We all know this famous line and we all know the value of planning, but how do you plan your life or make a plan for your business or career when the future is uncertain or foggy at best?
I was spurred on to write this blog post from a recent Harvard Business Review article. The author Kate Northup suggests that the infamous five-year plan is dead. But is it? Or has it just evolved? How about we still create the five-year plan, breaking it down into manageable and more defined chunks (aka micro-planning as Ms. Northrup suggests), but also have a Plan B? As the Pandemic has certainly showed us, having a Plan B is critical. It’s also made our planning feel less reliable. As my father in-law likes to say, “Our plans ‘suffered a shock’ this past year and perhaps we find ourselves off track and floundering a bit.
For many of us, we don’t even commit to planning. Perhaps because of overwhelm or not knowing where to start. Having any sort of plan (or plan B can calm the chaos of life). I’ve been a planner and list maker for as long as I can remember. It’s really the only way my life can function. Just ask my kids what happens when I misplace my to-do list and how I behave if I don’t have a plan.
At Her Retirement, we are ALL about planning (and coaching you on your life and your financial and retirement journey). Having a plan is one of the best stress-reduction strategies in existence. It’s an important key to the peace of mind puzzle. As humans, we crave to feel in control and live with certainty. In fact, research shows that a sense of control helps us stave off symptoms of depression and anxiety and can even decrease mortality risk. And of course, if you live longer, you’ll need a plan for how you’ll live and be financially stable.
But…in a world where chaos reigns (even at the molecular level), how do we reign in control? Planning of course. And the more control we achieve, it turns out, the higher achieving we tend to be (in life, career and business). And just because we’ll never be able to control everything in our lives (and we don’t have crystal balls into our future), doesn’t mean we can’t still benefit greatly from the stress reducing and achievement-enhancing process of planning. For these reasons and more, we believe a successful retirement is predicated on preparation and planning…even though retirement may be a long way off for many people. The closer you are to retirement, the more important it is to have that plan in place. And a 401k plan is NOT a retirement plan, but that’s a topic for another blog post. Remember: Fortune does indeed favor the smart, the bold and the prepared.
So let’s take a look at Ms. Northrup’s micro-planning idea, which is designed to make planning for the future (whatever it may hold for us) easier and much less overwhelming.
“Fortunately, you don’t have to leave planning behind, even in the face of an uncertain future. With micro-planning, you can plan for the future in smaller chunks, allowing you to reassess at set points throughout the year and readjust to circumstances as necessary. To micro-plan, start with identifying your compelling purpose for your life, business or career. Then, make a plan for the year that aligns with this purpose. Each quarter, reassess and reflect on what you’re working on, and each month, break those goals and projects down into distinct phases. At the start of each week, have a broad view of what you need to do. Finally, each day, track your energy and see where you can improve to reach your goals.
Micro-planning is simple. It takes a larger vision and breaks it down into yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily check-in practices to plan and adjust as necessary. We get some of the same stabilizing effects that a five-year plan may have given us but with shorter chunks of planning that make more sense in our current economic and cultural context.
Micro-planning is based on biomimicry, “a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design problems — and find hope along the way.” Prolonged stress, like the kind experienced during a global pandemic of unknown length, can cause a significant decrease in our ability to function optimally, especially when it comes to our cognitive abilities (like our brain handling high-order tasks or our ability to make decisions based on our goals instead of based on our habits). Micro-planning allows us to relieve this stress without the seduction of thinking, however erroneously, that we have control over what is going to happen in the next one, three, five, or more years of our lives.
There are six elements of micro-planning:
Purpose – Identify the common thread that connects what all of your different roles have in common throughout your lifetime by thinking about the most fulfilling career experiences you’ve had to date and noticing their commonalities.
- The Year– Make a plan for the year that aligns with your purpose and identifies one to three focus areas for desired growth. Keep the list of focus areas short in order to promote a better chance for success.
- Quarters– At the beginning of each quarter, reassess what you’re working on (successes and failures) and set goals for the next quarter, being careful to choose no more than five – keep the list manageable. There may be a shift in your plan at this stage based on your reflections on the previous quarter.
- Months– Each month break your goals for the quarter down into specific projects, and then break the projects down into even more specific and manageable phases:
- planning and initiation
- shipping/launching/making it visible
- completion and integration
- rest and reflection
- Weeks– At the start of the week, create a weekly to-do list, making sure to plan time for movement, sleep, time outside, hydration and healthy food. Doing this makes sure that you are physically and mentally caring for yourself in support of your intellectual goals.
- Days– Use a journal to track your energy on a daily basis. Doing this gives you powerful information as to how to optimize your workflow and helps make annual planning more mindful. Make sure to note daily what you are grateful for, as well. Journaling in this way gives you an immense sense of control, which has been proven to shrink the amount of time it takes to get tasks done.
Adaptability is key when managing stress because of uncertainty about the future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Use micro-planning to help you plan achievable goals and to promote a sense of control over the trajectory of your career, your retirement plans, your wellbeing and your life.
A Plan Without a List is Just a Miss
I’m a list maker (as you can see by this amazing illustration my daughter did of my desk). My first boss once told me, “The way to remember more is to remember less by writing it down.” And I’ve taken his advice to heart ever since. Lists are great ideation platform for your planning process. Start with a list or check-list to quickly organize, summarize and prioritize your ideas. From there, your list can be the basis of a complete plan, using the micro-planning technique to eliminate the overwhelm.
I’ve created our “Get Her Done Retirement To-Do List. You can use it alone to track your retirement planning to-do’s or as the foundation of a complete retirement plan. You can break the list down into time segments so that you practice mico-planning and don’t get overwhelmed by everything you should do prior to retirement. Check out and download the list here.
If you’d like to chat with a RetireMentor about the list, or our education and coaching programs, please reach out here.