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Why do we love to talk about goals and plans, but struggle a great deal with shutting off the distractions and actually doing the work?
Planning is overrated. Planning can be a hindrance to reaching goals. Have you noticed? The bigger the goal, the more elaborate your research and resource gathering to build a plan. The blowback on planning is irritation with yourself that instead of making any progress, you wasted more time on procrastination.
Why am I thinking about this now? My mailbox is filling up with free calendars for 2024 and pitches for journals and software to help me increase productivity. What makes them think I’m not prolific in my daily production and life experiences?
It may be that others are struggling through this. Perhaps some of them are gifted professionals and communicators. Perhaps they could use a bright flash of reality to release them from the guilt of not planning.
When do you need a plan?
Anything major that has more than 100 details needs both a plan and more than you. It needs a team, support system, or network.
Major events that need plans include weddings, births of additional humans in your family, deaths with estate plans, the first five years of a new business, an annual convention, and the NASA Artemis mission. But you, the individual and professional—what do you need? You need to do the hard things first. Scott Allan and many others have written extensively about this, so we know it works.
During the first half of my life, I was a mindful productivity fanatic. I spent way too much money on planning notebooks, refills, binders, software, seminars, and executive coaches. If you are one of those professionals, you can stop it, immediately. Realize that time spent in planning is time you never get back for living, taking walks, having deep conversations during a shared meal, and investing in friendships and people who matter.
Aimlessness is the Enemy
If you stop planning and spend some time with yourself, answering the tough questions, then the rest gets easier. Your lack of direction happens when you don’t have clear values. This is not a long list. It’s fewer than five things. It could be love, family, play, or crowd applause. Whatever it is, it has to be the truth or you are blowing more time you’ll never get back just fibbing to yourself.
When you die, someone will struggle to write your eulogy. That is the essence of you. It’s not an obituary. It’s not what you did. It’s who you were in terms that are clearly understood by those who loved you long and those who never knew you, but now wish they had. That’s what we mean by values.
A simple framework and 3×5 card will serve you better
Each day that you wake up and get one more day on Earth, you know what you need to do. It’s on your mind already and comes to you through the collective experience of all of the days and conversations before this moment. In the beginning minutes of the day, with that first cup of coffee or water, I put on a 3×5 card the following words: Start each line with a verb and describe what you’ll have at the end of one hour. Do that five or six times. That’s it. That’s all that is important and that’s all you will get done today if you do what you just wrote.
At the end of the day, toss the card. Tomorrow you might get another chance and another card. Be grateful and generous with others if you get another day and another card. Make sure your clothing has at least one pocket because the card goes with you all day. It’s more important than your cell phone.
Because the gifted mind wants to overthink everything, here’s further relief from anxiety. Try this simple framework to see if you end up doing more and feeling great about yourself:
Make one verb and item about a project you want to complete without too many delays or detours.
Make one verb and item about a relationship you want to keep—maybe enhance.
Make one verb and item about your physical well-being, such as nutrition, exercise, or brain health.
Make another verb about romance, adventure, spirituality, or anything that makes you feel unconditionally.
Make another verb and item about another project that keeps you financially safe.
You can stop here or make one more. Six is all you’ll get done, no matter what you’re telling yourself.
Do the hard things first.