How to Live With Purpose and Stay Focused on Long-Term Goals

You'll be needing a plan...and we've got one for you.

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By Dan Dowling

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Your habits are broken down into two categories: instant pleasure and delayed. Everyone has some instant habits, things like social media or TV or squeezing your dog's squishy face, and everyone has some delayed habits that connect to your bigger-picture visions of health, happiness and wealth. That's normal. All balanced humans have both.

But if you're hungry for more purpose, more happiness, more wealth and more meaning, you've got to be long-term dominant. No other way around it. And that means learning how to plan.

Without an action-packed daily plan that connects you to your future, you'll automatically fill your time with mostly instant pleasure, like social media, watching YouTube videos, reading inspiring articles. Instant pleasure is great, don't get me wrong. But like sweets, it's best after you've eaten your main meal and only in small doses.

Thing is, most people don't know what their main meal is. So they go through their day hungry for purpose and needing direction; then they settle for occupations of their time that don't lead to tangible gains. That was my story. But when I decided that I'd make a difference to other people through my writing, I was forced into planning. As I got better and better at this fundamental skill, and writing about it, people started paying me to teach them.

Here's the exact planning strategy I teach my coaching clients:

Related: Why Would a Successful Entrepreneur Hire a Coach?

1. Get crystal clarity on your yearly goals.

What career do you want to be in? Where do you want to be in your health and fitness journey? What fun and self-love goals would make this the best year of your life? What do you want to learn? What are your financial goals? And how do you plan on giving back?

These are the six major areas that your goals will fall into. So sit and write out each category:


Then meditate on exactly what you want in each of those categories. Write those goals down. That's your yearly planner -- you'll reflect on this every time you do a monthly planning strategy.

Related: How Our Brains Trick Us Into Choosing Instant Gratification Over Long-term Goals

2. Set a recurring date for monthly strategy sessions.

You'd be surprised at how many people lack clarity on their long-term vision. But of those who do know what they want, hardly any of them will take the time to break down their "elephants" into smaller, more digestible chunks. So you have a bunch of people with awesome dreams like, "I'm going to write for the New York Times!" and their action steps look like this:

"Write for the New York Times!"

That lofty goal must be broken down into sections that can be accomplished month by month, otherwise it just won't happen. The same is true for whatever goals you have in mind. So give yourself 30 minutes to an hour each month for a monthly planning session. During this recurring appointment with yourself (which is best done on Sundays), you'll reflect on your long-term goals and your notes, and you'll brainstorm realistic milestones that can be achieved in 30 days.

For the fictitious "New York Times" writing goal, that might involve writing every day, finishing the book Writing Tools, researching your first 10 publications, starting your own blog and pitching the publications you researched.

For your dreams? Well, you'll just have to sit down for your monthly planning session and see. Set a recurring reminder in your phone once a month to reflect on your yearly goals and craft your monthly planner. Break your monthly goals into the same format as your yearly: career, health/fitness, fun/self-love, learning, financial and giving goals.

Related: How Startup Founders Should Be Setting Long-Term Goals

3. Make a weekly action plan every Sunday.

Now that you have a monthly strategy of how you'll tackle your yearly goals, you're ready to break those goals into weekly action plans. This is where you'll convert every monthly goal that isn't already an action step into an action step that you can look at in the morning and say, "I'm gonna do THAT!"

Take our fictitious NYT yearly goal, for instance, with the "build a website" monthly goal. Building a website is actually pretty time consuming, and definitely can't happen in one swoop. So you reflect on that big goal and see how you can break it down.

(This is called strategizing. And the more you do it, the better you get.)

Related: 5 Fundamentals of a Social-Media Action Plan

For week one of month one, that might look like this:

· Draft copy for "about me," contact, and home pages.

· Research your favorite websites and take notes on how you want your site to look.

· Edit 10 of your best articles for blog page.

Week two might involve reading a book/watching video tutorials on building a Wordpress website, and picking a WP theme -- if you're going to do it yourself. Or if you're paying for a site, you'd talk to five developers, compare prices/products, then select one for the job.

You're going to use the same planning format as you've done with your monthly planner: career, fun/self-love, etc, except that you'll add one new section. "Daily non-negotiables." That goals section is simply for the things you have to do every single day to be your best. That could be writing an article per day, doing a specified amount of exercise, reading the relevant books, etc.

Once you've concluded your weekly planning session, you'll know every single action you're going to take this week to be a balanced, purposeful and successful human. That means you don't have to worry about whether you're doing enough anymore, or have anxiety about what you should actually plan in a day because it's all right there in your weekly action plan.

Related: The Secret to Becoming a Peak Performance Leader

4. Write out your top goals in a daily planner.

Having come up with a monthly strategy and weekly action plan, you're already in the top 5 percent of planners in the world. Seriously. Nobody does this stuff...and it's so easy! But as soon as you start using your weekly action plan as a reference for your daily plan, you're unstoppable.

All you have to do is flip your planner back to your weekly action plan, see what 5-8 goals you could kick butt at today and write those goals down in a new daily planning page. This takes all of two minutes.

Just make sure to include checkboxes next to each goal, and to set reminders for the critical goals, and you're officially a planning expert. But more than that, you'll consistently accomplish the long-term habits that bring you the health, happiness, wealth and purpose you've been dreaming about.

End note

"Limit technology" -- this goal should always appear on your daily planning page. It's important to schedule out your text, email and social checks so that you protect yourself from instant gratification and remain proactive in accomplishing your goals all day long.

Dan Dowling

Solopreneur, writer, and coach

As a former couch-surfing millennial turned solopreneur writer and coach, Dan Dowling writes on personal development. Visit and learn how to create your own solopreneur success story.

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