Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is the bestselling author of books on business, entrepreneurship, skill acquisition, productivity, creativity, applied psychology, and practical wisdom. About Josh »

Creating a Personal Masterplan

“Know how to choose. Most things in life depend on it. You need good taste and an upright judgement; intelligence and application are not enough. There is no perfection without discernment and selection.”

Baltasar Gracian, philosopher and aphorist

To achieve what you want in life, you generally need to do three things:

  1. Identify what you really want. (Not what others want or what you think you should want.)
  2. Decide what's most important, so you can start working on it.
  3. Act to make progress on your most important priorities.

Creating a “Personal Masterplan” is the best way I've found to stop dreaming about what you want and start making progress.

What Is A Personal Masterplan?

A “Personal Masterplan” is a short planning document that captures what you want to achieve most within the next three years, then systematically breaks down those goals into the most important actions you need to take this week in order to achieve them.

Once you’ve created your Masterplan, planning your day is a simple matter of choosing 2-3 things to accomplish today from your weekly list (your Most Important Tasks), then doing them before you do anything else that day.

Why the three-year time horizon? Simple: it’s short enough to be able to visualize clearly, but long enough for you to be able to make drastic changes and accomplish major goals. It's a good rough estimate for the “foreseeable future,” which makes it useful for this type of planning exercise.

Writing down your goals and having a clear plan of action is critical if you want to make the best use of your finite time and energy. This process is the most effective means I’ve found to identify what I really want and focus on what really matters. After creating your Masterplan, you’ll be amazed at how clearly you’ll be able to visualize what you want to achieve and what you need to do right now to move forward.

Phase #1: Dreaming on Paper

First, you'll need to spend some time thinking of all of the things you'd like to accomplish. The best way to do that is to write down everything you think you'd ever (even remotely) like to do, without editing or censoring yourself in any way.

It's easier to prune your list of active projects than to feel vaguely uncertain if you've captured everything, so err on the side of completeness.

Also err on the side of being completely honest with yourself about what you want: if your lists contain things you'd be embarrassed about if someone else reads it, you can always destroy your notes when you're done.

1.1: Gather Materials

For this exercise, you’ll need at least 5 sheets of paper, your favorite writing instrument, and at least an hour of uninterrupted personal time. (Depending on how deep you go in this process, it can take longer: 2-3 hours is typical. It's a great process to go through over the course of a long lunch break or similar block of time alone.)

Label each piece of paper paper as follows:

Resist the temptation to do this on your computer: there's too much potential for distraction, and writing longhand will help you think in a more relaxed way.

1.2: Brain Dump

Pick up one of the papers, consider the topic area, and ask yourself the following question:

“What are all of the things I might want to accomplish in this area within the next three years?”

Write down everything that comes to mind - avoid self-editing as much as possible. Think and write as fast as you can, and fill all five pieces of paper with as many ideas as you can muster.

1.3: Apply the “Five-Fold Why”

Once you're done, go back and read over one of your lists. Look at each desire you’ve recorded and ask yourself:

“Why do I really want this?”

When you think of an answer, ask yourself the question again. You should ask yourself this question at least five times or until you absolutely can’t come up with another answer. (That usually comes in the form of a reply like “because I want to.”)

When you’ve reached this point, ask yourself:

“Is the original wording of this goal the best way to capture the essence of what I actually want?”

The point of this step is to help you question your assumptions and focus on the true intent of each of your goals instead of getting caught up in arbitrary specifics or social conditioning.

For example, many people have the goal of earning an arbitrary large sum of money. (Let’s say $10 million.) After asking themselves why, they often find that it’s freedom or security they really want, and they don’t need need $10 million to achieve their true objective, making their desire attainable in a much shorter period of time.

A better goal might be to find a reliable way to earn enough income to meet their financial needs using a minimum of time and energy, thereby giving themselves the freedom to invest their time as they see fit.

Once you know the root of your desires, you can go about pursuing them in a more effective manner.

1.4: Is it Positive, Immediate, Concrete, and Specific? (PICS)

To ensure your goals are well-formed and clear, ask yourself:

“Is this desire Positive, Immediate, Concrete, and Specific?”

Positive is something you can pursue vs. something you want to avoid. “I want to exercise every day” is positive. “I want to stop sitting on the couch all day” is not.

Immediate is something that you can pursue now vs. something that might happen in the future if other things happen first. “I want to land a lead role in a movie” is immediate. “I want to become a famous actor” is not.

Concrete is something that can be defined in objective terms. “I want to visit Russia this year” is concrete. “I want to travel the world” is not.

Specific is something that has defined parameters. “I want to earn at least $8,000 each month” is specific. “I want to make a lot of money” is not.

Rewrite your desires in Positive, Immediate, Concrete, and Specific language. If you can't, discard that desire for now by crossing it off.

1.5: Is it Ambitious, Meaningful, and Exciting? (AME)

This step ensures you’re stretching yourself and engaging your emotions appropriately in forming your goals. Ask yourself:

“Is this goal Ambitious, Meaningful, and Exciting?”

Most of us are far too conservative when it comes to planning for the future. If your desire doesn’t push your limits and give you a strong sense of anticipation, reword it until it does.

Here's an example of a well-formed goal:

Within the next three years, I want to write a book about {TOPIC} and sell 20,000 copies worldwide.

