There is absolutely nothing you can’t do in ten years.
We put a man on the freakin’ moon in less than ten years. It’s a ridiculously long time from the standpoint of getting stuff done. It also has the amazing advantage of being a tremendously short time from the standpoint of your overall lifespan. If you don’t think of yourself as “old” right now, you probably also don’t think of (your current age) +10 as “old” either.
So ten years is the perfect time span to accomplish major, life-changing goals. You could become literally anything in ten years, starting from complete scratch. This isn’t just about professional goals, either – ten years ago I was single and childless; now I’m married with three kids. Whatever you want to be different, it can be completely different in ten years.
Now, here’s a caveat: it’s not ten years from today, it’s ten years from the day you start. Those could be the same day! But it’s not automatic.
Here’s another caveat: it won’t happen because you wish it so. It’ll happen with a plan.
Now, I could end this blog post here and the advice would be sound. “Plan for the future and don’t just run along the hamster wheel” is good advice, but it’s not very actionable on its own. So I’m going to lay out a method for you to actually make those plans and execute on them. It’s time to stop saying “I’ve always wanted to…” and start doing it.
Phase One: Set the Goals
In this phase of the method, you’re going to put down in words your actual goals. Here’s how: you’re going to imagine four separate “snapshots” of your life. Quick summaries of your life as you want it to be – one at the 6-month mark from now, another at the 1-year mark, another at the 5-year mark, and a final one at 10 years.
For each snapshot, write about what makes you happy in your life at that time, what things are better than they are now, and what things you’re doing to contribute to the world around you.
It’s okay to take your time on these, but it’s also okay if they’re not perfect or complete. You’re writing them in a notebook, not carving them in stone. Goals will evolve over time, and that’s okay – it’s part of this process, as you’ll see. For now, just put something down.
It’s also extra okay to talk to other people about this. No one is an island, and not being sure about your own goals is natural at any point in your life. Draw inspiration from others and talk to people you respect as you do this if you feel you need to.
Got your four snapshots written down? Awesome, on to the next phase!
Phase Two: Fill A Calendar
For this phase, you’ll need to have a calendar, and it needs to go out 10 years. That means you’re probably better off using an online calendar program, but if you’d rather buy ten physical one-year planners and stack them up, whatever works!
Step 1: Start with your 6-month snapshot. It should be fairly realistic, but this process will help tell you if it’s not. Starting from that 6-month snapshot, count backwards and break it down into monthly milestones; things you’ll need to get done by each month in order to get to that point. I’ll use weight loss because it’s an example that’s easy to understand: if your 6-month snapshot included you being 30 pounds lighter, then you’d need to be 25 pounds lighter when you’re at the 5-month mark, 20 pounds lighter at the 4-month mark, and so on.
For each of these benchmarks, commit to a specific date on the calendar and write it in. Title them as “BENCHMARK: 15 Total Pounds Lost” and put that on a specific day of the calendar. The benchmarks don’t have to all be identical; in fact for many goals that won’t be realistic. If your 6-month snapshot includes you having your house built on the plot of empty land you bought, then there are very different benchmarks at each month. No matter what they look like, however, put them on the calendar.
Next, step back from each 1-month benchmark and consider what needs to happen on a weekly basis for that benchmark to be realistic. What big steps need to occur? It could be “every Friday, go out to community events in order to meet new people,” because your goal is to eventually find a spouse. It could be “every Monday, make sure I get a positive review from my manager, in writing” because you’re trying to advance in your company. These goals might change each time you pass a 1-month benchmark, but they should generally be consistent within a given month. Again, put them on the calendar! Don’t just write “Every Friday…,” etc. Actually go into the calendar, and put that on every single Friday in the relevant period.
Now, break down those weekly goals. What has to happen every single day in order for that weekly goal to be met?
Goals that do not have a daily component will be MUCH harder to achieve!
Daily components keep you from procrastinating, they keep your goals in the center of your focus, and they build your goals into habits that pull you through the toughest times. They make sure that if you get tripped up, you only lose a day and not a week, month or year. You must have something you do every day towards your goal. Just like with every other step, this is going in the calendar! (This is another reason I recommend an online calendar – you can set tasks and reminders as “daily.” Otherwise you’re writing your daily checklist on every day of the calendar!)
The method I’ve described here also keeps you focused on what needs to happen: the action steps. By working backwards, you’re making sure each component is only directly serving the benchmark one “level” above it. You’re not trying to figure out the daily steps to get to the six-month goal, just the daily steps to get to each one-week benchmark.
So at this point you have a VERY full calendar for the next six months! You have something to do on literally every day for the next six months. If you’ve ever wondered how you can pursue your goals with so many other things vying for your time and attention, this is it. You put the Big Rocks in first. When someone says “hey, do you want to go out drinking and partying this Friday,” you’ll have an easier time saying “no” if it conflicts with the goals in this calendar. You won’t have time to lose hours on Facebook if you’re working hard to get your daily tasks checked off!
