Developing a strategic plan for a new year—the hardest part is getting started

A common sentiment for new runners is that “the hardest part of running is putting on your shoes.”

It’s not actually hard to put on your shoes but, if you don’t start by doing that, you won’t go for a run at all. If you’re not in the habit of regular exercise, it takes more mental effort than physical to put on your shoes—because you’re thinking more about the pain than the joy and benefits of what you’re about to embark on.

The same principle applies to getting started with anything—saving money, budgeting, rewriting processes, implementing change—anything that feels daunting at the beginning because there is a slow ramp-up period with minimal noticeable gains. We tend to be impatient by nature and just want the results without the effort or incremental lessons.

This definitely applies to strategic planning.

We put off developing plans because it feels too hard. We know that most initiatives have a ramp-up period before we will see the benefits or rewards of our efforts; so, we often struggle to make a start at all.

Getting started is not actually difficult. Writing a plan is not difficult, either. Deciding to get started is the hard part.

When is a good time? Where do I start? What will I need to consider? Who will I need to involve? What am I actually doing? Do I still love what I am doing? Who are we helping? Why does it even matter? Do I need a plan at all?

These are all valid questions. And you will likely need to ask and answer them all (and more) at some point.

Right now, there are a lot of unknown unknowns.

The first step is to start.

Start with quick bullet lists

Jot a bunch of things down on a scrap of paper, in a notebook, or in a Google Doc. Don’t worry about grammar or structure. Don’t worry about which tool or note-taking medium is the best.

Get as much as you can out of your head—so you can see it, work it, discuss it with others.

Go for quantity, not quality. Don’t try to think too deeply on each bullet point—or you will not get past the 2nd or 3rd item before you run out of energy and headspace. And, you will likely miss the less obvious opportunities for the most impactful change.

You can add detail and pad things out later.

Reflect on some key headlines to group your bullet points…

  1. Who’s on your team—and what are their roles and areas of responsibility?
  2. What roles are you needing to fill?
  3. What are your team’s superpowers?
  4. What is your team struggling with?
  5. What went exceptionally well over the past year?
  6. What has been going quite well?
  7. What has not gone as well as you’d hoped?
  8. What has been going poorly?
  9. What’s your focus over the next 3, 6, and 12 months?
  10. Where do you hope to be by this time next year?
  11. What are your “big, hairy, audacious goals” for the next 2–3 years?
  12. What is stopping you or holding you back?

While it might feel like you need to focus on the areas where things have gone poorly, the things that have gone really well might surprise you, too. They might not be areas you had intended to focus on when you were planning ahead a year ago.

We tend to focus on what’s not working in order to figure out how we can improve. However, looking at the things we’re doing really well may enable you to refocus your energy and effort and consolidate or simplify your offering—or even pivot.

As we get busy, we tend to drift and spread ourselves increasingly thinly—forgetting why we started doing what we do in the first place—or not seeing areas where we really have opportunities to shine.

You’ll be surprised how refreshing it is to get a few thoughts out of your head.

Once you have your bullet items, you can begin to think more deeply about your whys, whats, hows, and whos. (More on this later.)

But don’t let the fear of what might be required to “develop a plan” stop you from getting started. The details, goals, KPIs, hypotheses, leap of faith assumptions, and outcomes can all come later.

What matters the most is starting. You don’t need a plan to get started—just start.

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