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4- Attitude to Planning

It may be a trite truism that failing to plan is planning to fail but planning is an essential attitude for success. Planning is part of an overall process which is often initiated by goal setting. I want to focus on a rhythm of planning that reflects a powerful attitude for success. The right planning rhythm will enable you to move forward with a level of intent so that day by day you move closer to your goal.

SMART planning

When people talk about SMART goals, they are really talking about SMART plans (for various interpretations of SMART there is a great Wikipedia article here). To my thinking, goals are set out beyond your immediate planning horizons.  I would suggest that planning needs to operate on a number of time horizons. Probably, for most of us, three years is about as a far out as we are going to be able to do any significant planning for success. Beyond three years, we may struggle to have any realistic understanding of what the world will look like. 

Let’s say, your goal for three years’ time is “I want to have established a workstyle that is fit for the future”. This is an overarching goal. Within that overarching goal, what are some of the key things that I want to have achieved?  It might be around the level of income, career progression, flexible working or location. This set of achievements is a way of measuring success in three years’ time. 

Now let’s step back and look at what the interim step would be in two years. If I want to be there in three years’ time what will I need to have achieved in two years’ time. After reflecting on two years lets step back and reflect on one years’ time.

So, now we have got a one year milestone, a two year milestone and a three year achievement. 

From annual to monthly to weekly

For most of us, this needs to become a skeleton under which we build a rolling twelve-month plan. It may be that your rolling twelve-month plan is broken down by quarter. To achieve this one year milestone, where do I need to be after nine months, six months, three months? Or maybe your life revolves around academic terms so “where do I want to be by the end of the spring term, the summer term, the summer holidays, the autumn term?”.

Again, the details of what you are going to do are still quite light at this stage. It is primarily looking at things in terms of milestones. Now that you’ve got your quarterly or termly plan you can start to get into the detail.  What are the achievements each month for the next three months? What are the results you need each week for the current month? What are the activities you need to complete each day for the current week?

The power of daily planning versus monthly planning

This level of planning creates a very high level of intent. Daily planning is over and above the daily habits. Focus on the key things you want to have achieved by the end of any one day, anyone week, anyone month. For most of us to focus on “the one thing I want to get done each day” is enough when it comes to planning for our success. We already have a substantial amount of our time consumed by daily, weekly or monthly routines. Moving something forward a little bit each day can be enough. For some of us, it is more important to have a strong intent about where we are going to be at the end of the month. We need to operate flexibility within the month. We can’t necessarily sit down and say we are going to get this done on Thursday 15th of the month, but we can say we want to make sure we get these things done by the end of the month. We flex things around in order to get the important things done alongside the urgent.  This might mean that, as we come towards the end of the month, we decide that we have to work at the weekend to get caught up. Alternatively, we could clear the decks of important progress by the middle of the month and then ensure all the routine activities are completed by the end.

Planning and Reflection

But planning is not enough. Planning without reflecting on where we have got to, what we have achieved and then replanning to do the most valuable activities to meet our overarching goals is of limited value. Make sure you have a regular check point each week and look at where things have got to, what you are doing, how far things have gone. Review what has gone well and what could have gone better. What do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? What should you continue doing? Are there some things in your plan where you now want to change some of your activities or some of your goals? Are there some things that you thought were important that are no longer important? Are there some things that you now need to give greater priority? Are there some things that you thought were hard to do that are easier to do than were expected? Are there other things that are much more complicated than you realised and if you want to do them then you’ll have to set aside more time? Are there some things that are going to cost you much more money than you expected and therefore you are going to have to delay them or reprioritise your financial spend?

Without reflecting on your plan (perhaps walking it through with someone else) you are much less likely to achieve your goal. With many of the people that I work with I check in once a week to see how we are moving towards a plan. We reflect on what’s going well and what could go better, and we refine our goals or even create new ones for those short-term milestones. 

It may also be useful to do a deeper reflection on progress, perhaps once a term, just to look back and see what you have achieved and see where you are getting to. Often it is helpful to have someone who is supporting you on that planning journey and someone who is challenging you to reflect deeply about how you are moving forward. 

Fail to plan, plan to fail?

I do believe that failing to plan is planning to fail, but don’t forget that other truism “any plan of battle will fail to survive the first shot”. Replanning, adapting, revising and reflecting are make up the crucial attitudes to planning that will give you the right attitude for success. 


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.