How to develop and count on a plan

- April 1, 2016 8 MIN READ

Founders and owners often forget about what truly defines themselves and their organisation during the process of creating and building their business. The principles and personal beliefs of a company’s leaders are what generally defines the type of organisation we build, and I’ve found many people to be significantly lacking in understanding what guides their decision making, other than their intuitive decisions on what’s right or wrong, prestige or money.

Melting Asphalt’s Minimum Viable Organism essay underlined the importance of what shared principles and goals in an organisation do to underwrite planning, and therefore growing an organisation or “MVO.”

When it comes to planning, I always loop back to my grandma telling me Dwight Eisenhower’s quote that “plans are nothing, planning is everything” – that is, planning is not necessarily the end game, but the process itself is. You can plan a specific set of steps, but it will never pan out exactly as you intend. This point was particularly highlighted for me in The Counte of Monte Cristo, which showcases Edmond Dantes’ exact planning to seek revenge.

I’m therefore of the belief that in order for organisations to plan successfully and execute on those plans, they must build a set of principles to guide decision making as you move between your goals. Doing so prepares you for unexpected situations.

Defining principles for decision making: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” – Albert Einstein paraphrasing Occam’s Razor

Distilled down, principles are simple guiding maxims or truths that you can believe in and follow. Principles are used to focus your decision making and defining why you act in certain situations.

Everyone in the technology startup scene is well aware of Elon Musk’s first principles methodology for critical thinking; I think this is a good place to start to understanding what principles are. I would also strongly recommend reading Ray Dalio’s principles, Warren Buffett’s owner’s manual or Charlie Munger’s book to get a sense of what principles are. For a condensed version Tim Ferriss also has some good material. Remember that these aren’t meant to be Aristotle-esque level ideas, just something you know is true.

Here are mine, taken from my Evernote notebook:

  • Be at the crossroads of innovation and capital that advances society by creating value
  • Secure and prioritise my personal health and mental happiness
  • Spend more time with the people & relationships I value the most while also seeking experience and activity over consumption
  • Don’t sell anything I wouldn’t use, don’t work for anyone I wouldn’t respect, work only with people whose company I enjoy
  • Focus on the long game only (next 20+ years)
  • Prioritise my time over money. I have 3000 hours of work available per year and can’t just become “wealthy-happy” through swapping time for money. Compounding is more useful.

These principles help me decide on many major actions in my life on a regular basis, sometimes on a daily basis. Above all, setting them out allows me to focus on the destination through my decision making so that I don’t see-saw in different scenarios.

Quality over quantity is far more important when defining principles, so it’s important to remember that they’re created for acting on the bigger picture. We all become terribly hyper focused and stressed when working in the intense business world, so principles can temper that.

To identify your own principles, read the links above to gather ideas, grab a notepad, define 5-10 key points from the following:

  • Why do I want to get out of bed on a daily basis?
  • What do I want to be known for working towards at the end of my life?
  • What do I truly value or prioritise in my life?
  • What is a truth that I honestly believe in? (Potentially something that others don’t)
  • Where do my interests lie?
  • What is most important to me?

I would suggest that, once you’ve defined those 5-10 key principles, you make sure you refer back to them and test their validity over time. Be willing to continually change them if you feel they don’t define you as an individual, but be resolute on your own maxims (i.e. be prepared to argue for them if people contest it).

Creating goals: “Always remember, your focus determines your reality” – George Lucas

The reason why I set goals is not necessarily to achieve them to the tee, but to always have a carrot in front of me to ensure I’m learning and growing – the process is what matters to me more than anything. Doing so makes sure I don’t become stagnant; as Casey Neistat said, “without a goal, you can’t score.”

The best methods I’ve come across for goal setting are OKRs (template & detail) from Google, and Dreamlines from Tim Ferriss. Objectives & Key Results (OKRS) are a well defined outcome (OBJECTIVE) that is very hard to achieve, with an indicator identifying if it’s been achieved (KEY RESULT). Dreamlines are a method for setting out your dream lifestyle and activities, while also assigning cost to that to build some reality.

I’ve found that pairing both methods together blends both the personal and business aspects of my life, which often cross over each other. The key to deploying this methodology is setting out three year goals, which act as your OKRS (OKRS are intrinsically far-fetched goals to push the individual) and then break them down into six month periods (like dreamlines), to focus my attention.

Anything larger than that and (particularly if, like me, you’re an ENTJ/ENFJ) you’ll be burnt out after attempting to achieve everything within the first two months.

My Three Year Goals

Below is a snapshot from a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is what I use for budgeting and goal setting. You can see here that I’ve clearly identified my “3 Year Bold Goals” as I call them, over about five areas.

The five areas are aligned with my principles which are also on the Excel sheet and originally from my notebook. I’ve dated when this was created and what the timeline is, to provide some perspective.


My Current Six Months – 1 January to 30 June 2016

The key to executing on these three year goals is breaking them down into realistic six month tasks, so that I’m slowly working towards this outcome.

