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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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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