Opinion: Developing a life plan is a SMART move

I’ve just returned from a course in Ireland on strategic management. As a new mum of two, I must admit the thing I was most looking forward to was two nights in a hotel with a swimming pool and all my meals provided.

We took the three-month-old with us, but it was still a great excuse to get away for a couple of days. Luckily the course turned out to be excellent as well.

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You are probably wondering what “strategic management” actually is. It involves looking ahead to the future you want to achieve in your business and personal life, and putting in place a strategy to achieve it.

We started with looking at where we are now, what things are going well, and what could be improved. We did some exercises to understand ourselves better, including a personality profile and a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

We also spent time imagining what a successful future looks like for us – asking questions such as where would we live, how would we spend our time, what would our children be doing, what would other people say about us?

From this, we created a vision statement, summarising where we want to get to, and some focus areas with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-constrained) goals to enable us to get there.

It’s incredibly empowering to sit down as a couple and really focus on the future in this way.

There were a variety of farming couples on the course, from the young and unmarried, to older couples with grown-up children who are thinking about succession plans.

But strikingly, we all shared largely the same key objectives.

Not to grow massive farming empires, own huge shiny tractors, fast cars or go on cruises, but to spend time with our families, have free time to do the things we enjoy, be successful in our businesses, and look after our health.

Ultimately it came down to having freedom and choices to lead the lives we wanted to, and the thing that makes that possible is money.

Most farmers have significant assets, but not necessarily a lot of cash or free time.

The course encouraged us to think about how we can best utilise our assets over time to achieve our goals. Writing these goals down and putting figures on them makes them seem much more achievable.

The next step is to regularly review the plan and make sure we are still heading in the right direction and getting closer to the target.

Inevitably, as we get older, the plan will change slightly, which is another reason to continually review it.

We left the course feeling extremely motivated and full of optimism for the future.

The hardest thing will be making time in our busy schedules amidst the constant distractions of phone calls, cows and children, to sit down together and formally monitor our progress.

We’ve put the plan we created on a board in the kitchen to make sure it’s never far from our minds.

To some people this exercise might sound like an indulgence or an excuse to fantasise, especially given all the uncertainty around agriculture now.

But I’d argue that’s exactly why this is so important. Controlling what’s in your own hands is the only way to get the future you want.

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