Learn how to plan for a goal

“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. “– Dwight Eisenhower

Most goal require more than one step, sometimes quite a few.  If you are not the planning type, the advice I have for achieving a goal is to pick something that moves you towards it and go do it. Repeat as necessary.

That works often enough, but I have made significantly more progress towards my goals by setting out a plan and using some form of external system for support.

There are many systems out there, but if you are just beginning, start with the simplest option. One of those is the “Kan Ban” method, which keeps your tasks in one of three buckets:

  • To Do – The queue of things left to do
  • Doing – Things being actively worked on
  • Done – All of the completed items

Many tools, such as Trello, (which I use) provide easy and intuitive implementations that you can use for free. You can use these tools for many different methods, whether Kan Ban or David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”.

Once you have a system in place and know where you are going to keep all your tasks and associated material, you can start planning how to achieve your goal.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Double check that your outcome is clear enough: Before you go too far, make sure “what you want” is as clear as possible
  2. List all the tasks for your goal: Use SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) to define meaningful tasks, which you can think of as mini-goals. If you are not sure what steps are needed, the best way is to find someone who has done what you want to do and start with their steps. If you can’t find any good examples, another good question to ask yourself “What’s working and how can I do more of it?”
  3. Think about dependencies: Are there some tasks that need to be done before others? Put the tasks in the order that makes the most sense.
  4. Think about what could go wrong: Do some contingency planning. A useful technique here is the premortem: “Imagine a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Take 5-10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.”
  5. Go do some of those tasks:  Somewhat obvious, but this is both the hardest and most important part.
  6. Check in on your progress: After doing a few things (can be daily, but at a minimum after a week or two of activity), look back. Revisit steps 1-4 to see if any changes are needed. Was the scope clear enough? Did any new tasks come up? Did any key dates change? Once you make your updates, continue with Step 5. Repeat until you’ve achieved your goal.

The amount of detail needed for a plan depends on both your personal preferences and what you are trying to achieve. I personally go for the minimum detail needed that will allow me to make notable progress. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If you are moving in the right direction, getting things done, you are making progress and will eventually get there.

15th Piece of Advice: Have a plan to get what you want. A plan will make you much more prepared to deal with the inevitable changes.

Want to learn more?

Here are a few resources you can check out if you want to explore this idea further:

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