Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Follow-Up”

Congratulations! You have a plan. If you’ve followed the steps we laid out in the previous 7 posts you not only have a plan, you have a plan based on your values and goals. There are not too many people who can say that. So good for you.

While your plan is ready to be implemented, or “launched” it is not yet done. In fact, the best plans are never done. That’s why the 8th and not really “final” step in the process is called The “Follow-Up.” 

Even as you work your way through your plan you should be reviewing it periodically to make sure it still “works” for you. If we’ve learned anything from 2020 it’s that life has a not so funny way of turning our plans to mush. 

Mushy plans are not good plans. So constantly be tweaking your plan. 

While tweaking your plan you must keep this undying principle in mind…you plans can, will, and should change as circumstances require. The Core Values upon which you’ve built your plan should remain rock solid. 

Your well thought out and developed plan is a living plan. Do not allow it to die a circumstantial death. As your environment changes, as you change, as circumstances change, your plans must change as well.

The “Follow-Up” step is where you schedule 30, 60, 90, 180 day reviews of your plan. During the 180 day review schedule additional follow-ups as needed. Put these follow-ups on your calendar. Ask your coach, mentor, or accountability partner to review the progress you’ve made towards your plan. They can offer suggestions for adjustments or advise you to stay the course. 

You now have a plan that clearly states who you are and where you are. You have a plan that says specifically who you will be in the future. You have a plan that illuminates the path that you need to follow to arrive at your goals in life. 

Continuously feed your plan with fresh thinking. Provide it with the effort and discipline needed to keep your plan in constant forward motion. 

Your reward will be a life full of the things you earned while working your plan. Pay particular attention to that previous sentence. Your reward will be the things you EARNED while WORKING your plan. 

You have an awesome plan but it will not work for you if you do not work for it. Work your plan and enjoy the life it helps you earn.

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Launch”

The “Launch” is the seventh step in our planning process. It’s also one of the most frequently skipped steps. It is amazing to me how many times I’ve seen a person or a company invest time and in the case of companies, huge amounts of money, to develop a great plan and then do nothing with it. 

Years ago I was working for a company and we were contacted by one of the largest banks in the world. While they were already huge, their growth was stagnant and they wanted a plan to begin growing again. 

We advised them that the first step of developing a plan would be determining where they were at right now…we needed a crystal clear idea of their “As Is.” As I said this was a large bank and the most effective way to determine their current situation was to conduct a needs assessment throughout all levels of the organization. This would a seven figure investment and they would receive an actionable plan that would lead to a return to growth for the organization. 

We delivered the plan to the bank on time, which was four months after the process began. They were a little overwhelmed at the amount of detail we provided but they agreed wholeheartedly with our findings. They were excited to be moving forward. 

We scheduled our first follow up meeting (The Follow Up will be the 8th and final step in our process) for 90 days after they put the plan into action. 90 days later when we called to confirm the follow up meeting they asked to reschedule. They were still preparing to launch the plan “in the very near future.” Remember they paid over a million dollars for the needs assessment and the plan that came out of it. 

The bank NEVER did actually launch the plan. They had the best of intentions. They invested heavily to make certain their plan was actionable and that their desired outcomes would be achieved. But they failed to launch!

The “Launch” is where having a coach or a mentor can make a huge difference. Without someone to hold you accountable you may never begin. Or, you may have a few “false starts” and then never get going again. 

Think of all the time you’ve invested to this point. You likely know more about yourself then you ever have before. You’ve dreamed your dream and made a plan to make it become real. You’ve done the hardest part. 

All that’s left is to implement the plan. 

You need to take that first step. Some of us, okay, most of us will still need a little push. That’s what your coach or mentor is for. If you think coaches or mentors are only for big shots then don’t get one.  But find yourself an accountability partner and ask them to hold you accountable. The only requirement for an accountability partner is that they care enough about you to actually hold you accountable. 

I can’t say that strongly enough…whoever you ask to hold you accountable MUST truly CARE for you. That is a must must must! They need to be willing to keep encouraging you, pushing you, even scolding you in that’s what’s needed. Your accountability partner needs to stay along side of you when you tell them you’re done. They must care enough to not allow you to be done. 

