January 10, 2017
The Importance of Planning [Practically Speaking]
I wrote previously about the importance of planning and gave 5 simple reasons why planning is critically important. Since I wrote that article I’ve received hundreds of comments on the topic and thousands of views. Clearly this is a topic that people are interested in. As I re-read the article though I discovered something was missing. Practical application. Yes, there is definitely a need for having solid reasons why planning is important, but there’s also a great deal of usefulness found in applying those reasons to everyday life and identifying how that planning can be put into practice. In this short article I’d like to give you a follow-up 5 ways that you can implement planning in your daily routine and through your actions demonstrate why planning is important for success.
Practical Step One: Keep a Journal
Previously I wrote about the importance of writing out goals. I’ll touch on this more in a future point when we look at setting daily goals. In this first practical step though I want to encourage you to begin keeping a journal. There is tremendous value in writing down your thoughts, your ideas, and your feelings. Ooh, did that last one get you? Not everyone like to write down feelings. In fact I understand it can be quite challenging to be honest with yourself and actually make your feelings ‘real’ by putting them in writing. This is a very important process. Journaling is in fact critically important to your planning process. Let me explain. By putting your ideas and thoughts down on paper you are keeping a log of your days and your time. What better way to plan your future than to have a record of your past and present.
Still not understanding? Think about it like this. The next time you start to make a plan and you have a question about the feasibility of your idea, or your timeframe, imagine you’re able to glance back in your journal and see how long something similar took you in the past. You could see your idea as it unfolded, your feelings about the process and a realistic idea of how long it took you to accomplish (or abandon) the idea. In this way your past directly influences your future and advises your planning.
I recently discovered the Best Self Journal. It has some excellent features which allow you to do all of the above and even some things I’ll touch on later in this post. I don’t recommend many products directly but I’ve found this journal to be incredibly helpful. Have you found a journal that works particularly well? I’d love to hear about it!
As this relates to time and a daily routine we can easily move into our second point for daily applications of planning.
Practical Step Two: Maintain Your Calendar
The second step I would recommend when it comes to the importance of planning and what that looks like in a daily routine is maintaining your calendar. The best way to prepare, to plan, is to be organized and intentional with your time. Schedule your days and your meetings. Be specific in what you want to accomplish throughout your day.
I remember once reading that Warren Buffett never scheduled meetings more than 24 hours in advance. He did so because of the very real possibility of schedules changing and things becoming less relevant the farther away they are scheduled. Obviously this is a bit of an extreme on one end of the spectrum but it proves an interesting point which we’ll discuss in in practical step #5 below.
For now I would suggest a more balanced approach. Rather than no schedule (or a one-day schedule) maybe look at a weekly calendar. I’ve personally found that anything longer than that tends to make the meeting and the information shared less relevant. If it’s important then make it happen. Maintaining your calendar and prioritizing your time is critically important in your planning process.
Practical Step Three: Organize Your Email
The third practical step in planning to implement on a daily basis involves that dreaded disaster, the maelstrom of messages. You guessed it – your inbox. Ugh, I have no doubt we all struggle with email organization. I’ve seen innumerable methodologies and processes for achieving what some like to call “inbox zero”. If you’re unfamiliar this is the state where your email inbox holds zero messages. And this state is not achieved because you mass delete them all. No, every email is to be processed, responded to, tagged or tucked into a folder. While this is certainly one method of inbox organization I don’t believe it’s the only one.
My email is one of the central ways I plan and organize my life. I use my email as my brain in many ways. What that means is for me I appreciate having my emails present in one place (the inbox) and easy to scroll through. For me this works well. I can jog my memory about tasks to complete, people to contact or meetings to schedule (see Practical Step #2 above). As a result of this way of using email it’s not helpful for me to have a zero message inbox state. What is far far more important is to have a zero unread message state. That means my emails may continue to live in my inbox, I may flag some as important to make sure they catch my eye later, but I don’t archive them all. Sure, I will archive irrelevant messages, delete the junk ones, but many will continue to live in my inbox. The important thing is they are read. I have reviewed the contents and am aware of each message.
I understand this method might not work for you either. The important thing to consider is not the exact method you use, but rather that you use a method. Keeping an organized email inbox means you are in control of your thinking and your time. You are actively planning how you respond to people and how you manage your time.
I know I’m going long on this point but since email is such a major part of our lives I feel the need to mention one last practical point. Don’t let email control you. By keeping an organized email system you are planning your email time effectively and ultimately planning your life more productively. Don’t spend your days in your email. Keep it organized, plan your approach, and be intentional about it.
Practical Step Four: Set Daily Goals
The fourth point involved in practical daily planning involves setting daily goals. I briefly touched on this earlier when we discussed maintaining a calendar (and even a bit with the journal).
The thing I love about these practical steps is how they are intertwined and connected. Each of these daily, intentional items work together to make your planning better and your success inevitable. They are important.
The journal I mentioned previously gives a great daily layout which includes a spot for daily goals. This is a fantastic way to organize and plan what you would like to accomplish TODAY.
The idea of daily goals is a very fun and practical way of implementing planning. With daily goals it’s easy to see success or failure. Over time your goal-setting will become better and better and you’ll find yourself becoming an expert in knowing what is capable of being accomplished in a day. The more you know abut your own abilities the better your planning becomes. This may well be the most practical and easy-to-understand point from this entire list. Setting daily achievable goals directly demonstrates the importance of planning. Set. Achieve. Replicate.
Practical Step Five: Build In A Buffer
The final practical step I want to share with you relating to the importance of planning through practical application involves building in a buffer. Don’t be so incredibly strict in your planning that you fail to plan for the unexpected. Life is unpredictable. Humans are by their very nature prone to fluctuation and last-minute changes. If you plan too meticulously you’ll end up failing miserably.
Building a buffer into your planning allows you to be flexible and still achieve everything you have planned. Since this is practically speaking here’s what that buffer might look like:
- Allow for extra time between your meetings on your calendar. Don’t schedule things so tightly that you have no time for delays in a meeting. Have you ever been in an entire day of meetings without a single delay? I doubt it.
- Plan extra time for your journaling. Some days the words will flow and others will be a struggle. Again, scheduling things too tightly will lead to a higher stress level and a less creative approach.
- Even your daily goals should have a buffer. As you look at your goals for a day and how they relate to your work week, consider how these may shift from day-to-day. Don’t build up a domino chain where a single failure will make your entire week unsuccessful.
As I hope you can see these are five practical ways to demonstrate the importance of planning through your daily routines. Putting these items into practice each day won’t guarantee you success but will absolutely demonstrate the importance of planning. You will quickly see the results from these real-life simple steps. The importance of planning is something you absolutely should not neglect and I look forward to hearing your stories about how these steps help you take a more intentional and planned approach to your work and ultimately your life.