My grandfather was a master carpenter. He taught me the First Law of Carpentry: Measure twice, cut once.
You can cut a piece of lumber to any length you need. If you need to cut it a second time, your options are severely limited. It’s important to put more time into planning than executing, or you could end up with disastrous results.
Let’s make a quick sanity check. How much time do you spend planning your life?
- Daily planning: 5–10 minutes. That’s not much, but it’s the difference between working on other peoples’ priorities and living your dreams.
- Weekly planning: 20–30 minutes. In less time than it takes to order a pizza, you can be certain you’re making progress towards your goals.
- Quarterly planning: At least an hour; a full 8-hour day if you can arrange it. Review your progress on your annual goals. Are you working on the right goals? Is there anything you want to drop or focus on? Adjust accordingly.
- Annual planning: One or two days, total. In addition to quarterly planning, you’ll want to spend time connecting your progress over the last year with the direction you want to take your life. Try to spend a few hours for each of several days on this.
When you add it up, you should spend two or three days each year on lower-level (weekly and daily) tactical planning and somewhere between half a week and a week on higher-level (quarterly and annual) strategic planning. (I’ll spare you the math, but I’m measuring the totals in actual 24-hour days, not 8-hour days).
It may sound like a lot, but it averages out to just 18 minutes per day. It takes longer than that to charge your phone. Isn’t it worth spending a few minutes to make sure your life is headed in the right direction?
Tactical and strategic planning require different types of thinking. Your most tactical planning happens every day, whether you plan at the beginning or end of the day. This planning takes just a few minutes to review your plan, check your progress, and chart the day’s course.
As you move from daily planning to weekly, quarterly, and annual planning, you shift from tactical planning to strategic planning. Strategic planning evaluates results and formulates plans.
Tactical thinking can happen in short bursts—you’re constantly replanning and reordering your day as life happens. Strategic thinking needs to be lumped together. Because we see strategic thinking happening in large chunks—which can be difficult to come by—we think of it as being disproportionately more expensive to do. I’ll grant it’s harder to set aside several hours instead of several minutes, but strategic thinking is exponentially more valuable.
High-level strategic planning answers a fundamental question that all of us ask ourselves, either intentionally or idly: “What do I want to do with my life?” Once you’ve answered that question, planning becomes tactical: “How am I going to do this?”
This is why strategic planning needs to happen, and it needs to happen first. The sooner you have your destination in mind, the more you can align your daily actions to take you there.
The farther ahead you’re looking, the smaller the change needed to change course. Last-minute changes can be prohibitively expensive, if not impossible.
Strategic planning takes time, but you can’t skip it. Even if you can’t do everything you’d like to, do something. Have just one goal you’re actively pursuing. Do one thing to conquer your day, even if it’s just making your bed.
Take 18 minutes a day to make sure you know what you’re doing with the other 1422. Measure to know where to make the cut. Measure again to make sure you marked the right place to cut. Then you’ll know which activities make the cut and which get left on the shop floor.