Life planning: Your ultimate guide to transformation in 2024

a woman wearing eyeglasses surrounded by a baby, car, calendar and books while she work on her life planning

Our lives unfold in mysterious ways. Sometimes, perceived setbacks turn into serendipitous moments, and rejection redirects you to a path that's better than you could have imagined.

However, that doesn't mean we should simply sit back and let our lives pass us by.

We all have hopes, dreams, and desires. And although there will be inevitable pivots, it's crucial you're in the driver's seat, steering in the right direction. Enter, life planning. This is the process of plotting what you would like to accomplish in your life, in alignment with your values and what makes you happy.

Most 'ultimate guides' to life planning bombard you with information on how to be a perfect human by doing everything right and leading a fulfilling life as a result. Unfortunately, this may set you up to fail because perfect situations are rare.

Instead, we'll give you an actionable step-by-step guide and life plan template that empowers you to take consistent, positive steps toward the future you dream of.

We'll also share plenty of tips and resources to help you stay on track with the goals you've set.

Table of contents
What is life planning, exactly?
What are life plans used for?
When is the best time to create a life plan?
What are the benefits of life plans?
Setting a vision for your life plan
Craft your life vision statement
Determine your values
Creating SMART Goals
Turn your vision into action: tips and tricks
Helpful tools and resources for life planning
Life planning success stories

What is life planning, exactly?

Life planning is a compass that guides you toward your aspirations. By figuring out what you truly want from life, it becomes easier to make decisions and take action.

Not to be confused with end-of-life planning (which is about setting yourself up to be comfortable in your final act and protecting your family through estate planning and survivorships), this involves big-picture thinking about your entire life span.

What impact do you want to create in the world, and what experiences do you want to have?

What are life plans used for?

You might associate the term 'life planning' with retirement and beyond. After all, many of us expect to reach peak life satisfaction when we can finally stop working. Certainly, your ideal retirement experience is something to consider when you're thinking about your dream life.

a woman climbng into the sky to grab a star as she meets her life planning goals

However, life planning isn't just for your golden years, it's essential for anyone going through any type of pivotal transition. This includes:

  • planning for life after high school, including choosing a career industry, degree, or major
  • navigating a career change or industry transition
  • rediscovering a sense of purpose after divorce or when your children leave home
  • returning to the workforce with confidence after an extended break
  • getting on the same page with your partner or spouse about your shared future.

When is the best time to create a life plan?

Many of us wait until New Year's Day to write down our life goals on a blank piece of paper. This is perfectly fine, as there's nothing like a fresh start to ignite a sense of motivation. In fact, research shows that temporal landmarks such as birthdays or the first day of the week, month, or year can be powerful instigators of positive change.¹

However, it's important to note that life planning is an action plan that spans years. It is not simply a list of New Year's resolutions that falls to the wayside by the end of January.

You don't have to wait until New Year's Day or any other milestone to create your life plan. The perfect time is right now.

What are the benefits of life plans?

The life planning process is just as beneficial to your current reality as it is to your future. It enables you to create a more balanced life by ensuring you're giving attention to all the things that matter to you (for example, your physical health and time spent with loved ones).

It also helps you figure out what you don't want, so you can eliminate options and reduce decision fatigue, for example, during a job search process.

Life planning also has practical implications when it comes to personal finances. For example, when it comes to getting life insurance, it is useful to have a clear idea of how much your dream life will cost and the assets that are important to you.

Setting a vision for your life plan

So, now you understand why having a life plan matters. How do you get started?

life planning quote by Rand Fishkin of SEOMOZ reads "A hard thing is done by figuring out how to start."

The first thing you need to incorporate into your plan is your life's vision. This serves as a force that drives you forward and helps you understand where you're headed and why.

Think of your vision as the beating heart of your life's plan: the dream that gives meaning to every other goal you set along the way. This doesn't have to be a grandiose scheme about making the world a better place or bringing more happiness into people's lives.

It can simply be about how you'd choose to spend your days if time or money weren't an object.

The more time you spend fleshing out your vision or dream, the easier it will be to set tangible goals and milestones.

Find your life's vision by using our life planning template:

Vision Mapping

  • What are the 3 things you want most out of life?
  • What's the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
  • What are 3 words that come to mind when you think of happiness?
  • What would a perfect day look like?
  • Who would you want to share your dream life with?
  • If there's one thing you could be remembered for, what would you want it to be?
  • What 3 things would you do if you only had one day to live?
  • What are 3 things the world needs to change?
vision mapping chart for life planning goals

Craft your life vision statement

Once you've answered the above questions, underline words that appear more than once in your answers or values that evoke strong emotions. Use these emotionally charged keywords to come up with a short, deliberate statement about your big dream.

