Planning the approach

Planning is one of those funny things, it is possible to plan so minutely that you never get anything done and it is also possible to just forge ahead blindly wasting effort and missing opportunities due to total lack of planning. Somewhere in between is a good place to aim for!

If there has been one spill-over between my working and home life, it has been an increase in the planning that we do. In my work I am required to develop detailed yearly plans in consultation with a variety of different groups and while, for many years, I plugged on regardless and still got things done, I have found the planning exercise valuable in making my efforts more effective. That is why it is the second article on this site after the first one about the “why are we doing this…..?”.

People differ in the level of planning that they are comfortable with, so I am going to show you a relatively simple technique which can then lead into a more involved and detailed process. Whichever technique you use it pays to involve everyone in the planning process who will be affected by the things that you will be doing. By including the differing perspectives of your household the resulting plan will be more rounded and effective as well as ensuring buy-in to the plan from the people involved. They will have some ownership of the resulting plan and will be more likely to assist you in carrying it out (or at least less likely to hinder you!). Even kids can add their unique viewpoint and once committed they will add considerable enthusiasm, and even fun, to the project.

The Simple Process – Using the Sustainable Lifestyle Assessment Matrix or SLAM

The SLAM is a tool to help you work out the level of sustainability of your current lifestyle and then, based on the information developed, put together a plan to achieve a greater level of sustainability.

The matrix contains a series of seven environmental sustainability values (some with sub-values) down the left had side of the page with six degrees (level 0 to 5) of compliance or actions across the top. For the intersection of each value and action level, there is a paragraph stating what it would look like. Also up the top is a colour coding from white to deep green, this is a qualitative rating on your level of sustainability. Both numbers and colours are not something to get worked up about, just tools to help you measure your progress as your sustainability level increases. You could use them to develop an objective if you want to go that way eg “our household will be fully ‘mid green’ by the end of the year” etc. It can also be a bit of fun, if anybody questions your green credentials you can whip out the completed SLAM, wave it in front of their face and show them the process to back up your conclusions. That’ll learn ‘em!

A section of the SLAM

  1. Get the people you want involved in the planning process together and give them each a copy of the matrix.
  2. Discuss each value (eg We Make the Most of the Water We Have) and/or sub-value (eg water use) and decide as a group where on the scale most accurately reflects your current household situation.
  3. Circle or otherwise mark each paragraph which you decide describes where you are currently for that value/sub-value then repeat the process until you have “current situation” mark for each value on the sheet.
  4. Once you have completed this first part, you can average the numbers for each value to give you a number less than 5
  5. Then, using a different colour pen, mark the paragraph for each value which reflects where you want to be. This then becomes the basis for your plan.
  6. While you need go no further if you feel this is sufficient, it is worthwhile developing up a series of steps or actions which you agree with your people will take you from where you are now, to where you want to be.
  7. You can then put down a time-frame for achieving each action and who will be involved. You should regularly review your plan with your “team” to ensure that you are meeting the targets that you have set yourself.

Example of marking where you are now

If you want to you can then put down a time-frame for achieving each new level and who will be involved. You should regularly review your plan with your “team” to ensure that you are meeting the targets that you have set yourself.

To help you gather good data before you start your planning you might want to carry out one or more of the following more detailed audits:

all will give you good information to help you plan and measure your success and the results for each can be incorporated in your master plan.


The Detailed Plan – Conducting a SWOT Analysis

Conducting a SWOT (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities and Threats) analysis enables a more comprehensive and detailed plan to be drawn up by analysing the factors working for and against achieving the objective and how they may be maximised or mitigated against.

The Objective

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to develop your objective and for the purposes of this exercise it is assumed that it will revolve around improving the level of sustainability of your lifestyle, although it may have other aspects such as saving money, increasing self reliance or living more simply which you wish to include. Whatever the case the objective should be concise and reflect the desired state you wish to attain and have input from all of the people who will be involved in achieving it.

The SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis helps to identify and summarise the positive influences and aspects of your internal and external environment that help you work towards achieving your goal as well as the negative influences and aspects, both external and internal that work against you achieving you goal. This may be illustrated by the diagram below –















The analysis should always be related back to the objective that you have chosen and involve all of the people who will be affected by the work you will be doing.

Terms in Use

Internal – Something which is under your control or the control of your group or family such as a skill which a member has or an action which you could be carrying out to make your group or family more sustainable but are currently not.

External – External to your group or family, something which may be imposed from outside such as government regulation or change in climate. It is something which you do not have control over but can respond to.

Strengths – These are the abilities of you and your people and the attributes of your lifestyle/house/yard/car or stuff that supports the achieving of your objective of living more simply and sustainably.

Weaknesses - These are the attributes of your people and lifestyle that work against achieving your objective of living more simply and sustainably.

Opportunities – these are the conditions external to your lifestyle such as government regulations, neighbours or the economy that favours improving the sustainability of your lifestyle.

Threats – these are the conditions external to your lifestyle that work against improving the sustainability of your lifestyle.

