Design your dream year

In work-life balance, getting things done by neville

At the end of each year we traditionally take time out to spend with family, reflect on the year and think about how things went. Mostly we do this in a rather ad-hoc fashion; no particular structure or methodology (we’re taking time off, right?) and we quickly turn to how we would like the next year to go. There’s a general feeling that, looking back, things were not too bad (or maybe they were) and next year is going to be a lot better.

Would your life-or your outlook on life-change if you were able to look back and say “that was an exceptional year”? A year where you not only booked great success in your business but also felt that you really, really had fun?

Not many of us can do that. I certainly can’t-at least not every year. But we can get closer to that dream year. Here’s how.

If you don’t plan it, it won’t happen

The first principle of having a dream year is that if you don’t plan it, it won’t happen. You may get lucky, go with the flow and have an exceptional year (I’ve had a couple of those), but chances are we’ll look back and find that it was OK but we didn’t quite get to do all the things we wanted to.

So you need to plan a dream year if you want to get close to having one. If you don’t even know what it looks like, how will you know what things to say no to during the year?

Put yourself first

The second principle is that you have to put yourself first. How many times have you postponed a holiday, or not taken one, just because you were too busy with work?

Taking time off is critical to recharge, get perspective on life and work and reconnect with the reasons we are alive. But we so easily postpone time off because we’re too busy-I’m guilty of that too. And before we know it the year is gone, we’re tired, our families are somewhat disconnected and we’re hoping next year will be better.

So to get to a dream year you have to put yourself first because we tend to put ourselves last.

How to design your dream year

You’re going to need the following:

  • An annual calendar (you can download one here);
  • Four or five highlighters: yellow, blue, red, pink and green (you can get away with four colors).
  • About 30 minutes with your partner, spouse or significant other. If you don’t have one of those get a friend.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Start with yellow. Yellow time is mellow time, so this is you taking time off. Highlight all the days in the year that you’re going to take off. Weekends, holidays, even birthdays and most definitely vacations. (This is why you want your significant other present-you’re committing to taking time off to them as much as to yourself.)
  2. Now highlight blue days. Blue is for blue sky-dreaming and thinking of the future, otherwise known as reviewing how things went and planning your strategy. I take one day at the end of each quarter just for reviewing and planning my strategy for the next quarter (more at the end of the year for longer-term planning).
  3. Red is for red tape. These are the days that you’re going to do admin work (it’s all red tape). Depending on the size of your business you won’t need a whole day, but your focus priority for that day is admin. I have a red day at the end of each month and one about half-way through.
  4. Pink for for touchy-feely stuff. These are days reserved for team building and personal development. Optional if you’re solo; highly recommended if you have a team. Again, you don’t have to take a whole day out, half a day may be enough. But slot them in-no fewer than one per quarter.
  5. What remains is for the green machine. Green is the color of money (at least in some countries). These are the days that you’re going to be working and making money.

Here’s what the first half of 2018 looks like for me (the vacation in May has moved slightly since I took this snapshot):

Sticking to the plan

Of course planning is one thing, sticking to it is another. The most powerful tool you have to make sure you stick to the plan (and also the most difficult one to use) is the ability to say no.

Here’s the key:

If you are not operating at peak performance levels, your business won’t be either.

This means taking time off is not a luxury-it is a necessity. Keeping your admin up to date is not optional; you have to do it. Thinking about whether you’re doing the right thing is critical, so you have to take time out to think without being interrupted.

If you don’t learn to say no you won’t be able to keep up to date with your personal performance, your admin will fall behind and your business will veer off in unexpected directions.

So when interruptions happen learn to say no, because you also have other stuff to do and those take priority. Almost always.

Design your dream year

Doing this exercise annually is a great way to start steering your life and take control of the outcomes. My annual plan lives on the wall next to my desk-I consult it all the time to make sure I don’t commit to stuff that I can’t honour.

I found it difficult to stick to the plan the first time round; but now that I’ve been doing it for a few years I’m getting better at it. And my dream years are becoming much more real.

If you want to learn more about this planning system, check out my Have a Life 2018 guide here.

Here’s to your dream year!