A good friend called recently, eager to tell me he was now less than 12 weeks from retiring, having given his employer three months’ notice a few days earlier.

To say he was enthusiastic regarding the prospect of ditching the commute between Birmingham and Southampton, spending four nights a week away from his family in the process, would be a gross understatement. Yet beyond playing more golf, my mate’s plans for retirement were a tad sketchy to say the least.

I’ve known Don for almost 40 years. He’s fortunate to be in a position to take early retirement. Most blokes his age (60) face a minimum of a further six years at the coalface, though many are equally guilty of leaving their similarly quirky version of retirement planning to the last minute.

Yet like many aspects of personal finance, it’s never too early to start drafting ideas for the time when you can put your feet up and relax. Delay only adds to the volume of work involved in producing a realistic plan.

The last sentence is not meant to discourage younger people who may read it and believe they need to spend hours every week focusing on how their financial situation might look three decades from now. On the contrary, a modicum of planning now, likely to involve reference to future ambitions and current career, can save precious time, while giving proposals, strategies and suggestions time to come to fruition. So, where to begin?

People in late middle age have either already assembled or are building what could be called a personal balance sheet, plus a basic profit and loss account (P&L), where salary, perhaps some rental income, a smidgeon of interest and dividends generated from shares or mutual funds can be recorded. There might even be a realistic expectation of a future inheritance. We’re remarkably similar in our desire to use our portfolio of assets efficiently and effectively, not least because we cannot take one penny of our wealth with us.

Accordingly, how we turn a series of haphazardly acquired assets into something more akin to an investment portfolio will depend upon, amongst other things, our future ambitions.

Ken Carter of personal finance website Moneymapp.com, says: “Whatever our longer-term ambitions, almost everyone possesses the two essential ingredients to create a more coherent investment portfolio. First, a series of financial needs to meet. And second, the assets which must be deployed as efficiently as possible to satisfy those needs.”

Mindful of our long-term needs and the understandable limitations of our assets, we must start by considering the portfolio’s objectives, essentially the basis of current and future planning.

Some people may believe it doesn’t apply to them, but it does. Why? Well, in much the same way as you wouldn’t run any form of commercial enterprise without reference to a business plan, if you race towards retirement intent on winging it, you have nothing against which to measure your portfolio’s success or failure.

To make matters more structured, it pays to consider three particular aspects of any investment portfolio. First, your time horizon –  i.e. when you like to load up your rucksack and go travelling, or settle down and commit to writing that book.

Second, consider the amount of risk you’re prepared to take to generate the level of reward you require. Do you want to fly business class and luxuriate for a week at the Waikiki Parc Hotel in Honolulu or would you prefer something more modest?

Third, consider your future income requirements. Do you wish to live like royalty in retirement, or are you prepared to sacrifice some luxury to ensure your assets do not expire before you do?

These are just some of the preliminary steps almost everyone should take on the road to comprehensive retirement planning. Calling time on work may seem a good way off, but for those who fancy a little more than three games of golf a week when they do retire – however attractive that may appear to those currently with their noses to the grindstone – there’s enormous merit in taking time to plan for what could be three or more decades of your life.

For more financial advice, check out Peter Sharkey’s regular blog, The Week In Numbers.

This column is for general information only and cannot be relied on as financial advice for individuals. Consult your professional adviser.