In this digital age of speed, change is taking place so rapidly, we have to spend more time planning and less time working from a traditional “To do” list in order to survive.
Planning could be seen as bringing the future into the present where you are able to change its outcome. Use the analogy of driving to work through traffic. You don’t know what the holdup is ahead; you only know that you have come to a standstill. And your focus is on inching forward one car length at a time. But if I were to take you up in a helicopter so you could see for miles ahead, you would know that there is a major accident six blocks down the road, and that you could easily avoid it by making a right turn just ahead and traveling along a parallel street. Seeing the future that awaits you allows you to make adjustments in the present.
Similarly, in business and in life in general, you must see beyond your daily “To Do” list and weekly schedules and get a glimpse of the future and how you can best adjust and prepare now for what lies ahead. I refer to this as “helicopter planning” – rising above the busyness of each day and spending a portion of your time visualizing and planning for the future.
I use the analogy of a helicopter because it can rise straight up, getting some space between you and the current situation, and it can hover so you have a good view of what’s happening right now, while looking ahead to see what the situation will be further down the road if you continue doing what you are doing.
Helicopter planning requires that you get some space between you and the clutter and busyness of everyday operations. It could be in the form of a weekend retreat with a few business advisors or in a local hotel for or a day or two in an unstructured meeting either alone or with your advisory board, partners or whoever. It is important that you distance yourself from your business so you can get a more objective view of it – as well as free yourself from the daily activities and interruptions
Today, you need the information, knowledge and wisdom of others more than ever. If you are a one-person business, the least you should do is block off a half day each week or two – dedicated to business planning. This is the time when you’re no longer working in the business, but on the business. Since Tuesday is considered to be the most productive day of the week, you might want to leave that time to work on the plan that you develop. You might consider a Friday morning, for your helicopter planning. Or you could make it a Saturday morning if necessary. You might recruit two or three retired businesspeople to serve as an advisory board. There are probably more than enough people who would gladly volunteer their services. All successful business owners need to get out of their daily grind and find time for helicopter planning.
If you are not in business, you can still use the same concept for your personal life. In this case you would involve your family as well.
In these planning sessions you might focus on areas of the business that are critical to making it to next month, the next quarter and beyond. You will have to decide which three or four priorities take precedence over everything else. These might include such things as managing cash flow, focusing on customers and quality service, and accelerating revenue growth. For personal planning, it might involve your career, financial status, self-development, family vacation, and so on.
Be sure to relate the 80-20 rule to your business. Do 80% of the new customers come from 20% of the things you do to get them? Is 80% of the new business obtained from 20% of your salesforce?  Is 80% of the revenue derived from 20% of your product line or services? Do 80% of the activities consume 80% of the time? And so on. Then plan what actions you will take to maximize your return on invested money, time and talent.
Change is occurring so rapidly, long-range planning is shrinking in length. We used to think of long-range planning as being 10 or more years, medium-range being five or more years and short-range being one year or more. Now you could consider five years long-range, and six months or less, short-range. That’s about the time it takes Apple to come out with a new iPhone.
Planning is an ongoing activity essential to the survival and success of your business.