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STRATEGY: 3 Tips For Tactical Planning

As September approaches and kids head off to school or college, it is a ripe time to adopt healthy work habits. What about adding a focus on planning to that fresh start? If you are game, here are 3 tips to get you started:

1. Commit: a six-letter word that transforms “dreams” into “results.”  There are a whole host of testimonies and advice that tout the benefits of good planning. Some of us are natural planners; others are not. When you read such quotes as “one hour of planning saves 10 hours of doing” or “it pays to plan ahead; it wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark,” or “failing to plan is planning to fail,” do you nod your head in agreement or scrunch your face in disbelief? For some, making a fresh start involves a renewed commitment to planning.

2. Sort: A common term in “clutter” management, sorting our tasks into long-range (strategic), annual (operational) and short-term (tactical) will help us focus our time and energy.

In David Allen’s Six Level Model for Planning (Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity, 2001), he uses a flying analogy to illustrate various levels of planning:
50,000+ feet: Life
40,000 feet: 3 to 5 year vision
30,000 feet: 1 to 2 year goals
20,000 feet: Major areas of job responsibility
10,000 feet: Current projects
Runway: Current actions

Let’s explore some ideas at each of the first three levels of tactical planning.

LEVEL 1:  Runway: Current actions
Develop a running list of “to dos.” Get the things you need to do out of your head and onto paper, a document, an Outlook task list or whatever medium works best for you. The most important thing here is the de-cluttering of your brain so it is not periodically reminding you of tasks to be done.

Identify your top “8” tasks each day. Spend the first half an hour of the day or the last half an hour of the previous day developing your top 8 hit list. Limit yourself to no more than 8 priorities each day. Revise the list during the day as needed and create a new one each day. Take time at the end of the week to evaluate how well you moved items to completion and make improvements, as needed.  Notice what you’re not getting to and see if the things “not getting done” have a pattern to them.

Stay focused on your hit list. Put it right in front of you and use it to focus your day. When another item or interruption begs for your attention, assess whether it fits into your hit list or bumps something off your existing list. If it doesn’t, add it to your running list for evaluation later that day or tomorrow morning.

LEVEL 2:  10,000 feet: Current projects
Use project management tools, such as the work breakdown plan, to organize what needs to be done by when, by whom.

· Start with a SMART goal to clearly define the goal for the project. SMART goals need to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results Oriented and Time Bound.
· Identify all the “big buckets” of work that need to be done to accomplish the goal.
· List all the tasks to be done under each “bucket.”
· Assign ownership and deadlines. Make note of what buckets need to be done before others and which buckets can be worked on simultaneously.
· Move tasks off your work breakdown plan to your “hit” list as appropriate.

LEVEL 3:  20,000 feet: Major areas of job responsibility
Flying at 20,000 feet suggests you have made a decision as to what areas give you the biggest bang for your time – the 20% of your job you are going to focus on for 80% of your results. To help you with this decision, answer these key questions: What is the purpose of my job? What are the measures of my success according to my manager? What is considered exceptional performance? How does this affect my priorities? How does that affect my relationships with others? When you’ve done this job analysis, look at your tasks to see if you are giving priority to the ones that will make you successful.

3. Improve: Keep your eyes open to new tools that can build your planning efficiency. Whether it is a webinar on Outlook or time management, organizers in your Blackberry or a new day planner system, take time to talk with others about what works for them and pay attention to new resources.  One word of caution here: if you find your office littered with day planners and systems that never get off the ground, go back to #1. I’m a firm believer that you can make most any system work, if you are committed.

Speaking of sharing resources, what tips and tools have you found helpful for day-to-day planning? Comment.



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