How to Create a Five-Year Plan

Sometimes, our goals and dreams are so big that we need to craft long-term plans to reach them. A great way to do this is with a five-year plan! Five years offers the perfect amount of time to achieve broad, long-term goals because your life will not change too much within five years, but it’s enough time to plan for any voluntary changes you could ever want.

There’s no prerequisite for what your five-year plan should be about, but common themes are house buying, getting promoted, starting a family, starting a business, and other similar goals. You can even combine several goals into one – for example, your five-year plan might be to settle down, have one child, and move into a starter home. The choice is yours, and the options are endless!

How to Create a Five-Year Plan: Getting Started

To properly enact your five-year plan, you’ll need to set it up properly first. This should not be taken lightly, as your method of planning can affect how your five-year plan turns out in the end. The planning stage is arguably the most critical phase of your five-year plan because, if you don’t budget your time right, you could throw off your entire timeframe.

Envision Yourself in Five Years

What do you want your life to look like in five years? Think about this, down to the last detail, and use it to help craft your five-year plan. Do you see yourself surrounded by children in five years? Maybe in a very beautiful, upgraded house? Perhaps you see yourself retired, living out the rest of your days on the beach? All of these visions can make great five-year plans.

The vision of where you want to be in five years will be your basis for your five-year plan. Evaluate that dream, disassemble it into pieces you’ll need to get there, and then create a “to-do list” of sorts. For example, if you see yourself as retired in five years, you’ll want to make sure that your retirement accounts are in order, and you may want to begin researching a retirement-friendly home in your dream location.

Always take others who you want in your life into account, too. The dreams of your partners or children should be incorporated into yours, if at all possible! Don’t exclude them or leave them behind! If your partner wants to retire in ten years, but you’d like to retire in five, perhaps you should make an eight-year plan to retire instead.

Including others in the planning of your five-year plan can help keep your feet on the ground, too. Trusted partners and family members can help redirect your thoughts and efforts if your five-year plan seems out of reach or doubtful. They can also offer you different solutions and opinions on your plans and can help keep an eye out for opportunities on your behalf, too.

Making Plans

It’s essential to be careful in the way that you make your plans. Besides including your friends and family inside your plan, if applicable, you will also need to be cautious with how much time you give yourself for each step of your project. Use the first few months of your five-year plan to evaluate how much time you may need to achieve different kinds of goals.

Additionally, keep in mind that your five-year plan will only be suitable for you. Someone else’s five-year plan might be an excellent place to start if you’re a fan of what they accomplished, but you will need to adjust goals and time budgets within the plan to suit your own needs. When it comes to a five-year plan, one size does not fit all.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that you will not be the person you are now in five years. More than likely, you’ll need to adjust your plans on the fly to account for how you change as a person. Craft your five-year plan with this in mind; make your steps easy to change so that you don’t have to start over later.

Use these categories as a starting point for crafting your five-year plan. You can pick from one or all of the groups, or even from things not listed. Don’t make a plan that’s too ambitious, however – challenge yourself a little, but don’t make it crazy enough that you burn yourself out along the way.

Don’t let the above categories limit you! If there’s something you want to add to your five-year plan that isn’t listed above, that’s just fine. As long as you keep your project in a place where it’s still possible to achieve it in five years, you can add anything and everything you want to it.

Be Detailed

Don’t leave out the little things when you’re crafting your five-year plan. You can account for things like clothes, furniture, spending money, nights spent out, pets – you name it! Your accomplishments and personality can go here, too. If you want to become more understanding of others in five years, that’s certainly something that can go on the list. As an example of an achievement, you could aim to have the title of “CEO” in five years (as long as that’s a reasonable goal for you).

However, you don’t have to be detailed in all aspects of your plan. In most cases, it’s good to brainstorm about how you plan to reach the steps in your project, if possible, but half of the time things will change anyway. If you don’t know how to go about achieving one of the goals in your plan, leave it blank for now. You might figure out something to fill in later, or you could figure it out on the fly!

Hold Nothing Back

Don’t be afraid of your five-year plan. Although some of the things you list might seem daunting, you can accomplish them. Believing in yourself is a cornerstone of success! If you genuinely believe that you can achieve your five-year plan and you’re willing to put in the requisite effort, you will achieve it one way or another.

Don’t let the doubt of others hold you back from what you’re trying to achieve, either. Wise counsel from a trusted friend or professional can be beneficial, but if you know in your core that you will do something, don’t let anyone else’s words hold you back. In the end, the only one holding you back is yourself.

You will feel uncomfortable with parts of your five-year plan. For most of us, change is inconvenient as a rule. This is okay! However, you should try to want this change, if you can. If you’re scared of change, you will not progress or grow as a person during your five-year journey. Embrace the change that it will bring about in you and in your life, and you will find that you’ve grown far more as a person when you reach the end.

