Do more with less planning

Author: Sarah James Willcox

Published on March 11, 2020

Remember that there is only one important time and it is Now. Leo Tolstoy, Three Questions

At times of uncertainty and change it often feels as if time – or the lack of it – is working against us. The traditional response to this has always been to focus attention on planning our way forward. 

The difficulty is that when resources are constrained, we may carve out time for developing detailed schemes for implementation but then find that, when it comes to delivery and encounters with real life, our plans are unsustainable. How many times have you come away from a strategy day full of ideas and energy for your future plans only to find that neither survive the first tussle with your in-box? The Helmuth von Moltke quote ‘No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main force’ (Kriegsgechichtliche Einzelschriften, 1880) is often cited as a cautionary note in sticking too rigidly to the plans we’ve made.

It seems counterintuitive, but here at Fairisle we would encourage you to spend less time planning and more time doing. That’s not to say you should spend no time  planning, of course. Just do a bit less of it and focus your planning effort in the most useful places. Here’s how.

  • Spend the time you have on being clear about the change you’re trying to make: what problem are you trying to solve? 
  • List out what you need to do.
  • Divide the tasks into Now, Next, Later, with only two items under Now, two under Next and the rest under later.
  • Start on the Now.
  • Then do the Next. 
  • Then look at the list and re-prioritise.

The key to making this approach work is consistency. Have in mind at all times the change you’re trying to make. Apply a small amount of regular effort (every day, or week) to making progress on what is being done now. Come back to the list to identify what needs to be done next.

The beauty of this approach is that you can define the horizon of Now, Next, Later according to your circumstances. When things are particularly busy or overwhelming, it can be as little as ‘this morning’, ‘this afternoon’ and ‘later.

Of course for large or complex strategic change initiatives, it’s a little more complicated than that. To find out how we can help you articulate your vision, plan what you need to do and take the next steps, get in touch .