Life Planning: The Big-Picture Approach

Whatever it is I’m involved or interested in, I always like to see the big picture. That’s why I like books such as The World Is Flat and Guns, Germs, and Steel. They give me the big picture of the topics they cover (which are globalization and history, respectively).

Seeing the big picture helps me understand the overall situation. That, in turn, gives me some benefits:

  • I know where I fit in.
    Knowing the overall situation helps me know where my position is related to other things.
  • I know what action to take.
    Since I know where my position is, I can figure out what action I should take. Reading The World Is Flat, for instance, led me to creating this blog.
  • I can avoid doing unnecessary things.
    Since I get the overall picture, I can figure out whether or not something is necessary to achieve my goal. I can then avoid wasting time on things that are unnecessary.

Seeing the big picture, as you can see, has significant benefits. And you can use this approach for life planning.

Let’s look at it in more detail.

Life Planning in Five Steps

To apply the big-picture approach to life planning, here are five steps:

1. See the big picture of your past years.

First of all, you need to know how your life has been. How is the big picture of your past years? For this, I use a simple life map. There I put important events and achievements in my past years (I usually have less than five entries per year). Looking at the map helps me see the big picture of how my life has been.

2. Figure out your future direction.

Checking your past years can help you figure out your future direction. For instance, is there any pattern in the past that you can use for the future? In my case, I had several achievements in IT so it makes sense to build upon them in the future.

By checking your life map, you might recognize idle potential, hidden patterns, and the direction that you have taken. You can use them to think about where you should go.

3. Set long term goals.

After figuring out your future direction, you can project the big picture of your future. How will your life be years from now? A good thing to do here is to set long-term goals. In my case, I have a few goals for the year 2020. These goals give me an overall picture of how my life would be years from now.

4. Beware of distractions.

Your life map might reveal not just useful patterns, but also inefficiencies. You might find that you’ve spent time on things that turned out to be unnecessary. You should be careful not to let such things happen again in the future.

5. Do regular review.

Day-to-day busyness can easily distract you from the direction that you have planned. That’s why you need to have a regular review time. It helps you reconnect with your plan and brings you back on track. It also allows you to adjust things as necessary.


Many people live their lives on autopilot. They aren’t aware of where their lives are going. That, of course, is not a good way to live. Using this big-picture approach can help you live a more effective life.

How do you plan your life? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. The only trouble with your argument is that it’s far too rational. Sometimes we can’t see where we are, the world is changing too fast, we have too many choices and don’t know how to choose what direction to set. As an alterntive, creative experimentations can be a sucessful way of finding what works and encouraging a bias for action.

    • I think the approach is not as rational as it might look. The steps aren’t meant to be done in one sitting. It could take much time to go between one step to the next and you could go back and forth. But I agree that the approach is not for everyone (as Jennifer also mentioned below). Creative experimentation may work better for some people.

  2. I, too, am a big-picture kind of person. But I’m very mindful of the fact that the big-picture approach does not work for everyone. People take in information and perceive the world in one of two ways — big picture and future-oriented or detail-minded and in the moment.

    As comfortable as I am with the big picture approach, others are just as comfortable with the details and moment by moment approach.

    Now, as we mature, we develop the opposite sides of this preference, but our default remains our default. While I personally prefer taking that big-picture view of life planning, I know it just doesn’t work for everyone. So I encourage those who living in the moment to find alternate ways to map out and plan their route.

    For me, life tends to be what happens while I’m en route to a goal, and I really don’t want to miss that.

    Thanks for your post! Great food for thought.

    • I agree with you, the big-picture approach is not for everyone. “Detail-minded and in the moment” is indeed an alternative. It’s not my style, but many people use it. Thanks for sharing!

      • people who write on this topic are really gifted, to feel observe and write about life and it different forms ,,,i have been writing on same platform. hope i be able to spread message of happy life just like you . my website is…and i find this post worthy step by step procedure to learn the process of life

    • This is very interesting point Jennifer.

      I think for the “detail-minded in the moment” individuals they still need to have some sort of big view, regardless of the way they see things. Having a big picture view is what effects our perceptions and detailed actions in the moment.

  3. I agree that one needs to see the big picture but as Peter above says sometimes we quickly lose focus or get pulled down to the day to day grind. Especially if we are in a routine or mundane occupation. Living has a bad habit of getting in the way.
    My personal experience of this was focusing to much on the ‘job’ and essentially losing the 10 years between 30 and 40. Work was all consuming to the extent s cost a marriage.
    Needless to say I am older a good deal wiser now. I always take time to stand back and see the panorama as well as the detail

    • “I always take time to stand back and see the panorama as well as the detail”
      I think that’s an important point. As you said, it’s easy to lose focus. That’s why we need to take time to reflect on how our lives are going.

  4. Great article!My take is to have a balanced view of our lives. What does it profit to have load of money today and be broke tomorrow?! Sink all into your job now and loose home in the end. Life is too precarious to just coast along. It helps to think long term and act in the now.

  5. For me, stating my personal vision and mission statements has had the greatest positive impact. I then aligned all my goals with these in mind. That way, all the small things I work on daily have a much greater sense of purpose which in turn leads to great motivation.
    Thanks for sharing, Donald 🙂

  6. Good stuff Donald. I definitely believe that as long as you have the right mindset, the right guide, the right tools, the sky is the limit. Youre outcomes are endless. Love to see people motivate and empower each other.

  7. Thank you for this article! I am currently in a transition phase between careers and I am doing a lot of figuring out my future direction. It is a scary thing, but I think if I really set these long and short term goals, I will enjoy the journey.

    • I was in that position a few years ago, Shawn. In my case, I chose the path that better expressed my passions and talents though it meant getting less money in the beginning. Now, years later, I don’t regret my decision.

  8. Excellent Article and as always good read for inspiration.

  9. Donald,
    I like your approach. The way I see it, you set an “intent” of what you want accomplished and work towards that. Through regular reviews you check to see if you are on track and if the intent needs to be tweaked or not. This is a lot like I talk about. Set an intent and the improvise and adapt as you work towards it. Good strategy. Thanks.

  10. I particukarly agree with taking a bit of time to do the “self review”. It sounds really useful especially when one feels torn apart by each activity of the daily life. It may be an opportunity to gather all those pieces and rearrange them according to one’s needs.
    Setting long-term goals may be positive if you set them as relatively abstract ideas, if you start making specifications, depression may be in the future.

  11. Wow, opens up a new way of thinking for me, never heard anyone talking about this before. Great stuff.


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