However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”—Sir Winston Churchill
Faced with a major project or challenge? You probably have a general idea of where you want to go, but you’ll need a strategy, a plan of steps to take in order to reach that objective.
Planning is an investment. To plan wisely and well takes time, effort, patience‚ good research, and counsel. But a well-formed plan will pay for itself many times over.
There are many ways to create a strategy, but here are a few tried-and-proven principles that you might want to try.
- Define your long-term objectives. What exactly do you hope to achieve? Spell each one out on paper in concrete, concise terms. For the greatest chance of success, narrow your focus to one or two primary objectives. You can take on more or diversify later, as resources permit.
- Set short-term goals to reach your long-term objectives. In order to reach your long-term objectives, you will need steppingstones along the way. These should be smaller goals that together will get you to the final destination of your long-term objectives. They should be detailed and specific, concrete and measurable. If a goal isn’t something that you’ll be able to tick off as done, if it can’t be quantified, then it’s not specific enough.
- Breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces is crucial. The simpler and easier your goals are to reach, the better, because you’ll see more immediate progress. It’s easy to overestimate and shoot too high when setting your goals. It’s also wise to realize that reaching big objectives takes time. Having a number of smaller goals will help keep the motivation level high, because you’ll see more tangible progress. And every time you tick off one of your smaller goals, you’re that much closer to your long-term objective.
- Identify any obstacles. Once you have determined your long-term objectives and your short-term goals, you should take a look at any obstacles, or cons‚ or things that might stand in the way of achieving the results you’re after. If you are alerted to potential problems, you can head them off by proactively praying for potential solutions.
- Formulate a strategy. Once you have determined your long-term objectives and the short-term goals, you need a plan that includes specific tasks that will help you reach each of your short-term goals. Your plan must be realistic. A lofty plan may look impressive, but if it’s too complicated or difficult to implement, it will never get off the ground and therefore be ineffective.
Assign the specific tasks that will be involved. Determine who will be responsible for each step, when they should have it done by, and if it’s possible to know at this stage, how it should be done. Accountability is vital to success, as otherwise there will be no follow-through and no progress.
- Document the plan. Unless you document the plan clearly, things will be forgotten and left undone, and you might as well not have gone to all the trouble of having created the plan in the first place. Good documentation is vital for follow-through, accountability, and gauging progress.
- Execute! The most common pitfall of planning is failing to implement the plan. People invest in creating a great plan, and they have the best intentions in the world for carrying it out. But things come up, life is busy, and they don’t follow through.
- Monitor your progress. Set in place a means to monitor progress at regular intervals. Make sure that tasks are getting done when they’re supposed to and that progress is being made toward reaching your short-term goals. If you don’t stop regularly to check your “map” and see where you are, you’re less likely to stay on the road to success.
- Expect the unexpected. Be flexible. Things rarely happen exactly as we imagine they will. As you monitor your progress, be prepared for new factors and adapt accordingly. If something comes up that makes it impossible to carry out a task as you had hoped‚ look around for alternatives. If something isn’t working, change it. Generally follow your plan, but don’t set it in stone.
- Keep it simple. Guard against additions or complications that would overload the time and resources you’ve allocated to reaching a particular goal. When you first plan something, it often looks simple enough. But as you go along, the project grows—either because you keep adding new ideas, or because things are just more complicated than you thought—and usually some of both. Recognize when your plan is becoming overloaded‚ and determine what is necessary and what is not. Be willing to cut the frills and scale back on aspects that are just too costly in terms of resources.
- Celebrate your successes, the milestones along the way. Don’t wait till you reach your long-term objectives. Celebrating the completion of short-term goals generates satisfaction and excitement.