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Bring Intention & Attention to 2021 Planning

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“Attention goes where energy flows” – Tony Robbins

So, here we are ready to start off a new year and with all the challenges we’ve just finished in 2020, you might be wondering how much planning for the New Year you should undertake. After all, you did a lot of planning last year, around this time, and how did that work out?

The answer is that planning is always an important and vital task to undertake but not necessarily for the typical reasons you may think.

Most people consider planning, whether it be strategic or tactical, as being essential for business success and that is certainly true. Having a strategic plan that creates mission and vision statements, workplans, RACI charts and plans for SOP’s are certainly critical for driving business practices.

More importantly, however, is that the planning process begins to bring a focus to the leadership and, hopefully, the organization. The idea that we are going to spend time working on the business, rather than in the business gives everyone a big picture perspective that can help them find their place in the organization and create some inspiration for engagement.

“Intention” and “Attention” are two ideas that can help take your planning process and explode it into something that drives your business success. Intention is the focused energy we create for our strategic planning or projects. It is like a sacred space that we keep in the forefront of our minds.

As the author Mary Beth Janssen wrote, ““Intentions aren’t fleeting thoughts or wishes, but rather they’re like sacred rocket fuel, turning your good, but half-baked ideas into brilliant, fully-formed bullet points.”

Attention is the action you take to fulfill the intention. In most of our small businesses our energy is usually drawn to day-to day activities and putting out fires. These are necessary but usually leave us drained at the end of the day and don’t leave us feeling like we’ve accomplished much more than survival. Growing your business in 2021 will require more than that.

3 elements that will drive your plan for business success:

  1. Strengths: What is it that you and your business do best? Is it customer service or product quality? Whatever you do best, you want to fully understand your capabilities and capacities to drive that element of your business and then exploit them.
  2. Benefits: What will provide the greatest benefits to your business. This is a bit of the art of “intentionality”. It is not enough to want to pursue something, you must make certain that it will yield profitable results. It can sometimes be a crap shoot but gathering as much information about the marketplace, business trends, and what your competitor are doing will help you make the best decision. This will be a challenging task in 2021 since so many factors are still up in the air.
  3. Doable: We sometimes overestimate what we can get done or what can be done in a certain time frame. Psychologists refer to these ideas as cognitive biases. One of these is known as the “Planning Fallacy” and it refers to our tendency to think we can get more done in a certain timeframe than we actually can. Planning undoable tasks can be a source of frustration and workplace failures. Find the right tool to ensure you can get things done and in a timely manner.

So, if energy flows where attention goes, how can we be sure that we are putting our strategic efforts in the right place?  Our brains are programmed to manage risk and to seek rewards but because of our need to survive, risk often gets the upper hand. All that can translate to a focus on what is not working (putting out fires) as opposed to keeping our eyes on the prize. Some folks describe this phenomenon as “negatives act like Velcro” while “positives act like Teflon.”

A few ideas to help put our intentions into positive actions might include:

  1. Think strategically and not tactically: While all of us have to do the day-to-day work, taking time to investigate future trends through business publications, attending webinars on the state of the industry and talking with colleagues about their perspective will strengthen your understanding of the industry and your business’ place in it.
  2. Talk to customers: If there is one group that can tell you what will drive success, it is customers. What are they looking for and what do they anticipate they might need down the road? Make the discussion a conversation and look for ways to bring value even in a phone call by sharing your insights and knowledge.
  3. Keep your plan in front of you: When I facilitate strategy meetings with clients, I always keep the strategic goals and objectives in the forefront of our discussion. I want people to know and be able to state where the organization is going and that everyone is aligned to the task at hand. Try out a simple exercise by asking your key leaders (and maybe the next level of managers), “what is our mission?” and “what are our key strategic initiatives for 2021?” This is an easy little exercise to see how well aligned everyone is and whether they know where the business is going.

When I ran my small healthcare business early in my career, I freely admit that I was nervous about the directions of healthcare, during those early days of “managed care” and created a lot of anxiety on the part of our staff. We were fortunate to be able to sell our business, but I know that my actions probably inhibited some measure of our growth potential.

Thankfully, I’ve changed my mindset to recognize that I can unwittingly convey negative energy to myself and others that does not serve our purpose well. That was an important lesson for me and if you are challenged with finding the right intentions for your business and then taking the right actions, take some time to explore how you can find a bit more balance and a more positive outlook for yourself and the business.

Published: January 8, 2021

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Richard Citrin

Richard Citrin, Ph.D., MBA is an organizational management psychologist, speaker and author. Richard’s work has delivered over $1b of value to his clients and he has attracted clients such as American Airlines, PNC Bank, Goodyear Tire and Rubber as well as small and family-run businesses. He is the author of 3 books and over 40 professional articles. His most recent book is "Strategy Driven Leadership: The Playbook for Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders."

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