August 22, 2007 6:55 PM   Subscribe

What can you suggest for long term life planning? I would like to set up something like a time line for my life and goals. I want to manage what I will do in 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, etc. Does anyone know of any useful software or other things I could do manually? I want to be able to adjust things as needed and see where I've been. I appreciate your help.
posted by Knigel to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Good financial models exist for doing this, simply because financial modeling is a numbers game, and the application of compound interest to early assumptions yields such astounding results. For some lives, finance is paramount, but not for all. If you intend a life where things and experiences traded in money predominate (no judgment or irony intended), financial modeling should be a big part of your effort.

Similar strategies are emerging for health management. You can find models for managing your physical health, based on current scientific understandings, that may be worth your while. At least, the extracted wisdom of scientific studies on health can be part of your life planning. Don't smoke, don't use street drugs, don't drink to excess, have regular checkups, watch your blood chemistry (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, etc.) and manage your diet/exercise/medications accordingly, etc. Do all this, and you have the prospect of extending your life by decades, over the outcomes you might otherwise achieve with bad or average genetics and poor or non-existent health management. Of course, that assumes you think a long life a good.

But when it comes to the purpose and the result of your life, numbers games have less meaning. Is continuing your line the wisest thing to do? If so, procreate, early and often. Are your specially destined to create great art, write the most human novel, discover the universal cure for cancer, or finish unfinished symphonies? Then, you may need to throw over mundane considerations of lesser souls, to single mindedly pursue your passions and honor your muse(s). So, there's no numbers gaming that.

And the real problem, is that, at 20, or even 30, the wisdom you have for the task you seek is miniscule, compared to what you'll understand you would have needed, at 60 or 70, looking back. If I'd stayed on my 17 year old self's life plan, I'd have no heirs. If I stuck with my amended 22 year old self's life plan, I'd have fewer regrets. If I'd even managed to stick with my 32 year old self's ably assisted and professionally vetted life coached assessment, I'd have more money, and perhaps, better lung capacity. But I'd have no stories, no memories of girls spinning in the light and shadows of Bedouin camp fires, no walks on the bottoms of oceans, no leaps off cliffs depending on fabric wings, no incredible hangovers, fewer lines on my face, and friends not truly tested.

What you can't plan, and can't measure, turns out, sometimes, in the long run, to be worth a lot.

On the other hand, it takes a certain incredible pragmatism at 20, to say "I don't have greatness in me, and I will be satisfied to beat the averages." and then live accordingly, keeping up for decades, the spreadsheets, the calendars, and the quiet decency required to do this. I'm in awe of those who quietly manage it. No mean feat, that, though it be for those of imagination an interminable drudgery.
posted by paulsc at 7:25 PM on August 22, 2007 [5 favorites]

lacking paulsc's depth of vision, I concur: you can't plan 20 years out because you don't know what's going to happen. You can plan around goals, and that might be the most useful thing you can do. Don't just think about 'retiring before the age of 50' or 'getting married by 28'. Life doesn't work that way. However, if you DO write out your goals and plans for the next fifty years, leave them somewhere and find them in a few decades...hours of laughter and tears....guaranteed.
posted by tristanshout at 10:14 PM on August 22, 2007

Great points, but I am looking for something so that I can break down some of the bigger projects into smaller ones. For example, school and work. There are certain courses I need to take to take certain paths. If I can visually see what needs to be done when, I can make better decisions. I am thinking mostly in the 5 year view, but want something to work with abstract ideas even beyond.
posted by Knigel at 10:24 PM on August 22, 2007

You might find GTD useful - there's a model for informal project planning in there that I've found helpful. Roughly, it goes like this:

1. purpose / guiding principles (Why are we doing this?)
2. mission / vision / goals / sucessful outcome (What would wild success look, sound, or feel like?)
3. brainstorming (How would we accomplish it?)
1. view the project from beyond the completion date
2. envision wild success (suspend "Yeah, but. . .")
3. capture features, aspects, and qualities you imagine in place
4. organizing (identify components, subcomponents, sequences, events, and/or priorities; what must occur and in what order? When do we do these things?)
5. next actions (Where do we start?)

I don't think it matters much what you use to capture this - paper would be my choice. Put it in a folder and pull it out when you need more inspiration as to why on earth you now have all these actions you're supposed to complete.
posted by crocomancer at 1:18 AM on August 23, 2007

Oops, the 1,2,3 after brainstorming should be indented.
posted by crocomancer at 1:19 AM on August 23, 2007

I think it is possible to find a sort of middle way here, where you map out goals stretching off into the future, but you fully realize, at the same time, that life almost certainly isn't going to pan out the way you're planning, and nor should it. The trick is to see your goals as ways of giving some sense of order and direction to what you do now, as the sometimes crazy but often brilliant Steve Pavlina elaborates here, rather than as things you will ever necessarily achieve, or that would make you happy even if you did.

A crucial part of this is to stay aware of how much enjoyment you are getting from life in the present moment, and to take it as a big red flag if any of your goal-planning requires you to spend days or weeks on end doing activities that are not enjoyable in themselves. Of course, we all need to do a few things that aren't joyously wonderful, we all need to buckle down and start working on things even when we lack motivation. But any plan that involves a long period of drudgery for an alleged future happiness will not have the payoff you're expecting, even if you are able to put in the drudgery, which I personally couldn't.

This isn't totally to ignore your question about planning software and techniques. If you take this approach you will look for very simple planning techniques that involve writing out your broad goals, maybe timetabling the next few steps over the coming weeks, but little more. And, crucially, reviewing your goals regularly and accepting that, if you find that they change pretty much every week, that this is a good thing, and your approach is working - rather than concluding that you made a "mistake" with your earlier goals. This way, I think (I hope!) you can lead yourself through life with a little bit of intentionality and direction without sacrificing the spontaneity paulsc writes about.

E L Doctorow says somewhere that writing a novel is like driving at night in a storm: your headlights only illuminate the next few yards, but you can make the entire journey that way.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:49 AM on August 23, 2007

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