Plan Your Future
Resources to help you plan the life and future of your dreams
You’re in the right place if…
A PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOL
The Roadmap is an original Ways & Meaning resource that was created particularly for solopreneurs and small business owners looking for a SIMPLE and EASY to use system for keeping track of their businesses, projects, and just life in general.
Start here to plan your future and build the life of your dreams!
What the hell does it mean to plan your future?
It's about seeing a path to your dreams
Planning has a bad reputation in the world of entrepreneurship. The common advice you hear is to move quickly and fail often. Don’t think, just do. Get your product out to market, listen to the feedback, tweak it, improve it, rinse and repeat.
This is TERRIFYING advice to a control freak (me). And most people who suffer from any sort of self-confidence insecurity that causes anxiety, fear and risk aversion in general.
But don’t worry, because there are really two types of planning. And although one can be harmful, the other can be extremely beneficial, if not completely necessary.
Planning at its best is all about discovering hope to achieve your dreams. In other words, planning is about:
- setting realistic goals (I know where I want to go)
- figuring out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and adapting to alternative routes (I know how to get there and can tolerate change along the way), and
- believing in yourself (I can do this!)
A LITTLE bit of planning can go a LONG way. Understanding your basic strategy before jumping in can help make the whole entire process a LOT easier.
Planning at its worst is trying to figure out all the millions of things you need to do along the way, when and how, before you even start. This is over-planning. And this will kill your venture before it ever begins.
Why is it so important?
Planning reduces anxiety and increases hope
Nothing ever goes as planned. Have you even known of anything–a business, a project, a renovation–going as planned? No. Because it never (or rarely) happens. So then why do we do it?
Most people plan to reduce risk, uncertainty, and ultimately fear and anxiety. It helps to calm our mind that what we’re trying to do IS possible. That we’ve considered many of the challenges we’ll face and we know of ways to overcome them. We’re prepared, we’re ready.
Planning is a form of control (or perceived control) over a situation. Once there is a basic plan in place, once we can see a path to our dreams, the moment we build a sense of belief in ourselves that we can do this, a seed is planted. That seed needs constant nurturing, care and compassion, but that seed will eventually blossom into our courageous spirit of self confidence that is needed to see out our dreams to the end.
Planning gives us hope. For myself and many others, planning is the first step towards realizing our dreams.
So how do I do it?
Plan just enough to believe in yourself
The biggest pitfall when it comes to planning (especially for entrepreneurs) is OVER planning. This is particularly true if you’re leaping out of the corporate world where a detailed plan, proposal or strategy is the required first step before launching any new project or initiative.
If you consider yourself Type A, a control freak, a perfectionist or any other left brain dominate personality type, this might be an even bigger pill to swallow. I know, I’m part of this group. Over-planning is a defensive mechanism against failure. Of course the fallacy in this approach is that we plan, and plan, and plan, further procrastinating our dreams. Then we feel guilty, then we give up. We fail either way.
The greatest single gift you can give yourself if you want to be a successful entrepreneur is to learn how to plan just enough to get going. Plan enough to see a path to success, plan enough to reduce your anxiety to a manageable level, plan enough to get past your minimum risk tolerance threshold, plan enough to build belief in yourself.
According to Oprah, “Before you embark on any quest, you must first articulate your vision…and most important, you must believe with your whole heart that you are capable of achieving your goal.” Planning can help you do this.
So what does ‘enough’ look like? It’s different for everybody, but for me it looks something like this..,
STEP 1: Know where you're trying to get to
Regardless of whether you’re trying to plan out your entire life, your new business, or just your next project, find clarity of purpose first. In other words, what is your #1 priority or focus?
Luckily for all of you, I’m in the process of developing a new course, Purpose for Obsessive Planners, that will guide you through the process. It’s designed to be re-visited often and you’ll have access for life so that as you discover more about yourself, and what matters most to you, you can update and improve the clarity and definition of your own life’s purpose.
But if I’m going to be honest, I don’t want you to wait. I want you to start figuring this out TODAY. So here are some additional resources to help you get started.
STEP 2: Figure out the best path to get there
This is often the fun part of planning. This is where strategy comes in. There are often many paths to the ultimate destination we’re trying to get to. Once you know where you’re going, you have to consider which is the BEST path, for you.
For some people that might be the path of least resistance (me). For others it’s the one that appears most exciting, adventurous, even challenging. Or maybe it’s the cheapest, the fastest, the least risky.
But how do you choose? Think about what you have (your skills, available time, money, interests, etc.) and what you need to successfully follow each option.
You don’t need to limit yourself on what you don’t have, but you do have to consider if you’re willing to spend the time, money and energy to acquire those things.
STEP 3: Plot out the major milestones
As a means to counter against the urge to over-plan, I recommend focusing only on the major phases of your project at the beginning. This is where restraint is welcome in the world of entrepreneurship.
The purpose of this exercise is to determine the ORDER in which things must happen by considering which are truly RELIANT on each other.
It is optimal to focus on one thing at a time. Often this is not possible, especially if you’re relying on other people, contractors or employees to assist with parts of what you’re doing. But whenever possible, focus on the most important task at hand, and nothing else.
And this point you’ll also want to assign rough time estimates for each milestone. Double however much time you expect it to take and then don’t be surprised when you go over your limit. Keep in mind how much time you have available for this work (i.e. can you work during your normal work hours? Is this something that has to be completed on nights and weekends?) and black out any days/weeks when you know you’ll be busy, when you’re on holiday, when you have another big deadline approaching, when you know the kids will be out of school, etc. Be realistic. Being over-ambitious will set you up for failure and will injure your confidence in yourself that you can actually accomplish this.
