My main goal here is to help you change your mindset about goal setting and planning. Why? There’s a lot of books, ebooks, and articles on how to set goals and plan them. There’s also a good bunch that tells you not to bother. “Live in the now”, enjoy your life, and let nature take its course, whatever that means…
That can be very confusing. Should you plan? Should you just live in the moment? Should you let “flow” control your life and see where it takes you? I assume that if you’re reading this article, you must be at least a little willing to plan! Maybe you’ve done it before. I have something else to bring to the table, however: strategy. Strategy is not just a fancy name for a plan, it’s something else entirely. It changes how you look at your life, how you handle adversity, how you tackle challenges. Strategy changes everything!
If you’re used to setting goals and planning them to the best of your knowledge, you’ve probably encountered several of the problems alogn the way. Maybe things didn’t happen as you were expecting. Maybe you hit roadblocks that you just didn’t know how to overcome. Maybe your plans were suitable for a person with a different personality and you just couldn’t get yourself to act and make it happen. Maybe you forgot your plans as soon as you finished them and never did anything about them. Maybe you designed such a complex plan that you just didn’t know how to pull it off. Or maybe you’ve tried but never finished a plan before.
As you’ll discover here, just planning may not be enough. Of course, there’s other steps afterwards that can make all the different like keeping yourself productive and managing your projects appropriately. But right there in the planning phase, it’s possible to make mistakes that can jeopardize the chances of success from the beginning. The nature of these mistakes is usually strategic. You see, not all plans are strategic plans, even though this term is frequently used loosely and incorrectly to describe any plan.
I love the game Bejeweled Blitz. In this game, you must match same color jewels to score as many points as possible in just one minute. Pop Cap, the company that owns the game, organizes a weekly contest among Facebook friends. Every week, I’m the winner. Now, I’m not the best player! I have friends that have a strange ability to play extremely fast, having an average score well above mine. In the weekly contest, however, they can’t beat me. It sounds silly, but it’s a very simple use of strategy. Instead of playing every day trying to raise my score so I can beat my friends and guarantee the first place every week, I usually play only a few times. The game resets its score on Tuesdays, so that’s when I play. The games takes one minute only and that’s all it takes to beat all my friends and be done for the week! So what do I do? I don’t play over and over until I hit a high enough score. I have a strategy to associate specific bonuses in a way that together they give me enough leverage so I can get a very high score. My friends have the same tools, the bonuses are for everyone. To get to this strategy, I tried a few other possible combinations of boosts until I found the one that gets me the strongest advantage. Most people that play don’t use the available bonuses or use them in random combinations. The result is that they can never match my score. This simple, silly, phone game can teach us a lot about strategy. I could have a plan to play 10 times every day until I get a high score. But that’s not effective. I don’t have time to play multiple times a day with no guarantee that it will result in a single high score. I’m competitive and I like to win! But I don’t have time to waste playing a game over and over until I reach my goal. So when I play, I concentrate the best tools I’ve found in the game to produce awesome results within just a few attempts. This is the power of strategy.
You must find specific ways to combine and use your resources within the context of your life, maximizing your results with minimum effort.
Mind you that I’m not advocating laziness! When I say ‘minimum efforts’, I’m not implying that you should look for the easiest way to get results. I’m talking about productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. Just working hard doesn’t guarantee the desired outcomes, and usually results in frustration since we create high expectations when we work diligently. If your actions are not strategically focused, though, you risk not getting what you expect from it. This happens frequently when people don’t think about what and how they’re working, they just work… hard… assuming this should be enough to yield awesome results. When things don’t happen as expected, they feel confused and angry, after all, they’ve put in the work, why are they not getting what they want?
We see this happening all over the place:
– When people try to lose weight: I’ve been going to the gym for 4 months, why haven’t I lost 20 pounds yet?!
– When people start new businesses: I’ve been working around the clock for 6 months, why my business is not profitable yet?
– When people publish books: I worked so hard on this book, why people are not buying it?
– When people try to advance in their careers: I’ve been working for this company for 2 years, why haven’t I gotten promoted yet?
People just don’t understand why they haven’t seen results if they worked so hard. The problem is thinking that hard work itself has a will of its own and should pay you back for all your efforts (or that some mysterious, invisible force will see all your work and give you what you deserve!). This is obviously naive and impractical. The world doesn’t care about you, doesn’t care about me. Effort alone doesn’t automatically generate rewards because it’s difficult. We get results when we know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how to get the best possible results, which usually involves a lot less hard work, and more smart and focused action.
That’s what strategy is: a very specific, focused, well thought way to get a result, using the available resources in a smart and meaningful way.