To illustrate matters, here are the results of a SWOT analysis that I conducted with my family recently -





· 10,000l water storage

· We grow our own food

· Alternative electricity system

· Location (walking distance to services)

· We can bake our bread

· We have an extensive library

· Fruit trees are producing

· Solar hot water system is in place

· Make our own soap

· Have bikes

· The chooks

· Solar cookers

· Don’t use the stored water as well as we could

· Sewing skills need to be improved

· House needs repair (eg kitchen, bathroom and gutters)

· Don’t make/use own washing powder, soap and other cleaning products

· Not buying products in bulk

· Don’t use bikes

· Excess produce is wasted

· Don’t use solar cooker as much as we could

· Composting toilet not in place


· Rebate on solar electricity

· Other government rebates on sustainability improvements\

· New public transport link

· Loosing job

· Knock-backs from council

· Economic downturn

· Reduction in interest rate

· Stock market downturn

· Kids not doing well

· Getting sick

· Lack of support system

· Vet bills

When writing down elements in your SWOT analysis, stick to things that you can have an influence over. An asteroid striking the earth is certainly a threat, but not necessarily something that you would take into account for your everyday plans (unless perhaps your objective is “Survive asteroid strike”!). When you are using the SLAM, any values that come out a “0” should be written in the “Weaknesses” square and any values that you score a number for should be written in the “strengths” square.

In each box, pick the three (or one or five – pick a number that makes sense to you and you will have the resources to address, you can see I like odd numbers here….) highest priorities. Don’t get too hung up about working out your highest priorities, it is better to get started rather than get hung up in involved conversations about what to do first and not do anything.

Having selected your priority items it is time to phrase actions around them to achieve them, the idea is –

For Strengths – how can you maximise them, capitalise on them use them to get the most out of them?
For Weaknesses – how can you work on them to improve them so they are no longer weaknesses?
For Opportunities – how can you make the most of them to gain the outcome that you want?
For Threats – what can you put in place to mitigate their effects if they should happen?

Taking examples of this from our SWOT analysis –

If the strength is that we grow our own food, what do we have to put in place so that we can make sure we get the most out of it? The action may be a commitment to eat out less and cook at home more or to review our planting plan to make sure we are planting enough of what we like to eat with less emphasis on marginal or experimental foods.

If the weakness is not making and using our cleaning products the actions might be –

  • Review our cupboards to find out what cleaners we actually use;
  • Get the formulations, information, containers and ingredients to make ones to replace what we already use,
  • Set aside the time to go through and make the replacements, then
  • Use them!

If the opportunity is the government rebate on solar panels the actions may be to investigate what we need to do to qualify, then to save up the money for a grid connected solar system.

If the threat is losing a job then the actions may be around stocking up, reducing our outgo, getting out of debt and saving up a nest egg or sucking up to the boss – the usual stuff.

The Action Plan

So now you have decided on your priority items and what you are going to do about it, it is time to put together your action plan. This may be as simple or as complicated as you like but generally will have the elements what, who and when.

In the “What” column you record the actions that you wish to carry out to achieve you objective, this may be a single action or there may be a number of sub-actions required to complete the main action. Again the main thing is to include as much detail as you are comfortable with and remember that crossing off a number of sub-actions each time you review the plan can be very satisfying and motivate you to achieve more.

The “Who” column is where the names or initials of the people involved are recorded. If the plan is just for you then this part will be very straightforward! If you are lucky enough to have a number of people involved in your project then it is important to spread the love around and give everyone a chance to participate. Usually some will be more enthusiastic than others, but try to get everyone involved in at least one action.

The “When” column is used to record the date when you would like to have a particular action completed by. If it is completed early that is fine, but the when date represents the last point at which the action should be done. There is a bit of an art to spreading out the actions so you don’t get everything coming due on one date, and setting it up so that actions are completed in the correct order so the flow is right. Generally you can set your highest priorities to be achieved first but if you have longer term goals which require money or approval of some type (from the council or other government body or even higher authority – the spouse!) it may be better to also set up some shorter term actions so that you can feel that you are achieving something.

Below is an example extracted from our action plan –




Review our cupboards to find out what cleaners we actually use


May 13

Get the formulations, information, containers and ingredients to make ones to replace what we already use,


June 13

Set aside the time to go through and make the replacements

Linda & Nev

August 13

Use them


Sept 13

You may also want to include a “How Much” column when you are planning for a number of actions that will require specific amounts of cash to achieve.


Now that the action plan is in place it is time to implement it, or basically run around doing what you said you were going to do in the plan! One of the problems with action plans is that sometimes we think the work is done when it is in place and forget to actually go out and achieve anything. That is why it is important to set up a regular review of the plan to make sure we are moving forward.

Reviews should include all participants who were present for the development of the plan or at the very least everyone who was allocated an action during the period since the plan was developed or last reviewed. How often you review is up to you – long enough between reviews so that actions can be completed but short enough so that if they are not, it can be picked up in time to do something about it. If you are developing your plan for the next 12 months, as a guide you should hold quarterly reviews.

Then it all starts again!

Once all the actions in the plan have been completed, or at least the actions we can complete have been completed, remember that circumstances change some parts of the plan may become obsolete or impossible before they are completed, it is back to square one.

Review the SLAM to chart how you have improved and then review the SWOT analysis to take note of things that have changed. Take the time to celebrate your wins with your group and then also take some time to analyse any failures… that have those failures taught you? Then the process begins again by picking your priority items and developing a new action plan.

Blank SWOT analysis and Action Plan forms can be downloaded here

Other  artcles about planning you may be interested in:

Planning in the Kitchen

Planning in the veggie patch

Planning for Retrenchment

Be one of the first to get your hands on davids latest work. Pre-order your copy before the launch on February 10 at SLF Melb.

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