Planning 2021? “Yeah right”, I hear you say….”just like we planned out 2020″. I appreciate that especially after 2020 it might seem that you have little control over your year and there’s no point in planning. However, studies show that those people who had an actual plan for 2020 (that means a written document in some form) have actually done better. When the pandemic hit, those people were more likely to take a proactive approach to how they could adjust their goals in order to make the year at least as successful as possible. So having a plan in place increases your chances of thriving whatever the year may throw your way.

Planning 2021 is just like setting resolutions isn’t it?

Nope. Resolutions are mostly something fluffy and vague that have gone out of the window by mid-February at the latest. Planning out the year means making an action plan with thought about how you are going to execute on that. It’s a way of setting your year up for more intentional work on your goals.

Why are you writing about planning 2021 on an international business blog?

Working internationally across timezones, juggling projects, travelling (hopefully!)… all of these can make it harder for us to keep our eye on what has priority. Having a written plan helps me have clarity about what I want to achieve and how I plan to do that and this is me using the chance to document that process.

Everyone has to find the method that works best for them – I’m making no claim that this is the ultimate solution for planning 2021, but it works for me. This process is an amalgam of a variety of sources and I’d encourage you to pick the bits that work for you as that way you are more likely to work with it.

Key points at the beginning

  • Get things out of your head and down on paper. You won’t remember what you were thinking about in a week’s time otherwise.
  • Your planning paper should be a living document. Annual goals will mostly remain fixed, but quarterly, monthly, weekly actions will be amended as the year goes on.
  • Keep your vision and main goals somewhere that you can look at them at least once a day

Reviewing 2020 and Planning 2021

Review 2020

Before we move to planning 2021, we should take a long and brutally honest look at 2020.

Business Wins 2020

What worked well in your business in 2020?

Be like a postage stamp – stick to one thing until you get there

Josh Billings

What lessons can you learn from those wins? What actions make sense for you to replicate or expand on in 2021?

Business Losses 2020

What didn’t work well in the past year?

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it

Winston Churchill

What lessons should we take with us into the New Year? Of course, many things were out of our control in 2020, but we can focus on the processes. In many cases we have more control than we think at least in the way that we react and move on.

Personal Wins 2020

What worked well in your personal life in 2020? I find it helpful to work in sub-categories such as dreams, mindset, health & vitality, friends and family, personal growth, lifestyle, contribution to the world. I’m sure that you probably have some others to add whilst not all of mine may be relevant for you.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no-one thinks of changing himself.

Leo Tolstoy

Which parts of your life could do with some improvement in 2021? What lessons from 2020 will you implement going forward? Do you have realisations from time spent alone or at home in 2020 that you would like to continue with next year?

Personal Losses in 2020

What could you have managed better in your personal life in 2020? I’m sure we all have had periods of frustration and anger at the feelings of powerlessness and of not being able to do what we wanted. You can use the same categories as for the personal wins to brainstorm these losses.

I never lose. I either win, or learn.

Nelson Mandela

The lessons to be learned out of personal failures or losses can be even harder to admit to (even to ourselves) than those from our business life. They are an essential basis for future progress though so it’s worth taking some time here, or even sleeping on it, and coming back to the lessons tomorrow. These are lessons that we certainly don’t want to repeat!

Planning 2021

Goals 2021

What do you want to achieve next year? These goals should be a mix of personal and business, but my recommendation would be to keep them to a maximum of 12. Brainstorm a list and then prioritise it. This is a key stage of the process as you need to gain clarity on what is really important to you and what would be just “nice to have”. You might even want to prepare a ranking.

Planning 2021 - brainstorming goals

I’m sure you’ve heard before now that you should define SMART goals. That usually stands for:
I was listening to a Michael Hyatt podcast this afternoon and he suggested that REALISTIC should be replaced with RISKY, as realistic feels so boring, it has no energy to it. It isn’t a term that usually will motivate us to take action on what we need to do. Therefore he suggests the replacement. We’re talking “has an element of risk, is a stretch goal” rather than “I’m going to cross between the towers of the Humber Bridge on a tightrope with a blindfold on” risky.

His proposal was to use SMARTER as a framework:
I like that idea, as I’m not going to keep working on a big goal if it doesn’t excite me and isn’t really relevant to me.

Streamlining 2021

OK, what are you going to cut out in 2021? The word “decision” has the latin root (sorry, language nerd alert!) “cis” meaning to cut. We can’t continue putting more things in, without thinking about what we intend to STOP doing.

Our life is frittered away in detail…simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau

Which activities or habits can you cut from your life that will have the biggest impact on your achievements in 2021? Don’t try to turn your life completely upside down here, but look for actions that you can maintain over the year. These will compound to a larger effect than you might think.

