Every December, people do a lot of baking or whatever it is that people do. But also, deadlines tend to be pushed til January. Whole days stretch by and you can’t remember anything happening during them. Like December 27 through 30th … was even is that? Somewhere in there, should you choose to accept this mission, is a fine time to get some mental space to design the new year to your liking.
If you want to start a business or apply to grad school or change careers, those are multi-month projects for which things need to happen in a particular order, and with ongoing gusto over a long period of time. If unexamined crap is getting in the way (volunteering where you’re not really making an impact, training for a marathon for which you cannot recall why you signed up, being a bridesmaid three times in one year because you really liked those people in high school), the big stuff gets pushed out and your energy is frittered away on the wrong things.
Planning is also fun. When you have a whole year ahead, especially if you are a young person with few family commitments, you really can do almost anything, even if you don’t have much disposable income. Make a point to learn about scotch so you feel awesomely confident ordering at the bar and offering drinks to friends at home. Learn a crazy skill you could turn into a second career one day even though now it’s just for fun. Decide how you want to look and then make a standing salon appointment, if applicable, or get rid of all the old clothes that don’t match your new look, or watch makeup and hair tutorials on Youtube and DIY it. Find out how to get the attention of your elected representatives and then write letters or angle for appointments to advocate for causes that matter. Do it regularly enough that at least the staffers know your name. Learn Italian. Meditate. One woman at the Bullish Conference shared that she wanted to spend more time with her bunnies. This is free, and sort of a good deed as well. But even something so easy (and SO FLUFFY) sometimes doesn’t happen unless you plan it.
Once I declared that in the upcoming year, I would start 12 businesses in 12 months. The idea was that they would use some common resources, and that I would then kill of the bad ones and just keep what worked best, like I was my own personal venture capital firm. Failing at that (due not only to outrageous overoptimism, which I do not regret, but also unexpectedly being a pregnant person in unremitting misery!) still meant that I started, like, two businesses, which is still more than most people start in a year.
Built into my plan another year was the knowledge that, as I finished my master’s and started businesses, I would be making less money. So I didn’t feel too bad when that, in fact, happened. One of the benefits of developing a plan is knowing what doesn’t fit or isn’t a priority, so as to dispense with unnecessary guilt.
There really aren’t rules for planning your new year, but here are some ideas.
Start by brainstorming the most awesome life imaginable.
Here’s something I wrote before I had kids:
A more awesome version of me frequently escapes in a black Town Car that drives up at just the right moment with a sign in the window that says “Dziura.” Her apartment has a whisky bar that she doesn’t use that often, but she’s like, “Oh, right, that’s my whisky bar.” She has pretty good biceps, but you almost never see them because she’s swathed in Olivia Pope’s wine wardrobe. She worries about fewer and fewer things as she ages; she has people for that. She has a baby with a very dignified name, but due to a combination of choosing the right partner and the right baby supplies, she’s still wearing Olivia Pope’s wine wardrobe (and sending it out to a very diligent dry cleaner).
Yeah, I pretty much did that. For awhile, until my priorities changed.
When you develop a vision of your ideal year, you can make deliberate decisions to put those things into practice, or to let some of it go for bigger things. Or some of it can wait; in fact, some things, you appreciate more when you’ve spent longer working on them. But you want that vision in mind so you can see how achievable much of your vision probably is, and so you can make deliberate decisions.
Don’t just think about goals; think about values.
I spoke to a woman the other day who told me about her consulting career. I didn’t really understand her field, so, since I had no intelligent comment to make about the subject matter, I said, with what I hope was a devious and conspiratorial glint in my eye: “It sounds like you really enjoy being right.”
“Yes!” she said, surprised. “I think I do.” A lot of times a goal is just a means to an end. What you really want is the feeling at the end of that goal.
I have come to the realization that I value physical freedom more than just about anything else — both the physical freedom to sit where I want and nap and drink alcohol and shower at weird times and the broader physical freedom to travel and be productive from any city or country. That’s not a goal. That is a guiding force to determine what goals make the cut.
Vote something off the island.
There’s probably something in your upcoming plans that needs to go. Either it’s just there because you think it’s “supposed” to be, or it’s something you’ve been doing a long time but is no longer providing benefits to you, or it’s just something that can wait, until the next new year or beyond.
