Planning with Purpose

 It is January 4, so if you have not already made your New Year’s Resolutions, you are already behind. I have put together some notes on planning with a focus on purpose. Goals whether they are New Year’s Resolutions or anytime are more likely to be realized when there is purpose behind them. This story provides a process and resources for articulating your purpose including goal setting, motivation, and values.

Photo by Anastasia Petrova on Unsplash


Planning involves envisioning a desired future state and identifying the steps needed to get there.

I like to think of planning as navigation. We identify where we are going and how to get there.

Navigation helps explain the differences in approaches to planning.

Conventional planning is like traditional Western navigation. European navigators identified a destination and laid in a course to get there. The journey was about staying on that course, and if something happens, you get back on course.

Agile planning is akin to South Pacific navigators who practiced wayfinding. While these navigators had their destination in mind, they focused on what was the best action to take at any given time to move us towards our destination.

The problem with conventional planning is that at the start of the journey we make many assumptions about what steps we will need to take and what obstacles we must overcome. Often our assumptions turn out to not be correct, yet we still hang onto the course we established. The most famous example of this was Christopher Columbus who laid out a course for India, not aware that there was a whole continent in his way. It was not until his third voyage that Columbus began to realize that he had found a new continent and not a new path to Asia.

Our planned route may not achieve our desired goals for a variety of reasons. One in five new businesses will not survive more than two years. Three out of four businesses will not make it to 15 years. The reasons for this are many. Some ideas were not that good to start. Other ideas were good but undone by events beyond the owners control. Only 60% of students who start college will finish with a degree within 6 years. Having goals and a plan are not sufficient.

Sometimes our destination changes. Throughout high school and into my first semester at college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Recovering from a broken heart, I realized I wanted to do something with my career that I knew I would enjoy. For me, that appeared to be teaching. In my career I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers, and I have not regretted once my decision to not pursue a law career. A friend from high school made this same transition, but in his case he had finished law school and passed the Bar exam before leaving that behind to become an English professor.

Wayfinding, a form of agile planning, provides an alternative to conventional planning. Wayfinding leverages the idea that we will know more tomorrow than we do today. The opportunity it to learn as we go, and as we learn, to update our planning process.

While Wayfinding uses learning to adjust our plans, it also provides a framework for overcoming analysis paralysis and not taking action while we wait to learn more. Learning comes from when we take action. Until we try something, we do not know how it will or will not work. The more quickly we take action and learn from those actions, the more effective our planning and actions will be.

The Wayfinding process follows a series of six steps (“POMDAD”):

  1. Purpose
  2. Observation
  3. Model
  4. Decide
  5. Act
  6. Destination

This framework is a loop. Life is a journey, and the Destination step focuses on answering the question “what next” and then looping back to a previous step in the process, based on the answer to that question.

Purpose: Goal Setting, Motivation, and Values

In Wayfinding, the first step is to determine where we want to go. Our purpose provides the why for what we do. Purpose defines our destination and serves as a north star for navigation.

Purpose includes three components: Goals, Motivation, and Values. Goals describe where we are going. Motivation provides the energy to achieve those goals. Values are how we evaluate and prioritize our goals.


If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.

Yogi Berra

Our goals describe our intended destination.

Goals can be provide a direction. For example, we can have a goal to lose weight or save money.

Goals can include an outcome. For example, we can have a goal to start a business or finish a degree.

Goals can include an experience. For example, we can have a goal to visit a new city or take a ballroom dancing class.

In general, it is more effective to express goals in a positive outcome rather than a negative form. A goal to save 10% of your income to pay off debt is more effective than a goal to get out of debt. The positive form describes the action required to achieve the result.

One of the challenges in capturing your goals is to separate activities from outcomes. Many students start college with the goal of going to college, which is an activity not a goal. A student who starts college with the goal of graduating college to have better career opportunities will be more likely to actually finish college. My college roommate knew starting in high school that he wanted to be a doctor, and college, medical school, and residency were all activities in support of that goal.

One of my most important pieces of college advice is that if you do not know why you are there, you should not be there. College is too expensive in terms of money and time to be taken lightly. Starting classes that you do not finish have significant impacts in tuition spent, failing grades on a transcript, and a general feeling of failure.

