Strategic Planning Part One: The importance of strategic planning and where to start
The impacts that developing an annual personal and professional strategic plan have had on my life and productivity during the last five years have been overwhelmingly significant. The process has allowed me to identify, solidify, and achieve goals for myself and my business in a way that ad hoc planning or spontaneity never could.
Strategic planning preferences can vary greatly between individuals and should be based on a person’s own ability to monitor and stay accountable to her goals. In my own process, I have been able to wrangle my obsessive compulsive tendencies into something positive, a capacity to remain true to my goals and undertaking the steps that I need to take in order to reach them. But an annual strategic plan can only be truly successful if a person is honest with themselves, their habits, their needs, and their strengths, and their weaknesses. Without this frankness, the only things likely to result are frustration or inaction.
I’ve never claimed to have all the answers, or that my process is perfect (and I hope you would steer clear of anyone else who believes either of those things), but here is a taste of what works for me.
Step 1: Develop a realistic analysis of how you spend your time.
I touched upon this earlier, but this really is the fundamental principle of establishing a successful strategic plan. Be brutally honest about how you spend your days now. You are going to need to know how much time is spent doing all of the tasks you have to do each day/week/month before you’re going to know what time is left over for making progress on your goals. Spend a week with a stopwatch an a notebook, if you have to. Get to know exactly how long it takes you to do all the things you have to do to survive, including getting enough sleep, getting ready in the morning, commuting, cooking, eating, and working.
Most importantly, don’t lose sight of the things you need to do to be happy that may seem like bad habits, such as the occasional weekend Netflix marathon. These don’t have to be viewed as bad habits if they’re truly something that you need to do in order to relax and be happy. These are just the type of habits that will completely derail your strategic plan if not observed and timed with full honesty.
Step 2: Start a bucket list.
It’s impossible to develop a plan to obtain goals if you don’t know what it is you want to accomplish! Spend a good amount of time on this step. Keep a notebook with you for a month or two, o a running list on your phone, and add to it as you think of things that would make you happier or add to your life satisfaction if you accomplished them. Search the internet for other people’s bucket lists if you’re still short on ideas, and make sure it’s comprehensive. Include everything you want, including things that you don’t believe you are even capable of achieving. You’ll understand the importance of including those items later on.
A Bucket List doesn’t need to ever be set in stone or even “finished”. Understand that your goals and priorities will change over time and there is no benefit in clinging to a goal that doesn’t actually align with what you actually want to accomplish. Your Bucket List should evolve and change over time as you grow and change.
Step 3: Use your bucket list to determine what you would like to accomplish over the next 12 months and the next 5-10 years.
For my strategic plans, I break my goals down into the same seven categories so that its easier for me to compare progress from year to year. If it’s your first time creating a strategic plan, feel free to adjust the categories to better suit your personal language so they better relate to your life.
The categories I use are:
– Business/Income: Goals that relate directly to my business, how much income I’m planning on bringing in that year, and/or identifying the sources/strategies that the income will be coming from
– Creative: Those with creative careers often having other creative goals or aspirations outside of their career that they’d like to pursue. I encourage this category even for those outside the creative community because, even if you don’t think of yourself as particularly gifted as a painter/writer/musician/etc., all human beings are creative and benefit from exploring creative pursuits.
– Health: This category usually includes anything relating to well-being. Athletic goals are great, but don’t forget to include some mental health-related goals too like daily meditations or yoga classes.
– Travel: The calibre of goals in this category will vary greatly between individuals, but as someone who is committed to traveling to every country in the world before I retire, I need to do some serious strategizing each year to make that happen. My travel goals aren’t limited to the places I’m going to go, I also include activities that I want to accomplish when I travel to those places.
– Other: This is a bit of a catch-all category for those goal that don’t really fit anywhere else into my strategic plan. More specifically, I generally reserve this section for skills I plan to learn that year, like getting my motorcycle license or taking a class in something that interests me.
– Bucket List: I include this category for items that are specifically pulled out of my bucket list, because aside from the travel section, most of my other goals aren’t especially related to my bucket list. Feel free to leave this category out if the rest of your plan is highly bucket list focused.
– Long Term: In this section, I include tasks that I can accomplish during the upcoming 12 months that will help set the stage for goals that are either (a) farther down the road that require some advanced work, or (b) can only be achieved over several years of work. I usually look 5-10 years ahead when setting tasks for this category.
In the next post, I’ll share how to take what you’ve accomplished so far and turn it into an executable plan.