Plan Better This Year
3 Mistakes Busy Professionals Make When Planning Their Year
As an executive coach and accountability partner for entrepreneurs and executives who want to improve how they lead, I see a lot of dysfunction. Working with productive and effective companies that thrive can be inspiring. Well-meaning but busy professionals are firing on all cylinders throughout the year, giving it everything they’ve got to accomplish their business goals. What's heartbreaking, is the number of professionals who give-it-their-all at the office and then have nothing left for anyone else or themselves.
Of course, the office does have one big incentive; they pay you. Still, it can feel like the other areas of your life only receive a promissory note from you. Why? Because you are deferring your dreams. Again.
Candidly, I’ve seen many high-performers at work, screw up their personal planning in the other areas of their life. Many simply don’t think to use their skills to plan outside of the office, or if they do; they find a way to sabotage themselves. As a result, they typically feel dismayed and despondent during the holidays and the first part of the new year. I’d like to help turn that tide. It would help if people put as much thought into their personal values, purpose or aspirations as they do their shopping lists. If you had built a plan for your life a year ago, how much better would you be feeling right now?
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone had a personal success plan? Well, we’ve got to start somewhere.
I've seen three mistakes that keep busy professionals from making better personal plans. In this guide, I’ll describe those mistakes and offer suggestions on how to avoid making them yourself.
Mistake 1 - Ignoring Your Values and Purpose
Where do values come from? You know your thoughts drive your values, your values drive your beliefs, your beliefs drive your attitude, and your attitude drives your behavior. That is not a linear model; it is cyclical. Your behavior, in turn, drives your thoughts and so on and so forth. If you wanted to change your behavior, you’d need to change your attitude. If you want to change your beliefs, you’ll have to change your values.
Changing your values is heady stuff. It is possible though it takes time. Values are personal. They are enduring, and they are self-selected. Other people cannot instill their values in you, although they try. Your values are your values. They are enduring because; you’ll have already tested them. You’ve been with them for a while and have determined which ones fit with you, and which ones you reject. Whether you know it or not, you are selecting what you value. What if you want to know, and not simply accept them by default? How do you find them?
Take a look at your calendar and your checkbook. It is another way of saying priorities. Where you are spending your time and where you are spending your money is an indication of what you value. As a quick exercise, take a look at those two things, even over the last week, though it is better if you can go back a couple of weeks or months. Look at where you've been spending your time. Obviously, much of it is going to be at work, or school, or with children, which are in themselves a demonstration of values.
Specifically which values do you want? In my practice, I take people through an exercise; that you can do an abbreviated form of on your own. Find a bunch words, I start with 425, and run through them and find the ones that speak to you. Examples include; attentiveness, balance, boldness, bravery, concern, comfort, diligence, efficiency, ease, freedom, gratitude, joy; you get the idea. Pick any number of these words, which tend to be nouns. I start my clients out with 425 of them, which is quite a bit, so we narrow the list down. After the first go around they usually still have quite a few remaining. We try to reduce it down to no more than 16 words that express the values that they find important.
I then put them through a tournament, kind of like March Madness. We pit words against each other until we get down to eight. Then again to get to the Final Four. Many people have trouble with this. “We’ll gee,” they say, “I have these two values, and they're both important to me.” First, none of this is written in stone; you can change the words around, or combine a few that are similar in meaning. You can even make up your own word if you want. They are your values. At the end of the exercise, you end up with four. Any more than four is too much; you will not pay attention to them, and that is how people sabotage their year. By not paying attention to their values, and things that are important to them.
Next, rank the final four in priority order.
Some people protest, “Well, they're all important; otherwise they wouldn't be my values.” Correct. Life is about values conflict. For example, somebody values honesty, and he or she also value family. At some point, there is going to be a situation where they are going to have to choose between honesty and family. For example; should they call in sick when they’re not, in order to spend much-needed time with their family? Or, do they leave their family at Disneyland because they made a commitment to a work situation, and they will not lie their way out of meeting that obligation?
There will always be value conflicts. You want to know what your values are and rank them so that you can make better decisions. That is ultimately what going through and understanding your values is all about. So that you are crafting your year, your months, your week, your day, and making better decisions based on values that you picked. Then, you are working toward your life, not somebody else’s.
“I don’t know what my purpose is.”
