Death by Planning Too Much

Business plan 2013As the end of the year approaches you may be among the many who are struggling over their 2013 business plans. How can I increase revenue and profitability, build a more successful career, increase my presence on social media and (fill in the blank).

To all of you I say, relax and don’t sweat it.

Stop Planning and Start Acting

I attended a seminar a number of years ago to hear a career coach talk about how to build your career. She said something that stopped me in my tracks and I’m reminded of it every time I start a planning cycle.

It should have been obvious but it was one of those light-bulb moments for me. So let me share it with you and hope that it has the same effect on you. Here’s what she said: stop planning and start acting.

I realized I had fallen into the trap of over-planning. I was working hard, so it wasn’t the same as procrastinating by calling a friend or wandering to the refrigerator or doing anything to avoid doing something.

No, planning had become a substitute for action. The perfectionist in me was looking for the 100% solution. But as the CEO at the bank where I used to work always said, “Let’s go for the 70% solution.” He was right. And so was the career coach. You can become paralyzed into inaction by looking for the solution that is guaranteed to work. But I think we all know that’s an illusion.

Learn From Your Actions

Instead, set a goal, and feel good about it. Remember the good feeling you had when you achieved something or the happiness you felt at someone else’s good fortune? Try to replicate that good feeling as you set your goal. Then –

  1. Plan a little
  2. Test a little
  3. Adjust the plan
  4. Test again

Simply by taking action you will learn from it. Taking action helps to build momentum and gain confidence. Sometimes taking the path of least resistance will give you the energy to keep going. Maybe you’ll need to refine your expectations, but you’re still moving ahead.

As I learned, this is not a perfect process. I grew to understand that as the landscape under my feet shifted, I needed to embrace change and recommit to my dreams on a regular basis. I’ve learned to enjoy the victories along the way.

Another quote from one of my favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, also serves as a constant inspiration, “Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but the ability to start over.”

So, if what you tried doesn’t work, adjust your plan and start over.

Leave a Reply


  1. That works for me Jeannette. The plan a little, could be plan just a quarter at a time. Look back at the results. Then the adjusting is like tacking, if the results aren’t what you want, change course.


    • Pat — I think that some people feel that when they change their plan, they’ve somehow failed. That’s why they stay the course. But that could lead to a very bad outcome.

  2. That is so true and bears repeating over and over again. We get so mired in the making of our plans, that we forget our reason for making the plans in the first place. A plan is just that, a plan, not a concrete document never to varied or broken. It will be imperfect by it’s very nature. So moving forward with something is better then not moving at all.

    • Susan — The problem with making plans is that you never have all the facts you need. So plans area always imperfect to start with.

  3. Dan — I believe in the “chip away” process. Take the plan apart and chip away at the pieces of the plan that have the biggest payoff. Considering the plan as a whole can be to daunting.

  4. Jeannette,

    Your post makes me feel better about my own process, because I rarely have a long-term plan that I stick with. But I do have daily plans, and I usually stick to those, placing items that don’t get done in the next day or in Monday morning.

    In my work experience there have been a number of pleasant surprises that change the focus of my work (like projects that I enjoy and get well paid to do). I couldn’t have planned for those, but then again, if I had not planned at all I wouldn’t be available to accept those projects.

    • Leora — I always like to cite Yogi Berra’s well-known quip, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Sometimes I think that’s the path my career took. Didn’t plan to take the left or right fork but somehow things worked out. Never planned for a new career in social media, but it started out as fun and before you know it I had a business!

  5. I’m in the process of adjusting numerous plans as I type this. Here’s to a better year ahead. One that’s full of more action and less planning. Surely, the perfectionist in me will learn her lesson someday.

    • Jeri — I hope the post liberates you from too much planning! You’ll get that book done, no doubt in my mind.

  6. Good points Jeannette. I have written hundreds of plans in my career and without doubt changes were made during the year due to circumstances. A plan needs to be dynamic.That said if you do a plan make sure it is something you can track and I am thinking specifically of objectives. Put numbers to them and to make it simple choose one objective at a time say for the next 3 months.

    • Susan, you make the good point that plans need to be dynamic. Circumstances change so you can’t be rigid about engraving the plan in stone. When I was in charge of corporate communications for a global insurance brokerage firm, I was in charge of advertising and we developed our media plan for the year. But I always stowed money in what is commonly called in the business an “opportunistic budget.” That was in case something came along that we felt we had to buy into. So plans need flexibility.

  7. I love it Jeannette! Your post has come at a great time. There are several things that I have been putting off for way too long. I’m committing to getting them done! As a consultant from the SBA once advised me “Beware of Analysis Paralysis”! Your article just reminded me of that. Thanks!

    • Sherryl — glad that it helped you to act — and not plan any more. Your SBA consultant was so right. We can become paralyzed into not acting when we have too much data or the task just seems too overwhelming. I say just jump in and get started!

    • A.K. — Re the endless to-do lists, I to often find myself moving the tasks from one day to the next. Just “do it,” As Nike says.