5 Mistakes You Might Be Making In Your Annual Plan

My business plan for January
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This week I successfully completed all my planning for January! Woo hoo! I know many entrepreneurs who are still shuffling papers and won't solidify their plans until sometime in the middle of the month - after they've given up on more than half their New Year's resolutions. I've been that person, and over the last couple of years, I've finally managed to hammer out a process for planning that works for me.

That's part of the struggle if you're a creative entrepreneur. There's no one plan that seems to cover everything. If you're a personality-based business owner, it's even harder. You've got to include your personal plans with your business plans, because they tend to overlap. Short of my own Dreamblazing program, I've yet to see a planning system that does that well, if at all.

Yes, finding a groove and getting the planning process down is a hurdle, but once you've got that process down, there are still a few mistakes I consistently see entrepreneurs make when planning their new year. I've even done them myself! Here are five of the big ones:

Mistake #1 - Too many Pumpkins, not enough Radishes

In my Dreamblazing program, I talk about "pumpkin" goals and "radish" goals. Pumpkins take all year to mature, while radishes only take 20-40 day. Having all your harvest come in at the end of the year makes it difficult to manage - and you can starve the rest of the year. Radish-sized goals give you some bite-sized results that you can manage throughout the year. Those radish goals can be milestones toward your bigger pumpkin goals, too.

Just be sure you don't have too many goals planted for the year. If you're filling your garden with too many pumpkins, you run the risk of not being able to harvest any of them, because NONE of them will ripen. I generally recommend one in each of the 5 Key areas of success, plus a mental fitness goal (so you have 2 fitness goals). That allows you to focus on what really matters and still have plenty of breathing room. Plus, if you attain one of those goals a head of schedule, you can always add a new one, and start a new pumpkin. 🙂

Mistake #2 - Getting too granular in your annual plan

When I first started making an annual plan, I would spend days "getting granular" - outlining every day of the year. I had a "plan" for every day, and I thought I was being smart including my meal breaks and potty breaks, but I was really just being too obsessive about things I couldn't control. It probably stems back to childhood, when I just knew I was going to be a rock star and had mapped out my entire life course ("by 19 I'll be in CA, studying at Berkeley. By 24, I'll shoot my first video"). For me, a plan gives me a sense of certainty and stability.

Except for the fact that certainty and stability (that sense of safety) are illusions.

As Eisenhower said, "plans are useless. Planning is everything." Life happens. Stuff changes. People are born and people die. NONE of it is something you can work into your plan. But the act of making the plan helps guide your decision making, your direction, and your general attitude for the task ahead. THAT is where the real sense of safety and stability comes from: in having a sense of direction for your life and work. Because even if things change, you've got an anchor you can come back to and use as a filter for the things that are happening in your life.

If you get too granular, you've got too much to clean up (or give up on) when "life" happens. 

The more responsibilities you have, the messier it gets. In my house, it's me, a husband and two kids. They've begged for years to get a dog, but I know that a dog will add more responsibility to my plate.

Instead, I have all the pumpkins planned for the year, and plan the granular stuff on a quarterly or monthly basis. For example, I know I want to complete my third album next year - that's one of my DUMB goals, but I can't plan every day between now and then or I'll go crazy when things start shifting (and they already have). So, I set a milestone goal for the first quarter of the year, and then task out what I can do for the month of January. Then, as January comes to an end, I can assess my progress and "course correct" for whatever I did or didn't accomplish.

By having quarterly milestones and monthly "radish" goals to play toward, I can monitor my progress, without being chained to a plan that may end up being scrapped by the middle of the year.

Mistake #3: Not planning for when "life" happens

When my coaching clients go through the Dreamblazing process, the first thing I ask them to do is list out all the "surprise blessings" of their past year. These are all the wonderful "woohoo" moments that they didn't plan - like being invited to speak at a conference, or getting an unexpected windfall when a loved one died. These aren't things they could have planned for, and yet, they showed up in life in a big, surprising way.

Then there are those "other" surprises. Emergencies, hospitalizations, natural disasters, divorces, the new EU VAT. Like Dave Ramsey says, "it's not a question of IF they will happen, but when." And while I don't write them into my calendar like an appointment ("Sunday: Get hit by car and go to the ER."), I do create space cushions in my plan to  accommodate the fact that life will happen at some point. Writing an extra blog post when I have the time gives me a cushion for a future day when I might have to pick my kid up from school because he's sick or take the car to the shop. It's the closest thing I can get to "banking" time. Creating space also allows for those surprise blessings to show up with more grace and ease.

Mistake #4: Not planning downtime

Similar to creating space, downtime is a must for creative entrepreneurs (actually, this article on Scientific American says we all need downtime). You need time to replenish yourself, take in a new perspective, and heal your brain and body, among other things. In an oft-shared post, Jon Morrow talks about how he nearly killed himself trying to run his business single-handedly. The irony is that entrepreneurs are so wired for "Do!" that the idea of taking time off makes us feel guilty - like we're a bunch of slackers or something.

Will Smith once said "I am not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked." I don't know about you, but I have no desire to die on a treadmill, and the thought of working myself to death isn't congruent with the life I want for myself. Even Will, if you look closely, takes plenty of downtime to be with his family, and care for himself. Like him or not, Will Smith understands what The Secret Watch teaches: "Work when it's work time, play when it's play time."

I'll admit it was hard to get used to a slower tempo - even if it was ultimately more productive. I felt like I had to keep "doing" tings, instead of realizing that sitting still, mediating, or just enjoying my own company was doing something. I have a friend who takes a 7-day silent retreat every year, and she comes back refreshed with a new perspective on her work and life. While I'm not that brave yet, I have gotten used to enjoying a more meaningful and manageable tempo in my life and work.

 Mistake #5: Planning in "The Shoulds"

This is, perhaps, one of the biggest mistakes. For all the guidelines a planning program or coach can give, you still need to run it through your own filter. When I see entrepreneurs blindly doing what other people tell them they should do, I know it's a recipe for disaster. Models are great, and they're an important part of shortening the learning curve, but doing something just because someone said you should, or because you think it should be that way, went out with childhood. You're not a kid anymore. The rules change when you're an adult. Now, it gets to be about you.

You owe it to yourself to build a life and business around what works for you (tweet this).

The problems with most models is that they are just that - a model, and it might not work for you. The internet marketing world replete with gurus of all shapes and sizes spouting their "signature system" to success. Let's be clear: most often, they are teaching a skill set. Even my "systems" and programs are designed around skill sets: planning, removing your masks and stepping more confidently into your true voice, finding and marketing to your right clients, the basics of being a direct sales consultant or direct selling leader. But they are only skills. It's what you do with them that matters most.

We can teach skills. You can learn and model skills, but when it comes to implementation, you are unique - you have to do it your way. There's no other business coach in the world who is just like me. There's no other entrepreneur in the world that's just like you. You must define success on your own terms, and use the skills you acquire as the tools in your tool kit to build your dream your way.

Do you have a planning process that works for you?

If so, share your tools here, because someone is looking for the peace of mind you've already found! If not, don't despair. For me, it was a LOT of trial and error before I developed my own Dreamblazing program. Now, I wouldn't plan my life without it. Once you find your groove, you'll feel the same way.


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