This time of year, people of every size, shape, and walk-of-life tend to step back from the monkey chatter for a look at the preceding 11 months, wondering where did the year go?  I know I do. And the older I get, the faster the days and months seem to fly by.

For many, December is a time of regret—so many things planned, so many things left undone. After all, each of us typically starts each new year filled with possibility, often only to see our enthusiasm wane and perceived opportunities disappear as weeks turn into months and pretty soon spring and summer are upon us and we’ve not achieved nearly as much as we’d hoped. Then fall arrives, and it’s either back to school or back to work (or both), and before we know it, we find ourselves right back to the end of the year, dazed and confused, with little to show for our efforts, wondering how it went so quickly.

Sound familiar?

While time still flies for me (I’m convinced there must be some yet-to-be-discovered universal law, like the law of gravity, where time goes faster the older you get), I’ve learned to make better use of it. How? Simply by writing down my objectivities, complete with short-, mid-, and long-term goals and action steps. Doing so keeps me more accountable to what I need to do. With a plan on paper (or on computer screen) staring me in the face, it’s much more difficult simply to let things slide to the next day, the next week, or the next month. Quite the contrary. I get stoked when I get to check an item off my to-do list!

Now by “plan,” I don’t mean I sit down with the latest project management software and map out every breath and step I aim to take for the next 12 months, complete with milestones, dependencies, contingencies, resource lists, etc. (I get tired even thinking about it!). In my book, that would be overkill for small business owners and entrepreneurs who’d likely spend more time managing their plan than they would actually working toward their objectives. It’s best to leave that level of overindulgence to huge corporations that can hire entire teams to do it for them.

For me, “planning” is about establishing one or more goals, then listing the various steps/action items necessary to achieve that goal, plus any important notes/caveats I need to keep in mind along the way.

Goal: To pick the highest bunch of bananas I can find.
Step 1: Survey the jungle for banana trees.
Step 2: Target a bunch for picking.
Step 3: Get in shape for the big climb.
Step 4: Get a bag big enough to hold all the bananas.
Step 5: Go for it!
Note(s): Weather could be a factor. Dry, sunny days are best. And, remember, it’s a long way down.

As you can see, it’s pretty simple, really, and only as complicated as you make it. I also prefer something I can keep up-to-date (such as an excel spreadsheet or MS Word document), and seldom relegate my planning to year’s-end. In fact, I tend to plan ALL of the time as my interests and goals change throughout the year, and as new opportunities emerge.

That’s another key to any successful plan—being able to change it, and change it often if that’s what you need to find success. It’s called being “nimble,” and nimbleness is one of the greatest advantages we small business owners have!

How can you make better use of your planning time? How can you remain accountable to your goals and objectives week-in and week-out? Don’t discount the value of a marketing coach or consultant on your team. This would be someone (or a team of “someone”s) who could help you make sense of the ever-changing marketing landscape of Web, social media, tablets, smartphones,  cloud, and whatever other new media applications await—someone to help keep your marketing oars in the water so you can finally begin to achieve some of your own big dreams.

What worked/didn’t work for you in 2011? What big goals do you have for 2012? More importantly, how do you plan to achieve them?

Share your ideas here.