Mid-term planning: Don't panic! Use a towel!

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Reason #54673 why entrepreneur's life is awesome: I'm leafing through quotes of Hitchhike's Guide to the Galaxy for this very post!
Why? Because today we're going to talk about panic vs. "using your towel" when it comes to changing Mid-term plans.

Mid-term plans change.

That’s why we make them in the first place - to follow changes on the path to our goals. But sometimes the changes are so fast and frequent, they set off highly painful anxieties. You may decide to stop planning altogether, because nothing comes of it anyway.
Not your best decision. 
So when is it OK to let mid-term plans change, and when it’s legit to panic? Let's see.

External circumstances:

Say, your designer won the lottery and quit 2 weeks before the Big Launch. 
Yeah, time to panic.
On the condition that it’s limited in time. Ideally you have a plan B. When you’re done with panic-party, go ahead and crush the Plan B, even if Plan B is “never mind, I’ll live without that JV/website/training/whatever”.

Internal circumstances: 

It’s legit to panic, or at least stop and think, when you notice that your plans change in a major way every week or so, for 2-3 months in a row. Of course, I’m not talking about getting 3 times as much traffic as you planned, or booking twice as many clients as you hoped.

We are talking about NOT hitting your goals.

This is where it gets tricky.
It’s OK if you have discovered new things (I need a patent! Next week! My SEO is hurting my outreach, it needs immediate attention!). It happens. The problem begins when you plan 5 key things for the week, and consistently accomplish 2 of them max, because... reasons.

Time to panic.

After your panic attack has subsided, look for patterns. WHY are you constantly changing your plans? What is happening? More often than not, you need to ask yourself one of two questions:

 - Do you have executive function issues?
 - What are you avoiding

I wish I had clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answers and recommendations for both scenarios. I don't.
But YOU probably do.
When you find that thing you tend to avoid, this is where your towel is. This is what you need to take care of - either by yourself, or by enlisting a friend, or hiring a professional. 

the ESSENTIAL piece of your Planning: stop avoiding it!

This post was originally published for Coach Andrea's blog in 2015. But people still avoid THAT, so here goes...

If you hang around this blog, chances are you’re a leader in your field, probably with a pronounced entrepreneurial streak. Therefore, your work in the world must require a fair amount of Planning.

I'm willing to bet you're good at setting goals and making big-picture roadmaps. You often get incredible amounts of work done in a single day. However... Visionaries like you tend to neglect the mid-term planning. And enjoy the side effects of overwhelm towards the deadline, stress-induced mistakes, and unnecessary strain on you and your team.

We've talked before why people hate planning.  

With that in mind, how do you turn a Grand Plan into a clear step-by-step map, rather than a set of great goals, shining out of the weeds of urgent to-dos? And how do you make make mid-term planning an organic part of your business culture?

Step one: Awareness.

Now that we’ve pinpointed the reasons people avoid mid-term planning, it will be easier to recognize these behavior patterns, and therefore easier to change them. Go beyond inspiring speeches, and break down a grand goal into weekly tasks. Know that a fear of failure is unavoidable, and accept it as part of a healthy process. Better to face it ahead of time and prepare for a number of possible scenarios, than discover your fears come true because you avoided basic planning. Yes, it will be boring and overwhelming at times, but you’ll be saving yourself from much greater overwhelm in the very near future.

Step two: Review mid-term plans on a regular basis.

You may think this part is obvious, but... This is where many leaders drop the ball, because mid-term planning can be sobering, or boring, or overwhelming, or all of the above.

There are two main benefits to a regular review: the obvious one of tracking progress and identifying problems early, and the less obvious one of reducing noise. Teams regard a weekly review as a natural opportunity for communication, the time and place to talk about a project. This way, everything but the most urgent issues would be discussed during the review, instead of randomly distracting the leader.

Go ahead and put a recurring planning session on the calendar.

Step three: Make it enjoyable.

Otherwise, it will be too easy to just skip it in favor of something urgent or shiny. Here is one of the most effective ways I know: vividly envision the outcome for every mid-size task. It takes surprisingly little time. Sometimes no more than a fraction of a second. The payoff is huge – you now have a clearly defined task and you have enjoyed the process. Next time you have a detailed plan to make there will be far less resistance. You may even find yourself looking forward to the planning session.

