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How To Plan for a Successful Failure

A favourite saying my mum often quotes is ‘Man plans and God Laughs’ and it is of course right that even with our best-laid plans life can throw curve balls in our direction.

I remember organising a flight to Spain to speak at a conference, ensuring my speech was word-perfect, making sure my taxi was booked and I was all prepared, getting to the airport early, and then be advised that the airline had overbooked the flight, and after waiting for hours on the off chance that I could board, being turned away.

Being utterly disappointed after weeks of planning and also mortified that I would be letting the event organiser down. Luckily, we found a workaround, it wasn't ideal, but I was able to deliver my talk virtually.

This hasn't stopped me from planning, however, because an even more apt saying that resonates with me is that ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’

Planning is crucial to your success even when things don't go as you would like them to.

Think about the days that you don’t plan, what happens?

If you’re anything like me, it’s likely that you waste time, trying to decide what to focus on and it will be easy to interrupt you as you won’t be focused, or you become demotivated, as you are not sure what you should be doing and why.

As someone who prides myself on being a ‘doer’ it took me a while to come around to the benefits of planning, but I am now a true convert.

Whether you are planning your year ahead, a special event, your budget or your career. Here is my one tip on getting it right.

Be Intentional

Research has shown that ‘intention’ beats ‘motivation’. What often happens is that we create short, medium- and long-term goals without adding the ‘when’ and the ‘how’, like:

  • I’ll change my career

  • I’ll increase my salary

  • I’ll have a better work-life balance

However, motivated you feel to take action on your goals, if they are worded like this, they are too vague and open-ended, without the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ there is no catalyst for action.

The simple way to be more intentional is to fill out this sentence:

I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

For example:

  • I will spend twenty minutes every lunchtime at my desk, scanning recruitment sites for jobs.

  • I will meet my boss on Wednesday at 4pm and ask what I would need to be doing to get a pay rise.

  • I will not work late on Wednesday and Friday and be home by 6pm.

And have a plan for when it all doesn't work, The “if–then” strategy gives you a clear plan for overcoming the unexpected stuff, which means it's less likely that you'll be swept off track. When things don't go to plan.

  • If I miss scanning job sites at lunchtime, I will sacrifice my favourite TV show and use that time instead.

  • If I don't get to have a conversation with my boss, I will speak to HR about my pay grade/ promotion opportunities and research the typical wage for my role and experience.

  • If I end up working late, my family can choose chores that I need to do to make it up to them at the weekend.

There is also another layer to being intentional, not just “how’ and ‘when’ but how do I need to ‘BE’ to make this happen.

  • Make sure it’s something you really want, not a ‘should’. So if your accountant is telling you that you should be doubling your revenue over the next year, but you’re happy with the way the business is, it would not be wise to set that as an intention. Or if people are telling you should be going for promotion, but you don’t feel ready or energised by the prospect, don’t set it as an intention. It should be something that you really want for you.

  • Make sure it’s realistic, it shouldn’t be too easy and you shouldn’t be shy about setting your intentions, but you also have to believe that it can be achieved. Small successful steps are much better than large unsuccessful leaps. You want to set yourself up to succeed, as it will be a catalyst for more success. If you don’t believe it, don’t set it.

  • Keep it focused on what you want, not want you don’t want. If you want to work on your relationship, you might say I want to be a happy and loving partner, instead of I want to avoid splitting up. You should also only focus on you, you can’t set the intention for your partner to be more loving and happier, although it would be a hopeful consequence of your behaviour.

  • Most importantly, keep it firmly in the here and now, not in the future. Intentions can be done today, they are not in the distance, they are about making things happen now. If your intention can’t be started today, it is too big or isn’t right. Go back to the beginning and work it through.

Some Final Tips
  • Give your plan a home - where do you plan live, on your computer, on your whiteboard, on your phone?

  • Journal - write your plan down so that you can review it, not to beat yourself up

  • A plan is a living thing - plan how regularly you will review it and diarise that time

  • A plan is not static - take action!

Final thought….Please don't think you need to plan every moment of every day, relax, be spontaneous on the days that suit you to do so, but when you want to get things done that matter, plan.

Some Further Events and Resources To Help You Plan

I run retreats in which you emerge with your goals and a plan for the year, find out more here

My online programme and community, the Happenista Project, has a module to help you define how you will achieve your goals through intentional thinking, check it out

Article to read: Have you created your vision for the year? Here are Three Steps to develop your vision today.

Webinar: Goal Setting the same goals year after year? In this webinar, we share our 3 proven strategies to help you develop goals and stick to your plans to achieve them.

Book: Michael Bungay Stanier Do More Great Work


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