How will the next 12 months be better than your previous 12?

For a long time, I didn’t know how to answer that question.  By default, my thinking usually went to “well I’ll just do more of what worked and less of what didn’t”.

Sounds logical right?  Wrong.

More, more, more quickly leads to burnout – and that’s not going to create a better year.

So what do you do?

You need to have a process for getting clear on what you really want.  If you don’t, you’ll drift.  However, if you’re clear (and you have a plan), you’ll make massive progress.

Below you’ll find the four stages my wife and I go through every year during our planning process.  Once we are clear, we then craft a yearly plan which keeps us on track as we work to get closer and closer to the life of our dreams.

Before we dive into this, there is one thing you should know…

Get Clear On How You Measure Success

You’re going to have a hard time making any decisions or conducting any planning if you don’t have a “decision criterion”.

Here’s what I mean…

Planning your year means you’ll want to say “yes” to some things and “no” to others.  But how are you going to decide?

For example, if you’re looking at two options and you have to pick one, what are you going to base your decision on?

Money?

Time?

Until you know what “that” is, you’ll stall or delay the decision.

So for example, my number one criterion for anything I am making a decision on is “stress”.  I ask, will this create more stress or will it help eliminate stress?

Then I rank each opportunity on a scale of 1-10 (1 = bad/high stress, 10 = great/super low stress).  Anything lower than a 9 or 10 I don’t do.

Second step is to rinse and repeat with the opportunities that survived “round one” with my second criterion (for me is “impact”).  Then my third (profitability).

Once you know your criterion, then the “next steps” become very clear.

Some examples could be criterion such as:

– Income potential
– Impact on others (or the world)
– Fulfillment of the work
– Profitability
– Lifestyle impact
– Prestige
– Power
– Connections
– Freedom

Whatever yours is, get clear on it (and there is no right or wrong answer to this… only what’s right for you).

As simple as that ranking scale is, it will help you quickly move forward – even when the decision may initially seem really difficult (as was the case when I decided to sell my business).

For me, my primary goal every year is to reduce the stress I experience in both my business and in my life. That means I intentionally plan and look for ways to work less, make more and have greater impact on the the ones I love (and the world in general).

The Four Stages of Planning a Successful Year

[note]To make this process even easier (and more powerful) my wife and I go through Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever course.  By the end of the 5 lessons/exercises, we are crystal clear about how we are going to make the next 12 months our best year ever.  If you want the same, I recommend you check out his free video series. [/note]

With the clarity of knowing how I measure success and what I will be using as a baseline of my decision making, I then move forward with the following four stages for planning my upcoming 12 months:

Stage #1: Reflect

As a driven entrepreneur, I’ve found myself sometimes “forgetting” all that I’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. I think this happens because I quickly move on to “what’s next”. That’s why I’ve found it important to take the time to reflect on what worked (and what didn’t).

Same goes for things outside of the business. Reflecting on the moments of laughter and joy we experienced as a family or with friends.  Or better yet, reflecting on the impact we’ve had on others.  It all serves as a great reminder and motivator to to do more of what brings us true happiness.

A photo posted by Stu McLaren (@stumclaren) on

Stage #2: Dream

After reflecting, I like to take the best bits of the past and use them as building blocks for the future.

This part of the process is all about possibility thinking and giving myself the freedom to really get dialled in to what I want (and don’t want). That often includes elements associated with the direction of my business and the projects I’m working on but it also includes the impact I want to have and the people’s lives I want to contribute to.

When you’re in this stage, let your mind be free of limitations.  It’s easy to think “oh that’s not possible right now” but that won’t serve you at this stage.

If you want a better business/life, you’ve first got to think about what that would look like.  Then step-by-step, you can begin making progress towards it.

It was great to see our friends at the first school we built in Kenya. Smiles and hugs everywhere 🙂 #WTA2014

A photo posted by Stu McLaren (@stumclaren) on

Stage #3: Purge

After the dreaming stage, I then look to make “space” for all that possibility… and that means I need to purge. I’ve come to learn that I can’t just keep adding more and more – something has to give.

Therefore, I look at where my time is currently being spent and I ask:

What can be automated?
What can be delegated?
What can be completely deleted?

I also look at the people in my life and ask:

Who gives me energy?
Who drains my energy?

Then, like a good Spring cleaning, I try to purge as much as possible. It’s never easy letting go of certain people, projects or ideas, but it does feel good to have the mental space to really go after (and commit to) the dreams of step #2.

A photo posted by Stu McLaren (@stumclaren) on

Stage #4: Plan

Once I have the “space” to think, I shift my focus into the “how”. How am I going to get from where I am to where I want to be?

This is where I get very tactical and practical. I begin mapping out timelines and scheduling things on the calendar. I begin working backwards from the end goal and outline what that means on a quarterly basis, monthly basis and weekly basis.

And my final step is a little trick I learned from Gary Keller, author of The ONE Thing.  I then answer the question:

What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?

Inevitably once you start planning, it can begin to feel overwhelming with all the little pieces that maybe involved. I’ve found the answer to Gary’s one question brings tremendous clarity. It simplifies my “next steps”. 

A photo posted by Stu McLaren (@stumclaren) on

Going through these four stages of planning creates a foundation for my growth. Plus, I’ve found having my wife go through the process with me amplifies the impact. It keeps me focused and on track towards truly designing the business and life I want – which is why it’s THE most important thing I do each and every year.

That’s why I highly recommend Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever course.  He walks you through each lesson helping you get clear about what you want and how you’re going to get it.

As I said, it’s now an annual ritual for my wife and I to go through the lessons together as we craft our upcoming year.

So over to you…

What do you do as part of your planning process?

Let me know in the comments below.  And if you know one person who could benefit from this, feel free to share this post with them.

  • Purging is probably the hardest for me. It seems like everything has a heart string attached. However, as you explain moving from good to great requires letting go. Thanks for the reminder.

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