Here’s my Planning Process for 2021

Here’s my Planning Process for 2021

So here we are, just 2 working days from the end of January, and like me you might be asking “where did that month just go?”.

January for me has been focused on getting my Inner Circle Mastermind group up and running, and Jumpstart January within the Business from the Heart Membership, with a focus on Vision & Planning for 2021 – followed up with a “Get it Done Day” today to make sure our members are putting their plan into action. And I’ve been trying to dip into Clubhouse, the exciting new social networking platform as much as I can.

But in truth, January for me has not felt like a strong start.  It’s been more about “catching up”.

I don’t need to remind you that for most of us 2020 was a damn tough year.  Between all the challenges created by the pandemic, as well as some decisions I made all on my own that imploded my own live, I for one definitely didn’t start the new year ready to “hit the ground running”.   Instead I’ve spent much of it getting caught up and my feet back on the ground after such a discombobulating 2020.

And I’m guessing it might be the same for you – especially if you’re starting 2021 already wrangling with home-schooling on top of everything else.

If your January has been a lot like my January, then this article is for you.

First of all, remember that when we tell ourselves we have to have all our ducks in a row by the 4th January if we are going to make the most of 2021 that’s just a made up story and an arbitrary date.

And when many of us entered 2021 still dealing with the fall-out of 2020, and then a new set of lockdown challenges layered on top of that it just wasn’t realistic to expect that of ourselves.

Instead I’m choosing to operate in my reality and instead of telling myself I’ve “failed” or “fallen behind” because I haven’t yet completed my 2021 planning never mind got going with the plan,  instead I’m saying:

“February is the new January” in 2021

So why don’t you join me?

Or if you need a little more space why not give yourself a couple more weeks and start your business year with the Chinese New Year on 12th February?

The new year starts in February!

Another reason you might be struggling to get off the starting blocks is because of  a lack of focus, direction and motivation because you just don’t have a clear plan.   If so this could be the perfect time to schedule a bit of planning

So join me in making “February the new January” – I’m finishing off my planning with a team planning meeting tomorrow (it’s already well in process with a wall covered in post-its!) – and I’m starting my 2021 plan on Monday!

Here’s my Planning Process for 2021

To help you get refocused and remotivated let me share with you the steps that I follow to do my own planning every year.   It’s also the same process I take the members of the Business from the Heart Community through regularly – many of our members follow the process every 6 months to reconnect with their vision and create a clear plan to help them get there.

So to help you get back on track for 2021 I’m going to share it with you step by step:

Step 1: Read “The One Thing” by Gary Keller

I’m a huge fan of this book.  When I first read it,  it wasn’t so much an eye-opener as a reinforcement of what I’ve always instinctively known – that trying to do too much and focusing on too many projects at once leads to doing none of them well, a huge amount of frustration and even burn out.  I’ve always been pretty good at focusing my attention on just one thing at a time (for example I’ve got 3 online courses, a membership and a Mastermind but I only ever actively promote and sell one of them at a time) but this book was an important reminder and really helps me streamline my focus and reduce overwhelm.  I highly recommend it.

Step 2: Get your planning “bits and pieces” ready

Next, gather together what you’ll need to get into planning and creative mode.  For me this is a very large sheet of paper (A1 or A2), a bunch of large post-it notes and some blu-tack to stick it to the wall (but you can do the same thing with a sheet of A4 and some small size post-its if that’s easier to get your hands on).  Also have a journal or notebook to hand where you can journal about my vision and capture my ideas.    Next divide the paper up into months and quarters, 3 months per row (see the image further down).   Then you’re good to go.

Step 3: Get clear on your Vision

When I work with my clients on this I like to take them through a “closed eye” process to help them to tune into their vision for their life and business in 2-3 years from now, which helps to guide the direction of the year to come.   For me planning is very much a combination of having a big vision for what I want to achieve, plus understanding the very practical steps that I need to take if I’m going to get there. And of course identifying the milestones along the way so you can always measure (and celebrate!) your progress – even the small steps.  So taking time to get clear on where you are going is an important part of the process.

Step 4: Set your Theme for the year

This isn’t necessarily a strictly business theme (though it might be e.g. it might be “sales mastery”, “collaboration”, “consistency” or “focus”.  I like to choose themes that work in the wider context of my life but impact on my business.  One year it was “Space”, another Play”.  This year it’s “Hands off” to remind me to leave the team to get on with their work and not waste my own time and take myself out of flow by constantly dipping in to do tasks or “help out” – something I’m definitely needing to get better at!  I write this theme at the very top of my sheet.

Step 5: Set your Overall Focus for the year

The overall focus is a clear business goal that you want to achieve.   This gets written across the top of the sheet underneath your Theme.   This is like a One Thing for the whole year.    This is the One Thing that if you were to achieve it will make all of your efforts worthwhile, and that also by pursuing it you will see knock on benefits across your business as a whole.  Knowing that One Thing that you are working towards helps to focus your other activities, and helps you know what opportunities and ideas are genuinely good ones and what to say no to.


Step 6:   Braindump

The next step is to brain dump all of your goals and ideas.  And I mean all of them.  ALL the things you want to achieve in 2021.  ALL the things you know you “should” be doing but are not.   ALL the things you want to do because you know they’ll impact your business positively in the long term but you are not getting around to.  ALL the crazy ideas for new projects.  Get it all down, a post-it note for each one.  Yes, there will be a lot, but that’s the point – only when you’ve got them all out of your head and on to a post-it can you go about organising and prioritising them.

Step 7:  Add your Post-it items to your Planner

Add your post it notes to your planner, allocating each one to a particular month.  The challenge here is to have just one key focus per month!

