I was cutting some firewood the other day–that’s a thing we do around here in the North–and I started thinking that cutting down trees is really a pretty good analogy for the planning process. It may not be obvious especially if you haven’t spent much time cutting down trees, but let me elaborate.

Before you start sawing away in the woods, you have to evaluate the situation. There’s usually one tree you want to bring down. It may be dead, or have some broken limbs hanging up in other trees, but whatever the reason, it has to come down. Bringing it down sounds simple enough, but when you’re dealing with a couple of tons of wood flying through the air around your head, you want to be careful. You have to look up and see which way the tree is leaning and where the most weight is. As if that isn’t enough to keep track of, you also have to look at trees and other obstacles it might land on on it’s way toward the ground.

In real life it’s the same way. There are many different options to evaluate. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses, and what you have to work with. You’re not ready to make a decision until after you have taken all that into consideration.

Once you know what you’re looking at, you have to figure out the best way to accomplish the goal, which in our analogy, is getting the tree on the ground. There are a number of different ways the tree can fall, and you have to figure out the best way to get the tree on the ground without landing it on top of something else. One of the most important things you don’t want it to land on is yourself, so always plan an escape route.

When you have things narrowed down to a few options, it’s decision making time. What course are you actually going to take? Now is the time to make goals. Not just generic goals, but specific goals. Sure you want the tree to come down, but you also need to specify where you want it to fall.

With a tree, the action is simple, but there’s still much that can go wrong. It can be tempting to just fire the saw up to full throttle and cut away. The problem is that you’re still dealing with a couple tons of wood acting under the influence of gravity. It only takes a little mistake and the tree might go somewhere you don’t want it. Slow deliberate action is your best friend.

In many situations moving slowly isn’t necessarily the best thing even though it works in firewood, but it still pays to carefully consider your moves before you make them. Just like felling a tree, you can’t put wood back after you cut it out. There are a lot of actions that can’t be undone, and you don’t want to make mistakes just because you’re in a hurry.

The tree on it’s way through the air, you need to clear the area to watch from a safe distance. Then after it hits the ground you need to go back and cut it up. After all the tree is not going to serve any purpose if it is simply left to rot on the ground.

With real life situations it can be helpful to take time to step back and re-evaluate what you’ve been working on, just like watching the tree fall. And then you have to jump back in and persevere. Tasks don’t finish themselves. Don’t lose your motivation when the going gets hard. Or in my case when my brother gets distracted and starts throwing snowballs at me.

Got any tips for planning and following through? Let’s hear them in the comments.