07 Oct Structure, Don’t Plan
Structure, Don’t Plan
I recently realized I’d been wrong about the importance of planning in my social media and blog posts and in my coaching.
I’d even written “planning” into my Wheel of the Year exploration as one of the two keynotes for the Fall season. (I’ve changed it now to reflect my new understanding.)
Nothing like coaching others to put my errors right in my face. So quick! So perfectly. I am grateful for my integrity that keeps me honest when I’m wrong, and for the mirror of my soul-colleagues. I see this another example of the magic of structuring over planning. My new understanding did not come because I planned it. It has come because I gave myself the appropriate structure for it to arise.
The Wheel of The Year, Corrected (See Image Above!)
In a nutshell, here’s the thing: if you structure, you don’t need to plan. This is the huge ah-ah I had from my coaching group and corrected my earlier Wheel of the Year post.
Let me say that again:
If you structure, you do not need to plan.
Instead, you create a structure for doing something and you do it when you structured it (or you renegotiate the date to do it with yourself). This post will teach you how I do that.
A Small Amount of Planning
Sure, there’s a small element that looks like planning in here: setting the initial date to do the structuring in the first place, then setting any other dates that arise as essential to the thing you want to get done.
But that’s it. No further planning required.
The Difference Between Structuring and Planning
Planning kills off creativity. I think this is why many of us hate it. It’s what’s given planning such a bad name. Planning feels like death with us as the murderers. Structuring feels very different. Structuring is what Nature does to give life. Nature doesn’t “plan” like we do, or like we feel, sitting around in a boring meeting with others trying to anticipate next year! Nature puts the pattern she wants to give Life into its structure.
Structuring creates a nourishing space around creativity. Diligent structuring protects that space.
Example: Developing RAISING CLARITY Day by Day
I realized: I don’t have a business plan! I have a self-organizing, self-generating business structure in which the plan for my business year naturally arises from the structure itself.
This example is a great one because my business is the most complex thing I do in my life: I no longer have a child at home, I clean my house when it bugs me, and I make one meal a day. I have simple friendships and a blessedly simple primary romantic relationship. I am also blessed to coach nine people simultaneously and not have to take on any other work if I don’t want to.
Promoting, sustaining, nourishing, and enacting my business of coaching and fundraising consulting is the most complex thing I do in my life. I do not plan it. This is what I recently realized! I structure it.
How I Structure RAISING CLARITY’s Development
I work with a yearlong timespan. The structure for my business development is one year. My personal experience is that the new year begins in the Fall. My business year goes from Fall to Harvest (late Summer).
The Seasonal Cycle
The seasonal cycle is extremely important to me. It’s baked into everything I do, including my business. So, I divide my business year into four quarters. (You obviously don’t have to choose the seasonal quarters; you could structure your worklife using a January-December cycle, and the four business quarters).
My business development structure take form as a simple document divided into four seasonal headings.
I build out only the current season. Anything that I know doesn’t need to happen this season (from experience or because it hits me in the face as I proceed) gets dumped into one of the other seasonal headings where my best guess tells me it goes as a note to self.
I build out the current season week by week. Each week gets its own heading.
Underneath the weekly heading, I build out each day of the week that I do something to build, promote, sustain, nourish or enact my coaching or consulting: writing blog posts, developing my weekly newsletter and social media posts, tracking and reflecting on social media (thank you, George Kao), presentations and papers I want to prepare (actual meetings go into my datebook, however, not this document), follow-up with various folks I’m building or enacting. relationships with, creative writing. Days I do nothing for my business number three/week; they do not show up in my document at all.
Each day, when I do what I planned for that day, I line it out. I love strikethrough text! And yes, I did just use the word “planned.” But did you see how little I use it? I do not plan very far ahead at all—I structure my year into quarters, my quarters into weeks, weeks into days with simple headings and sub-headings—and then I map the work that needs to get done that week onto the days I’m going to do it. That is the extent of my planning ahead! I don’t even consider the days planned in stone, and often move an activity from one day to the next. Or from one week to the next. Or one month to the next.
Doing vs. Planning
Most of my time is spent doing, not planning. Setting up a week takes me about four minutes. I know how many social media posts I want to write in a week (four); how many newsletters I want to put out (1); whether I have a new blog post in me or whether I do not; how often I track and reflect on my social media (1). The rest of my time is productively spent thinking, reflecting, writing, or meeting with people.
What About Those Fleeting, Creative Bursts of Genius?
Stray thoughts, creative promptings, relationship-building inklings go onto Post-Its placed in every room of my home where they get collected until the next time I turn on my computer and type them into my business development document—on a particular day. Sometimes, I just dump the new ideas into the next week’s slush pile of activities to be sorted into days. This happens especially if I have lots of great ideas during a week that already feels full. I don’t try to get all my new ideas done right now. Instead, I smooth them out into days and weeks I can do them more effectively by placing them into days and weeks ahead. I know I will get them done. I trust myself—and my organizing practice.
There Are No Cracks to Fall Through
Nothing falls through the cracks. I am disciplined about not ignoring anything in my document, although I am free to make conscious decisions to stop (or start) doing things, and especially often, to move them to a new day, week, or even season. I have been known to put things off in this way for a year, revisiting them each year and putting them off again. Recently, I made a note to myself to authorize myself to give up on an idea if I put it off one more year—and I didn’t give up on it. I put it off again, for another year. Ideas need time and patience to mature. If an idea keeps grabbing me, it often means it’s a good one, whether or not I have the time to actualize it this day, this season, or even this year.