Time for Strategy

As you may know, I’ve been thinking and writing a great deal about specific techniques and methods to be more productive and successful. And that’s all good. But it’s not enough.

Most often, the largest contributor to productivity and success is sensible and effective strategy.

As you know, strategy is much different from day-to-day tactics and activities. It’s more of a long-range plan – regardless of whether it’s a broadly general or highly detailed one – for achieving an important goal. As such, it sets the overall direction for your efforts.

For example, think about driving from New York to Los Angeles. There are lots of different highways and byways you can take en route, any combination of which can turn out to be enjoyable, safe, and comfortable to travel. But the only way for you to determine which of them constitutes a better choice than any of the others is to consider them in relation to your destination.

As Yogi Berra famously advised: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

Given all that, let’s go over some basic rules for establishing sensible and effective strategies for your work and your life:

Where Are You Now?

No strategic planning can be sensible or effective unless it springs from a clear understanding of the current situation. That’s why you must generally begin with in-depth fact-finding, research, and analysis of where you are right now.

This first step includes such actions as:

  • SWOT analysis – a look into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Resource inventory – a list of such things as the materials, funds, people, knowledge, skills, talents, and momentum you can draw on. You should also consider what additional resources might be necessary or helpful, and how you can obtain them.
  • Action report – an assessment of what is and is not working well, as well as what you might try to do better next time you get the chance.

Where Do You Want to Go?

This is the crux of the strategic planning process. Selecting a goal you care about is the whole reason you’re creating a strategic plan in the first place.

A good one meets the following criteria:

  • It’s closely tied in with your motivation to succeed.
  • It offers a focal point for your efforts.
  • It provides a basis for you to develop and plan specific action steps to pursue.
  • It reflects, expresses, and helps make manifest your values and priorities.
  • It’s stated in a way that allows you to measure your progress.

Note: You can have more than one of these strategic goals at the same time. You can also change and refine your goals from time to time – as conditions vary, as you make progress, and as you grow professionally or personally.

How Do We Get There?

Now we get to the real meat of the strategic plan: the specific routes you will follow and efforts you will undertake to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Many of these routes and efforts will be short-term, highly specific, and highly dependent on practical opportunities or obstacles that arise as you move toward your strategic goal.  

But you will always be able to choose from among many specific routes by comparing how directly and effectively each one can move you toward your long-term destination.

Making these choices requires a combination of both long-range and short-range thinking.

For example, while completing the first-ever “free climb” of the giant El Capitan cliff in Yosemite National Park, Alex Honnold actually had to spend time and energy descending from the end of the first route that took him part-way up the cliff in order to change to a second route that gave him a viable pathway to climb all the way to the top.

How Are We Doing?

A key element of effective strategic planning is the regular review, evaluation, and possible revision of the plan as it’s actually panning out.

Just as you continually check the direction of your car as you round a curve, and make adjustments to the steering wheel to stay in the desired lane, you benefit from regularly checking your progress toward your strategic goal and making adjustments as necessary to keep moving toward where you want to go.

In summary, you can upgrade your level of productivity and success when you take the time to develop a strategic plan. It will help you stay focused and more directly on course, greatly limiting the waste of your time, energy, and resources on efforts that are less likely to help you get where you really want to go.

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