written by Kristin harrington

My husband, Nate, and I travel up to northern Michigan every year around our anniversary for a one-night stay. It’s not your typical anniversary trip, though. True to our geeky form, it’s our annual “strategic planning” discussion. 

I learned this from Courtney a few years ago during one of my Year to Rise coaching sessions. (Some of my best actions and ideas often have a Lead Star origin.) When I was at a crossroads in my life, she encouraged me to spend some time with Nate reflecting on all facets of my life, personal and professional. I appreciated the exercise so much that we’ve made it a yearly thing. 

It’s interesting how we reserve deep reflection for hard times. It’s only when we hate our boss or feel stuck in our personal lives that we think about where we’d rather be and begin to chart a course forward. As leaders of others, it’s important that we lead ourselves first. And we shouldn’t wait for rough times to do it. Being proactive with our own lives is an important form of self-leadership. 

Don’t limit strategizing to the workplace. Get ahead of your life before it gets ahead of you. Here are a few of my favorite suggestions for incorporating strategic planning into your life: 

Find a favorite spot and create space to think. If you can get away, do it. There’s a reason companies schedule off-site retreats. That’s why Nate and I ventured up north for 24 hours. The break in physical space allows your mind to think in new and different ways. If going too far from home is tough, find a coffee shop, restaurant, or even a local park for a change in scenery. Breaking away from the everyday will help you get in the right frame of mind to think about the future. 

Prep questions in advance and bring along a notepad. Make sure you have a list of questions that cover all bases – long-term vision for your personal and professional life, health and leisure goals, financial goals, etc. Having the questions written in advance will make for a more productive planning session. And, don’t forget to bring your favorite notepad or laptop to document your responses. If you’re setting goals, there’s a lot of power in writing them down. It’s important to be able to look back and hold yourself accountable for what you set out to do. 

Celebrate evolving priorities. One of our favorite parts of the exercise is re-reading our goals and priorities from the year before. Some were achieved more quickly than we anticipated, and in retrospect, some seem less important. It’s enjoyable to chart the changes in your perspective over time. Hold yourself accountable when and where it’s important to you, but also don’t be afraid to celebrate your evolving priorities. If you’re changing you’re growing and that’s never a bad thing. 

Acting with intent is an important part of self-leadership. Practicing strategic planning in your professional and personal life is one way to be more intentional as you lead yourself.  

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through its innovative coaching programs – Year to Rise and Cohort Coaching.