Planning in Times of Uncertainty

In this podcast episode, Ghilaine Chan and I talk about how to plan and set goals for a future that is constantly evolving. We discuss:

  • How to create structure so that you can plan more effectively
  • Why it’s important to set goals that include both what you want as well as what you don’t want
  • How to create and use milestones to motivate yourself to achieve your goals
  • How to create a support system and structure so that you make better decisions to reach your goals

Planning for a Shifting Future

How do we plan for a future that seems to be constantly evolving and changing?

Creating structure, having clear and realistic goals and objectives as well as milestones are all important to keep us motivated in uncertain times.

In addition to thinking about what you do want to achieve, it’s also important to consider what you don’t want and work towards eliminating those things from your personal and professional life where possible.

I’ve got my plans. What are yours? 

To be successful as a team or as an organisation during uncertain times, it’s important to talk about our goals and challenges more often.

Have more frequent conversations with your team and peers about their plans, priorities and the compromises they’re making and the ones you’re making.

Resources to Help You Plan

We all need a little bit of support sometimes. Especially when we need to have conversations which wouldn’t be appropriate to have with our teams.

A 30-minute online meeting with somebody outside your organisation or team who might have a bit more mind space can be very helpful. So start reaching out to people in your network who you trust to be your sounding board.

Talking out Loud About Plans

Making decisions in uncertain times is challenging. Often we don’t get the opportunity to talk out loud about our decisions and how we reach them because we feel judged.

It’s important to find someone who you feel comfortable having these conversations with. Someone who can ask you basic questions to support you in getting your thoughts into perspective.

Reviewing Your Decisions

When change is the only constant, our decision making needs to become more fluid.

What you decide today with the information you have might be right for now but that may change tomorrow.

This means we need to look a the various parameters that inform our decisions and be ready to adjust them as needed.

Being Productive and Making Space

Productivity is not about being busy every minute of every day. It’s about achieving what you need to achieve and in as little time as possible.

Make sure you give yourself the space and time to step away from your computer for frequent breaks.

Our best ideas are the ones that come to us when we’re not thinking about the problem we’re trying to solve.

Full Podcast Transcript

Ghilaine Chan 0:00
So Ruth with everything going on, how how would you recommend we start planning for a future that seems to be constantly evolving and changing underneath our feet?

Ruth Sacks 0:11
I think everybody needs some structure, don’t we, we all have a professional direction we want to go in, and that we have goals or objectives. And in order to get there we have, we have to have milestones to motivate us to get to go further forward.

Ghilaine Chan 0:31
The one thing I certainly am finding a challenge is to decide what my goals are, and what I’ve had to really sit down and think, what do I want out of this year or the next few months? And it’s been evolving. But the things that I found really useful to get me going was what do I definitely not want? What do I want to make sure, because there’s things we can keep from the crisis, there’s plenty of things that have changed, where you go, actually this like for me, lockdown, I’m loving it, I like being in my own dressing gown, you know, any time of the day or night not having to go out, it really suits my personality.

But there are some things that I have decided I don’t want to continue on and, and I want to make time for the things I do enjoy. And that’s been really useful as I actually what do I want to get rid of? And how easy is it to get rid of those things? But really looking at, again, from the positive side. What have I enjoyed through this? Because for me, goals and targets are useful in terms of ‘am I heading in the right direction?’ But often, it’s the process of doing things and what do I enjoy doing on a daily basis? And where do I see that getting me rather than trying to I suppose it’s a bit like New Year’s resolutions where you kind of go right, well, I’m going to be on a diet, and then they tend to be really massive targets, probably unrealistic 10 at a time that you just you can’t you’ve got to do one at a time. So often just sort of saying, okay, well, I’m going to give up a couple of, I mean, for me, it’s a couple of meetings a week, I’m not going to have random calls with random people as much as I did before.

So I’m going to get rid of say, two a week. And so it’s not a massive thing, it’s just like, actually, I’m going to space them out a bit further, I think that’s the thing is breaking down the process of things a bit more and enjoying the activity. But looking at things in small, manageable chunks, especially when things are going to change,

Ruth Sacks 2:38
I think most of us now have an idea of what works for us in this situation, what we’ve learned, what we enjoy about it, and what we want to take forward and like you say also very much what we don’t want to do anymore, and won’t be looking forward and what we want to be able to do. But at the same time, I also think I have to think about how does that fit in with everybody else or with the organisations and the people and the networks that I’m working with. Because everybody’s very different. Everybody’s currently in different places. Everybody’s got things I want to keep doing and things I don’t want to keep doing. And if we’re going to be successful as a team, or as an organisation, we need to actually maybe put these out on the table and maybe two.

Ghilaine Chan 3:24
Because I think it goes back to a lot of the things that we say again, if everyone has the chance to say what they want. And then if you are making a compromise, you’re really clear as to what compromise you’re making them for and why. And so it’s really a case of asking people, what do they need? What do they want? And and I found certainly with some of my communities and the slack channels and the conversations that happen in those where people kind of go, Oh, you know, what would you recommend for this, this and this, and sometimes I go back, you know, you’ve got a team, why didn’t you ask them what they want? And it’s this shock of Oh, yeah, that’s such a great idea that comes back and you’re thinking, sometimes you’re looking outside for external support where you should be looking internally, and where you should be looking outside for external support.

And I think that’s the challenge is is we we sort of forget, you know, we have all these employee surveys and everything else, but do they actually get to the nub of the problem? And going back to one of the things you said at the beginning is where do we want to be maybe in May or June? And what targets are we achieving? And as a business? There are certain things, very basic ones like will we still be here in May or June? What revenue do we need in order to get to that point, and sometimes it is going back to basics and saying, ‘what do we need as a company to survive or what do we need as a company in the next six months?’

And really break it down into some simple things that you can go and ask people say right, this is what we need you to achieve because things can get very overly complicated.

Ruth Sacks 5:24
Do we know what resources are available to us? In order to be able to draw on them? If we’re going to need them? It’s like you were saying before, if I can get some support externally, even for half an hour, you know, conversation with somebody else who isn’t up to up to their ears with everything I’m looking at? how helpful would that be? Maybe it would help me just clear my head and move on. Or maybe they got other networks. One of the things that has, I think helps in some ways is the different sorts of online networking, apps and conversations, where you’ve been able to go off meet somebody, hear about where they are in the world and what they’re doing, and maybe increasing your network or not as the case may be. But just being clearer about what else is out there. Who else is out there? And what are they up to? And can I support? Do they want support? Could they support me, I think we do need structure, and we do need plans. But we also need to know where the cushions are, or the resources are.

Ghilaine Chan 6:34
And it’s something I think it’s a sort of just reminds me of the conversation we’ve had previously as well, if that there are lots of people in reacting mode, homeschooling, you know, struggling with their job, what, you know, all of those things. And absolutely, they’re the ones that are suffering most. But there is that element of people who are not in that situation and have the capacity and the brainpower and the space to look from the outside in. And I think there’s plenty of resources there where there are quite a few people out there who aren’t panicked and aren’t in that, you know, oh, we’ve got to do everything.

And, and as leaders, potentially, then you’re looking at those, you know, for that half hour chat or the hour chat, but just to get a bit of perspective, and maybe a bit more of a calming influence. I mean, I was speaking to a leader earlier today. And I had to say to him, who do you speak to? You’ve got a lot of pressure, and you have to be there for your team. But you also need someone that you could you know, a priest, whoever it is, but you need to be able to offload some of this pressure for your own mental health. And as leaders, we know that sometimes our colleagues at the same level, you know, as organisations, you can be pitted against each other in moments of crisis, you know, who’s winning who’s achieving most, they may not be the best people, you can’t necessarily talk to your team who are below you don’t want to worry them.

But having that support system around you, where you can ask for guidance, you know, even just be a voice of reason to bounce your own views against someone who has some knowledge, I think that’s a hugely powerful thing. And I wonder whether just having that simply will help a lot of people, you know, be able to make decisions, maybe bounce their decisions off someone who has knowledge has experience, and it’s not really coaching it it’s more of a peer to peer just, I don’t know what you call it. Sounding board, I suppose?

Ruth Sacks 8:38
A trusted person that you can have a conversation with; somebody who you you feel comfortable about just sounding off, talking things through, because often we don’t get the opportunity to talk out loud about things that bother us. I think that’s, that’s the concern. It’s what you were saying, if I go and talk to somebody else who runs a similar type of organisation, to me, even if they’re 300 miles away, or on the other side of the world, they’re going to judge me.

But if I can talk to somebody who has some knowledge, who might ask me some really obvious basic questions, just to help me get my thoughts back into back into perspective, that might be the way forward

Ghilaine Chan 9:30
It sort of reminds me of a technique, I suppose, a philosopher, I can’t remember which philosopher it was, but you know, doing your pros and cons list, and it’s not to then say, well, you know, the list on one side or the other is longer or shorter. But what it does is make you go well, I’ve got all these pros, but the decision still feels wrong. And so you know, then that actually, it doesn’t matter how good this decision is, it still feels wrong. It’s the wrong decision. And there’s that element of just being able to go through the process out loud, or however you want to, to start being able to make decisions when chaos is raining. Because I think that’s the thing is also, the decision you make today is with the information you have right now, moving forward, you may get additional information, and it’s not the wrong decision, if you now have to change that decision. And being indecisive is very dangerous.

Funnily enough, having conversation yesterday with a friend whose manager doesn’t like conflict, she wants everyone to be, you know, to be happy or comfortable. And that is a problem. You can’t lead with consensus, sometimes you’re going to have to make a decision not everyone’s happy with and and being comfortable making a decision is more important than whether it’s the right or wrong one, as long as you analyse your decision making process and make sure that that is sound and always reflecting on what made you make that decision. And why you made it. And kind of making notes hindsight is 2020. Oh, yeah, made a great decision. But not that is out of your control, but you can control how you feed into that decision.

Ruth Sacks 11:09
And I think you have to be able to say, okay, this decision is right today at this moment in time with information I’ve got, but it might have to change. And I’ve looked at the various parameters. And I think these things we have to keep. And these are the edges or these are the different things that we might have to shift around. How decisive we are depends on also how we present the decisions that we’re making.

And, yes, all right to make last minute decisions in some respects, or maybe not. But you’ve got to say, this is why we’re making that decision. It’s not difficult in this day and age, assuming you’re technology is working, to communicate with the people you need to do that with and say, look, this is where we are at the moment. This is what we feel is the right thing to do. And it will be reviewed and revised. Admitting that we need may need to change our minds goes a long way.

Ghilaine Chan 12:21
It reminds me of the risk register.

So let’s say when you’re building a risk register, it’s all about, you know, what’s the worst that can happen? And that with decision, it’s like this decision, and then when we hit this boundary, we have to reevaluate that decision. It’s a similar thing isn’t when we hit this, we don’t have to worry about it until we hit it. But this is what we’ll do when we do it. So that kind of mentality.

Ruth Sacks 12:48
But at the same time, if we, if it’s on the risk register, we need to think about why is it on the risk register? And why haven’t we dealt with it? Because some people use risk registers, just to you know, it’s over there. It’s on that scale of amber or red. We’re Alright, you know, but actually, if you say, okay, so what happens if? Do we have a plan in place? At least you’ve got something you’d say, Well, this is what we’ve decided three weeks ago, it’s happened. Now what do we do? So you didn’t go into a mad panic.

Ghilaine Chan 13:25
That is it. And I suppose in the end, is taking that time to sit back, getting out of the mad packet panic mode, take a breath and think, right, this is what we need to think about in the in the sort of longer term or it’s a bit more of a holistic view. I think that is probably one of the struggles that people are having right now is trying to step back from crisis mode and give themselves the time and space to say, right, we need to think about this, because we can’t keep going from crisis to crisis or from government decisions.

Government decision, at some point, we have to put a line in the sand and say, okay, worst case scenario, we’re in lockdown till October, fine. How are we going to deal with that? Let’s, you know, well, let’s take it a month at a time we sit in lockdown, how are we going to deal with lockdown? I kind of like looking at decisions in a bit more of a it’s not time bound, it’s activity bound. So whilst we’re in lockdown, we work this way where lockdown is released whenever that is, was looking at, you know what we change. But rather than saying wait in February, we will because we don’t know. But we do know that lockdown is here. And when it ends, we and I think that’s the thing is rather than looking at a deadline and a time and space, is looking at the activities that you’re doing and you know, plan for those different activities.

Ruth Sacks 14:41
Really good way of looking at things and saying okay, what’s the best use of our time right now? How do we make it work? How do we demonstrate what we’re achieving and what we want to achieve? And if something comes along and pulls the rug out from under our feet, how do you know what happens next? What are the activities we need to do to make sure that we are not permanently in a state of tension, and also seem to be achieving things.

You know, and your idea about the step back, everybody’s talking about going outside for fresh air and getting some exercise. And maybe there’s something about using that time is thinking time or is coming away from the office and coming away from the screen, you go outside, you look at other people, you see other things going on, it just shifts your perspective. And you can come back and be, maybe not totally refreshed, but you can look at things with a bit more clarity than you did before.

Ghilaine Chan 15:40
And I think that’s really important, productivity is not about doing stuff every minute of every day, productivity is about achieving what you need to achieve and in as little time as possible. I think that’s the thing I struggle with is like you’re sitting at a desk for an hour longer doesn’t necessarily produce any more meaningful work. But as you say, changing that perspective, giving yourself space, you know, changes as good as the rest, your brain will take that 20 minutes. And you know, if you’re thinking really hard about problem, you know, it’s not going to solve it, you go away and do something else. That’s when the idea you know, you’re having a shower, that’s when the idea comes. And that’s what those walks are really good for.

And you know, a bit of nature and everything else is absolutely fundamental to break up your day and have a break. Because we’re not robots, we are human. And we have all this great insight that we lose when we try and think that another five minutes that desk and other screens look at another meeting to have.

It’s not the solution. So yeah, I think my takeaway certainly from today is making the space and forcing yourself to take a step back and make some space to think more holistically across everything, as a business as a person to then kind of think, okay, what’s next, but you need to take that step back to think about it before you can you should action anything.

Ruth Sacks 17:00
And I think one of the other things that I’m going to do is think about who are the people that I can send off to who won’t get to judge me? I’m going to be able to trust and say,, I just need I just need to talk this through with somebody in a way that’s really helpful to me, please, will you give me 20 minutes

Ghilaine Chan 17:20
Trusted group.