January 19, 2021

Making plans that actually work

Have you made plans for the upcoming year?


After everything 2020 threw at us, I’d for give you for not wanting to commit to actual plans for anything ever again.

However, the world continues to turn – and leaving everything up to fate is not generally accepted to be a good business strategy.

So let’s put our positive pants on and make a real, achievable, this-will-move-my-business-forward plan.


Yes, I know – you’ve done plans before and they were great, for at least 6 weeks…

Until you realised that those planned activities weren’t working so well, but you felt compelled to stick with it because, well – you decided to do it so it must have made sense at the time, and anyway it took so long to create the damn thing in the first place!

So here’s your NEW plan for a plan.

We’re not creating a giant, overwhelming, do-all-the-things-at-once plan. And we’re allowing some wiggle room to switch things up as we go along, whether that’s because we change our mind or the world changes things for us.

There’s 4 steps to making this plan.

Are you ready? Here we go!

Part 1: Review & Reflect

Before we look forward, we must remember to think back, to reflect on what’s worked this year, and what hasn’t, and to take lessons from that.

Having followed the book Your Best Year Yet for some while, I now ask myself these 4 questions:

1) What did I accomplish?
2) What were my biggest disappointments?
3) What did I learn?
4) How do I limit myself and how can I stop?

So that’s what I want you to consider in reviewing the past year.

The final question ‘how do I limit myself and how can I stop?’ is a lot easier to ask than answer. If you knew how to stop, you wouldn’t be limiting yourself in the first place, eh? You don’t have to nail all of that stuff right at the start, just think about it and bear it in mind when you work through the next steps.

Discovering how you limit yourself, and how you can stop, might end up forming part of your plans for the year. Sounds like a good thing to be working on, I reckon.

Covid-related note

There’s no right or wrong answers, it’s up to you to decide what to focus on.

You might find some of your answers are directly related to the pandemic and its’ impact, you might find some of them are indirectly related, or you might find that you don’t consider it at all.

That’s fine. It’s your review, your thoughts. No-one’s marking your homework. It didn’t feature in my answers.

Part 2: What Does Success Look Like?

Here’s a question: you’re running your business for a reason, right?

Money, flexibility, lifestyle, recognition, to satisfy a desire, to prove something to someone…

Whatever it is, identify it and form a picture in your mind of what things look like when you succeed with that.

This is not ‘where do you want to be in 5 years time?’

There’s no timescale to this, just whatever ‘success’ looks like to you. You might think it’s achievable in three years, five, or ten, but that really doesn’t matter. The timescale isn’t important, it’s about identifying what success looks like (to you, and you only) so you’ll know when you get there.

I find that if you put a timescale on when you’ll achieve something, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you don’t reach that. And the pressure to perform, especially as that date in the calendar gets closer and you’re far away from it, can be paralysing.

Yes, even with targets you’ve made up for yourself, that no-one else is relying on! Our brains are quite strange at times…

The point of this exercise is to create a really strong, compelling, exciting, inspiring vision – so you WANT to get on with working towards it and you find it energising rather than overwhelming.

So, identify the reason(s) why you’re running your business and think about what success looks like in terms of that.

Now we’re going to put that vision down on paper, or in a digital format.

You might choose to use images and create a vision board, or you might prefer to write a piece about The Awesome Life Of Your Future Self.

Dream big, make it exciting – but not completely unreachable. This is a vision, not a fantasy.

It doesn’t have to include superyachts and magnums of champagne. Unless that’s your personal, genuine measure of success, of course.

You might already have a life that you’re very happy with, and success means maintaining that. Great!

Your vision board will include things that represent what success looks like to you, or what your life looks like and feels like when you reach that chosen measure of success.

Choose images you find inspiring and aspirational – places you want to visit, happy families having a picnic, your dream house, your favourite coffee cup, a backyard full of chickens, a cosy reading corner, your favourite musician playing a festival, a Tag Heuer watch… things that represent The Awesome Life Of Your Future Self.

I do recommend creating a vision board over doing a written piece, as we respond more strongly to images than words. But if you’re not a visual person then by all means write it out – go with what works best for you.

For the vision board, you can create it digitally (I made mine in Canva, which is a fab free online graphic design tool) or by cutting out pictures from magazines and sticking them to a big piece of card.

How you do it and what’s on it is totally up to you – there’s no right/wrong way to do this. The only ‘correct’ thing is to make sure you end up with something that gives a really clear impression of the vision you’re creating, that makes you smile and be excited when you look at it (or read it).

Part 3: Making Manageable Plans

You’ve made plans before, right? We talked about that at the start.

We can all make plans, but can we make good plans?

Can we make plans that will stretch us but not overwhelm us, things that are achievable but not easy?

If you have a tendency towards thinking there’s 8 days in a week or you don’t need sleep, then you probably write plans like DO ALL THE THINGS, BY LUNCHTIME.

We’re going to make plans that are a bit less hectic than that.

What are you planning FOR?

Think of your vision for what success looks like. Now we’re going to set some milestones to get from here to there, considering what you’ve learned from the ‘review and reflect’ exercise.

What are your big chunky steps along the way to success? A level of income, a feeling of control, time to yourself, time for others…

Where would you like to get to this year, how far along that path? What do you need in place to get there?

Let’s plan those things out.

Here’s the format: Big Rocks, Small Rocks, Sand.

Have you heard about this theory before? This is my re-imagining of it – we don’t fill the whole jar right at the start.

Big Rocks

1) Decide on 1 Big Rock per month, and plan out the whole year. These are a focus, a theme, a subject for each month.

