We all know the importance of planning – right? It’s pretty fundamental if you work in corporate America or if you’re like some us, moms who work outside the home. I, for one, have a plan for everything ranging from project plans to logistical plans involving how to get my children from here to there. I just feel better when I have a plan in place because I know where I’m going. It gives me a better idea about the course of action I want to take and helps me get there in the most straightforward way.
But I don’t just plan to make myself feel better. It’s actually proven that the time invested in planning is well worth the effort. Do you know what percentage of new businesses fail within their first two years of operation? Can you believe that the answer is 50 percent? According to Dun & Bradstreet, 33% of all new businesses fail within the first six months of operation, 50% within the first two years of operation, and 75% within the first three years. The most common reason for business failure is lack of business planning.
Most of us inherently know this, but for some reason we resist investing the time up front to plan. Why is this? Is it a skill issue? I don’t think so. Rather, I think it’s the word “plan” itself. It seems to imply “lots of work” and “lots of time.” For some, it seems to denote a negative connotation. So the first thing we must do is to change our perceptions around planning because it doesn’t have to be something that takes a lot of time or effort. It can be relatively simple.
A basic plan should answer the following three questions:
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to go?
- What steps will I take to get there? (and by when?)
Where am I now?
It’s imperative to establish a baseline so we know where we currently are. Without this information, how will you know you made any progress? This might be relatively easy to answer if, for example, you know you weigh a certain amount and want to be ten pounds lighter. But this question can also be a tad more reflective if we’re defining foundational elements such as our mission and guiding principles.
Where do I want to go?
By answering this question, we’re really helping to define our destination. It helps you answer questions such as: What will it look like in the future? Where are we headed? What is the future I want to create? Answering this question should be fun because none of us really knows what the future will look like. So be creative. Be adventurous. Be daring.
What steps will I take to get there? (and by when?)
I can’t lie. Answering this question can require a bit more time. Defining how and when you’ll actually reach your destination is really the meat of your plan. Here is where you’ll write goals and outline the specific activities you’ll take and when to reach your destination. Effective goals clearly state what you want to accomplish, when you want to accomplish it, how you’re going to do it, and who’s going to be responsible. Each goal should be specific and measurable. Once you have written your goals, you’ll then want to outline specific action items that you’ll take to implement those goals. Be sure to include start and end dates.
By answering these three questions when you need to figure out how to get from here to there, you’ll find that many positive things will occur. For starters, you might find yourself more motivated to push forward on whatever you’re hoping to achieve. You will probably lower your stress level because you’ll know exactly what you must do. In the end, you might even have more time for other activities!
What best practices do you use in your planning?