This is your life vision statement, and it will be a pivotal part of your overall plan. Here are some examples:

  • ‘I want to live a happy life, surrounded by people who love me for who I am.’
  • ‘My legacy is all that matters to me; I want to be someone people respect and remember long after I'm gone.’
  • ‘Life is too short; I want to be free to do things my way, even if it means making some mistakes along the way.’
  • ‘Poverty is my biggest fear; I want to work hard to ensure my loved ones have everything they need.’
  • ‘The world can be ruthless and unforgiving; I want to bring about positive change.’

Feel free to play around with this for as long as you like. Coming up with a short sentence that represents who you are, and what you stand for, isn't easy and that's okay.

This exercise is less about planning and more about getting you to consciously consider what you want from life.

Determine your values

Another important component of life planning is to identify your core values. These are the beliefs or principles that are central to how you live, work, and interact with others. Beyond just being a personal philosophy or code of conduct, your values are about what matters to you.

a woman in a yoga pose with a plant and files around her balancing her mental, physical, and work goals related to her life planning

When it comes to figuring out our own values, a common knee-jerk reaction is to jot down buzzwords like 'freedom' or 'adventure’. While these might indeed be true for you, it's important to go beyond your initial instinct and investigate further.

The best way to get a true glimpse at your values is to look back on your actions over the last few years. If you've been meaning to start your own business for 5 years but have found yourself unable to leave behind a steady paycheck, chances are you value security over freedom, and that's completely fine.

Another helpful way to get a better feel for your own values is to look at how you spend your money or time. As management guru Peter Drucker once said: ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your calendar and your checkbook, and I’ll tell you what you value.’²

For example, if your bank statement shows that you have subscriptions to various fitness and wellness services, chances are that physical health should be high on your list.

If you need a jumping-off point, Brene Brown's list of values can help you get started. Try to narrow it down to 3-4 values if possible, and rank them in order of importance.

Creating SMART Goals

Now that you have a better idea of your vision, priorities, and core values, it's time to finally let the goal-setting process begin. You have all the tools you need to realize your vision, and now it's a matter of creating dynamic to-do lists that adhere to set timeframes.

As you've probably guessed, you can't plan every single goal toward your dream. The trick is to remain as focused as possible, concentrating on as few goals as possible at any given time.

One way to do that is by using SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are targets that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. They're based on research conducted in the 1960s by psychologist Edwin Locke, who found that clearly defined goals were closely linked to increased performance and productivity.³

  • Specific means your goal is clear, concrete, and tangible
  • Measurable means that your goal is trackable and there's an obvious way to know whether you've achieved it
  • Achievable means your goal needs to be realistic and achievable, is it within your abilities
  • Relevant means the goal ties in with your long-term life vision and values
  • Time-bound means there is a clearly defined deadline for your goal

SMART goals can be used to stay on track with smaller action items day-to-day. However, they're also a great way to align yourself with your long-term aspirations across your various life aspects.

For example, if your 5-year goal is to be in a secure, happy relationship, your SMART goal might be: I will go on at least two dates a month for the rest of 2024, or until I meet someone that I would be happy to introduce to my family.

monthly life plan template
Download our Monthly Life Planning Template

How to break down SMART goals

The beauty of SMART goals is that you start big (think, 10-year plan) and work backward to figure out what you should be doing right now to make that happen.

For example, if your idea of happiness means spending your work days however you like, your 10-year goal might be to have a successful business in which you earn more than your current job.

As your deadlines get tighter, your goals should be a lot more focused. For example:

  • ‘Five years from now, I will have established my business in the industry. Ideally, I want to be earning at least triple what I am now.’

We then take that goal and make it more specific by tightening the time frame further. Here's a 1-year goal example:

  • ‘By this time next year, I will have been running my business for a few months. If I'm making at least $50,000 annual equivalent, and I've got 6 months' expenses saved up, I'll quit my day job.’

And a 1-month goal:

  • ‘By this time next month, I'll have conducted enough market research to know whether there's a place for my business in the industry. I'll have an outline of my business plan, and I'll also start the process of registering and setting up the paperwork.’

Turn your vision into action: tips and tricks

By now, you likely have a clearer vision of the things you'd like to create in your life. But how do you actually make these happen without common obstacles like overwhelm, distraction, or procrastination sabotaging your progress?

a woman holding a flag while smiling as she sets out on her life planning goals

Read on for our top tips for future-proofing your life goals.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

Right now, you might have a laundry list of things you'd like to include in your life plan. That's great, but how do you figure out what to work on first?

It's important to record your goals in a sequential way that you can take action on. Write down all the things you want to do without trying to put them in order or figure out how you're going to do them. Then, next to each goal, put a number between 1 and 10, with 1 being least important and 10 being the most important.

Then rearrange them with the 10s at the top and the 1s at the bottom. From here, you can decide what needs to be given attention first.

Some things will be more urgent and time-bound, while others might need more effort put in over the long term. But this part is crucial because you simply can't do everything at once.

Need more guidance on putting your goals in order? Check out our handy guide to prioritizing.

