When you imagine your long-term future, dream big. Be as clear as possible about what the direction of your success will look like, without being too specific.  Leave open a thousand possibilities to make your dreams become reality. Let your four step plans bring to life the specific things that you will achieve over the short to medium term.

When establishing your plans for success, you must be grounded in reality. The good, the bad and the ugly. If you miss this step and either gloss over your current situation or paint a picture that isn’t as bad as you make it out to be, your plan is doomed to fail. You can’t plan for the future if the starting point that you are using for your plan isn’t your real starting point. If your industry is suffering from a range of economic factors that have caused a slow down, then you need to accept your brutal reality. Your plans need to be grounded in the fact that you will need to address how you are going to first survive and then thrive throughout the economic downturn. Behaving as if nothing has changed is doomed to fail.

Recently the CEO of a Shire Council with whom I was working re-enforced the positive vision that the organisation he serves is striving to create. He also painted a very real picture of the challenges that his shire is facing and the strengths that his team have in addressing those challenges. Rather than place his head in the sand, he took ownership of what he and his team could control, and identified the issues that were out of their control. You’ve heard it before, control what you can control and be prepared to mitigate as much as possible what you can’t control.

He spoke about the role that innovation would play in enabling his team to move from their present situation toward their vision. He recognised that just talking about these issues wasn’t going to be enough. His staff had to make a decision. Did they accept their current situation and were they prepared to do what they could to continue to build on the great outcomes that had been achieved over the previous two decades?

So how do you plan under these circumstances? Here are four steps that work for any type of planning.

1. Clearly identify what success looks like. Use timeframes to take the direction of your vision and make it specific. As an example you may have a personal vision to own a healthy property portfolio by the time you retire. You may have a five year plan that you are using to focus your activities. Your goal in this plan may be to pay off your own mortgage and to have purchased your first investment property.

2. Honestly assess your current situation as it relates to the success that you wish to create. Your current situation needs to consider all relevant variables including both the positive and negative ones. Continuing with our example you may have a secure job and a combined gross income with your partner of $120k. You may be renting in a wealthy area and have both vehicles on higher purchase. You are regularly charged interest on your credit card. You may have set budgets with your partner in the past but not followed them. You may also have a strong superannuation balance given your age and the contributions that you and your partner have been making over the past five years.

3. Identify all the actions that you will need to take to move from your present situation toward your goals. One action will always involve research. You will need to investigate the possible options that are available to you so that you can take the most optimised actions that will help you to achieve your goals.

4. Once you have completed your research and tapped in to subject experts, your task is to prioritise your tasks. Which actions will give you the highest leverage? Do these ones first. Then re-assess your current situation because it will have shifted and complete step three again. Then do step four again. Keep this process going until you achieve your goals.

This four step planning process ensures that your plans remain both dynamic and grounded in reality, while also providing you with focus for your actions.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.