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Sunday Essay: Plan, Titas

Sunday Essay Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

SPARE a kind thought for the leadership teams of local governments and businesses alike these days.

A lot of plans for the year ahead get made in October. Budget season in local governments in the Philippines pick up speed in October. And in some companies, August to October is the season to look ahead: to hold strategic planning sessions and to craft next year’s budget.

This year, planning feels a little surreal. One only has to look back at the plans they made this time last year and compare them with how 2020 unfolded. Which is not to say that this year has been empty of opportunities. On the contrary, 2020 has felt like a course correction, a jarring yet necessary reminder to take stock of who we wanted to become and to see if we have stayed on course or wandered off-track.

I know there are some plans I had made for 2021 that will not come to pass. Most are mundane. For instance, I had made a mental note to witness, if I could, the opening of the third bridge between mainland Cebu and Mactan Island.

If you grew up in Cebu in the Seventies, you may remember what a treat it was when your family crossed what was then the only bridge between the two islands. You did it to meet a relative at the airport or to go to the beach on Sundays. You had to stop at the Mandaue approach to pay the toll, and the waiting added to the anticipation of driving up the incline. When you learned to drive as a teenager or a young adult, the first time you had to stop while driving up the bridge was probably one of the most nerve-wracking moments of your life up to that point. And then you somehow released the clutch, stepped on the gas, and keep on driving with most of your calm and dignity intact.

You probably still refer to Fernan Bridge as “the new bridge,” although it was really only new 21 years ago.

With Covid-19 still around us and a vaccine likely to be unavailable for most of next year, the plan to see the new bridge being opened has been recast. Instead, a quick drive-through for the family will do nicely, thank you.

If only planning for businesses and local government operations were as simple, no?

It’s particularly tough for businesses in some sectors, like travel and hospitality. “If you’re not totally sure what your job is,” the productivity guru and author David Allen wrote, “it will always feel overwhelming.” How do you recast your job when you have no control over when people will feel safe enough to travel again? Or as one hotel manager put it, forecasting revenue for 2021 feels like a game with life-changing consequences and no clear rules.

Yet the act of planning itself is something to be grateful for. Planning signals hope. Only people who believe they have some control over events, or at least some control over how they will respond to these events, make plans.

Allen, for example, promotes a system of review that breaks down your life’s work into six levels. (It’s a great tool for planning, too.) You start by scanning through your runway, which means listing down every action you need to take: every phone call you need to make, every email that awaits your answer, every personal and professional errand you need to run. “You’d probably have 300 to 500 hours’ worth of these things to do if you stopped the world right now and got no more input from yourself or anyone else,” Allen wrote in “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”

Then you rise to each level above, and the higher you go, the broader your view gets. Just above your runway are your current projects – projects being anything in your life that needs more than one action to get done. This can range from making your home workstation less cluttered, to organizing your extended family’s virtual Christmas dinner. And then you keep going one level higher until you get to the sixth level, which is where you face the big questions: “Why does your company exist? Why do you exist?”

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, hasn’t it? Yet it’s also a great year to make the most honest plans we are capable of and to finally, all excuses be damned, act on them.


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