Take action now: a simple way to stop over planning

Have you ever done so much planning that, instead of making things simpler and easier to action, you actually got lost?

(I know you have).

Don’t get me wrong. Planning is good.
Especially if you want to achieve something specific, mapping out how to get there is important.
But at some point, too much planning gets in the way. Instead of sticking to your goal, you start sticking to the plan.
Over-planning is a great way to sabotage your efforts and not have to deal with those scary unknown changes that…taking action would actually bring.

I’ve done it too.

When I first started this blog, I created a 4-tab spreadsheet that told me exactly how I was going to grow its traffic over the next year. It was really, really detailed. In fact, you could say it was nearly a piece of art.
It was definitely a Picasso though. The plan was way too complicated. I added tons of variables and different milestones, without actually knowing what I was talking about: I had never done it before!

Say it with me: “Planning is good. Over planning is bad.”

So let me introduce the other end of the spectrum: not planning at all.
This is the usual playbook: 1) set a goal, 2) take (random) action, 3) see no results, 4) give up. Repeat.

Again, this is a great way to sabotage your efforts and not having to deal with scary unknown changes. It’s also pretty frustrating.

Classic examples are: dieting, language-learning, going back to the gym…you’ve seen before.

This approach ignores all obstacles ahead, while also giving you zero tools to be able to see any result. It confuses movement for action. Just like you won’t learn to swim by adding another column to your spreadsheet, you also won’t learn to swim by jumping in a pool blindfolded.

stop over planning

Enter Winning Actions.

How to start taking action

Whether you want to meet more people or how to speak a new language, big objectives are not going to happen overnight.
The challenge is that, even if your goal is super clear, it can feel pretty daunting to decide what to work on each day. Especially if this is the first time you work towards a particular something.

If goals and milestones are a metric for progress, Winning Actions are a metric for movement (in the right direction).

Whether you set monthly, yearly, or longer goals, the only way to measure your progress is by looking back at what you’ve accomplished so far. Are you any closer?
This is important to learn and adjust, but it doesn’t help on a daily basis.

For example. Say that I wanted to “run 100 miles in a month”.
I can check in mid-month to see whether I’m any closer.
I can even do it weekly (or wait until the end of the month).
In the meantime, a big slice of the month has gone: what to do if you’re behind on your progress?

Winning Actions are simple, specific, and repeatable actions you can take towards each of your goals. They are not results, they are actions.

To run 100 miles a month, for example, your Winning Action could be a weekly “run 12 miles every Thursday and Sunday” or “Run 3.5 miles a day”.
Just by sticking to your actions, you will accomplish the final goal…automatically.

External variables (and examples)

Let’s make things more complicated and introduce an external variable: other people.
Certain goals depend on others’ behaviour, like increasing traffic, meeting new friends, finding more clients, getting comfortable with talking to men/women, you name it.
Here Winning Actions become even more valuable, as they allow you to isolate what you can control, and do more of it instead of waiting for someone else’s results.
The key here is to decide on an action which is completely under your control and adjust for external behaviour.

Let’s take a few examples.

Meet 2 new interesting people next month.

This is dependent on…people meeting you.

Once you have determined the best avenues to meet likeminded people you enjoy hanging out with, spot a single action you can take.
For example, it could be “reaching out for an introduction” whether this is a cold or warm intro. Then, set some assumptions, how many people do you need to contact to actually meet someone interesting? Let’s say it’s one person met every 5 reach outs.
2 people in a month = send 3 introductions a week.

Increase traffic to your website 30%.

This is dependent on…people visiting your website.

What has worked in bringing visitors so far? What can you do to maximise it?
At the end of last year, I noticed that I was getting a good portion of blog visitors from Quora. So I decided to increase my answers on Quora to one a day for a whole month.
The Winning Action was simple: write one Quora answer (daily).
Halfway through the month, I had accumulated enough data and experience to be able to improve my answer selection and the position of links back to the blog.
The result? I saw a spike in traffic that continued well beyond my month experiment.

Go on three dates next month.

This is dependent on…people wanting to go on a date with you.

The Tinder route. Let’s assume you’ve already optimised your profile and pictures. How many swipes does it usually take you to get a match? How many matches do you turn into a conversation? How many conversations into dates?
Let’s assume it’s 40 swipes (left or right), half turn into conversations, and a quarter of those turn into dates.
That will require 320 swipes for each date, or 32 a day to get your three dates.
I’m not a fan of Tinder: you can apply the same principles “offline”.

winning actions: take action now

So how to create your own Winning Actions?

Create your own

Here’s the step-by-step guide to setting your own Winning Actions, and make progress towards your goals every day (or every week).
You can also download the template to create your own actions here.

Step #1: Set a measurable goal

If you set a generic goal like “lose weight” or make more money, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Winning Actions won’t work because there is nothing to get you closer to.
Check out my guide to SMART goals here, and make sure you set objectives that are measurable.

Step #2: Brainstorm actions that would get you closer

Ok, now that you have your goal clear, jot down a list of actions that would take you closer to it.
No rules here, just write down as many as you can.

Step #3: Select an action that is 100% under your control

Take the list from the previous step, and cross off everything that requires external input.
For example “meet 2 new people for coffee every week” isn’t totally under your control. “Email 2 people a week to grab coffee together” is.

Step #4: Create assumptions and calculate frequency

How often do you need to take your Winning Action to get the result you want?
Multiply your action by that factor, then spread it over time. Make sure you make your Winning Action daily or weekly, otherwise it won’t work (you’ll procrastinate).

Step #5: Keep track of your actions

Keeping track of your actions has many benefits:
– Have a special ritual for your actions
– Create a visual chain of actions taken, which will be difficult to break: you’ll keep the streak going.
– Share your actions and results with someone else for extra accountability.
– Give you data to look back and learn how to improve your tactics.
(You can grab the free template here.)

Once you have enough data, you can then compare your actions with the results you got: that way, you’ll be combining your metrics for movement (Winning Actions) with your metrics for progress (milestones and goals), so that you can adjust the effectiveness of your actions.
It’s important you don’t tweak your actions too regularly: wait until you have some actual data to base your decision upon and learn.

Winning Actions for teams

You can use Winning Actions to learn a language, cook at home regularly, find new clients, …you name it.

It’s also a great tool for team goals and team communication.

In fact, if you already have yearly goals or quarterly goals for the whole team and sub teams, it’s time to set some shared Winning Actions. When I say shared, I mean they should be individual but visible to the whole team, and working towards a common aim.
Remember rule #3: they need to be 100% under one person’s control. So what is one action each team member should take every week, that would inevitably get you closer to your shared goals?

Go through the step above and start setting some. Make sure you don’t overdo it: start from one action per team member.

Take action with your team

Next, use the template (it also has a team tab for you to use) and create a shared spreadsheet. Create a regular follow up every week to check in on the team’s Winning Actions, and help each other keep the streak alive.

What next

Whether you want to use Winning Actions for yourself or your team, it’s your turn.
Make sure you follow the 5 steps, and create your own. Remember: start small, keep the streak alive, and use data to learn every month or so. Take action now.


– Matt

PS: enjoyed this post?
Check out this simple strategy to get unstuck when you really don’t know where to start.