Planning is the sneakiest form of self sabotage. Entrepreneurs know they have to do it (it’s essential) yet it’s also a huge source of needless procrastination.
The fact that we need to plan cannot be denied. This post provides a practical guide for preventing your planning sessions from morphing into time-sucking, momentum killing monsters.
Strategy #1 – Put a time limit on planning
When did the attitude that “planning takes as long as it takes” become a default?
Like any other business activity, your focus should be on the bottom line when you plan – which means paying attention to the indirect (but significant) cost that your three day planning retreat (metaphorical or otherwise) has on your business.
When you’re planning you’re not engaging in sales activity, hustling with your marketing or developing new product. That absence of action has an impact. It means that planning actually costs your business dollars per minute. By taking yourself out of “operations” to “plan”, you’re effectively hiring yourself as a consultant (but you don’t get paid) and sending your chief “doer” on vacation.
Because planning is business, treat it that way. Put a time limit on it.
You’d never hire a consultant and say “Figure this out… three hours or three days… either is fine”. Don’t treat yourself that way.
Before you kick off your planning session, make a contract with yourself to quit planning at a specific time and go back to “doing mode”. Even if you don’t finish planning in time, you can always circle back to it later… and you’ll be better off for it.
Always plan to end planning.
Strategy #2 – Build experimentation into your planning
Experimentation keeps your planning based firmly in the realm of action and reality. By building testing, measurement and trials into your plans you’ll naturally push yourself to “do” sooner rather than later.
The idea is to always design a plan that requires some form of real-world experimentation for the plan itself to be complete. Not only does doing this build better quality plans (based on facts), it creates a habit of smooth transitions between planning and doing.
Don’t fool yourself that experimentation is only available to those in the geeky, techie realms of the internet. Although Google Analytics lends itself way to such trials there is always an opportunity to experiment, no matter what business you’re in. I recently ran a one month trial of B2B direct sales interactions, totally offline and 100% old school. Nevertheless we measured and then planned accordingly.
The key is to use a short burst of measured action, measure the results and then bring your data back into your planning as quickly as possible. Rinse and repeat that formula and you’ll be well on your way to business success.
Strategy #3 – Find a “stop me planning” buddy
This is the extreme solution. The Planners Anonymous tactic for entrepreneurs who just can’t stop planning and start moving. If you’re crippling yourself with procrastination through planning, you need an accountability buddy.
Grab a friend – someone with basic business chops or even just street-smarts. Have them read through your plan (yes, you should be writing it) when you think you’re almost finished. Have them poke holes in it and ask questions. Ask them to hold you accountable to getting started as soon as possible.
When a buddy is constantly bringing you back to the “When can you start?”, things get uncomfortable. The best kind of uncomfortable – the kind that precedes big action and big changes.
Combine the three strategies outlined here and you’ll become an unstoppable force for making big things happen. You’ll never again get caught up planning and re-planning in circles. You’ll never again be seduced by what feels like the most productive form of procrastination.
Planning, whether it’s writing a fully fledged business plan or simply figuring things out, is only useful to an extent. Don’t shun it completely. Do stay aware though – never forget that the vast majority of entrepreneurial planning is a waste of time.
Don’t psychologically side-step the important action your career and business needs. Stop planning and start doing.