We can have a goal of getting out of debt, but it is better if we know why that is important to us. If we ask ourselves “why,” it can help us understand what is the real goal we are seeking to achieve. We may want to get out of debt so that we can buy a house. Why do we want a house? Maybe we want to provide a stable home for starting a family. Maybe we want to build equity in a house that we can transfer to future generations. We can repeat this process multiple times, though asking why 5 times is usually sufficient to get to root causes. Why do we want to provide a stable home? Maybe we never had that, or maybe we did have that, and what to provide the same thing for our children. Why is that stability important? We may feel that having a stable home provides a base that allows for exploration and risk-taking in other ways, knowing that there is always a home to come back to. Our children can start a band and go on tour, knowing that if it does not work out, they can come home. We may identify that our goal is based on what we think it means to be a good parent or a productive adult.

For most people we have goals that are personal and professional. Personal goals can include outcomes related to health, family, hobbies and other interests, spirituality, or social and community. Professional goals relate to the world of work such as careers, entrepreneurship, and education goals aligned to these interests. This distinction is not always clear or relevant. In achieving a college degree, we are both working towards professional career goals as well as serving as a role model for others in our family and community. Someone who has a professional calling to help others has a goal that includes both work but also meets goals related to community and spirituality. The most powerful and meaningful goals will span both personal and professional, but it is not always the case that we goals that do that. Instead, we may seek a balance of goals that drive our personal and professional futures. The key is balance, as someone who attempts to focus solely on professional goals may lead to challenges in one’s personal life. Focusing on personal goals at the expense of professional goals may have undesirable consequences for your career. The right balance depends on the individual. Both personal and professional goals must originate from within who you are as an individual. The goals that others have for themselves or for you may not fit you well.

Another best practice for writing goals is the idea of “SMART” goals. “SMART” is a list of characteristics of effective goals:

  • Specific: The more specific the goal, the better. Saving money is a good goal, but saving 10% of every paycheck is a better, more specific goal.
  • Measurable: Measurable means that you can track progress. Overtime, how are you doing at achieving your goal? Are you there yet? How much further, how do you know? Exercising more is a good goal, but setting a goal for how many steps you take or how many minutes you exercise make that more measurable.
  • Achievable: A goal that can be achieved is more desirable than one cannot be achieved. The tricky part is knowing what is truly achievable and what is not. In our own heads and the opinions of others somethings might appear as unachievable just because it has not been done before. Everything that has been done had to be done for the first time at some point. At the same time, some goals are not realistic. Trust yourself.
  • Relevant: Is the goal meaningful to you? It is your life, and your goals. If a goal is not important or valuable to you, it will be difficult for you to achieve it. A relevant goal should be something that aligns with your values and desires. It should be something that you want to achieve. A relevant goal is also one worth achieving. How will your life be different if you achieve this goal? If it won’t make a difference, then it is not relevant.
  • Time-Framed: A goal to make a million dollars is a nice goal. It can be accomplished by making $10,000 per year for 100 years. Making one million dollars in ten years provides a better goal. Often in working to achieve our goals, we procrastinate. When there is not a time-frame for achieving a goal, it is easy to put it off until tomorrow.

In setting the time-frame for goals, we often talk about short-range, medium-range, and long-range goals. What these mean can vary, but for our purposes, you can can use 30-days for short-range goals, 120-days for medium-range goals, and 365-days for long-range goals. In other words, short-range goals are what you want to accomplish in the next month. Medium-range goals are what you hope to accomplish in the next 4-months, and long range goals this year.

Our lives are already blocked into months and years. I picked 120-days for medium goals because I am a professor, and 120-days maps onto the semester calendar. Businesses tend to work in 3-monthly quarters, and 90-days would work as well for a medium-range period. The idea is to have a time-frame that is longer than a month and less than a year.

To discover your goals, following this process:

  1. Brainstorm everything you would like to achieve, to change, or do. Sort this into two lists. First list are the those things that could be done within the next year. Everything that will require longer than a year, put into a second list.
  2. For every goal in the more than one year list, identify a sub-goal or milestone that you could achieve within the next year that moves you towards achieving this goal. Add these to the list of goals for the year.
  3. Simplify your list of goals for the next year by grouping similar items together.
  4. Prioritize the top 3 most important groups of goals.
  5. Select 1–2 goals from the 3 most important groups. This will yield 3–6 goals. More goals than that will dissipate your efforts, and you will be less likely to achieve anything. This will not be an easy process. I have ten children, and I would not know now to pick even my six favorites. At the same time, if we are going somewhere in my car, I only have space for four of them.


Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Viktor Frankl

Goals establish a destination for our purpose. Motivation is the energy that drives us down the path to achieve our goals.

In life, we have two limited resources: time and attention. There are only 24 hours in a day. How we choose, consciously or not, to use those hours (and the minutes and seconds contained within them) will directly impact what success we have towards achieving our goals.

For example, if I have a goal to get healthier and lose weight by walking on the treadmill every day, how much time I spend on the treadmill will drive my results. If I have a goal to complete a college degree, the time I invest in studying and doing homework will be a significant factor in my grades. As someone who has been a professor for over 20 years, I believe that time invested is what makes the difference between success and failure.

Attention describes the quality of the time we spend. If I am studying a textbook while watching a movie, my attention will be divided. If the movie is interesting, it is likely I will attend less to what I am studying. I may spend two hours studying, but the effectiveness of those two hours will be much less than if I was focused. Attention also comes into play when we think about our effectiveness at work. If we are thinking about our plans for the weekend, we are paying less attention in a meeting or using less mental resources to think about how to solve a problem. At home, kids, partners, and friends can tell when you are somewhere else, even if physically you are there.

Motivation is what influences our decisions about time and attention.

Most people have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow created a model of motivation that said that human needs fell into a series of categories. Only when the needs in one category were met could someone begin working on needs in the next category. Maslow’s hierarchy includes from bottom to top:

  • Physiological needs — air, water, food, sleep
  • Safety needs — employment, health, security
  • Love and belonging — friendship, family, intimacy
  • Esteem — recognition, respect, freedom
  • Self-actualization — achieving one’s life purpose

My model of motivation presents the hierarchy in a slightly different way.

  • Level 1: Basic needs
  • Level 2: Social needs
  • Level 3: Achievement needs
  • Level 4: Influence needs

Basic needs include physiological needs. If you are thirsty, it can be hard to think about other things until you get a drink. If you have to use the restroom, it can be even harder to think about anything else until that need is resolved. Basic needs also include the security related to being able to meet those physical needs in the future. If you are not hungry now, but you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, that will take your attention and maybe your time while you work to solve that need. You maybe healthy now, but the potential loss of health can be a concern.

Social needs are the loving and belonging needs that Maslow described. As social animals, humans have a need to connect with others. Family connections are also important. Almost all of us crave the benefits of an intimate relationship. If we are lonely or disconnected, it can be challenging to put the energy into other needs. The good thing about social needs is that we all have them, so there is someone for everyone even if it takes time to find your person or tribe.

Achievement needs are the need for accomplishment and competence. Accomplishment goals can include getting a promotion, earning a degree, traveling to a new city, or learning a new skill like ballroom dancing. Research shows that in the U.S., an individual with an income of around $70,000 has the most day-to-day happiness. Less than that, and it can be harder to achieve basic needs. More than that, and other factors start to reduce happiness. In other words, for an individual, earning more than $70,000 is more about achievement then it is about happiness.

Achievement needs can be divided into three different approaches. First, there is mastery where the goal is to improve one’s own performance. I am not a great bowler, and when I played on a bowling league, it was more important to be to improve my personal score than it was to win. Performance-approach means winning and being the best. For people with this perspective, second place is first loser. Performance-avoidance means avoiding being the worst. You may not win or come closer, but at least you are not the person who came in last. Using the example of income, a mastery approach would mean the goal to increase income overtime. Performance-approach would drive wanting to make more than others. Performance-avoidance would define achievement as not being the lowest paid.

Influence needs extend beyond you as an individual to describe the meaning of your life and the impact that you have on the world. Influence needs describe your legacy, what will live on after you are gone. Influence needs can be about being a parent that lives on in their children. Influence can be expressed in your works, whether that is art or the impact of your work or other activities. One of the benefits of being an educator is that I have had an impact on thousands of students over my career. Influence needs can also be about our own development. This can be reflected in spiritual understanding or our understanding of our place in the world.

The first key to understanding our needs and how they drive us to achieve our goals is that it is the unsatisfied needs that create motivation. If our needs are satisfied, we are not motivated. If we are hungry, we have a drive to eat. Once we have eaten, that motivation is gone. Remember that these needs are hierarchical, so if we are hungry it is hard to think about relationships.

