A silouette of a man planning for the future as he walks towards a giant target.

This article gives you a glimpse of what you can learn with Shortform. Shortform has the world’s best guides to 1000+ nonfiction books, plus other resources to help you accelerate your learning.

Want to learn faster and get smarter? Sign up for a free trial here .

What does the future hold for you? Do you know how to plan for the future?

The future is uncertain for all of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pave the path to it. From general life planning to business succession planning, there are several ways to prepare for what’s to come.

Discover how to plan for the future in many areas of life and work.

1. Life Planning

It can be hard figuring out what you want to do in life. You might be stuck between a career or a family, trying to do both, or deciding to move to a new city. That’s why you need to plan three different lives and see which one fits you best.

According to Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, you should develop three separate five-year “Adventure Plans,” each one detailing a different life that you could live. 

  1. Focus your first plan on something you’ve already got in mind, either the life you’re actually living (imagined forward by five years) or a good idea that you’ve been developing. 
  2. For your second plan, describe what you’d do if the area you currently work in or have been planning to work in disappeared. 
  3. For your third plan, describe what you’d do if money and reputation didn’t matter.

For each plan, come up with a short title to capture its essence and a dashboard gauge that shows your available resources (time, money, skill, and so on), your “like level” (how much you like the plan), your confidence level in the plan, and how coherent the plan is with your life compass. Also, note two or three questions that each plan raises.

The final step is to share your Adventure Plans with a group of supportive people. You can’t always see yourself accurately. You need other people’s input. So pick some people you trust to provide honest and constructive reactions that will help guide your decisions.

The essence of planning for the future is to build a potential solution to your problem so that you can test it. You can do this through prototyping your Adventure Plans. Prototyping your plans for life enables you to ask the right questions, gain experience through experimenting with alternatives, and test your assumptions. It also enables you to “fail fast” (because you quickly learn what doesn’t work before you overinvest in a life path with no real future) and “fail forward” by using your failures to make progress. Moreover, it builds empathetic relationships with other people who are interested in your journey. Two ways to plan for the future are to conduct life interviews and to pursue exploratory experiences.

Life Interviews and Exploratory Experiences

In a life interview, you learn from someone who actually knows what it’s like to live the life you’re contemplating, and you let this tell you whether that life is for you. Find someone who’s currently doing the work and/or living the life you’re considering. Ask them how they came to be doing this work and what it’s really like.

An exploratory experience would be an internship, a job shadowing experience, or volunteer work. No matter what form it takes, think of it as a kind of “test drive” to give you real, hands-on experience and firsthand knowledge of the work and life you’re considering. Life interviews first can provide good ideas for exploratory experiences. If you feel stuck for ideas, use your Adventure Plans to intelligently plot exploratory experiences. Pick a plan where the dashboard readings are high, and use the questions you wrote for that plan to guide you.

2. Career Planning

While figuring out how to plan for the future, you may want to start searching for jobs right away, but first learn an important truth: Contrary to popular belief, the best route to fulfilling work isn’t through the want ads. For various reasons, Designing Your Life says the traditional job advertisement and job application processes are fundamentally broken. Most jobs are filled internally without ever being publicly shown. Fewer than half the applications submitted through the traditional route get a response. Many advertised jobs are really “phantom” jobs that were only published to meet a company’s requirements. Advertised job descriptions themselves are almost hopelessly defective, combining generic skills with impossible-to-meet requirements. This all means you need to revise your approach.

To improve your chances if you want to use the conventional job hunting approach of scouring the Internet and then sending in a cover letter and resume, write your resume to be amenable to keyword searches, using language from the actual job posting. Focus not on why you want the job but what you can do for the employer. If you get an interview, bring a fresh printed resume. 

The Solution: Plugging Into the Hidden Job Market

A far better approach than simply applying to Internet-posted jobs is to combine effective networking practices with your prototyping technique of life interviews, which will enable you to tap into the hidden, unadvertised job market. Realize that you can design your own dream job through a combination of active seeking and co-creation. Also realize that networking is a good thing, not something that just annoys other people. 

