I love being able to interact with college-age millennials through my work with Impact 360 Institute. They are vibrant, full of great ideas, and want to change the world. Achieving that end will begin with their future influence in the marketplace and in an earlier post I shared what I was hearing from millennials in regard to what values they may carry into the workplace with them.

Understanding the future influence they will inevitably hold you may ask when I interact with these future majority shareholders of the marketplace what is the most common question I get in regard to growing their leadership? It’s a pretty simply one: how to effectively plan.

It’s a great question and I am always pleased to get it. It demonstrates someone already understands attaining goals isn’t an entitlement; it doesn’t just happen because you show up each day. It happens because you had a plan. And, as I share with them, at their age they still have plenty of time to try and find the method that works best for them. As anyone who walks into a bookstore or browses online a plethora of choices are available. As I share if there was one proven method then likely there would only be one book on planning for sale. While I’m not willing to say that every method out there works people are wired differently and respond to different types of urgencies. The type of planning strategy one chooses needs to align with the user or, as logic dictates, the individual will quit using it.

That’s why I tell the students I talk to the secret to choosing a planning strategy is pretty simple: choose one.

That’s why I tell the students I talk to the secret to choosing a planning strategy is pretty simple: choose one. Any planning strategy will likely be individualized and refined but it begins with choosing one and truly implementing it as an operating system into one’s life.

A good planning strategy will have at least two key aspects: it is versatile to both short term tasks and long term projects and it has a reward that matches to the individual’s preferences who is using it. If one needs one system for setting exercise goals and another for planning out a study schedule for a great grade then that person is about as likely to use both systems as they would be to wear two wristwatches. Find one system versatile for both. Also important is that the system has an end that recognizes and rewards completion of goals. This is key because studies routinely demonstrate that task completion releases dopamine in the brain and those releases become key to individuals developing perseverance.

Studies routinely demonstrate that task completion releases dopamine in the brain.

Perseverance is what keeps you in the game on those days when your goal seems impossible. How we perceive goals however, can be very individualistic. A wise early leader of mine once shared with me that there were two kinds of people; short-term and long-term. I’ve found that observation to be mostly true over the years. One’s planning system needs to take into account which of these the individual perceives themselves to be. They will need to build their goals to suit their preference. A long-term goal person can set a goal that is a year or more out and is satisfied with incremental and small progress toward the reward. A short-term goal person likely needs to get a series of shorter goals with quicker rewards to get themselves to the longer goal. Neither perspective is better than the other and I would strongly argue you need a strong mix of both styles on any good project team. The key is knowing which you are and matching your planning system accordingly.

Although methodologies vary there should be five key aspects that are covered in any type of planning system:

1. A clear understanding of the goal.

2. A clear understanding of the current circumstances.

3. A clear understanding of the future circumstances once the goal is achieved.

4. A clear understanding of the steps needed to get to that future.

5. A clear understanding of the payoffs of getting there.

This is the operating system I use for every type of planning. In coming posts I’ll share more on each of these steps and point toward some commonly used tools to help develop each step. Whether it is exercise goals, reading goals, work goals, presentations, or most forms of communication covering these bases will help one not only stay on track with a long-term or short-term goal but will also help one to communicate to others clearly what the plan is. With a simple operating system in place anyone can set themselves up for success in both personal and professional projects and by proxy, grow their potential leadership influence. So, what’s your plan?

Next up: Step One: the “Why”