Part 3 of 5

This piece of the five part series will probably be the least attractive to you because it is not enjoyable to most people. But here’s the truth: Top goal achievers have a written plan.

That’s right. Top achievers do the hard work of writing. Putting pen to paper has a way of improving our thinking. It exposes. It makes exact. It puts you on record. It forces you to slow down. It forces you to accomplish more the first time you try instead of the tenth time. You will be more successful if you embrace this step. Get help if you need it but do not skip this step!

Let me say it again, the third most common reason for goal failure is the absence of a written plan.

According to Peter Drucker, the second of eight effective practices of effective leaders is to invest time writing action plans. Writing an action plan is the task that follows answering a most difficult question: “What needs to be done?” I recently heard a friend explain in a somewhat sarcastic tone,

“The idea of a map is to have it in your possession before you begin your journey.”

Supposedly, Napoleon said that he never won a battle by perfectly following his written plan. Yet anyone who studies history knows that it never stopped him from planning out in detail every one of his battles! I wonder what history might have said if he had never planned?

In my work with leaders, I call this action plan a Playbook. We write them for our personal, professional, and team contexts. We believe in it, we use it, we teach it. It is not perfect and probably never will be but it gives the leader more than an edge, it provides meaning, direction, and confidence. How? It’s a process that shapes the leader’s soul – her mind, her emotions, and her will. It’s a process that creates winning habits and skills.

Here’s the good news – bad news scenario: the good news is we are not talking about the plan your banker wants to see or your professor at the university. They haven’t figured it out yet, but those days are GONE. The world is changing too fast! The bad news is it might take even longer to write your plan and reduce it to two pages as Rockefeller did or to one page as I recommend. Why one page? It needs to be read EVERYDAY at least once in the morning and once at the end of the day.

You’re reading this because you want to achieve your goals right?

We see it all the time because it is common among us humans. We have no plan. If we have a plan, it is simply to get up every day, go to work, and then rely on our experience and intuition. Surprisingly, experience and intuition fail us because they are not part of a plan; they are the plan – consciously or unconsciously. And it’s a really bad plan. It is like a raft floating aimlessly at sea.

The to-do list is one of the most obvious places where you will find evidence of a leader without a plan. To-do lists most often consist of housekeeping issues originating from one of three categories: tasks given to you, tasks that reflect the needs and strengths of your personality, or urgent “911” issues. After close investigation, you will find that few items on your to-do list originate from a well thought-out plan.

Keys to an effective written action plan:

  • It includes one’s vision for the future, values, and needed elements of character for success.
  • It is a statement of intentions rather than a rigid contract. With every success or setback, new opportunities surface. In other words, it is revised often.
  • Every good plan includes a tracking system comparing results against expectations. For example, one would calendar progress review dates before the plan is ready to implement.
  • The plan is the basis and foundation for scheduling the use of one’s time. The plan informs the calendar, the blocking of time, and the priority of tasks and appointments to schedule.
  • The good plan is an obvious display of reverse engineering: daily habits move steps which move goals which make dreams come true. But we start with the vision (chief aim) breaking it down into achievable goals, then steps, then daily habits.
  • An effective plan always considers the effect on others, includes others, and is for the benefit of self and others.

Effective leaders think long and hard about what needs to be done and why. They put a plan together informing how they will best use their time instead of becoming like a leaf blowing in the wind whenever and wherever it demands. Here’s the bottom line: if you have a definitive chief aim, your self-aware, and you have a plan but you’re still not achieving your goals… one of two things is wrong. It’s either your plan or it’s your chief aim. You either have a bad plan or you really don’t care to do what it takes to follow the plan toward your dream.


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