I am and always have been a planner. I have organizers, sticky notes, spreadsheets, and calendars for just about anything for both work and personal tasks. Having a plan can be incredibly helpful when you’re facing a new project, goal, or role.
But all of the color coding in the world can’t help when unexpected factors come into play and you’re suddenly and completely off track. What do we do when the plan doesn’t work (aside from panicking)?
Don’t Be Shocked
By definition, a “plan” is a proposal or an intention. It isn’t written in stone. Of course, if everything worked out just as you designed then the plan could be perfect. But there are so many variables that can come in to play that you have to assume something will go awry. Don’t be shocked when external factors threaten to derail your efforts. Instead, embrace the challenge and look for ways to incorporate those derailments into the framework designed for your outcome(s). With an open mind and a bit of creativity, you can channel the initial shock and use the energy to get back on track.
Focus on Outcomes, Not Steps
With most projects, the final goal remains the same throughout the process. But as new factors come into the picture and affect your plans, the steps you take to get to the goal inevitably change. This is OK! Use these opportunities to focus on the outcomes that brought about the plan in the first place, not the steps that you expected to take to get there. Steps can, and should, be agile enough to shift around or augment to get to the end goal. What steps are still applicable? What can you add (or subtract) to realign and keep the outcome in your sights?
Step back and reevaluate where you need to be, the resources and time you have, and the wrench thrown into your plan. Do these steps still make sense? What can you take away to simplify things? What didn’t make the final cut for your initial plan? Do any of those options look viable now? The more you take a step backward and look at the greater picture and open yourself to change, the more likely you can come up with a creative solution.
Call for Reinforcements
The project is still your responsibility, but factors have thrown off your best-laid plans. You can likely account for everything that needs to change now. But what if additional perspectives, skill sets, and ideas could help you get back on track? Call for reinforcements and run your ideas (or your obstacles) by others. I find that a good mix of people directly affected and people who have zero to do with the outcome is best. You get a great sample of opinions to work with, and others (especially those removed from the situation) may have a completely different take on things. Take that feedback, add it to your creative approach, and see where it can take you.
A change in planning, even when completely unexpected, can be a great chance to push yourself and show that you have what it takes to think out of the box while still achieving the outcomes you are responsible for. When the plan doesn’t work, don’t panic. Embrace it and revise it.