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Planning Tips For The Year Ahead


Happy New Year and welcome to 2012!

It’s that time of year again … the time when we take stock of the year that was and set our goals and intentions for the year ahead. And quite likely, as a business owner, this is a time of year when you revise your business plan and systems and start planning projects for the next 12 months.

I’m very happy to say that last week I finished planning my projects for the year ahead. Now comes the fun part … implementing them! Planning is futile if it’s not accompanied by focused action.

One of colleagues asked me the other day how I plan my projects. So I thought, as well as sharing my technique with her, I’d share it with you too.

To start, I make myself comfortable with lots of paper and coloured pens. Some people like to use their computer, others a white-board. Everyone’s different and it’s important to do what suits your needs best. But personally, it’s paper and coloured pens that work best. With a white-board, but that comes in later.

Next, I start by listing all the projects I want to accomplish within the next year – or six months or whatever. For me, I tend to work on a yearly basis.

This also includes things such as updating existing sites, revamping existing products and so on.

Then I prioritise them – I rewrite each project in the order that I’ll be working on it. It’s extremely important not to spread yourself too thin. If you have five projects you want to complete, working on all five at once can be more challenging and distracting, often taking longer to achieve any real results.

But by working on just one project at a time you can give it 100% of your focus and then, once that’s completed, move on to project #2.

So that’s my MASTER PLAN – an overall plan that is purposely kept very simple.

The next step is to start the process again, but this time just focus on whichever project you prioritised as #1. Now it’s time to break that down into each individual task that you need to do to complete this project, again prioritised into Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and so on.

You can also put dates alongside these projects and/or steps to help keep you on track, particularly if any of these projects have set deadlines. Sometimes you may find that giving yourself a deadline helps you stay motivated too.

By being detailed in my planning and having everything I need to do to complete a project outlined, I find it much easier to focus on what needs to be done. For example, when I start my work day tomorrow I don’t have to spend any time thinking about what I need to do … and don’t need to worry about forgetting tasks. It’s all written down for me.

I simply go to my list for Project #1 and start with the first thing on the list. When that’s done, I cross it off and move on to Step 2.

Now, remember I said earlier that it’s best to work on just one project at a time? That’s the ideal way to work, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes you may need to be working on two or more projects at once. And this can still be effective, particularly if you have a good team working with you – this team could be staff, partners or contractors.

In that case, what I find best is to divide my available time into the required number of time-slots and commit to a different project in each time-slot. For me, I work on Project 1 on Monday and Wednesday and Project 2 on Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is dedicated to marketing sites and general planning.

And although I try to not ‘work’ on the weekend, I must admit, I am often so keen to progress with whatever I’m working on that I can’t help myself.  So the weekends are spent working on whatever I happen to feel like.  🙂

This is a quick summary of the system that works best for me. Please feel welcome to start using the same technique for your own planning and adapt it to suit what works best for you.

Simply Text And Forget

Are you the type of person who often forgets people’s birthdays? Or perhaps you remember them and mean to phone or text them … but the day disappears before you have a chance to actually pick up your phone.

That may well be a thing of the past now there’s Text And Forget to help you remember.

Text And Forget is a free system whereby you can enter a number of messages and schedule for them to be sent out to your specific contacts. You can enter as many messages as you like and schedule them to be sent as a one-off message or on a regular basis – for example, every year on their birthday (or anniversary).

I know it may feel strange at first, but it will make it much easier to remember and schedule! And you can log in and edit your messages at any time.

Give it a try – you might just be hooked. 🙂

Top 7 Free Mind Mapping and Flow Chart Programs

Mind mapping and flow charting are great ways to brainstorm and get thoughts down on paper quickly and easily and are a fantastic resource for success in small business.

Many people may not realise that there are several web applications that allow you to create mind maps and flow charts for free. Check out these seven top mind mapping and flow chart programs:

  1. Bubbl.us – Bubbl.us can make some great looking charts. It’s a good tool for creating charts that you plan to print and distribute. Using it is not exactly intuitive, however with a bit of playing around it’s not too hard to figure out.
  2. Lovely Charts – This free site can make some very attractive charts, too. It has colorful graphics and is very easy to use. It also allows you to make some really cool organisational charts. Their 90 second tutorial will explain how to get started.
  3. Mindmeister – This is another online mapping tool that’s very easy to use. I like that it integrates with Twitter and iPhone.
  4. Xmind – This application is also quite straight-forward to use. You don’t actually use it online, however. Instead, it’s downloaded to your computer. The basic version is free, or you can buy a one year subscription to the professional version for $49 (US).
  5. Freemind – This is another downloadable software tool that helps with mind mapping and general organisation of thoughts and tasks. It is a finalist for the 2009 Community Choice Award in the category “Most likely to change the way you do everything”!
  6. Gliffy – Gliffy is a great tool that is user friendly and intuitive. You don’t even have to sign up to try it out. And, in addition to creating flow charts and mind maps, you can draw floor plans, create Venn diagrams and do all sorts of other cool stuff.
  7. Mindomo – This program is completely online, and is a great mind mapping tool. I wasn’t sure whether to include this in the list as the free version limits you to seven private maps. However you can purchase a paid subscription for $6-$9 a month. So while the ‘free’ component is limited, I decided to include this in the list anyway as it’s definitely worth considering.

My suggestion is that you try out all these free mind mapping and charting tools and compare them for yourself. You’re sure to find one that you feel comfortable with and may be surprised by how much this can help you with all your business and personal plans and projects.