“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin
Why am I so resistant to planning?!
I suppose, like most people, I’d rather be “doing” than planning. All that thinking. It doesn’t feel as rewarding as the instant satisfaction that comes from action: even if it’s answering and erasing emails.
And, yes, planning can be hard to do – documenting and prioritizing ideas. Estimating (aka guessing) how much time I need, versus how much time I have, to get work done can be tedious.
And, true confession time, because I see myself as a sort of free-wheeling over-achiever, writing down goals and planning them out, kills the spontaneity and introduces a level of accountability that can be anxiety making. It feels like a set-up for an annual performance review.
The worst – when I do put together a plan I feel good about, it’s out-of-date almost immediately. The sad truth: plans are just that – plans. And, like life, they change. It’s the nature of the beast.
So… why do I persist?
Well, when I first started my coaching practice, I didn’t plan. And, a big product launch for my first group program, in plain language, tanked. It bombed. No registrations. Nada. Crickets.
As the launch was circling the drain, I realized what I’d done wrong. I hadn’t planned. Oh, I was smart enough to plan the daily tasks – the tactics. I engaged a great team, but, I hadn’t adequately thought through the bigger picture, strategic chunks of work. I missed accommodating for a big risk: I’m not that well-known.
As a result, I hadn’t engaged people around me who are considerably better known, liked, and trusted than I am with (much) larger email lists who could have reached out to their audiences to vouch for and promote me. Now, facing disaster, it was too late in the timeline for them to effectively step in and bail me out.
Based on this experience, I realized planning and I had to come to terms – I had to find a way to get over my entrepreneurial ego and accountability anxiety.
My First Exercise In Planning
Here’s my secret (the jedi mind trick).
I sat quietly, closed my eyes, and pretended it was one year from today. I cast myself into the future and imagined I was having dinner with my best friend to celebrate my successes. I thought about what I’d tell her about my accomplishments. What had I achieved? How did it feel? What did I learn? What changes did I make to get the amazing results I was so proud of?
When I opened my eyes, I had more clarity and excitement about my goals for the coming year and the process for achieving them.
But that wasn’t my only discovery.
The imagining exercise changed the story I tell myself about the planning process. I stopped thinking, “Ugh – planning, shoot me now.” Instead, I began asking myself, “How can I make the planning process easy and fun?”
For me, easy and fun means focus.
First, and this step is super important, I describe the qualities of my ideal client. These are the only people I want to serve because they love what I do and I love working with them. It’s not to say, I don’t work with other people, but these are the people I actively seek out.
The 4-Step formula I use to describe my ideal clients works like this: “I help people who are [characteristic #1] and [characteristic #2] to achieve [immediate outcome #1] so that they can achieve [big outcome].
For example, in a massage therapy practice, this formula could become: “I help people who are [active in sports] and [have sustained a sports-related injury] to [return to health] so that they can [play competitive hockey again].” Another example could be: “I help women who are [35-45] with [chronic back pain] to [provide stretching/strengthening exercises] so that [they can enjoy the freedom that comes with living pain-free].”
Once I’ve defined who I’d love to work with, I think about what I need from them. For example, I love to work with people who are committed to doing the exercises I suggest, show up on time, happily pay my fee, and provide referrals.
Next, having identified my ideal client, I think about ways to reach out to them. And, of all the ways I identify, I focus on only 2-3 (instead of 5-6) Big Hairy Audacious Goals or opportunities that are exciting, inspiring, and challenging enough to carry me through the year.
If you love sports and you’d love to work with athletes who are challenged by sports injuries, you’re going to want to build relationships with people who work with them: coaches, trainers, and sport med doctors to establish your reputation and obtain referrals. You may even want to volunteer with sports teams to help players recover from, or mitigate injuries.
On the other hand, if your ideal clients are office workers who suffer from neck and lower back pain because they sit at desks all day working on computers, you may want to build relationships with corporate health and wellness coordinators and offer “lunch and learn” sessions or chair massages to build relationships with prospective clients.
Then, I identify what Brendon Burchard, a leading high-performance coach and best-selling author, calls the “needle movers” – the five big steps needed to move each goal forward. These five big moves, or chunks, can include many activities but they keep me from getting too lost in the details.
Making Big Moves
If one of the opportunities I identified was “relationship building”, my five steps might be: identify relationships (successful massage therapists, doctors/chiropractors, team coaches, corporate health and wellness coordinators); speak with key people; identify opportunities (volunteering or speaking engagements); create an offer (e.g. a free consultation); and, develop support materials (e.g. a website or a Facebook page where people could learn more about the benefits of massage therapy, how to select a reputable massage therapist, and get to know, like, and trust me).
For example, when Burchard wanted to produce a best-selling book, he chunked the project down into five steps: finish the book; cultivate an audience; get an agent; create an offer (e.g. an online promotion that could include a free webinar); and, develop a partnership-focused launch (i.e. engage people who are influencers with email lists to promote the book).
Planning Hack Alert! Research.
In Burchard’s case, he researched and interviewed authors to learn the process they followed to attain best-seller status for their books. As you can imagine, this helped him benefit from their learnings, avoid mistakes, and build his network. In my case, I find ways to research the level of interest my clients have in the product(s) I’m considering launching to support each Big. Hairy. Audacious. Goal.
Flexibility is the last thing I now build into my planning process because… life happens. Once I decide on my chunks or my “needle-moving” five steps, I plan the first 3 months of my year carefully and I review how I’m doing each week so I can make adjustments. The rest of the year is loosely planned. I know what “chunk” – or big accomplishment – I want to focus on or complete every 3 months but the daily and weekly tasks remain to be fleshed out.
This level of flexibility is important.
I think many people get frustrated with planning because they try to get too detailed too quickly. They spend a lot of time – and do an amazing job – plotting out every little task. Then, circumstances change. They get overwhelmed at work, a task takes longer than anticipated and they get discouraged.
I leave room in my plan to “breathe”.
For example, Mondays are research and writing days. I set aside Friday or Sunday afternoons to reflect and readjust. I’ve learned to accept that planning is a fluid, ongoing process. Once you decide where you’re going, it requires a series of adjustments to stay on track – and that’s ok.
A final big change – I don’t check email (or Facebook) first thing in the morning anymore. Instead, I take a close look at my day and take Burchard’s “needle-moving” approach one step further by identifying the “needle-moving” activities that need to happen. Is there someone I need to call? An article I must complete? In this way, my annual Big Hairy Audacious Goals get “baked in” to daily tasks, reviewed weekly, and assessed quarterly. Planning has become an ongoing review rather than a one-shot horror show that only takes place once a year – or under duress. And, it’s more engaging because it’s designed to be easy and fun.