3 reasons why sometimes you must toss out your plans

TalentGrow blog 3 reasons why sometimes you must toss out your plans by Halelly Azulay

Do you ever completely throw out your plans and do something that you spontaneously create in the moment because it seems like a better idea?

If so – do you feel good or guilty about that?

If not – are you held back because you’ve already set your mind on a plan and you stick to it?

What’s the right thing to do?

I remember vividly the time when I co-facilitated a high level Commission's Retreat that I designed along with my co-facilitator, Jon Desenberg, of the Performance Institute.

We spent hours upon hours in design, revision, and re-revision based on the client's ever-shifting requirements. We worked nights and weekends to ensure that every moment of the 3.5 days of the retreat was well-planned and optimally accounted for in the highly interactive agenda.

Then, we threw out the bulk of our planned design.

It was brilliant.

We re-designed the whole thing at least three times during the three-day retreat, on the fly.

Why in the world would you spend time planning only to throw out your plans?

Perhaps you’re thinking, “What in the heck were you thinking, Halelly?? Why would you do such a thing?"

Because it was the right thing to do.

We listened to the clients attentively DURING the retreat. We were finely attuned to the situation, non-verbal nuances, reactions and interactions. We focused on their agenda, desired outcomes and energy dynamics, and adjusted accordingly.

We were open and flexible and dynamic. We recognized that the changes were needed. And we were adaptive and willing to change our approach.

But there’s more to it. I think that it was precisely BECAUSE we had planned so intensively that we were able to redesign on the fly in an effective way.

YOur Planning work IS NOT a waste of time, even if you toss out your plans

As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said:

"Plans are worthless, but planning is everything."

[that’s a tweetable – click to tweet it out right now!]

Sometimes, you just gotta toss out your plans.

Click on this image to share it on Twitter!

Here are three reasons why your planning is more important than your plans:

Reason #1: Planning forces you to ponder possibilities and entertain potential obstacles before they happen.

By thinking in advance about the goals for the retreat (or class, meeting, presentation, etc.) and the current state of things, you make smart decisions about what works and what doesn't. But you also consider some Plan B, C, and Z approaches to have in your 'back pocket' should you need them.

Reason #2: Planning provides you with a framework within which to flex and shift.

Without this framework, we would have flailed about when the situation changed because we would not have had the structure to ground us. Knowing time frames, limitations, possibilities, and desired outcomes COLD helped us select IN certain options and select OUT others in the moment.

Reason #3: Planning gives you the confidence needed to embrace change and the uncertainty it can bring.

The more time you spend planning for an event, the less unexpected changes can shake your confidence because you are more familiar with the content and context. Knowing that the changes emanated from the external context -- not from some deficiencies in us or our plans -- gave us the confidence to throw out the plans and create new, better ones. We did not encounter any insecurities and were able to stay responsive and client-focused. Our clients sensed this confidence and trusted our skills, which fed back our loop of self-assurance and calm confidence in the face of change and flux.

So, how did it work?

Extremely well. Many of the participants, seasoned professionals and elected officials with huge resumes and egos to match, thanked us heartily at the end. One said he came in highly skeptical and is leaving a converted man. Amen! The client indicated they want to engage us further in the coming year. They loved it.


So often people get too attached to their plans and interpret changes as signs of dysfunction rather than naturally occurring shifts inherent in any execution. You’ve gotta stay nimble to stay in the game, right?!

Your turn:

What have been your experiences with planning vs. plans?

Sign up to my free weekly newsletter and get more actionable tips and ideas for making yourself a better leader and a more effective communicator! It’s very short and relevant with quick tips, links, and news about leadership, communication, and self-development. Sign up now at http://eepurl.com/PTIRn!

Also, subscribe to my podcast, The TalentGrow Show, on iTunes to always be the first in the know about new episodes of The TalentGrow Show! http://apple.co/1NiWyZo

You Might Also Like These Posts:

The Top 10 Conversations Every Leader Should Have with Every Employee

Ep23: How to bring creativity to business with Michelle James

Ep031: The Coaching Habit – How to Say Less, Ask More, and Lead Better through 10 Minute Coaching Conversations with Michael Bungay Stanier