What’s next? Building your future

Every few months, it's worth looking over your short- and long-term goals and coming up with tangible steps to keep you making progress towards them.

Photo illustration / Gerry Broome / AP / File
Whether your goal is as concrete as 'building a house' or as intangible as 'being a good parent,' it's important to check in regularly to ensure you're making progress. With goals broken down into specific tasks, it's easy to keep them moving through your to-do list.

This weekend, I did one of my “big life reviews” that I do about three or four times a year. During these (as I’ve been discussing during the “Making It All Work” series), I sit down for a few hours and take stock of everything going on in my life. What do I want to do with my life? Where am I going to be in five years? How does it all fit together? What am I doing regularly that just doesn’t fit in with that big picture?

I thought I’d share some of my conclusions from this process with you – and perhaps, through that, you’ll get some ideas for thinking through this yourself.

Why am I here? As far as I can tell, my gifts lie in what amounts to helping others – helping them resolve their problems and figure out the next step in their own lives and put the talents they have to use. Not only do I enjoy doing this, I seem to have some set of traits that enables me to do this well: I can write quickly and reasonably well, I can actively listen with ease, and I know how to put others at ease (when I get over my own shyness).

For now, the form “helping others” takes is in parenting and in writing The Simple Dollar. Both of these revolve around helping others, though they use distinct skill sets. Parenting requires a lot of active listening and careful explanation in verbal and action form. The Simple Dollar requires a lot of writing of reasonable quality and expression of ideas that put others at ease and help them. Obviously, right now, The Simple Dollar provides enough resources to, at the very least, enable me to focus on the site on a full-time basis while also giving me enough flexibility to be the parent that I want to be.

Where does that go from here, though? Where do I see my life heading in the future? My “sketch” for five years down the road involves just the three children I have right now. It involves me continuing to write The Simple Dollar, but it also involves me delving into another realm that I’m not really ready to talk about publicly quite yet (don’t worry, if/when it happens, you’ll be the first people to know about it). In that picture, we have moved to a nearby location that’s more rural than where we currently live.

What do I need to do to get there? In other words, what things do I need to take on and what areas of focus do I need to have to make these dreams come true? I need to be a good husband and a good parent to ensure the happy picture of family life that’s at the center of this vision. I need to continue to produce good content for The Simple Dollar. I need to move forward with the other ongoing project in my life as well. I need to be diligent with my finances so I can pay off the home we’re currently living in and maintain an emergency fund to, again, keep my family safe and secure.

More subtly, I need to take care of my own health, both mentally and physically, and be diligent about the health of those around me.

These goals start breaking down into specific projects. I need to move forward with active development of that unmentioned project. I need to store up some Simple Dollar posts. I need to teach my son and daughter how to read – or at least big pieces of how to read. The list of projects starts to really grow if you start piecing out all of these areas of focus and directions I want my life to go in.

Once I have a big set of projects – and, yes, some of them were already ongoing – the next step is to derive specific “next actions” for each of them. What can I do in the next few days to move each of these projects forward? These actions need to be very specific and clear enough so that I don’t have to think about them when I look at my “to-do” list.

After this, for the next few months, I just look at my project list about once a week. From it, I pull a “next action” for each project and add it to my to-do list. It keeps me moving forward on all of the things I’ve thought about in this process.

That’s the entire process in a nutshell. I step back, look at my life as a whole, think about what I need to do to get where I want to go, and break it down into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s tangible.

You can do it, too. Just sit down and start thinking about where you want to go. Write it all down. Then start breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces until you have tangible things you can do this week. You’ll find that it makes your entire week – and your entire life – move forward more smoothly and purposefully than ever before.

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