Tell someone they’ll need to plan something, and you’ll receive various responses based on the person doing the planning. Regardless of response, effective planning helps ensure the completion of small tasks and major projects. In some instances, it’s also the difference between getting something done, and getting something done right.
Planning is universally scalable depending on demand, and is especially handy when it comes to long term goals or projects. The wedding and travel industries are notable examples where extensive planning is necessary because of prerequisites that must be met before core tasks can be addressed.
Planning poses difficulty for most of us for a couple of reasons. First, we must have the presence of mind to ask the right questions. Secondly, we have to actively seek answers when they’re not readily available. Navigating these circumstances can be quite intimidating, and increasingly frustrating for larger tasks and projects if these are things outside your comfort zone.
That being said, there is no need to worry. There are foundational aspects that all effective plans address. Here are five things that you should absolutely consider when planning for nearly anything.
1. A Specific Objective and Time Frame
While objective and time frame are two separate entities, they should be paired together for two reasons. For one, pairing a specific objective and time frame will help you determine if a feasible plan can be developed at all. You may have plans to take over the world, but trying to do so in 24 hours will result in failure. Secondly, pairing together a specific objective and time frame forces you to take decisive action to ensure the plan’s fulfillment. The more specific you are in establishing objectives and deadlines, the more accurately you’ll be able to determine if a realistic plan is manageable. It also requires a higher degree of precision when executing your plans in order to meet your objectives and deadlines.
In another blog post, I touched briefly on the importance of taking specific steps. Being specific about your objectives and time frames is equally important. Planning to “lose weight and burn fat” versus planning to “drop 15 pounds and 8% body fat in 90 days” are totally different goals with different approaches. While the “lose weight, burn fat” approach provides maximum flexibility, it also blows the door open for procrastination and laziness by vaguely defining goals and boundaries. Specific times and objectives keep you on track and efficient by establishing exactly what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done by.
2. Prerequisites, Main Tasks and Sub-Tasks
Key differences in making just any plan and making an effective plan are knowing what steps must be taken, and more importantly in some cases, in what order they must be taken to properly complete an objective. As a basic example, say you wish to fly from the U.S. to another country. Flying anywhere requires purchasing airfare as a necessary step, but flying from the U.S. to any international destination requires you to obtain a passport. The basic objective (traveling outside the country) has a core task that must be taken (purchasing airfare), and a prerequisite that must be met (obtaining a passport) before the objective can be completed. Going a step further, buying airfare and obtaining a passport each have their own set of sub-tasks that must be completed. Logistically, it makes sense to prioritize obtaining a passport first since international travel is impossible without one, but bonus points to you if you’re a superb multi-tasker.
No matter how complex the overall goal is, an effective plan tells you exactly how to complete the overarching objective by laying out in necessary detail the several smaller objectives and sub-tasks that must be completed. Two questions will ultimately be answered at every stage of the plan:
What do I do?
How do I do it?
The more complex the overall objective, the more times these two questions will occur at every level of the plan. Failing to adequately address either of these questions could be the difference between success and falling short.
3. Required Resources
The question of cost is universally important and its application to the process of planning is no different. Considering what resources are required and how much of each resource is necessary should be addressed both directly and with a high degree of tact. Doing so will keep you both efficient and under budget. Time and money are likely the top two resources to consider largely because everything else will ultimately be measured in time and/or dollars. In most cases, you should expect to find a direct correlation between time and money with costs increasing as the amount of time needed to fulfill a plan increases.
Going back to travel planning, among the first things addressed when putting together an itinerary are when to leave and how long to travel for. Once these are determined, you’ll be in a better position to address variable costs for these other required resources:
Of course, you’ll need more of each as the amount of time you’re traveling increases, and this of course means more money to cover the increased cost of additional resources. You should anticipate the same type of relationship when planning for other goals and objectives. As a result, seek ways to take advantage of opportunities to get the most bang for your buck (all pun intended) by finding ways to be more efficient with your time and by lowering costs associated with acquiring resources. Set a realistic budget and a deadline, and stick to them both.
4. Roles and Responsibilities
Figuring out who is involved, and what they’ll be responsible for handling is relevant whether you’re a one man band, or you’re working with a team. As a team, you’ll have the benefit of dividing and conquering tasks, and part of this process is knowing who is on your team. This process helps determine whose best equipped, or most willing to handle necessary tasks as they present themselves.
While knowing personnel may seem like obvious insight, this knowledge becomes vitally relevant anytime you’re required to enlist a product or service provider for help. When planning for most goals, there will be things you, or your team simply can’t accomplish or produce on your own. Having intimate knowledge of exactly who to consult when hitting these roadblocks prevents significant delays, or even worse, total failure. In some cases, a variety of providers can meet your needs while in others, a select few, or even one specific provider may be qualified to help. Do research as required to get answers when questions arise to help keep you on time and within budget.
One safe assumption to make is that the unexpected will occur, and you should be well prepared if and when that happens. The COVID-19 global pandemic should serve as an exact reminder of this point. The ideal plan should be direct enough to help you achieve your goals efficiently, but also flexible enough to be adjusted should circumstances force you to detour. Ideally, your “plan A” should also include a “plan B” and “plan C”. As with other scenarios, avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket as much as reasonably possible. This is best done by proactively anticipating potential challenges and external influences, and determine solutions before problems occur. Honestly assess your current abilities and available resources, then determine the best course of action from there. Doing so ultimately spares unnecessary time and frustration in both the short term and the long term.
While planning frustrates and excites us depending on the situation, the key is to take your time doing it. When trying to determine how to achieve your goals, be conscious, and considerate of as many factors as possible. With careful examination of where you are now, and where you want to be in the future, you’ll be able to craft increasingly better plans to get you there sooner than later.