The second key to understanding our needs is that they are all in our head. Consider fire fighters who run into a burning building. They might be motivated by influence needs to save lives. They might be motivated by achievement to be a hero by rescuing people. They might be motivated by social needs to be part of a team. What they are not motivated by is the basic need to protect oneself. A parent may go without food to feed a child. We have the potential to ignore our needs to focus on a higher purpose and set of goals, at least for a time. We ignore our needs at our own risk. If we go too long without sleeping, our performance will decrease. If we do not invest time in relationships, they will wither. The challenge is finding the balance to achieve one’s goals while also meeting the basic needs.

The easiest way to discover your motivations is to start with your goals. For each goal, ask yourself why this goal is important to you. You may want to ask yourself why that reason is important as well. For each goal, you should find 2–4 motivations for that goal. If you do not have clear motivations for your goals, then that is probably not an important goal for you. The clearer your motivations for achieving a goal, the more energy you will have for that goals, which will drive your time and attention and allow you to overcome the inevitable obstacles.

There is a common quote of unknown origin that says when the why is big enough, the how will take care of itself. If you have sufficient motivation (a big why), then you will find a way to achieve your goals.


Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.

Elvis Pressley

Values represent the third dimension of purpose. Values are the least likely to change. Goals and motivations will provide some stability, but by the very nature of agile planning, we can expect to change goals and motivations as learn more and make changes to our destination. Values, though, reflect our core identity and sense of who we are. Our core values are what allows us to evaluate our goals and establish priorities. They may change though our lifespan as our identity evolves, but this is more gradual than changes to other parts of purpose.

Our core values reflect what we think is most important about the world. One way to determine our core values is to use one or more lists of core values from the web. I have provided a list I created by compiling and editing several online lists.

Using this list or another list, follow these steps:

  1. Select the values that most resonate for you from the list. Feel free to add any additional values that are important to you but not included.
  2. Group similar items into five groups. If an item does not fit into one of these five groups, eliminate it.
  3. Choose one word that best represents each of the five groups. These are your five core values.

Here is my list of 100 values in alphabetical order:

  1. Acceptance
  2. Accomplishment
  3. Accountability
  4. Achievement
  5. Adventure
  6. Affection
  7. Ambition
  8. Artistry
  9. Awareness
  10. Balance
  11. Beauty
  12. Bravery
  13. Challenge
  14. Cheerfulness
  15. Comfort
  16. Commitment
  17. Common Sense
  18. Communication
  19. Competency
  20. Competitiveness
  21. Confidence
  22. Courtesy
  23. Creativity
  24. Curiosity
  25. Dependability
  26. Devotion
  27. Discovery
  28. Diversity
  29. Duty
  30. Effectiveness
  31. Efficiency
  32. Empathy
  33. Endurance
  34. Energy
  35. Enthusiasm
  36. Experience
  37. Exploration
  38. Faithfulness
  39. Fame
  40. Family
  41. Friendship
  42. Giving
  43. Gratitude
  44. Harmony
  45. Health
  46. Helpfulness
  47. Honor
  48. Hopefulness
  49. Hospitality
  50. Humor
  51. Imagination
  52. Insightfulness
  53. Inspiration
  54. Integrity
  55. Intelligence
  56. Intimacy
  57. Intuitiveness
  58. Invention
  59. Joy
  60. Justice
  61. Kindness
  62. Knowledge
  63. Learning
  64. Love
  65. Loyalty
  66. Mastery
  67. Motivation
  68. Patience
  69. Persistence
  70. Popularity
  71. Preparedness
  72. Purposeful
  73. Realistic
  74. Reason
  75. Recognition
  76. Recreation
  77. Reflection
  78. Relaxation
  79. Respect
  80. Responsibility
  81. Reverence
  82. Safety
  83. Sensitivity
  84. Serenity
  85. Service
  86. Sharing
  87. Skillfulness
  88. Spirituality
  89. Stability
  90. Status
  91. Strength
  92. Teamwork
  93. Thankfulness
  94. Thoughtfulness
  95. Toughness
  96. Understanding
  97. Vigor
  98. Wealth
  99. Wisdom
  100. Wonder

Once you have determined your core values, use these to evaluate your goals. How well do your goals align with your values? Do you need to modify your goals to better align with your values?