All Blog Posts
November 16, 2023
Business is all about creating the illusion that you have a strategy.
Employees, managers, board members, customers and partners alike, they just want to know that you have a well thought out plan. It satisfies their sense of order and appeases their need for certainty.
People don’t need to understand every detail of that plan. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what the content of the plan is. As long it exists. As long as people can scan it quickly enough to feel safe, and confidently reference it to the powers that be, mission accomplished.
Now, it’s possible that you’re someone for whom planning details is draining and extremely boring. Or perhaps your personality is to change your mind a lot, and having everything planned out isn’t rewarding for you. Maybe you’re more of a here and now type who would rather live in the moment than decide what you’re going eat for dinner seven months from now.
Nothing wrong with that. There is no way one way to be.
The challenge is, sometimes your job depends on you having a plan. Your boss, or one of the company executives, literally asks to see an accounting of everything you plan to do over the next six months.
I have been asked for these kinds of plans many times in my career. And every time it happens, the blood drains from my face to protect my vital organs from predatory disembowelment. A sense of dread washes over me like a bath of hot acid.
That’s how much I loathe planning.
But then again, I also loathe unemployment, so it’s in my best interest to comply.
In this situation, here’s the planhacking strategy I find to be most effective.
First of all, you never have to start from scratch.
Whatever project you’ve be tasked with planning, the odds that someone else has not only done it, but also documented it, are very high. Instead of facing a blank spreadsheet and creating a thing from whole cloth, there’s almost always a template waiting for you to iterate on it. Often times inside the four walls of your company.
If you run a quick search on the company drive, internal wiki or other employee facing systems, there’s a good probability of finding the exact roadmap you need. And if not, there will be a close second you can modify to accommodate your current project.
When all else fails, start googling. Simply type in the keywords for your task at hand, be sure to add the word template, and within seconds you will realize that starting from scratch isn’t necessary. Somebody out there has already done the heavy lifting for you. Hallelujah!
Once you have a sense of your plan’s basic architecture, the second step is:
Spend a good chunk of time on formatting.
This step is tedious if you’re like me and not detail oriented and colorblind. Frankly, formatting gives me a headache in the moment, but it also pays dividends in the long run. Color coding the text in a document, for example, gives greater context to the data. It makes it easy for busy coworkers to merely glance at the spreadsheet and understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
The more elegant it looks, the more efficient you appear.
Again, the content is less important than the context. What matters is how digestible the whole thing is. If your plan appears professional and official, and it’s easy on the eyes, then nobody will ask any follow up question.
Wow, this looks air tight. You’ve really put a lot of thought into this plan. Great job.
The next element of planhacking is not getting hung up on details that are almost certainly going to change the moment you show your plan to someone else.
I’m astonished how often people wrack their brains and waste their time on minutiae like this.
Which week should we launch? What time of day is going to get the highest amount of social engagement? Do we have enough space between our last release and this new one? Who else should we email about this?
Don’t worry about all that. People who outrank you will make those decisions, probably at the last minute, and end up throwing a monkey wrench into your precious plan. It’s going to be derailed no matter what, so for now, just pick a date, decide on a number, and then move on.
It’s not worth burning any more calories over an imaginary goal that’s ultimately going be abandoned or ignored.
One final piece to convincing your coworkers that you have an actual strategy is:
Make your plan public. Socialize it with the broader team.
This may seem daunting, especially if you know deep down you’re pulling this plan out of your ass, but here’s reality.
Eighty percent the people you work with will glance at your plan once and never look at it again.
Ten percent of coworkers will read your plan more closely and congratulate you on a job well done.
Five percent will find the holes in your plan and make recommendations for how to improve it.
And the last five percent will silently resent you because your plan is way better than whatever dogshit they could have put together themselves.
All the while, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done your part to be transparent and collaborative.
These four hacks can be effective for even the most non planning personality. I’ve personally used them for many years at a variety of companies, and it’s amazing just how much of a placebo a well designed spreadsheet really is.
The big picture to remember here is, not only do you not have to be a planner, but you don’t really have to follow your plan. Not to the extent that you would think.
Sure, it’s important to uphold your commitments and do great work in a relatively timely manner. But nobody is going to follow about your every milestone. The odds of a coworker pulling you aside seven months from today and saying, hey man, your plan said that you weren’t shipping our new feature until next week. What gives?
It’s just not realistic. Most people are too busy with and stressed about their own projects for that kind of confrontation.
The purpose of planhacking is preserving the illusion of order with specificity, professionalism and comprehensiveness. Make the people around you feel safe by being the person who has thought of everything.
Because even if your plan actually means nothing, at least you’ve done something, and now nobody can claim you didn’t do anything.
How do you overcome your distaste for planning in order to appease the powers that be?