To network effectively, first reach out to your first-tier contacts, the people you actually know and have in your address files, and ask them for leads. Use this information to reach out to second-tier contacts (the contacts of your contacts). Also, research people and organizations. Then request life interviews with interesting people in interesting positions. When you access a combined personal and professional network by conducting life interviews, you increase your likelihood of gaining access to the hidden job market. Often when one of your life interviewees sees your genuine interest, they’ll let you know of available positions, whether published or not.

Cap your exploration of the hidden job market by making a critical distinction in your job-searching activities: Since the defectiveness of job descriptions means you can’t really know what most jobs are about from reading about them, adopt the mindset that you’re not looking for a job but looking for job offers. This will expand your horizons and make you more curious, leading you to investigate and evaluate opportunities with genuine interest.

3. Family Planning

The authors of Eight Dates argue that different visions and definitions of family can be a dealbreaker in a relationship. A helpful piece of advice on how to plan for the future is to have a date where you discuss what family looks like for you and your partner. Every person defines family differently, so it’s important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page before entering into a long-term commitment. Specifically, if you don’t have children, talk about whether you want to be parents. 

This date focuses on couples who haven’t yet decided to have kids. If you already have children, you can use this date to talk about how you co-parent—what’s working and what isn’t. Consider discussing your different parenting styles or any house rules and routines that need to be changed or updated, or just take time to discuss how your family is doing and any challenges you’re facing right now as a parent.

Use the following prompt to guide your conversation:

  • Describe your dream family.

If you’re planning on having children, ask yourself:

  • What challenges can we anticipate when we bring kids into our family?
  • How do you imagine me as a parent? Where do you think I’ll thrive as a parent?
  • What qualities of ours do we hope to instill in our children?

If you aren’t planning on having kids, ask yourself:

  • What does being a family mean for you?
  • Who’s your community? How do you want to strengthen the relationships with those in your community?

Whether or not children are in your definition of family, the authors argue that the most important relationship should always be with your partner because the couple is the foundation of a family, and the other people in your life will be best served if you prioritize that relationship.

Pregnancy Planning

If you do decide to have children, you might need to plan the timing of your child’s birth. This is especially important for people who have careers or people with fertility issues.

According to Expecting Better by Emily Oster, your chances of getting pregnant decline with age. The chance of conception in a month is 24% at age 25; 21% at age 30; 16% at age 35; 7% at age 40; and 3% at age 45.

In terms of timing sex, it’s pretty much impossible to get pregnant outside of a six-day window before the day of ovulation. That’s because the egg only survives for 24 hours after release, so the sperm has to be waiting in the Fallopian tube to greet the egg. Luckily, sperm live up to 5 days. Therefore, the best chance of conception happens the day before or the day of ovulation. Conception can still happen up to five days before ovulation, with lower chances. 

The frequency of sex during this six-day window does NOT make a difference in the chance of conception—it’s more important to hit the right day. There are a variety of ways to track ovulation, including temperature charting and cervical mucus. The most accurate is ovulation sticks, which detect hormones in urine. Of women randomly given access to ovulation detection sticks, 23% got pregnant within two months, vs. 15% who didn’t have them.

4. Retirement Planning

You can start planning for retirement as early as your 20s. This is to ensure you’re financially stable when you’re not employed and enjoying life to its fullest. Sometimes, people plan for the future so they can retire early.

To retire as quickly as you can, start investing and save enough money so that investment returns cover your annual expenses for the rest of your life. Given how unpredictable the economy is—in particular, the rate of inflation and the performance of your investments—it’s impossible to know with 100% certainty how much money will be enough to last the rest of your life. 

As a ballpark estimate that discounts these factors, Jacob Lund Fisker (author of Early Retirement Extreme) assumes a 3% annual return on investment and asserts that if you accumulate a fund that’s 34.33 times your annual expenses, you can retire and live off the investment returns forever. This is because you need a 3% return to cover your annual expenses, plus a year’s worth of expenses to spend while your investments earn money (33.33 + 1 = 34.33).

