Planning Your Life, Business and Everything

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I think I missed something important in my previous post on plans: If you want to build a balance, you can’t plan your business and life separately.

A balanced business is an integral part of your life, not something extra.

That’s why today, I decided to go a bit deeper and present to you my once-every-day business and life planning process.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a professional business plan advisor (is that even a profession?), and this is nothing more than the process I use for maintaining my own business plan. So, take from it what you find useful, use it abs a building block for your own model, and comment on it so I can further improve my approach.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move forward.

There are a few key principles that define how I see my business plan:

  1. A balanced life contains a good career, and a rewarding career contains a rewarding life
  2. Your life is personal, and so is your career, or business. It has to match your values, dreams and goals. No one else can pick those for you.
  3. By trying things and documenting what you do, you learn new and better ways to define what your personal career should look like.
  4. By planning, you get yourself moving and trying things.
  5. …and soon you’re planning again

I’m not a big fan of long and thorough business plans, because I see them more as planning than action.

I want my business plan to be alive.

To be something I come back to daily to see how my understanding on life has evolved, and how well my business is reflecting those ideas.

The plan

This is the first time I present my model in public, so bear with me (and really, I’m all ears for comments and improvement ideas).

The plan is actually a collection of goals, an evaluation of where I am today and a description of my current understanding of how to reach my goals. I usually don’t have all of it written on paper because the plan lives in my head, growing and shrinking, until every now and then, I spend some time plotting it on paper. Quite a few separate, small pieces of paper, in my case.

1. Dreams

1. Dreams

Like I said in an earlier post in this series, I am a dreamer.

I love to dream big (“I would love to be able to provide an amazing working environment for a few people”).

I love to dream small (“Aww… That MacBook would be such a great thing to have”).

I love to dream about work (“It would be so great to write a book”).

I love to dream about life (“I want to go to Japan”).

And in many cases the work and life dreams are the same (my biggest dream is that I would be able to work from anywhere I want to).

I collect a list of dreams (big, small, important, not so important) on which I write everything that comes to mind. From that list I can then easily identify the most important, or most urgent ones to work on as well as some easy ones that I can reach rather quickly.

My current number one dream is to be free from location and work from anywhere I choose to (which in my case means more or less the same thing as working from home). And the small, practical one that keeps me motivated is the new MacBook hiding just behind the corner.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your dreams?
  2. How have they evolved since the last time you looked at your plan?
  3. Is there something that doesn’t seem to go away? (If so, that’s a good candidate to your big, guiding dream)

Write down your answers so that the next time you are unsure of why you are doing the things you do, you can come back to your list of dreams and see the reasoning.

2. Making a difference

2. Meaning

I want my life to have meaning.

I don’t care about death that much, but before I die, I want to be able to say that I tried to do the things I was meant to do.

It’s no secret that I’m Christian. I believe that God has a plan for me, and that’s why I want to spend time looking for clues, for finding out that plan. (One of my big business heroes, Phil Vischer, has written a few good blog posts on this topic)

But even if you don’t share my faith, I’m sure you believe in something. Peace? Eradicating poverty? Stopping global warming? Globalization?

And no matter what it is you believe in, if you don’t include that as a part of your life and business plan, you are not being honest to yourself. I believe in all of the things above, and many more (I told you I’m insanely interested in everything, didn’t I?), so it’s getting complicated to find a room for everything I believe in.

But I’m trying.

The questions to ask yourself about making a difference:

  1. What do you believe in?
  2. What is it that you would want to change in this world?
  3. What happens if you combine these ideas with your dreams (from step 1)

Again, write down your answers. Play with them a bit, mixing them with the answers from the first step to see if you find some nice combinations. For example, a dream of traveling to Africa combined with a belief in eradicating poverty could lead to some interesting times spent helping out African entrepreneurs.

3. Neat ideas

3. Neat Ideas

I read a lot.

And when I read, I come across exciting ideas (for example, outsourcing my life, as Tim Ferris suggests) to try out. Sometimes when I read about an idea, I can put it to practice right away (like adding the CommentLuv plug-in to my blog), but more often, they are something I have to write down and save for the future.

When I say, save for the future, I don’t mean writing down the idea and then forgetting all about it (although sometimes that happens as well). You need to remind yourself of the ideas you find cool, over and over again.

