So, my head is all up in what are the most useful ways to plan…and how can I help nudge people and myself in the right direction to create useful, realistic, do-able plans.

Planning is on my mind. Big time.

What about you?

I mean – how can it not be! Everyone and their brother seems to be talking about planning for the new year (even me!).

Like I mentioned in last week’s podcast on planning, I’m actually a little too obsessed with finding the perfect planner….but you’ll find out what I actually did with all those planners…below…

But I do believe planning can be fun and still work to make sure you’ve mapped out the year in a way that doesn’t totally overwhelm you.

First let’s tackle the common problems I see when people set up to create a year long plan.

Here’s Why Planning Can Be A Problem

1. We Get Stuck Trying To Find The Right Tool

Dude I’ve been there. Like this whole month, I’ve been on a mission to:

  • Find Sugar Paper wall and desk calendars in craft paper
  • Order the Day Designer the second it was available again
  • Print and complete my Leonie Dawson’s best year planner (aff)
  • Print and complete my Nice Ops Fresh Start strategic planner
  • Filofax Original (added because I ordered a nude one after this went live!

The funny thing you’ll discover (don’t worry, there’s pics to prove it below) is what I ended up using for my first level planning. Keep reading for that.

Tools won’t make your plan better – it might make the process more fun and prettier, but it’s not going to make it “better”.

2. We Plan For The Whole Year, Even When We Can’t Think That Far In The Future

Not everyone can plan out their entire year and feel okay about it. In fact, December 2015 seems really far away. So, if that sounds like you – and it’s going to be a preference really, then consider just planning for the next 90 days.

3. We Don’t Start With The Bigger Vision and Why

Simon Sinek reminds us to start with why…and it might sound great but are you actually asking yourself the question –

Why am I doing this? Meaning is the best way to make planning easier…

Why gives you the map…it doesn’t answer all questions, but it points you in a specific direction.

4. We Worry That It Sets Too Many Things In Stone

We feel caged in and restricted…like if we make a plan we’re stuck. Not true.

Make the plan and reserve the right to change direction (see #5).

5. We forget That We Can Change Direction Any Time We Want

It’s expected that you’ll want to change things as you grow and change and learn new things about yourself and your business. I always remember something Oprah said – It’s your prerogative to change your mind.

Keep reminding yourself that this is your business, you get to make the rules. 🙂

6. We Don’t Take Action Fast Enough

Who else has made a plan and then just put the calendar, list, map away only to take it out 3 weeks later. This is super common…you need to keep your plan front and center in order to keep and build momentum.

7. We Don’t Evaluate The Plan Often Enough To Know If We Should Keep It Or Ditch It

Going back to feeling caged in – you need to set dates in your plan to evaluate if you’re happy. Imagine your plan is a team member…set regular reviews of the plan to make sure it’s still working and relevant.

8. We Think Other People Have The Answer

And then, once we’re done with the plan, we think we need to share it with the world. But – I think this is a huge mistake. I like to keep my plans close to me, let them marinate and build. I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to someone, but don’t run around taking a poll about your plan being good or not. You are the only one who can answer that question.

Don’t Fall Into These Traps

These problems often result is often second guessing ourselves, making plans just because we see others doing the same thing, and pretty much a mess of events that we won’t get to and will make us feel like failures.

If you’re anything like me…you may want a plan to make you feel a certain way – for me that’s productive, growing, focused and excited about the future.

If you aren’t careful you could make a “plan” that has you hating yourself the second the new year approaches.

The Solution

Over the years working on many different types of strategic and year long plans, I’ve had to find ways to make the process less overwhelming…and well, effective enough to create a real useable plan.

So – here’s my personal planning solution:

1. Start with fun

No joke, if you can’t make the exercise of planning fun, then you won’t do it. I trick myself into planning when I need to. I pull out the construction paper and markers. I get out my daughter’s stickers… that is fun to me. Your idea of fun might be renting a hotel room for an overnight “retreat”. Find a way to make planning pleasurable or FUN.

2. Keep it Lo-Fi

So remember above when I told you about my calendar and planner buying frenzy? Well, check out the planner that ended up being my first phase of planning. I purposely needed to hash the big picture out by drawing my own planner. Starting with this lofi – unpretty version – was actually the only way I could start and get it done without the distraction of all those planners. Try it out yourself.

Take a blank sheet of paper and make 12 boxes on it. Use post-its or a pencil and sketch out the various things you want to do throughout the year. Pick the bigger things…not the tasks just yet.

3. Use one recording tool – to capture ideas

I used to be the worst at this and this year I’ve worked to keep all my notes and ideas in one place. In fact, I went as far as tossing out as many of my old idea notebooks….because they were just sitting there. Now, I’ve got one place to record new ideas and I’ve even put a monthly task in my planner to go through the ideas and cross off ones that no longer interest me.

4. Use one calendaring tool offline and online – to make sure all used calendars say the same thing

Seriously – pick one tool you have everything in online. Don’t have half your schedule on ical and half on google calendar…and if you do…connect the two so they are always updated and synced up. This is what I do, so that my iphone also shows all items in one place.

5. Schedule in regular evaluations of the plan and make changes

I mentioned this above, but pick a date every single month this year where you’ll check back on your plan, cross off things that no longer matter to you, change dates as needed…

6. Be wary who you show your plan to…everyone’s got an opinion

You will be tempted to get a pat on the head or “good job” or “this is awesome” or other type of confirmation from your peers, spouse or other people who you trust. Take action on one of the projects on your plan instead of talking it out with anyone.

Mum’s the word, for now…Hold onto it and DO something instead of talking about it.

Your Challenge

I’m going to make this easy for you and give you a list of what to do now.

  1. Pick a date where you’ll spend time reviewing or creating your current plan for next year.
  2. What would make this fun to you? A fun environment? Fun tools like markers and construction paper? Tip – get out of your normal work zone.
  3. Create a simple year grid of months and list out everything you KNOW is going to happen.
  4. Now – first thing – list out all the known dates for you year — including time off, kid’s vacations, launches…or dates regular communication comes out (if you’re doing a podcast or blogging).
  5. Next – grab your “fun” tools…I really do suggest simple things like tiny post it notes, colored pens, whatever makes you get out of your normal digital brainstorm sessions.
  6. Think broad strokes for this first pass of your plan. List out the 2-3 big things you’ll be doing each month. The fewer the better.

Once you do this first lo-fi pass of your plan, you’re not really done (and I bet you knew that)…

Now, you’re ready to start filling in your pretty planners with the smaller tasks to get those bigger projects done.

Ready? Set… Go!