Let’s Recap:

A habit of mid-term planning increases the chances of Big Goal accomplishment by orders of magnitude. To ensure this habit takes root, make it enjoyable for everyone by teaching your team to vividly imagine mid-term outcomes.

“Vividly imagine” equals “clearly define”. You will have a map of well-defined tasks, and everyone will have enjoyed the process. Enjoyable stuff is much more likely to be done consistently, and on a regular basis, which is absolutely crucial to make your planning effective.

YOUR CALL TO ACTION

Schedule a mid-term planning session and put in on your calendar! Tell us how adding these sessions to your planning has helped your plans turn into reality. Share below.

Just touch it!

When we procrastinate, sometimes the hardest thing is to start.
A good friend and an ADHD Coach Jennie Friedman teaches this fun and useful strategy:

Just touch it!

You had to pay bills three weeks ago, but the dishes, the new article, that microscopic spot on your nose, felt way more urgent? Just touch it! 
“It” being your favorite Bill Pay app, or the top of that stack of paperwork, shooting you resentful looks from the coffee table. Paying an Everest of bills is understandably scary. Touching the top envelop? Doable.

Packing your entire house for a move? (Liv, I’m looking at you)  - God-awful.
Can you touch that a flat cardboard box for me? Of course you can. And just like that you fold and tape it. And then put a few books in it. See, how you get into flow?

This Just-touch-it! hack no less effective for work-related tasks.

Making outreach calls can be paralyzing. But if you just. touch. your. phone… your brain will slide more naturally into making that first call. And then maybe the second.

Writing a book? Forget it. Even writing a chapter is daunting. But just-touching a mouse, double-clicking and writing a few characters of abracadabra is… silly. Way to gain momentum!

I could get into a lengthy scientific explanation why “Just Touch It” works, but it’s beautiful outside, so here’s the TL;DR version: When you touch something, you crush the barrier to start telling your brain “I’m in the middle of this task, catch up!” And your brain dutifully begins working at solving the problem at hand.

(If you want more detailed information on the topic - here’s a good book)

 

That’s it for today
Let me know what helps you start a big, daunting task!

P.S. 
I'm building a course geared to help frenzy-creative entrepreneurs to better deal with business systems. The idea is to teach how to build and use a framework that will allow you to streamline back-end operations - managing time, money, information, communications - and focus on core, meaningful work. My goals is to enable people to make a bigger impact and enjoy the process along the way.

If you’re willing to talk to me for 10-15 minutes and share your perspective,
click here to schedule a chat.  I'd be infinitely grateful!
No selling, pinkie promise.

Long-Term Planning: Four GLARING Mistakes

My last few weeks were a whirlwind of activity on the client front. A few of my favorite people are going through an intense launch phase, and a couple others are starting mega-exciting projects. All this work inspired me to write about Long-term Planning. It sounds like a pretty boring subject, so to make it juicier, let's talk about

The GLARING mistakes you (might) make when planning Long-Term

1. You stick your plans in a forgotten drawer

We never do this! No! It's not like you made a really nice well thought-through plan, let's say it takes five A4 pages and... that's it.
Three months later you find it when you're cleaning your desk.
All the planning workshops and sessions in the world are powerless against this strategy.

2. You confuse Goal-setting with Long-term Planning

Goal-setting: I want to quit my day job, so I'd sell an online class making $50K. (For the advanced goal-setters - imagine sign-up emails in your Inbox, rave reviews,  thankful notes from people you’ve guided through an incredible transformation)

Long-term planning:  I’m going to do research (2 weeks), then to pilot my class (4 weeks), then collect feedback (2 weeks), then decide on tweaks (1 week), then write the class (1 week? No, that’s way too optimistic. 3 weeks, I know myself, I’ll agonize over the smallest details). THEN, I'm going to market and launch it (4 weeks), then open the cart.
Where does this timeline brings us? Let’s do some quick math:
2+4+2+1+3+4= 16 weeks, a.k.a about 4 months.
Great. Now let’s think pricing, conversion rates, etc...

