It’s been said that Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. I couldn’t agree more. It could be for a business presentation, a romantic evening with a special person, that marathon that you agreed to run while drunk, or for something as simple as making it to your Saturday tee time on schedule, but we (men) often overlook the value of a little preparation. I don’t profess to have all of the answers, and each of us will inevitably come up with different plans, but the key lies in the planning itself.
Being prepared isn’t about having the right journal, notebook, or collection of sticky notes (real, virtual, or otherwise). It’s about taking time to look at a situation and form a game plan. From there, all that remains is to execute.
Get the full strategic plan after the jump.
Be Honest About Your Abilities
If you don’t start with a realistic assessment of what you have to work with, you’re bound for frustration. Sticking with the marathon example, if you’re not a great runner, chances are a sub-4 hour time is a long shot, even with proper training. Another issue that often escapes people is that some skills diminish with age or from lack of use. For instance, I used to be able to run a sub-6 minute mile, but those days are long gone. Time to check the ego (you’re not 18 anymore) and give yourself a hard look in the mirror.
If you’re working as part of a team, you’ll have to extend this assessment to both your teammates and to the group as a whole. Keep in mind that one person can completely change the dynamic of a group and, therefore, its productivity.
I can’t stress this point enough: without a solid starting point, all the preparation in the world isn’t going to help keep you from falling short of your expectations.
Set a Desired Outcome
With outcomes, measurable (if possible) goals provide both a reference point for evaluation as well as a focal point for strategizing. If you’re in sales, don’t shoot for a bigger deal, hone in on a number to close them on. Don’t set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or to generally get in shape. Set a target weight or a goal that you want to bike 50 miles a week. I’m not going to belabor this point, but your goals should be achievable and measurable.
Besides, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.
Know Your Audience
I think this is one area that is sorely under-utilized, especially in the business world. If you need to persuade someone, you need to know something about them before you start. This holds for sales pitches, presentations, interviews, or even in securing a promotion. Find out who you are engaging. Basics like their preference between charts or graphs can go a long way to delivering your message effectively. I’ve had bosses that could be excited with big ideas and others who were always mired in the details. The wrong approach is a sure-fire way of bogging down your presentation and losing your chance to meet your objectives.
Do a little digging and find out a bit about your audience members and their backgrounds; it’s possible that you have something in common that you can use to endear yourself to them. It’s no secret that people tend to like people that they think are similar to themselves. These days with Facebook, LinkedIn, and a simple Google search, you’d be amazed at what you can learn with as little as 30 minutes of sleuthing.
Since you’ve clearly defined your staring and ending points, the rest simply requires you to fill the the steps to get from A to B. Next time, try working backwards from your end goal. Let’s take a trip for example. Once you know your destination, work backwards based on travel time, traffic and weather expectations, your partners propensity to be behind schedule, bathroom breaks, etc. Once you’ve accounted for all of the time each of those factors contributes, you’ll know what time you should start your journey. I’d recommend adding in a little “wiggle room” (as my mother always says – thanks mom). When traveling with Eric, I always add 15 minutes into the plan, just so we can get lost once.
Make sure to mind the details. Do you need to secure approval or the required funding for your project? Do you need to rely on someone else to handle a portion of the task? Are you time-constrained by outside factors? Those questions will reveal the requisite resources needed for your project. Go though your backwards planning and make sure you will have what you need to take each step.
Secure Resources and Support in Advance
Don’t overlook the essentials to reach your objectives. They may be tangible like supplies (cars, PowerPoint decks, etc.) or they may fall into a support category (from boss, wife, etc). It will take time and effort to secure these, and they should be factored into your planning.
Also keep in mind that if you can’t secure the necessary resources, you may have to alter or scrap your project. Best to address this before you’ve invested and over-committed your time.
Set Deadlines & Self Evaluate
Forgive me for quoting Mike Tyson, but “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” At some point, preferably before it’s too late, you’ll need to evaluate your progress. If the plan is a dog then no point going all-in with it. There’s something to be said for folding a bad hand and making a course correction, if necessary. I’m also a big fan of setting incremental targets as a way to gauge your progress. The sooner you identify when you’re missing your mark, the easier it will to correct.
Once you’ve reached your goals, do a little deconstruction and weigh the outcome vs the process. Did it work? Could you improve upon it? Did you set the bar too high or too low? Use this feedback as a learning opportunity for next time.
Lets continue the conversation. Got your own planning strategies or suggestions? Edify your fellow man by adding to the comments below.