Create an amendable life plan

Your life plan shouldn't be a rigid blueprint that you follow to the letter. After all, you never know what unexpected curveballs life will throw at you, and that's half the fun of it!

Instead, your life plan should be a dynamic and flexible thing that evolves with you. For this reason, we recommend creating it as a digital document that can be easily edited. Or, if you prefer to write your goals on paper, consider using a pencil, not a pen.

Simplify whenever you can

Don't be afraid to break your weekly SMART goals into more manageable chunks if they seem overwhelming. For example, if your big goal is to write a book, you might set yourself a daily goal of writing 200 words a day.  Daily SMART goals work for some people, others find them too restricting. It's all about experimenting until you find what works for you.

Respect your timeframes

If you set a weekly goal, you have to make sure you have the resources to see it through. You won't get too much done if you're too lenient with yourself and keep pushing deadlines. Fear of failure will slowly kick in. Set easier tasks if you have to, but make sure you're seeing them through.

Keep yourself accountable

Motivation is a tough nut to crack and it doesn't always show up when we need it. This is why it is helpful to have some external accountability, even if it's just asking a friend or family member to check in and ask ‘How's the life plan going?’

Coaching is another excellent way to stay on track, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. Fingerprint for Success’ AI Coach Marlee not only helps you set life and career goals but will keep you accountable with regular, 5 to 15-minute coaching sessions.

Check-in regularly

Set reminders in your calendar to update and review your plans. Digitize the plans if you have to. Tools such as Trello or other project management software make it easy if you're not a fan of pen and paper. Do whatever it takes to reduce the possibility of skipping your regular check-ins.

Helpful tools and resources for life planning

Whether you need more help bringing your plan to life or get stuck along the way, it's worth having these resources in your back pocket.

  • Miro: Perhaps you're more of a visual person, and find it easier to envision things through mind maps and GANTT charts. Miro is a digital whiteboard that comes with thousands of templates that can bring your life plan to life. This is especially helpful for non-linear thinkers, who want to see the connections between their various life categories.
  • Fingerprint for Success: Think of F4S as a powerful all-in-one tool for life planning. The process begins with figuring out what's actually important to you, by answering questions on what motivates you. This measures your motivation across 48 core traits, so you can better understand what gets you out of bed in the morning. From here, you can set your goals, and our AI, Coach Marlee will curate an online coaching program just for you. Through the bite-sized sessions with Marlee, we find 90% of users achieve their goals in 4 to 9 weeks, so you'll likely find you move through your list quickly!
f4s dashboard shows your motivations and tracks your goals for life planning
F4S dashboard

  • The Designing Your Life book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Written by 2 Stanford design professors, the book is all about taking an iterative, experimental approach to creating a happy life. Even better, it's full of practical worksheets and activities to get you started. Need more guidance in your career specifically? The Designing Your Work Life book is a great accompaniment.

Life planning success stories

There are many positive stories from people who have benefited from taking an intentional approach to planning their lives.

In a review of the Designing Your Life book, Jennifer Ridgway found that it shifted her mindset as to what it means to have the 'perfect' career.

‘Designing Your Life will remind job-searchers that there’s no one right thing — at any given time there are multiple right jobs for you, and those roles may change as your life and priorities shift with time. Having this idea in mind, and knowing that I can find happiness in many different directions, made me feel less pressure to make the right decision. It also helped me to realize that I can still change my career at any point and that I’m never done designing my life. It’s a constant project — as factors shift and change, you can, and should, always be thoughtfully designing your life.’

Meanwhile, Indigenous Australian teacher, artist, and singer-songwriter Josie Alec used F4S' self-discovery tools to uncover a brand new life path.
‘My mum was a traditional passion and desire to heal comes from the long line of healers that I come from,’ Josie says.

When Josie's mother passed away in 2011, Josie's calling to heal others grew stronger. However, she never believed she could be an entrepreneur.

‘To recognize being an entrepreneur… it would never happen. Because I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur. So when I ended up seeing the Fingerprint for Success results and they said, ‘You could be an entrepreneur’, I was just like, ‘Can I really do that?’ And I did!’

Josie's business Indiji Arts, where she sells traditional bush remedies, was accepted into Investible's Business Accelerator Program, where she won second place and was chosen to represent Australia in Beijing.

Take control of your life plan

It would be short-sighted to believe we have complete autonomy over our lives. After all, sometimes the universe just has bigger plans for us! However, we only get one shot at this life, and it's our responsibility to do everything in our power to make the most of it. Living the life of your dreams begins with first understanding what drives you and gets you fired up. Answer questions on what motivates you and begin uncovering the path toward your ideal life.

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Show References
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1.Hreha J, What is the Fresh Start Effect in Behavioral Science?, The Behavioral Scientist,

2. Kotler S, 2017, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALS, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way we Live and Work, Dey Street Books,

3. Moore C, 2019, What is Locke’s Goal Setting Theory of Motivation? Positive Psychology,

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