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Gardens, Birds, Businesses, and Strategic Planning

My garden, such as it is, is currently carpeted with fallen leaves from the great Valley Oak that stands at its edge. This rust-colored carpet shines with the night’s rain and calls to me, reminding me of chores to be done. Although part of me sees a comforting blanket that protects my sleeping garden from what cold we experience here, another part of me sees the stalwart heads of a few hardy plants that peek out from beneath their covers and hears them calling, “Don’t forget about us!”

My favorite activity of a Sunday morning is to take my cup of coffee to the rocking chair next to the patio doors in my office and sit and drink my coffee and look at my garden while listening to the Acoustic Sunrise on a local radio station (you can stream it online at After I finish my coffee I will often move on to a mimosa, my Sunday Morning Indulgence.

I love to sit here and watch morning come to my garden and the neighborhood around it, painting the neighborhood trees and the surrounding hills with gold. Eventually the sun peeks through and over the privacy fence around my secret garden and walks across it like the sun through the peepholes at Stonehenge.

Unless, of course, it is a grey day like today, and clouds paint the hills and kiss the trees.

I sit and observe, and contemplate. I watch the birds – house finches and Anna’s hummingbirds are regular visitors, joined by a circus train whose troupes change with the seasons. Right now we have chickadees and white crowned sparrows, but at other times we will have tufted titmice, goldfinches (they always make me smile), and the occasional ruby crowned kinglet, who does not like seeing his reflection in the mirror hanging on the fence. He puffs up his ruby crown and struts back and forth along the back of the bench before the mirror, trying to impress his rival.

I make notes – the bird feeder needs to be cleaned and refilled, the basket of nesting materials can come down, I need to make more hummingbird nectar.

I sit, and rest, and contemplate, and wonder…and plan.

I sit, and rest, and contemplate, and wonder. And consider, and plan. What task shall I tackle first? Is it time to prune roses and cut back the grasses yet? I must remember to make cuttings from the rose geranium. Should I pull out the skeleton of my beloved hardenbergia that mysteriously dropped its leaves this fall (it is normally evergreen, with glorious purple flower clusters in January, but this January it is bare), or should I wait until Spring and see if it comes back with some fertilizer and pruning? What if it doesn’t come back? With what should I fill the gap it leaves? And so on, with variations with the seasons.

I go through a similar process each week around my business when I prepare my new to-do list for the week. As with any garden, I know I can never get to everything that needs to be done, so I must prioritize. What must be done? What will wither and die if neglected too long? What do I do just for the joy of it, and what do I do because I must? Do I put the Joy items on the to-do list, validating the Joy, or steal time for them?

I think some businesses (and jobs) are like low-maintenance yards, requiring only weekly mowing and semi-annual fertilization and hedge-trimming. Maybe some weed pulling. Others are like gardens with plants that come in and out of season, crops that are planted, harvested and replaced, and projects like container plantings that are freestanding and portable. The workshop I am planning – it will initially be a potted plant, but if it thrives I will be able to propagate it and perhaps move it to a permanent spot in the garden. The e-book is like strawberries that will need the right setup and fertilization and attention to get started but will be ever bearing and low-maintenance once established.

There is a difference between making a to-do list and strategic planning.

Strategic planning is like that. But there is a difference between making a to-do list and strategic planning. I can put “pull weeds” and “transplant begonias” on the to-do list, but if I never stop to look at the big picture of how things fit together and whether these little tasks are helping me achieve my larger goals, then I will just have a pleasant mishmash. What do I want my garden to look like? It’s about having a vision, and then making a plan to make it so, and then monitoring to make sure the tasks on my to-do list – and their results – are in alignment with that plan. Strategic planning requires that I pause to observe, listen and take stock, with a realistic appraisal of resources, and with frequent reassessments. Otherwise all I can see are the trees, not the forest.

Each of us can – must – assess where we are and what we are doing.

It doesn’t matter whether you are even a manager or a business owner: Each of us can – must – assess where we are and what we are doing. There are things we can control, even if we cannot control the weather or the seasons.

Strategic planning is that simple, but it can be bewildering if you’re new to it or feeling stuck. Don’t worry – even the best gardeners consult with someone else at times.

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