a break at this point. If you had most of this information on hand, it might be time for lunch; if you had to look up/discuss a lot of it, you might have already done lunch and be ready for dinner. Maybe you're right in the middle and it's time for tea. Whatever the situation, you'll want to give your brain a rest and absorb the information you've put together. So take a break of at least 1-2 hours, or maybe knock off for the rest of the day. It'll leave you ready to come back to this exercise rested and excited, which is good because this is the most exciting part.

The Best Part: What do you want to do?

We spent the last 3 days talking about what's going on around you, which will affect what you can do. But even after all that work, there's still lots of stuff that's in the realm of possibility... too much stuff, to be honest. So now we get to the fun question; what do you want to do?

This procedure is not mine, it's taken from The Family CFO, and I'm recalling it off the top of my head. If you'd like a more thorough version, the book is well worth checking out (and especially if you listed finance as a weakness back in the internal analysis).

1) Write down your dreams
Get 15 index cards or sticky notes for each person who's participating, as well as a pen for everyone; put the extra cards in the middle of the table. Everyone has to write down goals, dreams, things they want to do, things they'd like to do, ambitions, hopes... whatever you want to call them. The only rule is that you have to keep going until you've filled all 15 cards.

Yes, it's a lot. It's hard to write that many. That's the idea. We don't want to miss any -- these are your dreams we're talking about. And the only way to be sure you've got them all is to keep writing until you pass right on through sensible into silly. You'll find yourself writing down things like "lose $1000 in Vegas" or "sit on Santa's lap at the New York Macy's" -- that's OK. Keep going until you've written down 15.

By the time you get to 14, you may find yourself with extra ideas.

2) Discuss your dreams
If you're doing this with a partner, this will be a literal discussion. Decide who's going first, or flip a coin if you can't agree. The starting partner flips over the top card, and explains what the dream is and why it's important to him/her. Once the starting partner has explained all of their dreams, switch roles.

If you're doing this alone, it's still worth writing a little blurb -- 3-5 sentences -- explaining what each dream means to you. It clarifies it in your head, and is a great way to motivate yourself 6 months from now.

3) Prioritize your dreams
I know, I'm the one who made you write down so many in the first place. But the fact remains that you may not be able to accomplish all of those goals simultaneously. So it's important to make sure you're working on the ones that matter most to you.

If you and your partner had duplicate dreams, discard the extras. Then pull one out of the pile and put it out on the table. Pull the next one out, and decide whether it's more or less important than the first one you pulled out -- if you could only accomplish one of them, which would you want it to be? Put it above or below the first one accordingly. Then draw out the next one, and decide where on the list it belongs; I usually compare it to the top one, then to the next one, and so on, until I find one that I say "It's more important than that", and I put it above that one.

Keep going until you've prioritized everything.

Then look down the list one last time to make sure it's in the order you want it to be. If so, copy it down into your retreat notes.

4) Assign time frames
For each dream, list whether it's something you want to happen this year (buy an ipad, start a business, build a savings fund, lose 10 pounds), within the next 5 years (buy a car, buy a house, have kids, be making $5,000/month) or just sometime in your lifetime (climb Mount Everest, run a marathon, travel to Japan, start a non-profit). Or a dream might be ongoing (maintain standard of living, run every day, eat healthy, spend less than you earn).

Ta da!

You now have a prioritized list of what's most important to you, and if you did this with a partner, you guys are now on the same page about where you want to go. That's pretty sweet!

The next step is to make it tangible and turn it into a plan for the year. Next week we'll discuss Your Projects: Assembling the Plan.

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