If you want to accomplish something big, you need to master the art of planning. But even the best, most well thought out plan is nothing without action.
The biggest mistake that most people make is getting stuck in the planning and never moving into the execution stage. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, your planning needs to be “just right.” Here are the four keys for creating plans that will lead to success.
1. Make sure it’s worth it
Before putting together a plan, you need to make sure your goal is actually worth the effort. In this pre-planning stage, you need to do your due diligence. Be skeptical. Ask every question you can think of. Test your assumptions. Double check what you’ve been told. Find out how much and how long it will take. Check out the competition. Be realistic and ask yourself whether you have enough motivation, drive, and resources to achieve it. Most importantly, make sure that it’s something you’ll enjoy doing.
2. Pursue reality, not fantasy
When you’re planning, you have to balance your excitement about an idea with how capable you are of pursuing it right now. I’m not suggesting that your plan shouldn’t be based on big aspirations, but it also needs to reflect reality. Your big goal needs to be broken down into smaller, more-digestible goals, and you need to make sure that these milestones are achievable within the timeframe you’re laying out. If your plan is based on fantasy, you’ll keep falling short of your goals. But if your plan strikes the right balance of idealism and reality, you’ll start hitting your targets consistently and you’ll build confidence to keep going.
3. Don’t get stuck
There’s planning and there’s over planning. At some point, your plan will have taken shape, and you will need to move ahead. Stop trying to perfect your plan. Instead commit to a reasonable plan that is both bold and achievable – and then execute it. Too many people get stuck at this point. They decide that they need more research or education or details to get their plan “just right.” Because they don’t pull the trigger, they never get one step closer to reaching their goal.
From my perspective, over planning is just another form of doubt that can kill your excitement and enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm has a shelf life. You won’t be inspired to go for it forever. Doubt will grow and overwhelm you. At some point, you have to decide to take the leap, or you’ll stay where you are for the rest of your life. Plan enough to be convinced that it can work. Then jump in.
4. Adjust your plan . . . and keep adjusting
As you begin to execute even the greatest of plans, sooner or later the unexpected will occur. You can’t know the future. Circumstances change, and you will hit obstacles. But so what if things don’t turn out the way you wanted? That’s life. The best plans are adaptable ones. When you encounter those inevitable turns in the road, you need to be ready to reevaluate, assess, and adjust your strategy. The key to effective adaptation is to make a decision and take action. Don’t get crippled by setbacks, no matter how seemingly devastating they may be. When you face these moments, hesitating, delaying, or denying is not going to help you. It’s going to work against you. You have to make the choice that seems to get you closer to what it is you want, even if only incrementally. Sometimes all you can see of the future is enough to take one more step. But that’s all you need—at least right now. Take that step and then you’ll see enough to decide on the next one. Even if you’ve taken a detour, you’ve probably still made some progress and learned something along the way.
The most important message underlying all of the points above is that if you want to achieve something big, the key is to start now. Don’t wait any longer to start building your plan. The sooner you begin, the sooner you can get where you want to be.
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