If there’s ever something that kills the creative buzz, it’s got to be planning. While we may intellectually appreciate the benefits of planning and the folly of not, it’s up there on our list of favourite things, in between “do taxes” and “reorganise archives”.
As a creative person in business and a wanna-be-planner in the making, here’s what I’ve learnt about how creative people do things differently, and how we can bring our own spin to business planning, so that it’s fun as well as effective.
First up, grant yourself some space and distance from your business to nut out your perfect-for-you-plan. Take a whole day to yourself. Make it a Sunday if you must. Go somewhere beautiful – maybe a park, an art gallery, or somewhere by the sea. Leave your phone at home. Create a buffer between your normal life and this planning day by beginning with meditation, a walk, listening to music, or any other activity that relaxes you.
1: Creative planning avoid the “how” (for now)
Effective planning is all about cultivating your big picture perspective. It’s about deciding on your overall direction and framework. It’s about envisaging where you want to be, in detail. Just don’t let this detail migrate from “what” into “how”.
Getting caught up in tactics and fine details of how, when and where you’re going to do what you want to do is absolutely necessary, but counterproductive to planning. Postpone that for now.
2: Approach speed bumps as questions
The role of a plan is to create questions, not answer them all. Knowing what you want and going after it is just the start. In every plan of action, speed bumps arise. How you deal with them makes all the difference between progress, or being derailed.
Cultivate the habit of framing every hurdle as a great question. For example, say you want to write a book as well as keeping up with your normal business work and looking after your children. Typically, we’d let this desire jangle around in our heads, which keeps us feeling distracted, unproductive and unmotivated. Turn this into a creative puzzle: “how can I write a book even though I’m already busy with work and the kids?”
The next step is to break this down further, and further. So the question evolves into “how can I wake up half an hour earlier than usual so I can write first thing in the morning?” or “how can I get more help with child-minding to free up a little more time for writing?” or “what low-value work can I get rid of to free more time for writing?”
By reframing speed bumps as questions, we transform worries and anxieties into puzzles, kick-starting our problem-solving brain. To make this work, it’s very important to squeeze out all questions before you begin approach these with possible answers. Don’t stop the flow by getting bogged down prematurely in detailed answers.
3: Be singular in your focus
One overarching goal that informs all sub-goals makes you so much more effective. It’s the difference between a laser beam and a light bulb. Cast your focus wide and you diffuse your power and effectiveness. Narrow your focus to one goal and not only is your power multiplied but decision-making is that much easier – your sub-goals can differ from your overarching goal but ultimately, all your actions are heading in the same direction.
4: Embrace the word ‘no’
Creative people tend to have something in common which frequently trips us up – we are easily inspired, see possibilities in all places, and are insatiable – so we can be easily distracted. Unless we have a large number of talented employees to delegate to, we are undermining ourselves if we’re bowled over by our every bright idea.
Every great idea needs far more oxygen, far more support and far more iterations than we tend to appreciate at first blush. We must get better at using ‘no’ if we’re to give our ideas a fair go. Appreciate that you can implement every good idea, but not all at the same time. Give new ideas time to marinate for later.
5: Create meaningful measurements and check it frequently
We likely know that we should be measuring our progress but the problem is, most of us don’t choose meaningful measurements and don’t check in nearly frequently enough. We choose arbitrary data, such as our number of Facebook page ‘likes’, or follow what someone else says is important, and diligently record numbers in a spreadsheet without using these to inform further actions or tweak our plan.
When we create measurements that are meaningful for our businesses, we can understand how they relate to achieving our goals. When we check in frequently with these measurements, we can take advantage of what we’re learning right now, rather than waiting until the entire plan has either failed or succeeded.
6: Plans are just the start
Once you’ve given yourself opportunity to imagine all possibilities and phrase all possibilities challenges as questions, the necessary next step is action. Too many plans fail because we treat the plan as a hallowed work of art rather than a working paper. Your plan should be on your desk, on your wall, as your screensaver, front-and-centre. It should be edited and refined as you check in regularly with your goals and deadlines. Failure to meet a deadline is not a failure of your plan.
Your plans should be flexible and accommodating. They are a compass, not a map. Make your plan work for you – use whatever is in your arsenal to make it a reality. Work with your personal predilections to motivate yourself to action. And don’t forget to act. A plan without action is just a work of fiction.
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