Many people tend to think long-term planning is the former. Goals-setting is essential, you won’t get anywhere without a clear goal. But it’s not enough. Long-term planning is the next step -
the not-too-detailed (that’s important!) roadmap to the goal you’ve set.

The key differences:
A Goal describes a finished outcome that relates to a specific point in time. It may even be a dream come true. We often set goals guided by our deepest emotions and desires - seeking independence, influence, connection. 

A Long-term Plan is first and foremost a sequence of events we need to happen to get to the goal. First we do A, then we do B, and these will lead us to C.
Each event has an approximate duration, and someone who’s responsible to make it happen - even if we don’t know at the beginning who that person will be. For example - if you plan to design a webpage 2 months from today, you know you’d need a web designer, even you don’t have a specific name in mind yet.

Here is another way to look at it, if the words “sequence” or “logical chain” make you squirm: 
A plan is a STORY.
A Narrative, where something happens and it leads to something else. The Ring of Sauron has to be destroyed (the Goal), so Frodo takes it upon himself to throw it into Mount Doom. The heroes plan the path: to cross the Misty Mountains, through the Redhorn Pass, across the flank of Caradhras. Elrond and Gandalf form a Fellowship of the Ring to help the hobbit overcome the dangers of the journey.

A note: the Visionary is usually very good at setting goals because it requires creating a picture (a vision!). Planning, on the other hand, requires linear thinking and focus. This is why Mark Zuckerberg needs Sheryl Sandberg so badly. She’s his COO, the person that translates a grand vision into a sequence of tasks/problems/events.

 3. You don’t plan the money ins and outs

If you have planned how much do you aspire to make, you’re already ahead of the majority. However, have you planned how much you’ll need to spend? Where would the money go?

How much would you invest in the Facebook ads? How many VA/designer/tech hours would your plans require? If you sell a physical product, did you plan material costs?

In addition to the obvious “let’s see what my budget allows” insight, long-term money plans have a curious side-effect  -  motivating us to act. When you see the investments you need to make, your plans feel more tangible and real. And most of us won’t get off our collective butt, unless real and tangible things need our real and tangible action.

The spending plan doesn’t have to be exact or even too detailed - it’s enough to say “$5000 for coaching, $1000 for software, $10000 for taxes”.

4. You stop at long-term, never planning the middle-term

You might have heard me say it before - Visionaries are great long-term planners and amazing immediate responders. But they often lack the ability to do the in-between.
Without middle-term planning  - the breaking down of big tasks into smaller ones, there’s no way to know what you need to do today, never mind in the next hour.


This point may actually be the hardest to implement - breaking down big chunks into smaller tasks, executing the small tasks, weaving them into daily routines. This requires discipline, focus, motivation, and, surprisingly, a healthy dose of creativity.
If this last sentence resonates - know you’re not alone.
There are methods and systems to make it easier (in other words, to make it actually, you know, happen). But that’s a story for another time.

Reviewing MONEY GOALS and on-going financials: the UN-painful way

We have already established that engaging with your financials on a regular basis tends to reduce anxiety, and comes with other perks like fueling your motivation and the super-power to correct course and really achieve the goals you set for yourself. 
That's great.
But there's a reason over 60% of Americans don't even have a budget, forget reviewing it regularly or otherwise. Financials have a bad rep of being daunting, complicated, and depressing. And sure, they can be. But avoiding the numbers won't make them any more pleasant to look at.
What will?

Here is my theory: reviewing both your big-picture money goals and your everyday cash flow should be EASY and ENGAGING. It's possible. Truly. 
How do we make it so? Two key components:

Component 1: Use a good system (making it EASY) 
It could be a favorite app (I listed my picks here) combined with a decadent pepper-mint caramel latter with whipped cream and cinnamon during a weekly review. Or a chart on a huge piece of clear plexi-glass on your wall, where you draw circles and arrows with dry-erase markers. The specifics matter far less than your level of comfort with the interface. Here are some guidelines to choosing a solid budgeting solution.


