5 Year Plans Don’t Work

They are fantasy.

So are 1 year plans.

Go ahead – show me a 5 year or 1 year plan that worked as planned.

I'll wait….

Right. Don't waste time with 5 year plans.

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • As a Project Manager (aka Planning Advocate), I completely disagree!

    Although there are several 5 Year Plans I would use as examples that work, let me walk through just one that most people can relate: Graduating from College with a Bachelor’s Degree

    When entering college, you have a much better chance of success graduating if you start with a 5 Year Plan. (When I went to college it was a 4 Year Plan, but I’ll leave that for another time.) Of course your 1st semester and 1st year of classes should be very precise and specific down to the class number, weekly schedules, etc. The classes leading into the 2nd year a little less detailed. The classes from the 3rd to 5th year are even more generic.

    The fallacy with 5 Year Plans is people will make a plan, then file it away, and then look at it in five years to see how they did. In almost every one of those cases, the 5 Year Plan is worthless. So from that perspective, you are right. However, making a 5 Year Plan does not mean planning every 5 years. Good 5 Year Plans are reviewed and adjusted at least every year if not more often.

    Let’s take the college student. By their 2nd year they have decided on a major. They review their 5 Year Plan and adjust the classes going forward to match with their goals and objectives. Each semester, the student should be looking at their next semester classes in detail, while at the same time updating their overall five year plan.

    Let’s take it one step farther and emphasize that a 5 Year Plan is really a “living” tool that spans the next 5 years. The student in their 2nd year, declares a major. Their 5 Year Plan now covers that first year after graduation. They need to already be thinking about what they will do after college: what type of business do they want to start, will they work for a company, where will they work, what kinds of income do they want to make, etc.

    By the student’s 4th year, their 5 Year Plan now covers their last year of classes, graduation, and life after college. They may already be interning with companies they want to eventually work, or at least building their experiences and resume. They may start their job search.

    5 Year Plans do work. They work for me, they work for my son in his 5th year of college, and they work for my daughter in her 2nd year of college. The key is that any plan is a living tool. When used properly, that tool can lead to amazing results.

  • John

    If you use them as intention setters and brainstorming tools, awesome. Otherwise, yeah. It’s just how much weight you put into sticking to them.

  • Dan at Chiromatrix

    I agree with Gary, the five year plan works GREAT if you’re working on a PhD. A one year plan works great if you’re writing a screenplay or a novel. If you want to be a chiropractor, wouldn’t having a plan for your schooling, GPA, and internships be a good idea?