How I use Milanote to plan my life and achieve goals
Vacations and transitions between jobs present opportunities to get to know yourself better — who you are, what you have, what you want, how you can pursue them. A few days ago, I reviewed my so-called Life Plan and made some tweaking. I was relieved to get out of a limbo after that; nothing feels damper than not having a clearer self-image and personal plans.
I also realized what an awesome app Milanote is.
Milanote is described as “a tool for planning creative projects,” relying heavily on the power of visuals and boxed lists to aid creators and strategists in coming up with plans. I used it for some brainstorming work before, but it’s in goal-setting and action-planning that I’ve reaped most of its rewards. I realized Milanote does it so well for me because I’m part-visual, part-list-manic: I can drag-and-drop images that inspire me, lay them out, group them together, whatever is necessary to give me a good conceptual structure for my ideas. It’s vision-boarding on steroids.
In this blog post, I’ll give you an idea on how I use Milanote to make my Life Plan. You just might find something useful, too — or give me some tips on how I can improve my method.
(To give you a glimpse of what I’ll be talking about, here it is. You may refer to this as you go along. Or not. Whatever.)
I call the document a Life Plan, though really it’s just for a particular year, as you’ll see why below. And there are eight sections or parts in this plan:
1. Theme of the Year
The first part is the Theme of the Year. I started coming up with it when Pope Benedict XVI dedicated 2013 to the Faith (“Year of the Faith”). There were no year of whatever in the three years after that, so I just named them after the other supernatural virtues (Hope in 2014, Love in 2015). And then Pope Francis made 2016 Year of Mercy; so did I. My 2017 veered to the secular and I called it Year of Achievement, and this year is…
Why come up with themes? Not exactly sure why. But somehow the years’ decidedly positive themes give me a sort of affirmation, giving me direction on what projects to take and a lens to find some sense in the past. For example, in 2014, “Year of Hope” was simply meant to be an optimistic reminder throughout the year, particularly since at that time, I was rather depressed. In 2015, when I had finally bounced from the trough (and I had moved on to Year of Love), 2014’s theme of Hope became even more meaningful.
So I’m keeping this section.
This is the ideal state which I strive for during the year. Since it’s ideal, there’s really no need for me to scruple over whether it’s realistic or not. Realism comes at the goal level (see section #6). Closely related to the Theme, the Vision gets my motivation going. That’s why I also make sure its wording gets me giddy about a future state.
A good vision can follow a template as simple as: “I am an [adjective]+[noun].” I am a well-known real estate broker. I am a financially free entrepreneur. I am an organized and fun-loving mom. Something like that.
In pursuing my goals, what do I consider as natural laws, the mechanism by which pursuits work? This set of laws or mechanism is what I call “framework”. In academe, we find a study framework to see a particular phenomenon using a particular perspective. Doing so gives a certain sense to the thing you’re studying; it doesn’t seem as much of a puzzle anymore, although you will still have to adjust or discard your framework, if necessary, once you conclude the study. And it’s the same with understanding yourself and your life. You need a framework — a set of assumptions — that will simplify or guide your project, i.e. your life.
For this year, I decided to use the following framework: systems of good habits lead one to success. Meaning: if only I carry out certain good acts consistently, then I’d soon excel, sometimes even without my noticing it; it just happens.
Of course, you can use other frameworks for success. Find what suits you best and then follow through.
4. Key Outputs
These are my main deliverables during the year. Often these are “large” tangible things like reaching a particular weight or getting a certain professional certification or traveling to a dream destination. While I place this high up in the Life Plan, this is actually a product of the list of goals I list in the sixth section. This list is most useful when I want to see what big, concrete things I still have to achieve this year. And I find it helpful to indicate the deadlines for these things, too.
5. Why the Year Has Been Awesome So Far
This is the running list of achievements during the year. Many of the items here come from the Key Outputs, others are accomplishments that I did not see coming. It’s good to have this list because it reminds you that, even when things look bleak, still there are some good things that are happening — we just don’t care to look.
This is actually a recent addition to my Life Plan. When I realized it’s already August, a vague feeling of dissatisfaction settled in. It’s uncomfortable, like wearing tight underwear, or munching a tea bag. The way to feel less sorry — and even to feel good about myself — is to count my blessings; thus “Why the Year Has Been Awesome So Far.”
