Planning your new year with Arrows of Time

The arrival of a new year tends to focus our attention on what’s coming. People make resolutions, use the holiday season to take stock and decide where they want to go next, or treat January 1st as a turning point for their lives at work or home.

Here’s a tool I sometimes use, adapted from the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, where it’s called “Arrows of Time”. I shared it at the end of 2018 and I’ve added a little something extra for this year’s version.

To get started, you just need a piece of paper and something to write with.

Put the paper in landscape orientation, with the long sides at the top and bottom, and draw an arrow from the bottom left corner, pointing right. This represents the past.

Screenshot 2018-12-31 at 13.15.34

Now, around this arrow, answer these questions:

  • What will you still be dealing with in the new year?
  • What issues from the past can’t you get away from?
  • What isn’t finished yet from the year just gone?

When this is done, draw another arrow from the top right corner, pointing left. This represents the future.

Screenshot 2018-12-31 at 13.15.49

Now, around this arrow, answer these questions:

  • What do you know is coming in the new year?
  • What do you fear about the coming year?
  • What do you hope for?
  • What do you expect to happen?
  • What have you failed to prepare for in the new year?
  • What can’t you avoid about the year to come?

Between these two arrows lies your room to manoeuvre. In the space between them, draw a box, representing your capacity to act on what happens next.

Screenshot 2018-12-31 at 13.16.04

In the box, answer these questions:

  • What do you want to happen?
  • What can you plausibly achieve next year?
  • What actions should you take to meet these goals?
  • How will you know if you’ve been successful?
  • What should you do to prepare against unpleasant surprises, or outcomes you wish to avoid?
  • What can you do to be ready for happy accidents and unexpected opportunities next year?

This is just a quick, simple activity, but it helps you to start that planning conversation in a way that allows for turbulence and uncertainty – looking towards not just your objectives but the context in which you will need to make them happen.

Remember that the future is not just the ship that you are sailing, but the seas you will be sailing through: what strategists call the exogenous aspects of your situation.

One of the most important things to think about is what you are going to stop doing, in order to free up time, resources, and capacity to focus on what you think is most important.

So, when you’ve run through the “Arrows of Time” activity above, ask yourself this:

What am I going to stop doing in order to reach my goals?

What otherwise important, good, and worthwhile activity will I surrender, sacrifice, abandon, or ease off in order to achieve my priority?

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Your intent should be clear, compelling, and easy to articulate succinctly. Why not grab a piece of paper and sketch out where you’d like to head in the year to come?

You can see more about this approach in the Yoga for Futurists series on this blog – and check out last year’s Arrows of Time post here.

8 thoughts on “Planning your new year with Arrows of Time

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