Out With The Old, In With The New: Create a Five Year Sketch

Throughout the month of December, The Simple Dollar is posting a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.

2. Create a five year sketch.

What, exactly, is a five year sketch? It simply means a detailed picture of what you would like your life to be like in five years. It can be literally drawn. It can be written in paragraphs, or as a list. It can be a collage. It just needs to be some sort of physical representation of what exactly you want your life to look like five years down the road.

Here are some elements to think about when making this sketch:
What will your job be like?
What will your family be like?
What will your physical appearance be like?
What will your home be like?
What will a typical day be like?
What will you be looking forward to?
What will your social circle look like?

I encourage you to try to write down at least ten traits for each of these questions that describe the way you’d like your life to be in five years.

Realistic or not? Don’t paint a picture of a future that’s completely unattainable. Instead, seek out a life that is somewhat better in the areas that matter to you. If you’re happy with your current physical shape, maintain it. If you’d like improvement, improve it a little, but don’t go from being highly out of shape to being a supermodel or else you’re just sketching something that you’ll never be able to obtain.

The sketch should depict an improvement in your life that you’re happy with, whatever that may be.

See, in the end, this sketch is the accumulation of the projects and goals for the next five years that you hold most dear to you. It sets a clear picture of what your life will be like if you achieve some things between now and then.

Don’t create this sketch all at once. My suggestion is to create a new document in Google Docs, paste in the questions above, and then just throw down some thoughts under each one. Save the document, then return to it every few days for a week or two. Let the ideas grow in your mind, then revise what you’ve already written down.

You’ll know when you’re finished. When you look at your sketch of your future life, it’ll ring true. You’ll feel that it’s a life that you deeply want in every way.

The next step is the empowering part: start pulling goals and projects out of that sketch. Make a list of them. What exactly do you need to do to make this happen? What can you accomplish in the next year to move you towards this picture?

From those one year goals, you can make a list of actions that you can do today. For each of those things you can accomplish this year, what can you do today to get it started?

I find this process incredibly empowering. It ties the big picture of my life down to the specific actions of today, making them feel much more worthwhile. If I know that this mundane thing I’m doing today directly connects to some bigger thing in my life, it gives that mundane thing much more life.

Return to this material regularly. As mentioned above, I keep mine online at Google Docs so I can easily check it from any web browser without really having to worry about where I’m at when I’m thinking about this. I’ve reviewed such things in the car, at my parents’ home, and so on.

Returning to this material is key because it makes you think about and reflect upon the goals you’ve set and look for new ways to move forward with them.

It’s all incredibly empowering. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot.

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  1. eva says:

    Five-year plans are absolutely key to successful businesses (and government and nonprofit agencies), and they really work well for personal life too.

    I’d also recommend taking another tip from the business world and setting up benchmarks. With your goals and strategies, outline WHEN you expect to be making the progress you hope for. That way, at any given point, you can say “am I doing this the way I wanted to?” and know if you’re being successful.

    Then again, some people might consider that over the top;)

  2. Valerie says:

    @ eva — I agree with eva’s comments above about benchmarks. But this assignment is more about the vision than the plan. The vision allows to create the plan. When we have the vision and then create the plan (list of objectives) we can add measurable progress indicators or benchmarks. This let’s us measure our succeess. (kind of like the former assignment for balance sheets) Measures provide important information about progress and motivators to reach a little higher. Thanks Trent!

  3. Hannah says:

    I took your advice and jotted down some goals in a Google doc. I thought that writing my goals down would be daunting, because if I haven’t reached them in 5 years, there will be be written proof of it. But instead, I do feel empowered. I’ve definitely lost interest and become apathetic towards what I’ve been doing, but it’s good to remind myself I’m working this hard for a good reason.

  4. Briana @ GBR says:

    I’ve created my 5 year plan in October but didn’t break down all the actions towards them yet, so you just inspired me to break it all down. I keep mine in Evernote since I use it everywhere anyways

  5. Gwen says:

    I did this earlier in the year. I am turning 25 soon so I just made a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish before I turn 30. After I made the sketch, I used an Excel form in Google Docs to outline when I wanted to have accomplished my goals. I put the month and year in the left most column, and used the next few columns as different timetables for separate goals, which I color coded. (Over the top maybe, but the visualization really helps, and having it spread over a calendar format like that helped me set realistic benchmarks.)

  6. NMPatricia says:

    I am sure that Trent would endose people adding whatever they might want in this five year plan. I would like to suggest that adding health in the plan would be a good idea. And I know that he addressed the financial part in #1 but I since we are OK financially, I added it here.

    Still working on it, but a great exercise. I “retired” five years ago. So I am still trying to get my feet under me about this kind of life. This exercise is helping me.

  7. Joan says:

    Here’s one question: My husband and I are trying to work together through this Out with the Old, In with the New series. Should we each do a file? Do we combine them? I’m not just talking in the record-keeping sense, but should these be personal goals or our goals as a family? Where does our 10-year-old daughter fit in? Etc. THANK YOU for any suggestions; I am loving this series already and hoping to make next year better!

  8. Andrea says:

    I was considering creating a plan in January to kick off the New Year, but since I’ve read this post I’m going to start my 5 year sketch this weekend.

  9. Love the tips about the 5 year sketch plan because if you can visualize it, you can make it happen. It starts with visualizing it first. Revisiting the sketch plan is key, because you want to hold yourself accountable to execute the plan.

    I have a friend who set goals of doubling his income in 12 months and then keeps on saying it every year, but does not seem to hold himself accountable for not reaching his original goal. This has been going on for over 10 years.

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