Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D., is executive coach with LRI, keynote speaker and author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership.
Since the shock of the pandemic in the early spring gave way to a long, hot summer, followed by a sluggish fall and seemingly endless winter, it has become apparent that everyone is overwhelmed. The reason we’re overwhelmed is that things that are out of our control are more stressful than things that are in our control.
One way out of the overwhelm is to find what you can control and then get as organized as you can around those elements or projects. If you’re running a million miles an hour, it’s hard to sit down and find time to get clarity on what to focus on, especially in the midst of the whirlwind we all find ourselves in.
These six different planning tools are a key strategy for getting organized and getting in control:
1. The Strategic Plan
Just as an organization needs a strategic plan, you as an individual need to be strategic about your planning. Start with the big why. What is the vision you have? Your vision today may be narrowed down to “healthy survival” — like simply managing as a working parent with kids who are at home doing remote learning while you’re trying to manage your business by Zoom. Being able to do that, and maintain your sanity, may be a good enough vision for right now. Or your vision today may be more expansive and still important to you — like excelling or advancing in your position despite the pandemic. Finding a way to keep that vision alive amid the changes is also important. Start with a quiet moment to zero in on the following components:
• Your vision.
• Your goals.
• Your objectives.
2. The Master Plan
The idea of a master plan may seem intimidating to some. It sounds final, formal, complete. At this stage, you may not have the bandwidth to create a master plan, or maybe you don’t have enough information during this time of ambiguity.
An alternative is to make just one giant plan, without regard for looks or structure. It’s simply a collection of everything you do know about what you need to do to reach your vision, goals and objectives, and it starts with a simple brain dump. Collect your sticky notes strewn about your desk and computer monitor. Figure out everything you have to do, and put it all in one place. This gets those short-term, medium-range and long-term tasks out of your head and onto the page and reduces stress.
3. The Action Plan
If your master plan is a giant collection of everything you have to do, your action plan is about subdividing “everything” into groups.
Maybe you need one for an important project, another for each of your goals, another for your team’s monthly objectives and even one to organize your family as you’re all under one roof.
To create an action plan, review all the tasks in your master plan, and pull off the items related to a topic to create a small subset of tasks around a theme. Organize this smaller list by adding things like dates, priority levels, groupings and categories. If your master plan is about getting everything in one place, these action plans are about focusing on what you need to do for a certain purpose.
4. The To-Do List
As you may have already noticed, the three lists above are moving toward increasing specificity, and this fourth list is the most specific. Your to-do list is where you look across your various plans and pull off the ones you’re going to do today. This will greatly reduce the overwhelm and give you a sense of manageability when you start your day and productivity as you move through it, getting things done.
5. The 90-Day Plan
If your project or goal is a long-term one, you can take a step back and look three months out from where you stand today. Then work backward to figure out what you must have achieved by then, starting today. A timeline will begin to emerge that will slot all the things you need to do into chronological order. To avoid getting overwhelmed with this task, make sure to only do it for one project, specifically, instead of falling for the temptation to weave together multiple timelines.
6. The Right-Now Plan
For those of you who find it simply impossible to think so thoroughly through your plans at this time — and after all, given the last year we’ve had, who knows what the next 90 days will bring — I have one more option for you: the right-now plan.
This idea came from one of my executive coaching clients, Carol Ann Lloyd, a keynote speaker and author at an exciting time of growth in her career. At the beginning of 2020, she worked hard to develop a strategic plan, quarterly plans and 90-day plans to implement it. When the pandemic struck, everything about her plan had to change. Some of her plans were canceled; others shifted to virtual; others were placed on the back burner. She came up with what she calls her “right now” plan — a version of her strategic plan that makes use of master planning, action plans and to-do lists by using them as raw material for what she’s going to do right now in the near term. It has helped her move forward toward her vision in a new way.
The six tools above are designed to be in written format, on paper, so that you can take your plans with you and cross items off, using them like a map to guide you forward each day. You don’t have to sacrifice all you’re working toward because you find yourself in the pandemic purgatory, the sea of overwhelm and unknown we’ve all grown familiar with over the last year. Even though you can’t control the overwhelm and the unknown, you can control yourself, and that is your power.
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Joelle K. Jay, Ph. D., is an executive coach with LRI, keynote speaker, and author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership.…