If there’s any beauty that has come from this pandemic, it’s that we are reorganizing our priorities to honor what really matters to us. And for many, “career” is at the top of the reboot list. A lot of folks are currently asking, “What do I really want to do with my life, given that everything else seems to be up in the air?”
Letting go of what we always thought we could count on, however, can leave us feeling like we’re floundering. Having a plan is one of the best stress reduction strategies in those situations.
There are six elements to Microplanning:
1. PURPOSE: Identify your compelling purpose that allows flexibility in terms of how it will come to pass. So many people are in a reboot phase when it comes to their careers. New directions can feel risky, but when we look back at our career history, we often find a thread that connects what all of our different roles have had in common. That thread is a great place to start when it comes to identifying your compelling purpose. For example, my purpose is to help leaders become more connected to sustainable sources of personal power so we can all make our highest contribution to humanity and the planet.
While how I implement this purpose may change as circumstances change around me, the purpose itself remains the same. If you aren’t clear on your purpose, do a quick exercise: Jot down the most fulfilling career experiences you’ve had to date. Notice what commonalities they have. Those are the ingredients of your purpose.
2. THE YEAR: Make a plan for the year that aligns with your purpose, based on the best available information. Identify one to three areas of growth that you want to focus on. Your plan could include a job search, pursuing growth opportunities in your current career, laying the groundwork for starting your own business or whatever else makes sense for you.
3. QUARTERS: At the beginning of each quarter, reflect on the time that has just elapsed. Ask yourself: What worked, and what didn’t in this past quarter? What did I learn? What needs to shift in my plan? Based on your answers, set goals for the next quarter — no more than five.
4. MONTHS: Each month, take your goals for the quarter and assess where you stand with them. For any active goals, break them into specific projects and then break each project down into phases. Every project requires four distinct phases to get it off the ground and achieve the results we want: planning and initiation, shipping/launching/making it visible, completion and integration, and rest and reflection.
For example, if your project is to “search for a new job,” the “plan and initiate” phase would be updating your resume, tapping into your network for potential opportunities, and searching for openings. The next phase, “making it visible,” would be applying for jobs, showing up for interviews, and following up after. The “complete and integrate” phase would be the onboarding phase once you receive your new job offer. Finally, the “rest and reflect” phase would be allowing yourself to exhale and celebrate, knowing that a new cycle has begun — and you have accomplished your goal.
5. WEEKS: At the start of each week, make a weekly to-do list — rather than a daily one that’s a mile long and leaves you feeling defeated when you shut down for the day. This weekly plan allows you to have a broader view of what’s ahead and gives you more flexibility to plan than your average to-do list. But don’t just think about work tasks. Prioritize movement, sleep, time outside, hydration, and healthy food, too, as you look ahead in your week. Optimizing your physical energy make you significantly more effective at executing your plans than buying into the common, yet inaccurate, belief that our best work comes exclusively from our intellect.
6. DAYS: Finally, track your energy on a daily basis. Gathering data about yourself and your physical, mental, and emotional energy at the end of the day can give you powerful information as to how to optimize your workflow. Keep a journal by your bedside and jot down how you felt emotionally, mentally, and physically. Note what you worked on, how it went (what went well, what didn’t, and what you learned), and what you’re grateful for. This five-minute practice allows you to incrementally adjust the way you show up at work and in your life so you can approach your weekly, quarterly, and annual planning more mindfully. Using this data collection practice to make micro-adjustments to the way you work and your goals also gives you a tremendous sense of control, which has been proven to decrease the amount of time it takes to get tasks done.
The world is changing dramatically all around us, and we need to change with it. Clinging to a long-term strategy like the five-year plan isn’t going to work anymore. But letting go of our need and desire to know what the future holds does not mean a freefall into anxious indolence. By breaking down our planning processes into smaller chunks, we begin to check in more frequently and adapt more naturally. The five-year plan may be dead, but our capacity for doing our most impactful work and live into the goals that we set for ourselves is very much alive.