Go through the list and see if you now could benefit from one of them. For example, in the case of outsourcing, go through your current projects and activities and ask yourself “what would happen if I outsourced this task?” If the answer is positive (“I would get more time to find new opportunities”), go for it!

And if you decide not to follow the idea, take a closer look at it and decide whether you still want to keep the idea on your “neat ideas” list or not. Maybe the idea doesn’t seem that neat to you anymore?

So, the questions, as a reminder:

  1. How could I use this idea to improve my current work?
  2. Do I still think this is a great idea?

Keep the idea list close (I suggest you start carrying a notebook with you) because you’ll never know when you will find something new to add to it.

4. Where will I be in a year from today?

4. A Year From Now

By now you have a list of ideas, a list of values, and a list of ideas. If you have been super efficient, you have already sorted them by importance. But if you haven’t, that’s OK as well – I guess inside your head you have a pretty good idea of what is important and what is just nice to have extra.

This is one of my favorite moments in my business planning process. It’s the moment when you come closer to earth and start thinking about the possibilities, but still keep your feet just a bit above the ground, not getting down to your current situation but looking at the future:

  1. Which ones of your dreams do you think you could achieve in a year from today?
  2. Or if you can’t achieve them completely, maybe a partial goal? (If your dream is to be free from the office, maybe a nice partial goal would be to work part time?)
  3. What can you do in a year to further the causes you believe in?
  4. Which of your neat ideas can you use to get there?

This is a question about priorities and choosing a few most important goals to aim for. Be realistic and remember your current commitments (if you work for 8 hours a day, you can’t do as much as if you would be working full time according to this plan), but don’t be afraid to dream big (even if you just work one hour every day, it’s still 365 hours, which is about 45 working days, 9 full working weeks).

5. Next actions

5. Next actions

And finally the part that makes this plan worthwhile.

Actions.

A business plan is about action. It’s about movement. And life.

Take all the material from the four sections above and think. What do you need to do to reach your goals for this year? Do you know how to do it? Does it make sense financially? Do you believe in the necessary actions?

I don’t have the answers to all of the questions. I answer the ones I can, as well as I can. And in most cases that’s enough to keep me moving. I’ll get more answers as I go.

Right now, my action plan consists of the following items:

  1. Writing articles to Finnish magazines (brings in most of the money, and helps improve my writing skills)
  2. Freelance blogging (brings in some money, helps improve my writing skills, and most importantly, helps me make myself known on the Internet)
  3. Writing articles for this blog (keeps me in touch with all of you, improves my thinking, let’s me test my ideas in form of posts like this one)
  4. Contributing to SproutWire (helps me share my passion for small business with the rest of the world, helps make a name for myself)
  5. Writing an eBook / premium service (once done correctly, will bring in money as well as help people in their side business needs)

As you can see, most of the actions have something to do with making money, but many are also about things I believe in strongly, like small business or blogging.

This is it, my business planning process.

Except for one last thing: now that you are done with your business plan, you’re not really done. Come back tomorrow to revise your plan. And the day after tomorrow. The day after that. And so on.

Until the very last day of your life.

14 thoughts on “Planning Your Life, Business and Everything

  1. Hi Jarkko – THANKS for all of the effort that you put into this post!

    I have always thought that planning is important but I think the next step is the more difficult one and that is pursuing the goals that are contained in the plan.

    Even though I have many goals at the top of my plan, taking action can be difficult at times.

    How do you ensure that you will take action and pursue your goals?

    Mark’s last blog post: How to Travel the Globe for FREE Using FLICKR

  2. I find your article of interest. Especially the part about dreaming of big things. And big ideas is what really sparks motivation in most people. I have a website that offers some basic business plan advice, I just started and will be adding more articles. the site is http://www.edward-palonek.com and I would love to exchange links with you. Please let me know. Thank you. Palonek

  3. @Barbara: I’m glad you liked the post! I agree, that setting the goals is crucial for turning dreams into reality. A quite interesting (and unexpected) side effect however has been that by looking a year ahead and then acting on my plan, my dreams have changed.

    So, nowadays, even when giving my answer to the question of where I see myself a year from today, I know that the answer is probably wrong – and I won’t find myself there. It’s a bit like steering a sail boat in the sense that in order to get to the right location you can’t just point your boat there and wait, but you need to go with the wind while gently trying to get to the real destination.

    @Mark: Thanks for the thanks :)

    I agree, pursuing the goals is much more important than planning. For two reasons:

    First, if goals stay as goals they really aren’t anything else than some fuzzy things to escape the reality for a few minutes.

