Years ago, Keith Webb gave a seminar on planning. Since his points stuck with me, they must be worth passing on.

We all know that it is not how you start, but how you finish that matters. Many of us process new business or outreach ideas on a weekly or even hourly basis. My wife sometimes says that the reason she always travels with me is she’s afraid if she leaves me alone too long, I’ll start another business.  But ideas are simply ideas, unless they are acted upon.  If you have a good idea, to take it to implementation you must first think through the common questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

But which of these questions should you ask first? All questions are not created equal. How you prioritize these questions may determine whether your idea is a hit or a miss. 

And here’s where Keith shared some great wisdom.  The first question to ask is: “When?” If you know “when,” then you naturally will move to clarify “who,” “what,” “why” and “how.” However, the reverse is not always true: clarifying who, what, why and how may never get you to the action point of when. 

Many ideas that don’t begin with “when” never happen. It’s all too easy to keep your planning in the safety of the theoretical. Or you may plan on doing it later when you get that proverbial “extra time.” Or you may wait on “when” until you’ve perfected the idea.

For example, in school did deadlines help you get your work done? In business, many a project has gotten off to a slow start, but due to client incentives, the job gets done on time! There are 5 benefits of asking the “when” question first.

1. Commitment
“When” tests commitment. Moving from an idea to action takes commitment. If you won’t put “when” to an idea then that reflects something about your commitment.

2. Reality
“When” grounds you in reality. “When” forces you to face the reality of the current situation. The yet-to-be-defined objective also becomes very real, despite not knowing exactly what it is. “When” eliminates the dreams and illusions about the distance between where you are at, and where you need to be.

3. Urgency
“When” creates urgency. Someday is no longer an option. “When” creates a deadline that dictates a pace you must follow. Deadlines are excellent motivators, use them to your advantage.

4. Decisions
“When” forces decision-making. Someday is now defined. Decisions cannot be put off. Research, planning, and preparations can go on and on without “when”. But “when” forces decisions to be acted upon.

5. Accountability
“When” serves as an accountability partner. If you set a date to do something you are much more likely to do it. If you have someone checking on you, holding you accountable, the likelihood you will complete increases significantly.  

“When?” is the key question in planning. Starting with “when” allows you to move steadily forward in bringing your ideas to reality. So next time you have an idea, begin with “when” and experience the difference.