A new perspective on planning

By on February 16, 2015

I have long believed that taking the time to clarify your vision, set goals, and map out strategies to get from where you are to where you want to be is an essential ingredient for success, but 2014 made me question that philosophy.

In the last few weeks of 2013 my husband (who is my also business partner) came down with an eye infection so serious we thought he might go blind. Fortunately he recovered, but we did not have time to do our usual annual planning before the holidays. We scheduled to do it first thing in January instead, but life had other plans. On January 4th, 2014 we found out my older brother, still only in his forties, had cancer. Nine days later, my husband’s grandmother passed away unexpectedly. My brother died two weeks after that. My mother had just moved to Vancouver and was staying with us while she found a place, but my brother’s death turned what was supposed to be a two month stay into nine months. To top it all off, I ended up spending more than three months dealing with a breast cancer scare and a seriously botched biopsy. Despite all of this, we somehow managed to have an amazing year in business, hiring two new employees, completing a record number of projects, and doubling our revenues.

As this had occurred without our usual strategic planning, I was curious about whether our traditional goal-setting processes were actually helping our success. Looking back I realized that, despite our lack of formal planning, we did already have plans, goals and project management systems in place that carried through from the year before. These, together with our pre-existing vision for our lives and business, continued to provide us with the focus and direction we needed to stay on track in the face of our personal challenges. There were, however, several big changes I made because of my brother’s death that I believe allowed us to achieve much more in 2014 than we had in any previous year.

• I slowed down, tuned in, and stayed in the moment. I took far more time than usual to think about my true purpose and priorities in life and work. I wrote in my journal, went for more walks in nature, and spent more time focused on what I was feeling in the moment. I spent less time thinking about what I had to do and worrying about the future. At first it was just because I didn’t have energy to do anything other than deal with my grief, but gradually this turned into a greater sense of connection with my intuition, my strengths, and my passions. The more I acted on what I was feeling drawn to do in the moment, the more it seemed that my actions generated results beyond my expectations.
• I let go of anything that was not essential. To fulfill my roles as a wife, mother, daughter and business partner while accounting for the toll that grief took, some things had to give. I finally gave myself permission to say no and go back on commitments without guilt, reducing my networking events and social engagements by 80%. The more I stepped outside of the usual busy-ness, the more I started to connect with what was most important. When I stepped into the business, I did only those things that were truly important and urgent. This created better results despite less activity.
• I stopped trying to control everything. I simply did not have the energy to be involved in every decision. To my surprise, decisions got made, stuff got done, and everyone stressed less. Some mistakes were made, but the time we saved more than made up for the time spent fixing and learning from challenges.
• I realized that bigger is not better. In years past we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make massive progress. Out of necessity in 2014 we focused on small, achievable actions. We stressed less, easily exceeded our targets, and enjoyed greater energy and confidence from setting and achieving smaller goals. Reflecting on this changed our planning process for 2015. We did set business goals, but we let go of the notion that we are completely in control. We kept our goals small and our milestones reasonable. The results of this remain to be seen, but the atmosphere in the office is tangibly more calm, confident, focused and happy. (Research actually supports this – goals become counterproductive if they are too big or deadlines too aggressive as it increases stress to the point that it impedes performance.)

On a personal level this past year has taught me that we don’t achieve our goals because we have too many of them. Instead of setting goals, I have set simple intentions about how I want to be, and put action behind these intentions with very small daily habits. If, for example, I get up by 5am, I suddenly have the energy to do everything I want, so I have committed to developing the habit of being asleep by 10pm on weekdays. I haven’t planned what I want to do or achieve in that time, I just know that good things happen in my head and my life when I am up early.

So if you are tired of the massive new year push to do great things and beginning to worry that you will (again) fail to achieve your goals this year, slow down to consider what is really important, how you want to be different, and the small achievable goals and habit changes that will make the biggest difference in your life. What could you do if you got up 30 minute earlier each day or didn’t watch TV one night each week? What if you spent just 15 minutes each day giving undivided quality attention to your child or your spouse? When you begin to focus on small achievable input activities, rather than huge, daunting, outcomes, you will surprise yourself and likely everyone else, with what you can achieve.

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on Amazon.com). She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at www.kyoseiconsulting.com