When I ask people is, “What’s your purpose?” many shrug, because they do not give it much thought. In fact, the desire to answer that question is why many people choose to start their engagement with Karl Bimshas Consulting.
I have a library of exercises that help people discover or uncover their purpose. Personally, I think everybody is exposed to his or her purpose early in life, through a combination of experiences between nature and nurture. Very few have the cognitive ability to recognize it at a young age, so their job is to uncover bits and pieces of it throughout their life.
Here's one exercise to try. It typically takes an hour, but this will give you a sense of one of the ways you can draw your purpose out I use the terms purpose, mission, and operating principle interchangeably. For me, there is an indiscernible difference.
Frequently a mission statement is that document that too many companies spend lots of time creating at a retreat, as though they were crafting national legislation. After much squabbling and debate over the meaning and grammar, they frame their words and then hang them on a wall near the front door, where it helps collect dust.
What a shame.
Although it does take time and reflection, crafting a mission statement should not consume you or your resources. The same principle holds true when crafting a personal mission statement, or if you prefer, your operating principle or purpose.
Many people do not have an operating principle that acts as a guiding force in their lives. As a result, they tend to live by accident or whim instead of on purpose.
This exercise will help form an early draft of your personal mission statement. Your mission will change over time, but not necessarily dramatically. You will continually refine and define it to fit your life experiences and goals more accurately. This is good. Remember, this exercise is designed to get you to begin thinking about your life. From that, you can build a better plan for your year.
Step One - List your strengths and characteristics.
Browse through a thesaurus or a dictionary. My clients use the Mission to Mantra Workbook I provide. Find words that are strengths of yours that you absolutely know you possess. These are words that when you hear them, you smirk a little. I wouldn’t call it a smugness, but there is that confident piece of you that says, “Yeah, you're right. I’ve got this.”
Examples of these words include; bravery, courage, competence, customer service, grace, dignity, hopefulness, justice, and wit. List the strengths that you know you undisputedly possess.
Step Two - List the ways you effectively and positively interact with people.
Similar to the word culling from step one, except this time find words that illustrate how you effectively and positively interact with others. Think about how you influence people in a positive way? What is it that you end up doing? This is not throwing a temper tantrum and pouting to get your way. These are the ways that you positively interact with people to win them over to your point of view.
Examples include; analyze, caring, creative, direct, listen, playful, repair. Think about how you positively interact with people and jot down a few that come to mind.
Step Three - Describe your ideal world.
Assume there were no constraints to achieve what you want, and anything was possible. People spend a lot of time on this. Don’t. Invest maybe three or five minutes. What is it you would want for the world if you had no constraints; no financial barriers, no relationship issues, no complaints, and no resource issues?
If that’s too far reaching for you, consider what your ideal home-life would look like? What would your ideal work environment look like? What would your ideal retirement look like? Don't agonize over this. Jot a few things down. As an example, let’s say somebody’s ideal world would be one where young children are free from harm. Maybe they see the opposite of that too frequently, and they dream of a better world.
What’s happening in your ideal world?
Step Four - Strengths and Interactions.
Go back to the words from step one and pick two strengths. Do the same from the list of selected words from step two and decide on two positive interactions; the two strongest hopefully.
To continue the example, let's say somebody picked helpfulness and dedication as his or her strengths. Their most positive interactions are listening and making plans.
Step Five - Whom Do You Serve
Pick a group of people you feel compelled to serve. Be as specific as possible. For example, “Kids” is not as strong as “Kindergarteners,” which is even less specific than “Kindergarteners with asthma.”
These should be people you are attracted to, or who are attracted to you. Maybe it is children or the elderly, or maybe a particular demographic. These are people that you enjoy being with. Sometimes you seek them out to learn from them. I know people who seek out retired military officers because they love learning, not only about their histories but also about leadership.
If you are stuck, keep asking yourself, “What kind of people?” until you’ve reached the specific group of people that you learn from and you also want to help. Describe them.
Step Six: Fill in the Blanks
Draft your purpose. Take all the work that we've done to this point, and put them together, kind of like a Mad Libs, fill in the blanks.
