Get Your Priorities Right! Part one – The Five Year Plan

Being productive has always been important to me, and a key skill that can help you improve your productivity is prioritisation (I think it’s important enough to be Golden Rule #4 in it’s own right…)

Prioritisation means dealing with or organising in order of importance. The most productive people are those who get lots of important things done.

Global goals vs day-to-day actions

In order to prioritise, first you need some actions/goals. These can be split into two levels:

  1. Global – important goals that impact your life (e.g. career, where to settle etc)
  2. Day-to-day – actions that matter today, or this week (eg finishing that piece of work)

You need to be clear on your global goals and allow them to guide your day-to-day actions. It is easy for it to be the other way round – i.e. your life plan being defined by your deadlines today – this is the tail wagging the dog.

So to create focus on your global goals, create a Five Year Plan.

The Five Year Plan in summary

5 Year Plan Graphic

A diagram showing the three steps I follow for a Five Year Plan

Lots of businesses do these, but they really work personally too. The point of a five year plan is to set stretching, aspirational yet achievable goals to achieve within five years.

The steps are as follows

  1. Five year plan
  2. One year plan
  3. Action plan

The Five Year Plan

Start off with a dream – where would you like to be in 5 years? What will you be doing? How is your career doing? Where will you be living? How will you be feeling? What would your Facebook updates be saying? What would your photos look like?

Be as aspirational as you like, but try to be realistic. I will never pilot a spaceship to Mars; putting it on my plan is pointless. However there is a chance that I could become an Financial Controller or a Finance Director in 5 years, so these are great aspirations.

Once you have defined your dream, you need to turn it into a series of outcomes. I find it useful to think in the following headings, and to use a spider diagram to capture the outcomes.

  • Family/personal life
  • Work
  • Health

Examples might be move house, or get a professional qualification, even lose a stone in weight.

When you look at these goals you should feel excited and inspired; if you’re not I’d recommend revisiting and trying to be MORE aspirational. Now you’re ready for the One Year Plan.

The One Year Plan

You’ve now done the fun and easy bit of this plan. I would recommend taking a couple of days away from the plan, and then come back to it afresh.

The next step is The One Year Plan, which gets you part of the way to your Five Year Plan outcomes. You now need to come up with a series of one year outcomes that will support you achieving your five year outcomes.

For example, if your five year outcome was to relocate to Germany, your one year outcome might be to study a German language module, or actively network with the Germany division.

Do this for each of your five year outcomes – where do you need to get to in one year to achieve what you desire in five years? Again, map this out on a spider diagram.

Again these need to inspire and excite you, however the goals need to be more realistic than aspirational while still giving you the opportunity to hit your five year goals.

Now you turn these one year outcomes into actions.

Action Plan

You’ve now got some pretty top-level aspirational goals to achieve within one year. To give yourself the best chance of hitting these you need to come up with an action plan.

Look at each of your one year outcomes. What do you need to focus on today to make that happen? What actions can you ensure that you do this week/month/year to fulfill that outcome?

For the relocation example above, your action plan might be:

  • Buy German study materials in time to start a course
  • Research courses in time for September start
  • Create a list of all the colleagues in the Germany division that you could speak to
  • Plan a discussion with you mentor at your next one-to-one

From this exercise you will end up with a series of actions – try to make sure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound), and write them down!

You now have your priorities

These actions are your priorities that will help you achieve your global goals. I believe these are your most important priorities. Just to be clear, I don’t expect that you will drop every other task or action you are currently doing to focus on these, but these actions should be at the forefront of your mind through the year.

The next blog will help you understand how you can find time in a busy week to make steps toward achieving your One Year Plan, and ultimately your Five Year Plan.

Oli note – I do a five year plan once a year, each time measuring how close I came to hitting the one year goals, and how realistic the five year goals are now. This really helps me stay focused, and inspired to work toward who and what I want to be.