Stop Setting Goals. Start Planning Your Life.

I recently finished a book called “Becoming a Coaching Leader” by Daniel Harkavy.

What I liked about it was that it walks you through a series of exercises that help you think about your life and your career a bit more intentionally. Most books of this ilk just talk about leadership traits or a goal setting process, but few help you align your time and energy so that you can actually optimize your time and energy for what’s most important to you in a way that sticks.

One of the exercises that I wanted to recommend for your consideration was the creation of a Life Plan. Here’s what Harkavy has to say about life planning vs the more traditional goal setting process:

Many people substitute goal setting for life planning, but I think it’s a bad trade-off. In my experience, goal setting can leave you feeling empty. Most of us set goals, but few of us have enjoyed real long-term success. When we accomplish those goals, the victory is fleeting: immediately we get hit with the pressure of yet another goal.

So how does life planning work? Here’s the rough sketch of Harkavy’s method:

1. Assess your life from the perspective of people vs. tasks:

  • Who do you want to be remembered by?
  • What do you hope they will remember about you?
  • Who else and why? (Ask this question as many times as you need)

2. Identify who / what is most important to you. List the areas of your life that are a top priority. Try to stick to five at most. It’s hard to optimize when you have too many.

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Other Family Members
  • Finance
  • Self Development
  • Friends
  • Community / Charitable Activity
  • Faith
  • Health

3. Clarify your vision. Make each of your priority areas an “account” and define where you want to be in each of them in 20 or 30 years.

4. Define your purpose. What is your purpose in each of those accounts? What one sentence would clearly define the end result you are looking for today and in the future?

5. Make your plans. In each account, begin to name specific actions that you’ll endeavor to accomplish in order to increase it’s “net worth.”

  • Example: Spouse – 30 minutes uninterrupted time every day (no TV or devices, just talking through the day)
  • Example: Health – Block 60 minutes of workout time on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

6. Put them on your calendar.

  • Instead of making them tasks to be checked off, put them on your calendar as appointments you’d honor just like any other meeting or commitment.
  • Harkavy has tools to help you create your “Ideal Schedule.”

7. Review your plan weekly.

  • It’s always helpful if you can schedule them at the same time, like Sunday afternoon or evening.

8. Get someone to hold you accountable.

  • Find someone – a mentor, your significant other, a friend – to review your progress on a regular basis.
  • Just talking to someone about it creates energy that makes your commitment to it more likely.

Have you used this kind of method instead of goal setting?

What were the results?

Is there another book or method you’d recommend?


Want More Posts Like This? Sign Up For Email Updates


Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Martha Austin

It’s all about clarity and focus. What is interesting is that most people have difficulty gaining the clarity and maintaining the focus on their own. We get to a certain level and then stop. (No fault of our own. Humans are built that way.) We think we are clear because we know what we don’t want, or we can say what we do want in a general way. The specificity is the power. Working with a group to establish your own personal life plan, ideally with the support of a trained facilitator, takes success to a whole new level. The thing that I find MOST amazing is that when someone gets the “life” part right, the “work” part falls in easily.

Thanks for spreading the message!

Martha Austin

Leadership Engineer


Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I like to recommend The Super Job Search book. The thing that I thought was exceptional was that you had to do quite a few exercises that gave you a better understanding of your life and skills. It also helped me and many others be able to translate the skills we did have into skills that might be needed for our dream job and how to communicate those to a perspective employer. How to do a 30 second interview. Those things helped me move into a better planning frame of mind. I had a better understanding of myself and what I wanted.

Ami Wazlawik

I love the idea of putting things on your calendar. I highly recommend the workbook How to Get a Job Fast. I found that the exercises were very helpful, giving me a new perspective on things and confirming things I already kind of knew. The book really served as the impetus for beginning the process of starting my own business. The author suggests writing goals – long and short term – on the bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker, so you’re reminded of them every day, which has been helpful for me.

Dannielle Blumenthal

This is such an important idea. You plan your life and then all of your activities – work and home – fit into that. So often I think we plan things in isolation and then fail because we haven’t considered all the variables (all the other plans to which we are committed.)

Over time I have found that “controlled chaos” works best for me – I keep a general list of priorities in my head but try to follow my gut instincts about what to be doing at any given time. The priorities are very broad and very stable but they don’t have objectives or sub-objectives. So for example writing is important, and I generally will make it my business to do so at least every day, but not on any particular topic except what pops into my head.