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How Can You Improve Your Annual Planning?
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lisa Robbin Young.
My oldest child spent more than two years living in an outdoor wilderness camp for boys with emotional problems. The one mantra drilled into us, parents and campers alike, was the one thing the boys did every day...
“Plan. Do. Evaluate.”
Every morning, the boys assembled to make their group plan. Before breakfasts or showers, each group of campers would collaborate on the question, “What are we going to do today?"
As the boys shared their ideas, hiking, boating, fishing, and swimming turned out to be the most popular activities. No surprise there — they were fun! But things like cooking, cleaning, and finishing daily chores needed to be done, too. Group leaders would curate the campers’ wish list, making sure it included the must-do activities of the day alongside the more exciting activities.
Then, they’d go about doing them.
Some days went off without a hitch. Other times, conflicts arose. Any time they did, the group would stop, resolve the problem, and deal with the consequences. For example, if they couldn’t resolve an issue quickly, they missed out on the fun activities.
The boys learned a lot through that process, but the real magic happened at the campfire. Every night, the campers gathered to reflect on what went well during the day and what lessons they learned so that they could make better choices the next day. The daily evaluation taught the kids a couple of things.
First, it showed them that actions have consequences.
Second, it taught them that every activity — and problem — was an opportunity for growth.
Third, it helped them develop an ability to make better plans.
There was a side benefit to all this camp activity: I learned how to make better plans, too.
I already knew the value of creating and sticking with an annual plan. I even understood the importance of evaluating results and refining plans, so much so that I developed my own annual goal prioritizing process. But once I saw the camp’s approach to planning, I realized my business planning lacked an important element.
Why Annual Plans Aren’t Enough
Namely, I was missing out on milestones, those checkpoints that help you and me re-evaluate our plans along the way. President Eisenhower put the idea this way:
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
If you stopped listening somewhere after “plans are worthless,” you’re not alone. Chaotic creatives typically eschew plans, schedules, and deadlines. Linear creatives, by contrast, ardently defend their plans to such a point that any surprise blessings that come along during the year seem more like hindrances rather than opportunities.
No matter which side of the creative you land on, annual plans will only take you so far. There’s just too much you don’t know about the year ahead until you’re in it. I mean, take a look at what’s already happened this year that you didn’t have in your plan. Nobody starts the year saying, “Hey, I think I’ll aim for seven figures this year and get diagnosed with cancer in May. Then, I’ll spend the rest of the year juggling my life and work to hit my seven-figure goal.”
No! We make our annual plans, but they go off the rails all the time. It would be nice if everything always went according to plan, but you’ve probably got better odds of winning the lottery. Emergencies happen. If you don’t believe me, listen to what Dave Ramsey has to say:
“Emergencies happen; it’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of ‘when’.”
And yet, making those plans, despite how often they fall apart, is an invaluable tool. They give us something to shoot for. The trick, though, is to not let them become the end-all, be-all. That seems obvious to me now, but I didn’t get it in the beginning. I thought you made an annual plan and worked hard all year to make it happen. If you didn’t hit your goal, you figured out what happened and tried harder the next year.
Sometimes that approach works. But milestones are much more effective. With them, you can easily break an annual plan into quarterly milestones. Now you have a progress bar instead of an annual evaluation. What do I mean by all that? Let’s say, as an example, I want to book an average of one speaking gig each month. That means I need to book three each quarter to stay on track with my goal.
How to Improve on Annual Goals with the Semi-Annual Plan
Okay, so quarterly milestones help with goals, especially ones tied to specific action steps. But what about more complicated goals? With these sorts of goals, I recommend the semi-annual planning approach.
Semi-annual plans give you larger windows of evaluation, forward and backward. While quarterly reviews and plans look at the previous and upcoming quarter, semi-annual planning opens up your perspective. (Tweet this.) It helps you right-size your expectations over the remainder of the year.
In many respects, it’s a stripped-down version of your annual planning process but a bit beefier than your quarterly planning one. Condensed even further: The semi-annual plan is a version of my son’s “plan, do, evaluate.”
When working with clients, I lead them through this semi-annual planning approach at the end of June:
Gather your data. What results have you accumulated so far this year? What are your results from this timeframe last year? Save judgement for later. Right now, just collect the data.
Celebrate your wins. What improvements or achievements have you made in the first half of the year? This timeframe last year? Did you have any surprise blessings? Take a moment to celebrate…especially if you’re a fusion creative.
Evaluate where your plan is off the rails. What isn’t happening according to plan? Why or why not? The 5 Whys Technique can be useful in pinpointing the root cause of some issues. Sometimes personal issues can foil the best-laid plans. When that happens, show yourself some compassion. This is a judgment-free zone!
Right-size your plans. Do you have the bandwidth to hit all your goals this year, or do you need to make some adjustments? Have new opportunities cropped up that are more important than your original plans? Now is the time to decide what stays in the plan and what needs to be tabled or adjusted for the remainder of the year.
Calendar it! I always tell my clients, “If it’s not scheduled, it’s stressful.” As you break your goals down into quarterly, monthly, and daily action steps, get them on the calendar. The sooner you start executing, the faster you’ll see results.
Celebrate! You completed your semi-annual planning for the year!
There’s nothing extraordinary about a semi-annual plan. It’s all a matter of frequency. Having a larger viewfinder to look through helps you clarify your vision and move forward with plans. And you’ve done the planning. Now you just need to “do” and “evaluate” every six months.
After your review your plans for the year, you need a place to put everything. Pick-up our 6-month, undated Momentum Planner to stay organized 2-quarters at a time and to keep your projects on-track.