I purchased a new software application this week. It was a very simple task management tool. However, it is already dramatically improving my productivity. The product takes all of your activities, organizes them by categories and then schedules them for you. Each day it helps you focus on your key deliverables so that you don’t miss your deadlines.
As I used the tool this week, it reminded me the value of planning. I probably have 50-60 tasks plugged into my new task-management application already. This is far more than I can keep organized in my head. However, now I have a strategy and a plan to complete each one of them. Regardless of your goal, the key to success is in the plan. Whether you are trying to lose weight, train for a marathon, find a new job, prepare for retirement, launch a new product line or write a blog – the most important step is the planning process.
The extent of the plan will vary, but you need one for each activity. When I write a blog, I simply take note of the due date, the topic, and the suggested research necessary – typically less than a page. You could argue that this isn’t much of a plan. However, it covers the necessary actions. For me, any more of an extensive plan would be overkill. However, if I am building a trade show plan, the details could be significant (e.g., sponsorship details, booth rentals, signage, sales collateral, booth duty schedules, shipping, airline flights, hotels, meetings, press briefings, budgets, etc.). A typical trade show plan could be 50 pages long. Both of these plans are equally important and equally effective.
My grandfather first explained the planning process to me when I was about 7 years old. Grandpa Joe was a great fisherman from Minnesota and as a young lad, I found him larger than life. We were planning to go fishing and he asked me if I was prepared. With all the enthusiasm in the world, I said, “Sure! I have my rod and tackle box. Let’s go!” He then proceeded to ask me a series of well thought out questions. “What type of fish are we going after? Are we lake fishing or river fishing? What time of day are we fishing? What is the weather like?” He explained to me that without a plan, we will have the wrong tackle, bait, clothes, and will certainly come home without any fish. He taught me a valuable lesson and started the wheels turning in a 7-year-old boy. He was a wise old man and taught me many life-lessons.
I have worked with many people who do not believe in plans. For some people this works fine. For others they fail miserably. I fall into the second category. I need to document the goals, objectives, strategy and tactics. I have found this valuable for many reasons, including:
- The process of creating the plan will organize your thoughts and help you determine whether the goal is achievable or not.
- Proper plans will focus your energy on the goals, rather than on distracting activities.
- Plans can be used to set proper expectations within an organization. Everyone will understand resource requirements, schedules, budgets – and not be surprised halfway into the process.
- Documented plans will communicate a clear strategy to the larger team and focus them in the right direction.
- Plans can be reused. Next year when you attend the same trade show, you can dust off the plan and save yourself a lot of work. You will also remember what worked and – more importantly – what didn’t work.
Throughout my career, I have created many plans and have then turned many of them into templates that I reuse each time I need to implement a similar process. I surprise people sometimes when we agree to begin a project and I show up with a complete plan an hour later. There is no great secret to the process. I simply pull up a prior plan or template and update it with the appropriate data.
Never underestimate the value of planning. Great achievements can be accomplished with less effort than you think if you establish clear goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.
What is it that you want to achieve?
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