By Nell Derick Debevoise
“Year-end planning is never easy, and it certainly isn’t this year. Building on the uncertainty, surprises, ‘unprecedented’ elements, and tragedies of 2020, 2021 is clear as mud in so many ways. Perhaps the only sure thing is uncertainty. Turns out, we were always living amid uncertainty, it just wasn’t so blatant and we were able to live with the illusion of control.”
So began my 2021 annual guide to planning, and I’ll use the same introduction here, changing the years by one. Uncertainty is indeed here to stay, and for now, still in dramatic ways.
But this year, my focus is on the HOW of purposeful planning, rather than the WHAT. Please do refer back to the 2021 article if you’re looking for support about WHAT you should be planning for to have a greater sense of purpose and increase your impact in 2022. So if you are committed to contributing to social and environmental justice in your work and life, here is your three step guide to planning purposefully
First: Be Where You Are
The first step in planning purposefully is to recognize where you are coming from. Especially in moments of crisis, it’s easy to make excuses for the past, or consider it to be exceptional. 2021 was certainly another intense year that is tempting to label exceptional. But actually, even Covid qualifies as a chronic factor in our reality, not an acute incident. And of course, climate crisis, extreme weather, racial injustice, gender and sexuality bias, and growing wealth inequality are systemic features of today, not isolated moments.
If you have a reflection practice for your work or life, please use that one to review the past year, in the Me, We, and World dimensions, of course.
If you don’t, here’s a simple and universal template. Make two columns: What’s Working and What’s Not Working. For bonus points, and more thoughtful insights, divide those columns into three rows: Me, We, and World.
Set a timer for eight minutes and fill those two columns with at least a dozen items in each, big or small. Then set your timer for two minutes and highlight or star the three items on each side that you want to focus on, expanding or eliminating respectively. Ideally that will be one item in each dimension, Me, We, and World.
Congratulations, you’re done with the first step. First, put the next ten-minute session on your calendar sometime in the next three days. Now give yourself a reward, whether a walk around the block, cuddles with the dog, or fresh apple.
Second: Look Forward
The point of this session is to dream, not infinitely, but one to three years out, depending on your current situation. If you’re in a pretty stable situation, you might be able to imagine three years out. If you’re in the midst of a transition, it might be more reasonable to just envision your reality a year from now. Make this decision for yourself and label a piece of paper or blank document with the end date you choose, whether November 25, 2022, or 2024, or somewhere in between.
This time you’ll need four columns – and break them into the same three rows, for the Me, We, and World dimensions if they resonate. Label the columns What I’m Doing; What I’m Not Doing; How I’m Feeling; and How I’m Not Feeling.
Get your timer back out, and set it for eight minutes to do your initial brain dump, getting at least 5 items in each column. Again, the items can be big (leading a team of at least 3) or small (walking for 20 minutes at least 5 days a week) – avoid any judgement or filter at this stage.
Set your timer for two minutes, and now you can be ruthless. Pick just one item in each column that is your Must Have – or Must Not Have – in that category. Highlight or star each of those 4 Musts. Use colored markers or stickers if your inner creative doesn’t get enough love.
Woohoo! Just like that, you’re 67% of the way through this planning process. Before you stand up or leave your work station, put the final ten-minute session on your calendar sometime in the next three days. And now, it’s treat time. Focus wholly on a goofy video, warm cup of tea, or overdue call to a friend for no less than five minutes.
Third: Start Somewhere
And now, it is time to design the first step toward your Must’s. Not to design all 37 steps to that end state you described. Your only job in this session is to identify one, first step that will get you some small but tangible distance closer to one of your Musts. You will also set yourself up for success in NOT doing your Must Nots.
Set your timer for two minutes, and reread your notes from Session 2. You do have veto power here if you want to change any of your Must (Not)s to something else that resonates more with a few days’ distance. But do not spend more than two minutes here.
Once you’ve recalled and/or refined your two Musts and two Must Nots, make four columns and write them at the bottom of each. Set your timer for five minutes and brain dump all the steps that would get you there – or keep you away (from the Must Nots). Aim for at least 10 steps or actions (again, big or small) in each column.
Now set your timer for three minutes and review the list. Rank and/or prioritize the items until you have a clear, specific, and small daily action that you can start tomorrow (yes, even if it’s not yet January 1) to work yourself closer to – or keep yourself away from – the Musts that you’ve committed to.
On a fresh sheet of paper, highlight, star, rewrite the four daily things you’re going to do (or keep doing) in beautiful penmanship or ransom note style using cutouts from a paper or magazine.
Congratulations, you now have a user manual for the first stage of your next stage, whether that’s a year or three or otherwise. Put it somewhere you will actually see and read it every day. And now, fully immerse yourself in that treat!
Start Here To Feel More Purposeful in 2022
Of course, planning the year to come can take, and deserves, much more than 30 minutes. But it can be daunting if we think about it as a mega task or weeklong endeavor. So use this framework to get at some basic, must-have elements of your next stage.
For best effect, do it with a friend or colleague, or a few of them. And then set up monthly ten-minute sessions to check yourselves on your daily habits and how they’re evolving. And how close you are to your Must Have activities and feelings, and how far you’re staying from the Must Nots.
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