Q. Michael and Daniel, you two have co-authored Living Forward, a book that explains the need for and outlines creation of what you call a Life Plan. So, first things first: What is a Life Plan?
A. Michael: A Life Plan is a brief document that you write yourself. In it, you establish your personal priorities, and you articulate the steps you need to take in order to get from where you currently are to where you want to be. It’s a living document that gives you a 30,000-foot view of your life––this is something you’ll return to again and again throughout your life to tweak and adjust. But one thing that won’t change is its main purpose. A Life Plan acts as a filter that helps you to acknowledge your priorities and keep them at the forefront of your mind, where they need to be, both in order to achieve progress and to maintain what you already have and cherish.
Daniel: When we say Life Plan, we’re talking about a specific type of document, derived from a specific process. In Living Forward, we carefully outline that process, and what the document you’ll end up with will be like. We discuss it from every angle, from how long it is––usually eight to 15 pages––to the schedule you should follow and questions you should ask yourself in order to get the best Life Plan you can.
Q. Daniel, you are the one who first introduced Michael to Life Planning, correct?
A. Daniel: Yes, when Michael and I began working together in the early 2000s, he was one of the publishers at Thomas Nelson, and then, while I was his executive coach, he was promoted to CEO of the company.
My company is called Building Champions, and the Life Plan is a part of the coaching model that we bring to all of our clients, most of whom are leaders in business. We help men and women improve how they lead their organizations, and we believe that in order to do that, we need to start with helping them improve how they lead themselves. Self-leadership always precedes team leadership. How you lead yourself––your thinking, your beliefs, your interactions, your communication––that all plays into what kind of success you’ll have in all areas of your life.
After his experience with the Life Plan and introducing the concept to his own large audience, Michael pointed out that while Building Champions is well known in the corporate world, our coaching model and message could significantly help all people. At Building Champions, we’re working with leaders in corporate America, but the principles are applicable to everyone because everyone has a dynamic, multi-faceted life that could benefit from active intention and purpose. And that led to the book Living Forward.
Q. You address this idea of “drifting” in the book.
A. Michael: Yes. Nobody has 100% control of the outcomes of their life. But the opposite is not true either: You do not have to be like a cork on a turbulent sea, just drifting along with the tide. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, there is owning your life––taking responsibility for this gift and saying, “You know, I really want to be a steward of everything I’ve been given.”
Daniel: Most people go through life investing the majority of their energy and time into two areas of their life. I like the analogy of accounts, which we use in the book, because it really resonates with people. The areas of your life are like accounts––life accounts. There is your professional account and your financial account, but then if you’re married, you also have a marriage account. Parents have a kids account. You get the idea.
When you talk to people––even people who are putting all of their intentional effort into their work account––most of them say that they want to have great marriages, good health, and strong families, and that they want to make a difference in their neighborhoods and communities.
They really want to do all of those things, but they don’t have a plan. So those areas often fall into the “leftover” category. Without an intentional plan, marriage, family, health, and everything else that they say they truly value just ends up with their leftovers––never their best. Life Planning helps you focus on all of those accounts and to understand the broader impact of success in all of those accounts. A Life Plan also helps you recognize which of those accounts have a deficit or are even bankrupt, and then to proactively create strategies to accumulate net worth in every account.
The accounts are all interconnected. If you’re struggling in your health or marriage account, it’s only a matter of time before the consequences of neglecting those accounts are going to impact other accounts, like work and kids.
Q. Part of the Life Planning process you walk readers through is designing a legacy. You instruct individuals to actual write their own eulogy. Why?
A. Daniel: Yes, I think this step in the process is the most difficult for a lot of people. We instruct you to write your eulogy as though it were going to be delivered today. Typically, that is going to expose some gaps between reality as it is and what you wish it were.
I want you to really envision you’re at the memorial service. Who is saying what? What is your spouse saying? What are your kids saying? What is your community saying?
