How important is planning to your success?

Why bother with planning?

A lot of people think of planning as a pain.

In many cases, they see it as so painful that they don’t actually bother.

In truth, they’re probably right about it being a pain, but they are wrong about not bothering.

So what’s the point in planning?

Well lets start with a simple lesson from Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland …

planning

Not having a plan is absolutely fine if you have no destination in mind.

But if you do know where you want to be, then planning is essential to help you get there.

What will planning do for me?

A well constructed plan will give you a number of things, including:

    1. A list of the things you need to do
    2. The order in which  you need to do them
    3. When you need to do each thing
    4. How long you expect each thing to take
    5. Whether it’s part of something bigger
    6. Whether it enables something else
    7. The progress you have made to date

How much planning do I need to do?

To a very large extent, that’s up to you. 

There are just a couple of things you need to remember:

    • A plan is a tool to help you get where you want to be.  
      • It’s an important tool, but it is just a tool.
    • Don’t spend so much time planning that you don’t do anything else! 

 

I’ve found over the years that the approach which works best for me is:

    • I check my plan daily and make sure:
      • what I have to do today is clear, and I break that doen for my ‘To Do’ list.
      • I know what’s coming up over the next few days
      • progress from the previous day is recorded
    • I do my my plan each week, making sure:
      • it’s completely up to date with progress
      • that I have everything I need to complete next week’s tasks
      • The plan contains detailed activities for at least 4 weeks
        • Things seldom run exactly to plan, and I find 4 weeks is about right to both know what’s going on and to minimise re-work
        • In practice, this means I update for a 5 week period decreasing to 4 as the week progresses
        • I include
          • tasks that will take a day or more to complete
          • key tasks that other activities depend on
          • delliverables (eg products, blogs etc)
          • For deliverables, I always include review time.
            if I finish writing or recording a product today, I’m not going to release it tomorrow before it’s been quality checked!
    • I plan things that will happen more than 4 weeks in the future at a much higher level by:
      • recording key milestones and their dates
      • I recording key dependencies
      • not breaking down tasks.
        A typical task atthis level will take a week or longer.
        These are effectively equivalent to the level 1 tasks on the spreadsheet example below.
  • So how long will all this planning take me?

  • Once you get into the habit, it won’t take very long at all.
  • The daily updates, and writing out a to do list should take around 15 minutes.
    Initially, it might be up to 30 minutes, but any longer, than that, and you’re doing too much.
  • The weekly updates will take a little longer, but not much.
    Once you’re in the swing of it, maybe half an hour a week, although initially it may be up to an hour.
  • So for the sake of a couple of hours a week, you have a solid plan that will enable you to deliver the detail in the short term without losing site of the long term goals.
  • Are there any tools I can use?

Yes there are, but beware!

I’ve worked as a project manager for years, delivering large complex projects, so I’m used to, and like Microsoft Project,
But it’s expensive, and if you don’t already know how to use it, can be over complicated for what you need.
It has a huge number of features that you are unlikely ever to use, and that can make life difficult for  you.

That said, if you do know Microsoft Project and how to use it, but don’t want to buy it, Project Libre is a good, and free alternative. In fact, I use Project Libre myself, and it does everything I need it to.

But it’s important not to get too hung up on tools, and to remember what a plan is, and what it’s for.

In reality, it’s just a list of things you need to do and when you need to do them.

A pena nd paper works quite well. The problem is that plans change, and you can end up having to write the whole thing out again pretty regularly.

With that in mind, many people just use a spreadsheet and that works perfectly well.

Simple example of  a spreadsheet plan

This is not a real world example, but hopefully give you a feel for what your plan might look like

 

Task id Task Description Task level Start Date End Date Status
1 Create Blog 1 14/04/2017 21/04/2017 Complete
1.1 Buy domain 2 14/04/2017 14/04/2017 Complete
1.2 Set Up WordPress 2 14/04/2017 14/04/2017 Complete
1.3 Configure WordPress 2 14/04/2017 15/04/2017 Complete
1.3.1 Load theme 3 14/04/2017 14/04/2017 Complete
1.3.2 Load plugins 3 15/04/2017 15/04/2017 Complete
1.3.3 Design Header 3 15/04/2017 15/04/2017 Complete
1.3.4 Load Header 3 16/04/2017 16/04/2017 Complete
1.3.5 Menus 3 17/04/2017 17/04/2017 Complete
1.3.6 Sidebar 3 18/04/2017 18/04/2017 Complete
1.4 write 1st blog post 2 16/04/2017 16/04/2017 Complete
1.5 create ‘About Me’ page 2 17/04/2017 17/04/2017 Complete
1.6 write 2nd blog post 2 18/04/2017 18/04/2017 Complete
1.7 write 3rd blog post 2 19/04/2017 19/04/2017 Complete
1.8 write 4th blog post 2 20/04/2017 20/04/2017 Complete
1.9 write 5th blog post 2 21/04/2017 21/04/2017 Complete
1.10 write next blog post 2 23/04/2017 23/04/2017  
           
2 create free product 1 22/04/2017 01/05/2017  
2.1 research 2 22/04/2017 24/04/2017  
2.2 draft 3 25/04/2017 27/04/2017  
2.3 include graphics 3 28/04/2017 28/04/2017  
2.4 review 3 29/04/2017 29/04/2017  
2.5 update 3 30/04/2017 30/04/2017  
2.6 finalise 3 01/05/2017 01/05/2017  
           
3 list building 1 02/05/2017 02/05/2017  
3.1 integrate with social media 2 02/05/2017 02/05/2017  
3.1.1 facebook 3 02/05/2017 02/05/2017  
3.1.2 twitter 3 02/05/2017 02/05/2017  

 

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