The Best “You” Ever: A 1-Year Personal Strategic Plan

Originally Published: Exceptional Veterinary Team, August 2, 2011



It’s dangerous to make assumptions about people. However, I am willing to make 2 assumptions about you:

#1) Because you are a veterinary professional, I am fairly certain that you pursue a greater goal than immediate financial gain and that you are compassionate, hardworking, and dedicated. These attributes are practically requirements for our profession, and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have them.

#2) You are interested in improving your skills and knowledge base, and you know that you can be a better professional than you are today. If you didn’t have this introspective character or believe that you can improve yourself and those around you, then you never would have started reading an article on in the first place.

Our profession is an amazing place. The people that it attracts have deep inner strength and conviction. Those that choose to continue to grow professionally and develop personally within our profession have practically limitless potential. I have been blessed to see what technicians, receptionists, practice managers, and doctors are capable of when they rise above the struggles that we face daily in practice, and focus themselves and their personal energies on their own growth and development. These metamorphoses are staggering in their impact and their reward, and they are well within your reach.

The single greatest tool for both personal and professional growth that I have ever found, the one that I have continuously modified and shared since it began opening doors for me, is the personal strategic planning session. I learned this technique years ago from a program put together by Josh Kaufman at the Personal MBA ( The original program is difficult to find today, but I have included a link to it at the end of this article for those interested in the original source material.

The personal strategic plan is a mind-mapping creative exercise that will help you focus your energies on what is most important for you to advance your career and build true happiness in your life. It takes some time to work through, but it can be done in multiple phases, and the end result (a clear vision of what you need to be doing to reach your ultimate goals) is definitely worth the effort. Also, once you know what is really important for you to meet your goals, a lot of other things that are causing you stress now will become much less pressing. Let’s get started!

1) Get your supplies

This exercise doesn’t require much except:

• a quiet, distraction-free place to sit

• 5 pieces of notebook paper

    • a good pen.

2) Compartmentalize

We all have unique, and equally important, goals in different aspects of our lives. For example, your P90X fitness goal and your goal to repair your first cruciate tear are not completely related, but they may be equally important to making you the person that you want to be. In order to consider both fitness goals and professional goals as they impact your life as a whole, we first need to separate them. Here’s how we do it.

On four sheets of paper, in the center of the top line, write one of the following words: Professional, Exercise, Financial, or Personal. Each sheet of paper will become your medium for brainstorming, exploring, and prioritizing goals from different aspects of your life.

Professional – This page will include the things that you want to accomplish in your professional life. These goals may involve work/life balance, co-worker communication/relationship goals, veterinary degrees or certifications, management and/or medical skill acquisition, and long-term career aspirations.

Exercise – Exercise is important for both mental and physical health. You don’t have to set out to become a triathlete or mountain climber in the next year. My exercise routines are usually 15 minutes of posing in front of the bathroom mirror…30 minutes of cardio…and 15 more minutes of lying on the floor, clutching my side and trying to breathe (*gasp*). You don’t have to become an extreme athlete. All you have to do is make reasonable goals that will keep you active, energetic, and de-stressed. This is an important part of your life and you know it.

Financial – What are your financial goals as far as savings, income, debt, home ownership, etc.? Do you need to purchase a new car, start funding your retirement, get life insurance, or stop eating off of the dollar value menu when you go out?

Personal – Goals for things like your marriage, spirituality, personal development, parenting, and philosophic outlook on life will be focused on here. This is, in my humble opinion, the most important of the five pages, and should not be ignored.

3) Brainstorm

Find a quiet place to write and start with whichever page you are most excited about. Get as many of your goals, both short and long term, down on paper as possible. You don’t have to be committed to anything you are writing down here, but do your best to make the goals you write down specific. For example, rather than writing “I want to learn ultrasonography,” you might write, “I want to be able to perform and charge clients for a thorough abdominal ultrasound examination that covers all major organ systems (including the adrenal glands).”

Write until the ideas stop flowing freely, and then move on to the next page. If you don’t know how to make an idea specific as it pours out of your mind and onto your page, or if you feel like you are blanking on an important goal, don’t worry. We will clean up and expand upon your most important goals later on.

