Life happens. It gets in the way and does unexpected things. This is why having a backup plan is so important.
“We’re moving to Plan B“. Not always the words you want to hear. In fact, they’re often the opposite of what we want to hear. But the thing no one tells you about Plan B is that having a backup plan means that the show can go on. It’s not a preparedness to fail, it’s a recipe for success. I’ve often struggled with the idea that having a Plan B doesn’t mean failure, but recently, I could have used a backup plan. Here’s what a Plan B really looks like, and why you should probably make one too.
Having a backup plan isn’t an omen. It’s not a precursor for failure. But I’m a goal-oriented person, and resorting to Plan B makes me feel as though I haven’t actually completed the task to the best of my ability. I’ve had to learn that switching plans isn’t “failing” as much as its “changing tactic”; a skill that can be important in all areas of life and business.
Because of this preconceived idea of failure, I hate writing a Plan B. Often times, it won’t ever be needed. So why make one? There is only one big reason to sit down and plot this out. Peace of mind. If you’re not worried about failing, either you’re a sociopath or you have a really solid backup plan. Nothing in life goes smoothly, but planning for the most common breaking points can help navigate difficult times without straying from the overarching goals.
How to make a backup plan
There’s no one size fits all here, but there are some helpful tips I’ve found from creating my own. Some of these might apply to you, some may not. You may want to really focus and expand some points, or gloss over others. However you do it is up to you.
Evaluate your goals
Knowing your goal isn’t necessarily part of Plan B. But it can help you immeasurably with the other points. When looking at a large goal, it’s best to break it into smaller tasks that are achievable and measurable (SMART goals). A backup plan should be the opposite. You need to forget the small goals and their plans. All that matters is the end task. If your goal is to become a pop super-star, do you need to reach number one in your country? No! The plan is to go global!
Focus on the end goal. Know what you want to achieve. The smaller goals are still incredibly important and will probably make achieving this easier, but we’re making a backup plan for when things go wrong with these small goals. Eye on the prize, and don’t let it wander.
Identify the pressure points
This is the most important thing to consider when you start creating a backup plan. Look at your Plan A. What are it’s weaknesses? What are the weaknesses of the people who are involved in this plan? Identifying the points of failure is a crucial step. For an example with a wedding: There’s no point focusing a backup plan around the caterer not showing up, when the videographer has a reputation of being flaky. Know your original plan, and know who’s involved in making it reality. Turn your efforts towards the most likely points of failure. Sure, the groom might decide not to show, but that’s not the point of the backup plan. Unless he also has a track record of cold feet, focus on the known issues, rather than the ones that can’t be strengthened.
Create alternate solutions
“Alternate solutions” sounds a little like fake news. But the two are nothing alike. Rather than making stuff up as we go along (the literal definition of fake news), we’re pre-planning a path around a problem. Think of it like driving. If there are roadworks, you don’t give up and go home. You follow the detour and find a way around the issue. This is a Plan B in action. When creating a backup plan, be mindful of the things that you identified as pressure points, and look for ways around them. Do you need a copy of your files in case the computer dies? Do you have a spare pen in case yours runs out of ink? Every day we use little alternative solutions without even thinking about it.
It can be hard to find ways through the weaknesses we’ve spotted. But take the time, think outside the box and brainstorm different scenarios that might arise from different actions. Remember to keep the end goal in focus. Just because you can’t find an alternate way to achieve this small goal, doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to get back on track for the big one.
Write it down
This one is very personal. And how you do it will be different from me. But the idea is to make sure that you know your backup plan as well as your main idea. If you write down Plan A on paper, list Plan B somewhere near. Use word documents, illustrations, post-its. Whatever works for you. But have a copy somewhere. Why? Because in moments of panic, we forget everything. And what use is a backup plan if we can’t remember it?
It doesn’t need to be as in depth as the original. It might be as simple as a list of alternate suppliers. But whatever solutions you created, log them somewhere. When the moment comes, and you’re flustered and stressed, having a clear path laid out will help.
Avoid Plan B
Lastly, try not to ever put the backup plan into action. This doesn’t mean go out of your way to avoid doing all the things we’ve just planned, but rather, keep focusing on Plan A. It’s number one for a reason, and ought to be the main focus of our attention. When disaster strikes, don’t feel locked into Plan B. Remember your goals, and cherry pick the parts that will help you get back on track. The goal of Plan B is not to replace Plan A, but to support it’s fulfillment.
How having a backup plan helps me
I’ll be the first to admit, I hate using a backup plan. Despite knowing the benefits, switching from my main idea to a Plan B still feels like admitting defeat. And yet, here I am, writing a blog on a backup plan, which is in itself a backup plan. Lost yet? Let me explain a little.
Like always winter depression has hit me hard. I haven’t been creating much of anything, and haven’t felt like sharing that lack of creativity either. So I find myself in a predicament. Continue to avoid writing and sharing, which damages the goals I’m trying to reach, or open my notebook, pick a random topic, and just get writing.
You won’t actually find this post in my list of suggestions. It’s not there, because I’m not actually using my full backup plan. But having a backup plan has giving me a little motivation, and little spark of inspiration, and allowed me to jump right back into Plan A. Did I really need Plan B if I’m not using it? Absolutely! Without having a backup plan, I would have been stuck trying to think of ideas in a moment when I wasn’t capable of doing that. But by identifying this weakness (running out of topics), creating an alternate solution (pre-planning some easy topics) and writing it down; I was able to use my Plan B in the best possible way, getting back to Plan A and working towards my goal.
Having a backup plan isn’t a foolproof method to success. But it can have a huge impact when done right. It’s not about planning to fail. It’s about planning alternate paths to success.