For the last year and a half, it’s seems pretty futile to have a planning horizon that spans more than a week or two. But in lots of parts of the country (and world) things are starting to change. We’re starting to emerge and to think about the future again. We’re dipping our toes into travel again, into meeting people in person. And I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s starting to feel like we can start planning again.

And, it’s almost the end of the quarter. So for me, that means it’s time to plan for next quarter. And it’s feeling like I can actually plan that far ahead!

You’ve all heard the saying “A dream without a plan is just a wish”, and I couldn’t agree more. This is, in fact, why most new year’s resolutions fail; we have an end goal, but we fail to set milestones and to commit to changing the small behaviors that are necessary for lasting change. We look only at the goal, and not the process it will take to get there.

Often, when I start working with my clients they consider themselves to be “not planners”. I’ve heard people say “planning makes me want to throw up” and I’ve heard “I find planning too overwhelming”. And in virtually all of these cases, my clients experience a mindset shift that allows them to think about planning as not something overwhelming in itself, but as a powerful process that tames the chaos, focuses the laser and gets them feeling back in control. Most of them, dare I say it, come to even enjoy planning, much like I do.

If you’re someone who considers yourself “not a planner”, or if you just don’t feel you’ve got your planning process fine-tuned, I’m going to provide you with a step-by-step process to get you started:

  1. Block off the time in your calendar to plan. Whatever your planning cadence is, block off the time in your calendar so that it is protected when the time comes and you’re not scrambling to try to fit it in. Planning is important and it’s real work. Make time for it. (Since I do my big-goal planning quarterly, I have a recurring appointment with myself in my calendar every 3 months for 3 hours. (Your cadence may vary.)
  2. Do a brief retrospective. Once you’ve blocked off the time, and the day arrives, ask yourself:
    • Did you accomplish all your goals last quarter?
    • If not, what’s left?
    • Why did you fail? (Was the timeline too short? Did you have too many goals? Did you just not commit yourself to it? Do you not believe the goal is worthwhile in the first place?)
    • The answers to these questions will help you make a better, more realistic, plan for the future.
  3. Brainstorm new goals (or review your ‘“to be prioritized” list)
    • If you have a “to be prioritized” list (a list of ideas you have had for your job or business that you have not yet prioritized) then review the list. Do you see any themes? What stands out as projects that could really move the ball forward for you and your team?
    • If you don’t have a list to pull from, start brainstorming. What are your annual goals? What can you do that supports those goals? What would feel like a huge win for you?
  4. Select only a few key goals (between 1 and 3 is typically good a quarterly cadence). If you pick too many goals and you’ll spread yourself too thin to accomplish any of them.
  5. Define interim milestones. In order to achieve each goal, what are the interim milestones and by when do you need to achieve them? Make a plan and map it out. This will help you to ensure that the goal is reasonable within the timeframe you’ve allotted.
  6. Define next steps. What are the actions that need to happen to move this goal forward? Get as specific as possible. Maybe you need to perform certain actions every day to make this goal happen; define those actions. Maybe there are a series of steps you need to take; define those steps. If you’re not sure of the next step, spend some time thinking, or ask for input. There is always a next step.
  7. Add it all to your task manager and/or calendar. Defining the goal is just the first step. Now you’ve got to make the time to do what you’ve laid out in your plan. And there’s no better way than to get it on your schedule and into your task system.
  8. Make it visual. I’ve found the best way for me to be reminded of my goals often is to literally add a quarter-long calendar appointment that lists my goals. That way, there’s a bar at the top of my calendar, every time I look at it, reminding me of my goals and helping to guide my decisions about how I spend my time.

And finally, a few last tips for you based on your work situation:

If you are an employee:

  • Make sure your goals are aligned with (and support) your manager’s goals, your departments goals and/or your company’s goals.
  • Your company may hand down goals to you on which might not have a lot of input. In this case, you’ll just want to start with #5 from the list above.

If you work for yourself:

  • Focus, focus, focus. There are so many things that you want to do when you are a business owner. My own “to be prioritized” list has 418 items on it as of right now (seriously, I just checked). But do you want to know how many goals I selected for myself this coming quarter? 2. Do I want to do more? Yes, of course. Will I be able to do more, while still providing a very high level of service to my clients and maintaining a healthy balance for myself? Nope. So I’m choosing to set my self up for success instead of failure.
  • Choose high-leverage goals. What can you automate? What can you outsource? What will move you significantly farther along in your overall business goals and get you closer to living the life you want, with the balance you need?

Click HERE to download a quarterly planning template that’ll make this process that much easier!