You might worry that if all your savings are in investments, you risk losing everything in a major economic downturn. However, Fisker assuages this fear, arguing that if your investments have fallen enough to ruin your retirement, it’s likely that the entire economy has sunk into an unprecedented depression. If this were to happen, your remaining savings would still leave you more secure than traditional workers who depend on their wages as their only source of income, as businesses would collapse, unemployment would skyrocket, and jobs would become extremely scarce and competitive.

We’ve established that investing your savings is the safest path to total financial freedom and stress-free retirement. But how do you invest your savings well? Here are Fisker’s tips:

  1. Educate yourself on investing strategy. Fisker recommends learning the foundational principles of investing rather than blindly trusting the financial advice of others when choosing your investments. By personally understanding the principles at work, he says you can significantly reduce the risk of any investment and greatly increase your returns. The more money you’ve accumulated and invested, the more time you should spend learning how to manage it. Since smarter decisions earn you more money as your fund size increases, educating yourself on investing strategy will eventually become more profitable than any other way you could spend your time.
  2. Pick investments based on the work you prefer. The specific assets you invest in should depend on how you like to spend your time, according to Fisker. A day you spend researching the most promising commodities will look very different from one you spend working closely with a tech startup as an angel investor. Research various investments and choose whatever interests you most.

5. Succession Planning

Entrepreneurs and leaders need to know how to plan for the future for the sake of their businesses. They won’t be in charge forever, so someone who they trust and knows the business inside and out will need to take over. Even people who aren’t in the field of business need successors—like Grandma choosing which child or grandchild will host the Christmas party when she’s gone.

Because leaders work with people, including other leaders, they have the potential to influence beyond their own lifetime. For example, many people still admire Gandhi and live by his teachings. Therefore, all leaders should be concerned with succession and legacy.

Clara Boothe Luce came up with the phrase “life sentence.” The sentence both states the goal of your life and describes your legacy. Your “life sentence” will likely change throughout your life, and as it does, look for things that each of the sentences has in common. This will help direct you toward your legacy. For example, John C. Maxwell started with a life sentence about wanting to be a great pastor. Later, he wanted to be a communicator, writer, and leader. He finally settled on: “I want to add value to leaders who will multiply value to others.” This sentence encompasses all the things he wanted to be over the years and addresses his legacy.

Here are some steps to developing your legacy, according to The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell:

  • Decide what your legacy will be early. Consider your sense of purpose, strengths, opportunities, and whom you might be able to impact. Some people accept rather than drive their lives—instead, you need to choose how you will live your life. 
  • Start living your legacy while you’re still in your leadership position/still alive. Be a trustworthy and good leader, and lead by example. Be what you want to inspire in others.
  • Pick successors. Legacy is about people, not things. An inanimate building named after you isn’t going to be able to influence people.
    • For example, people can judge how good of a person you are by your grandchildren. You’ve trained your kids, and how well they train your grandchildren is a measure of how well you did with them.
  • Create a succession plan. If you’re a good leader, and your successor is a good leader, that’s a good start, but there needs to be a handoff. 
    • For example, Tom Mullins of EQUIP is training his son to be his successor. His son has already taken over many of Tom’s responsibilities, even though Tom is still the leader. This allows his son to practice under Tom’s guidance.

There are four phases of legacy development:

  1. Solo. Leaders achieve things by themselves.
  2. Add followers. Leaders are successful when followers do things for them.
  3. Add other leaders. Leaders are significant when their leaders do things with them.
  4. Remove the original leader. Leaders create a legacy when their leaders are capable of doing things without them.

Wrapping Up

Knowing how to plan for the future is reassuring for people who are nervous about the unknown. Life is unpredictable and sometimes things don’t work out like we want them to. While anything can change by the second, having a plan can put you back on track. 

Do you have tips on how to plan for the future? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Plan for the Future: 5 Important Areas to Map Out

Want to fast-track your learning? With Shortform, you’ll gain insights you won't find anywhere else .

Here's what you’ll get when you sign up for Shortform :

  • Complicated ideas explained in simple and concise ways
  • Smart analysis that connects what you’re reading to other key concepts
  • Writing with zero fluff because we know how important your time is

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.