New Year Planning? Do as little as possible.

Simple vs. Complex

Annual planning, the way we’ve been taught, is largely fortune telling and a waste of time. Plan more effectively by doing less of it.

What We Were Taught
– Go away for 2-3 days in January to plan the year.
– Plan everything in as much detail as you can; growth strategies, budget, purchases, hires, leases, etc., etc.
– Follow the plan – don’t deviate – people who deviate won’t be successful.
– Wait until next January to do it again.
– Put it on a shelf with your “shelf-help” books – it’s only real value is to help your shelf look good.

If strategic planning was important for the new year, you would do it in December, not in January. And we wouldn’t wait 12 months to do it again. If you let your “strategy” degrade to the point that you only have one day of “strategy” left when you get back to it next January, it’s not a strategy, just an exercise you go through.

And following it faithfully is just a dumb idea. During one of my short stints at trying to be an employee I wrote the CEO an email in October requesting 10 new workstations and 20 employees (double-shifts) to handle growth. The next day he wrote back and said he had checked the annual plan I submitted in January, and that I had not requested those capital expenditures in the “plan”. Request denied.

They went bankrupt three years later, slavishly following their silly annual plans and rearranging the deck chairs in the business all the way down.

It’s Counter-Intuitive
Giant Corporation, Inc. taught us that we should try to capture everything in an annual plan – the more detail we go into, the more likely we are to be successful. I did enough of those to know it’s nonsense (and surveyed a few thousand business owners who say the same thing).

Only sweat the big stuff – the 12-3-1 Plan
All you need to capture is the four-to-ten big things that you need to do this coming year. That’s it. Write them down. I guarantee you that if you capture the very few, very important things you need to accomplish this year, you are MUCH more likely to actually get them done than if you attempt to capture EVERYTHING that needs to be done this year.

Once you have these, develop what we call a 12-3-1 Strategic Plan. 12-months, 3-months and 1-month, a third of a page for each. You don’t need anything more than this.

12-Month Objectives
Put your four-to-ten 12-month Objectives for next year on the top 1/3 of a page (spreadsheet, word doc, doesn’t matter), That’s typewritten in an 11 pt. font, with lots of spacing. Don’t cheat. The more you capture, the less you will do. Simple beats complex every time.

3-Month Action Plan
Take each one of these 4-10 Objectives and decide what you have to do in the next quarter to get them done in a year. Put them on the middle third of the page – keep it short!!

Don’t wait until next November to get started. That’s why both diets and business plans don’t work. Tomorrow never comes. Cut the elephant into smaller bites and get a sense of urgency.

1-Month Action Plan
Take each quarterly action plan/objective and divide it once again into what you need to do in January to accomplish the first quarter’s objectives. These take up the bottom third of your page. Don’t cheat – if you can’t fit it comfortably on one page, you have too much detail.

Don’t wait until March. Annual and quarterly objectives can be daunting, but picking away month-by-month will make them doable.

Strategic Only!
Don’t put anything in your 12-3-1 Plan that helps you make money this month; just things that will help you build a business that creates more time and money next year.

“Buy a copier”, “Replace retiring employee”, “Sign contract w/ xxx, Inc.” – none of these belong on your plan.

“Move to new location”, “Hire/train someone to replace a piece of me”, “Increase revenues by xx%”, “Go from 60 hrs/wk to 30hrs/wk while increasing profits” – these are great annual planning objectives.

Every Monday morning look at the bottom 1/3 of the page and decide what you need to do that week to accomplish that month’s action plan. Block the time that week to get it done. If you do this every week, you will knock out the monthly action plan. If you knock out each month, you will accomplish the quarterly objective, and if you do that four quarters in a row, you will have had a great year.

Details? We don’t need no stinkin’ details!
If you keep it simple, you will only have to work out real details in a real world each week/month. If you try to capture all the details for the year when you put together the plan, you will be solving ivory tower problems – most of which will never happen. And you will miss half the problems you will actually face. So don’t solve problems/details until they are real. They are never real in January when you did your planning (see above request for 10 workstations).

Quarterly 12-3-1 Plan
This is the big key. Don’t do an annual plan anymore. Do a quarterly one. Every quarter your 12-month plan will have deteriorated to only 9 months. April 1, push it back out to 12 months on the top 1/3 of the page, then use that to re-populate the 3-month (middle third) and the 1-month (bottom third), and then get after it again each Monday.

Simple beats complex every time. If you capture everything, you’ll do nothing. If you capture the few big things, you might actually do some of them.

You can buy our Strategic Plan template along with our Lifetime Goals and Process Mapping templates and detailed instructions for each on our book site – Making Money Is Killing Your Business .

Or just grab a sheet of paper and get it done.

By the way, it shouldn’t take you more than 2-4 hours to do it, because you get to tweak it every week, every month, and every quarter.

Relax. Just get moving on the big stuff and the rest of it will unfold as you move.

Have a great year! (one week at a time)


Get a Second Planet

Re-write your future.

We waste a lot of time and money trying to fix our problems. Working on your problems is generally a bad idea if you want to be successful.

It’s counter-intuitive, but you’ll fix more problems by focusing on solving where you’re going, not on what you’re experiencing.

