Do we really need annual plans for work?

As the end of the year draws closer, all the attention at work seems to be shifting to next year. What will the priorities be? What programs will we be executing?

Of course, annual planning is a necessary part of business. You need to know what budgets and resources you will need for the following year, what needs to be in place to support requirements. But it’s plaguing my mind, waking me up at night, it sometimes feels like I am putting together a puzzle without all the pieces.

Back in my marketing days, the planning process was a rigorous affair. Templates to be completed, research reports to be reviewed and planning session after planning session. Communications as a function seems to be a little more laid back, there is a sense that our role is more “reactive” than proactive, so the ability to be able to predict or manage what may be happening seems to be met with somewhat cynical eyebrow raises.

Which has made me reflect on the whole planning process.

In our fast paced, dynamic and digital world, where things are disrupted regularly…is the annual plan becoming obsolete? We are being encouraged to utilise Agile work practices, clear goals with short sprints with iterations…so how can we predict what the outcomes will be?

I’ve also been reading a lot recently about the demise of the annual performance review. Certainly in own company our old annual rating system has been shifted to something less annually focused, goals that are more flexible, quarterly feedback.

Perhaps we need to take the same approach with our planning cycles? Less focus on having a documented signed sealed and delivered annual plan?

That said, there is something really cathartic about taking time out of the daily rat race to do an annual plan. To ask yourself, what has worked this year, what has not? And what can we improve on next year?  To analyse the data, to look outside your bubble to what is happening in the industry around you, what is working for other people?

I don’t agree that communications cannot be planned. We absolutely should know what our priorities are and have a vision for where we are heading. If we don’t have these things in place, how do we know we are steering the ship in the right direction?

So, maybe it is less about the process and more about the output? Taking the time out at the end of the year to reflect on our programs is absolutely necessary. This allows us to then paint the vision and set our intentions moving forward.

However, we don’t need to have every execution, every tactic laid out for 12mths, but we do need to have a sense of where we are going.

In fact, the output should be as simple as possible.

Remember the trend that has been going the last couple of years to set a one word intention for the year instead of a New Years Resolution (because, you know, no one ever actually keeps their resolutions).

Maybe the same thing applies here, you want to end up with a few simple intentions for the year that you can stick up on your desk and refer to throughout the year. Not a lengthy document that sits in the drawer and needs dusting off, same time next year.

This also allows room for the actual specific programs and goals to shift a little. To evolve as you execute, dare I say…iterate… while your overall intention stays intact, is still a guiding light.

So after all the analysis and reviews of the last few weeks…if I DID have to set a one word intention for the focus of our work next year, what would it be? Maybe…SOCIAL (side note: my personal word is GROWTH…not that I follow these silly fads)

If you could sum up your work intention for 2018? What would it be?

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A new road to travel…

I’ve been thinking a huge amount this year about my own career, my skills and my networks. I think perhaps it is the age of my children, now in late primary school and so much more independent than they were before.

Getting the kids ready in the morning now involves me yelling “Time to get ready” a billion times, rather than actually putting clothes on wriggling octopuses.  I can say “you can make your own breakfast, it’s a good lesson to learn” when they complain about being hungry.  I can even walk around the block sometimes without them in tow.

(Of course, there are plenty of negatives about this age too…the arguments and bickering are like small blunt toothpicks being shoved into my eyes and ears, but that’s a story for another day)

It has a left a little more space to reflect about “what’s next” for me (actually I totally don’t have any more “space” but I think I’m in denial on that, so lets just run with it) and where I want to possibly go with this blog.

I’m getting excited and passionate again about all things leadership, communications and workplace empowering.  I’m excited to be volunteering my time this year for the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) in Canberra, as Director of Professional Development and Recognition and absorbing all the industry updates and expert insights.

So, you might start hearing me talking more about these kinds of topics on this here little ole’ blog. There are so many things buzzing around in my brain that it helps to throw them all out into the universe.

I’m sure I will still talk about my juggles with work life harmony (it’s totally uncool now to say “balance” by the way…because we all know that balance is unrealistic, it is never balanced, it is constantly swaying in one direction or another. But harmony, defined by the Collins Dictionary as “The harmony of something is the way in which its parts are combined into a  pleasant arrangement” soo…now I’m shooting for “pleasant arrangements” ) but I might also slip in some reflections on communications at work, what it takes to be an authentic leader and how workplaces can help employees to truly show up and shine.  My gosh, maybe I’ll even throw in some commentary about marketing and what it takes to create great content…who knows.

Saying that here means now I’m going to have to deliver on it! A pre-new year resolution perhaps?

Oh my goodness, that means it is nearly Christmas and this year I am sooo disorganised…less blog writing and more online shopping…ekkk gotta go.

