31,536,000 ways to spend 2017

by: | January 3, 2017

I don’t understand how New Years’s Resolutions are still a “thing” when really, they’re mostly just BS.

The truth is, life can feel short, and when you waste your time sailing aimlessly along, it can feel even shorter. I often hear “Wow, last year just flew by …”. Funny, I never feel that way. I like to have a plan to use my time to do things that matter.

Consider this: a year is approximately 31.5 million seconds. When you think about it like that, all of a sudden a year can feel like a very, very long time. So how are you planning on spending yours? Ever since I was 10, I’ve been writing down my annual plan, and this is how I do it:

Getting ready to write

For me, the time between Christmas and New Years is go time. It’s the perfect natural pause between the year that was, and the year that will be. I do my best to relax, have fun and be with with family and friends. Then, I do what it takes to empty my mind. I find that a beach helps, but some intense workouts or meditation are about as effective. Then I search for some inspiration, usually in books. Right now I am reading Wayne Gretzky’s “99”, and Yuval Noah Hariri’s “Homo Deus”. In the news, I’m reading the Economist and Time’s 2017 editions. I also try to get to know new people and hear their stories. This year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know one of the world’s best soccer players. There comes a point during this week where I am just ready to write, and get to it. My deadline is the week after New Year’s day. So right now, I am on the clock.

Creating a living document

To be honest, my tools have changed every single year. I used to write my plan down on paper or what was called foolscap when I was 10. Today I use Google Sheets (having used Docs , Evernote, Word, etc. over the years) because I prefer this to be a living document that I will revisit over and over again through the year. And while I use software, I do find that I still start on paper, my Moleskine notebook, jotting down interests, ideas, things, memes, wants and needs. This is my raw material that I will use later.


In its most simple form, I’m creating a ‘one-pager’, with a list of objectives that are SMART. Each objective has a list of specific actions to help achieve it. Each objective has a purpose, or the “why” behind it. While I used to use the timeframe of a year, I now break down the year into quarters, to group supporting actions together which makes planning / calendaring easier. In the other time direction, I project the objective forward 3 years, and 10 years. I find that most of my objectives are big enough that this longer term thinking is useful, and helps me adjust what I want in a year.

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Play to win

There are all kinds of experts on this, but my simple example is this: when I step on the ice with the intention of winning vs. the intention of just playing, on average, I win more. Setting objectives, and being intentional helps me get what I want. It’s pretty simple, yet very powerful.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different ways of coming up with my plan. The moleskine notebook provides good raw input for potential objectives and actions. I’ve tried arbitrary categories (I should have an objective for health, career…etc), but I find that this framework is totally arbitrary and I create activities with no real strong purpose. I’ve tried the arbitrary long list of stuff that I want to do, but in general this never works. I’ve tried the short short list approach e.g. I am going to do 1 big thing this year…. which is generally unsatisfying, or insufficient or neglecting other important stuff. What works best for me, is getting down to what really matters to me i.e. starting with my values, and making sure I get to the essence of what I care about with what I want to achieve in that area. For example, I value my family, friends, health, innovation, and having a lasting impact on the world. So that’s where I start, setting a powerful objective, with deep purpose in these areas that I value.

Turning plans into action

Brainstorming all the ways to reach an objective is a continuous process. I find that where I start with is rarely where I finish. I need to review the lists regularly and update them with new ideas, or more refined ideas. The more I talk about my objectives with people I trust, the more ideas I get, and the better my action plan gets. Probably the most important part about the action list is this: you cannot do them all, so you do need to choose where to spend your time, and block that time out. Assigning and dedicating time to each action, to each objective, per week, per month, per quarter; sticking actions in your calendar, dedicating time, and then reviewing the impact makes a huge difference to your ultimate success. And finally, checking items off your plan, and making progress starts a positive spiral.

The death bed test

You have to choose which actions to focus on, and that means ultimately, that you need to choose which objectives to focus on, which means prioritization. This process is significantly impacted by the depth and importance of the objective’s purpose. Low purpose / low meaning = low priority by default. Something I learned recently from a coach is the death bed test. Looking back in time on your life 5 years from now, 10, 20, 50…from your death bed, how would you feel if you achieved the objective vs. not achieved it? This gives important perspective on the quality of your purpose, and frankly, forces you to drop some objectives.

Working the plan

I always review mine with my partner. It always gets better as a result. I review parts of it with my mentors, friends and leaders in various fields. It always gets better as a result. I am trying my best to check in on how I am doing once per week, once per month, at the end of the quarter, and an in-depth mid year on a quiet lake or mountain somewhere. It’s a discipline. No plan is perfect. But you do need to work the plan if you expect your objectives to be achieved. None of us are perfect. You will find that things drop off your plan for various reasons. Plans change. Sometimes objectives need to change. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Work the plan. I change elements of this approach all the time, in an effort to make it an easy, workable, yet powerful tool to make the most of my time and impact.

The next 31.5 million seconds are a long time. How are you planning on spending yours?

Try what I’ve recommended and make the most out of your 2017.