My purpose is to use my ___________(Strength - Step 4) and ___________(Strength - Step 4) to ___________(Interaction - Step 4) and ___________(Interaction - Step 4)
___________(Specific group of people - Step 5) so that
___________(Your ideal world - Step 3)
My purpose is to use my ___________(Strength - Step 4) and ___________(Strength - Step 4) to ___________(Interaction - Step 4) and ___________(Interaction - Step 4)
___________(Specific group of people - Step 5) so that
___________(Your ideal world - Step 3)
Step Seven - Rewrite and edit for clarity.
What you came up with in step six might be clunky, so rewrite it. Use your own words. Clean it up so that it flows off the tongue, makes sense, and you feel good about saying it aloud. Congratulations, you have essentially created a personal mission statement that is meaningful for you.
Step Eight - Your Mantra
With a mission statement, you get a broad perspective of your purpose. Look through it and omit any overused and inflated words like; best, excellence, leaders, quality, and premiere. Try reducing your mission statement to only two or four words, or a succinct sentence that can become a trigger for you. It is the shorthand of your purpose.
This is your mantra. You needn’t go to the printer with it; you need to live it every day with vision, passion, and action.
Mistake 2 - Ignoring The Whole Picture
A second common mistake that keeps busy professionals from making better personal plans is; they ignore the whole picture. When people plan their year, if they plan their year, it is often defensively driven.
“I’m not going to the reunion looking like this.”
“I’m not going to keep borrowing money and growing more in debt.”
“I'm not going to feel ashamed about my education.”
“Not" can be a powerful motivator. It can also cloud things out and put blinders on you.
It is important to recognize that people are multi-dimensional. No one is ever one thing. Everyone has strengths and imagined weaknesses in various areas of his or her life. Whether it be in their financial life, their career, their health, their relationships, their contribution to something bigger than themselves, and how they pursue their recreation, education, and personal life.
What is a highly satisfied person, and what would their life look like in all these areas? Obviously, it’s different for everybody, but somebody who is very satisfied financially might be financially independent, free from financial stress, and satisfied with his or her current level of income.
- From a career standpoint, maybe they are in a fulfilling and nourishing career that’s on a positive path.
- Their health; they are in great shape. They’re receiving effective healthcare; they are regularly exercising and eating for sustenance and pleasure and not emotional comfort.
- They’re pleased and content with their current relationships, and loved by the people who mean the most to them.
- From a contribution standpoint, they are giving of themselves and to others.
- They are spending leisure time enjoying their interests and recreation. They’re enjoying relaxation refreshment and pleasure.
- Education-wise, they’re engaged in creative and stimulating mental activities, and using resources available to expand their knowledge.
- And on the personal front, they are evolving not merely improving because they continually experiment.
Not everybody is going to feel this way. In fact, it is rare that people are satisfied in all areas. Which is why I ask people to rate their current satisfaction from zero to ten, with zero being horrible and 10 being a state of utopia.
What about you? How satisfied are you in your financial life, your career, your health? How are your relationships, your level of contribution, your recreation, and education? How are your personal pursuits?
You’ve probably seen personal development people present these dimensions as a wheel, and stressing the need for balance. I disagree. Stop seeking balance, or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Have you ever tried to physically balance something on the end of your finger or your foot? It is stressful and over time it is exhausting. It consumes your focus and energy forcing you to neglect everything else.
I think of these dimensions more like an equalizer on a stereo. You get to adjust the bass and the treble to your liking and circumstances, and create the harmony that works for you. Remember, you can always adjust them. Once you achieve that, start thinking about your ideal situation.
What is nirvana to you in each dimension? What would a “ten” be for you, or a “nine” if you are the kind of person who does not give tens? What would be your ideal situation if you had no constraints whatsoever in your financial life, in your career life, with your health, with your relationships, with your contribution - this can be spirituality or giving to others, random acts of kindness, your own sort of personal creed? What about recreation and education; that is not only formal education, it is street smarts. What are you doing to continue to learn and grow? Think about your personal development in your hobby and in the things that are private and yours alone? What could it be like for you in those areas?
Consider your ideal state and compare it to where you are now. Ask yourself, what is keeping you from whatever you rated yourself in each area, to a ten in your utopia? What’s keeping you from achieving that?
It is different things for different people. I ask this question of people early on because there is usually a trend that is keeping them from achieving their goals. It might have to do with money or procrastination, or they are too tired, or too timid, or too something and not enough another thing.
Busy professionals who screw-up planning their year don't go through this exercise. They don’t give any of these things constructive thought. They do not look at the whole picture and, as a result, they misallocate their priorities away from what’s important to them. Then, they have a lackluster year and wonder why.
