It's one of those areas people either avoid because they are busy or do because they are procrastinating. Either way, it's a misused and under utilized tool. The thing is, planning is an incredibly effective tool when it comes to driving big change and accomplishing meaningful goals.
I'll be honest. I have fallen into both of the bad habits listed above. I'm a self-assessed dreamer and irrational optimist. Planning is both avoidance and therapy for me. But once I learned how to do it right, I watched my company take off. So let's dig in.
All plans start with a dream and simplify down into tasks you need to do today. Think of it like a big funnel. Dump your dream into the top, and out pops the next item for your to do list.
Where do you want to be in 5 years? Sure it's a cliche question, but it's also one with major life changing implications. You need a dream to have direction. You have to know what you are working towards. You have to have a cause, meaning, the why behind the reason you get up every day.
So...what does your life, or your work, or your department, or your company look like 5 years form now. Describe it. Get with your team and write the items on a board. Decide right now where you want to go over a long period of time.
Can you see it? Can you feel what it feels like to be there? Great. You're ready to move on to the vision.
If your dream is the ultimate destination, a vision is the road that leads you there. It's the map, your charted course taking you from dreamer to dream come true.
So ask yourself. In light of your 5 year dream, what has to be true in a year in order to accomplish your dream? Make a list. I like to start with everything I would love to accomplish, and then once I have that list, I edit it down to the things I need to accomplish. (Your final plan is as much about what you are going to not do as it is what you are going to do.)
Next, take a good honest assessment of where you are today. I like to use the Working, Broken, Missing, Confusing exercise (WBMC). Make a list of everything that fits into each category. Your plan will be to keep doing what's working, fix what's broken, create what's missing, and clarify what's confusing. Keep this tool handy, you will do it over and over again throughout your process.
So your dream is your destination. Your vision is your map. Milestones are the checkpoints that keep you on schedule. You will be taking your 2 lists from the vision stage (accomplishments and WBMC answers) to create your milestones.
First take your WBMC answers and select that top 12 items that need to be worked on in order to accomplish what you need to accomplish in the next year. Now edit down to 6. Finally edit down to 3. These final 3 items are what you are going to focus on for the next 3 months.
Do the same with the items you need to accomplish in the next year. Select top 12, 6, and then 3. We will break this down further in the next stage...goals. Keep in mind, you are only going to be setting milestones for 3 months out.
This is where the work comes into play. You should have a list of 6 items. 3 that need to be completed (accomplishments) and 3 that need to be worked on (WBMC) over the next 3 months.
In this stage, you are simply going to decide, what am I, or my team, going to accomplish in for each item by next week. For the accomplishment categories, I recommend breaking them down into 12 parts. If the accomplishment is to find 12 customers, you need to add one per week for the next 3 months.
Put a time down on your calendar to review your weekly progress. If you are working with a team. The whole team needs to be there. You should have each of the weekly tasks completed and then decide on the next weeks tasks. Repeat this for 12 weeks, and you will be on your way!
Finally, this is an ongoing process. After 3 months, you will go through all of this process again. Your dream will evolve. The vision will evolve. What's important will evolve. But...you'll be more focused on working on the important than you have ever been before.