Common wisdom would have us believe that we need to plan for the future, set goals and be clear about what we want to achieve, to ultimately reach our destination. Otherwise, we are on a long road to... well, who knows where. And it is wisdom I wholeheartedly agree with (even if I sometimes have trouble sticking to it)! On the flip side, if we spend too much time thinking about ‘the future’, we are taking away valuable time and energy from getting things done. That said, I have had many clients who are so caught up in what's happening on the road, in the here and now, that they have trouble even imagining, or remembering what might be at the end of it. There are so many obstacles (challenging clients, complex problems, red-tape, urgent issues) on the path that it is difficult to see past them and remember what you were aiming for in the first place.
Often, in a small or medium sized business, we overlook putting formal structures in place to help us with the strategic aspects of getting business done. It isn’t until the wheels start falling off that we stop and take stock, and by then it takes more energy, time and money to get back on track than we might have spent setting and planning the destination up front. It is hard though, isn’t it, to make time for planning? There are so many more things ‘calling’ you that are today’s pressing issues than the distant call of future ambition and success.
5 things to help you prioritise the future
Below are my top tips to help combat the challenge of getting sucked into the here and now when you are trying to plan for the future.
1. Remember why you started in the first place
Go back and drag out all those old strategies and planning documents you lovingly wrote and re-read them. Some things you will have achieved (well done), some things will be out-dated as the market or business has moved on and some of them will be still out there for you to reach.
2. Set aside the time to revamp the strategy/goals
I don’t just mean book in a day with the team and get a nice lunch to get you through. Take it seriously… tell your clients you’re going to be unavailable and explain who they can contact in your absence and when you will get back to them. Do some pre-work to make sure you don’t spend the first few hours sorting out why you are there, set a clear agenda and make sure the team know what they need to do to prepare. Book a facilitator if you know you need an independent ‘voice’ to help keep the session focused and productive. You will know how your team works best, so anticipate the sticky spots and plan for them.
3. Don’t let today’s ’noisy voices’ eat up your precious planning time
When you are in your strategy or planning session, and you realise you have been simultaneously workshopping ‘Frank’, the ‘difficult, but important’ client, for 20 minutes, call it out… and stop. If Frank and his various and testing challenges are very important, then set aside some time outside of this session to further work on the problem. You are here for a specific purpose and Frank will still be there tomorrow.
4. Put some regular reviews in place
Remember that dusty strategy or business plan you started with? Well, you don’t want the next one to end up the same way. What are you going to do differently to keep it alive? If you started with the right intent last time, have a look at what went wrong, why it didn’t work and do something different. It doesn’t have to be fancy, heavily documented process, but something that works for you and the team and helps keep ‘the future’ alive amidst the busy-ness of today. I would recommend reviewing progress at a high level on a monthly basis and in more depth every quarter.
5. Pick yourself up when you fall down
Nothing is perfect and many good intentions don’t last. So if and when that happens and the wheels do fall off the bus, do something about it! Have a look at what contributed to the situation, fix what you can and if you need help, ask for it. Go on, be brave.
While it can feel overwhelming, time-consuming and like it is taking you away from today’s important issues, investing time in the future will pay-off handsomely …if you let it.