You have got to give your all to this part of the plan. It’s near the beginning of the process, and so much hinges on you really digging in here and being honest with yourself. For some people, this exercise is beautiful and amazing. For others, it’s alarming and creates a bit of panic, because you realize the right people aren’t saying the right things.
But then, we immediately shift to saying, “You are still breathing. Your heart is still beating. You have an opportunity to live forward more proactively today, but you’ve got to invest the time.”
Michael: I also think the eulogy exercise is powerful because it forces us to acknowledge something our culture is desperate to keep us from acknowledging: our own mortality. We are all going to die.
This is kind of a reckoning with that. You don’t have a choice of whether or not you’re going to die, but you do have a choice about what you’re going to leave behind, and particularly, the memories you’re going to give to the people you love.
It’s a really emotional exercise for a lot of people. I’ve taught this in large group settings where people have wept and wailed and had to leave the room. Most people who’ve pushed through it say it’s the most profound thing they’ve ever done. It’s also very empowering. Once people get past the emotion of accepting mortality and realizing that people are perhaps not saying what they’d hope they’d say, they realize, “Wow. I could begin to change this today. I can create different memories with the people I love. I just need to be intentional.” A Life Plan helps them do that.
Q. Living Forward is a fast read, but it’s incredibly thorough––a real walkthrough of creating a Life Plan, step by step. One part of the process that you are very specific about is the amount of time needed to draft a Life Plan. Why is setting aside an entire day to write a Life Plan so important?
A. Michael: This is non-negotiable for me. You have to put a day into doing this. Do not try to do a piecemeal thing, like, “I’ll write part of my eulogy at 9 p.m. after I get the kids to bed, then tomorrow during my lunch break I’ll write one of my accounts out.” If you do that, this Life Plan won’t take. This is the plan for your life: It needs and is worth your focus.
The average American will spend five hours researching and shopping for a new car that they’ll drive for a few years. But they won’t spend five hours putting a plan together for their life. The average fiancée spends 39 days planning a three-hour event––her wedding––but she won’t spend a day planning how she is going to make her life and her marriage excellent.
A Hebrew scripture in Proverbs says, “The plans of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” There are plans in your heart. But you’ve got to dive deep and invest the time to pull them out. Invest one day. That’s a great start.
Daniel: We know from coaching hundreds of thousands of clients that that is how long this process takes. Some individuals may take five hours, some may take 10, but on average, it takes a full day.
I’ve tried to coach it other ways––to ask people to do the first part on a Sunday afternoon and then to tackle the next step the following Sunday. And it just doesn’t work. You’re diving deep in this process. If you break up the creation of the Life Plan over an extended period of time, you’re like a scuba diver going down deep who has to then keep coming to the surface before going back down again and again. That’s so hard to do. It’s so much more satisfying and frankly, a lot easier, to spend a full day completing the entire thing.
Q. What part of the Life Plan is the hardest for people, do you think?
A. Michael: I think the most difficult part of the process is giving yourself permission to take the time to plan your life. It’s a foreign concept to most people. I think the next most difficult part of the process is figuring out what you want. We ask specific questions, like what would optimal health look like for you? What do you want in your marriage? Do you want long-term friendship? Do you want a deeply passionate relationship with true intimacy rooted in deep and rich conversation? What do you want in your career? What do you want financially? What do you want for your kids?
I think getting clarity is a big reason why it takes an entire day. People have to dig deep and ask themselves hard questions. So often, people just assume the posture of a victim and don’t take responsibility for their lives. They let other people make decisions and then complain about what they don’t like.
It’s a completely different thing to decide to stop being a victim and to decide to be active and intentional.
Daniel: I’ve had debates with people about the idea of planning, like, by structuring your life you’re not going to leave room for the spontaneous or for the curve ball. But the plan that we put in Living Forward is not there for you to serve. It serves you. It is a dynamic tool, and you’re changing it all of the time. If a health issue arises, if one of your kids is struggling, or if your business takes a different direction, you’re going to sit down and adjust your Life Plan for that new reality.
