“Failing to plan is planning to fail”
In every person’s life, there is a number of behaviors that they know are healthy but are not followed. So there is a “must” that is more or less attached for certain actions, because “this is the right thing to do”. The most frequent and socially acceptable excuses for which these do not happen are: “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have money” and “I will do it later”. The most frequent truths but socially harder to accept, are: “I don’t know”, “I don’t want to learn”, “I don’t care” and “I’m not in the mood”.
So, although it is correct that we don’t have enough resources to do all that we think we should do, it is just as correct that each of us obtains satisfaction and results that are perfectly proportional to the way we manage the resources we have.
One of the most wrongly understood behaviors and one of the disciplines required for success, objectively speaking, is planning. Those who have even tangentially worked in the economic field know that there is no business without planning. Scalping can be achieved without planning, but business can’t. Each has their own experience related to the way planning could be rendered into real behaviors. At a certain time, it even becomes something that should somehow go without saying. However, in my consultancy activity, I am surprised (stunned) to find how many professionals, who are good at what they do, have no idea about what planning really implies, and are under the impression that it is a terrifying boring activity, that sucks the energy from life satisfaction, and turns those who enforce it into robots, while the plans they make are very likely to go down the drain because “something unpredicted” always occurs that changes their plans.
There are many reasons why so many people are unable to plan. For instance, it may be because they haven’t learned from their own experience how to enforce a functional theory. In this article, I will only deal with a few of the most frequent myths, and I will offer practical attitudes to be considered so that you would have a realistic and functional image of planning.
Most often, planning seems to be a habit that may be delegated to an application, software, secretary or a specialist. The problem is that, if we do this without understanding what it implies and without the incoming data which is offered to the application/software/secretary/specialist to be sufficiently customized and complete, the results will, most likely, be disappointing.
Planning is similar to the process of using a map for setting a route on land. In order to get to the target, to the objective, to the desired results, we need two alternative states and activities: a planning activity and an implementation activity. Similarly, when we produce written material, we need two states: creativity and criticism. However, the map that people set is often unrelated to the reality that obliges us to accept painful truths, but to the ideal world that we believe we must get to.
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Most likely, if they knew what they “signed up for”, i.e. if they knew the territory, they probably wouldn’t even start. Ignorance can often be a preference in order to act and become motivated by the wasted efforts spent, which have not been recorded along the way rather than achieving a target that seems more and more remote.
One of the virtues of planning, applied even by the best strategists, is planning backup resources for what is conventionally referred to as “contingent”. For instance, Brian Tracy recommends that you only plan half of the available time. How? You set, for example, a timetable of tasks or meetings between which you spread buffer intervals or backup intervals. In case one of the tasks/meetings lasts longer, it will occupy the interval allocated for contingencies. If not, then other tasks which had occurred in the meantime or planned later but not urgent can be achieved in order to increase the productivity of the allocated time.
Some people plan the activities that must be done as if, in implementation, they would be a robot that doesn’t even go to the bathroom, eat, rest, or doesn’t have any kind emotion that would consume their time. So, “to-do list” becomes some sort of a hammer that they would use to hit their heads, which, when built by the individual, makes him think with a guilty feeling: “I have so much to do” and “I must do them all as soon as possible”. In the implementation, it is thought: “I wonder what I was thinking to hallucinate that this will only take this little?” and “why don’t I finish faster?”. The solution is for each to consider their needs: physiological, entertainment, significance, socializing, assertion/expression, development, contribution, etc. In case of a planning session that only considers a restricted level of needs, frustrations are quite likely to occur, because a person has more needs that he/she allows himself/herself to admit, especially when these are emotional, take time and space, and are important enough to burst when you have something more urgent to do. Speaking of which, those you work with also have their needs – and these may occur irrespective of whether you have planned them or not.
Another serious disability that most businessmen cause themselves is dependent on the virtualization of planning. Usually, when somebody plans something, they need a general perspective that would include several elements. These elements are usually written on paper. On many papers. Finally, in a large notebook. I don’t know how clear the big picture can be on the display of a smartphone when it comes to business planning. Also, I don’t know if they realize how ridiculous some people look when it comes to setting a future appointment for a meeting, and they start fussing through the electronic wildwood of the virtual buttons of an electronic device that seem to be an extraterrestrial object in their hands. I also don’t know how professional the image of somebody can be who gives as an excuse the sentence “I don’t have my notebook with me”. So, the time dedicated to planning must also consider the way these plans will be accessed during implementation. There’s no point in taking a map with you in the woods if you can’t read it when you need it, right? Planning is useless if you cannot have a clear image of where you are, what you have done and what you have left to do, at any time of the implementation.