You don't want that, and I do not want that for you.
Mistake 3 - Weak Goals, If Any At All
In this final section, I am going to be less on the coaching side and more on the accountability partner side. You are going to get a sense of my bluntness because we are dealing with building your personal plan for your year. That is a slice of your life, and I take that seriously. I have seen too many people at the end of the year be filled with blah emotions because the year was not what they wanted. The culprit is nearly always weak goals, weak plan, and a failure to act.
What makes a personal plan weak? It’s not written. If you say you have a plan, but you cannot show it, it is not a plan, it is an idea. I am talking about a plan.
Maybe you have your plan written and formulated. You spent a lot of time on it; picked the right fonts, nice highlight coloring, it all looks gorgeous, but you have not looked at it since the day you wrote it.
If you have not looked at daily, maybe you looked at it couple times a year, when you rifled through that folder by accident. That is not a path toward success; it is a path forged by a weak plan.
When you put your plan together, if you put it together, you blindly populated it with things that are not really your goal, they are someone else's goal. Could be the goals of a spouse, a parent, children, grandparents; it could be driven by somebody who is no longer with you. You are still carrying their influence, trying to please them for some reason. You're listening to them and working on something other than your goal. Not a great plan. I mean, it could be a great plan, but if it is not serving you, how great is it?
It is likely your plan, and your goals are vague. You want to lose weight; you want a new car, you want to learn a new language, you want to travel. These are wonderful goals … in a way. You could probably throw a rock and hit ten other people who have similar goals. I am not saying your goals have to be unique, but you need to be specific with them. Vague goals get vague results.
A weak plan is a plan that is unexciting. Your plan should buoy you up. Your plan should elicit a type of excitement -- like a kid with a treasure map, looking to see what the next step unfolds. How do you stay on track? How do you get to the X that marks the spot? That is what a strong plan does. It leads you there, step-by-step, and if you are not excited by that, you have got the wrong plan.
Please do not tell me your goal is unmeasurable. I come from the school of thought that everything is measurable, but that doesn't mean you should measure everything. There are some things that are binary; it is yes or no. There are some things that are subjective; your rating 0-10, or red-yellow-green, and you can measure those units over time and see trends. I am big into taking two measurements; Your process measure, what it is you are doing in the midst of things, and, your results measure; did you hit the target that you wanted to hit?
Weak plans have goals that are unattainable. There is a thought, held by people with a no-limits mentality, who pooh-pooh the idea of realistic and attainable goals. “What is realistic and what is attainable,” they ask. “I don't want to rule anything out.” That’s fine if that's their lifestyle and that is what they want to do. I think that will distract you from your objective. I am not saying you cannot have these things that are way-faraway, that nobody else, but you can envision. What I am saying is, a plan should pull down the parts that are attainable that you can work on for now, whether the period is a month or year.
There are too many people who take the approach of, “Well, I’m not going to put any limits on my dreams. Come what may.” There’s validity to that; you never know what tomorrow may bring that could completely shatter your well-laid plans. (Which is the point of having a contingency plan, but I digress.) It is the difference between living a life with a plan that you follow as best you can, while you try to uncover things on or near the path. Or, treating life as something that you drift around in rudderless and enjoying the view. These are not absolutes. There are those who navigate between the two worlds. Nonetheless, a strong plan does not include unattainable things.
It also should not contain things that are irrelevant. They should not contain things that come out of left field, that don’t serve your purpose or values. Unless you are going to change your purpose and values, then these could reflect your new direction. How effective do you imagine a plan for irrelevant things is going to be?
A plan without a deadline does not usually get too much done. I have come across more people, regardless of their predisposition to be procrastinators or very diligent, who when given a deadline, get it done. There is an inherent motivation and momentum created when you set a deadline. Even if you cannot meet it and you negotiate a new one, there is still a sense of ownership around your plan. People who do not do that, do not have ownership of the plan, and they often don’t accomplish what they want to accomplish.
