Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Are you one of those people who, when told to make a plan, feels your heart sink? Are you worried that planning will restrict what you can achieve? Maybe you’d describe yourself as a ‘free spirit’, ‘highly creative’, or ‘an ideas person’?

If any of those things are true for you, you’re probably not a natural planner – in which case, I feel your pain, and that’s why I wrote this post just for you.

It may be hard to believe, but although planning sounds boring, it is actually an inspiring thing to do, and is even freeing! This is because, if you have a plan, it means that you don’t have to use up your brain-power on figuring things out on a day-to-day basis. It means that you know where you’re headed and you can weave your creative magic around that as you’re not worrying about the details.

Allow yourself to be more effective

Unless you have a good plan for where you want to get to, you simply can’t operate effectively. It’s all well and good coming up with great ideas, but you need to make sure that those ideas will contribute to the direction you want to move in.

Also, when you have a good plan, your brain will trust that it doesn’t need to worry about administrative detail all the time, so you will have more energy and attention to get on with the job in hand.

A plan doesn’t have to be complicated

A lot of people say to themselves that they will ‘make a plan’ when they ‘have the time’, and then somehow they never do have the time (sound familiar?) This is normally because they imagine that their plan needs to have huge amounts of detail, colour coding, multiple stages, and a Gantt chart.

You don’t need all that stuff. A plan is just a list with deadlines and action items.

A plan is just a list

I’m going to repeat that last sentence as it’s really important: a plan is just a list with deadlines and action items.

What this means is that you could jot down your plan on a Post-It note if you wanted to, and you can probably pull a plan together in the time it takes you to have a cup of tea.

When I make a plan I have 4 columns:

Goal Deadline Actions Deadline

 

None of these columns need to have a whole lot of detail in them, and here’s how it works:

  • Goal – What’s the final result that you’re looking for? E.g. launch newsletter.
  • Deadline – When should it happen by? E.g. 1st October.
  • Actions – What are the steps you need to take to make the goal a reality? E.g. set up Constant Contact account; upload mailing list; create template; write content; format newsletter; send self a test; if all is okay, send to whole list.
  • 2nd deadline column – These are the due dates for your individual action items.

That’s ALL you need for a plan, and you can put it together really quickly (I’m talking 5 or 10 minutes).

Set aside planning time every week – and it doesn’t have to be a Monday.

The great thing about this type of action-based plan is that you’ll start to tick things off pretty quickly, which will mean that your plan will get outdated quickly – unless you revise it!

The easiest thing to do is to give yourself a short time-slot every week when you have a cuppa and revise your plan.

You might think that a Monday morning is the best time for this activity, and you might be right. However, in my experience there’s just too much to get through on a Monday, so weirdly a Friday might be a better time for you. That way you can also finish the week knowing what your priorities are when you start again on Monday (and that’s quite a nice feeling to have).

Got a wall? Get a whiteboard!

One of the best places to keep your plan is on a whiteboard by your desk or wherever you do most of your work. That’s because it will always be in view and it will be easy to update by wiping off one item and writing another one in.

Also, if you work with others who need to keep on track as well this is a great way to get everyone focused on the same things as a team.

Tick things off when you’ve done them

I mentioned this earlier because it’s important. When you have finished an action or achieved a goal, tick it off, highlight it in a bright colour, or draw a line through it.

It’s a simple thing that will give you (and your team if you have one) a sense of achievement and a feeling of ‘hurrah! WE did that’. You can’t beat it.

Give yourself rewards!

Remember when we were at school and good work got you a gold or silver star? That felt soooo good!

It doesn’t need to be a gold star, but when you achieve a goal. Give yourself a little pat on the back in the form of a reward.

That might be a piece of cake, a new pair of shoes, a book, a night at the cinema, or anything that YOU want. You’ll be more motivated to keep going.

If you can have a plan and actually USE it, I promise that you will see your business move forwards much more quickly than without it. Give it a go and let me know how you get on in the comments box below.

Have any questions? Ask us in the comments below!