Back in 2016, I wrote an article on the 8 reasons I love Evernote, and since then, my life has only gotten more hectic. On the way to work last Monday, I was reading through my Evernote ‘to-do list’ , and it had a grand total of 27 things on it (a year ago, it probably had closer to 15 on a daily basis, so you could arguably say that I’m taking on twice as much as I ever have).
Scarily, this number only looks to be going one way, as I’m exploring the idea of vlogging, growing my property portfolio, have a larger investment portfolio to manage and am also angling for a non-executive directorship in the next year.
Juggling all of this has made it more important than ever for me to focus on the right things; working smart, focussing on ventures I understand and most importantly, developing good planning structures. It’s an interesting personal quirk that I love professional planning and organisation, but I abhor having an overly structured personal life (I’ve always told myself that because I have work so organised, my OCD side is worn out by the time I get home).
But what does this planning look like?
Building an effective plan
For me, effective planning usually starts with an exploration of all the things that I don’t know about a topic (and believe me, there are plenty of them!). Projects are rarely derailed by the things you understand or expect, so why should you concentrate on those? Instead, spend your planning time calling contacts, reading and researching to find out all the things that you haven’t considered.
This is a critical stage in determining the success of a project; when someone agrees with you or tells you what you already know, you don\’t learn a thing, but having someone sit down and tell you all the reasons you’re wrong gives you an opportunity to enhance your strategy and overcome things you’d never usually consider.
Once you’ve spent plenty of time figuring out what it is that you don’t know, start to research what you need to do or understand to overcome those issues.
Take vlogging, for example. As an experienced public speaker, you might assume that I’d have absolutely no trouble establishing and running a vlog. Well, as I found out during my planning, you’d be wrong.
When I started to do my research, I quickly realised that although the speaking wouldn’t be a problem, it was only a single element of the whole project. I hadn’t considered things like lighting and audio quality, or I the backdrop I was recording against (an ironing board and pot plant don’t send quite the message I want!). I hadn’t thought about how I was going to host the videos, or how long I really wanted them to be.
If I’d simply grabbed my camera phone and started speaking straight off the bat, I’d have made an almighty hash of the whole thing, but by taking the time to think about what I didn’t know, I realised I ought to record in the morning (for lighting quality), that I ought to clear the backdrop, and that I ought to set a timer to keep myself on point (shout-out to Toastmasters for the inspiration!).
Executing the plan
Executing the plan is something that requires self-discipline and focus; two qualities that are often in short supply. You can write a plan down in minute detail, but if you decide to spend your Saturday watching a film instead of writing, that blog post just isn’t going to get written. Fitting your individual plans into a larger system of work allows everything to work together effectively, but it also means that if you lose a step one day, the whole system gets affected.
It might sound obvious, but try to be realistic about time frames and how much you can do in a day – taking a call at 8pm on a Tuesday evening might sound like a great idea at 9am on a Sunday morning, but when you get to it, am you really going to have the mental energy to make the best use of your time?
Instead, ensure you have enough time to carry out tasks – to set yourself up to succeed – and to review them before considering them completed.
Finally, it’s important to really understand what your final outcome is supposed to look like. Write done everything you can about it so that you know when you’ve really got there. Every aspect of completion, from what you’ll have, how it will work, how you’ll know it’s working; every facet and criteria you can think of for measuring success.
Obviously, for something as straight-forward as doing the laundry, you aren’t going to need some in-depth super plan. You know what you’re doing – you do it every day. But for more complex projects – investments, real estate deals, website projects or DIY renovations, I have never regretted putting in the time to plan thoroughly and effectively.
For me, effective planning means learning about what you don’t know as much as it means mapping out what you do. If you start building a wall and suddenly find that the foundations are crumbling because you didn’t know to check them, you’ll have wasted time and money and made negligible progress towards achieving your goal.