Setting Up Your Plan

Take your time in planning and executing your five-year plan. You may only have one or two things that you want to do when you first create your project, but this can grow and change as you go. For example, your only goal when you start planning could be to have a salary of X at the end of five years. However, along the way, you might wish to have a career in Y and own a house worth Z, too.

Because of the above, make sure you leave room in your five-year plan for change and improvement. If you’re writing your plan down in a journal or notebook – which we recommend – leave room on or between pages for additions, or keep it in a binder so that you can add more as needed.

Writing down your five-year plan gives you a concrete form to look at when you need motivation or reminding, and it will help you identify how you’ve grown as a person as you progress on your journey. It will also help you keep your list organized, particularly if you end up adding many smaller goals to it along the way.

Try to make sure that everything on your list contributes to who you want to be in five years in some way. By doing this, you’ll narrow down some of the other, smaller goals that you’d like to get done in theory, but don’t really apply to your five-year plan in practice. If you run into any of these, certainly write them down, but keep them aside from your five-year plan.

To start, set up a one-year milestone for each of the five years. Where do you want to be at the end of year one? Year two? Year three? Year five will be the culmination of your five-year plan, while each yearly goal should be a contributing goal or marker on your way to the end. Take our example below.

  • Year 1: Earn $60,000
  • Year 2: Purchase my dream house
  • Year 3: Start a family
  • Year 4: Pay off my student loans
  • Year 5: Be living a happy family life with no debts, children, and a stable salary

The above is a very bare-bones example – you can get far more creative with it – but it’s a general outline for you to follow. You can add smaller goals in between the yearly milestones, too – in fact, we recommend it. For example, you could add “start a college fund” between Year 3 and Year 4. “Start a college fund” isn’t a big enough goal to be a yearly milestone, but it feels just as important, so it’s a good thing to add to the list.

It’s also a good idea to rank your smaller goals in order of importance. Obviously, your yearly milestones will be some of the most important, but you may run into some essential small goals, too, such as the one we mentioned above. If you don’t feel like ranking them, try penciling in a star next to your most important goals. This will help them stick out to you when you go back over your plans.

Figure Out Your Timelines

The time it will take you to accomplish each goal on your list will vary. For smaller goals, it could take as little as a day, or it could potentially take a few weeks. Your yearly goals, of course, will need to be tackled a little at a time. Your five-year goal will be the culmination of all the goals you put below it on your list.

Be very careful when assigning timelines to your list. It’s better to err on the side of caution and give yourself too much time rather than too little. You can use the extra time to accomplish other things, while too little time will mess up the following entries on your list.

If you don’t know how long something will take, leave it blank or assign it an extra-long amount of time. If you don’t end up accomplishing it during your five-year plan, that’s okay! Wild card goals like this are what makes your five-year journey exciting and fun.

Break Down Your Goals

For your biggest goals, don’t be afraid to break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. For a goal like “start a college fund,” you don’t really have to break it down into smaller steps, as it’s pretty self-explanatory. However, for something like “earn $60,000 this year,” you may need to break it down a bit.

How will you go about earning a $60,000 salary? Are you looking to get a promotion? Find better job prospects somewhere else? Win big at the casino? Make money investing? Break your larger, vaguer goals down into things like the above, along with how you plan to get there. How will you go about searching for that new job or promotion? What will you invest, and where?

Take the below example:

  • Goal: Make $60,000 this year
    • How: Get a promotion or pay raise
    • To be recognized for a promotion, I’m going to try to do an exemplary job whenever I can at work.
    • I plan to step up for others by covering shifts, being a team player for group work, and generally helping the company become successful however I can.
    • If I’m not recognized for my work there, I’ll look for better prospects somewhere else.

The above example covers all the bases: it tells you what the goal is, how we plan to achieve it, and what we’re going to change to make it possible. Try to follow the above example for all of your large goals in your five-year plan.

Executing Your Plan

You should take the same care when executing your five-year plan as you do when planning it. The most obvious stumbling block for people is sticking through your five-year plan, no matter what. Not everyone has the discipline and drive necessary to see their five-year plans through to the end. You will need to cultivate this discipline in yourself if you hope to count yourself among them.

Consistency will be your biggest obstacle and your most reliable ally, and change will be the wrench thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. As long as you stay consistent in following your future goals, whether they be new, old, or ever-changing, you will eventually reach them!

Since you wrote out your plan in a systematic way above, executing it will be relatively easy. Keep your written five-year plan handy, and use it to keep daily, weekly, or monthly to-do lists that you can cross off as you go. Strategize for which things you can work on slowly over time and which items might require a more active investment to get them done.

The most important thing to do will be to watch out for change. It will inevitably come for you and your plan, no matter how carefully you’ve thought it out. While your end goal may not change, keep the route you take to get there malleable, and you may end up stumbling across some valuable opportunities and shortcuts along the way.

