f you want to meet your New Year’s Resolutions – why not just get a little more organized and enter more things into your calendar? Just buy a planner and schedule stuff in, right? NO!  Entering adhoc appointments and unorganized plans into your calendar is not only unproductive, but one way to ensure you will definitely NOT meet your goals.  The best way to use a planner is for “planning”.  Notice I did not say “committing”.  Committing to a year’s worth of plans is committing to failure.

Let’s think about your goals holistically. Here are some questions you can ask yourself.

  1. What are my priorites in life? What categories can I use to most effectively capture goals aligned to those?
  2. Which goals are priority, and in the short term?
  3. What are milestones I can set along the way to ensure I meet my goal? Milestones should be notable accomplishments or fully completed pieces of work.
  4. What tasks do I need to do, in order to complete to meet each milestone?

Keep in mind that a goal or a project consists a whole bunch of  disparate pieces coming together to make a whole!  That is why it is important to get clarity on what those pieces are, and then break them up into little completed pieces in the time that you have. It is important to always have a “wrap up” on every item you work on, so that you have something to show for yourself, and don’t end up with one huge incomplete mess.  Iterative and incremental progress is what drives success for big companies and it can for you too!  But companies don’t just fly by the seat of their pants, one minute at a time and one day at a time.  Success comes with a plan! Plans change, so plan for that too.

I put all appointments and birthdays directly into my iPhone / Google calendar.  I like to define a project one that will take me longer than 2 hours to accomplish.  Why? Because I am a working mom and two hours is all of the free time I would realistically have in a day.  So anything else that is under that two hour mark, I will put on my calendar.  This could be a group of tasks I need to accomplish – such as paperwork or bills. Or it could be a self care item, time to spend on a hobby or a mini project around the house.

In my opinion, the simplest way to design YOUR PLAN for a successful year is to map it out on a single-year calendar view.  List your categories to the left, and simply make a line for each project from start to end.  Pretty quickly you will see if you have too many things going on, or for a certain category or in a certain month. I recommend color coding your categories, so you can more easily keep track of your projects if you are new to planning. This way when something new comes up, AND IT WILL – you can easily remind yourself what your priorities are and where this should fit in.

I am including some sample views so you can follow along!

Draw out an annual timeline on a piece of paper like this:


After this, hone into each project and start marking your milestones like this:


Once you have a good handle on your milestones, go ahead and pencil them in over the next three months. Color coded posted notes will also be helpful.  While you should have target end dates for all of your projects,  doing detailed planning too far ahead will introduce too much risk!  You can also now setup tasks leading to your milestones. Review and execute those on a  weekly basis.

Some information you might want to include:

  1. Category name (if not already color coded)
  2. Name of your project (Verb, Noun) – i.e. Organize Closet
  3. Task or Milestone

I like to transfer anything “final” I have mapped out onto my paper planner for the next month onto my iPhone / Google calendar. Keep in mind any non-working time in your calendar, such as vacation time or simply time at year end when you may be busy during the holidays.

I also like to utilize my Notes section as follows:

  • Anything not scheduled that needs to be
  • Monthly Retrospective

A monthly retrospective is when you look back at the month and acknowledge what went well and what didn’t.  The what didn’t are the ones we want to take “lessons learned” from.  For example, this year I took out my pre-lit Christmas tree on the exact day I thought I would put it up.  Well, the lights did not work and I ended up having to order another.  This set off a domino effect for the entire holiday season, where I ended up late and stressed trying to get up all of my decorating done.  I barely finished before Christmas! Lesson Learned:  Take out the tree at least 2 weeks early and check it!