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How to Be Successful When You Can’t Plan Ahead

How to Be Successful When You Can’t Plan Ahead

    I was talking with a friend recently who took a voluntary lay-off to go to a new position at a start-up company. When the hiring executive at the new company went to his boss to make the hire, however, he was told he couldn’t bring my friend on full-time. By then his old position had already been reassigned, and if he were hired back, it would mean several other people would lose their jobs. In a matter of a day, he went from a planned, orderly transition into a new job to being without a job as the sole provider for the family.

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    At some point, everyone faces challenging situations where what we thought would develop or happen doesn’t. Some people fall apart. Others deal with the curves thrown their way seamlessly, functioning as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

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    Dealing with these moments productively, as my friend appears to be doing, depends on quickly figuring out your new reality and stepping through a process allowing you to focus and implement successfully. These fifteen steps will help you do that more effectively when the world around you appears to be crumbling:

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    • Define (or redefine) what you’re trying to accomplish. Figure out if your original goal is still valid or needs to change to reflect the new situation you’re facing. Once you’ve decided, make sure your team knows what the goal looks like right now.
    • Identify critical priorities that can’t be compromised. Some things may be more important than others. Maybe it’s a timeline that absolutely can’t be moved; at the same time, some deliverables you expected to accomplish by the deadline may now have to be jettisoned from your plan. Make these determinations right away.
    • Figure out what fundamentals still hold. Although your situation has changed, it’s likely some things you’ve come to depend on are unchanged. Make a quick check of what you DO know and can depend on in your now unfamiliar situation.
    • Quickly secure access to critical information flows. If you need to move forward before everything is sorted out, devote some mental resources to soliciting multiples inputs about the situation – from those on your team, from listening to and observing other participants, from previous information sources (realizing they may now be compromised), and from anywhere else you can.
    • Stay mentally active and engaged. There can be a tendency to shut down in uncertain situations. Don’t let yourself become indecisive, especially if you’re trying to process new data sources. Instead, rapidly assess the information’s viability, add it to your knowledge base as appropriate, and keep moving.
    • Imagine the range of relevant possibilities that may unfold. Develop likely scenarios and their implications. Even with what may feel like extreme uncertainty, also look for common elements among the possibilities. Figure out actions you can take that make sense irrespective of which scenario plays out.
    • Develop mini-plans. With the potential scenarios, figure out what you can reasonably prepare for, just in case. Use mini-plans – checklists which contain two or three steps – to plot your potential courses of action. With a series of mini-plans, your timeline from start to finish is short (which is fitting in an unfamiliar situation), and as variables change, you can choose from among the most appropriate mini-plans.
    • Inventory available resources. Identify what’s at your disposal to advance your situation. The inventory should include the relevant talents and experiences of you and those on your team plus other physical and intangible resources you have. Identify redundancies, gaps, and superfluous resources in the inventory.
    • Take action on your resource inventory. Shed any dead weight among your resources which won’t be necessary and could slow you down. At the same time, secure the very basic resources which allow you to function in as many scenarios as possible.
    • Increase your ability to maneuver. Beyond shedding resources for flexibility, prioritize early decisions and actions which keep the greatest number of current options. Flexibility is valuable, so hang on to as much of it as you can for as long as you can without compromising achieving your objectives.
    • Secure resources to operate in the most likely scenarios. You may not be able to get all the support you need to fill your gaps. Because of this, prioritize resources which will work across multiple scenarios, even if they might not be exactly the best fit. It’s about the greatest flexibility and impact from the fewest resources possible.
    • Accept acting amid uncertainty. This is easier for some people than others, but you need to become comfortable right away with not being able to figure things out ahead of time. If you don’t have time on your side, you’ll have to advance with incomplete information and be open to adapting as you go.
    • Be open to spontaneity and depending on your instincts. You’re facing a different situation, so the standard tools and tricks you’ve used may be much less effective. As a result, open yourself up to solutions which you wouldn’t have previously considered. Instincts can become even more important in dictating what your next move should be.
    • Share information with those on your team. It takes information to co-participate successfully. If you’re moving ahead with mini-plans and a higher degree of spontaneity, it’s important to provide cues and information to your team so they can move with you.
    • Gauge your progress, adapt, and keep going. By using mini-plans, you’re never more than a couple of steps away from reaching an interim objective where you can gauge progress and adjust for the next mini-plan. Make sure as you do this you’re seeking input from your team and monitoring the environment around you to see what others are doing.

    While these steps are presented separately, the activities may all have to take place in a few moments, some in a split second. That’s why it pays to practice by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations to develop your skills. Then if you have to divert from your original plan and wing it, you’re in a better position to go forth creatively and boldly. I’m not sure having to innovate on the spot in important situations gets any less nerve racking, but with these steps, you can better flex and still strategically deliver results no matter what gets thrown at you personally or professionally.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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