Strategic planning has come up in so many areas of my life lately, I figured it might be coming up in yours too. At its essence, strategic planning is about asking and answering the right questions—the ones that help you and many times the team or an entire company understand the possible futures. It’s an attempt to create a plan, so you’re not relegated to following everyone else’s plan. Yes, it’s about trying to have a sense of control. We all need to have a sense of control in our lives. Strategic planning isn’t really hard, but it should be rigorous. There should be thorough debate regarding the options available, even if the debate is with oneself! That way, the components of the plan that bubble to the top have the best chance of creating a successful plan.

Most strategic sessions are all about the questions whether it’s a session for your personal future or one with millions or even billions of dollars riding on it.,. Of course, the questions need to be challenging, but I think there are only a few and the best one I am relearning from my grandson is “Why?.”  We’ve all experienced the sometimes frustrating and other times downright annoying questioning of 4 – 5 year old’s. Why? It’s in most conversations and most answers are quickly bounced back with another insistent, Why?  It’s brilliant. There’s so much for us to learn if we act similarly and then add What if…? And finally, How?  Just these three short words have the potential to quickly lead to a sound decision.

These three words will help us stay focused, which is so incredibly hard to do when there seem to be so many options. I mean who can resist knowing the 13 Everyday Foods That Are Surprisingly Unhealthy (probably not that surprising); 62 Amazing Facts You Probably Didn’t Know That Will Blow Your Mind (why would I want my mind to blow?); 7 crazy facts you need to know about Kanye West (do I really need to know?); How To Clean 5 Things in Your Bathroom You Didn’t Know You Needed To (Really, what’s in there I might be missing?). These distractions are called Listicles, and they are really distracting. You probably won’t admit publicly that you click on them, but you do and they are a big distraction. These Listicles tickle our curiosity (and who doesn’t like a friendly tickle), just long enough to make us click. Generally, the message or answer is meaningless and subconsciously unsatisfying. A distraction we are sorry we let slip in.

I doubt you’ll disagree that, with the proliferation of so many social and direct media channels jockeying for space in our minds and lives, focus is becoming a rare, rare thing. A prized state that individuals and companies struggle with. I struggle with it daily and my guess is you do as well. Heck, my to-do list keeps growing and growing and putting priorities in it gets harder and harder. So, what if the focus we need is to create the smallest lists possible? To carve out what is deserving of our time and attention and leave everything else out of sight until needed. Really needed? Can there be power in having just one item on your list? Probably not, but thinking that way will likely help. Help, bring down the noise from distractions. Help let us think strategically about the Why?, What if? and How? Leading us to think strategically, not just tactically and be in control.

I’ve learned, but don’t always practice that there is one critical, often overlooked question that needs to be asked and answered in every small and large strategic planning process. It’s really tough. I try it and fail often, and I’ll bet you do too. Answered honestly, this question will always produce results. It’ll force you to take actions that have visible impact and show whether you are progressing in identifying the reasons why things won’t work and leveraging those insights to prioritize options and define action plans. The simple, magic question to ask: What am I/we not going to do? It whittles down your lists and leaves room to ask Why?, What if? and How? It leaves you time to give in to the wonderment of children who master the art of great questioning without trying! I hope you’ll put focus on how valuable your attention is.