Another rather strong temptation, this time, during implementation, is the loss of motivation in procedural details and the sense of uselessness and boredom that occurs during routine tasks. This can be prevented when planning by relating the goals and tasks to the motivation of why you do what you plan. Thus, even if some of the tasks assigned to a goal may seem rather monotonous or unpleasant, if we were to consider the overall plan or the long-term perspective, they are necessary for the motivation established from the very beginning.
Lack of discipline is a vice for which penalties are getting smaller and smaller in the contemporary society. If 100 years ago children were severely punished if they didn’t learn to do their job according to an assumed schedule, nowadays adults no longer have to suffer negative consequences either, because it has become socially acceptable to delegate, externalize task awareness and use resources until you get to lose the cause-and-effect relation. For example, a child is taught by his/her parents that, if they have morning classes at school, then he/she will have to go to sleep early the night before. A corporate employee who knows (s)he needs rest finds it acceptable to stay up until 1 or 2 at night on weekdays, because in the morning (s)he relies on 7 alarms, on postponing breakfast and on the frenzy of “being off like a shot” at the time when about all employees in the city have the same Brownian motion. However, the effects are noticed only during the weekend, when “they should” tidy up, shop, clean and all the other things they don’t dare plan during the week. Why does the ordinary Romanian employee stay up until 1 or 2 at night? Probably because (s)he came back from work later, because (s)he was busy implementing while working overtime (to compensate for the faulty planning or lack thereof), or because (s)he doesn’t want to feel that the day has passed without his/her having a major satisfaction, or because (s)he wants to compensate for his/her frustrations at work. The effect, i. e. fatigue, is separated from the cause. The cause is not necessarily the amount of work (“one works hard”), but the lack of planning (you do not work intelligently). If the effect can be overlooked, it is no longer necessary to investigate the real causes!
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Graphic copyright © Diana Andreea Bădrăgan, 2017
Another reason why planning fails is that it is not based on a careful monitoring of what is usually happening. For example, if you usually spend 2-3 hours a week learning a foreign language, it is quite unlikely that you will succeed to reach 10 hours from one week to the next. Planning a task or a habit is not only based on what you need, but rather on what is achievable, possible, likely to happen, starting from what usually happens. If, after summing up all the things you have to do in a week, you get to over 168 hours, then you have a problem: you don’t have more than that in a week. Just think again!
A pretty funny habit is the equal school-like distribution of a task or result in each unit of time. This is useful in coaching, for starters, in order to give some sense regarding the resources consumed for a particular client goal. For example, if you set for yourself to earn 100,000 Euros a year, you calculate that you should have 8,333 Euros per month, or if you have to learn for 30 hours for an exam in a month, it will be enough for you to work for an hour every day. Really? Very unlikely. First of all, in order to earn 100,000 Euros a year, for example as a freelancer or entrepreneur, it is assumed that in the first month you will only be dealing with the setting up the system that is meant to get you this amount, and it is unrealistic to earn such high incomes in the first month when you primarily have expenses to make. Then, if you think it takes 30 hours for you to study for an exam, you have to assign at least 60 hours, based on Brian Tracy’s recommendation. To this, you have to add the probability that you will not have time to learn every day realistically speaking, so on some days, you will have to study more, while on others you will not have time to learn at all. Thus, a somewhat realistic planning will get you 60 hours of studying for 20 days, i.e. 3 hours a day. To these 3 hours a day, one must also add pauses and the required order: preparing the studying environment, etc., which means almost 4 hours a day. On each of the 20 days planned. And you’d better not postpone till the last days.
- how to squeeze some other activities into an already overbooked schedule;
- how hungry, thirsty, sleepy you are and how much more work you have left;
- how guilty you feel because of your poor planning;
- how useless this stupid planning that you have wasted your time on, is;
- how overwhelming you feel while you are implementing;
- feeing that you are not in control of your life, but an outsider;
- thinking about what you would like to do while doing this activity that has become boring.
Of course, these are perspectives that those who are bad planners often refuse to take responsibility for. Usually, if something hasn’t gone well as compared to what you have planned, it most likely means that you still don’t understand correctly what “planning” means, you didn’t learn to plan well enough and you need to make an effort to learn better, and not that planning is stupid. Hope is not a strategy.
People who seem to act like robots as a result of their planning are not good examples of how planning should be done. Sooner or later, they will fall under the weight of their own growing frustrations. A mature and responsible person must be able to focus on what he/she does every moment. What does this sound like a flexibility-generating conviction?
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Text Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2016-present Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “Cum să te bucuri de viață în timp ce planifici“ published initially in Romanian at 31.08.2016 on Economia Online. Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved
Graphic ”The Reward for Work in Different Civilizations” copyright © Diana Andreea Bădrăgan, 2017
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