The art of sticking to your plans
“Plan your work and work your plan” has been quite a popular saying for ages. However, I had been unable to stick to my plans for the past 22 years! If you are one of those people who also finds it hard to follow a plan 100%, welcome to the club :) This article is for you!
Of late, I have been more into self-improvement and creating strategies that actually work. One aspect where I had been struggling very much for long was sticking to the plan. I used to make grand, elaborate looking plans for the day, which looked so promising and wonderful that they could actually make me productive. However, there was always one thing or the other that would go out of the way, or some unexpected task coming in, spoiling my plans.
Out of 10 tasks set for the day, 3–4 would go well while the 5th will either take longer time or be impossible to finish at the planned time or simply any distraction would creep in, making the rest of the tasks obsolete. This is how every plan of mine was sabotaged, creating that perfect record of not having stuck to a plan in 22 years!
When I introspected what actually caused this, I realised that I was demotivated when even one task out of ten failed. I wanted 100% adherence to the plan and when that was not possible, I became demotivated and declared it a failure. From there, it was a downward spiral and I wouldn’t want to plan my day again; I opted to go with the flow. Recently, I came across this statement, which hit me hard:
“It is better to set an initial goal and revise it later than not to have a goal at all”
This made me realise that no plan is perfect, in fact, nothing in this world is perfect, it is our imperfections that make us unique and make life less monotonous and more enjoyable. It is absolutely fine to be modifying your plan, it is okay to not adhere to your plan 100%. Even if you are able to achieve 50% of your plan, it is indeed a success story because, something is better than nothing!
We have to make peace with the fact that we all are imperfect, that the whole world is imperfect. So it’s no big deal if your execution is imperfect too. The key is to keep improving yourself, and compare yourself with none. Focus on your strengths and use them to the optimum level, while trying to improve on your weaknesses. We all do have weaknesses, but your choice to be a better person everyday is what differentiates you from the rest.
“It is our choices that determine who we are”
So, it is absolutely fine if you go back on your plans and modify them, if your plans are not perfect too. In the end of the day, what really matters is a minuscule improvement. A 1% improvement exhibited everyday could make you far better than what you are today!
Another key thing that I learnt is, discipline is more powerful than motivation. Motivation is that occasional spark of light and positivity that prompts you to do things. But it is occasional, it may come everyday or it could keep you waiting for ages! On the other hand, discipline is the repeated performance of a task. Consistency is the key here. You train yourself to do something everyday no matter whether you succeed or fail.
Discipline creates habits, and habits are far more powerful than you can imagine. You don’t need motivation to be disciplined, you only need a little willpower. It’s all about pushing yourself to keep planning your day everyday no matter whether you succeeded or failed in adhering to the plan the previous day. Over time, discipline can yield 100 times the result that a spark of motivation can provide.
The other important key is to discover what kind of planning works for you. Find what style suits you, one that you can easily follow and stick to. I had been making rigid plans with specific time-frames for each task so long. This is what actually let my spirits down. If I was unable to complete one task within that time-frame, I would let go of the whole plan thinking that it is already sabotaged, it wouldn’t matter if I stick to it anymore.
So, I have started making less rigid plans without fixed time-frames. I just list down all the tasks I wish to accomplish in the day, with no specific timings at all for each task. And this has greatly improved my performance. I do an end-of-day of review of all the tasks and maintain a ‘DONE list’ where I list down all those tasks that I had achieved in the day. This actually makes me feel better, seeing all that I had achieved rather than focusing on what I could not achieve. This makes me want to achieve more, to have a longer DONE list the next day!
The next important thing is to choose the right planner for yourself. There are so many people vouching for Todoist and similar digital planners and find them to be greatly useful. You could check them out too! However, I realised that I am a pen and paper person. I like having a small journal where I write down my plans and have it on my work-desk all the time. I find this more comfortable. It is up to you to try and find the right medium and use it.
It is not enough to just lay grand plans and execute them. What matters more is reviewing them and introspecting how they went at the end of the day. That is the key to making improvements.
The final key is finding out when to plan your day. Most people like to plan their day at the start of each day, listing down all their tasks and appointments. But for me, planning in the morning wastes the most precious time of the day. Mornings are when I am able to concentrate the most and I like to use that time for actual work instead of planning. So I plan my day the previous night. Since my plans are neither rigid nor time-frame based, it is absolutely fine for me if some other high priority task comes in the morning. I can accommodate it easily and modify my plans. If you like rigid and definite plans, I would recommend planning your day in the morning. No matter when you plan, it is important to anticipate new tasks/distractions, so it is wise to plan in a way that accommodating unexpected priority tasks that might come in is easier.
Voila! These are the things that I have learnt to make my plans work. I hope they help you in your journey of self-improvement too! Good luck :)