If your business runs seasonally, put those things in first and work the rest around them.

For example, BUILD Business Club is open to new members in January and September – so that’s my focus for those 2 months. In order to tell the most people that BUILD Business Club is open to new members, I need to grow my online audience and email list, so in the months leading up to January and September my focus is growing my audience and list.

Small Rocks

2) Assign 3 Small Rocks per month, and plan out 3 months at a time. This is things like completing courses and setting up systems, and they relate to your Big Rocks for each month.

If you’re looking at quite a big project, like a course that you know will take several weeks to work through, then make that course your Big Rock for the month and split out working on the course into your Small Rocks (eg watch the videos, complete the workbooks, implement what you’ve learned).

To take an example from my plan, again – in the months when I open the doors to BUILD Business Club, I have to set up all of the promotional stuff for that. The ‘launch’. So for a month where ‘launch’ is the Big Rock (focus), one Small Rock would be creating Facebook ads for the launch, another would be writing notes for a series of live videos in my Facebook group about it, and a third would be creating and scheduling emails about BUILD Business Club to the people on my mailing list.


3) Sand is the task list for getting those Small Rocks done, and we plan those out three weeks at a time. This week, next week, and the week after – that’s as far as you go.

So to continue with my example, that would be things like reviewing my notes from the past launch to see where I can improve, creating artwork, writing copy, creating a landing page and connecting it to automated emails, segmenting my mailing list subscribers so they get emails specific to their connection to me, etc.

That wiggle room I mentioned at the beginning? Here it is!

Say we’re putting together this plan in late January. So we decide on the Small Rocks for Feb/Mar/Apr, and in the first week of February we plan the task list for the first three weeks of the month. Then in the second week of February we’ll add our plans for the fourth week, and so on, and in March we add our Small Rocks for May, and so on.

We’re only ever looking 3 weeks ahead in detail and 3 months ahead with a plan, and the rest of the year is just about a direction, a focus.

Looking at things in detail only in the short/medium-term means we avoid overwhelm and have flexibility. If things are planned out in tiny detail, far in advance, and our circumstances change, that’s a LOT of stuff to reschedule – which takes a LOT of effort and energy, not to mention the time it takes. We don’t want that!

We’re not just planning stuff for the sake of it

Think of the lessons you’ve learned from reflecting on this past year, so your Big Rocks and Small Rocks make up the direction and focus for making achievable plans that genuinely move you and your business forward, towards your vision of success.

So, if one of the lessons you’ve learned is that you’re still the Queen of Procrastination, maybe one of your Big Rocks is finding a way to tackle that. You know, just as an example… *ahem*

Note: Everything you’re planning here is business development stuff, not client work. It’s all about YOU.

Part 4: Acknowledge Your Achievements

We all like rewards, right? That’s why we have loyalty cards and we like winning things.

So, do you reward yourself?

Just the satisfaction of ticking something off your to-do list is enough to make your brain share a bit of serotonin and give you a little ‘thumbs up’ feel-good buzz.

We like that feeling, and we want more.

So let’s plan in some rewards and get your brain to hand out more of that lovely serotonin stuff.

Assign yourself 3 lovely rewards each month please – one for each of the Small Rocks completed.

Again, this is totally up to you. Whatever you see as a reward, something that motivates you.

You might buy a new houseplant or a colourful pair of socks. You might take the afternoon off to go for a walk with a friend. You might have cake for lunch. You might take yourself off to your favourite cafe with a book (that’s mine!).

Here’s the really good thing – it’s doubly-helpful.

Because you get a reward when you complete your Small Rocks, you need to be able to say ‘I have completed this’ for each one.

This makes you think more carefully about what those Small Rocks will be. As well as aligning with your Big Rock for the month, and being things that will genuinely move your business forward, your Small Rocks are things that can be ticked off the list, things that have a completion point.

Remember, ticking things off the list gives you a blast of lovely feel-good serotonin. And then you get your chosen reward too!

That’s It!

OK, there we go.

4 steps for heading in the right direction and making progress towards success.

It doesn’t sound quite as sexy as ‘4 simple steps to six-figure success’, but I don’t make those too-good-to-be-true promises.

And anything has to be better than ‘trying to do all the things at once and wondering why it didn’t work’. Again.

Here’s a reminder of the action points.

Part 1 – Think back over the past year and ask yourself:
1) What did I accomplish?
2) What were my biggest disappointments?
3) What did I learn?
4) How do I limit myself and how can I stop?

Part 2 – Consider what success looks like and create it as a vision board or describe it in a written piece.

Part 3 – Set out manageable plans for the year as:
Big Rocks (1 per month for the year, an overall subject or focus)
Small Rocks (3 per month for the next 3 months, projects that relate to your Big Rock)
Sand (for this week, next week and the week after, the tasks you need to complete your Small Rocks)

Part 4 – Rewards for when you’ve completed your Small Rocks.

Looking back and learning lessons, casting a vision and seeing your success, making achievable plans for proper progress, avoiding overwhelm and allowing flexibility, and rewarding your achievements.

Do that, and you’ll be in a good place. Keep doing it, and you’ll be in a better place.

That’s all progress is.

You got this x

Clair Wellsbury-Nye is a business development and marketing consultant. Find out more about her at Plain Sailing, get her weekly articles delivered straight to your inbox, or join Clair’s Small Business Support Facebook group to chat and tell her about your plans. She’d love to hear from you.

Coffee photo created by cookie_studio – www.freepik.com

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