Failing to plan effectively is one of the biggest roadblocks to success for most businesses I work with. Here’s how you can get better at it.
I think everyone knows that planning ahead is a better course of action than not planning ahead.
Yet most businesses I know don’t plan ahead very well. Why?
There are a few possibilities:
a.) Maybe they don’t know how.
b.) It hurts a bit. That is, it takes effort and can give you a brain ache
c.) Planning forces you to confront issues and choose priorities now, today.
By contrast, not planning lets you exist in a twilight zone of denial and delusion. I know that might sound a bit harsh, but I used to live there. I can speak with authority on this subject. And I see many clients I work with living there, too.
Not planning allows you to kid yourself that you can get it all done.
Not planning allows you to kick decisions down the road, not by choice, but by accident.
Neither of these steps is likely to lead to an optimal outcome for you and your business.
I think the easiest example to show this truth in action is when I plan my day.
Every morning I take 30 mins over a coffee to try and plan out my day. Most things I’m going to do for the day, the big stuff, is already in my diary.
Then I work out how long I’ve actually got free to deal with my to do list, in and around my existing commitments.
Now I plan what tasks I’ll get done today, and which tasks I’ll bump until tomorrow or further down the road. Are there any tasks I can delegate? If so, I delegate those to my team.
For any tasks that I am doing today, I allocate time in my diary. I estimate how long each task will take, allowing a bit of extra time for the unexpected, and try to put it all in. Sometimes it fits in the first attempt, but often it doesn’t.
Now the hard part.
I’ve learned that if it won’t work in the planning, it won’t work in the execution. If it won’t all fit in the diary in the time I have available today, I have to defer or delete some of the tasks.
This is the step that takes effort and discipline. Even after years of doing this, I still don’t want to accept that it won’t fit in and that I can’t get it all done today.
I’ve tried not making these trade-offs and decisions to defer some tasks to another day. It never works. It only gets me into trouble. And it gets you into trouble, too.
As the day progresses, everything gets a little behind schedule and you can find yourself chasing your tail and feeling a bit stressed. That’s not very enjoyable and you can also become a grumpy pain in the backside for everyone else around you. Not nice.
I think you can see and understand how this can happen to your day. We’ve all been there.
It Happens In Other Places Too
However, the same problems occur when you don’t plan out your week properly in advance. By not looking at how much you actually have on your plate, and not being honest about what’s possible that week, you can run into the same problems I outlined above.
The same applies to each quarter and each year. Failing to plan has consequences. But because the consequences only come up somewhere in the future, it’s easy to kid ourselves that we’ve got it under control.
Steps You Can Take
Here’s how you can stop the delusion; Beware of the four to do lists.
I’ve discovered that to dos hide in four places:
My diary has a load of pre-existing commitments in it, as does yours.
However, if I’m not careful I’ll stick something in my diary that’s actually a to do. It’s not yet a commitment.
Don’t use your diary as a to do list. If something is a to do, get it into your master list of to dos so you can see them all in one place. Only have in your diary absolute commitments that must be done, with specific time set aside.
Before I developed my daily habit of running a zero email inbox, I used to have over a hundred emails lurking in there.
My rationale was that I’d leave them there so I wouldn’t forget them. As you can imagine, this only partially worked (i.e. it didn’t).
Once an email disappears from the front page, the chance of it being missed, rises exponentially. Also, I now don’t have visibility of all my to dos. Failing to add the tasks contained in my emails into my master to do list, supported my delusion that I was on top of everything. I see this with my clients as well.
To do list
I also have a proper to do list. I use a tool called Wrike so I can pass jobs around to multiple people in my business.
The to do list is the correct place for tasks to live.
Weekly leadership meeting to dos
Before I became properly organised, the final area that sometimes hid a few tasks, was the to do list from our weekly leadership team meetings.
And these to dos are important, because they help us solve issues, move things forward, and they have to be done by next week’s meeting. So forgetting them is a big no no.
One To Do List
You have to get every single to do into one master list so you have visibility about how much there is to get done. Without this you can’t truly be in control of your business.
In almost every business I work with, this lack of visibility contributes to the delusion that everything is almost under control. Even when the evidence to the contrary (a too busy business) is staring you in the face.
Try it this week. Get every to do onto one master list.
It’s very confronting the first time you sort this out, because you see for the first time how much is actually on your plate. But only by seeing things as they are, can you then take steps to deal with the issue effectively.
Plan, Execute, Review, Learn, Repeat
By planning, executing, reviewing how you went, learning from your mistakes, and then circling around to do it all again, you get better at it.
If you can become a master of planning you can get things moving faster. You need to feel like you are making progress. Deep down we all know that this is a 20-year journey. But as long as we can see progress, week to week, month to month and quarter to quarter, we can maintain the enthusiasm.
It’s when we feel like we’re walking through treacle and not getting anywhere, that we can start to feel frustrated.
Planning is the secret to getting off the treadmill and loving your business again.
Give it a try.
Let me know how you go.