Some people seem to misread the title of this step. After completing their plan instead of going to “launch” they simply go to lunch…and apparently never come back. Lunch can wait, your future will not! Implement your plan ASAP…as in today because in you’re always waiting for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. 

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Time Table”

Some people use time as an excuse. Highly successful people use time as a tool. 

Now that you know what you’ll stop doing in order to succeed and you know what you’ll start doing to achieve your goals you need to commit to a time table. This is such a critical step in the planning process yet many people skip it completely. 

Years ago when I would present Goal Setting Workshops for Dale Carnegie people would present truly outstanding goals. They presented them with such passion that it was obvious they wanted to achieve them. 

But when I asked when they would begin the pursuit of those goals they were completely flummoxed. They had not considered a starting date and time, they were simply going to do it. Except I knew they likely wouldn’t. Because they would most probably use time as an excuse for never actually beginning. I’ve seen it happen again and again. 

So for everything you committed to stop doing you need to add each one of those individually to a time table. EACH ONE, INDIVIDUALLY! If you think you can lump them all together and stop them all at once you need to be more realistic. 

Keep in mind you’re using a TIME table, not a date table. When adding a “stop action” to your time table list the date you will implement the stop action AND the time of day. Specifically. Exactly. Then put that in your calendar. In ink. In all caps. 

Tell the world about your commitment. Ask them, ask everyone, to hold you accountable. 

Use exactly the same process for everything you committed to start doing in order to achieve your goals and bring your plan to life. Specificity is key. You need to determine the exact date and time you will begin….or you’re unlikely to begin…ever.

Setting an exact date and time to begin your journey to goal achievement is an example of using time as a tool. Having an exact date and time in your plan and on your calendar gives you the tool of accountability. It helps you hold yourself accountable. Sharing that exact date and time with others might even give you more accountability than you want. 😀

One a word of caution about adding action items to your time table. The farther into the future you plan to stop or start an action the less likely it is that you’ll do it. The best time to begin is today. The second best time is tomorrow and the third best time is the next day. You can imagine how effective it WON’T be to start something 6 months from now…that’s almost as bad as having no start date at all. 

Today is the best day to take control of your life. If you begin today then all of your tomorrow’s will have a much better chance of going according to YOUR plan. If you don’t have a plan then you’ll have to settle for whatever happens to come your way. 

Don’t settle…plan!

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Will Do”

The next step of the planning process is all about you! While some of the other steps could have involved other people this one does not. You are on your own here. You will ultimately determine whether or not your plan succeeds. I’ll suggest you have a coach or mentor in this step but they can help, they cannot succeed for you. 

There are no excuses in this step. I could have very well described this step as the Yoda step because this step is not the step where you “try” to accomplish the goals and objectives laid out in your plan, this is the step where you accomplish them…or not. As Yoda said, “No! Do or do not, there is no try.”

In the “will do” step YOU must make a commitment to yourself regarding what you are willing to do to achieve your goals. If you were serious about the last step then you will have cleared some time in your day to add some new activities to help you implement your plan and achieve your goals. In this step you lay out exactly what those activities will be and PRECISELY when you will do them. 

This is not a someday plan, this is a here and now plan. If you’ve gotten this far into the planning process you are closer to achieving your goals then perhaps you’ve ever been. All you need to do now is determine the investment you’re willing to make for it all to come true. 

Investments required to achieve goals come in two areas, financial and time. People typically make a commitment in one of those areas while forgetting about the other. Take me for instance, I have made substantial investments in fitness. I’ve joined one fitness club after another, giving them direct access into my bank account so my membership was always current. Over the years I’ve spent a small fortune on fitness club memberships because I take investing money in being healthy very seriously. 

Too bad for me I don’t take investing time in being healthy seriously too. Most of the fitness clubs I joined I never set foot in again after I had set up the automatic payments. I never even got to the new member tour. Because I never committed to making time to do it. I thought I was serious about it and I thought the money I spent proved I was serious but I was kidding myself. I got lucky when the last private club I joined burned down and I escaped the never ending payments. 

I proved the point that lack of initiative kills far more goals than lack of money ever will. 

I made two mistakes; I never actually stopped doing something so I could start doing something new. My calendar was already full every time I thought about going to the club. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice anything to get in shape so I didn’t get in shape. That’s a prefect example of a lack of priorities. 

