by Paul Casey

Top Tips on Upgrading Your Planning Process

For every minute of planning you do, you save ten minutes of time. The payoff is great. The time to do it? That’s the challenge. By planning, you get ahead of major initiatives coming up in the future, avoiding “hair on fire” reactivity that results in high-stress and low-quality implementation. Yet the fires to put out are real and right in front of you to handle. Giving them too much attention squeezes out the time to plan, and the fires re-ignite. That’s the crazy cycle that many businesses are experiencing.

What things need a plan? Anything out of the ordinary workflow. Seasonal schedules. Community event participation. Development of internal processes like handbooks, benefit rollouts, or performance reviews. Building remodeling. Security system upgrades. Leaders are forward-looking, and if this is not a strength for you (You may be more of a dreamer than a planner.), hire someone specifically as a project manager who can keep an eye on the near future and trigger a planning session meeting.

Whether you are doing planning alone (not recommended) or with your core team, planning starts with the foundation of being clear on the company mission, vision, and core values. Nothing you spend planning time on should go against this core philosophy. Once it passes that first test, you “begin with the end in mind” (a Stephen Covey success habit). Where do we want to end up? What are we trying to accomplish? And, why? Write it down so that when you are tempted to get off-track, you come back to center and stay on the plan.

You can then make an Idea Map. Put the result in the middle circle and make a web out from it. One link off the center could be put in the circle called timeline. One circle could be resources needed. One circle could be staffing needs. One circle could be the evaluation tool to measure success. Then under each of those circles, you draw lines that start spelling out the details of that area. For instance, timelines would have deadline dates for each part of the process that keep the project moving.

Then it’s time to do R2A2. Sounds like a droid on Star Wars, but it’s short for Roles and Responsibilities and Authorities and Accountabilities. Basically, it means who will be doing what by when. Every task needs a champion, or it won’t get done. “Done” needs to be defined for that person so that he/she hits the target intended. The task champion must be granted the authority parameters for his/her making decisions. And the method of reporting back to you or the leadership team at certain checkpoints needs to be nailed down.

Another tool for planning is the RACI grid. RACI makes clear who on the team is Responsible for making it happen, who is Accountable for it getting done, who is Consulted for wisdom on task decisions, and who is Informed of the progress. More than one person can be in each column, but if so, there still has to be a point person in R and A. Usually, you as the leader are in the last (Informed) category once your business is going strong with the right people in leadership positions, but you may be in some of those other columns as well, especially for big initiatives.  Your time is generally best spent at the 30,000-foot level of the business, and delegation is your friend. (Click here for more on being a great delegator)

Once the plan, the road map, is ready to launch, assure that everyone understands his/her place in the puzzle. It won’t come together without everyone playing his/her part. False starts occur when steps aren’t clear, or when one person drops that ball that another person’s part is dependent upon. Schedule milestone check-ups along the way to the goal. These are critical for making course-corrections, whether they be deadline adjustments or allocating more people or money to a step of the project. I have seen some teams literally make a large bulletin board into a timeline with icons for signposts along the journey. At each meeting the car or hiker moves closer to the finish line.

Now let’s shift gears to time management because you have to make time to plan, and how you manage time as a leader will ultimately determine your success. Lack of time is not the problem: time is an equal opportunity employer. Actually “priority management” or “energy management” would be better terms than “time management.” Everyone makes time for what he/she wants to (usually what’s convenient or fun), what is believed to be important to them. The issue is lack of intentionality with that discretionary time between appointments. The wave of busyness as a leader could dictate every moment of your work life if you aren’t intentional about where you dedicate your limited time. Sure, there are crises to deal with and unexpected time drains (the whirlwind), but you have control over your calendar for the most part.

Here are some time management hacks that, if implemented, will double your productivity:

  1. Before you leave each day, look ahead at your schedule for tomorrow and make sure you know your top 3 priorities for that day. Ask yourself: “If I could only get these 3 things done tomorrow, what would they be?” and “I would be frustrated and annoyed if I didn’t get these 3 things done.”
  2. Get your three priorities done near the beginning of your day. Block out 10:00-12:00. This is typically the most creative time of the day for most people.
  3. Make appointments with yourself and with those you are developing–and stick to them. Take every task on your to-do list and find a time block to put it, as if it were a meeting with a person. Obey your calendar. Evaluate as accurately as possible, how long it takes to do the task—when in doubt, overestimate: if you get done earlier, you have just “found” extra time.
  4. Go with your biorhythms. Ask yourself, “What times of day am I most productive?” Put the tasks here that require creativity or deep thought. Doing tasks in your sweetest spot energy-wise feels like doubling your output.
  5. Do one thing at a time. Especially during prime time. Avoid the “squirrel mentality”.  Most people fail due to broken focus. Complete tasks before moving onto another one.
  6. Deal with the “interrupters.” Limit the likelihood of distractions. The more you tolerate distractions, the more difficult it is to deliver timely, quality output. What you tolerate increases.

Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.” –Carl Sandburg

How you use today determines how tomorrow uses you.  Effective leaders plan their work and work their plan. If you haven’t picked up a copy of my book Maximizing Every Minute yet, you are missing out on a resource that can help you implement what I shared in today’s blog. Order today at


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