Why We Need a Plan

Sometimes I get obsessed with my goals and dreams. I latch onto an idea and convince myself it’s worth moving to the top of my list.

But I forget I have to actually plan the steps and do the work to turn these ideas into something real and tangible.

It’s not my fault, right? Our culture celebrates big successes: IPOs, award-winning artists, and industry disrupters. We’re supposed to desire achievement and status.

Goals. Affirmations. Vision boards. Where do I see myself in five years? What about ten years?

What? I don’t know where I see myself in five years. I don’t even know where I see myself in two years. I’m sorry I don’t have my entire life planned out.

Next question, please.

Arbitrary goals and ideas are a dime a dozen.

I have a degree in construction management. I was a project manager for fourteen years. Now I don’t even use my degree.

I write on this blog. I’m a partner in a nutrition coaching business. I sell stuff on Amazon. I build WordPress websites.

If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.

And I always have new ideas. Some may be good, but most are terrible. Sometimes I lose control and chase these shiny objects.

A few examples for your enjoyment:

  • A website where parents write letters to their kids. When the kids turn 18, the parents can turn all their letters into a book for them.
  • An online book club for nonfiction lovers. I guess goodreads.com isn’t good enough.
  • A weekly newsletter about…I don’t know what. Something. Anything. I want to earn a little money from my writing. Is that too much to ask? Besides, doesn’t everyone want more email to read?

There’s more where that came from. Feel free to steal any of these gems and run with them. If they take off and make millions, let me know.

The point is I like to dream. I dream up ideas and turn them into projects. I go off on tangents and work on them for hours or days or weeks. I don’t always even know what I want the end result to be. I just have a vision and start building it.

Then I abandon it.

Most of the time it’s because I have actual, paying work to do. Other times a new idea distracts me. But sometimes I quit because I have no idea how to get to the end result.

The idea dies because I didn’t have a plan. I spent too much time focusing on the desired output instead of the required input.

Goals are great at providing direction. They’re horrible at giving directions.

Goals are great. They give us something to aim for. But to get there, we have to do the dirty work. We have to put all the pieces together in order.

We have to pay attention to the input.

If we want to lower our golf score, we don’t pick a random score and try to hit it. We work on our ball striking and putting. Small improvements in accuracy and consistency, over time, lead to lower scores. (I hope that’s right, at least. I suck at golf. But it makes sense in my head.)

If we want to lose weight, we don’t obsess over the number on the scale. Quick fixes aren’t sustainable. Instead, we focus on eating the right foods in the proper amounts for our bodies. Over time, a small deficit between the energy we consume and burn leads to weight loss.

If we want to build a million-dollar business, we start with an idea. We break that idea down into all the parts and pieces it takes to make the business real. We figure out how to assemble all those parts and pieces. Then we build those pieces.

The output is the goal: a lower score, a healthier weight, a business that makes a million dollars. The input includes all the things required to create that output.

If we only focus on the end result, we lose sight of the steps it takes to get there. We get tunnel vision. All the peripheral details become blurry, and the input becomes secondary.

We dwell too much on the things we cannot completely control.

We can control our input. We can’t control outside forces.

Outside forces come in many forms.

A sudden gust of wind sends our ball one foot off course and into the bunker. A coworker isn’t prepared for a presentation and we lose the contract. The runner in front of us trips and falls.

These things are outside our control. Sometimes it’s bad luck. Sometimes other people let us down. And sometimes the client already had their mind made up ahead of time.

Outside forces can sabotage output. This is something we’ll always have to deal with. We’ll always worry about these forces and clean up their messes. No amount of preparation can prevent this.

So it serves us better to worry more about our own actions–the things we can control.

Good results come from good input. And good input starts with a good plan.

I hate cheesy phrases, but I can’t think of a better way to say this: garbage in -> garbage out. If the input is garbage, the output will be garbage.

In my former life, we didn’t take a few napkin sketches of a building and start pouring concrete. We planned every step of the construction process in advance. We had detailed drawings and specifications. And we hired specialists in every trades to perform the work.

We controlled every piece of input and ensured everyone did their part. The final output was a building more complex than we ever envisioned.

We can’t stop eating junk food and drop ten pounds overnight. Swinging the club harder doesn’t lower our golf score in a single round (I should know). We can’t prevent a competing company from using shady tactics to close a deal.

But we can create and execute a plan.

We can start with a goal and use that for direction. Then we can back into all the small, detailed steps needed to reach that goal.

These “steps” are the input. They’re the things we have to do to make a dream a reality. And the better we perform them, the better our chance of success.

All the planning in the world won’t prevent outside forces from interfering. It won’t eliminate the risk of bad luck or acts of God. But it will give us the best shot at getting the output we desire.

Focus on the input and the output will take care of itself.

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