Imagine you are a violinist. It's the evening before a big concert at the Lincoln Center. It's your debut for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra! On the program is Mahler's epic fifth symphony.
For some bizarre reason, you decide to go rogue. You're going to keep the sheet music for this particularly challenging piece locked in your briefcase. You're going to play the entire symphony from memory while the rest of the orchestra follows the score.
Now, you're a good musician and you're familiar with the piece. But the likelihood is that at some point you are going to come unstuck. You may hit a wrong note or you may even miss a complete section.
You're only one small piece of the orchestra but, if you see this folly through, you may jeopardize the performance. The whole musical process will break down. The conductor will have to stop the orchestra and start again from the beginning. Mahler will turn in his grave!
All this can be avoided, of course, if you decide to literally play safe and to follow the dots on the sheet music.
I use this far-fetched scenario not to illustrate how a musical maverick could mess up Mahler, but to show how missing one small step can threaten a bigger process. And, also how, by following the music – or the plan – you can avoid, or at least minimize, the potential for mistakes.
At this point, I have to hold up my hands and say that I have a pretty good memory. That's surely a good thing, I hear you say. Well, it can be. But, in a work setting, it has been a problem for me, because I have relied on it too much. And there have been a few occasions where it has let me down.
This came to light a few years ago when I had quite a complicated job that involved collating, co-ordinating and publishing articles from co-workers in various parts of the world across different time-zones.
My boss could see that I was struggling to manage the several small projects simultaneously – to keep "all the plates spinning" so to speak. I had got close to missing print deadlines on a couple of occasions, so he invited me into his office for "a chat."
"What's your plan, Ian,"? he asked.
"I don't have one, Martin. I just want to get the job done," I replied.
"Well, I suggest you make a plan, Ian. Otherwise, you won't get the job done."
He went on to explain what he meant. I didn't realize it at the time, but the information Martin was sharing with me was basically a 4-Step Action Plan.
Action plans are simple ways of keeping on top of small projects. They are designed to stop you missing key steps in a process and, in a worst-case scenario, having to go back to the beginning.
I incorporated Martin's action plan suggestion into my working routine. And, fairly soon, I found that my professional life had improved. I knew what had to be done at a glance. The plan told told me when I needed to delegate, and who to delegate to. Then I used a double-check system to make sure I didn't miss anything, and regularly reviewed how things were progressing. I wasn't trying to play the whole symphony from memory!
Have you any thoughts or advice on how best to use action plans? Do you use them? Do you like them? Have your say by adding your comments in the box below.
And check out our new infographic on 4-Step Action Plans here.
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