Here’s what this looked like for me in setting up Ways & Meaning (keep in mind I only had about 10 hrs / week for this)
- Understand the purpose of what I wanted to do and why | 1 year of ‘thinking’ while working on my old consulting business
- Research and choose a business model that fit my needs | 3 months
- Market research to better understand what was available, who my ideal customer was, what their needs are, and then develop my brand | 2 months
- Begin building my customer base through my newsletter (you can sign up here, it’s awesome!) | ongoing
- Build the website with minimum viable content to launch | 4 months
- Launch the business | 1 month
- Create and curate free content | ongoing
- Create first paid course and establish new product launch plan moving forward | 3 months
- Focus on SEO and guest blogging to send traffic to the website | 6 months
- Implement affiliate program for all resources and link recommendations | 1 month for implementation / ongoing
I’m currently about half way through this list. I may be an expert at purpose, strategy and planning, but I’m not an expert on operating a successful blog/digital product business, so if you are, and if you have any recommendations on my plan, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
STEP 4: Determine what success looks like
This is all about establishing goals, but a better way to think about it, is to envision what success looks like at each major milestone, and at your ultimate purpose as well.
In the interest of being transparent and sharing my journey, this is how I define success for my business at every step of the way (numbers corresponding to the milestones listed above):
- Earn $50-75k / year working 25-30 hrs per week, spending a majority of my time (at least 65%+) researching, writing and creating on the topics of entrepreneurship and mindfulness in a way that improves the lives of those I reach
- Success for this milestone is to complete the task, but you can read this blog which goes more into the results of determining a business model that fits your lifestyle
- Have a BASIC understanding of what’s available, begin following 5-10 competitors to monitor what they do, write up an ‘ideal customer’ description, complete my brand and style guide
- Send valuable emails to my list minimum twice monthly (with an average open rate over 35%); build the list to 350-500 by website launch and to 1,000 by the launch of my first course
- Launch website with enough articles and resources to satisfy all categories and sub-categories + minimum 3 original articles and 1 original resource
- Launch my website at least 12 weeks before baby #2 is due
- Post 1 original blog per week (and up to 3 curated articles), add 1-3 resources per week (mix of original and curated)
- Complete course prior to baby #2 arriving, but launch 6 weeks after leaving time to market and plan launch strategy; earn minimum $5,000 in first year from course sales
- Reach 1,000 viewers per month by end of 2019, ramping up to 10,000/month by end of 2020
- 10% of revenue from affiliate programs by year 1, ramping up to 50% over 3 years
STEP 5: Stay focused on your progress
Setting goals and establishing a plan is important because it allows you to then track your progress. Studies show that we receive more joy from the progress we make towards our goals, then we do actually achieving them.
This is because our brains get small releases of dopamine everytime we make progress towards a goal. But our brain also adjusts back to normal quite quickly, even when we achieve the really big milestones. So if you only have 1 or 2 giant and difficult to attain goals, you’ll only feel that pleasure once or twice (assuming you actually achieve what you set out to do).
But, if instead, you focus on all the little milestones along the way, you can continuously invite your brain to reward you, resulting in a happier brain, a more satisfied you, and a more accomplished to do list.
So the lesson here is once you see the big picture, you can start breaking things down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Don’t try to put everything on your to do list at once. This will just waste time, stress you out, and likely give you a panic attack.
Just focus on the small chunk you’re working on and get it done. Then move on to the next.
Staying focused can be REALLY difficult, especially when there are so many fun and shiny distractions to waste time on–researching anything and everything on Google, finding brand inspiration on Pinterest, reading inspirational books and articles and on and on and on.
There are a ton of tips, hacks and ideas out there for how best to manage your to dos and stay focused. But at the end of the day you just gotta do whatever works for you.
What works for me is to have a two part system, which you can read all about in this article I wrote on effective to do lists:
- a large roadmap by week or month (depending on the size of the project) that plots out the major milestones
- a separate ‘current to do’ list that includes all the small details I need to accomplish for the current milestone with due dates and notes.
At the top of the ‘current to do’ list I write out and highlight (in black background with white font) my #1 focus or priority, followed by other priorities that are less important. I allocate a percentage of my time I should be spending on each priority each week, ensuring that the #1 focus should have a minimum of 65% of your time allocated (up to 90% is the goal). I don’t bother actually tracking time, but I do work out how many hours I have for each priority each week and I try to stay mindful of sticking to that.
This system works for me. It helps when I find myself off track or being distracted, or when I need to decide whether to do X or Y today (or which to do first). All I have to do is remember what I promised myself I would do and then hold myself accountable. It’s a black and white way to make decisions as I go.
If an idea or thought comes up about some other milestone, task or chunk of work I shouldn’t be working on, I add a note in my roadmap so that I don’t loose it, then go back to the task at hand.
The bottom line is, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything, so don’t do that. Instead here are some of my other favorites tips, tricks and hacks to help you stay focused on the task at hand
Before you know it, you’ll be up and running, your plan will be collecting digital dust on your computer, you’ll have built the confidence you needed to move forward and learned enough to improve with each and every step.
Congratulations. You did it!
Now what? Eventually you might decide you want more. But how much more? How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when to stop moving and just enjoy what you have? Let’s explore this next…