Who knew that a simple question could completely change someone’s life? Five years ago I was having lunch with a friend who was feeling very stuck and dissatisfied with her work situation. A few weeks later, I saw her again, and she thanked me profusely for changing her life. I was confused. “How did I change your life?” I asked. She replied, “You asked me that question.”
Me: “What question? I asked you a lot of questions!”
My Friend: “You know, THE question. You asked me what’s your plan?”
Hmmm, it appears that those three simple words can be quite a loaded question. For my friend, it was the trigger that expanded her thinking and inspired her to action. She suddenly realized that she was feeling stuck because she didn’t have a plan. And that she was avoiding taking certain steps that were necessary for her continued growth in her career.
When you don’t have a plan for your career, your business or your life, it’s very easy to spend all of your time dealing with the day to day, putting out fires, reacting to the things that happen to you. The days go by and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, or making any progress, mostly because you don’t know what you’re working towards or how you’re going to get there.
The sad truth about planning is that it doesn’t have a lot of sex appeal. Busy business owners like us are doers, we take action, we get things done. We don’t get excited by taking the time to plan. Perhaps it feels tedious and difficult, even boring.
But, imagine what would be possible if you had a road map, a blue print, a step by step guide to achieving your goals, a tool to help you stay focused and on track. That’s what planning does for you.
When I work with clients to grow their business, we always start with their vision. I have them put their ultimate vision for their business and their life in writing. We are talking about an inspiring, big audacious goal type of vision. They often tell me it’s one of the most powerful things that we do together. Your vision is what gets you out of bed in the morning, it’s what keeps you going when the going gets tough, and it’s the basis for your annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily plans.
If all of that planning sounds overwhelming, I’m about to break it down for you so it doesn’t seem so bad.
Step 1: Write your 5 Year Vision. Include details about your business and your life. Make it inspiring, something that gets you excited when you read it.
Step 2: Write down where you are today in your business and your life. Identify the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Don’t be afraid to admit that the gap is large. Taking honest stock of your situation is crucial to effective planning.
Step 3: What has to happen over the next 5 years to get you to living your vision? What do you need to learn? What changes do you need to make? Who might you need to hire? What will you want to add or subtract from your business and your life?
Step 4: Once you have answered these questions, turn them into action steps. You can start with broad action steps, or projects, such as “automate my sales and marketing” and then you will break that project down into smaller action steps such as “choose an email marketing service,” “create an opt-in form for my website” and “design a free give-away.”
Step 5: Prioritize your projects. Looking at your ultimate vision, decide which projects are the logical next steps towards achieving your goals. For example, one of your listed projects might be to start advertising on Google Adwords. But if you don’t have a website that converts visitors into customers, then Google Adwords is not your logical next step because you will be paying for traffic without getting customers from it. Revising your website and learning about conversion techniques would most likely come first.
Start by listing your projects in order of what needs to happen first. Then consider your vision, and rank these projects based on which will have the most powerful impact on moving you toward that vision.
Step 6: Create a 90 Day Goal. Using the ranked list that you just created, choose the most logical next step that will have the biggest impact, and turn that into a goal that you can achieve in 90 days.
Step 7: Spend the next 90 days taking weekly and daily action towards you goal. Determine what actions steps will get you there, and schedule those steps into your day. Don’t get derailed by interruptions and distractions. Start each day with purpose and intention. Be in control of how you spend your time.
If staying in control of your day seems like a pipe dream then try using Stephen Covey’s system. The author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” developed the following matrix for prioritizing your daily activities:
The key is to categorize the items on your To Do list into one of these 4 boxes – Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, Not Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Not Important. The really important box to pay attention to is “Not Urgent and Important”. These are the tasks that you tend not to do because you think you don’t have time, but in reality they are more important than all of those interruptions and distractions that are “Urgent but Not Important”. Focus on scheduling important tasks every day, and you will move forward with focus and intention towards your dreams and goals.
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