How to plan for the future during uncertain times - the happy solopreneur

This is the time of year when everyone starts planning for the upcoming year. You may have already noticed a flurry of planners, vision boarding and New Year planning parties – and this is sure to continue as this year winds down. However, I feel like there is a hidden joke behind these plans this year because last year many of us made huge plans for 2020 – and then the year blew up. Last year this time, I was planning a trip overseas and that had to be postponed. Professionally, I’d kicked off a book club for business owners. But as we approached mid-March, a book club seemed unimportant and trivial amid the other things that were going on, and quite frankly reading business books suddenly was the last thing that I wanted to do. 2020 has been a wild ride of uncertainty and disruption that tossed many of our plans – both personal and professional – out the window. As we approach the new year, we are faced with a similar challenge of starting a new year where there are still a lot of unknown factors and looming challenges.

So how do you approach an upcoming year when the current year has been anything but predicable? How do you set personal and business goals in the face of uncertainty? Does it even make sense to plan for the future during uncertain times? Absolutely it does. But I have decided to approach planning a little differently than in previous years. This approach focuses on flexibility, self-care, and achievable, short-term goals. Focus on short term goalsAny post on planning has to start with goal setting. Spending some time creating or revisiting goals helps chart your course both personally and professionally. Goal-setting also helps give you focus and direction. While creating long term goals, those goals that may take several years or more to achieve, remains important during difficult times, you may want to focus on those short term, achievable goals. Continue creating your top long-term goals but break those into short-term goals, and break those into even smaller micro-goals. The SMART goal setting formula (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound) is a timeless formula that has helped me immensely in both long- and short-term planning. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes, however large or small. Try intentional scheduling vs to-do lists

This may sound cliche but hear me out. Many of us use running to-do lists as a way to keep track of all the things that we have going on. The issue with to-do lists is those things that are most important often get lost in the shuffle of our daily to-dos. Often, we create a running to do-list of things from picking up dog food to writing a chapter of your book. While both are important, writing the book is probably something that will generate income and give you a sense of accomplishment, but when put on a list with picking up dog food, Fluffy’s food is probably going to take priority. First, because it’s easier and second because it’s more urgent. But to-do lists often keep us in an unrealistic loop of not moving forward the things that are most important. When you work from a list, there’s always something left undone and that can leave you feeling unfulfilled when you don’t complete all the things on your list. If you have decided you want to learn a new skill, exercise daily or work on your book, don’t just plop those items on another list. Add them to an intentional schedule. Intentional implementation determines where you will put your energy and efforts. Planning in advance will help you decide where you will spend your time and energy and help maintain focus. It can also lead to fewer distractions. This article on Nir and Far offers great advice on how to move from list-making to schedule-making. In our example above, you’d add time to your schedule for shopping but also committed time for writing. Remember those short term goals? Make sure you are allocating committed time to those tasks on your schedule.

Focus on your process
You will thank me for this later, but spend some time with your process. Processes or systems for your business are the step-by-step actions you take to produce your goods or service. Whether you create a product or have a service business, everything ultimately goes back to your process or specific workflow. Having sound processes is particularly important in times of uncertainty as they serve as a playbook when things don’t go as planned, for instance, if you experience disruption or have an emergency. Process allows you to put certain tasks on autopilot if you need to check out for a while. They also give you a clear place to start if you have a disruption in your business or assist in times when you may feel stuck. Where do you start? Here are some of the areas of your business where creating clear processes can help:

  • Client on-boarding
  • Steps to create your service or product
  • Employee, contractor or vendor policies and procedures
  • Marketing and sales processes
  • Customer service policies
  • Content creation for online channels and social media
  • Invoicing

Once you have determined your process for important parts of your business, you can begin to automate those processes so that they effectively run with minimal effort from you.

Practice patience and perspective
Part of planning is anticipating those things that may be obstacles and challenges. When faced with a challenging climate, it makes sense to build in extra time for tasks. If you have periods where you feel less focused during difficult times, that’s perfectly normal. Build your schedule in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling overwhelmed or over-committed. Make sure you schedule time for things that make you happy, self-care and most importantly physical activities that will keep you healthy and motivated. Finally, don’t underplay how hard it is to still be committed to achievement during tumultuous times. Pat yourself on the back – you deserve it.