How to make a five-year plan

All of us have a base philosophy or three that guides our lives and one of mine is:

If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?

Where some people are content to meander through life and take it as it comes (all power to them), I’ve never been comfortable leaving my destiny in the hands of others. So, I’ve made plans.

Academic goals. Athletic goals. Life goals. #squadgoals

You name it, I’ve made a plan for it.

Here’s what might surprise you about the plans I’ve made, however. They’ve never been particularly detailed in nature. Thanks to the N in my INFJ personality, details don’t work for me. They do, however, work for my husband (an ISTJ).

Which is why, before you try to create a five-year plan for yourself, you need to know how your brain likes to deal with these things.

Time to geek out with a bit of Myers-Briggs stuff

Quick note: While personality typing is not the be all and end all of anything, the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) typing is going to make it easy for me to demonstrate why creating something like a five-year plan (or any plan really) needs to be done your way, not someone else’s. If you don’t know what your MBTI is – this is my favourite free test. Go take it now. I’ll wait!

Ok, now that you’ve either refreshed your memory about your MBTI type, or The MBTI letter pairs that most influence how we plan for the future are the second and fourth letter pairs.

The second letter pair (S v N) refers to how you process information.

  • If you are a strong Senser (S), you like data, numbers and instructions. If someone asks you to give them the fine details of a conversation you just had, you’ll be able to do it. If someone asks you for the steps you’re going to take to make something happen, you’ll be able to provide those.
  • If you are a strong Intuitive (N), you process information in a ‘big picture’ way. If someone asks you to tell them about a conversation you just had, you’ll be able to give them the gist of the conversation, but not the details. If someone asks you for the steps you took to do something you’d look at them blankly and say ‘Not sure, I just did it.’

The fourth letter pair (J v P) refers to how you operate in the world.

  • Strong Judgers (Js) like structure and order. They are decisive and abhor loose ends. (Just quietly, Judgers tend to see Perceivers as aimless and flaky.)
  • Perceivers (Ps) like to keep their options open. Their preference is to go with the flow; to be flexible and adaptable. (Unsurprisingly, Perceivers often consider Judgers to be rigid and uptight.)

What does this mean for long-term planning?

Are you someone who can’t make a plan without a detailed spreadsheet and loves having step-by-step instructions to execute and checklists to tick? There’s a good chance you’re an SJ.

Are you someone who prefers a more organic approach to achieving your goals? You can do the step-by-step by thing if you have to but you know there are several ways to skin a cat and you’d prefer having the freedom to try a few different things rather than being told exactly what to do? Then it’s likely you’re either an NJ or SP.

Are you someone who finds it really difficult to commit to any kind of long-term plan and frankly, would rather dream than do? Then you’re probably an NP.

With that in mind, here are three ways to lay down a five-year plan, along with the personality types they best work for:

1. Sit down with a financial planner

Many of us think financial planning is about getting our fiscal ducks in a row. And, sure, it is. Financial planners aren’t just about wealth creation, however. They’re also about long-term lifestyle planning. They’re skilled at finding out what you want your life to look like in five years’ time … and then helping you lay down a plan for making that happen.

They also provide ongoing accountability (well, ours do) with bi-annual check-ins.

Financial planners work well for all personality types:

  • SJs love the spreadsheets and step-by-step plans financial planners can provide and will execute the plan with minimal support.
  • Because NJs and SPs prefer tackling long-term plans in a more organic way it’s helpful to them to have someone else keep an eye on the fine details.
  • For NPs who don’t really love planning at all, financial planners can help pin down their dreams, create a plan to achieve those dreams, and then provide the considerable amount of accountability they need to make them happen.

2. Do the ‘perfect day’ exercise

This is where you write out what a perfect day would look like for you. (An everyday day, not an ‘on a beach in the Bahamas’ day.) Here are some prompts:

  • Where are you?
  • What are you doing?
  • Who are you doing it with.
  • What’s so good about that day?

Here’s an example. (This was the ideal day exercise that set my own personal five-year plan into action three or so years ago):

I’d wake early, before the rest of the house, and have an hour or two to myself to do whatever I want. I’d then be able to get my kids ready for school with a minimum of fuss before walking with them to school. Upon my return home, I’d have five hours at my disposal in which to work my way through three hours of writing and a bit of home admin. I’d then make my way in an unhurried fashion to pick my kids up from school and they’d be able to have a play with their friends while I chat with the other school mums. Once home we’d find Ant waiting there for us and we’d spend the rest of the afternoon playing in the backyard as a family and meandering our way through our evening routine. At 7.30pm the kids would go to bed and Ant and I would have some time to hang out together on the couch before heading off to bed.

The beauty of this exercise is that it helps you identify what’s really important to you.

My ideal day told me it was important to me to:

  • Be available to my kids before and after school;
  • Have time to myself in the morning;
  • Be able to manage both my work and household admin during school hours;
  • Have time with Ant, both in a family context, and as a couple.

It also identified writing as the work I wanted to be doing.

Who does this exercise work well for?

  • SJs won’t love it because it feels a bit airy-fairy and ‘woo’. That’s not to say it’s not useful for them. They just need to be able to take whatever they learn from that exercise and turn it into a very concrete plan.
  • NJs and SPs will love it because, to them, there are So. Many. Options. and this exercise is very good for figuring out which of those options they want the most. It also helps them ensure the dream they’re chasing is their own, and not someone else’s. Once NJs and SPs know where they’re going, and so long as they have some way of regularly reminding themselves what that goal is (something as simple as a calendar reminder), they will do the things necessary to get there. It won’t be in the sequential and logical manner that SJs go about things. But they will get there.
  • NPs will also love doing the ‘perfect day’ exercise. From there, however, they will need to sit down with someone (partner, friend, coach) who can help them map out a plan for getting where they want to go. That someone will also need to check in with the NP on a regular basis to see how they’re going.

3. Vision boarding

If you’re someone who believes in the power of manifesting, then you’ve probably done a vision board. It’s a visual representation of what you want from life, usually in the form of a poster collage of words and images you’ve cut out from magazines or printed from the internet. Many people also use Pinterest boards for this purpose.

The power of vision boards is the same as the power of doing the ‘perfect day’ exercise – they help you zero right in on what it is you really want from life, and where you want to be in five years’ time.

  • As with the perfect day exercise, SJs won’t love this one because, ‘too woo’. (That’s not to say they won’t get something out of it, however.)
  • NJs, SPs and NPs will all benefit because it helps them narrow down their options. NPs will particularly love it because it helps them ‘see’ exactly what they’re working towards and this will help keep them on track in the absence of other forms of accountability.

Three steps to creating a five-year plan

Hopefully you will have seen a pattern emerging from the above:

Step 1 involves identifying what your goals for the future are.

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, you need to know where you are going before you can get there.

Step 2 involves making the plan.

SJ plans live on paper and in spreadsheets. NJ and SP plans live in their heads. NPs don’t have a natural preference for making plans, but will have developed techniques for doing so over the years. Now is the time to leverage those techniques.

Step 3 involves regular check-ins.

SJs will have physical checklists to tick off. NJs and SPs should regularly revisit the words of their perfect day exercise to ensure they’re on track. (If they’re not, they will naturally course-correct.) NPs will work best with external accountability (a partner/friend/coach).

The final word

The best way to predict the future is to create it. I sincerely hope the above helps you create the future you most dream of 🙂