Are you struggling a little today, busy with client projects but still anxious about the future, and wondering when you’ll get on to other initiatives?  Or maybe you have some extra time on your hands, but somehow can’t quite focus on turning that time into results?  Wanna change this dynamic in your world, get focused on what really matters, and get some important stuff done this summer and early fall?

Look, the unexpected arrival of our uninvited guest this year – and the resulting disruption to our work and our lives – has led many of us to a strange mix of busy, busy on the one hand – and anxious wandering (and a little lost) on the other.

In lots of firms today, project utilization is up, and overhead expenses are down – so the books look pretty darn good.  But there are worrisome signs too – disconnection and isolation, clunky collaboration, waning mentoring and professional development, insufficient client interaction and development.

There is, I think, a real danger in the drift here – both for individuals and the firm. There is still a lot to do right now, but the longer term is uncertain – and changing by the day.  Bigger, strategic goals and aspirations can be too-long set aside, in the name of triage and survival.  Moreover, it’s becoming somewhat clearer that we’re likely in for more of an extended slog through this than a quick rebound.  Thus a potential disappointment.  A loss of enthusiasm. Same stuff, different day. Drift.

Sensing this in my own life in early March, I set out to recommit myself to very short term (90 days) action planning – very tactical, get ‘er done.  I also I began sharing this approach right away with many client leaders and teams, and added this to our series of online productivity sessions than ran in April and May.  

In my view, each of us can benefit (and should have) – a simple, tactical, 90-day action plan.  This is frankly nothing more than a short list of important items you’re working on and committed to finishing.  Good for the business.  Good for the professional.  Good for the soul.

Though there are many details we could flush out further, here are ten quick thoughts to consider for a 90-day plan:

  1. Planning to plan, isn’t a plan – you either have one or you don’t, and if it’s not written down then you don’t have one.  This is truth, and the fix is easy:  write it down.
  2. No need for fancy – what you’re after here is elegantly simple.  Complexity may make life worth living, but simple makes things happen.  I use a spreadsheet that looks like this.  (And I prefer my plan handwritten – it reminds me that it’s a work in progress).
  3. Don’t forget the big goals – understanding your why (mission) and where (vision) – in business and in life – is crucial to success.  Don’t skip this step!  It’s not included here on the tactical plan because its assumed, foundational.  But if you don’t have a clear sense of why and where (both personally and in the firm) – start there.
  4. Inside stuff, and outside too – from what I see, most professionals should include a mix of action initiatives, considering business development, professional development, and organization improvement – and a focus both internal and external to self and the firm.  So, accomplish something for clients, something for the company, and something for you.
  5. Stretch a little, and go for it – by all means, take advantage of the global weirdness!  Try something new, live a little dream, take a calculated risk.  For the first time ever, I enrolled this spring in several creative, fiction writing classes.  I’m out there, in a new community.  I though that writing fiction might improve my business writing a little – but found, mirabile dictu, that I really like writing fiction.  (And now we have a near-future fiction novel to worry about – oh, brother!)
  6. Ninety days is quite enough – Three months is a lot of time to make real change. Progress, improvement, success.  So stay focused on the short term.  If the project you have in mind (say, saving the world, for instance) will take longer, then focus first on the first piece – and the first 90 days.
  7. Seven action initiatives, tops – don’t throw up all over your plan with dozens and dozens of things you’d like to do.  Prioritize. (By all means, start if you must with a master list of all 50 must-do projects swirling around your head – but then pick no more than seven to put on your 90-d plan.  Why seven? … because I said so! 
  8. Make your goals, really goals – setting good, smart, doable goals is hard, it requires some skill, and you get better at it with practice.  Much too often our goals are weak, ambiguous, general, uninspiring, inactionable.  It does no good to choose, for example, to improve business development across the firm, where everyone is involved, the marketing department is in charge, and the due date for completion is ‘ongoing.’  Be more precise, actionable, quantifiable, measurable, and date certain.
  9. Forget perfection, find good enough – General Patton reminded us that “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Stop worrying, analyzing, pontificating.  The road of life is just that – a road.  Take it.
  10. Darn it, get ‘er done – ideas don’t really count, initiatives catalogued on a page don’t really count.  Execution of ideas and plans is what matters.  Push beyond the thinking and discussing, and make it happen.  As Seth Godin prods us all, just “ship it.”

Here is a mental image that I use as a motivator.  Imagine a date now 90 days out, and think about where we’ll be. [Ninety days from now is around the first of November. Here in New England that will mean crisp days and crisper nights; pumpkins, apples, and corn mazes all around, the anticipation of a coming holiday season.]  

Now imagine yourself there, and preparing to exit that moment through one of two doors that lie before you. One door is labeled “I’m glad I did!” the other “I wish I had!”  Which door would you like to open?  Note then, that there is only one way to choose the first door – by choosing in fact to take action not then, but 90 days before.

We all know that basic planning and action is not really rocket surgery.  It does take some focus (and that’s harder to do right now) and commitment (scary in scary times) and some doing (but you already knew that).

So, which door will you exit into November this year?  Ready?

Stay safe,


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