How To Make an Achievable Five-Year Plan

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published June 4, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published June 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Goal setting can vastly improve your life. By identifying concrete skills you'd like to improve, experiences you'd like to have or challenges you'd like to overcome, you're more likely to make those things a reality. Creating a five-year plan is a useful way of structuring goal setting and achievement. In this article, we explain what a five-year plan is and how to create one for yourself.

Related: Interview Question: "Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?"

What is a five-year plan?

A five-year plan is a long-term, strategic plan for reaching specific goals. Often, five-year plans include several separate goals from various areas of the planner's life, like personal goals, career goals, financial goals and relationship goals. Usually, the plan includes a document listing all the long-term goals alongside a breakdown of steps to achieve those goals.

Five-year plans are strategic by nature and help the planner create a structure in their daily lives. The five-year plan is popular as opposed to the one-year plan or the 10-year plan because five years is far enough into the future that the planner can make major life changes, but close enough that the planner must begin working towards the goals right away.

Related: 5 Steps to Create a Career Development Plan for Yourself

How to make a five-year plan

Creating a five-year plan takes careful planning and significant introspection. The benefits of a five-year plan are worthwhile, however. Follow these steps to create an achievable and actionable five-year plan for yourself:

  1. Determine your plan's breadth.

  2. Brainstorm potential goals.

  3. Establish long-term goals.

  4. Research the process.

  5. Identify annual goals.

  6. Create a breakdown.

  7. Determine your focus.

  8. Create change.

  9. Revisit your plan.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

1. Determine your plan's breadth

Begin by identifying specific categories for goal setting. You might consider areas of your life like:

  • Career

  • Finance

  • Relationships

  • Fun

  • Home

  • Health

  • Service

Decide whether you want to focus on one area, a few areas or all areas in your five-year plan. Write each area's title at the top of a piece of paper.

Example: Ryan wants to create a five-year plan. They decide to focus on one area of growth—their career. Ryan writes "career" on the top of a blank sheet of paper.

2. Brainstorm potential goals

Next, think about the potential goals for each category. Consider setting SMART goals, which are:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

To help you establish these goals, on your sheet of paper for each goal category, make two columns. In the first column, free write possible goals you'd like to accomplish in five years. In the other column, list skills, experiences and strengths you have that will help you reach your potential goals. Do this for each goal category.

Example: Ryan makes two columns on the career paper. In the first column, they list the following potential goals:

  • Obtain a managerial position.

  • Win an award.

  • Present at a conference.

  • Lead a team project.

In the second column, Ryan lists their skills, strengths and experiences related to work:

  • Public speaking

  • Empathy

  • Selected for a small-group project last quarter

  • Professional development classes

3. Establish long-term goals

Review your list of potential goals and the skills and experiences you have to support reaching those goals. Choose one goal for each category based on its applicability to the SMART metrics and your list of supports.

Example: Ryan decides on "obtain a managerial position" as their five-year plan goal. They decided the other potential goals might work better as short-term goals to reach the managerial position and that their skills and experiences best align with pursuing a leadership role.

4. Research the process

Next, research the best way to achieve each goal. Consider reading books from professionals in that category, speaking with friends, colleagues or mentors who have achieved the goal or consulting other goal-specific information sources for establishing what you'll need to do to reach your goal in five years.

Example: Ryan decides to speak with their current supervisor about promotion opportunities and read several books on leadership and management to determine what they'll need to do to reach their goal of becoming a manager.

5. Identify annual goals

Use the information from your research to establish annual benchmarks. These goals should help you on the path to your goal, but they should be smaller in scope and scale than your five-year goal.

Example: Ryan is currently an entry-level employee at a large, corporate office. They know they might need to hold at least one other position before promoting to a manager role. Ryan determines the following annual goals:

  • Year 1: Work on a major departmental project.

  • Year 2: Lead a major departmental project.

  • Year 3: Promote to associate position.

  • Year 4: Lead four or more long-term projects.

  • Year 5: Promote to manager.

6. Create a breakdown

Look at your year one goal. Create a monthly breakdown of the steps you must take to achieve that goal. If it's necessary or helpful, consider establishing weekly or even daily steps from there to help you stay focused on your goal.

Example: Ryan begins by establishing monthly goals to work on a major departmental project. They decide to work exclusively with monthly goals as a start and then establish weekly or daily goals if necessary:

  • Month 1: Identify peers whom leadership regularly selects for projects. Determine what skills, qualifications and experiences they have that designate them for the projects.

  • Month 2: Speak with colleagues whom leadership regularly selects for projects about their experiences.

  • Month 3: Increase workload, skill set or another project-favorable metric.

  • Month 4: Speak with the supervisor about the desire to work on a major project.

  • Month 5: Attend professional development.

  • Month 6: Continue to increase workload, skill set or another project-favorable metric.

  • Month 7: Discuss the goal in the annual performance review.

  • Month 8: Create a leadership reading list.

  • Month 9: Read at least one book on leadership a month starting this month.

  • Month 10: Apply to work on a project.

  • Month 11: Work on a major project.

  • Month 12: Write reflection and reassess next year's goals.

7. Determine your focus

Consider why you want to reach this goal. Acknowledging why you want to pursue this goal will help you stay focused and determined over the weeks, months and years of work. Write the reason or reasons down on a piece of paper and post the paper in a place where you'll regularly see it.

Example: Ryan wants to become a manager so they can help other junior colleagues develop work skills, support their family and improve their own qualities. Ryan writes these reasons on a paper and posts the paper next to their computer.

8. Create change

Once you've written the plans, it's time to take action. Follow the steps you laid out in previous steps to achieve your long-term goals. You may find that you need to be more or less specific with your short-term plans as you begin working towards your goals. Adjust as needed.

Example: Ryan finds the monthly goals sufficient for the first four months, but then decides to set weekly goals after speaking with their supervisor about their wish to work on a major project.

9. Revisit your plan

At least once a year, revisit your overall five-year plan to see if you need to adjust any annual goals or monthly goals. You might achieve your long-term goals more quickly than you thought you would, or you might find that you need more than five years to meet the goal. Continue to revise as necessary until you meet your goal or goals.

Example: Ryan is chosen for a major work project in month six of their year one plan. They revise their annual goals to reflect this change and move up all annual goals as needed.

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