And so here we are at the heart of the document: goals. We have hundreds of goals. But it’s good to keep them to a minimum, so there’s greater focus. After all, some of the goals we have in mind are actually natural by-products of other goals.
For my year’s goals, I try to sort them according to the various facets of my life. You may also call them priorities — although sometimes I hate using that term because some items can’t be given a particular order: they simply have the same “weight”.
These facets I turn into “cards” (in Milanote parlance). Right now, I have 12 cards, though I try to pour most of my attention to the first five or six. Again, the importance of minimal number for maximum focus. (I know, I know, 12 is too many, but I just want to be as comprehensive about understanding myself as possible.) For 2018, my cards are:
- Spirit — I struggle so much in getting a better relationship with God, but I believe that if this is in good standing, I’ll be in good standing everywhere else
- Profession — My 20s are over, and boy what a decade of experimentation that was. This card covers everything related to making up for lost time in developing my career.
- Finance — Because everybody wants to be financially free, of course. Unless you’re Richie Rich, or one of those crazy rich Asians.
- Toastmasters — My lone “extracurricular” self-development organization. I’ve gained so much from this group, and there’s still a whole lifetime in which to gain from it — and serve it — more.
- Masters — I’m trying to finish my MA in communication.
- Family — I don’t live with my family, but I try to be an “active” member as much as possible.
- Love — Maybe it shouldn’t be called that way (cheesy!), but this refers to my trying to become a better boyfriend.
- Fitness — Looking good and feeling good are often the strongest confidence booster.
- Culture — Food, places, experiences, and ideas are some of the most beautiful things in this world. I don’t want to miss out.
- Friends — Perhaps because I’m quite an introvert, I have very few close friends. Sometimes I still struggle relating with them. That’s why I keep it a point that this area is one of the active cards in my plan.
- Business — Someday I’m gonna put up a business.
- Travel — My one luxury.
Each of these cards or categories have one main goal, under which are subgoals, which are often habits that I try to foster. After all, I believe that habit systems are the key to attaining excellence. If you notice, some items have been scratched off: that’s because as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already turned them into reliable habits. A triumph; no need for me to fuss over them.
Since I struggle with habit formation, I need to keep some routine-related things especially in mind:
- System Changes — The three key ideas I try to apply in daily life, based on insights I gained from prior self-reflection. Normally these ideas counter the main vices or negative habits I’ve noticed in myself. For example, I and some people close to me have complained about my tendency to overthink. So I’ve proposed to myself that I “focus, and not overthink.” The items on System Changes are the mantras I should be sort of “reciting” in the course of each day.
- Morning and Evening Routines — The first few activities I do upon waking up and the last ones before hitting the sack are like bookends that keep the books of my day well propped up. I got this idea from author Brett McKay some years back. Having these routines is consistent with my habit-systems framework: I know I’ll have a good day if my day starts with my Morning Routine, and I know my day has ended well if I close it with the Evening one.
8. SWOT Analysis
(This should probably be at the top of the document — even before the Theme of the Year, because it helps me to identify what I lack and what I already have, therefore informing me how to craft my vision and goals.)
The SWOT Analysis, of course, looks into the internal and external forces that affect your pursuit of goals. Albert Humphrey is credited to be the creator of this self-awareness tool in the 1960s.
- Strengths are your current abilities, talents, skills, and stock knowledge (e.g. writing skills, singing talent).
- Weaknesses are your inadequacies — abilities, skills, and knowledge that you don’t have yet (e.g. driving skills, ignorance about the complexities of taxes).
- Opportunities are factors outside yourself that may help in achieving your goals (e.g. vast professional network, close proximity to workplace).
- Threats are those people or things outside yourself which can foil your plans (e.g. envious coworkers, micromanaging boss, rainy season)
Once you have your SWOT Analysis matrix filled, you’ll have a better perspective on yourself. Often, for me, the best part of doing SWOT Analyses is figuring out my strengths. Like most people, I’m really quite insecure, and nothing beats discovering some innate qualities — Strengths — which I already have and which I can exploit to my advantage, if I wanted to.
That’s it! And congratulations for reading (or scrolling down, haha) this far. As I’ve mentioned, my Life Plan is a work in progress, much like its subject: me. So if you have some tips for me, please don’t hesitate to tell me in the comments below.