Component 2: Numbers are stories (making it ENGAGING)
Here is where things get really interesting, especially if you have an aversion to numbers in general and to spreadsheets in particular. Instead of looking at your budget and seeing dry arithmetic, let's frame the numbers into a narrative, where you are the hero.
Sounds weird?

Here's an example: Gordon planned to make $3500 from his face-painting e-class sales. He made just $2370, and now is understandably disappointed. If Gordon takes the conventional approach, that's it. Dry number and disappointment. Plus some conscious or subconscious resentment toward his spreadsheet.
If, however, Gordon sees himself as a protagonist of the story, he just hit a road-block (a plot twist, if you will) that he, the hero, needs to overcome.

Now Gordon examines previous chapters: did he build a big enough audience? Was his copy on-point? Maybe the tech he used was confusing? Or maybe his content was too broad and shallow?
He creates a plot line that includes changing the platform/firing his unreliable VA/tweaking his curriculum,  that can lead him to the win.

See what happened here? Gordon sees his sales number as a piece of a narrative, a figure that tells a story. This story would inspire action and become a part of a larger plot. 


Another example: Gerda was aiming for to sell 430 units of her lavender-bacon beard soaps. (Yes, lavender-bacon is gross. But memorable). She sold 621 pieces. Apparently, bacon sells everything, including lavender beard soaps.
In her story, the sales "dry number" just indicated a win for the heroine. A conclusion to a plot with obstacles she overcame and money she spent along the way - these numbers are also pieces of the narrative. 
A victory to celebrate, to learn from, to lovingly store in a feel-good compartment of her business and her psyche. 
 

When you process numbers as stories, you ENGAGE.
Mentally and emotionally.
When a process is engaging, you're way more likely to repeat it,
creating a habit of controlling your money flow.

 

Want a step-by-step guidance to this process for your business or your household?
Check out my MONEY GOALS 3-6 service.
See you next post!

Steps to deal with MONEY-RELATED anxiety

On your first postpartum check-up, the OBGYN hands you a list of questions.
 - Are you sleeping OK when the baby sleeps?
 - Are you worried about financial hardship now that you have a new baby?
 - Do you get support from your partner?
The list goes on - they are screening you for signs of postpartum depression.

At that blissful time all I knew about depression was purely theoretical. So my first thought was “Well, if you have an un-supportive partner, an unstable money situation, if you’re sleep deprived -  you’re going to feel stressed even if your postpartum mind, body, and hormones are on their best behavior.”

I know better these days.
But I still believe that money worries cause huge amounts of anxiety. Tremendous.
I’m not going to cite any statistics (have you heard that 87.4% of all cited statistics were invented on the spot?), but you have probably noticed that money worries impact our relationships, our performance on the job, our health - everything.

So how do we cope?

By taking an ACTIVE role in managing our money.

Let me unpack this somewhat nebulous phrase into a 4-step process: 
Step 1: Set your financial goals

Step 2: Outline your top priorities (no more than a handful)

Step 3: Create a system to track your progress towards these goals. System means you have
             - the right tools,
             - a process you can easily follow
              - and ideally, built-in accountability.

Step 4: Track progress, tweak, repeat.

If you need a hand to set-up this process your business (or your household), 
check out my MONEY GOALS 3-6 service.
In 2 one-on-one sessions we'll set realistic financial goals for the next 3-6 months, after helping you analyze your income streams and expenses. 
The launch price - 50% off - end on Feb-3, so be sure to sign up by Friday.


What you get:

  • Clear money goals for the next 3 to 6 month - hard numbers in dollars. Why just 3-6 months, you ask? These goals tend to be more tangible, and therefore easier to realize.
     
  • A system to track your income streams and expenses - taking the guesswork out of how much money go in and out every month. 
    Remember? Tools, process, foundation for accountability. All in there.
     
  • A solid idea about your most profitable products or services - and a clear understanding where it pays to invest your energy.
     
  • As a bonus - my clients report a sharp drop in money-related anxiety. I'm no therapist, but it stands to reason that feeling in control makes you worry less, especially when it comes to the lifeblood of your business. 

Check it out here: MONEY GOALS 3-6

That's it for today. Next post is about reviewing money goals, why bother, what to avoid, and how to make it painless.