A few months ago, Sawyer and I decided to take a few days off after Christmas to create a 5-year plan for our family. I posted a few photos on my Instagram stories while we were planning, and was surprised by how many people sent me direct messages wanting to know more about our process. So even though my blog posts are typically about what I’m doing with the kids, I thought it’d be an appropriate teachable moment to share our 5-year planning process. Keep reading for more on our step-by-step process. I hope this helps you put some sort of action plan in place for 2019 and beyond!
Why We Created a 5-Year Plan
Before I dive into the details, I want to briefly share what compelled us to use a few days of precious vacation time to “life plan” instead of get massages and binge watch TV all day. You can jump to A Few Tips Before You Start below if you want to skip this part.
The quick answer I gave to a lot of friends who sent me direct messages like, “Love this!” or “This is so awesome!”– is that we were doing this to “feel better about our lives, haha.”
Here’s the more detailed explanation.
Even though I was trying to keep it lighthearted, this year has probably been the most challenging year ever as a family. Every morning and evening we experience the logistical circus of shuttling two small kids to and from two different daycares with one car, while both Sawyer and I work full time (most nights Sawyer works till midnight or 1am after the kids go to bed). The costs of two daycares, a mortgage, and student loans, while living in a very expensive area, weighed on us. Sawyer and I could barely find time to talk to each other — either out of sheer exhaustion or frustration — and we were barely keeping up with life.
At a certain point we realized we needed to sit down and put a plan in place to help us realize our dreams and aspirations for our family. The status quo was making us too grumpy, to put it lightly. We both come from consulting and project management backgrounds, so planning is not just a feel-good thing to do — we understand the importance of making a plan to make things come to fruition. Hence, the 5-year plan.
I know you’re reading this because you also have big dreams and goals for your life and your family’s. You want to make some changes. Your circumstances and challenges may not be the same as ours, but if you’re here, I really believe you’ve taken the first step to making 2019 and beyond super intentional. So a virtual toast to you on this new year’s day!
A Few Tips Before You Start
Set aside a full day or two to plan. It took us about 10-12 hours over 3 days to create our 5-year plan. It would have been been ideal to do it all in either one long day, or a day and a half back-to-back, but Taeho got sick one of the days and couldn’t go to daycare, so we got a little off track.
Get out of the house. We strongly recommend getting out of the house to plan. It will help you from getting distracted at home, and being out of your normal environment will infuse a little fresh perspective into your planning. We did most of our planning at a local coffee shop but we ended up having to plan some at home as well to work around the kids.
Our 8-Step Process
1. Get your stationery supplies together. Here’s what we used but you can of course modify based on what you have. If you have a large whiteboard, you may not need all this paper.
- Several large sheets of paper (8-10 will probably be enough). We had this set of paper from IKEA at home already for the kids. We “borrowed” the 16½ x 11¾” white paper for Steps 2 and 3, but you don’t have to use this paper size.
- 2 even larger sheets of paper or posterboard for Steps 4 and 6. We happened to have this Post-It Easel Paper (25″ x 30″) leftover from a work function, but it’s actually a little pricey. Instead you can tape some pieces of paper together or buy some cheap paperboard.
- Post-It notes — I recommend several different colors/shapes. We primarily used the 1 3/8″ x 1 7/8″ ones rather than the regular sized square ones.
- Tape (to hang paper on wall)
2. Brainstorm the areas of your life that you want to make a priority in your planning. We did this by sitting across from each other with a large sheet of paper between us. We each brainstormed on our own first, writing our ideas down on the half of the paper nearest us. So it looked something like this:
As you can see from the picture, some of my priority areas include finances, health, kids, travel, career, etc. Once we both completed brainstorming on our own, we shared what we had written down and finalized the areas we wanted to plan for.
We decided to make the following our final priority areas (“kids” were naturally integrated into all these areas):
3. Do a “dream frenzy” for each priority area. This is the fun part where you get to use all the different colored post-it notes and put your dreams/aspirations down on paper. It feels good, trust me.
To start, we decided to go through Finances since that has an impact on so many of our other priority areas. We wrote “Finances” in the middle of a large sheet of paper, placed it between the two of us (similar to how we first brainstormed our priority areas), and used pink post-it notes to write down our ideas and post them on the piece of paper. We did this part without talking. It was a time for us to think on our own and consider what’s really been on our minds.
A word about this “dream frenzy” part. Don’t overthink this too much. Just put whatever is on your mind down on that post-it. It can be really specific, like, “Pay off student loans in 5 years,” or can be more outcome-oriented and less specific, like, “Don’t feel worried about money all the time.” You’ll be able to remove redundancies and get more specific/realistic later on.
Once both of us felt done with doing our “dream frenzy” for Finances, we each took turns sharing what we had written on all our post-its. For the most part, we weren’t surprised by what the other had written. But it was really useful to see where there was alignment and where there was room to “get on the same page”. We briefly discussed what we needed to do to achieve some of our goals and jotted down some immediate “to-dos” on each dream frenzy sheet. (You can consolidate these later in Step 5.)
For example, for Finances, we decided that after we pay our taxes in early 2019, we would put any extra money into our joint savings account. This goes towards our goal to increase our emergency funds. We didn’t spend too much time on these “to-dos” — just anything that came to us immediately as we talked through our goals.
After we went through Finances, we went through the same process for each of the other priority areas, using a different colored post-it for each. Once we were done with all of our dream frenzy-ing, our sheets of paper looked something like this. A couple areas are missing from this photo but you get the idea.
