Brainstorming - a beautiful storm of clouds symbolizes gathering thoughts

Brainstorming: Annual Planning Process – Part Three

Week three of the annual planning process – Brainstorming – explains how to figure out what you want and where you want to go. This process has two steps. First, we will get our dreams and goals out on paper. Second, we will set some specific actionable goals for the new year. This process allows us to set our intentions for the year.

Before we start brainstorming, we should acknowledge that this year, in general, has been a lesson that things don’t always go to plan. The type of long term planning we are doing here is effective because it gives a compass – a direction to work toward.

Taking each day as it comes and working with the time and energy you have is also important. Priorities can change over time and that is okay.

During this week, you will want to set your destination. In other words, where do you want to get to ultimately, There are many options in life, just as there are many towns and cities on a map. You need to figure out where you want to be before you can get travel there.

If you just found this process it isn’t too late to get started. During December, all of the weekly Zin Zoe Creative posts will explain and teach an annual review and planning process. If you missed the “overview” post which explains the when, why, and how of the process, you can click here to go back and read from the beginning.

Hiker scouts out direction symbolizing following a personal compass

Why do this?

Have you ever written a mile-long “to-do” list and thought to yourself “how am I ever going to get all this done?”. Later, after a few weeks or months have passed, you review the list and realize everything was completed?

For some reason, when we set intentions down, or record them, they are much more likely to happen.

There is something about writing goals down that makes it more likely that these things will get done. It may not be today or tomorrow, but recording a dream or goal as an intention is the first step to achieving it.

The Brainstorming Process

There are two parts to this process.

The first step is to figure out exactly what our priorities are. To get ideas out of our minds and out onto paper. You can do this in one of two ways, using either the systematic approach or the mindmap approach.

In the second step, no matter which approach you have decided to use for the first step, you will make a list of specific realistic and actionable goals.

Whatever method you choose for step one, beware of the word “should”. If what you are writing down is “I should do this” or “I should do that” it may be that you are setting up barriers for yourself based on the outside expectations. This does not apply in all circumstances, but it is something to be aware of. Sometimes “Should” is unavoidable. For example, if you have people depending on you or if the task is a prerequisite for something you want to achieve. Should is a necessary part of life. However, this is a process about you and what you want to do, not what you should do. This is an especially tough thing for “people pleaser” types to remember.

If you are a more visual person, for the first step, you may choose to draw out a web, or mind map instead of using the systematic approach. If that is the case, you can skip down to the portion below on mind mapping.

Part 1 – Finding your Intentions

The Systematic Approach

Taking the same categories you used in Week 1 to reflect, now focus on each category one at a time. Think about each category and think about and record how you would like that portion of your life to be. At this stage, don’t let the logical part of your brain work too hard. Don’t think about how you are going to do these things (we will work on that in week 5) just think about what you want.

It may be that one part of your life is not in balance with the others. It will quickly become apparent to you what areas you want to focus on.

At this stage, don’t think about what is feasible or what is not. Just think about what you want to do and write it down. Take each topic: self-care, education, work, etc., and create a picture in your mind of what success in that area looks like to you. When considering each category of your life, think about what the best-case scenario would be for you in each case.

By taking one category at a time, it is easier to plan out what you would like that part of your life to be like without getting overwhelmed. This is a time for dreams. Some of us may be starting from zero and some of us may have already have achieved much of what you started out wanting to do.

The Mind map Approach

Mind mapping is a visual strategic planning tool. It is a way of visually representing your thoughts. You may have been taught this method in school, but it is useful for mapping out and brainstorming your personal thoughts as well.

If you have already completed the systematic approach above, this part is optional and may be repetitive.

  1. First, take a blank piece of paper or document and draw a shape. Write your name in the middle of that shape.
  2. For the next step you have two choices:
    • You can go back to your reflection categories, consider which ones you want to set goals for this year, and make a branch from the center circle you just made for each goal; or
    • You can go with the flow, think about what you would like to work on this year, and make branches as you like, seeing what comes to you and what is on your mind.
  3. For each of the secondary shapes/categories, you have just created, follow the branch to its natural conclusion. In other words, add as many goals or thoughts about what you want to happen in those areas as you like.

After this process you will have something that looks a bit like this:

Part 2 – Setting Specific Goals

Now that you have gotten your dreams out on paper, or at least your intentions of what you want your life to look like, you can set some specific and realistic goals. We will plan out how to action these later, so for now, a simple list of what you want to accomplish this year will do.

Put these somewhere you will be able to look at them a few times during the year, or at least to review at the end of next year.

These goals should be SMART goals. SMART goals are often referred to in a business environment, but they can apply to personal planning as well. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. Your goals should stretch you somewhat, but they should not break you.

“Pay off my mortgage” is a goal, and it is a good goal, but it might not be realistic in one year. Taking some time to figure out exactly how much you may be able to pay and writing the goal as “Pay my mortgage down to “xxx” dollar amount” would be a better way to put this.

Usually, I have nine or ten things on my goal list. I don’t always get them all completed. For example, this year, one of my goals was – plan and go on a 5th-anniversary trip in July. Circumstances outside my control didn’t allow that to happen, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good goal.

Even when I don’t achieve the goals I’ve written down, I find I’ve almost always made progress towards achieving them. Also, it is sometimes surprising that things I thought would never come to pass have been accomplished.

Other notes and unsolicited advice

Whatever your age, it isn’t too late to achieve your goals. I remember at age 24 thinking that I was already too old to do some of the things on my bucket list. This was, on reflection, not a very clear way of thinking. Who knows why we do this to ourselves. If you want to learn to skate, swim, get a degree, or whatever it is you want out of life, the time will pass regardless of what you are doing.

Have you ever heard someone say “I wish I hadn’t followed their advice” or “I wish I had done this the way I wanted to”. If we live our lives in a way to keep our loved ones happy while denying ourselves, we will end up with unhappy families and unhappy selves. This is because if you try to live your life for someone else, you will never be able to do it well enough to please them, while at the same time you may be making yourself miserable. There are no winners in that scenario.

The things worth doing in life take time and it is amazing how even small steps can make a huge difference in your life.

Next week we are going to take a break from focused thinking and relax. This allows our brains to process all these goals in the background. In the final week, we will do some action planning. Scheduling and planning out how to turn the goals we wrote this week into reality.

Click here for Week 4 – Relax

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