How to make a plan that works (before Christmas)

by Kate on December 15, 2009

“What are you doing this month to get January off to a fast and solid start?”

This question (posted on Twitter) caught my attention: it pushes me to get past being busy and instead get focused and proactive. Not easy, especially at this time of year when we often hear and say things like:

“I’m finishing projects and getting my desk clear ahead of the holiday.”
“I can’t think about the new year, I’m too busy getting through December.”
“Yes, I want to look into [insert your ‘should’ of choice] in the New Year.”

All of which are understandable, but tend to leave us facing a blank sheet when we come back to work: which makes it easy to slip into familiar habits even though we have every intention of doing things different. How can we avoid this?

How to avoid a blank sheet problem in the New Year: Make a plan

My thoughts went to planning as a way to avoid the blank sheet problem. Afterall, that’s the obvious solution. Plans help us get things done.

Yet despite the grim warning: “Fail to plan and you plan to fail”, lots of people struggle with this. How come?  Well, even without a plan, mostly we don’t fail – at least not with a capital ‘F’. Perhaps we don’t quite achieve what we hoped for, but generally the wheels keep turning.

Of course ,we know the best way to get clear on where we are heading and what must be done to get there is to make a plan and write it down.

If it’s such a good thing, why does it sometimes seem hard?

Why does planning seems like such a struggle?

Part of the problem is a lot of plans are over-engineered: the equivalent of using NASA’s process for planning a voyage to Mars to plan a drive from Sydney to the Gold Coast.

Then there’s the thought that planning takes a lot of time, and there really isn’t that much time available. So we get busy with what needs to be done in a day and promise ourselves we’ll get to the plan when we have time.

Result? At best the business bucket list from which we pick things to do, at worst we just do stuff. Business goes on, but this approach can mean the goals are out of focus … and without focus there’s less possibility of achieving them. It’s not impossible, but we’re relying on luck.

All of which means that many businesses do okay, but not as well as the owner would like or initially expected.

This is a pity, because the right type of planning – followed by action – really can help build a more profitable and more rewarding  business.

A plan you CAN do and act on before Christmas

I started to think about how to create a plan for 2010 using whatever time could be made available before 25th December. I’ve pulled some of the most important questions from plans I’ve seen work in the past to create something that should be do-able in a couple of hours.

The goal is to take action this month that will get January off to a fast and solid start. We want action to improve the business; planning is simply part of the how.

By the end of the process you’ll have a few sheets of paper on which you’ve written where you’re heading, how you’ll get there, and what you’ll do next.

Example: let’s say you realise you need a cash flow forecast. This is not a quick thing, so you make it a January project and take the action this month to call your accountant and set up a time to do it.

Step 1: Schedule a meeting

We’re only looking for a couple of hours over the next 3 days. It’s simply not possible to imagine you can’t find two hours for something important, so go ahead now and decide when.

Step 2: Show up at the appointed time

Bring whatever you need for the meeting to be effective (coffee, folder, timer, pen, notebook etc) and do what’s needed to make the time interruption free.

Step 3: Have the meeting

During which you answer three questions:

  • What significant business issues need attention?
  • What are our financial goals for the year, and for each month?
  • What actions or projects can we do that could help us address the issues or get us to our goals?

Next … identify which projects to get underway this month or next then write down the next step to be taken, who will do it and by when.

Now … Schedule and DO this month’s actions and prepare for what’s to be done next month.

I hope you’ll give this a go. Please pop back and share what you got done before 25th December that will give you a fast start in 2010.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate Groom December 19, 2009 at 12:29 pm

John and Brad … Thanks for your encouragement, and please pop back for more nudges in 2010.

2 Kate Groom December 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Hi Robin, That’s a great addition to the process and a way to create momentum that helps the plan immediately become a living thing. Thank you for joining the conversation.

3 Kate Groom December 19, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Hi Krista, and …. Wow! Well done for making that commitment :)

4 Brad McAuley December 19, 2009 at 11:59 am

Thank you Kate. I really appreciate the info you give us….I always find it insightful and useful….

5 Krista Hamilton December 18, 2009 at 4:47 am

Thanks Kate – I never thought of it this way & always tried to leave my desk ‘empty’ at the end of the year (or even the end of the day). I’ve set a meeting with myself to get a plan together for January. I already have 2 shoulds that I’m going to put on it!


6 John Kelderman December 16, 2009 at 1:36 am

Good advise Kate, You`ve applied the “kiss method” which makes it simple, quick, yet effective .
thanks for the little push.
John K

7 Robin Dickinson December 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Thanks, Kate. Excellent advice. I especially like call to set up and follow-through with a meeting.

To Step 3, I also like to add “What’s an action we can take right now to get started?” – just as a way of bridging the gap between planning and implementation.

Best to you, Robin

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