My second mistake was not having someone to hold me accountable to get in shape. No coach. No mentor. I thought I could go it alone. No one achieves everything they want to achieve without help along to way. 

So in this step you need to do three things. 

First decide what investments you will make to achieve your goals. Consider both sides of the investment angle, time and money. Don’t promise yourself you’ll do it, commit to do it. Promises are pretty easy to blow off, commitments are stronger. 

Second, determine what you are willing to sacrifice. If you need a bit of extra money to achieve your goal then what will you give up. If you MUST stop at Starbucks every morning and that prevents you from taking a training course to improve yourself then I have but one word for you. Priorities!

Third, you need to find a mentor or coach. Even if it’s not a formal mentoring relationship you must have someone in your life who will challenge your commitment to the things you claim are important to you. Someone to ask you what the heck you’re doing. 

YOU must make the commitments to your future success. YOU must ultimately honor those commitments in order to succeed. Remember earlier in this series when I said this is YOUR plan? Well this is where that gets real. 

What will you do to accomplish your goals. When will you begin? What safeguards will you put in place to ensure you don’t quit before you reach your goal?

You’re getting closer to having a real plan. Real plans lead to real success. If you take this planning process seriously then you’ll have some serious success as well. 

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Won’t Do”

When most people want to accomplish something they begin by thinking about what they will have to do in order to accomplish it. 

When the most successful people want to accomplish something they often begin by thinking about what they will need to stop doing in order to accomplish it. 

In the next step of the planning process we’ll discuss what you “will do” to achieve the goals you set in the last step. But before we do that we need to determine what we can eliminate from our daily activities. One of the big reasons people fail to achieve goals is they think they don’t have the time to work on them. They are soooo busy they can’t take on one more thing.

In all likelihood they are right about that, they can’t. Where they make their mistake however is in thinking they don’t have enough time. They have all the time in the world. What they are lacking are priorities. YOU can’t do it all! I know that for a fact because no one can do everything they want to do. 

If you can’t do everything that matters in your life then stop doing the things that don’t matter. 

Just like everyone else you have 1440 minutes in a day. You may be busy for every minute of the day but the most successful people don’t concern themselves with being busy…they focus on being productive. 

They know what activities and actions will get them closer to a goal and they make those activities a priority. They do them before less productive activities. 

The “won’t do” step of the planning process is where you keep track of exactly where your time goes. Every 15 minutes you make a quick note about what you were doing in the prior 15 minutes. Notice I said a quick note…the notes should be in categories such as “business call” or “personal call.” How ever you are using your precious allotment of time, write it down. Write it ALL down. 

If you’re like most people you don’t really know where your 1440 minutes are used each day. (Ever said to yourself “where did the day go?) The most successful people know how they have used their day at the end of it. Less successful people can only guess.

If you keep track of how you’re using your time you won’t have to guess. You don’t have to track your time usage very long, a typical week ought to be enough to give you a very good idea of where your time is being used. 

Once you have an idea of how you’re using your time then you can determine which things bring value into your life and which things simply steal your time. As I’ve said before, this is YOUR plan. It doesn’t matter if someone else thinks you’re using your time poorly. If YOU see value in how you’re using your time, and IF you’re being honest with yourself, then keep doing it.

If however it is not going to help you get closer to one of the goals you set earlier in the planning process then stop doing it in 2021. 

Don’t even think about the things you’ll need to start doing to reach your goals until you have a solid list of things you won’t be doing in the future. 2021 is the year you trade in being busy and replace it with being productive. If you don’t do the things that provide you nothing in return it’s very likely you’ll have all the time you need to accomplish everything that does. 

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Will Be”

The first two steps in our planning process were foundational in nature. Use any GPS you want and you’ll discover that without both a starting point and destination GPS is worthless. So is a plan!

Now that you understand the “As is,” or your starting point, and you have a clear picture of your “should be” or destination, you can begin the heavy lifting of developing a plan to reach that destination.

I call step three of the planning process the “will be.” This is where you set goals. For your plan to be viable you’ll need short-term goals, medium-term and long-term goals. Others may disagree but I don’t think there is any perfect answer to what “short term” actually means. For some it might be 6 months and for others it might be 6 minutes. Remember this is YOUR plan. While I encourage you to share it with people you trust for honest feedback, do not be dissuaded from going after something you feel strongly about. 

