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The art of annual review and project planning

Some projects go pretty smooth. We see progress and reaching a goal is just a matter of well define time. Some plans are being dragged for months or even years. We don’t know where this thing is going, and what’s more, why we even bothered to start it. Usually, it is not because of the complexity, lack of resources or time. In these cases, we should look closer to the people who plan them and perform the execution of tasks. A few years back, I did an annual review and planning for the first time. I wanted to buy bicycles for my family. Easy? Well, It took me almost two years. Sip your coffee while I am going to share what happened.

Is it important? 🙋🏻‍♂️

We should start every planning with this question. Especially, annual review and planning. Is the thing important to me? In principle, It’s not yet planning. The answer to this question will help us to realise the benefits of buying something that you plan to buy. Completing certain things, if this your goal or aspiration. However, the outcome could be – “No, I am not going to buy this” or “No, this is not a good time to start this project”. Some people suggest going quite deep with this analysis and asking even five times “why” we want to do this particular thing. By asking every time, we eventually go to the core of our intention, to the real motivation behind a given subject.

Sometimes, we can struggle to answer those following “whys” honestly. That probably means that what we wanted was more of a whim or a caprice rather than the real need. Having bicycles for all of my family members was vital for me. My mistake (one of many) was that I didn’t write down why it was necessary. This task was lacking the real motivation, so for a long time, it was just one of many tasks on my wish list. Reviewed, but not actioned. Later, I did this exercise, and the results were compelling:

  • Whey do we want to buy bicycles?
  • 1: because there is a forest in our location with beautiful paths that can be used by bikes so we can ride.
  • 2: because we want to spend time together.
  • 3: because we want to move/exercise more.
  • 4: because we want to be healthier – we sit most time of the day.
  • 5: because we want to be around and mobile when our kids are older.

It was quite emotional to get to this last one — pretty good motivation.

Plan, but wisely 📑

Some time ago, I started to perform annual review. There are useful articles about how to do it:

Check them and implement yearly planning and review process that would work for you. Experiment is the keyword there. It has to be a process that eventually will become a routine. Implementation will probably change from year to year. It also is safer to experiment, rather than commit to do something “forever”. We sometimes need to hack our brains to do some work. 🙂

The art of annual planning and review 🗃

Annual review and planning over coffee

Part of my process was that once a year, I sat down, had a coffee and summarized what I did accomplish the previous year. Then, I did throw ideas of the things that I wanted to achieve the following year. One of them was to purchase bicycles for my whole family. Unfortunately, as a novice in annual review and planning, I threw all the things that I planned for the next year to one project called “plans for this year.” Later during the year, following the art of planning, I was getting to the habit of Friday weekly reviews. I was reviewing every project and every task in that project, including “plans for this year” folder. And… nothing happened for almost the whole year. Buying bikes was just another item on the long list amongst other tasks.

Breakthrough 💡

It was like this until I realised that buying a bike is too general task to be able to execute it directly. It should be a project by itself. Most probably the first task should be to simply do some research about what bikes are available, what we can afford, and what we really prefer. It should be something that it’s called “next action” in Getting Things Done methodology. The task that is very small, actionable and concrete enough to bring you closer to completion of the bigger goal. No matter how much more steps you have in your journey to complete the whole project.

I did my planning, but my tasks were purely designed. They were vague, had bad names and what was the most important, I put them into one bucket. It was not going to fly.

Do you have “next action” for all your projects? The task that is very small, actionable and concrete enough to bring you closer to completion of the bigger goal. No matter how much more steps you have in your journey to complete… Click To Tweet

Can I afford it? 💷

Another problem was budgeting, and being precise – the lack of it. The bike can cost just a few hundred pounds as well as … yeah exactly – there is probably no upper limit of that cost. One of my friends, who is very into biking, advised me that in the United Kingdom we consider £10,000 as the high end of a bicycle price. You got it right – this is ten thousand pounds. You could buy a car.

I wasn’t taking into account to spend even close that amount. But if fact, my problem was that I wasn’t taking into account any amount. I didn’t even know how much it does cost to buy a bicycle. I didn’t know if I wanted a new bike or the one from second hand. As you can see, it was yet another aspect where I was not prepared and I was failing from the start with my vague plans.

Budget review is part of planning 💰📊

Later, I also realised that my younger kid would need a rear-mounted child bike seat rather than a separate bike. She was just too small. I solved a budget problem pretty quick. Soon after my enlightenment about my poor planning, I quickly set up a sub-account. I use Revolut, and they have something called a vault. You can set up a target and amount of money that is taken every day from your main account to credit your saving account – vault.

Additionally, there is possibility to round every transaction to the full amount and move “small change” into your savings. If you spent $2.45 on coffee, £0.55 would be added to your goal defined earlier while setting a vault. Most of the modern banks can offer similar functionality nowadays. However, if you travel a lot, I recommend Revolut account as they have excellent currency exchange rates. Here is the referral link if you are interested and want to check Revolut cards.

The impulse is not always bad ⚡️🧏‍♀️

Following an impulse to do something is usually not the best strategy. Especially when we are talking about shopping. However, in my case, the final decision to buy our bikes was a result of the impulse. Or a bit of a kick. It was, however, a prepared improvisation. You may ask: WHAT?? Was it improvisation or preparation? And what it has to do with the whole story? Let me explain. When we started to seriously planning our bicycle project. I created a separate project for it. I divided it into small steps and started executing next actions. One of those actions was to share our plans with some friends.

Firstly, it was additional motivation. You probably may imagine our conversations:

  • “So, how is it going with your bicycle plans? You bought them right?”
  • “Well, yeah, about that, we are still thinking and considering all options.”
  • “Uh-huh, it’s been four months now….”

Secondly, amongst our friends, some people know more about bikes than we do. The idea was to use their knowledge and help newbies like us to make educated decision. And quite honestly, to motivate us to accomplish this everlasting project. This was exactly what happened. One day, our friend who had enough of our excuses, call me and informed me that there was a sale in one the bicycle shop on our high street.

An hour later, I collected my bike and rode it to our home. Then I walked back to the shop, collected the bike for my wife. Very next day I bought a seat for our younger child and a small, second-hand bicycle for my older kid. Following weekend we went for our first bicycle trip to the nearby forest. It was nearly two years after my wife and I thought for the first time that it would be awesome to be able to go for a family bicycle ride.

One more thing about planning 1️⃣❗️

There is one thing I want to mention, and it is actually called “One Thing”, and it is a book. The authors are Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. Let me share a quote from the official description of the book:

You want more! More money, time and life satisfaction. And at the same time you want less! Less work, responsibilities and stress. The authors of the bestseller lists, “New York Times” – Gary Keller and Jay Papasan – learn how the concept of ONE >thing can completely change the approach to every aspect of your life, affect the choices made and recognized results. Sometimes your ONE thing will be the first thing on the list. Sometimes – the only one alone. But always it will bring extraordinary results. What is your ONE thing?

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

I invite you to read this position, because nowadays we have the wrong concept of the productivity that assumes, or even promotes:

  • multitasking
  • having many priories – (priority should always be in the singular form, no?)
  • and in general – lack of focus on one activity at hand.

Lack of focus, insufficient amount of time for planning, implementation, and bringing the project to an end (or start line 😁🚴‍♂️), were the main reasons why this project went so embarrassingly long and wrong. I guess for me it wasn’t this ONE, the most important thing. Maybe because I was afraid of the bicycle trips concept. But this is a story for a separate coffee journey.

Lessons learned during this coffee journey 🎓

  • Before you start planing, ask if the given thing is crucial for you.
  • Ask yourself why this thing, this project, this purchase is essential. Do it five times, digging deeper to your real motivation.
  • Check your resources; can you afford it. Money is one thing; maintenance is the other thing.
  • Annual planning (once appropriately done) can make a difference regarding how many things you accomplish in a year.
  • Try to think about ONE thing that you should be focusing on this quarter, this week, today.
  • Do not believe in multitasking.
  • If you are too busy all the time, you have your priorities wrong.
  • Annual review and planning is an art – experiment and master it. It’s worth doing. 

I wonder if you practice annual planning? Maybe you can share some story about your projects? 

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