What to Expect

You’ve learned all about how to craft your five-year plan above. However, you’ll need to be aware of what to expect over the course of your project, too. There are people out there who swear by five-year plans, and there are those who will tell you to throw them out the window. Whether a five-year plan will work for you is up to you, and we hope to open your eyes to some of the benefits and complications below.

Do I Really Need One?

If you’re a person that has a good idea of where you want to be (and you like to fly by the seat of your pants), no, you don’t really need a five-year plan. The nature of life is that, no matter how much you plan, it will end up changing in some way, shape, or form somewhere down the road anyway. However, this isn’t a good enough reason not to make a five-year plan.

Even though you’ll need to change it, making a five-year plan is a great way to explore, organize, and coalesce your dreams and goals for the future into one place. Even if you don’t end up following your plan for even one day, you’ll have your biggest dreams and objectives laid out for posterity and remembrance. We recommend doing it even if you don’t think you’ll stick to your lists.

If you don’t think you’ll stick to your five-year plan – if you’re a person that is very secure in your personal growth and likes to do things on the fly, for example – try making a more abbreviated list, like below.

  • Five-year goals:
    • Adopt a dog
    • Settle down and start a family
    • Move to the city
    • Work as a model
    • Start a successful fashion line

For a list like the above, you don’t even really need to set up timelines. However, we recommend at least putting your abbreviated goals list in order of importance or order of execution. This will help you organize your efforts a bit more towards which goals should be accomplished when.

The beauty of the five-year plan is that it can be twisted and tweaked to suit anyone’s needs. If you’re a very organized, type-A person, laying out a very detailed five-year plan might be right up your alley, even if you don’t end up sticking to it. If you’re a free spirit that doesn’t have a firm idea of where your life might go, a looser list of goals like the above might suit you better.

What If It Changes?

If your life changes over the course of your five-year plan, that’s great! In fact, it’s almost assured that your life will change between the time you set your five-year plan and when you complete it. However, five-year plans are made to account for this. You can always tweak your plan to suit your new opportunities, or you can craft an entirely new one!

The true goal of a five-year plan is not necessarily to reach the five-year goal you’ve set, believe it or not. The endgame of a five-year plan is actually to promote growth and progression within yourself. As long as you have goals and plans to work towards, you will foster growth and change in your life, and this is always a good thing, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel like it.

Having an ever-changing five-year plan might seem weird to some, but knowing that change is coming and change is good helps us prepare for what might be in our future. When you’re prepared for a new opportunity that comes your way, you might find yourself thinking, “hey, this messes with my five-year plan a bit, but I think it might end up like a shortcut if I go for it.”

However, be careful not to fall into the trap of sticking rigidly to your five-year plan. These plans are made to be broken and reformed as needed – they’re not meant to be adhered to until the exact conditions of completion roll around. If you can’t resist following your five-year plan to the letter, try making a plan that’s intentionally left vague to encourage creativity.

Take our examples below. Here’s an example of a very rigid five-year plan that may not be appropriate for everyone:

  • Five-year goal: Buy a house worth at least $250,000
    • How I’ll do it: By saving at least $10,000 each year to set aside a down payment
    • To get this extra money, I’ll work on being promoted to Branch Manager at my company, meaning I’ll receive a pay raise appropriate for my needs.

The above goal is very exact, but it might be too exact. In the end, being promoted is primarily out of your hands, no matter how much you prepare or work for it. It’s beneficial to leave your options open, in this case, or consider other options. Take a look at our more lenient example below.

  • Five-year goal: Buy a house worth at least $250,000
    • How I’ll do it: By setting aside at least $10,000 each year to start a down payment
    • To get this extra money, I should try things like searching for better-paying work, working towards a pay raise or promotion, and starting high-yield investment accounts.
    • Alternatively, if I win or receive gift money, I’ll put as much as I can towards my down-payment fund.

The above is a much more wide-reaching example for the same goal. It takes into account several options and realities, and it should cover most anything that could happen barring changing the five-year goal entirely. The only point at which the above example would become obsolete would be if the goal setter decided they wanted a more expensive or less expensive house.

Care and Upkeep

In order to keep your five-year plan relevant and up-to-date, we recommend revisiting it regularly. If you can, designate a day and time each week when you’ll go in and make sure everything is up to date with your plans. You should also go right to your five-year plan and make changes when inspiration strikes you to plan for new things!

It’s always ideal to be aware of what you want to accomplish over the next few years of your life. Whether you track these dreams and desires with a list is very much up to you, but we believe that it can be beneficial. As long as you give your plan the care that it deserves, it will reward you with a strong sense of belief and direction as you pursue your future endeavors.

This last tip is the most important one in this article: make sure your five-year plan is yours and yours alone. Of course, if you have a spouse or partner who lives with you, their needs and wants should be taken into account, but never let someone else decide what should or should not be in your future! If you always follow your dreams, you’ll find yourself happy, rewarded, and fulfilled when you reach the end of your five-year plan.

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