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Weekend bliss? – #MindfulChallenge

The trouble with writing about your meditation experience, is that your mind has a tendency to start thinking about what you are going to write, about how hard it is to stop thinking…which, of course, means I’m thinking..it’s quite a mind numbing circle.
It’s the weekend and I’m curled up in bed. The kids are all safely tucked away around the house on various devices. So it’s seems opportune to take my daily time out.

The knot it my stomach, is still there, it always is. About what…I couldn’t tell you. I wish it would go away but calm patient meditation man is telling me that I should be trying not to resist or wish for things to be different than they are. Just notice them.

So ..Ok….listen to my breath. My mind is going bonkers as usual, time and time again I keep suddenly remembering about my breath.  What we having for dinner tonight?….oh yes, breath….What shall i do with my life? …woops….breath….I wonder what the children are doing?…blow that thought away…breath…was that a car driving in the driveway?…refocus on the breath….

Kelly Exeter posted a great article about her challenges with meditation “Why meditation isn’t ‘working’ for you” and I think she makes some two really good points about the expectations that people have when they meditate.  Essentially, 1) That when you are “good at it”, you will have no thoughts and 2) You will feel amazing in the moment.

This is really true for me, I imagine that when I “get good” at meditating, it will feel like levitating, and my mind will be calm and still …like a pond. But really, that’s not the point. Meditation is actually practicing, like practicing an instrument, to be able to keep bringing your mind back to one focus point…over and over and over….

It is reminding me of bed time training with the kids. My daughter never liked going to bed (still doesn’t).  I was told that the best thing to do is to not “engage”, simple get up…take them back to bed, and walk off again. One night I took her back to bed 35 times. It is a huge mental challenge not to go bananas.

And if I think about it in that context, I realise that I am actually starting to progress on this. I think I’m better at putting my naughty children thoughts back to bed. I’m less concerned about how many thoughts are coming. Because the point isn’t to not have the thoughts, but the game is being able to calmly put them back to bed. I have also noticed that I have started to catch myself when I am unfocused and thinking about other things at other random moments in the day. When I’m driving. Brushing my teeth. Trying to get a peice of work done. I suddenly think…oh…your distracted and thinking about something else…bring your mind back. I’m by no means anywhere near a quiet mind but I’m starting to feel like I’m moving forward.

Crap..I’ve forgotton about my breath again… see!!! Arghh

Times up. Oh well, there will be more practice tomorrow…

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Day 5 – #mindful challenge

I’m in a tiny little meeting room in the office. It has one wall which is a window, so I have to turn my back to it…and i have a pen in my hand and my phone and notepad on the table, so from behind I look like I’m working. But I’m not, I’m sneaking in my 15min meditation.

The last couple of days I’ve done it outside after lunch. And it has been rather lovely, the sun is starting to appear and there are blossoms on the trees. The wind blows my hair while I listen to my breath. So even though the thoughts are still going crazy in my head, I’m feeling peaceful.

But not so much in here. I have a burning ball of anxiety in my stomach. Every time I hear a noise, a shot of adrenalin curses through my body like a murderer is about to enter. I keep reminding myself that the worse thing that could happen is someone might actually open the door and say something along the lines of “what are you doing?”…or simply “err..we have this room booked”…and even the likelihood of that is very very low. Yet, my brain seems to think it needs to be on high alert anyway… and …oh yes…I’m thinking…back to the breath…back to the breath.

I’m still not sure this is helping, but I’m still doing it. I made it through without anyone interrupting me. I’m pretty confident I’m not doing this right.

But I’m doing it. Points for trying. Right?

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Day 1 – #MindfulChallenge

OK step one of the mindful challenge. Start a daily meditation practice.

I’m going to do a Headspace mediation every day. I’ve had the app for about two years and throughout that time I have racked up an impressive (??) 30 meditations #winning,  so I’m thinking that I may need to be a little more consistent.

My challenge is that the meditation that is supposed to make me feel less anxious…well…makes me anxious.

My brain is very active, this morning whilst trying to focus on my breath, my brain was having its own party. Woot woot…she’s just sitting, lets go banana’s. Thoughts were popping up about things that happened in the past or plans for the future. I was thinking about all the things on my to do list, “what are the kids having for lunch today?”, “when are the school photos?”, “do I need to put my washing on?”.

But I know the drill, each time they pop up, I just acknowledge and go back to the breath. So then my brain starts being a bit crazy, at one point…it was singing songs. And there’s this “commentator”, who seems to take pleasure in doing like a voice-over for everything that is happening… and I’m a little embarrassed to say that most of this blog post was written in my head while I was trying to focus on my breath, it just kept popping up and wouldn’t go away. I tried to imagine putting my ideas in a box (I think my brain was worried about forgetting them), or imagine it as clouds in a blue sky blowing slowly away (but then my brain started singing “blue sky…nothing but blue sky..”).

And then there’s the feelings, my body hits the adrenalin response…not exactly helpful when you are trying to be calm. My stomach starts knotting. And this morning I also felt sad. Then bored. Then frustrated.

