Why you don’t need a 5 year plan (and what to do instead)

Medium term planning and expecting to pivot are key elements to successful planning during uncertain times.

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Photo by Aman Upadhyay on Unsplash
Photo by Aman Upadhyay on Unsplash

It’s the beginning of Q3. How did we get here?!? I don’t know about you, but to me the last few months have felt like decades. You know that saying “the days are long but the years are short”? I feel like we’re somehow living the exact opposite of that.

And everything is still uncertain. Maybe even more so than 3 months ago. I’ve heard people talking about how there’s no point in planning when we can’t possibly know what comes next. And I get that.

BUT, I don’t believe that. I think planning is ALWAYS valuable.

Even when we have to readjust. Especially when we need to readjust. Because without a plan, we don’t even have a stable framework to readjust from.

This might surprise you, but I’m not a big forecaster. I don’t make 10 year plans. I hate it when I get asked “where do you want to be in 5 years?” Because you know what? Who knows? I certainly don’t. I feel pretty strongly that if I had been making, and working towards, 5 year plans, I would never have wound up where I am. (And I like where I am!)

But I do love shorter term planning and I tend to plan quarterly, weekly and daily. Short to medium term planning feels more realistic to me. And I’m all about realism. Quarterly plans are about (medium term) goals, while daily and weekly plans are about specific actions to reach those goals. The more granular daily and weekly planning support the overall goals. And nothing is so far ahead that pivoting will screw up the whole shebang.

Could I have known that we’d enter a global pandemic that would still be going strong 6+ months in? Nope! Have I pivoted my plans on account of this to make sure I can still make progress towards my goals? Sure did! (I say, as I write this from the the inside of a walk-in closet of a rented house where my kids are (very loudly) playing Uno in the other room and my husband is on his own (also loud) work call 6 feet from where I am now. Noise-cancelling headphones help, but this family of mine is putting up a valiant effort. )

So, I don’t always crush my goals in their initial form. But I’m never surprised by that fact. I know that where I’ve pivoted, it was necessary and intentional. For instance, creating a workshop and online course about how to work from home productively (and keep your sanity) wasn’t even on my radar when I was planning for Q2. But then quarantine hit and I whipped that out pretty quickly to meet the changing needs of my clients and the world at large. And to do so, I had to delay other goals.

Plans change. And that’s OK. In fact, I’m planning for my goals to take a bit longer than expected to reach this year, as I couldn’t have anticipated in advance that I’d be with my kids 24/7 for months. But if I didn’t have a plan to pivot from, I’m pretty sure I’d be freaking out right now.

So back to Q3. We’re here. Do you have a (tentative) plan for the next few months? If it feels futile, I want to share with you my simple framework for quarterly planning. (Bonus: it doesn’t rely on knowing exactly what’s coming and it works whether your goals are personal or professional):

  1. Review last quarter’s goals (if you had them)
    • And don’t worry if you didn’t set goals last quarter
    • Did you meet them? If not, why not?
    • Do you want to carry any unmet goals into next quarter?
  2. Decide what habits/behaviors/actions you want to keep, start and stop
    • What’s working for you?
    • What’s not?
    • What do you want to experiment with?
  3. Decide on 1-3 goals for the next quarter
    • Don’t be tempted to work on a laundry list of goals; stay focused on just a few to make meaningful progress
    • Identify actionable next steps to turn your goals into plans (that’s where the weekly and daily planning come in!)
  4. Make your goals visible (so you don’t forget about them)
    • In your calendar, on your whiteboard, as the background of your laptop; pick someplace where you will be confronted with your goals every single day
  5. Review your schedule and make necessary changes
    • Don’t forget about your day to day experience.
    • Is your schedule too packed? Add breathing room.
    • Are you bored? Make plans.

Click HERE to download my step-by-step planning workbook to walk you through this simple process to make this quarter your best yet, even if you have no idea what will happen in the next 3 months.

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