For me, in many years, this item has been “get a six-pack.” I’m pretty sure I know how to do this (see Bullish: Weight Lifting for Ladies and Unicorns), but I can’t see quite what the rewards would be. I could write an article called, “How to Get a Six-Pack,” and this article would be accompanied by a picture of my abs. I’m shrugging. Shrug. Showing off your abs is no way to make friends. Also, I could probably write a book with the time and effort it would take to get a six-pack, and a book still exists if you get really sick or gain 15 pounds. Six-packs are really ephemeral. They’re not even useful for sex. Shrug.
At one Bullish Conference workshop, an attendee shared that she was striking “find a life partner” from her list. Yes, it’s fine to postpone that a year when you’re 26! (Or when you’re 35 or 62, for that matter.) If you’re volunteering for something that mainly involves arguing in meetings with other volunteers, quit. Seriously. Kill something on the list. This also gives you a chance to make that finger-across-the-throat gesture that people make in movies to indicate that they want someone killed.
A plan should generally fit on one page (you can push the details off to a separate to-do list).
But a plan doesn’t have to be a list. You could make a flowchart or mind map, or a weird squiggly drawing with words jammed in it. Personally, I think creating on paper allows for more creativity than, say, typing into a Word document. You could even go for some sparkly colored markers — no judgments. You could make a timeline, like the ones you may have made in social studies many years ago (draw big projects as happening across several months). Or try declaring a theme for each month of the year. You could try writing your projects and goals on post-its and rearranging them until it feels right.
(See also Bullish: Extreme Advance Planning For Very Smart Women and Bullish: Use The Holidays To Get Ahead.)
Here’s something else I wrote way back when:
My own new year is full of unknowns. I am gestating a lady-fetus, due in March. People in New York sometimes get on lists for child care before they’re even pregnant. I am not doing this. If I worked 9-to-5 in an office, I would. Instead, I consider it a great pleasure to play it by ear. Let’s meet the baby before making any big decisions, you know? I don’t want to have to decide now what my future self will want. My future self is a more advanced version of me. I don’t know exactly what she’ll want. I just know that she wants options. I specifically want the freedom to want different things at different times.
I am also in a pilot for a TV show in which I would be a series regular (an “expert” on a reality show). These things very often do not work out. But if this one does, I’d be spending some serious time in Los Angeles. (I was once on a TV set where a woman with a baby hired a local sitter to hold the baby off-set when she was filming. Since a lot of TV is waiting around for six hours to spend 45 minutes filming something, the babysitter didn’t even have that much to do. Some things are surprisingly do-able with sufficient capital and will-to-power.)
So my plan for the new year is a bit of an anti-plan. How much can I accomplish while committing to very little — location-wise — on my calendar? It turns out you have to plan to not plan things. Instead of teaching ongoing live classes, I want to teach ongoing online classes. I want to save the in-person stuff for big, hotly-anticipated, expertly-executed one-time events: conferences, speaking gigs, bootcamps, mixers where people who know each other from online are SO EXCITED to finally meet. So I’m planning monthly webinars. There will always be another Bullish Conference. There will be new businesses where I can genuinely help people — but from Brooklyn or Los Angeles, or Buenos Aires, or the beach.
A few reflections on that. The TV show didn’t work out. The baby and the conference worked out great. Some thoughts for the future of the “Design Your 201x” process:
- Let’s schedule regular check-ins with ourselves to refine the plan. Put April 1, July 1, and October 1 in your calendar right now. Better yet, take the entire day off on those days.
- Where’s your business model? Where in this plan does the money come from? If you have to vote something off the island, you probably want to keep what’s making the money and what’s the absolutely most awesome. And see if you can cut parts of your life that don’t fall into either category.
- An important part of the Design Your 201x workbook is asking for help. I heard in our most recent webinar that many people did not ask for help, and were in fact terrified to. There’s a reason the checkbox is there! As well as the part about asking well in advance — evidence suggests that people are much more likely to say yes when you ask very far in advance. That means now!
Now is a fantastic time to design your new year. In December, things quiet down, and probably no one expects that much of you. People around you are coasting.
Whether you hole up for a cozy weekend alone (with bunnies?), take a solo trip someplace warm, or just barricade yourself in the guest room at Grandma’s with a cup of coffee and a notebook, now is the time to mastermind the next year of your life.
The current Design Your 20XX digital download is available here.