4. Organize each of your goals/dreams into immediate, short-term, and long-term goals. To do this, we took an extra-large sheet of paper and sectioned it off into “immediate”, “short-term”, and “long-term”. I would give general timeframes to each of these but not get too caught up in precise timing at this point. “Immediate” for us meant within the next month or two, “short-term” meant within 1-2 years, and “long-term” meant within 3-5 years.
Go through each of your “dream frenzy” sheets and start placing the post-it with the goal/dream into immediate, short-term, and long-term. Talk through all of this with your partner since at this point, you’re getting more into the planning, not just the individual dreaming.
To give you a quick example, one of our priority areas is Travel. There’s a lot for us to consider regarding travel in terms of money and the kids’ ages. In short-term we placed goals like, “Go to Alaska” (that’s where my mother-in-law lives), and in long-term we placed “Go to Korea” (because as much as we’d like to go there now, there’s no way we’re ready to brave such a long flight with our 1- and 3-year-old).
At the end of this step, we had something that looked like the picture below. Sawyer drew a winding road with “immediate” at the top, “short-term” in the middle, and “long-term” at the end — but you can just make columns and that will work just fine.
5. Create a to-do list. This may depend on your specific goals, but you’ll likely have some immediate and/or recurring to-dos that come out of Step 4. Some of these to-dos will help you knock out some of your immediate goals, and some you need to do to inform goals further down the line. You can include any to-dos that came out of your dream frenzy (Step 3) as well.
For example, in terms of some immediate to-dos, we need to make a list of states we haven’t been to in the U.S. and a list of friends we want to visit to inform our travel goals. We also need to make a list of local hikes as part of our health goals.
We’ve also decided that I will enforce Jillian Michaels workouts at least 3 times a week. Yes, for real. We’re both so out of shape and feel really unhealthy. I literally had “not develop diabetes” as one of my 5-year health goals since I’m high-risk for developing it (thank you, mom, and my Asian heritage).
We’re posting this list on our fridge so we see it and are reminded of it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
6. Develop a timeline of milestones. In other words, chart out when you want to achieve each dream/goal.
We placed a large sheet of paper on the wall and divided it into 5 columns — one for each year — 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.
Using the sheet on which we had organized our immediate, short-term, and long-term goals, we went through each item and discussed how/what we needed to do to achieve that goal. Then we placed it in the year we thought we could realistically achieve that goal. You can move the post-it entirely into the appropriate column. Or like us, you can use this as an opportunity to get more targeted and concise about your dream/goal and write it down in the appropriate column. Ours turned out something like this:
Here’s my favorite example: “Esther’s students loans paid off” in 2023. (Guys, this is really gonna happen — I re-financed with Earnest and just shaved off about 2.5 years of payments. You can use that referral link to get a $200 bonus, woot woot!)
Developing our timeline involved talking through things like:
- Expenses we currently have
- When certain expenses will decrease/increase (e.g., daycare)
- Ages of the kids
- When and how we expect incomes to rise
- When we anticipate needing a big-ticket item
For example, while it’d be great to have a second car, we don’t really need one and definitely cannot afford one right now. So we decided to aim to get a second car by 2021 considering the money we want to have for a down payment, the anticipated decrease in daycare costs once Haru starts kindergarten, etc.
You may find that you need to put some items in a “parking lot” to return to once you have more information. For example, one of my dreams/goals is to have our house fully furnished since we’ve been holding back on a few items. To be more informed/realistic about when we could achieve this goal, I had to create a list of items we want and their estimated costs, and then return to the timeline to figure out where it best fit.
7. Develop a checklist for milestones and recurring activities. Our plan is to create an Excel/Google spreadsheet that includes our milestones so that we can track our progress and “check off” when we’ve hit a milestone. I thought we’d get to this already, but we’ve been pretty busy the past few days.
While this is still a work-in-progress, if the spreadsheet turns out to be something we can turn into a general template rather than something that works just for us, we will definitely share with you!
Update: We created the first iteration of our spreadsheet and share the template with you. Check out my other post where you can get the
8. Do periodic reviews. We plan to review our progress at least every quarter to ensure we’re moving forward with our goals and to identify any obstacles so we can find ways to overcome them. At the annual reviews we’ll talk a little more in-depth about what we need to change or adjust in our timeline.
You can see from the snapshot of our milestones in Step 6 that 2022 looks a little emptier than other years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s probably going to be something we adjust as we review our progress over time. Also, I mentioned earlier that there are some to-dos we need to get through to further inform our planning. So it makes sense that there’s still room to build out this 5-year plan.
To make sure we actually do these reviews, we’ve scheduled them on our Google calendar already, as far out as they seem. For us, putting something on the calendar is just about the only way we’ll get to something.
So that’s it, here’s a roundup of the main steps to creating our 5-year plan:
- Get your stationery supplies together.
- Brainstorm the areas of your life that you want to make a priority in your planning.
- Do a “dream frenzy” for each priority area.
- Organize each of your goals/dreams into immediate, short-term, and long-term goals.
- Create a to-do list.
- Develop a timeline of milestones.
- Develop a checklist for milestones and recurring activities.
- Do periodic reviews.
Since so many of you, my friends, had expressed an interest in learning the “method to our madness” — and if in fact there was one! — please let me know if you have any questions. I mentioned in Step 7 that we’d also share a template of our checklist of milestones if it turns out to be pretty generalizable. So if you’re interested in that, click on the blue button below and send me your email address. That way I’ll know to send you an update just regarding the 5-year planning stuff versus anything else.
Seriously, thanks for reading and showing an interest in doing some 5-year planning yourself! I really do hope to share the journey with you and to hear how things are going for you! You can email me directly at email@example.com. And of course, please share this with any friends/family you think this might be helpful for as well.