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Planning Your Way Out of the No-Plan Cycle

What's the No-Plan Cycle? How can you avoid falling into its trap? And most importantly, if you've already fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole—how do you get back out?


Life is ironic in ways like this: in writing this article about the No-Plan Cycle, I unintentionally method acted (wrote?) my way through the No-Plan Cycle itself, just in case my years as a writer (and unwilling procrastinator) hadn’t already provided me with the experience necessary to write authoritatively on the subject (they did).

Despite the frustration, the exercise in irony did serve a grander purpose: it made sure the No-Plan Cycle was as fresh in my mind, and as realistic, as possible as I wrote about it.

But this little intro is worthless if you aren’t aware of what the No-Plan Cycle is, so allow me to introduce you (and only at three paragraphs in, no less. Not bad):

The No-Plan Cycle is the terror of every course developer ever. Okay, a little too existential of an explanation, got it. Here’s a more traditional explainer: the No-Plan Cycle is the series of unfortunate events that unfold when you set out to create the course of your dreams, and don’t have a plan in place. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: An Optimistic Start

Ah, the fleeting goodwill that accompanies the beginning of every project. The potential it has! For: money, fame, advancement, improvement, insert the accomplishment of your personal goals here, etc. For me, I was optimistic about accomplishing the most important thing an employee (and writer) can do: meet their deadline.

The problem with this, of course, is the fleeting part. The ultimate optimism killer? A lack of a plan. And so the cycle begins.

Step 2: Writing

Hey, that’s what I’m doing right now! Anyways, this step can come easily or hardly at all. Regardless, the question is: is any of it any good? (Or useable? Or relevant?). And it’s an important question, because that takes us to…

Step 3: Resistance #1

You could also call this crisis #1, if you prefer. Resistance #1 is the moment you begin to get lost in your own writing and knowledge.

It looks a little something like the voice in your head asking:

Should I include that information?

Is this information relevant?

Does my audience need to know that to achieve their learning goals?

Will they want to know that?

Is this section too long/too short/unnecessary?

Do I need to cut/add any sections?

What can I cut? All of it is important!

These are all really fantastic questions...and ideally ones you (and I) would’ve planned for before you just spent hours (days? weeks?) writing in Step 2…

Step 4: The Lull

You don’t have a plan to follow (sorry, I know we’ve definitely established that by now, but since it is the major point of this article, here you go again) and now you’re lost, frustrated, and confused about how to move forward. You’ve entered the lull stage. (If you’re still interested in my own struggles with the No-Plan Cycle as I wrote this article, here is where I ate a bag of chips.)

By this point, you’re ready to take a break, and now’s the time when the mistakes made in Steps 2 and 3 can cause some serious damage, usually in the form of a delay. (And you know what they say, time equals money, yadda yadda).

Steps 5 & 6: Writing #2 and Resistance #2

Alright, the lull is over! Except, you still don’t have a plan in place, so…let’s repeat steps 2 and 3 for steps 5 and 6.

You’re back to writing, but if you haven’t mapped out your content by now, you’re just going to encounter another resistance block, and inevitably another lull.

Here is where so many good courses (or articles) go to die. Unless of course, you’ve come to the most important step of the No-Plan Cycle:

Step 7: Realization

The realization that your course has gone off the rails and fallen out of alignment with your expectations, and those of your intended audience.

For me, it was the realization that I ought to at least try and plan out the comprehensible article (that will provide you both reading pleasure and knowledge) of my dreams, and not just smash my keyboard in an attempt to fill up the page (we’ve all done that, right? Right?) (Ginny, I promise that my goal is more often than not to produce the best possible work I’m capable of, and not just keysmash until I’ve met my deadline.)

Still, you’re not back on track yet. There are three possible outcomes that are born from this insightful realization (and only one of them is favorable):

Outcome 1: The Forced Finish

The first outcome is the forced finish. We’ve all been there: just getting something done for the sake of finishing it, even if we’re not happy with the final product.

Chances are very high that this type of outcome will result in low to no returns on your investments. You’ve also wasted a lot of your time, energy, and money, and quite possibly torpedoed your reputation by putting out and promoting a sub-standard product.

(Thankfully, I did not go down this route after my own revelatory realization.)

Outcome 2: The Toxic Stall

This outcome is where everything has become so convoluted it’s impossible to move forward and so, you just quit. While this outcome isn’t nearly as damaging as the forced finish, it’s still a massive waste of your time, energy, money, (and potential).

(I didn’t go with Outcome 2, either, as evidenced by the fact that this article has (hopefully) been published and you’re (hopefully) reading it by now).

Outcome 3: Pause to Plan (with Chalk and Tablet’s help)

Finally, the good outcome (and the one I happily decided to go with)! Taking a break with the intention of creating a plan is the best possible way to break from the No-Plan Cycle.

The key to making your plan work, and to minimize any further potential wasted time and money, is to strategize your planning. That’s where Chalk and Tablet comes in.

Through C&T’s Course Analysis and Mapping Process (CAMP), the No-Plan Cycle can be fixed (or averted altogether!) through our four simple, efficient, and effective steps. We will help you prepare and plan for your course from start to finish by taking you through each of the four steps:

  1. Estimating your course length

  2. Drafting effective learning objectives

  3. Brainstorming and outlining content chunks

  4. Defining, analyzing, and refining your content template

If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into our No-Plan Cycle busting process, make sure to pre-register for C&T’s CAMP here!


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