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step by step planning guide

There are moments in the life of every business owner when we wonder why we signed up for this crazy lifestyle.  The dedication, endurance, optimism, sacrifice and resilience required can feel overwhelming.

An ounce of preparation is key to our success juggling family, business ownership, self-care, and home ownership. Planning is the way we make sure we carry out our intentions for ourselves, our loved ones, our clients, and our colleagues.

When we have a plan, we follow it. If we plan well, and adjust on the fly, we have fewer decisions to mull over, and that saves a lot of time and energy.

Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, says that people who regularly write down their goals earn NINE TIMES as much over their lifetimes as the people who do not. Yet…80% of Americans say they don’t have goals, and only 16% of us who do have goals don’t write them down! We got these stats from a great article on Entrepreneur.com.

Decision-fatigue is real, and it’s rampant among business owners. You can avoid the energy and time-sucking decisions by having a plan and then simply sticking to it.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to planning for success:


You’ve gotta know what works for you, then do that.

Some people are strictly digital, that’s cool. Other people like to write their plans, whether in a little book they carry around, or on the kitchen calendar at home.

We use a combo: digital is an absolute necessity, it’s how we share plans.

I have a paper calendar too, it goes to work and home with me every day.


Big picture first. You’ve got thoughts about how the next 12 months will go, from the things that you want to accomplish to ways you intend to care for yourself and others. All that stuff can get lost floating around in your mind. Putting pen to paper gives it some direction.

Pick your favorite way to transfer your thoughts into written word, and get to it. FREE FLOW. Give yourself 10-30 minutes for this. If you can’t do it now – go ahead and schedule it for the next week THEN DO IT. The final result will be your master set of intentions for the next 12 months.


Go through your master set of intentions. Cross out/erase anything that you can let go of. If you have trouble reducing your goals, no problem – as you consider each item, give it a grade of importance: A (MUST), B (WANT), C (OK if it doesn’t happen right away).

Now group the remaining intentions into 3 categories. Your categories depend on your priorities for the next 12 months. The categories we’re using right now are family, financial, and growth. There are tons of overlaps between these categories, that’s all good. Now step away for a few minutes.


Imagine yourself in one year. What are the very most important things you envision for yourself? Get clear on what is MOST IMPORTANT for you to accomplish in the next 12 months.

Review your lists. From each category, choose the one crucial goal that is simply non-negotiable for you. Circle it. Make it bold. Highlight it.

You’ll get to keep the other stuff on your list, we’ll come back to them. For now, focus on your 3 audacious goals. Start a brand new list using YOUR 3 PRIORITIES.


This is where it gets really exciting. There are probably a ton of steps on your path to living your vision, and thinking of what it’s gonna take can feel overwhelming. Breaking your radical goal down gives you the space to consider what you must do in order to get where you’re going.

Under each of your 3 priorities, write all the things you’ll need to do to reach the goal in 12 months. Do this your own style: some people think in linear terms, moving through their list in a step-by-step fashion, others need to make a mess of seemingly random words on a sheet of paper. Honor your special way.

Some steps will be big – break them down into the more detailed steps as needed.


You’re aware of your own stamina, skills, efficiency, and energy levels. Be very honest with yourself right now – how much do you want to work each week? How much do you want to work each month? How much time do you want with your friends?

Go ahead and put it in print. Start a new section called BALANCE, and write what amounts of time you’re ready, willing, and able to dedicate to the components of your happy, BALANCED LIFE. Now is your chance to be sure your sacrifices aren’t too great, that you don’t cheat yourself out of having a nice life.


Alright, you’ve approached your plan from two angles now – audacious goals + balance.

Let’s create your trail map so you can get from the parking lot to that gorgeous vista.

First, choose one priority to apply this method, and look at the steps required to achieve the vision. Next to each step, note the time frame you think it will take to accomplish. You can use phrases like 6 months, or you can use dates.

Get your calendar out. Again – your calendar can be digital or analog. You can use a special calendar for each priority, or combine everything on your main calendar Start plugging each of the steps into your calendar. Consider color coding, like everything that will potentially generate income is green, where expenses would be red.

My personal method:

Outlook is my go-to, year-round, ongoing calendar. But, when I’m planning like this, paper is preferred. I personally use an Arc Planner from Staples, and I use the Arc calendar insert because I like the way months and weeks are laid out across 2 pages.

I’ve got other calendars saved to Pinterest, and I add to the collection every once in a while. Please feel welcome to share your finds with me there!

Once my paper calendar is complete, I add the items to my Outlook calendar as appropriate.


Through this process, you’ll note some daily goals that will help you reach your audacious goals. Put them on your calendar. Use the recurring feature in your digital calendar to keep it simple.

For example: one of my priorities is vitality – exceptional health. One of the steps to vitality is daily movement of my body. My job doesn’t naturally provide me with movement, so I have to schedule it in.

Another important step to vitality is consistent sleep, including consistent bedtime. I’ve built in reminders to help me stick to my plan. This is super helpful because my reminders get me to automatically move to bed. I no longer have to pay attention to time in the evening, or rely on my own willpower to decide whether to watch a show or go to bed. The fewer choices, the more likely I am to stick with my intentions.

My reminders come in the form of vibration on my wrist from my activity tracker (I love my Jawbone Up2), reminders on my phone from my apps (Outlook calendar, My Fitness Pal), and continuous review my daily planner, which I print, punch, and insert into my Arc Planner then use for all my daily notes.


We’ve been using this method for about 3 years, and we’ve met our goals, personally and professionally, about 90% of the time. It’s a good practice to schedule check-ins on your calendar. We have a weekly strategy meeting, and each priority gets a turn for close examination.

Life happens. Plans change. Don’t let adversity get in the way of living your happiest possible life.

Sometimes you’ll need to revise the steps, other times you’ll need to revise the priorities. Each is simply a marker to drive your decision making. Roll with it. Notice when you need to make a change, embrace it, and revise as needed. Changing your plans is WAY better than having no plan and reacting to each thing that comes up.