Keep in mind that while we’re planning for a better 2021 next year is only a stepping stone to future years. Your long-term goals may stretch out 5 or 10 years or even longer. 

Whether something should be classified as a short-term goal or a long-term goal matters far less than your commitment to achieve it. So, while we’re on the commitment subject….

Never set a goal you’re not committed to work towards. If your goal isn’t something you are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve then it’s not a worthwhile goal. You will develop the actual plan to achieve the goals later in the planning process but if you’re not 100% committed to working for a goal then don’t waste time setting it. 

Which brings us to what goals you should set. Have I mentioned that this is YOUR plan…it’s no one’s business what YOUR goals are. I’d recommend setting goals in many areas of your life. Personal goals, professional, financial, health, spiritual, growth/learning and wherever else YOU want.

Whatever your goals are you will be far more likely to achieve them if they are based on the foundation of your core values. And that’s what makes planning such a challenge for so many people.

Asked to articulate their core values very few people can actually do it. Core Values are those deeply held beliefs that make you who you are. The sad reality is that many people float through life never understanding what makes them who they are. It takes considerable self-reflection to know yourself. It takes a sizable investment of time to understand what your deeply held beliefs are and how you came to hold them so dear. 

And most people simply will not make that investment of time. In fact research shows the average person will invest 400% more time to plan a one week vacation than they will invest to plan the rest of their lives. Goals are actually the plan for the rest of your life. 

This my friends is where the rubber meets the road. If you are unwilling to invest the time to know and understand your core values then you might as well skip the rest of this planning series. It will only be an exercise in frustration. 

If however you are willing to turn off the TV, put down your phone, block out distractions to focus on the life you have then this series can help you. If you’re willing to consider the life you want along with the values that will guide you in your pursuit of that life then this planning process could change your life. 

This is the step of the process where you decide the “will be.” Not what you would like things to be, what they really “will be.” Imagine being able to simply choose the life you want… then skip the imagining part and set goals to choose it. 

If This, Then That, If That, Then This

The problem with making a plan is that the plan often fails. Some unforeseen “thing” happens and the whole plan falls apart.

That’s why I never make a plan. Instead, I make plans. My plans take on the look of a flow chart. It is full of one contingency after another. If this happens then I’ll do that. If that happens then I’ll do this…and on it goes. It is like having plans within your plans.

I review those plans on a regular basis and rewrite them as necessary at the beginning of each New Year. There is no better stress reducer than preparation and that has never been truer than in this particular year.

My “if this, then that” plans could never have foreseen what is happening in the world right now. But the combinations of my “if this, then that” plans do in fact account for nearly every single change and related consequences we’ve seen so far. And for me, as for many of you, some of those have been whoppers.

The whole “if this, then that” strategy comes from a single principle from a life changing book by Dale Carnegie. The title of that book is “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” It is far from Mr. Carnegie’s most famous work. But people who have also read his legendary “How to Win Friends and Influence People” would give the edge to what Carnegie folks call “The Worry Book.”

The principle says to “Consider the worst that can happen. Accept the worst. Try to improve upon the worst.” I don’t suppose Mr. Carnegie realized it at the time but that translates pretty well into “if that happens I’ll do this, if this happens I’ll do that.

Knowing what you’ll do in difficult circumstances offers you great peace of mind when those circumstances arrive. Making big decisions before they need to be made allows you to make much better decisions.

I guess I’m supposed to be stressed out by all that’s going on around me but I’ve reviewed every single “if this, then that” in my plans. I can’t find a single one that says “be stressed” so there is no stress to be found.

There is no stress because my wife and I are implementing plans we made 25 years ago. Frankly we are a little farther into the “if this, then that” scenarios than we would like to be but that’s fine because we are in complete control of our futures. No one else gets to decide them for us.

You can have that same authority over your life IF you make plans that contemplate every possible outcome. This type of planning takes a pretty serious investment of time but the return on that investment is peace of mind and that my friends is priceless.

I may not get to decide all of my circumstances but I have complete control over how I respond to them. You too can have complete control over the circumstances of your life if you’re willing to make the effort before you need to.

As for me, I’ll just follow my plans because I know exactly where they lead.