Are you OWP? Operating Without a Plan. Time and time again I find people, myself included, doing this on a daily basis. It is very easy to end up diving into the action and activity, looseing sight of the desired outcome.

Having a plan is an easy way to ensure that you know what the desired outcome is. It helps to keep it in mind, so that if the required activity changes, rather than being focused on trying to achieve that activity, you can switch back to the desired outcome. The activity itself may have become problematic. Rather than try and resolve the activity, we can step back and look for an alternative to achieve the desired outcome. That outcome may now require a different activity because the circumstances have changed. Activities and outcomes are different things. A focus on getting the activity done rather than trying to achieve the outcome can often result in wasted time and resources. Flexibility is required to keep stepping back and saying “OK, what is required now?”

As well as documenting what your desired outcome is and figuring out the activities that will lead to that, the plan also helps to surface the dependencies. What are the show stoppers along the way? A plan helps to ensure these are identified ahead of time, rather than when you are driving towards the wall at 100 miles per hour. Step back, take a different route and make sure that you have the resources and the means in place to over come the hurdles in the way.

Another great thing about plans is that they spread things across time. This means you can reduce all the stress of these things that need to get done down to just one thing. Now all I need to do is this one thing, then this next thing, and so on. We can tackle the problem, however large it is, just one step at a time. We reduce the stress, increase focus and increase our productivity on the way.

Often times I hear people say “I just haven’t got time to build a plan”. Well that’s clearly a false economy. Two to three minutes spent in creating a plan will often save hours, if not days in wasted activity. It is a basic responsibility to plan. For sure, if something is going to take less than two or three minutes, then you obviously don’t want to spend two or three minutes planning it! However, the bulk of activities that people like you and I are engaged in are actually pretty serious and will require hours and hours of work. In that case you really need to make having a plan mandatory. One of the many things that having a plan does is to help you size the problem and work out if you really want to take it on. That 5-30 minutes task may actually mean days of work when you look at all of the dependencies.

A plan doesn’t have to be heavy weight. probably the minimum sensible contents of a plan are:

  • A statement of the desired outcome, what is the goal you are looking to achieve.
  • A quick list of the things that need to happen on the way.
  • Identify any dependencies and put in place actions to deal with those issues or shortcomings.
  • Sequencing all of this across time, making sure that you can reach the target end date.

It may be that some of those activities you are doing to delegate to other people or get others to help you with. Now, with that minimal content of a plan, you can set to. You know who to contact, what to do and what needs to get done. You will get a result, you just need to work your way through that list!

In short, the critical success factor for people that make a difference is that, implicitly or explicitly, written down or in their head, they have a plan for what they are doing at any given moment in time. Sometimes it is written down on a sheet of paper, sometimes kept in a notebook, sometimes just stored in their memory bank because that’s the way their brain is wired. Either way, if you stop them in an activity and ask them what they are doing, they don’t just describe the activity, they describe the outcome they are looking to achieve. They can give an account of the steps that need to happen on the way. It is a key characteristic of people who are successful at home, and successful in the workplace.