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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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