The best way to stay stuck is to work really hard on the problems in your business and invest a lot of time and energy in how hard those problems are.

Re-describe or re-write your future.
Instead of focusing on the problems you’re experiencing, get a clear picture of where you are going and when you want to be there. Three years out, 12 months out, 3 months out, the end of this month. Do it backwards like that (start with the three-year end in mind) and focus on re-describing the future without the problems you’re experiencing today.

I use our 2pg. Strategic Plan process to do this. Having a clear picture of where you want to be 12 months, three months, and one month from now focuses you on WHERE YOU ARE GOING, instead of on WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN.

Working on Problems is Working on Your Past
The best way to become an alcoholic is to focus all your time and energy on not being like that person in your life who was an alcoholic. All your focus is on the very thing you don’t want to happen, which makes it much more likely to happen.

Why do some business owners seem to have problems all the time? Too often it’s because they are focused on problems instead of on getting somewhere successful.

Get a Second Planet!
If there were only one planet in the universe and you used a powerful rocket to get 10 million light years away from it and ran out of fuel, what would happen? You would get sucked back in – it’s the only center of gravity in your universe.

But if there was just one other planet in the universe, 20 million light years away, and your rocket got you 10 million light years and one inch away from the planet behind you, what would happen? You would have all the momentum you need to get to the next planet.

When we try to move away from things, they eventually suck us back in. When we have somewhere big we need to get to, we are much more likely to be successful.

Stop focusing on your problems. They keep you tied to your past. Instead, focus all your time and energy on where you want your business to be in three years, 12 months, 3 months and next month, and focus all of your “solving” skills on that, not on your present problems.

We’ll All Be Killed
In one day last week we unexpectedly lost all our office and meeting space, and our weekly Business Leaders Insight lunch site. We were homeless as a business.

We only had two weeks to replace it all, including Christmas and New Years. Instead of focusing on this “problem”, we focused on what situation would best help us get where we’re going, and assumed right away that the change would be better for us and our clients.

Within four business days Krista Valentine, our Chief Results Officer had found new office and meeting space that is a big upgrade from what we had and a weekly lunch place for our BLI lunches that everyone is gaga over – it’s better than any we’ve had in the five years we’ve been doing this weekly event, and for less money than people have paid in a few years.

This isn’t surprising. First, Krista rocks. Second, we weren’t focused on our problem [Problem – we don’t have a place to call home or to hold our biggest weekly public event anymore]. Instead we were focused on re-writing our future; creating a new narrative for what we were doing going forward [Future – what a great opportunity to upgrade both to better match our brand!].

We have places we want to be three years from now, 12 months from now, three months from now. And because of that, we were focused on creating success this month that helps us build that future success.

Focusing on problems is a focus on your past, even if they are in the present. Focus instead on what your future looks like without them, then build that future. You’ll be surprised how many “problems” become opportunities.

Every day we are faced with opportunities cleverly disguised as obstacles. Life and business is 10% what happens to us and 90% what we make happen.

Redescribe your future (next week/month/year) and run toward it with everything you have. Run toward something, not away from something. You’re much more likely to get there.

Do What You Love? Maybe Not.

Passion equals Problems.

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life? Wrong – do what you love and you’ll be on the treadmill the rest of your life. There’s a better way.

People who passionately love what they do are supposed to be the most successful and the happiest. It makes sense, except I have trouble finding the happy and successful ones.

The are plenty of people who do what they love. I think most business owners start their business with this statement: “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just make money doing…[fill in the blank]. Violin makers, doctors, plumbers, dancers, designers, lawyers – there are people in just about every vocation that are doing it because they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else.

But more often than not, these passionate people are less likely to be successful or happy in their chosen careers than their more utilitarian counterparts in the same vocation. Why?

Endless Love
People who love what they do have the most serious issues with control, lack of vision, and other big picture issues. When we love what we do so much, we’re pretty sure:

– there is no one else who can do it better
– it will be too hard to train someone else to do it
– my customers need ME
– I find my self-worth in being needed (co-dependent)
– I tried employees and they suck
– I don’t have the money to get anyone else involved
– Once I have enough money, I’ll hire someone
– I can’t seem to make enough money to hire someone
– etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.

Excuses, Reasons and Priorities
Mrs. Fields found someone else who could make cookies. Charles Schwab found somebody else who could trade stocks. A dog walking company went from $0.00 to $10 million a year in just two years without the founder ever walking a dog.

People who love what they do tend to be the main producer, if not the sole producer in their business. If you are that necessary to production, you will be on the treadmill the rest of your life. The producer-owner doesn’t really get to go on vacation, even if they physically leave for a week or two – the business follows them.

The producer-owner has the weight of the world on their shoulders. It’s all up to them. And they can’t think of a way to get off this treadmill.

There really aren’t any reasons not to get off the treadmill. There aren’t even excuses. As my mother used to say, “Chuck, there aren’t any excuses, there aren’t even reasons, there are just priorities.”

If you can’t think of a way to get off the treadmill, it’s because it’s not important enough for you to get off. I don’t intend to be mean here, just truthful. The fact is that no matter what profession or vocation you have taken up, I could find you someone who has gotten off the treadmill and is no longer the main producer, doing exactly what you are doing.

