Big ideas and grand projects are undeniably exciting, and they are what motivate many of us on those less-than-engaging workdays. However, achieving your vision is not always straightforward, and there’s always more to successfully realizing your projects than meets the eye.
The best way to bring those dreams into reality and follow through on long-term projects is to break them down into achievable goals and make a foolproof plan designed to push you through each stage. But what makes planning so important, and how can you do it effectively?
Why is Planning Important?
Planning can be a drag, especially when it comes to an exciting project that you just want to dive right into, but it is an essential part of success. Planning has several significant benefits, for example:
Planning helps with time management
It may seem like common sense, but without a clear plan of what to do, when to do it, and who is doing it, time can easily be wasted, and essential elements are forgotten. What’s more, clear steps allow you to see how goals, tasks, and actions interact with one another, so one team member’s work isn’t blocked by another’s.
Planning helps with resource management
Just as with time, poor planning can lead to an inadequate allocation of resources. This can be both not realizing when they are needed or not knowing that they are needed. Planning allows you to keep an overview of resources and when they are required.
Planning aligns team members
We’ve all had that feeling at one point or another where you’re not quite sure exactly what it is you’re supposed to be doing. It can get very stressful very quickly and ultimately leads to an unhealthy work environment. Planning, especially as a team, keeps everyone in the loop.
Planning helps with evaluation
A clear plan allows for easy monitoring of progress and workflow, both on an individual and company-wide level. Knowing what is supposed to (realistically) be done, and when, helps everyone move forward.
There are plenty of other reasons that planning is an essential part of your every day, but let’s move on to look at how you can plan successfully to achieve your goals.
Start at the End: Setting Achievable Goals
The first step to good planning is knowing where you’re heading and what you’re trying to achieve, whether personal or professional, short-term or lifelong. Setting reasonable goals is a skill in itself, but the first stage of planning can be broken down into three main parts:
List out the big ideas
The first step in setting goals is laying out those big ideas that you want to achieve. These are your pie-in-the-sky ideas and aspirations. They are not tasks you can tick off a list, per se, but that wild dream that you think about while laying in bed.
For example, these big aspirations could be things like:
“Get a documentary into a film festival.”
“Travel to the Galápagos Islands.”
“Create a splash with our new product.”
These high-level aims could even be as broad or long-lasting as your company objectives, especially if you’re a startup just setting out.
Big ideas need big time frames
This doesn’t mean that every significant objective has to be part of a multi-year plan. It just means that you have to start with a high-level approach. If you think that something can be achieved in a couple of months, that’s fine, just don’t try and put strict deadlines on these aims just yet.
Let’s stick with our film, which for example, could then become:
“Get a documentary into a film festival on the 2023 circuit.”
Break it down now
Now you’ve got a high-level overview; it’s time to start breaking down these aspirations into actual, manageable goals. Put the big idea at the top of the page and start listing out the smaller goals you will need to achieve along the way to make that aspiration your reality.
For example: Get a documentary into a film festival by 2023
- Find an inspiring story
- Learn to film
- Gather the best team possible
These are now your goals. They are still pretty lofty but are starting to become achievable. To become plannable.
Most professional and many personal aspirations, ideas, and ultimate objectives can’t be tackled alone, so there is a good chance that most goals are going to be shared goals. Online shared notes are the ideal way to collaborate with your team since it keeps everyone on the same page and able to contribute.
If you’re looking to take your goal setting to the next level, then you and your team should also explore productivity techniques such as using the SMART methodology. This methodology is based on creating goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Hitting all those points at this stage will make planning simple and transparent.
On that note, we’ve got our achievable goals, so it’s time to start planning how to reach them.
Getting to Goals: The Planning Begins
Now that you’ve got your goals, the real planning begins—that is, you are almost ready to actually get down to work. The next step is to give each goal a stricter deadline, placing them on a logical path to your ultimate objective, and breaking them down into actionable items.
Try to do this by looking at the steps you need to take and the order you need to take them in. Using productivity software like Spike, you can create Tasks for each of these steps, allowing you to monitor your progress through the stages: Open, In Progress, Stuck and Done.
Each of these tasks (or steps) should contain a to-do list, and these are the small items that you are actually going to be ticking off on a daily (or hourly) basis. To bring even more structure, formatting and sub-lists can be really helpful. What’s more, you can set reminders for these goals to make sure you never miss any important deadlines again!
For example, if we are still aiming for that film festival, we might create:
Goal: Find an inspiring story (June 2021)
- Research to see if there are any interesting local figures
- Go to the local library and ask a librarian
- Search the web for the local paper
- Phone grandma and ask
Deadline: April 30th, 2021
- Contact the person or family of the local figure
Deadline: May 15th, 2021
There is a good chance that as you work your way through these tasks and towards your objective, new problems and opportunities will pop up. Don’t be afraid to add new goals if they occur as you go.
Find a System That Works for You
You’ve planned out what each chunk of work will be, but this still leaves out how you’re going to tackle each one. For some people, this isn’t a problem, but for a large portion of the population, procrastination and lack of focus are a blight on productivity.
Build a productivity system into your plan such as The Pomodoro Technique or Don’t Break the Chain to give a more focussed approach to how you will stay on top of each of these small items.
Stay on Track
An essential part of making a plan and achieving your goals is staying on track, and this should be done through daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews. Remember to set reminders for each task, milestone, or chunk that will help you reach your ultimate goal, since this allows them to be front and center when needed, and out of mind when you’re focusing on other work.
As well as reviews, another good way to stay on track is by staying accountable—to yourself, or better yet, to your team. Map your timelines and deadlines onto a shared calendar, which is then given to all team members. This will keep you accountable but also act as a reminder of how each member’s smaller tasks are coming together to achieve that bigger goal and objective.
Effective planning to achieve your goals is an ongoing process, and one of the benefits that it brings is the ability to react and engage with the unknown. Start working towards your objectives with the steps above and then make it your own for ultimate productivity.