To Plan Or Not To Plan

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”, I never thought much of this overly used interview question, and with a global pandemic that ridiculed all plans, this question endured a good share of well-deserved memes. Of course, the logic behind mocking this question is not to undermine planning, but rather the efficiency of planning within everchanging conditions that now include a global pandemic, and begs the question: 

Is planning overrated?

Over the last few years, there have been growing arguments and supporting evidence that start-ups can run without a business plan. For many entrepreneurs, a business plan is merely a “document” imposed by banks and investors. In established enterprises or even on a personal level, getting stuck in the quicksand of planning is also common. Planning costs time and energy that may exceed ROI. Excessive planning can demolish motivation and lose relevance to goals.

Yet planning has an extended heritage of success across history and continues to be referred to as the top practices and habits of successful businesses and people. Businesses that invest in developing better business planning are more likely to succeed than those leading with courage, guesswork and hope.

The most obvious value of planning is documenting and agreeing on the What, When, Who and How to reach the Why. In my experience, the real value of planning exceeds the generated plan(s); rather, it is in the very exercise of planning itself. But how we practice planning and how we think of it is so crucial to get the most out of this ancient art and avoid common trouble spots.

Sharing concepts learned through @me workshops

Why is planning itself valuable or, at the personal level, how does it answer the question of “What’s In It For Me? Engaging in a planning process provides a unique opportunity to:

  • Develop an objective perspective of your capabilities as a business, individual or as a team.
  • Realize and generate new information and insights about your business
  • Challenge and change your goal, which can lead to better directions or the development of new business or personal ideas.
  • Gain acumen – the essence of planning is thinking and seeing the big picture, which can only grow in practice.
  • Get better at it – whether you believe in the importance of plans or see it as an invincible cost, the more you do it the easier and more efficient it becomes.

How can you make it more relevant and less stressful?

Your perceptions are your realty. How you approach planning changes what you expect from it and shapes your experience:

  • A plan is an idea, not reality: Plans, by definition, are a theoretical approach to problem solving. Facts and development of your environments will always supersede your assumptions and need to be periodically checked and included.
  • A plan is a mean not an end: Whether you are good in planning, enjoy doing it, or invest time and energy, having a plan is not your goal. Neither is following it. Your goal is your goal.
  • A plan is a fee not a fine nor an asset: Planning costs time and energy. Think of it as a fee you pay to move forward. At the same time, do not think of replanning as a fine. It helps to remind yourself that plans that don’t age well don’t have any resale value.
  • Over-commitment is just as dangerous than under-commitment: Don’t fall in love with your plan. Blind spots, new players and ambiguities are part of the game. Listen carefully and be open to change.
  • A good plan is a dead plan: Your plans can be neat, smart, based on your traits, aligned to your goals, and a genuine work of art; yet it is only good when executed and marked as done. Actions will always speak louder than words.
  • Be in the moment: Be prepared to improvise when needed.

Implement a plan that make sense and motivate you

There are many great resources for how to plan. Whatever methodology you follow, it’s valuable to include the following somewhere in your planning:

Aim for the right goals. Is the goal well defined (SMART). Goals that are not Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely are black holes. Is it “your” goal? Make sure you know how and why this goal is important to you or your business at this moment in time. Is it others’ goal? If so, involve anyone who may hinder, reinforce or be affected by your goal.

Plan for milestones not goals. Break down your ultimate goal into milestones and plan for them. Don’t bit off more than you can chew.

Prioritize your quick wins. First impressions never get a second chance. Quick-wins secures the buy-in for you and your team.

Plan sprints not marathons. Work on quick, short actions rather than extended activities that can be heavy on tracking and communicating.

Plan for Reflection. Don’t settle for “check if we are still on plan”. Make sure your plan includes a “check if this is still the plan”.

Celebrate. Humans thrive on feelings and emotions. If you don’t acknowledge achievements and invite excitement and satisfaction, it’s inevitable that boredom and disappointment will follow.

Avoid planning fallacies

These five misconceptions can potentially harm your planning or commitment efforts.

  • Planning for a super you: Planning for a version of you that is always optimistic, highly committed, and never gets tired, bored or frustrated. To avoid this, start with more manageable commitments and reflect on previous plans to know your triggers.
  • Planning fallacy: We commonly tend to be over-optimistic when allocating time to accomplish a task. Instead, set two time-frames for any task – an optimum one and an average one. If they are too close, try again.
  • “Tomorrow will be a different”: A day is just another 24 hours. There is no significance in “tomorrow”, Mondays or beginning of the month, year, or season. The best time for a due date is now.
  • The high probability of low probability: These are the common unfortunate events that we are aware of but expect them to happen to others…never to us. Reviewing your plans with others can help you see these blind spots, allowing you to add in a buffer time so you can be more objective about the risks you take.
  • Planning for others: Your perceptions may be your reality, but they are not the reality of others. A plan that includes others requires an established rapport and active listening to know their “what’s in it for me” logic, commitment and perceptions.

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