One of the most dangerous mindsets for productivity is the belief that you are too busy to plan. Nothing could be more damaging to achieving your goals than not having a plan. A popular refrain goes “A goal without a plan is merely a wish.” A plan is the bridge that turns your goals into reality.
When you say you do not have time to plan, what you are really saying is:
Your goal is not important enough for you to take the time to write down the steps needed to achieve it.
You do not have any priorities therefore you might as well not commit to anything.
You are willing to let others dictate what you will work on during the week.
One of the easiest things in life is to do nothing. No challenges mean no reward and no fear of failure. It is possible to get by in life without being concerned about the future. Making decisions only when circumstances compel you to and reacting to situations only when you don’t have the choice of staying idle. For a long time in humanity’s history, people were only concerned about being able to feed themselves and surviving. As long as that need was met, they were happy. While that life still remains the norm in many parts of the world, including where I come from, as conditions of living continue to improve, people will seek other ways to find fulfilment.
It seems counterproductive to suggest you should not spend too much time planning for the future. Productivity is all about making plans and breaking them down into as many small steps as possible so you can follow through. Let me make it clear that I am not saying you should stop making plans and just wing it. I’d never do it and I’d never ask you to try that too.
There is such a thing as a planning horizon though. If you plan too far ahead into the future, you are more likely to be wrong. Experts tend to agree that a planning horizon beyond two weeks is likely to be wrong. Most people have a pretty good idea where they will be for the rest of the week but don’t do so well when trying to predict where they will be a month or two from now. Life throws up so many complications and unexpected events that you are likely to be wrong. An extreme example of this happened early this year. People made plans. The pandemic wrecked those plans.
The secret to having a productive week is simple: Plan your week in advance. A lot of people spend the weekends having fun and resting. That’s OK. Taking time to rest is an essential part of staying productive. However, taking 15 minutes every Sunday evening to plan your week can give your life much needed direction.
Make a list of the tasks you wish to accomplish during the week. Assign those tasks to the days you intend to work on them. That’s it.
It is likely that your long term goal has some very large numbers in it. Suppose your goal was to write a novel. According to quora, the average novel has 5,300 sentences. I will be generous and round that up to a nice 6,000. The thought of writing 6,000 sentences is enough to give most people pause and stop them from ever getting started.
“Don’t tempt me with that delicious cake. I’m on a diet.”
“So what? You can always start over tomorrow.”
“But this is the fourth time this year.”
Something I wrote to make a point
It’s easy to start a task. People do it all the time. At the beginning of each year, people start writing novels only to give up after a few weeks. Some start exercising or dieting but lose their resolve after a few days and revert to their old habits. Building a new habit is just like a marathon. Many people will be at the starting line. Some will drop out after some time. A few will actually cross the finish line.
Most people make resolutions and plans in good faith. They actually want to improve their capacity or get more done. The problem lies in their mindset. They believe just wanting it should be enough. They make the plans and create the checklists. So far, so good. Now, if they could only actually start and keep doing it. It’s not easy to make a commitment to do every important task on your to-do list when due. There will be days when you encounter resistance.
Goals are meant to help you grow. In order for growth to happen, there must be change. Therefore, an ideal goal should be one that changes you. It’s normal to fear change. There is comfort in staying within the known. That is why you will always find proponents of this is the way it has always been done philosophy. However, if you seek to become a better version of you over time, you must learn to set goals that:
Challenge you to improve
The ideal goal is one that is just beyond your comfort zone. It should be tough enough that you can’t get it done without trying just a little bit harder but not so tough enough that you lose hope and give up. Picture it this way. If you were teaching a four year old how to be a goalkeeper and kept kicking the ball towards him with all your strength, that child will soon give up football (if you don’t damage him first). The ideal thing to do will be to kick the ball towards the child with just enough force that the child can find it fun and actually react to. If it’s too easy, the child will get bored. If it’s just challenging enough, the child will want to try harder. If it’s too hard, the child will give up and cry.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, a lot of people are still working from home. If you have failed to put in place a system for keeping track of the hours you clock in while working from home, you might find yourself working longer hours than you used to yet still achieving less. People have told me they have attended back to back online meetings all day. On the surface, this looks like a productive day but if all they did was attend meetings, when are they supposed to work on their important tasks. No one is hired to attend meetings.
How are you holding up? If you are still alive and healthy, that’s a lot to be thankful for this year. The pandemic is still ongoing and different places are adapting to it differently. Earlier in the year, you probably had to accept the painful reality that you are no longer on track to achieve your goals. No one was prepared for the pandemic. It was a lot to take in.
Not all people and industries adapted fast enough. Some were able to come up with ways to ensure they continued working. Many teams had to learn to work from home. The transition has not always been easy and some people do not have the luxury of being able to do that. If you have found a way to continue working remotely, that’s great.
We all had great plans for 2020. We all had things we wanted to accomplish. We wrote them down and got started. Then the pandemic got in the way. A lot of our plans had to be shelved. We had to deal with the fear of a disease that no one had a cure for. We had to adjust to new ways of working. We also had to adjust our priorities. We reviewed what was most important in our lives and came to appreciate the security having a roof over your head, food to eat, healthcare and the ability to continue working from home provided.
It doesn’t always require a pandemic to disrupt our goals. However, the coronavirus pandemic provides a very good example of how activities outside our control can affect our ability to achieve our goals. At some point this year, you probably had to shelve old plans and make new ones. Even without a life changing event such as a pandemic, there will always be constraints to some of your goals. Being aware of them can help you set more meaningful goals in your life.