Weak plans have too many goals or too many actions. I think you should have tons of goals in your life, In fact, I think when you run out of goals, you run out of life. However, I do not think you need to be working on all those goals at the same time. In fact, you can’t. You should have a Great Goal, and then maybe two others. One that is a long-term goal that you work on a little bit every day. Also, one short-term goal, something that’s fun or distracting but still a worthwhile goal. That way your brain stays fresh and engaged moving from three different but complementary objectives. When you are filled with a dozen goals, you’re going to be scattered and distracted. The perfectionist cannot get to them all; therefore they will never be good enough. The generalist will touch on them all but will not have spent enough time with them. By the end of the year, both feel as though they haven’t accomplished anything. They tinkered with things, as opposed to achieving something.
A plan that is weak doesn't stretch you. Many people say you should always step out of your comfort zone. While it’s true, there are occasions you have to step out of your comfort zone to grow and experience new things, When you're putting together a plan you want to leverage your comfort zone in the best way possible. Your comfort zone is where your strengths lay; your comfort zone is where you can find your expertise. Your comfort zone is where everything you know, and you feel confident about resides. Why wouldn't you take all those strengths to bear, and work on something closely related. That way you can stretch. You can push at that comfort zone and expand it a little bit, instead of ignoring your strengths and whimpering somewhere in a corner because you tried something and failed. Your plan must stretch you, but it should not break you.
Weak plans don't have celebrations in them. A strong plan has celebrations built in. When you are working on something day after day, and you're moving it forward little by little, you start feeling proud. Eventually, you get it done, and nobody says anything. That sucks. You can repeat that several times, but eventually, your heart is no longer in it, you have a sense of, ‘what’s the point?’ So you disengage. That is where there's a lot of demotivation and a lot of despondency. People have worked hard, and it feels like nobody has noticed. Maybe people notice, but they have not planned to do anything about it, they just think about it. When you have a strong plan, you do more than think about it, you seek it out and act on it. You build milestones and points of celebration. It is what makes the whole thing worthwhile, and people ignore it far too often.
There is another big variable that creates a weak plan. It's too much work. People are busy, and all this planning and thinking is overwhelming. “I just want what I want,” is a common refrain of the tired and frustrated. I understand that. It is work. It's too much work, because, I think you're worth it. However, what I think is irrelevant. You are the one who has to think and answer the question, “Are you worth it?” Are you worth putting in the effort to create a successful plan for your year or even your week or day? If you are not planning ahead, you are kind of telling yourself you aren't worth it. What message is that sending your subconscious, or even to the people you interact with? They can see it. In many ways, a solid plan increases your self-worth and your greater worth.
So how do you ensure you have a better year?
- Stop feeling anxious about planning your year.
- Stop ignoring your values and purpose.
- Remember the whole picture.
- Make a strong plan.
Some may still feel some anxiety over this and say, “Well sure all that sounds great. I'll try to pay attention to my values and purpose. I am not quite sure I know what they are?” or “I kind of get the gist of the whole picture, but I need to validate it. I'm not sure I understand it,” or there's a sense of, “I don't even know how to make a strong plan.”
Answer: Find someone who does to help you.
It doesn’t have to be me, but since you are reading …
I've created, Your Personal Game Plan. It is a coaching and accountability program taking a number of elements that I've used throughout the last twenty years to help people achieve the things that they want to achieve. I’ve put it in a format to help create a master plan for you.
Here are some of the things that we do together in our one-on-one coaching sessions;
- Set the stage. You clear up loose ends and make room for the things that you are going to bring in the year ahead.
- An intensive goal discovery process. We learn what your initial goal is, some of the motivations behind it, and how badly you really want it.
- Look at the whole picture. We do some “inside work” go through Your Values Finder, and help you build your purpose.
- Your personal vision. Taking account of your strengths and weaknesses.
- Effective goals. Run through a goal worksheet, create a strategic plan and a theme for the year.
- High-level, year at a glance view. Populate your forecast of events, milestones, and things that you know are coming over the year.
- Create monthly objectives. Based on your plan, your purpose, your vision, and your values, take monthly goals and turn them into a weekly focus and daily actions.
Your Personal Game Plan
There's a high level of flexibility in this program.
- Some people want to work purely electronically.
- Some people want a hard copy in front of them.
- Some people have existing tools already that work for them.
- Some people get bored very easily and need a different tool every few months.
We can accommodate any of that.
Although this is a clearly defined program, it is also highly customizable based on your schedule, goals, and needs.
I'd love to help you create a better plan. If you are leaning toward signing up for this, but are still unsure, you should wait. This program is for busy professionals who are confident and know what they want.
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