Each day you wake up, you’ll look at your calendar and it will tell you what you need to be doing. You can then translate that into the specific hourly layout you need that day (or maybe at the beginning of each week, like I do), and your focus will stay on the tasks at hand. You won’t feel guilty or burdened by the enormity of the big goal, because you know you’re doing the right things today to get there. When you know what you’re doing, your actions will have purpose and you’ll be less vulnerable to distractions.
Step 2: Now we’re moving onto the 1-year snapshot. This snapshot should have built somewhat on the 6-month version, and now we’re going to use the calendar to fill in the time between them. Instead of daily/weekly/monthly benchmarks, however, we’re going to go one level of macro up and create weekly/monthly/bi-monthly benchmarks. (There will eventually be daily tasks too, but we’re too far away yet for them to be accurate or helpful.)
Use the exact same method, starting big and working down. First figure out what benchmarks would have to get hit every two months between your 6-month goal and your 1-year goal. Write them down at the appropriate spots in the calendar. Next look at what monthly goals would have to happen to get to those two-month goals (or quarterly, if that makes more sense for your timeline). Then look at what weekly goals need to happen to get to the monthly goals. Don’t go deeper than weekly at this stage.
In the same way that you don’t plan out your actions to the hour until you’re looking at less than a week’s worth of hours, you don’t want to plan out your actions to the day until you’re looking at less than six months’ worth of days. Appropriate levels of focus are important.
Step 3: Now take your 5-year snapshot and look at how it differs from your 1-year snapshot. Start at a high level and fill in the four-year gap, only this time we’re looking at monthly/quarterly/yearly benchmarks instead of weekly/monthly/bi-monthly. The same rules apply, though – actual dates need to go on the calendar! So at this point you’re putting actual dates on the calendar for September 2023, and that’s awesome. By now this is giving you a clear picture of how you’ll get from here to there, which makes there look a lot less distant and unrealistic, doesn’t it?
Step 4: Now go to the big one, the 10-year snapshot. Fill those five intervening years in, but go with quarterly/yearly/bi-annually for your benchmarks. Now you have a complete road map. And guess what? You’ve made mistakes. You’ve underestimated some things, and overestimated other things. You’ve forgotten stuff, and there’s stuff you don’t even know yet. All of that is okay. You have a plan, and a way forward. In the next phase you’ll see how to adjust it and perfect it as you go, but now you have what you didn’t before – something to do.
Phase Three: Execute and Evolve
Okay, so now you’ve got this big plan, this huge road map that leads you from here to there! Not only does it show what you should be doing at any stage, it actually has instructions to get there. You know what you get to do with it now? Ignore it!
Not forever, obviously! (Don’t worry, this wasn’t a trick!) But the only thing you have to pay attention to tomorrow is tomorrow’s action steps. You don’t have to stress about the “big picture” and whether you’re doing the right things. You are!
Tomorrow you tackle tomorrow’s goals. You might fail. That’s okay! The next day you get to try again, and in the grand scheme one day’s failure won’t matter. But these small failures feed big successes. You’ve got a weekly check-in coming up where you can look back at the past week and measure you performance against your goals. If you accomplished what you set out to accomplish, awesome! And if you didn’t, you can review your weekly and daily actions and change them in your calendar going forward – with no more than the loss of a week. Without this plan, you could have been grinding away for years without ever seeing whether you were getting closer to your goals.
So you tweak a little here and there, but always deliberately. If you change something, physically change it in the calendar. Always be committed to daily action. When you hit your first month’s benchmark, check in and review. By that point, you’ll have gotten your daily and weekly actions nicely polished, and if you didn’t hit your first month’s goals, you’ll have a much better understanding why and will probably hit your second. You’ll keep closing gaps and fixing things and getting better all the time.
And then before you know it, six months have passed.
Now it’s time to move the whole thing up! Get out the whole 9.5 year calendar again, and look at the next six months between where you are now and your initial 1-year snapshot. You might be making changes here, and that’s fine! But the most important change you’ll make is now you’ll take the weekly/monthly/bi-monthly goals you wrote and you’ll be adding daily action. You’ll be focusing on a more granular level because you’re close enough now for it to make sense to do so.
Once you’ve done that, you go back to daily execution and checking in at each benchmark. When you reach the 1-year snapshot, take your 5-year snapshot and revise it based on whatever may have changed in your life or plans, and then create another set of 6-month and 1-year snapshots from where you are now, following the same steps. Keep doing that every 6 months until you reach the 5-year snapshot. Then look at the 10-year snapshot, revise, and do it again.
Your goals may change. Even if they do, you’ll have done so much incredible work and personal development that you’ll be closer than you imagined, because you weren’t wasting your time.
Phase Four: Ten Years
Congratulations! But you know what? You’re not old now, and so you still won’t be old in ten more years. Time to set some new goals… and enjoy the trip.