Phase #2: Focusing Your Efforts

2.1: Pruning Your Lists

As tempting as it is to try to accomplish everything on your lists all at once, it’s far more productive to consciously restrain yourself so that you can focus your time, energy, and attention on just a few important things at a time.

When you divide your efforts and attention across several projects, it’s difficult to achieve the critical mass of thought and action necessary to accomplish what you set out to achieve.

By temporarily eliminating non-critical projects, you’re freeing yourself to focus on the small core of projects that are most important to you right now, allowing you to accomplish more with less effort.

The goal of this phase of the Masterplanning process is to reduce your list of active goals to five:

  1. One health / fitness goal
  2. One relationship goal
  3. One skill acquisition / personal growth goal
  4. One wealth / career goal
  5. One enjoyment goal

By focusing on these five goals, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a productive, sustainable, and balanced life.

2.2: Choosing What’s Most Important

Pick up one of your lists and ask yourself the following question:

“If I could only accomplish half of these things in the next three years, which ones would I choose to accomplish?”

Cross out the goals that don’t make the cut.

2.3: Recursive Elimination

Apply the same selection process to your remaining goals:

“If I could only accomplish half of these things in the next three years, which would I choose?”

Again, cross out all of the goals that don’t make the cut. Continue asking this question until you have one goal remaining, hen move on to the next list.

2.4: Build Your “Someday / Maybe” List

Don’t completely discard the goals you decide aren’t important enough to focus on right now: they’re still useful, since they represent things you’d like to do at some point in your life.

Place your items on a “Someday / Maybe” List so you can easily refer to them at a later date. (For more on “Someday / Maybe” lists, read Getting Things Done by David Allen.)

2.5: Finalize Your Most Important Goals

At the end of this phase, you’ll have five goals you’ve identified as the accomplishment that will make the largest positive difference in your life. These goals will form the basis for the next phase in the process: creating an action plan that will help you achieve them quickly.

2.6: Self-Check - How Do You Feel?

After making these edits, check your current emotional state - how do you feel? If you’re excited, happy, and relaxed, you’re on the right track, and the goals you have are well-formed.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or apathetic, re-examine your choices before moving onto the next phase.

Phase #3: What Can I Do Right Now?

Now that you’ve identified your single most important goal in each of the five areas, it’s time to use them to build an action plan you can use to decide what to spend time doing right now.

The process is simple: we’re going to break down your long-term goals into manageable steps you can accomplish immediately.

3.1: Define Objectives For This Year

For each of the five objectives, create a single goal that expresses the most important thing you can do to move yourself towards the accomplishment of the three-year goal in the coming year.

Example Three-Year Goal: “Within the next three years, I want to create a cash-flow positive business that allows me to earn at least $10,000 each month.”

Example One-Year Goal: “I want to launch my online waffle iron store and generate at least $3,000 in profit per month before January 1 of the coming year.”

3.2: Define Objectives For This Month

Once you know what you need to accomplish this year, define what you need to accomplish this month to keep you on track:

Example One-Year Objective: “I want to launch my online waffle iron store and generate at least $3,000 in profit per month before January 1 of the coming year.”

Example Monthly Objective: “I will launch the new WaffleMaster 5000 via an online and direct marketing campaign by the end of this month.”

3.3: Define Objectives For This Week

Once you know what you need to accomplish this month, define what you need to accomplish this week:

Example Monthly Objectives: “ I will launch the new WaffleMaster 5000 via an online direct marketing campaign by the end of this month.”

Example Weekly Objective: “This week, I will develop three drafts of sales copy for the WaffleMaster 5000 and pre-test response rates using pay-per-click advertising.”

3.4: Test Your Objectives

Examine your yearly, monthly, and weekly goals to ensure they pass the Five-Fold Why, PICS, and AME tests.

Once all of your goals have passed, review the entire list and check your emotional state.

Are you excited to get started? If not, re-examine your intermediate goals and adjust as necessary until you find yourself itching stop writing and start making progress.

Phase #4: Getting the Most From Your Master Plan

Your Masterplan is only valuable if you use it. Here are a few tips that will help:

4.1: Morning Routine

Make reviewing your Personal Master Plan a part of your daily routine. I review my plan every day, immediately after exercising, showering, and eating breakfast.

By reviewing your plan every day, you’ll strongly reinforce what you want to accomplish, making it easier to stay motivated and on track. Establishing this habit is critical.

4.2: Most Important Tasks

Immediately after reviewing your Masterplan in the morning, write out the two or three most important tasks for you to accomplish that day, then commit to completing them by 11:00 am, before checking e-mail or working on less important tasks.

To plan your day, I highly recommend using David Seah’s free “Emergent Task Planner” worksheet. Filling out an ETP each morning is a great way to plan your day’s tasks and visualize how your time will be invested.

4.3: Weekly Review

In Getting Things Done, David Allen recommends setting aside a few hours every week to do a thorough review of all of your outstanding commitments. A few minutes of review every week will help you keep yourself clear, calm, and focused.

Using this time to review your Masterplan and make updates as necessary is an excellent way to ensure your immediate actions are leading to the fulfillment of your long-range goals. You can also use this time to update your “Someday / Maybe” list as necessary.

Create Your Personal Masterplan Now

Creating a Personal Masterplan takes a few hours, but they'll be some of the most productive hours you spend this year.

Happy planning, and good luck.

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