Personal Development

Creating Effective Planning Documents

Big or small, most of our activities (and life) require planning. 

While sometimes it is okay to go with the flow, the flow may not necessarily give us the most desirable outcomes. That’s okay — as long as you don’t have that expectation. But if you want the chips to fall in your favor, you need to do some type of planning. Our life is made up of projects — planning for your vacation, choosing a major, a new go-to-market campaign, starting a blog (heh!), etc. It gets really easy to get lost in the process, especially when you have a zillion people working on a project, hundreds of things to do yourself, and no solid deadline. 

Big pictures can be broken down into millions of pixels. Any project can be broken down into smaller achievable chunks. It becomes easier to digest and much more accomplishable. The key to these chunks are PLANNING DOCUMENTS. As the name suggests, this will allow you, and your team, to keep track of where you are and what you need to do in order to get to where you need to be. 

We used a planning document to start this very blog –creating such a document is usually the most efficient way to keep track of our thoughts and hold each other accountable to what needs to get done. As always, we are going to share our story of how we planned for a blog to give you a clearer idea on how you can start making your own effective planning documents. 

Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight — a planning doc is not a task assigner. It’s more of a forum to gather thoughts, phases of a project, and include the entire team on where the project is at. Our planning doc provides structures to your meetings, allows you to set expectations, and inevitably, tracks the progress of the overall project. 

So what did we use to plan the entirety of this blog? Only four different bullet points for every meeting.

Date | Points from Last Week | Today’s Action Items | Future Steps

SO SIMPLE! Yet so effective. These are the four things you need to have to keep your sanity as project lead/ member, while keeping everyone else in the loop. It also helps make sure you are not wasting time with meetings that could have been an email. 

Why these four points? 

  1. Date
    • Acting like a tracker, writing down the date of your meeting will allow you to document your step by step process. Psychologically it helps ground your meeting by focusing on the key points that are due by this date and also visualize the future deadlines. A simple date allows the team lead to understand on a high level when assignments are started and finished — and if this pace has any effect on the overall project. By having team members add to this document beforehand, it sets great expectations on what to expect from the conversation, and keeps everyone on the same page during the conversation. 
  2. Points from last week
    • This serves as a good reminder of what was anticipated to be done for this meeting. You can bring up conversations that were too short, updates that need addressing, or discussions from last week that need closure. An example would be Caroline said she would write 2 blogs the week prior. Come around the due date, this meeting would be a good way to follow up on the progress, and if the deadline needs extending or not. 
  3. Actions for today
    • What needs discussing today? 
    • This will act like a meeting agenda and help guide your main conversation drivers for the meeting. This is where current plans and future projects should be discussed. Setting expectations are super crucial to getting work done. 
  4. Future Steps
    • We love action items — this propels the project forward. Due dates can be set. Future action items can be timed for whenever. This will allow the team to understand what is anticipated after their current work is done, but also allows them to see the end of a big project. It’s always a good thing to be on the same page with everyone else on your team.  Future steps allow for that synced timeline. 

And just like that, using these four points every meeting, you will keep iterating on small chunks working towards your big-picture goals. While this is a great start to your planning journey, this document often needs to be supplemented with additional information and tracking documents. Keep reading through this blog to find a topic most relatable and make it your own!

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