This is a technique I have personally used for years and taught to my daughters about long-term and proactive life-planning. The numbers are representative of years … 20 years “from now,” 10 years “from now” and 5 years “from now.” This helps set future goals and creates a mindset of forward-looking living, which can preclude perceived or real stagnation.
The principle is to imagine where you want to be (ideally) 20 years from today. This could be relative to personal aspirations, financially, professionally, academically or any combination thereof. This may feel abstract, but it is a fascinating exercise when you are in your teens or twenties, as it feels like the sky is the limit (if you can imagine it then you target it). But for some, at any age, it is difficult to comprehend what your life could be two decades from now. Depending on where you fit, defining certain aspects is either exciting or challenging. For those who struggle with looking that far forward, when mentoring I scale down to as low as 10-5-1.
If you take the professional angle, it is about promotions, business ownership and/or salary. Do you see yourself as an executive in the same company or branching out; establishing and growing your own business now or down the road; if a business owner, to what size and type? All of this sets a reference for you to move towards. A similar list can be compiled for personal, academic and financial goals – and in a more advanced approach, all should be combined to set priorities to dictate work-life balance and aspirations.
Once the 20-year mark is set, the next is the 10 year “way point.” Meaning, what has to be accomplished in the next decade to enable that 20-year goal to be realized? This sets the 10-year goal. Often times easier to grasp, and even if the 20 year is not clear, the 10 should be definitive. Any adult, young or old, should be able to project out at least one decade across all noted areas with a general degree of clarity. Setting this 10-year goal really shapes the 5 year, and therefore the one year, all of which moves you towards the 20 year aspiration.
Whatever the 10 year “way point,” the 5-year goal is directly tied to that 10-year mark. It dictates today's actions, or the planning to be done today to enable actions along the path to achieve the first milestone. This may include attaining a degree, and you start saving money or applying (academically). It also affects your priorities and investments.
The 20-10-5 forces you to lean forward and find time to project. It is re-assessed routinely and actually achieving those marks “20 years out’ is not as important as doing the mental drill of setting the milestones. Whether the 10-5-1 is applied or not, a 1-year goal helps ensure tangible actions are taken towards an end. Which is the ultimate purpose of adopting this construct.