Effective Year Planning

At the beginning of every year we all do various forecasts of what the new year will look like. The degree of this plan varies with individuals. Some making very elaborate and detailed plans while some just have minimal goals for the year. Some decide to write their plans down on scrap sheets of papers, some in nice jotters, others use spread sheet applications to articulate their thoughts for the new year. I have seen wonderful plans with numerical inputs and definable processes to achieve those goals.

While it is good to do this every single new year; I want to draw attention to something most of us don’t bother to do. I look at a year plan as a project because it has a start and an end date attached to it. Therefore, it is sensible to phase this kind of project and do verifications at every stage. An example is to divide the year into four quarters and ensuring that the milestones attached to every quarter come to pass. The mistake we make is that we write the plans down and think they will run themselves without following up on the activities attached to those deliverable.

Let us say for example that I plan to have a postgraduate school admission in September 2009. It will be foolhardy of me not to break this plan into phases and track the progress. An example is to do the following:

1. January 2009 – Go online and search for Universities offering my course
2. February 2009 – Decide on five Universities and obtain admission requirement. Start making plans for transcripts from alma mater.
3. March 2009 – Narrow the list of Universities to 3. Confirm tuition fees.
4. April 2009 – Apply to the chosen Universities and start evaluating the tuition payment as well as cost of living.
5. May 2009 – Get green light from 1 or 2 of the Universities
6. June 2009 – Final decision on the University of choice. if University is not in your home country, start the process of Study visa.
7. July 2009 – Inform family about decision to go back to school. If working, start thinking about leaving or applying for study leave if available.
8. August 2009 – Tuition fees paid in part. Visa obtained. Last minute preparation.
9. September 2009 – Jet out to a new life 🙂

Imagine I have this on ground. I can check if my goal is going as planned or running behind schedule. This plan is not limited to going to school alone but everything we want to achieve in a year. Getting married is a valid application of this principle. Imagine having the following plan for a wedding coming up in October 2009 –
1. January – March 2009: Find out about the culture of the bride’s home town, traditional marriage etc. Talk to a close relative about the bride’s church and the process of counseling/minimum number of months to apply for a wedding in the church. Start a high level budget to get a rough estimate of the kind of finances you will be looking at. Inform your parents and close friends of your plan.

2. April 2009: Analyze your cash flow to see if you are on track based on your estimated budget. If not; start thinking of ways to fund the wedding. Start talking to friends who are married and can give you advise on ways to go about it. You might want to get the buy-in of both families on the date now.

3. May-June 2009: Family Introduction should be happening around this time. Registry wedding process should be started at this time because of notice period.

4. July-August 2009: Most of the plan should have been fleshed by now. Some payments also made. All the vendors should have been selected and part payments made.

5. Sept. 2009: Final preparation and all checklists observed.

6. Oct 2009: Walk down the aisle and go for honeymoon for a duration of 1 year LOL. That is what the bible says 🙂

What I have done is called decomposition. You can even decompose lower than I did. The advantage of using this method to plan your year is that you have realistic goals that have time and activity attached to them. This makes it simpler to track the progress and nudge yourself to reality when you are waning. Imagine writing a goal in your diary as – Get married by October 2009 or Go to Grad school in Sept 2009. That is cool but how do you do it? That how is what I have done in the 2 examples above.

It will be painful if we make the same mistakes of not achieving our set goals for next year. That is why we have to start writing the plans down with realistic ways of achieving them. It is not enough to build houses on paper but have a solid process to making the dreams come true. I will give the following tips to ensuring a productive year.

1. Don’t Lop everything together: It is better to you categorize your goals for the year. You might have Education, Personal development, Relationship, Investment, etc as categories. You can then have sub-sections, e.g under Investment – shares, real estate, capital venture, etc. Under personal development – buying books, attending seminars, etc.

2. Be Realistic: If wishes were horses, everyone would ride. It is good to be confident and full of faith but nothing destroys confidence more than wrong expectations. It is thus good to be calculative and know the extent we can go. You cannot plan to invest 100 Million naira next year when you don’t have the ability or plan to make same.

3. Progressive Elaboration: Sometimes you might not have a total picture of your year; but you can always revisit your plans to include new goals. This is important as the plan is flexible and can accommodate changes.

4. Always check performance: I recommend monthly checking of our performance. If I decide to write four certification examinations in 2009; I must have a concrete plan for each. If by March I have not achieved any; that should flag a non-performance and a call to action.

5. Accountability: A good way to ensure those plans come to life is to have friends who are driven and willing to be accountable to each other. You can decided to share some of your plans for the year together and pick a date once in 2 months where you compare notes.

The year 2008 is yet to end. It is not too late to achieve some goals if you keep your mind to it. You can decide to read two good books before December 31 2008. It is also a good time to start planning for a more productive and effective 2009. May God give life to our plans. Amen.

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