15 minute meditation complete and I’m feeling, exhausted. Pretty sure that’s not how it was meant to play out.

I know I know I know…this is exactly why I NEED to practice, why this is exactly what I should be doing. Right now it isn’t a very pleasant experience though. I’m not exactly inspired to continue.

But it’s day 1 …right… they say nothing worth doing is easy (my husbands favourite quote whenever I complain about anything..yes…yes, it is annoying).

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Mindfulness…let the journey begin

I’m on a new quest. A new journey of discovery and I’m going to publicly commit myself so that I feel compelled to continue (eeek..just writing that makes me freak out).

It’s been a while since I have written I know. At first it was a happy conscious decision because I wanted to have less on my plate and focus more on work. You know, I’m all about boundaries and juggling different aspects of my life at different points in time.  But then, time just slipped through my fingers and next thing I know it has been months since I wrote properly.

Because really, there is no such thing as “balance” per say, which implies there is this perfect point where you have just the right amount of work, just the right amount of personal stuff etc etc.  But life doesn’t work like that. Life throws you curveballs all the time or doesn’t throw you curveballs and that can be just as disconcerting. So you have to be constantly readjusting, adapting, evolving.

Right now, what I have realized I need in my life is less noise in my head and more focused mindfulness.

Present over perfect.

I’ve said before that I don’t consider myself a perfectionist and I still struggle with the term. Because I’m not perfect, I’m soooo sooo far from perfect that the term doesn’t ring true. And yet, i do have a sense that I need to do everything well. That I need to hustle, keep striving, push forward…prove prove prove myself. Prove myself to whom I’m not exactly sure? To them? To the world? And that striving and pushing keeps me in a whirlwind which mostly I don’t even notice I am in.

My mind is a swirling wind of thoughts, I’m checking myself at every corner, examining every thing I say, every action I have taken. Was that the right thing? The best thing? Am I happy? Am I leaving with purpose? Should I be making different choices?

Oh? Sorry…kids…did you say something??

That’s the bit that I don’t like the most. When I can’t quieten my mind enough to focus on the kids when I am with them. Because when I think about it, it feels like I spend plenty of physical time with the kids…which is great, but perhaps my mind isn’t always joining us. It is off having a party of its own, wondering what I need to get out for dinner tomorrow, whether the socks have been washed, whether I finished all the projects at work…infact, am I even making the right choices at work.  Wait…sorry..that’s right…we’re reading…

So..this is it. The next 6mths I’m jumping on the meditation wagon. Properly. For real. I’m going to become one of those people who gets up at 5am and sits cross legged for an hour by the candlelight with a cushion. Ok, I’m not going to do that. But I am going to try to do my 15min of breathing and quiet reflection for as many days in a row as I can manage. If I miss a day, I’ll get right back on the horse.

Who knows what will work for me, but lets give it a shot and see how we go. Got any tips?

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Not sure where you are heading? That’s OK…me neither

Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like there is a lot of pressure to know what you want and where you are going in life?

Sometimes this idea really eats away at me. As much as I love planning, I don’t have a 5year plan. I don’t exactly know what my passion is and I don’t have big huge dreams for something. Unlike my husband who know exactly what he loves (cars, cars and more cars), but I don’t have that one thing that drives me forward.

And every now and again, I get a bit panicky about that. Does that mean I’m not trying hard enough? And one day I will look back and really regret something that I wish I did? Or maybe I have some secret unlocked passion that I just need to figure out and…oh my god…how do I know whether I am making the right decisions about my career and my life…and EVERYTHING…if I don’t know precisely exactly where I am going?

But, it’s Ok, because now, every time I feel bit like this. I remember the one piece of advice from from Elizabeth Gilberts, Big Magic, that has really stuck in my head and has helped me navigate the tricky waters when I panic about finding my thing.

The concept of thinking of your passions more like following a treasure hunt. So all you have to do, is start following the clues. Is there something you enjoy doing? Explore that for a while, see where it takes you. Read about it, talk to people about it. Do those discussions lead to another idea or topic? follow that too…see where it takes you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you are going (where’s the fun if you already know where to go?) And maybe some of your trials will lead to dead ends. But that’s OK, just keep looking for more new clues to follow.

I am sure I have described that really badly (I love the way she describes it here), but I love this concept.

I’ve been feeling a little stuck with career decision recently, starting to worry about the long term – before I wound myself back in and just thought…what is something small I could do today, to ignite my curiosity and learn something new that is career related, and see where that takes me?

So I approached someone I don’t know about having a coffee catchup, which I know is unlikely to lead to a life long friendship or even an amazing career opportunity, but I do know it is another step in my journey, another clue to unfold in my much bigger picture.

Which also reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Steve Jobs,

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever..”

Perhaps we put too much pressure on ourselves to start connecting our dots too early. Instead we just need to focus on looking for dots.

Where is your treasure hunt taking you?

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