When it’s time to plan something, are you the person who takes charge? Or do you step back and let someone else do it? While I’m a huge advocate of playing to your strengths, there are some skills we all need to learn at a basic level. And planning is one of those skills.
If you’re someone who doesn’t love planning, you’re in luck. That just happens to be one of my superpowers. As my husband, Jeremiah, says, I “always have a backup plan for my backup plan.” It’s something I’m naturally good at and as I’ve practiced for the last few decades, I’ve created systems that have become second nature.
Those of you who have been hanging out here a while might guess that planning is not one of Jer’s strengths. Fascinated by my ability create elaborate plans, he’s been telling me for years that I need to teach people how to plan stuff. The problem with that is once something becomes second nature, it’s really hard to teach. You just do it.
So last year, as I was planning the launch of #hollygoeswild, my solo journey to visit every state park in Minnesota, I paid attention to the steps I took. There was a clear pattern I followed. I then applied those steps to other trips and even tested it on a trip Jer’s been assigned to plan.
Don’t let the fact that there are seven steps overwhelm you. The system is actually very simple. A seasoned planner could accomplish the same task in as little as four steps. But I’m not writing this for the seasoned planner. Although I hope you planners take something away too!
Throughout these seven steps, I’m going to use my State Park tour as an example. But this system could be applied to ANYTHING! Whether you’re planning your dream vacation, a family reunion, or a home remodel, this system will work for anyone. Before we begin, think of one thing you need to plan this month and try to apply each step to that one thing.
7 Steps to an Incredible Plan
1 – Set a Goal
What do you want?
For me, I was itching to travel. Jer and I have been fortunate to enjoy lots of wonderful travel since getting married. Unfortunately, there were a few years recently when Jer was overwhelmed with family commitments. This meant that our regular adventures were put on the back burner and my inner gypsy was getting restless.
Jer suggested that I start taking some solo trips. I hesitated because experiencing new places with Jer is part of the joy. Then I remembered that I had always wanted to visit all of the Minnesota State Parks. If I was going to accomplish this with Jer, it would take years. However, if I tackled it alone, I figured that I could finish within the next year.
I had never camped alone and I was terrified. So I started with a test run and shortly after, set a goal to finish visiting every Minnesota State Park by the end of this year. I’m happy to report that I finished all 69 parks by the middle of August, all thanks to my specific and timely goal.
2 – Assess Where You Are
Before you can figure out the best route to achieving your goal, you need to figure out where you are. Since I’m in love with Excel, I copied and pasted the list of all the Minnesota State Parks. I noted which parks I had visited and then planned what I thought was feasible for the remainder of that first year.
When it came time to plan this year’s trip, I printed a map and crossed off all of the parks I’ve visited. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a visual. Feel free to use whatever method works best for you.
3 – Research What You Don’t Know
Whenever you plan something, there will be a few crucial details you don’t know. This is where my favorite step comes in—RESEARCH!
Everyone has a different tolerance level for this step. I’m someone who wants to know every single detail. So I need to set deadlines to make decisions and act. Jer just wants to know the bare minimum, so he could benefit from tacking on some extra research time.
Who do you most relate to?
Some of the things I researched in this example were the distances between parks and each park’s amenities. From there I was able to decide what I wanted to do in each park and how much time I planned to spend there.
4 – Create an Agenda and Timeline
Create a timeline for when you can realistically make your goal happen. Based on the work I did in steps two and three, I figured I could finish visiting all of the state parks by the end of the following year. I also laid out how many parks I planned to complete each calendar year.
Based on what I learned in my research, I then plotted a route. I did this on paper, but Post-it Notes are a great trick. They’re especially great for the planning newbie. Simply write down each step and necessary details. Then you can lay them out in a way that makes sense on a table, wall, or even your floor. It’s a fun way to start visualizing your goal.
5 – Prepare
I read a study once that showed that vacationers are most happy before their trip. So be sure to embrace this step. It’s part of the fun.
Start your preparations immediately. You might want to start by making a list of things you need to do. Or perhaps you need to make a list of the gear you’ll need to purchase. For me, this meant planning routes, booking campsites, purchasing supplies, planning menus, and preparing food.
6 – Start
On the first part of my tour, I took off two weeks after making the decision that this was something I wanted to do. Not everything should or will come together this quickly. But aim for a launch date within 12 months of setting your goal. Then take action and start!
7 – Be Flexible and Enjoy the Journey
This is going to be tough for you perfectionists to swallow, but not everything will go as planned. You might get lost, it might rain for days on end, the place you were planning to visit might be closed for a season, or maybe you’ll back your new car into a tree. (Yup, ALL of these things happened to me.) Just go with the flow and make the best of it. It’s all part of the adventure and makes the best stories when it’s all said and done.
Enjoy every single step of the journey. Whatever it is you’re planning to do, you are among the most fortunate people in the world to have the opportunity. Be grateful, enjoy, and inspire others to do the same.
These simple seven steps can be used to plan anything. I encourage you to pick one thing you’ve always wanted to do and start the planning process right now.