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Effective Planning

J. Everette Pierce

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We all have wishes and dreams.  We all experience moments of wanting more.  The more that we desire is significance, meaning, and fulfillment. We turn wishes and dreams into accomplishments and get the more that we crave through effective planning. Careful and effective planning will move us toward our desired outcomes more efficiently than any other tool in our toolbox. 

What is Effective Planning?

Effective planning is the process of setting goals, determining the approach we will take to achieve those goals, outlining the necessary actions for goal achievement, prioritizing those actions, and scheduling them in a way that moves us toward the goal.  When we plan effectively for the achievement of our goals and meeting our obligations and responsibilities we start to see that there is room for everything. We keep all the metaphorical balls in the air and we do so with greater ease. We are then able to manage our personal resources in a way that creates time, energy, and attention for the things that matter most to us. 

The Benefits of Effective Planning

There are many benefits to learning to plan effectively. When we have taken the time to plan effectively we are better able to manage crisis and handle contingencies as they arise. We are in essence, prepared for the unexpected because we have defined for ourselves a predetermined course of action and committed to seeing it through, no matter what. 

Effective planning helps us to hone our discernment; we more easily differentiate between the truly important and the seemingly urgent, between activities that resource, enlighten, and enrich us and those that distract, deplete, and derail us. Effective planning reduces large projects and big goals to easily executable actions. Because we have created a plan and decided ahead of time which actions we will take, we have a clearly defined picture of our daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Planning means we’ve laid the groundwork for success ahead of time; we have a solid idea of what it’s going to take to achieve our goals in terms of time, costs, and resources. We know what resources are available to us, how to best utilize them, and what resources we need to acquire. 

By thoroughly examining our goal and outlining the necessary actions to achieve it we can eliminate unnecessary effort and duplicate tasks, which essentially creates time, energy, and resources. Effective planning gives a clear sense of mission; we can take action with greater confidence because we know where those actions lead and because we know what our role and our responsibilities are in the process. Most importantly, effective planning ensures our ability to stay motivated and ultimately our success.

6 Steps for effective planning:

There are six simple steps for creating effective plans. Following them reduces the likelihood of failure, increases clarity, improves motivation, and allows us to move forward with confidence.

Step 1: Defining the goal.

In this step we simply clarify and define the goal. 

  • What is the goal or objective? What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What do we need to know before we can create a workable plan? Gather facts and figures. Ask and answer who, what, where, when and how.
Step 2: Identify resources.

In this step we begin to identify the resources available to us, resources we need to acquire, and alternatives and their availability. We need to ask ourselves

  • What resources will I require to achieve this goal?
  • What resources do I already have in place?
  • Where do I acquire what I do not have?
  • Is there any part of the goal that will require significant expense, special training, coordination of resources, or extraordinary time, attention, or resources? 
  • Are there alternative ways to achieve the same ends?

Once we have identified our resources we can begin to determine how to utilize them for the greatest impact.  

Step 3: Contingencies

This step is where we create our backup and contingency plans. In order to avoid seeing temporary setbacks and mistakes as a breakdown of the plan or as failure, we determine ahead of time how we will handle potential setbacks, obstacles and mistakes. We also decide before we begin what failure looks like and under what circumstances we will quit. We address the obstacles we might encounter and develop plans and alternative options for reaching our goal despite setbacks. We are far more likely to succeed if we decide ahead of time how we will handle disruptions to our plan. This is a great opportunity to exercise our creativity and to test our commitment to the goal as we mentally play out all the possible difficulties we may encounter and create our if/then solutions. 

  • What kind of obstacles might I encounter?
  • What would it require to overcome that obstacle?
  • What would the consequences be if I failed to achieve my desired outcome? Do the consequences justify the risks?
  • What are the benchmarks that signal failure?
  • What are the benchmarks that signal success for this goal?
  • What do I gain/ what are the rewards of tackling this endeavor? Do the rewards outweigh the risks and the consequences of failure? 
  • Have I made provisions for time constraints?
  • How should I coordinate and utilize my resources to the best effect?

Step 4: Create the plan

In the previous steps we have clarified our goals and objectives, evaluated where we are, and determined what it will take to get where we want to go. We now have a clear idea of our strengths, weaknesses, the obstacles we might encounter, and what the cost in terms of resources is going to be in order to obtain our desired outcomes. We’ve already decided what both success and failure look like and under what circumstances we will quit. Now it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of creating a working plan. This is probably the most challenging step but when done correctly and thoroughly will allow us to execute the necessary actions with ease. 

  • Before you schedule actions for your goal know what other obligations you have in other areas in your life. Write those things in the calendar first. This will give you a clearer picture of the time available for execution and will make your plan more realistic..
  • Be precise about what needs to happen and when.
  • Leave space for fun, rest, connection, and the unexpected.
  • Having a written plan serves as a reminder of what is needed and when. Revisiting the plan regularly is what keeps us on track and gets us back on track when we stray.
  • Having a record of the details of the plan helps us to evaluate how things are going and to make adjustments as we go.
  • A clearly written plan also serves as a checklist for what is done and what needs to be done.
Step 5: Take action!

Step 5 is where the rubber meets the road. We’ve created a thorough, workable plan. We know what the plan will require of us. We are clear about our objectives and have defined success. All that is left to us at this point is action. Consistent action over time leads to success. 

  • Review the previous steps so that you are familiar with the entirety of the plan. Have a sense, at least in the short term, of what is coming.
  • Act. There is no other way forward at this point but to begin executing the action steps you’ve outlined in your written plan. 
  • Revisit the written plan regularly. Checking in with the plan allows us to adjust our trajectory and stay on target. 
Step 6: Evaluate and adjust.

Good planning requires proper feedback. The only way to know that we are achieving our objectives is to evaluate our results. The last step then is to document our observations and results as they relate to actions taken. This allows us to make changes in the way we plan, according to the results we obtain.

  • Are my results in alignment with my desired outcomes? 
  • Have the actions taken resulted in new information that might affect the outcome of my plan?
  • What adjustments to the plan need to be made due to new information?
  • What have I learned as a result of the actions taken and how does it relate to the plan going forward?
  • Are there any changes I want to make now?

Without effective planning we can’t make progress toward realizing our dreams or actualizing our goals. We quickly lose sight of what matters most and find ourselves adrift on an endless sea of seemingly urgent tasks longing for that elusive more. Effective planning does not require complicated systems or expensive planners to get started. All you really need to begin is a pen, some paper, and a basic calendar. Write your goals down and fill in the details, schedule tasks, and most importantly, take action. 

Some deepening questions to consider as you begin to plan:

  • What is your objective? 
  • Have you considered the consequences of failure?
  • What are some obstacles you might encounter?
  • Have you created contingency plans for those possibilities?
  • Is there room in your plan for the unexpected?
  • Have you left space for connection, fun, and downtime?
  • How will you resource yourself when you encounter difficulties and setbacks?
  • How will you celebrate when you reach milestones? When your goal is achieved?

For more on why effective planning is so important, click here.

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