4) Ask “Why?” again and again

Once you have your list of goals, take a few moments to burrow down into WHY you care about these things. For each goal, ask yourself “Why? Why is this important to me?” Once you have an answer, ask the question again. Feel free to change your goals or add new goals to your list based on your responses. This is also the time to re-write any goals that are not as specific as they should be.

Here is an example of how one of my own goals changed with this exercise –

Original goal: To run a marathon by the end of the year.

Why do I want to run a marathon? I need to run on a regular basis and training for a marathon will make me do it.

Why do I need to run regularly? I need to be active for my mental and physical health, I need to exercise my dog, and my wife would train with me so I could spend quality time with her.

New Goal: Scrap the marathon. Jog for at least 30 minutes five days per week with my dog and my wife.

I don’t give you this example to talk you out of running a marathon. If you want to tackle that goal, then you should set your sights on it and do it. For me, however, the marathon is not what I really wanted to do, and I doubt that my schedule at the time would have allowed it. Also, after the marathon was finished, would I stop? By asking myself WHY I chose this goal, I was able to come up with a more feasible, valuable, and achievable goal that I could begin accomplishing immediately.

5) Choose your focus

You can do anything you want in life, but you can’t do everything. This is the part of the exercise where we select the most important goals, the goals that speak to who you are in your core, and we table the rest. This is a hard step to do, because no one wants to set aside great goals, but this step is also liberating. This is you deciding that you don’t have to pursue a million different things at once, but that you will pursue what matters most and let the rest go. The goals that you scratch off your list certainly aren’t gone forever. You can always add them to a “someday/maybe” list for future consideration.

Select one of your topic pages and pretend that you can only accomplish ½ of your listed goals. Use this criterion to cut your list in half. Now, repeat. Ouch. I know it hurts. Trim each list down to the single most important/meaningful goal for you on each page. That’s right. Only one goal is allowed. Make sure it is specific, that it can be acted upon, and that your progress can be measured. If it does not meet these criteria, then re-write the goal until it does. Also, if you are feeling overwhelmed, defeated, or lost instead of liberated and excited, then you should further re-think your goal selections.

One example of a complete professional goal would be: “To do more dental CE, cleanings, and oral surgeries than any other doctor in my practice.”

6) Time for action (steps)!!

On your fifth and final sheet of paper, write all four (now very specific) goals. Beneath each one write what you will do in the next week to begin pursuing that goal. Below that, what you will do in the next 3 months, and finally, what you will do in the coming year. Your action steps should be clear and easily measurable (meaning that you either did them or did not do them).

Action step examples might be:

Goal: To do more dental CE, cleanings, and oral surgeries than any other doctor in my practice

1 week action: To tell my practice manager and practice owner that I have a strong interest in dentistry and that I would like to assist in any advanced dentistry cases that come in. I will also call the local dental specialty center to ask if I might come and shadow occasionally on my day off.

3 month action: Visit the dental specialty practice at least 4 times and take at least 6 hours of dental CE either online or at our local VMA conference. Tell the other doctors in our practice that I have a strong interest in dentistry and would be happy to see any dental cases that they would like to send to me.

12 month action: Visit at least 2 different dental specialty practices a total of at least 8 times. I will take at least 12 hours of dental CE and market my interest in dentistry to clients by word of mouth, the hospital Facebook page, our client e-newsletter, and our website. I will also put on at least one community event to speak to our clients about the importance of dental health and disease prevention.

7) Relax and enjoy your new focus

You now have 4 very strong, very important goals. If you accomplish these 4 goals by completing the action steps that you have created, then you will have one amazing year. When you start to feel overwhelmed, when you are being pulled in too many directions, or when you feel like you don’t know where you are going in your life or career, just go back to your action step page. Keep this page where you can find it easily, and where you will see it frequently. Also, make sure to put your 3 month and 12 month deadlines on the calendar so that you will see them coming and stay on track with your master plan!

A 1-year personal strategic plan may take some time to create, and narrowing down your goals to 4 might seem like limiting your productivity. However, by pursuing this course, you will find that you can rise above the clutter in your life and make huge strides toward the goals that are most important to you. You will see that making great progress on a few key goals will be significantly more rewarding and beneficial than making a little progress on a large number of less important ones.

Don’t wait! Set your goals, make your plan, and have the most productive 12 months of your life!

Personal Strategic Master Plan from the Personal MBA: