is your to-do list a strategic plan in disguise?

When was the last time you took yourself out of your working or business environment to contemplate your future? To prepare a strategic growth plan.

If you are like me it is always going to be tomorrow, because today’s to-do list is just too pressing and then there is the client meeting the day after and then it’s the weekend and then you realise that there is a bank holiday coming up… and so on. You can never find the time ….so tomorrow actually never comes.

So lets strip back strategic planning to it bare basics to expose the primary reason for blockage and inertia.

to-do lists

So what have these got to do with anything? Well to do lists illustrate the above dilemma very well.

Grab today’s to-do list, or if you haven’t made one grab a pen and paper and write one down.

Look down this list and tick all those to-do’s that you could actually clear right now with a single action. Like phoning your partner; making a bank transfer; returning a call. All of these and hopefully those you have ticked are not dependent on the execution or outcome of another action.

What do I mean by that? Well take the example of “book hotel for new business trip next week”. Being able to book the hotel depends on

  1. The meeting dates being confirmed by the client
  2. The flights already being booked
  3. Your colleague confirming that they will also need to stay over
  4. Knowing which hotel you want to stay at
  5. And probably more…

So you reach for the ‘phone or fire up Outlook and then realise that actually the to-do cannot be done right now. So you commit to doing it later or tomorrow and it stays on the list. And what will happen tomorrow? The same.


Unless you rewrite the to-do as a number of do-able actions that you can actually tackle.

So if your to-do list is headed up by a persistent and soon to be overdue action you know why.

profit growth

Let me now take a more serious example. The to-do reads: Grow Business.

Well, based on the illustrations above this would sit at the top of the list for some time I would imagine.

Job #1 is to break this action down into its constituent elements and then sequence and timeline them to produce a project programme that can be resourced and tackled. Only then can you work through, tackle and clear each elemental action. Once all the actions are complete the goal will have been achieved.

the planning cascade 

Actions complete strategies – strategies deliver objectives. Take a look at the planning cascade:

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

planning help

Why do businesses engage third party advisors to manage and facilitate their strategic planning programmes?

They provide:

  • The momentum
  • The process
  • The Clarity
  • Independence
  • Facilitation skills
  • Determination
  • Persistence
  • Patience
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Expertise and skills
  • Tuition
  • And usually a few grey hairs to prove they have been there and done it themselves

Planning takes time – time means resource (money and people) -but the plan doesn’t include budget to provide the resource – and we are too busy with the day job – so lets put off the planning until…..its probably too late.

your next to-do

In your next plan (or budget) try committing to including the resource to plan (time, people, money) or else risk being stuck in the cycle of planning inertia.

Enigma has undertaken strategic planning with clients of many sizes and complexity since 1996. We have well proven processes and facilitation skills and techniques. At the heart of our process is the O S A triangle cascade. This helps visualise the plan structure as a whole and reinforces the interdependency of each function, department or business unit and the contribution each makes to the ultimate objectives. It works for a one man company just as well as for a multi-million pound enterprise, after all even a one man company has to deal with marketing, sales, finance, admin, IT, product development and so on.

About Leslie Woodcock

Leslie is the founder director of Enigma. He is an experienced strategy consultant and marketer and has a strong senior executive c.v.

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