    Second, (this is my new favorite reason for acting rather than planning) is that doing is actually the best way to see if the plan makes sense or not. So, I do something like this: (1) come up with a plan, (2) do some research on how to do it, (3) try it out on the side in smaller scale, (4) decide whether it’s something I want to commit to or not.

    This blog is my best example of this approach in practice so far. I started by reading some other blogs while experimenting with the first posts. About a month later I decided to keep going – and today, 10 months later, I’m still alive and kicking.

    But it’s not always quite as straight-forward as that – otherwise I would already have an e-book on WordPress out, as well as a few web based applications… Or maybe that actually means that the system works – those projects didn’t survive the crucial step 4.

    I don’t know.

    What about you, how do you make sure you keep yourself pursuing your goals rather than just planning them?

  4. Jarkko – I came upon your blog while doing my research this morning. I have extended family in Riihimaki and will be there again this summer. I am fortunate enough to make my living completely from the internet now. Please check out my blog and see if there is anything of interest to you there. I teach people how to make passive income from their articles and eBooks. The baby is adorable. There is a new baby boy, Samuel – born in November – where I will be this summer as well.

    Connie Ragen Green’s last blog post: How to Write your Ebook Now – Free Weekly Teleseminars

  5. @Connie: Hey, that’s cool! Riihimäki isn’t that far from Vantaa. And actually, as I live quite near to the Helsinki-Vantaa airport, you have been closer than 5 kilometers away from my house :) It’s a small world.

    I checked your blog and added it to my list of blogs to spend some more time on. As you probably know, I’m also in the middle of writing my first e-book, so all tips regarding e-book writing are more than welcome. Thanks!

  6. Hi Jarkko – actually, in all honesty, I have been a rather poor pursuer of goals lately :(

    I have a list of projects, online work, and various other minutiae that I would like to complete but I keep getting sidetracked (lazy?). Next week I am going to give your planning process above a try and see if I can’t get more motivated.

    Mark’s last blog post: How to Travel the Globe for FREE Using FLICKR

  7. Hehe, getting sidetracked sure is easy… It’s happening to me all the time as well. But then again, with the goals that really mean a lot to me I somehow manage to get back on track to keep the work going.

    Like I told you earlier, we’re leaving to Spain for a week on Friday morning, but I’m trying to get a post or two done before that, out of which the other one will be a follow-up to this one talking about actually implementing the plan. Let’s see how it’ll turn out…

  8. herponen

    Hi Jarkko and Merry Easter!

    “What about you, how do you make sure you keep yourself pursuing your goals rather than just planning them?”

    Actually I have been also thinking about this one. I think only way to get things done is just to divide your life to different phases. Sometimes it’s time to be more theoretical and sometimes it’s time just to do things.

    At least I think if I always just come up with new ideas I’ll never finish the old ones. Planning your life and drawing the whole picture in your mind is a good thing indeed, but I think sometimes people have to focus only to do one thing. If you want to get things done.

  9. I have to agree whole heartedly that the divide between life and business dissapeares once you start companies. Therefor, why plan them separately?

    Great post brother. Kid looks cute

    shane’s last blog post: Life is Sales

  10. First of all, sorry for not getting back to you guys sooner. I was traveling for a week and just came back home yesterday (more on that in a blog post hopefully still some time today)

    @herponen: Could be… But then again, then your life will be split into parts that are not equally interesting. It reminds me a bit of the idea of working now to have fun later (when you retire). But then again, I’m sure that’s not what you meant… In shorter periods that might work pretty well, like one day planning, one day working, and so on.

    @Shane: Thanks, mate! Yep, Oiva is cute :)

    @Pierre Adama: That’s a big question, my friend. I’ll try to send you some tips over e-mail during next week to get you started.

  11. We really think a like on a lot of things Jarkko. Having the ability to work from anywhere is a big dream of mine. I’m hoping that at one point in my life, my online ventures will deliver this dream to me. It would be so nice to say “lets go to the beach for a month” and not have to worry about missing work. Just pack up my clothes, and laptop and I’m still doing just fine money wise.

  12. Yep, that would be great!

    But the funny thing is that I just realized that with that kind of freedom, I might even decide to go work as a bike messenger or tram driver for a few months… And I’m sure I would enjoy it much more than if I had to do the job :)

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