Vision 2022

Sounds like something stuffy & boring that hangs in the reception of a large company? Not at all, this is really the core of why you are planning 2021. How do you want your life to look come 2022? I’m not one for just believing that affirmations or “wishing” will somehow make things come true. However, being intentional about how you want life to look will help you to take appropriate steps in the right direction.

Planning 2021 - which route to take

So write this vision in the present tense: “It’s 7th January 2022…I am …..”. Where are you? What are you doing? How do you feel about your life? What has changed for the better compared to the end of 2020? Some people like to make this in the form of a vision board – I’m more of a words person, so I just write it down.

My recommendation is that even if you do the rest of the planning 2021 in electronic form that you print this vision out. Stick it somewhere that you can look at it at any time during the day.

Quarterly Targets 2021

What actions do you need to take in each quarter in order to achieve the annual goals that you have set for 2021? It might not be feasible now to specify for more than Q1, but it’s important to break the year down into a series of sprints. Otherwise large goals can feel overwhelming so that you give up. (You know the story of “how do you eat an elephant?”….one slice at a time).

When you’re planning this part of the year, take some time to plan in your highlights and think how they may impact your detailed planning. Holidays, travel, weddings, family events all can have an impact on what you need to do when to reach your goals.

For 2021, we’re probably all in need of more of these fun activities to compensate in some small way for what we missed out on in 2020. Even if at least the first half year will probably be impacted by the pandemic, don’t forget to schedule in enough down time to rest. It’s no good planning so much work towards your goals in Q1 that you’re burnt out by May.

Monthly and weekly planning per quarter

At least for the first quarter, you should plan out which actions you need to take (split by month and week within the month) towards your goals. In my template, I only have Q1 specified as I personally go back on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis to plan through in detail. I just prepare duplicate sheets for the other quarters of the year.

Planning 2021 - plan top down

Working the System

Annual Planning template 2022

You’ve prepared a document that you’ve called “Planning 2021”, so what next? Well, what certainly SHOULDN’T happen is that the document disappears into the bottom of a drawer or the depths of an archive never to be looked at again! I’ve prepared a template, which goes through all of this process – you can either print it off and fill it out by hand, or mark up the pdf.

The process mentioned here isn’t a silver bullet solution, it’s part of a regular process that I go through to help me reach my goals. I take time to plan my quarters, months, weeks and even days to make sure I’m tackling the most important tasks.

Additionally, if you’re working in channel sales / with international distributors, you should also carry out an annual review and target setting process with them. You can find more on that here.

Reviewing Progress

Planning 2021 is just the first step to a successful year. In addition to the regular planning reviews mentioned above, I also like to review my progress regularly (weekly and monthly). If you don’t take action towards reaching your goals then they remain just wishes.

Simon Bowen progress model
Simon Bowen Progress Model

Remember what I said at the beginning of this article? You need to consciously, intentionally decide to move towards your goals one day at a time. Of course, not every day will be a screaming success, but it’s important to review your progress to make sure that you are moving in the right direction. A couple of days of drifting don’t make you a failure, you just need to pick yourself up & “get back on the horse”.

As the model above shows, progress is a process that compounds over time. You might not feel as if you’re moving fast towards your goals, but if you follow the process of focusing on what you have planned, you’ll be spending more time on what’s important and less on the “busy” work that can easily creep in. It’s important though that you continue throughout the year to analyse what is needed and then take appropriate action.

What’s YOUR preferred system?

How have you done your planning 2021? Do you follow a specific template or just go freestyle in the way you approach it? Do you even make a written plan? Let me know in the comments below!

If you chose to download my template, I’d be interested to know what you thought? Like, I said, it’s my personal mish-mash so may not be everyone’s style.

Thinking that working with a consultant would accelerate your international expansion?

If you’d like to learn more about working with me for support on your internationalisation projects or personal export knowledge, you can book a 30 minute international clarity call here.

If you haven’t already signed up for my free e-book about how to select which international market to enter next, you can do so here, or using the form below.

If you enjoyed this content please share it on social media or recommend it to your network.

Pin this post for later!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin



  1. […] Setting KPIs so that they are challenging but realistic is a whole other topic for another day, but is a skill that you need to master if you want to be successful in managing international sales. You can find my brief overview about setting SMARTER goals here. […]

  2. […] specific SMARTER objectives in as much detail as possible. If you’re looking for a new importer in Vietnam then you might […]

  3. […] plan . For sure things will change enroute but it’s better to have planned in advance whatever area of your business we’re thinking […]

  4. […] success in an international market should look? Have you defined SMART (or SMARTER) goals? Check my post about goal setting if you don’t remember what the acronym stands for. You can use this for company goals as well […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Might Also Like...

expo 2010 Shanghai
Jakarta by night
Looking up at skyscrapers
well organised suitcase for business travel
matches how to sell during a crisis
Imperial city in Hue, Vietnam