A Thousand Ways Not to Leave Your Love
If you think about it, there are 1,000 ways to not get off the treadmill. You won’t even have to look hard to find them. And there may only be a half dozen that will actually get you off the treadmill. You only need one. If you focus on the 1,000, you’ll be buried in ways to not get a life. But if getting off the treadmill is a real priority, you will figure it out.

By the way, you don’t have to fall out of love with what you do. In fact, if you build a business that makes money when you are not around (produces revenue without you), you can do the one thing in that business that you love anytime of the day or night that you want to do it. Ironically, the people who have the most freedom to do what they love are those who were willing to get others to it for them first.

Do you think it’s impossible for you to get off the treadmill? Are you one of the thousands of business owners I’ve met over the years who have a “unique” or “special” circumstance that makes them the one exception who can’t get off the treadmill?

I’m not smart. I’m just relentless.
I take every Friday off and the last week of every month. I get to choose what to do on those days. While building my first five businesses I didn’t get this kind of freedom or anything like it. Then I made it a priority. Gee, what a surprise, I get Fridays and the fourth week off now.

As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

What’s your priority? You don’t have to tell anyone. It will just show up in what you do. If it’s a priority to get off the treadmill, you’ll do that. If it’s not, stop whining and pretending that it is.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Yoda

Always release your product before it is ready.

Movement, not Planning.

Want to be successful? Get your product or service out there now, not after you’ve refined it and made it good. The MBA programs are wrong. Get moving.

Facebook sucked when it first went live and changed almost daily.

Google was a bare bones search engine called BackRub in 1996 and was still simplistic when it became Google in September 1998.

The Denver “T-Rex” redo of the entire highway system was 25% completed and open for traffic before the design was even completed.

The only way to learn how to run a four-minute mile is to first run something much slower, in public.

To learn to ride a bike, first, fall off.

Committed Movement – It’s never how good your plan is that counts, but how committed you are to moving on the bad plan you’ve got.

Purposeful Direction – We don’t need to know HOW we’re getting to our objective, we just need to know what our objective is, and the next few steps in the right direction to get there. Purposeful Direction is not about having things figured out first, but simply knowing with utter clarity where you want to end up.

Committed Movement In a Purposeful Direction is more critical to success than anything else.

There is a fundamental lesson about life and business in the above statement, and how we take that lesson on board makes us either very successful, very average, or a real shipwreck.

Successful people understand that planning is like a rudder; it’s useless without movement. Highly successful people have a very clear, transformational understanding of the relationship between movement and the rudder.

If you get your relationship right between these two, it will transform your life and your business as well. If you don’t, you’ll stay grounded on your sandbar and wonder why your life never had the impact you’ve always known it can.

The idea of massive pre-planning before you start seems to be a very sound practice, but only in concept and in business school. The problem is it just doesn’t match up with the reality of what actually makes for a successful business.

In the last three years I have watched four different companies go through the whole focus group/product development/perfect rollout process that most MBA programs and books about success would tout as the right way to do things. They all failed. I’ve seen others become successful by just getting moving in a small way like Facebook, Google, eBay, the sticky note, the television, the car, the internet, the steam engine, and all parents, all of which had a better chance of success by releasing the product before it was ready then by perfecting it first.

A controlled experiment in the real world
The key is to do it with very few customers who love you and want to work with you to make it what it will someday become. Reality is a much better laboratory for business than the laboratory. Customers are a much better focus group than a focus group. And a small rollout to the faithful is much less expensive and more informative then the balloons and parade approach.

We went through many iterations of paid workshops and mastermind concepts for three and half years before we arrived at 3to5 Clubs, which are now spreading on four continents. But we did it in small groups where perfection wasn’t necessary and everyone of the faithful were served with our existing but under-developed product.

Speed, not Planning
Success is much more closely related to Speed of Execution than to in-depth planning, because most planning is done in a vacuum prior to actually producing anything. Only after the plan hits the real world do we find out that it doesn’t work in that real world.

In the face of that reality and all the evidence we have that massive pre-planning is a waste of time, we keep trying. We can’t help ourselves. Hope springs eternal. In the meantime the Facbooks, Googles, and T-Rexs of the world are in their boats running flat out and heading for open water while we’re still trying to decide how to build the rudder.

Man has yet to devise a great way to plan in the absence of movement. The painstaking detailed analysis we are all taught to do before we move is almost always of little value because it never works out the way we had hoped. And as a result it never saves us the time and money it was supposed to. Instead it usually costs us precious time getting started, puts us behind someone else who has decided to get moving, and creates soaring costs down the road.

Practice, not Perfection
Always roll out your product or service long before it is ready, before your website is done (we only had a holding page for the first 18+ months). Just do it in a controlled but very real and “live” environment where the feedback you get is from real live bullets – people deciding to pay with real money and giving you feedback on how to get better.

Get out of the lab and into the real world. Tom Watson, founder of IBM said, “Test fast. Fail Fast. Adjust Fast.” I would say get out into the real world and just keep practicing to get better all the time.