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You have probably spent time at some point creating a strategic plan for an organization you have worked with. But have you ever thought of applying those familiar steps to your own life?

Allison Rimm thinks you should. During her 16 years as a senior manager at Massachusetts General Hospital, she saw top officials whose lives were out of control, unable to keep up with the many demands on their time. Occasionally people would chat with her about complications in their life and the decisions facing them, such as whether to take a new job offer. She would ask about their goals and they would look at her dumbfounded. "How can I tell you if it's the right decision if you have no direction?" she would ask.

She is now a consultant and coach, helping people to achieve work-life balance and other personal objectives by going through the strategic planning process. "The first step," she will joke with them, "is just to determine the meaning of life." They find their purpose, develop a mission, and then try to imagine the sweet smell of success by visualizing how it would sound, look and feel.

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These are not steps everyone wants to take. She finds left-brain analytical types prefer to skip over these elements of their life plan, instead plunging into setting goals and taking action. On the other hand, some people with a right-brain disposition love grappling with their overarching purpose, but then fail to break it down into small, achievable steps. She encourages them to determine the critical success factors, transitioning from dreaming to doing.

She advises you to consider all the individual aspects that comprise your ideal future. Then make a list of those things that need to be in place for you to fully occupy the picture you've drawn for yourself, being as thorough as possible. That will be followed by making an inventory of those factors that you have in place and those that you will have to acquire. "The more detail you can develop here, the better your chances of getting them in place," she writes in her book, The Joy of Strategy.

The inventory she describes is a basic SWOT analysis, considering your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What do you need to succeed? What opportunities exist to help you, such as funding for going back to school to retool? And what are the threats to achieving your path? Most of us don't like to face up to weaknesses but that's where you determine what skills you have and what ones need to be developed for success. Out of it flows a strategic to-do list.

Setting goals requires addressing four aspects of your life: Family and relationships, career or vocation, community, and mind-body-spirit. But for each, you also need to address the different time frames for achieving your goals: Short-term or immediate; medium-term, perhaps within the next year; and long-term, perhaps one to five years.

She gets people to create a template with 12 squares to cover those possibilities, and fill it in with priorities. So Regina, a project manager, developed a list that included date nights with her husband to start immediately; having another baby within five years; taking courses towards an MBA within the next year; joining the church choir immediately to strengthen her connection with her community and build her spirit.

Essentially, she believes success comes down to time and emotions. You need to find time for the new priorities you have carved out. And you will need to keep a positive frame of mind as you implement your strategic plan.

She asks clients to take their calendar and apply different colours to show how they divided their time between the four elements of life. Then she asks how they would prefer to spend their time. "It can be jarring. They see how they were pulled away from their priorities. It can be painful but lead to adjustments," she says.

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You can find time by knowing your mission in life. Often you are bound up in habits, things that you have traditionally done that are off target from your priorities. Indeed, she points out that we lead "additive" lives, continually adding goals and activities without deleting any. Then we end up spread too thin. So review how you spend your time and what should be considered ancient history.

That raises how we feel about our schedule – usually tired and worn out. Address your fears, since those have been holding you back. Perhaps you need to please others or must be perfect at everything you do. Keep joy in mind. She had a joy meter in her office at the hospital and would invite visitors to place themselves on the continuum from hassle to joy. You are much more likely to stick with something you enjoy doing, so keep that in mind as you set priorities. "A lot of people have been brought up to not have dessert before eating their vegetables. That's where balance comes in. You need to be fuelled for the long journey by joy," she says.

Next create what she calls a "simplementation" plan. Go through your list of strategies and choose one or more that you can initiate today that will set you on a path to achieving one of your goals. Commit to taking at least one small action each day until you achieve that goal.

You're on your way. Hopefully this strategic plan – unlike some others you have been involved with – will be a winner.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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