Another potential pushback is people don’t want to write down a goal or a desire because then all of a sudden, it becomes a benchmark that they have to live up to. And they don’t want to fail. They think if they miss going on a date with their husband once a month, saving that money, or hitting the gym those three days a week, it’ll be really defeating.
To those folks, I say: All of the things you’re talking about doing are important to do. And this is not your report card. This is just encouragement to help you be mindful and clear about what matters most. You’ll be reviewing your Life Plan over and over, so the odds of you following through on these commitments are actually much greater. You’re going to win way more than you lose. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back.
Q. For people who are unsure, still hesitating to commit to creating a Life Plan even after reading Living Forward, what do you want to say?
A. Daniel: I think a lot of people have read and heard cute quotes like, “Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they worked another day.” And I think we all get it and agree. But then what? What do I do about it?
I think the concept of living forward is an excellent answer. In the book, we really tried to respond to these questions about life with step-by-step answers. We wanted to strip away any mystery these abstract ideas and quotes create about better lives. If you read the book, if you invest the day, and if you do the scheduled reviews and everything else we’ve outlined, you are going to have a better life.
Michael: What’s the worst that can happen? Let’s say you go through the whole exercise and you think, well, that was a total waste of time. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but let’s say it does. Well, you waste a day going to a football game where your team loses, you know? Is it really that big of a setback?
I think the real issue for people is that they fear change. They fear that if they get serious about a Life Plan, it’s going to mean that the status quo is no longer acceptable. So frankly, they just don’t want to deal with it, because change means something new, and new is often intimidating or frightening.
But things don’t generally accrue by ignoring them. When you look at the upside of giving a little attention to this and ending up at a destination you would choose in your health, your marriage, your career, your finances, and elsewhere, it’s such a small investment––a small price to pay for a really big outcome.
We just want to take the excuses away. If you’re overcommitted; if you’re distracted; if you’re successful but no necessarily in all areas of life (financially and in work, but not other areas); if you’ve recently experienced a tragedy and you’ve realized life is short- than a life plan is for you. We know firsthand the transformative power of doing this. A Life Plan will provide the clarity, courage and control to change your path. A Life Plan is a huge opportunity for every person, no matter who or where they are right now, to take back control of their life.
Thanks guys for the time!
About Michael Hyatt
Michael Hyatt is changing the way the world’s highest achievers focus, prioritize, and improve. The CEO and founder of Intentional Leadership, an online leadership development company, Hyatt is an in-demand speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, as well as seven other books. Written with Daniel Harkavy, his highly anticipated new book, Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, will be published by Baker Books in March 2016. Hyatt shapes today’s thought-leading conversations about living with intention and clarity through his widely read blog, which he has maintained since 2004, and through his This is Your Life podcast, which consistently ranks among iTunes’ Top 10 Business Podcasts. A veteran key player in the publishing world, he served as Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers before launching Intentional Leadership. Married for almost 40 years to his wife Gail, Hyatt is a proud father of five daughters and lives just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
About Daniel Harkavy
Daniel Harkavy has spent the last 25 years helping leaders achieve more in business and in life. He founded elite coaching company Building Champions, Inc. two decades ago, where he now serves as CEO and Executive Coach. A trusted confidant and resource for Fortune 500s and other high-performing organizations, Harkavy and his team of coaches have built a current and past client roster that includes Chick-fil-A, Pfizer, Infineum (an ExxonMobil and Shell company), Bank of America, Wells Fargo, MetLife, PrimeLending, US Bank, Northwestern Mutual, Morgan Stanley, Daimler Trucks North America, Prudential, Merrill Lynch, and more. He is also the author of acclaimed manual Becoming a Coaching Leader: The Proven Strategy for Building Your Own Team of Champions. Written with Michael Hyatt, his highly anticipated new book Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, will be published by Baker Books in March 2016. An avid surfer and snowboarder, Harkavy lives with his wife and family in West Linn, Oregon.