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Planning Buddies

by Doug Lipman

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Storytelling Coach Newsletter.


Storytellers, like other people, tend to let their most important goals get swallowed by daily but less important demands.

A "planning buddy" is one kind of helper, with a single purpose: to remind the storyteller to integrate the storyteller's long-term goals into daily life.

Most planning buddies talk in person or on the phone once or twice a month, spending half the decided time on each person. Of course, another arrangement may make sense for you.

What follows is the "job description" for a planning buddy.

What's my goal?

Your goal as a planning buddy is to help the storyteller.

You help by letting the storyteller do two things:

  • report on progress made so far
  • make a revised plan for the next period of time.

How often do we meet?

Most often, planning buddies meet (in person or on the phone) about once a month.

This gives the teller enough time to accomplish some tasks, but not enough to lose track of any undone tasks.

But it's up to the teller to decide how long she/he needs before talking to you again.

What do I do?

If you are a storyteller's Planning Buddy, call up the storyteller at the appointed time.

Have these things ready:

  • a pencil and paper
  • notes from any previous meetings or calls.
In the conversation, there are five main points to cover.

Don't forget, though, that your job is to help, even if you have to change the order or leave some points out.

Sometimes, it's most helpful just to listen while someone "thinks aloud." Follow the storyteller's lead. At the same time, you can gently, patiently keeping the conversation on track.

Point 1. Review the goals and tasks

First, briefly review the storyteller's vision and goals, just to remind you both why the teller wants to do the current tasks.

For example, you might say (making reference to your notes from previous statements by the teller):

Just to set the context, this is all part of your vision of a thriving storytelling movement. Your goals toward that vision include helping people coach each other effectively, and establishing yourself as a wandering storytelling coach. Your sub-goals to achieve both these goals include making a video about coaching storytellers. That's what the current tasks all relate to. Is that still right?

Then, unless this is the first call, review the current tasks.

For example, you might say,

So, Doug, I'm checking in about the things you planned to do this month. You had mentioned some calls about video duplication prices, and you were going to make a budget and try to find an editing studio. Is that the same list you had?
Be ready to take notes on the storyteller's response. Keep track of any changes to the list. After a time, if necessary, remind the teller of any other items from the list the teller might not have confirmed.

Point 2. What's already done?

Ask the storyteller which things from the list are already done.

Don't be concerned if the teller mixes together the done and the undone; just check off what's done and note what remains to be accomplished.

If the teller seems discouraged about her/his progress, it might help to point out the teller's achievements.

For example, you might say,

So, you found out who to call about editing studios. Now, at least you know exactly who to call for your next step.

Point 3. Decide the fate of undone items

For each item (if any) that the teller meant to do but didn't, help the teller make one of the following decisions:

  • decide not to do it.
    The vision, the goals, or something else may have changed, rendering the item not worth doing.

  • decide to keep the item on the list for next time, just as it is.
    This would make sense if there was a one-time-only reason that it didn't get done.
    For example, the other items might just have taken longer than expected, or there might have been a family crisis or other event that took up unexpected time.

  • decide to change the item, or to postpone it until another item is done first.
    For example, the teller might say:
    Actually, I realize now that I can't make a budget for the video until I know more about the cost of an editing studio. For this month, I need to focus on learning about editing studios. I can do a budget next month.

  • decide to get additional help for doing the item.
    If the teller didn't do the task, this might be a sign that the teller needs
    • someone to do it with him/her
    • help defining the item more specifically, or even
    • someone to do it for the teller.

Point 4. Revise the list of items to be done

Ask the teller, "Are there any new things that it makes sense to do at this time?"

After writing down any new items and crossing off any that were done or eliminated, read back the revised list.

5. Set up another date

This seems simple, but it's the most important part of the conversation. It's easy to say, "Oh, let's talk early next month," and then never call. I'd recommend making a much more specific arrangement, such as,

I'll be home Wednesday, June 12, all evening until about 10:30. You'll call me sometime after 8pm.

If you can't make a specific arrangment now for some reason, make a definite plan to decide on an appointment date at a later time.

For example, you might say,

Okay, you don't know yet if you'll be out of town next month. Let's talk next Tuesday morning, once you know whether our next meeting should be in June or July.

Is there anything else?

Once you've completed these five steps, you might ask the teller if she/he needs anything else from you.

If desired, you can also ask for feedback about your role
For example, you might ask, "Did I give you the kind of help you wanted?"

If you need anything, this might be a time to ask for it, e.g., "It would help me if next time we could be sure to end on time. My family expects me to join them promptly for dinner."

It may be helpful to end with appropriate appreciations of the storyteller, such as: "It's clear to me that you've been sticking with this project!" Or, "I believe in your vision, and the video still seems to me like a good way to make your vision happen. I look forward to hearing about it next month!" Above all, keep in mind how valuable this job is to the teller. Being a planning buddy may seem at times to be focussed on details, but you've actually helped the storyteller keep her/his attention on desired goals that might otherwise get overwhelmed in the details of daily life.

You're helping the teller live the life that the teller wants to live!


For more information about the use and support of helpers, see these additional resources:

Article: "The Secret of Life Is Getting Help" Copyright © Doug Lipman

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2003 Doug Lipman