Productivity Comes from Planning

Without a plan, you’re just busy.

There are over 87,000 flights in the US every day. Every one of them takes off with a clear destination in mind.

Once they’re in the air, the flight plan largely gets set aside. Winds blow the plane off course. There are storms to go around, and other planes to avoid. A plane spends 95% of its time off course (to pick a round number), but through constant adjustment, it still arrives at the intended destination.

Have you ever wondered what the point of planning was, if you knew the plan was just going to be thrown out the window? You may have felt like it wasn’t worth it, and that time could be better spent just diving in and getting started.

Having a plan helps you get more done with less effort. And when things go wrong, you’ll know how to recover and get back on course.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Matus Duda

It doesn’t matter what timeframe you’re thinking about. A plan will help you be productive, not just busy.

  • Prioritized Daily Task List. A prioritized daily task list is your first line of defense against distraction. When you list the most important things you can do and then work your way through the list, guess what happens? You make progress! Important things don’t just pile up—they get done!

    If you don’t write things down, you don’t get the reward of checking things off as you do them! You can have an incredibly productive evening, and wrap up with nothing to show for it.

  • Weekly Planning. A plan for the week lets you make sure that all your roles are getting the attention they deserve. They won’t get equal time every week, nor should they. When you sit down to plan your week, you have a good perspective to make sure that you’re moving forward in all your roles and goals.

  • Monthly Planning. Not every goal or project needs reviewed every week. Some can easily be reviewed every month or two. These are back-burner items that don’t need immediate action, but you shouldn’t forget about them entirely, either. Maybe June wasn’t the best time for that; how about September? Finances are often planned through a monthly budget. Pick some big rocks and make time to make them happen.

  • Annual Goals. The classic January ritual. This is where we earnestly start to shift our thinking from productivity tactics to the strategic thinking of growth, purpose, and what we want to do with our lives. Set goals that take you towards the person you want to be. At any given time, you should be working to improve yourself in one or two areas. Otherwise, you’re going to stagnate.

  • Five-Year Plans. I know this sounds like a bad interview question, but have you ever spent time thinking about where you want to be in five years? You probably don’t want to be the same person you are today. There are habits you want to change, new experiences to enjoy, and probably some things you never want to go through again. Creating a five-year plan helps you see the steps that will take you from who you are to who you want to be.

  • Personal Mission Statement. This is the ultimate expression of your ideal self. What values do you hold, and what do they look like when others look at you? What are they going to see? You won’t always get it right on the first try, but a personal mission statement can answer a lot of questions really quickly. Spend some time to codify the principles, values, and character traits that mean the most to you. They will guide and help you with everything you do.

Whatever time frame you’re thinking about, having a plan is the best way to make sure you’re moving forward in the direction you want to head, instead of drifting along, day after day, year after year.

A plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, but the process of planning is priceless. It clarifies your thinking. It points you in the right direction. You’ll know how to adjust when you get blown off course.

Question: When are you most effective at planning? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.

  • John Windsor

    Excellent post! I particularly like how you framed it at the beginning (“There are over 87,000 flights …”)

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