Here are some guidelines for doing this:

Put the important things in first

I like to put my holidays in first as these are the things I will let slip if I don’t plan them in advance. So I schedule out December and July as holiday months. Then I put in any other key projects that are fixed.  For example, I have my annual launch of my Get More Clients Saying Yes! course in September – so my “one thing” for September becomes the launch, and then my “one thing” for November is delivering on that programme.  These get fixed into the plan in advance.

A sample planHave just One key focus per month

The aim is to have just one key focus per month.

This allows you to see that you don’t have to fit everything in your “ideas bank” in by next Tuesday!  (this is what leads to overwhelm and spinning your wheels).    This way you can see that you have a whole year ahead of you (and guess what! There’s another one coming along straight after that!) – so it doesn’t all have to be done at once.

Steady and one foot after the other wins the race.

Most importantly it allows you to see where you are taking on and committing to too much – which is where you hit overwhelm and frustration.

As an example, my “one things”  for the first part of the year are:

  • January – Kick off the Inner Circle Mastermind
  • February – Focus on Audience Growth including revisiting my customer journey and automated sequences
  • March – Focus on improving Business from the Heart membership including hiring a Community Manager
  • April – Holiday.  And pre-launch preparation for the membership launch in May.

By doing it this way I know what my core focus is every month and it helps me to protect those things that are the highest priority in achieving my long-term vision.   Then if an “unmissable” opportunity comes along rather than trying to fit in too much I can reassess.   Either I’ll prioritise the One Thing and say no to the opportunity, or I’ll decide to run with the new idea and rearrange my post-it plan to make space for it – maybe by moving my launch along by a month.

Personalise it  

It has to work for you and your life. For example, if, like a lot of my community, you’re a mum, you might want to have just 3 “quarters” to follow the terms. You can make any tweaks to adapt it to work for you.

Full disclosure:

Okay, Okay I’ll come clean.  I don’t really have just “one thing” per post-it per month (though I do try to).   Some months I have two.  That’s because the reality is that there often is more than one priority and both need equal attention.  That’s just the reality.  But I try and make sure that if I have 2 (or sometimes even 3!) “One Things” in a particular month that it is entirely realistic I could complete them in that month).

Step 8: Set up your Heartbeat

The heartbeat or “rhythm” of your business is the stuff that needs to happen regularly all year round to keep your business on track.   These don’t go into particular months because they are happening all the time, so I leave space for the heartbeat along the bottom of my sheet.

For me this includes:

  • Creating my weekly content – a video or blog article
  • Nurturing and developing joint venture and partner relationships
  • Exercise (I have to put this visually on my plan to make sure it happens!)

For you this could be making 20 sales calls each week, spending 30 minutes networking on social media daily, or writing and scheduling your fortnightly blog.

It’s the rhythm and heartbeat that you do all year round that keeps the business alive.

I don’t include delivery of programmes or serving my Mastermind clients in the “heartbeat” as that all happens anyway because the calls and sessions are fixed in the calendar so I’m never going to miss them.   What I put in “heartbeat” are those crucial things that I know I can easily let slip if I’m not careful.

Step 9: The Futurelog

This might be the best part of this plan of all!  We all have a zillion ideas for all the amazing things we want to do in our business and it can all get very exciting.  But if we are not careful we end up totally overcommitting to things with the result that we take on too much, other areas of our life start to suffer, and yet for all the sacrifice none of our projects actually get off the ground.  Are you relating?

So the backlog is a series of post-it notes that goes along the very bottom of your sheet.  (I normally have my Heartbeat bottom left and the Futurelog bottom right).   These are the things you want to do but you can’t fit in now without impacting on the success of other priorities.   They go in the backlog because they are not being “thrown out”.  They are just waiting for the right time.

Last year my Backlog contained two things that I’m desperately keen to get done, but once I’d plugged in my priorities for the rest of the year I could see that there wasn’t really space for them as well, so they got put in the Futurelog for 2020.    And some of them will make it in to the core plan for 2021!

These were:

  • Launching a Podcast
  • Recreating and relaunching my Webinar Success Blueprint course on how to sell from webinars
  • Run a business retreat in Morocco
  • Automate the cancellation process inside my membership

Great ideas?  Yes. Did they need to get done last year?

Not if I wanted to achieve the primary goal I had set myself of growing the Business from the Heart Membership.  But they were there in the backlog in case of a boost of inspiration or time opening up unexpectedly.

This type of “One Thing” planning helps you to create a realistic plan that will actually move you forward based on your immediate highest priorities and allows you time to focus on the tasks that are most important.  Everything else goes in the Futurelog until the time is right.  That includes all those bright ideas that so often throw you off track – because sometimes even great ideas and opportunities can actually set you back  if you do them at the wrong time.

I hope you’ve found it useful seeing how I plan out my year.   If you’ve got a different system that works for you do post in the comments below.  And if you haven’t yet planned your 2021, why not schedule out some time to follow this plan either over the weekend ready to start 2021 on Monday – or over the next 2 weeks ready to start with the energy of the Chinese New Year on 12th February.   Do let me know how you get on in the comments below!

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Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts


  1. Claire Waldron on January 28, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Catherine

    This is really great. I loved reading through how you planned your year. I find I get overwhelmed easily and then nothing gets done to the standard I’d like it to.
    I’m definitely going to set aside some planning time. I feel too that January has been a catch-up month. February is exciting for me as I am running a study group for the first time. It will be good to build on this momentum for the coming months.

  2. Loliya Harrison on January 28, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    I love this idea Catherine. of ONE THING. I can end up having too many things to focus on, get overwhelmed and then lose sight of what is the most important. I can see this will help me not to feel like a failure. Also you’ve reminded me that it may not all be business related. Other things in my life could also need work before tackling business things. I use a planner called this is My Era with 3 month calenders already done. I’ve just stuck my post its on each page.

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