How I Design My Year



“The days are long, but the years are short.” — Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

Years fly by.

Maybe we can’t add more years to our life, but we can at least add more life to our years.

In fact, that might be the secret to adding years to our life.

Nothing is worse than looking back on last year, and wondering where it went.

Not this year.

Here’s a little recipe I use to make moments and months that matter:

  1. Pick a theme for the year
  2. Choose 3 stories to write your story forward
  3. Create a simple list of reminders for the year and keep it in plain sight
  4. Add key events to your calendar
  5. Change your weekly schedule to reflect your goals

1. Pick a Theme for the Year

Pick a theme that inspires you and reminds you what you’re capable of.  Last year my theme was “Ready for Anything.”  This year my theme is “Limitless.”

Limitless reminds me to continuously expand what I’m capable of, to seek out new challenges, and to enjoy the journey of growth.  It also reminds me to change problems into challenges and to use them as opportunities for growth and personal development.

Throughout the year, I’ll find chances to use my theme for inspiration to try new things, rekindle possibilities, and to get going when the going gets tough.

2. Choose 3 Stories to Write Your Story Forward

This is perhaps the simplest way to create significant goals and to keep them top of mind throughout the year.  Simply write down three one-liner stories that you want to look back on for this year.  Here’s an example:

  1. I am at my best fitness.  Ever.
  2. I demonstrate thought leadership in the Value-Realization space.
  3. I add more life to my years, in a dynamic and bold way.

It’s easy to get caught up in the details, before figuring out what’s worth it.  Start with what’s worth it.  An easy way to think about what’s worth it is to look back on last year and think about what you wish you had accomplished.

Another way to find these is to ask if this year was over, what would be 3 things you want to look back on, or what 3 things would you regret the most if you didn’t accomplish?

You can then use your 3 stories to shape the moments, the days, the weeks, and the months of your year.

And then, at the end of the year, you’ll have 3 stories of personal victory to look back on.

So then no more asking where did the year go, you’ll know right where it went.

Note — I elaborate on the idea of using 3 stories and “3 wishes” to shape your year in my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.

3. Create a Simple List of Reminders

Create a simple list of reminders for the year.  Make it personal.  Make it matter.  Structure it however you like, but here’s how I structure mine:

  • Theme:  Write a single word or a simple phrase for your them.  Mine is “Limitless.”
  • Words:  List words that matter for the year.  For me, I chose: Value Realization, Strategy, Change Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Strategic Foresight.
  • 3 Stories: List your 3 one-liner stories.
  • Key Strategies: List strategies that will help you be your best throughout the year.  Here’s a sampling of some of my strategies: Quarterly epic adventures, Experiment with apps, Behaviors.
  • Goals: Let this be a dump of the goals you want for this year.  Name them well and put them in alphabetical order so you can easily scan your list.  Then bubble up your top 3 priority goals.  They will likely support your 3 stories in some way shape or form.  For example, my list of goals has 39 items, but I bubbled up 3 to the top.  I’ll work through things throughout the year, but this is my one stop shop to draw from.

And by list, I mean list.

It’s not paragraphs.  It’s not prose.  It’s a tickler list of reminders to inspire yourself and remind yourself of what you want out of the year.

The most powerful thing about this whole approach is that it’s your year of potential value at a glance.  It’s all the things you care about the most.   This will inspire you, poke you, and prod you throughout the year to incrementally realize the value that YOU thoughtfully identified and put on your list.

Remember what science taught us about our personal happiness:  It’s progress, in some way, shape, or form, no matter how small.

4. Add Key Events to Your Calendar

You have 12 months, or 52 weeks, or 365 days to spend this year.   Your calendar is a great bird’s-eye view of your year.

You likely have some big things you likely want to do or achieve this year.

Plot them on your calendar.

If you want to make it a point to take an epic adventure, or even some mini-escape every 3 months, then add it to your calendar.   Make the space for it.

Remember the story of the jar and the rocks:

If you don’t make room for the big rocks, you’ll never fit them in.

It’s not just about fitting them in though.

It’s about having something to look forward to.

Mark the events on your calendar that will light up your life and add more life to your years.

Change your weekly schedule to reflect your goals

5. Change Your Weekly Schedule to Reflect Your Goals

It’s tough to learn the guitar if you spend 5 minutes a week.  It’s tough to be a marathon runner if you only set aside 20 minutes a week to run.  It’s tough to learn the violin if you’re only willing to spend 10 minutes once a week.

Your schedule reflects your success.

Whatever is on your weekly schedule is what you’ll get better and faster at.  It’s what you’ll actually do.  I originally thought I would learn to play the guitar this year, but when I reviewed my weekly schedule, so far there was nothing I was willing to trade to make space for it.  I thought I would take lessons once a week, but then I realized without making space for practicing throughout the week, I wouldn’t make enough progress to make it worth it, and I’d be robbing myself from other things I want to focus on.

Focus is your friend.

So it’s not that I won’t learn the guitar.  It’s just that now is not the time.  The answer is yes, not now.  By actually trying to put things on my weekly schedule I could see what I will do and won’t do.   I may luck into some of my goals, but for the short list of goals that matter the most, I need my weekly schedule to reflect that.  I’ve created appointments on my calendar so that I protect that time to actively focus and invest in my goals.

The most important thing here really is your 3 stories for the year.   The story part is the challenge and the change.   The challenges and our changes are the stories of our lives.

Be the author of your life and write your story forward … the agile way.

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Image by Sam Howzit.


  1. Focus is your friend, no matter what. Focus will help you be kept from distractions and move onto the goal.

    I like writing things down and that’s a fine way to remember your theme and relate to it during all times.

    Thanks for the post and keep up the good work!

    – Sam

    • I think the most important aspect of focus, is that it concentrates our effort and our learning.

      If we improve, even just a little bit, each day, on something specific, it leads to breakthroughs and greatness.

      If we dabble everywhere, we diffuse our efforts and water down our potential greatness.

      Bruce Lee said it best:

      “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

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