The Untold Secret of Effective Business Planning

As the year winds to a close, I’m sure right about now you’re coming to grips with the things you will not be getting done this year. If you’re a planner, you’re looking at the plans you made for 2014 and putting a few projects out of their misery (they’ve languished far too long already with too-little attention paid to them.)

If you’re not a planner, you’re probably staring at your hands, thinking you were going to be so much further along by now. (People who aren’t planners tend to be much more prone to this expectations-results gap because they lack the checks and balances inherent in a good planning process.)

It’s very normal not to get everything you wanted done. Priorities shift, new opportunities emerge and let’s face it– nobody is that good at anticipating their capacity.

A couple of years ago I released a product called Your Next 6 Months (Forever). It wasn’t just a planning product. It was actually the system that I myself use to coordinate my business planning. First of all, I want to make sure that I know where I’m going, so there’s a lot of introspection about what I really want for myself, both personally and from business perspective. Then I figure out what it will take for me to get there. Working backwards, I plan projects that will move me towards my target future.

And that’s where most planning stops, which drives me crazy. Tell me, have you ever had even one week go exactly according to plan? Ticked all the boxes and correctly anticipated every eventuality? Because I sure never have.

So a good portion of Your Next 6 Months (Forever) addresses the need to update your battle plans.

No Plan, However Good, Survives Engagement With the Enemy

As Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless. But planning is priceless.” Without a plan, you just kind of… float. Like a jellyfish, you could theoretically propel yourself in a conscious manner, but in truth you are much more likely to just do whatever seems most pressing at the moment.

Sometimes this can be just fine. Sometimes important things are on fire, or you’ve gotten an intense burst of inspiration that you want to ride. But it’s one thing to choose to do that, and another to stumble into it because it’s the path of least resistance.

It doesn’t seem like it would be a difficult thing to just change your plans consciously. But it’s actually fairly difficult. Why? Because planning is hard, a real mental effort. Crossfit for your brain, you might say. And your brain doesn’t like working itself to the puking stage, so it’s going to pretend like you’ve got it all figured out. It’s going to pretend like this change (whatever happened) doesn’t actually change anything. Or it’s going to tell you that things are moving too fast for you to know what’s going to change. So you should put off planning for now.

So things don’t go according to plan one week. Then they don’t go according to plan the next week. Then the third week. And by that point, your plan is in such a shambles that your brain whispers “Might as well just start a new one… later.” Considering how much mental effort went into that initial plan, it’s extremely demoralizing to toss it out and start new.

Why Do Plans Have the Lifespan of a Fruit Fly?

There are actually only a couple of reasons that plans unravel. The problem lies in the fact that we are not so good at anticipating reality in all its complexity.

The first thing we don’t anticipate is new ideas. Of course if we could anticipate ideas they wouldn’t be new, but even if we could, it’s hard to overcome the magnetic pull of an exciting new idea. After all, that idea might be better than the one I’m currently pursuing, so I owe it to myself to check it out. Thoroughly.

Worse than ideas are opportunities. Because ideas can usually be back-burnered, but opportunities usually come with a time constraint. So we feel even more pressured to give them our attention and throw the plan out the window.

The second way that plans fail is because miscalculating time allowances has a telescoping effect. Things frequently take longer than you thought. But they rarely take less time. So when you have a bunch of deadlines that all rely on say, one person to execute them, any single miscalculation has a cascade effect.

This is why lots of people won’t plan. Because it feel so pointless to work so much stuff out in advance only to have it collapse like a house of cards.

I don’t know why most planning systems don’t address these obstacles– they aren’t just common, they’re ubiquitous. So here are the strategies I teach clients to combat the weaknesses of a plan.

Always Be Considering (The Plan)

If planning is crossfit for your brain, it makes sense not to do it once in a blue moon– that’s only going to make it harder, and you’re going to dread it with more fervor every time. So instead of rarely planning, think about how you can always be planning.

Here’s the deal about plans; any action you take either moves you towards your goals or away from them. This is actually a well-know military technique. Even though the battle plan will have a lot of moving parts, above all of those is something called “Commander’s Intent.”

The CI is the bottom line goal of the action. This means that when the plan goes sideways, you have a unified intention to guide your activity. Let’s give an example.

Let’s say that your business plan involves all the usual bells and whistles; guest posting, a couple of launches, reminders of your services (if you don’t have a ‘coaching-and-services’ business, please insert the typical business activities of your choice.)

But above that, you have an over-arching goal. What’s that goal? That depends on your needs. But here are some common ones:

  • Increase business revenue
  • Establish or raise market awareness of your brand
  • Increase reach or influence
  • Increase loyalty of your customer base
  • Increase conversions of qualified traffic

Probably you’re thinking “I’ll have one of everything, please.” But you can’t. Some of the things you would do to achieve one goal would automatically preclude other goals. For instance, if you want to increase your reach, you probably won’t be too choosy about where you guest post (within reason). But if you want to increase your revenues, you would probably concentrate on activities amongst people who are already familiar with you.

Whatever your plan is, you’re going to have an end-game for it. The mere act of identifying your Commander’s Intent is going to help you keep on track when new opportunities occur. You can not only quickly identify whether they match the CI, you can use the CI to decide whether they are a better fit than your initial plan was– that’s what you need to know about new ideas, isn’t it?

Not only will you spend less time down rabbit holes, you have a bulletproof way to decide whether or not a good idea works for you at this time.

Tune in next week for Part Two to dig deeper into the second reason why planning doesn’t stick. In the meantime, can tell me your overarching goal?

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