Research says that parents answer close to 300 questions a day from their children. It seems a bit conservative to me! Research also says we make over 30,000 decisions a day. That’s staggering.
With our days full of questions and decisions, it’s easy to see why so many of us get trapped in a day-at-a-time mentality. Who has time to look ahead when there’s so much going on today? But we can’t afford to do that as business leaders.
The unfortunate reality is if your vision doesn’t take you past next week, your business may not be there next year. There’s nothing more important to the life of your business than planning.
As you begin planning, you’ll not only be making some of your 30,000 decisions for the day, but many of them will be difficult decisions, so having a proven process in place will provide clarity and wisdom to the process. This is where the 3 step process of predict, prioritize, and plan will be invaluable.
Step 1: Predict
Prediction is at the heart of every growth-focused business. Prediction takes the time to analyze the past, evaluate the present, and forecast the future. This is the first step in lifting your head from the day-to-day and spending time thinking instead of doing. Gino Wickman calls this process a “clarity break,” Stephen Covey calls it “sharpening the saw,” and Bill Gates calls it “think weeks.”
This vital process takes you away from the office and into deep thought and reflection over what’s ahead for your business. You’ve likely heard this called working on your business instead of working in your business.
As you prepare to predict, here’s a guide for how to allocate your time:
- Be 10% past-focused: dig into what worked and what didn’t – this applies to all areas of your business: marketing plan, culture, client engagement, lead generation strategy, allocation of funds, etc. You’ll spend a lot of this time analyzing numbers, which always looks backwards – study your P&L divided by service line, look for year-to-year comparison trends, and study your gross and net figures.
- Be 20% present-focused: there’s typically not a lot of prediction done in the present; your day is mostly focused on what’s most important to accomplish, but you can become predictive in the present by establishing your schedule for the entire week rather than a day at a time. Use Friday afternoon or Sunday evening to set yourself up for a productive week that is focused on what’s most important. Predict the outcome of your week by knowing where your priorities should lie. Ask yourself – how can I move the needle this week toward my future goals?
- Be 70% future-focused: ask yourself, “what’s next?” This applies to your team, your industry, technology in your space, the economy, your leadership, and so much more. Create a 10-year picture of your business and then break it down into a 3-year picture, a 1-year picture, and divide your year into quarterly goals. Once you take a 10-year target and create goals for year 3, year 1, and each quarter, it doesn’t seem quite so unattainable. Your focus on the future establishes a strong foundation for business planning.
Predictive businesses are consistently proactive rather than reactive. They remove as many of the surprises as possible, and it puts them on the path that leads to the next step: prioritizing.
Step 2: Prioritize
The fruit of good prediction will be a long list of strategic ideas focused on the growth of your business. The next step is to prioritize those ideas. With limited amounts of resources and time, and a long list of seemingly amazing ideas, you’ll have to work hard to identify your most critical priorities.
5 Tips for Prioritizing your Business Decisions
- Create a team and review the list of ideas
- Place your ideas into 3 categories: critical, important, non-essential
- Prioritize each idea within all 3 categories
- Estimate how long each task will take to complete and which team members will be involved (you’ll finalize this in the planning phase)
- Stay focused on the most important – it’s easy to focus on what’s easiest to accomplish or most enjoyable to work on, but that’s not what creates the most impact.
After you’ve prioritized your ideas, you’re ready for the next step: planning.
Step 3: Plan
You’ve prioritized a list of predictive priorities, so now it’s time to plan the implementation. This is where real traction occurs, and your ideas are lifted from the whiteboard and into the daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms of your team’s work day.
6 Tips to Help you Plan
- Build a team as soon as possible (preferably during the prediction phase)
- Put your prioritized tasks into writing on a shared and public document
- Break each task into multiple steps to detail the goals and expected deliverables
- Assign roles and teams to each task
- Establish a timeline for the total task, with progress timelines for each step
- Set a meeting schedule to review progress with your team
Now you’re ready to get started! With your list prioritized by most important, start at the top and work your way down – you’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish when you know what’s most important, you create steps to complete it, and you don’t move on to the next priority until the one above is completed.
Business planning is an often overlooked practice, yet it’s the only way to know where you are going and whether you got there. This is a simplified version of business planning and there are entire systems dedicated to the process. Our company uses the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) and have found it to be invaluable in our planning and execution.
How do you Predict, Plan, & Prioritize During Difficult Circumstances?
As I write this, we are in the middle of a pandemic. The coronavirus has upturned entire industries, separated teams into remote environments, and caused all businesses to embrace innovation as they attempt to survive this unexpected and unbelievably difficult economic situation.
Business planning creates structure, and when difficult times arise, structure will be your best friend. Through planning, you will know your goals, who is working on them, and how you’ll measure success. This structure allows you to more quickly adapt and respond to times that are uncertain and difficult – basically, good business structure prevents a freak out.
So, how to do you plan when you don’t know what the future holds and so much of the situation is out of your control? How do you adjust your predictions, plans, and priorities during this time? How do you move forward when you’re potentially working with less financial capital, a smaller team, and a reduced timeline?
During difficult times, you will still walk through all 3 steps, though they will look different.
- Predict: when you’re in the middle of the storm, you need to predict what you can and adapt to the rest. You won’t have all the answers. Educate yourself on the situation as best you can and then quickly move to the next step.
- Prioritize: your priorities will look very different within the storm. You’ll get very good at establishing those 3 categories (critical, important, non-essential) and you’ll live in the critical tasks, and it’ll be all hands on deck.
- Plan: your planning will have less detail than your business plan because your time needs to be spent on action. Still make sure to get it on paper, identify the steps, assign the tasks, and follow your progress.
And remember, when you are leading a team through a difficult time, don’t forget to communicate. Whether the difficulty originated internally or externally, you need to control what you can, work relentlessly, have faith, and communicate, communicate, communicate!
(source: the Predict, Prioritize, Plan process has been around for a while and is referenced in multiple articles and books, but it’s unclear where it originated).