So taking “Travelling 3 times a year” as an example, you can see I’m planning towards being knowledgeable in Japanese culture over the next six months, and I’ve identified that I just need to book flights and a rail pass to start that. All I’ve done is taken a larger goal, broken it down for the next six months using Tim Ferriss’ dreamline method, set a cost and a key result (Yes or No – I wanted it to be binary).

The Having, Being, Doing of Tim Ferriss’ method is important to breaking down that goal and is simply defining having (material things), being (improving skills), doing (physically doing something).


Executing a plan: “Some people want it to happen, some people wish it would happen, others make it happen” – Michael Jordan

IQ doesn’t guarantee any form of success in achieving your goals, just hard work and focus, peppered of course with a good dose of patience for the plan. If you’ve set the goal and work towards it, you’re going to achieve at least a portion of that goal. But just realise that this is not going to be a quick and easy fix.

I’ve learned in the last week that my marketing plan for Single Partners & Startup Lab wasn’t working, but I recalibrated and, while the destination is still the same, the journey will be very different.

If you’re not enjoying the process of working towards your goal, then maybe you shouldn’t have that goal at all. Most (myself included) will often want the answer or results now, but as Gary Vaynerchuk and many other famous entrepreneurs have said, if you’re not enjoying the process then you should really look into another game – whether in business or personal life.

So all you can do is take the time to work and ensure that you’re enjoying that work and the process of it, as highlighted in Art of Learning. It’s not going to be easy.

Having that mindset in the last six months alone has provided an immense amount of ease in backing my plan and just working towards it, recalibrating as I need to.

Perspective of the plan: Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” – Mark Twain

One of the greatest issues I have as an ENTJ/ENFJ individual is perspective. A few years ago I was noticing that a lack of time for perspective and strategic thinking, coupled with too much hard work, had started to create hyper focus and long term stress symptoms (including anxiety) that are common results of the 10-16 hour workday lifestyle we’ve come to accept. This was significantly detracting from my ability to provide perspective and make smarter decisions.

Our society is built for consumption, not reflection. Therefore, I find that distancing myself from that throughout the week is very important to providing perspective of accomplishments and progression towards goals. The best way to combat this was to become more reflective in aspects of my life, as opposed to just consuming or creating all of the time.

These are the methods I found most useful in providing perspective throughout my week or six month goal attainment period:

    • Three year journal (Bi-Annually); I create a diary or journal speaking as if I had achieved all of my set goals in three years time. I find that the process allows me to understand if the outcome is what I truly want and what I imagine it to be. It’s also fascinating to see your changes in mindset over the year and what truly matters at a higher level.
    • Reading (daily); instead of consuming an hour or two of TV every night, I read. Don’t get me wrong, I’m often checking out cool videos on YouTube, but I find that TV is just an escape. I can have the same escape that I would get from TV, except that my body is now provided ample time to power down and relax (assisting in my sleep), while also stimulating new ideas which I find to be the greatest gain.
    • Meditation (daily); For 20 minutes every day (generally mid-afternoon) I sit down to meditate, reflect, or pause. I find this is by far the best tool for soothing my constantly humming brain and is particularly important If I want to be able to sleep that night.
    • Sleep (daily); I know that I need at least 7-8 hours a night otherwise I’m completely cooked by the end of the week and no fun to be around.
    • Journal (weekly); every Saturday I complete a journal entry reflecting on my emotions, actions, and thoughts with the following questions. Each of these questions have been sourced from a multitude of different journals recommend by many self performance people. In general I find this process the most reflective.
      • What are four things I’m grateful for this week?
      • What would make this next week great?
      • What are three amazing things that happened this week?
      • What could I have done better this week?
      • How have I felt mentally and physically this week?
      • Sources of negativity. What sources are creating 80 percent of my problems/unhappiness? How can I remove these sources? Can they be outsourced, automated, or removed?
      • What 20 percent of sources are resulting in 80 percent of my desired outcomes? How could I focus more on this?

Don’t underestimate how useful these processes are, particularly if you’re an ENTJ/ENFJ individual like I am. Removing yourself from the consumption cycle that society is geared towards is very important for your own development as a human and is very humbling.

Application to your business: “Plans are nothing, planning is everything” – Dwight Eisenhower

If you’re wondering why this is applicable to your business then think back to our original discussion on Minimum Viable Organisms by Melting Asphalt. When you’re creating a business, you need buy in and social capital to build a truly great team on common goals.

Defining how an organisation makes decisions, while also defining true common goals, is incredibly important to your success. What’s more, monthly and annual perspective constantly allows you as a leader to focus your staff’s attention on what matters for your company.

Alternatively, you can look at the opposite – which is not doing anything. If you go down that route, you’re very unlikely to convince anyone that you have the skills required to build a truly great organisation over the long term. That includes investors, staff, business partners, and even clients.

Think about what matters to you, be smarter with your time and ensure that you’re willing to work on it.

Image: Lauren Lopatko