How many times have you sat down and made a plan, only to never return to it? If you’ve done this, you’ve missed some of the best benefits of the planning process.
Most of us have a before-action orientation to planning; i.e., planning is something you do before you start the work or activity. While it’s true that the planning process is great for ensuring that you get off to a great start, the true benefit of a plan is that it helps you make sure you stay on the right track. Just as it’s easy to start moving with no clear destination, it’s easy to get caught up in projects and lose sight of where you were trying to go in the first place. Both scenarios have the same outcome: a heaping plate of wasted time and effort, with two side dishes of frustration and demotivation.
The fact that reviewing your plans keeps you on track is the most obvious reason why it’s good to review your plans. Here are a few others:
1. Reviewing your plans helps limit decision fatigue
A well-done plan helps you limit decision fatigue because a plan is a set of pre-made decisions. Thus, it’s both a product of the most taxing thing we have to do and it helps us not have to do it all over again.
For instance, planning at broader levels of perspective enables us to not have to do so much decision-work at more narrow levels of perspective. If you set three big goals for the year, you already know that sometime during the quarters to follow, you need to be working towards those goals. You also know that during the months, you need to be working towards those quarterly goals. And so on and so forth, until you know that today’s actions are moving you toward those three big goals. (Yes, this is baked right into our Digital Momentum Planner Pack. The Yearly Momentum Planner and Quarterly Momentum Planner that come with the premium set help you work down from the year.)
Many people don’t think of it this way, but scheduling appointments is also a planning activity. An appointment at 3pm removes the decision about what you’re going to do at 3pm, unless, of course, it’s you telling yourself you’re going to do something at 3pm. In those cases, most people start the decision process all over again, whereas when it comes to meeting with other people, we don’t start the process all over again. Compare “Hey Pam, I know we had a 3pm today, but I decided that I want to do something else right now” to “I have on my calendar that I’m going to work out right now, but I’d rather process email.” (Or maybe that’s just me.)
We all are presented with too many decisions every day; there’s no sense in doing the decision-work to make a plan and not use it.
2. Reviewing your plans helps reveal assumptions that need to be adjusted
Plans rest upon assumptions, whether you articulate those assumptions or not. Not having a plan rests upon many assumptions, with the most prominent one being that you don’t need a plan.
For instance, setting a goal of finishing Project X by the end of the month assumes that finishing Project X by the end of the month is possible. Any plan that you make to accomplish that goal rests upon that goal. One way of looking at plans is that they help us make our assumptions true — we generally are capable of doing more than we think we can do but just don’t focus our resources effectively. Plans help you do that.
When people talk of unrealistic goals and plans, largely what they mean is that the optimist’s or deluded’s assumptions about the way the world works don’t match reality. The entrepreneur who starts a business with the goal of making a million dollars in their first year usually hasn’t done sufficient research or doesn’t have the experience to know that it takes a while to build up a market and production force to do that. There are outliers, of course, and it is possible; this goal rests upon a host of assumptions, though, any one of which can make that goal unachievable.
The more your projects involve other people, the more your assumptions are likely to be off. They can be off favorably, too; the right people bringing the right resources can shave months and years off of how long it takes you to do something.
Reviewing your plans, then, allows you to see which assumptions are better than others. The better your assumptions, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.
3. Reviewing your plans helps you proactively problem-solve and coordinate
It happens to the best of us. We assume that we can finish Project A in one day, but it takes two. Unfortunately, we’ve also assumed that we could start and finish Project B the next day. The miscalculation on Project A starts the project cascade, wherein one project displaces another project, which displaces another project, and so on down the line.
What I’ve seen most people do when the project cascade starts is just focus on catching up on whatever projects are starting to slip because they assume they’ll catch up. A better option is to review your plans to see whom you need to proactively coordinate and communicate with.
If you’re looking 15-20 days down the road, you have enough time to pull in additional people to help you finish the project. Or you have enough time to renegotiate some of your other projects so that you can double-down on it without losing face. The people you’re working with can also adjust their plans to either alter the deadline, help with the project, or add additional resources to it.
In my experience, people are willing to help out if you give them advance notice. It’s when you come up with a last-minute situation that frustrations occur. Continually reviewing your plans keeps you out of this last-minute hot water.
4. Reviewing your plans helps you keep momentum on Big Projects
Big Projects — which we call objectives around here — always contain a lot of smaller projects. Objectives can span quarters; rarely do we sustain our motivation that long. It can be challenging to stick with a project that you know isn’t going to bear fruit for another three to six months.
As I mention in my post on Project World, though, most of us are motivated by progress as well as completion. If we don’t see progress, we don’t feel it. And if we don’t feel it, it’s easy enough for it not to exist for us. (Tweet this.)
Building your body of work is much like building a brick wall. You lay down one brick at a time, but as you’re laying down that brick, it doesn’t look like you’ve gotten anywhere. It’s tedious and messy, too.
It’s only when you take a step back from your work that you can truly appreciate that all those bricks are adding up to something. Yes, having an end in mind is nice and helps speed up your progress and I know many people who have built an incredible body of work almost accidentally. (This is especially true of connectors.)
I spent an entire spring building a retaining wall on our first home about six years ago. It was a curved wall on a double slope, so leveling the foundation stones took what seemed like forever for each one and I only had a few hours at a time. Leveling them required lying on the ground to read the level, adjusting a brick or two, reading the level, adjusting a brick or two, and so on. It was tedious and often demotivating to see that I’d spent my afternoon to lay two bricks.
At the end of it, though, we ended up with a bed to plant bushes and roses in. While I’m not in a hurry to do it again, it was worth it when I was done and paid for itself when we sold that home.
Reviewing your plans helps you see that the sum of each brick laid is greater than the brick itself.
5. Reviewing your plans ultimately helps you save time
The items listed above help you save time on their own, but the more you review your plans, the better you get at making plans that work. Whereas most people think effectiveness comes from world-mastery, the truth is that it comes from self-mastery. Systematically reviewing your plans helps you dial in your strengths and weaknesses such that you leverage your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.
Successful people don’t just know that they can accomplish something; they also know why they’ll be able to accomplish it. Sometimes this is just an unconscious knowing, but what I’ve found is that the most successful people are the ones who intentionally sculpt their environments and conditions to favor their success. They don’t just play the current set of games available — they create new ones that favor them.
Doing this requires you to know what works for you and what doesn’t. Continually comparing your plans against your results sets up a continuous feedback loop that, done right, is the precursor to an upward spiral of success.
Why You’re Not Reviewing Your Plans
Over the years that I’ve been having conversations about planning and accomplishment, people have given me a few reasons why they’re not reviewing their plans:
1) They don’t have a plan to start with
2) They don’t understand the value of doing so
3) They forget they’ve made the plan
4) They lose the plans they’ve made
5) They don’t have time to do so
I’ll be addressing each of these in future posts since, obviously, there’s a lot to cover judging by the length of this post. I started here because it was easier to finish and it gives the “Why” of reviewing plans at the same time that it helps me address why your plans aren’t working. Also, if you know something’s valuable, you’re less likely to forget it or lose it.
I’ll address the time piece briefly now: if you don’t have time to review your plan, you don’t have time to not review your plan. If you don’t have time to make a plan, you don’t have time to not make a plan.
To be clear, plans can be fleshed out to different degrees of specificity. Simple goals and strategies can have simple plans; complex goals and strategies often need detailed plans.
While the planning process is itself more important than the plans that come from the process, it’s also true that reviewing a well-made plan can enhance your success. Dust off those plans, adjust them, and move forward more intelligently!