Flying on airplanes has recently become a great time to reflect for me. I do some of my best writing and thinking on the plane. I’m disconnected from the internet — and since I don’t enjoy watching movies on little screens — I’ll just pull up Quip on my laptop or my phone and start writing.

This holiday season, as I was flying back from my holidays in Costa Rica, I wrote down a “2020 Intentions” document with the biggest themes I wanted to work on in each area of my life and concrete ways that I could move forward on those themes. It was an exercise that I learned from a close friend who shared his 2020 goals document with me.

The impact of doing this 3-hour exercise was feeling clearer, more energized, and more excited about my year and what it’ll bring. I now also have an artifact that I can share with close friends and mentors and that I can revisit throughout the year to make sure my decisions about where to spend my energy are in alignment with what’s important to me. It was such an effective use of time that I’m excited to do it in subsequent years.

In this blog post, I’ll share the simple structure I used so that you can create your own “2020 Intentions” document.

Identify Your Core Values

Companies often come up with core values to guide their decision-making. The same is true for us in our own lives — coming up with your top 5 values can provide clarity around what’s important to you and where you want to be spending your energy.

To help identify your own core values, you can get started from this list of values from Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead, or you can come up with your own.

Over Christmas dinner, my family members each took 15 minutes to go through the list, picked their top 5 values, and shared them at the dinner table. It was a beautiful and connective activity to learn more about what mattered the most to each person. And it also allowed us to get curious and ask, “What makes this value important to you?”

The ones I came up, along with what each one meant to me, were:

1. Freedom — Expanding my capacity to follow my desires.
2. Connection — Relating to old and new friends in ever-deepening ways.
3. Adventure — Experiencing new things in life as fuel for growth and expansion.
4. Growth — Expanding my capacity to relate to the world.
5. Magic — Following desires to create moments that stretch my conception of what’s possible.

Five is an arbitrary number, but it’s small enough to remember, provides enough spaciousness to capture what’s truly important, and is well-constrained enough that you have to make some trade-offs about what’s important.

Write Down Your Intentions

With clarity around your values, you can move forward to capture your intentions for the year.

Pick your top-level categories that you want to focus on in your life. For example, you might have “Work,” “Self-Improvement,”“Relationships,” “Family,” and “Life Partnership / Dating” each as a separate category.

For each category, write down high-level, directional goals that you want to focus on. For each goal, write down 3-6 more specific subgoals.

An example under my Work category is:

Upgraded the branding for Co Leadership.

  • Contracted designer to create company logo (p.s. if you have leads, let me know!)
  • Contracted designer to redesign website and blog.
  • Implemented new website design.
  • Created THE place on the web for tech lead resources.

In the category of Family, I realized that I’ve always made up a story that because my vocabulary in Chinese is not nearly as expressive as my English, that I wouldn’t be able to connect as deeply with my parents as I could with my friends. I decided that 2020 would be my year of changing that belief. Here’s an example under my Family category:

Shown up as a leader in my immediate family and raised the bar for connection.

  • Translated my core emotional vocabulary into Chinese.
  • Translated a set of powerful question prompts into Chinese.
  • Shared emotional vocabulary cheat sheet with my family.
  • Used each family gathering as a container for creating deeper connection.

In guiding your choices of goals and subgoals, here are some prompts you can use:

  • What goals would be supportive of your core values?
  • What are some of your dreams — in work and in life?
  • What is important to you but scares you the most?
  • What goals help support other goals you might have?
  • What excites you the most and gives you the most energy right now?
  • What would feel really exciting to have made progress on in a year?

When writing down your intentions, here are some recommendations:

  • Write using positive, affirmational language — so that you’re focusing on things that you’re doing rather than not doing.
  • Write in the past tense.
  • When writing down your Work intentions, focus on what you want to do in your work, not what the company or the team wants. Most of the time at work, we’re already thinking in terms of team and company impact. This is a great opportunity to focus on yourself, which can create clarity in designing your role to meet your own aspirations.

Recruit Allies to Support and Champion You

Writing down your 2020 intentions will in of itself generate a lot of value. You gain clarity about what you want to focus your energy on in the next year.

You could stop there, but you can get even more value out of the exercise by sharing your intentions document with your allies — a set of close friends, coaches, or mentors that you trust. This can feel scary — you’re sharing about what’s most important to you — but the impact can be increased momentum, confidence, accountability, and guidance.

I shared mine with a set of close allies, and when I shared it with my coach, she gave me valuable feedback about things I was missing and areas where I might not have dreamed big enough. I left the interaction feeling more confident about my choices of where I want to spend my energy.

When sharing with allies, here are a few prompts you can use to solicit feedback:

  • What are your initial reactions? What’s surprising?
  • Based on what you know about me, what might be missing?
  • What areas might I not be dreaming big enough?
  • What areas might seem the most risky?
  • What resources (people, books, experiences, etc.) do you know of that might support my goals?

If you would like someone to hold you accountable, this is also a great time to ask.

Your 2020 Intentions give you a powerful North Star to guide your year and to kickstart your decade. That makes it a very high-leverage exercise to orient where you spend the rest of your time.

Happy writing!