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Good planning lets you set a course for your day

Sunday MBA provides ideas on running better businesses and succeeding in the modern workplace, this week from Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of “How to Invest Your Time Like Money.’’

When done well, daily and weekly planning rituals can help you travel gracefully through life in a peaceful, intentional manner. But overplanning can make you a neurotic, stressed-out person who feels like you would have been better off if you hadn’t planned anything in the first place.

The way to reap the benefits of daily and weekly planning without unpleasant side effects is to take a more relaxed approach. Here are seven steps.


Intention matters

You wouldn’t want to take a seat on a plane without knowing the destination. Similarly, the whole point of planning is that there’s a decision about where you want to end up, and the proposed steps to get there. Sure, pilots need to adjust their flight path or even land if there are storms. But having a specific end point in mind vastly increases the chances that passengers will end up in the right place.

Similarly, you will have the best results when you set the course for your day. The next time something comes up that messes up your plans, remind yourself that your plan equips you to get to your desired destination eventually, even if you have to modify your course.

Redefine a 100 percent score

For most people, a great day is when you accomplish 60 to 70 percent of what you intended to get done. A perfect score, however, should be defined as having confidence that you made the right decisions about how you invested your time based on the data you had, your overall priorities, and the circumstances that arose throughout the day.

Don’t waste time obsessing about a perfect plan

There is no perfect plan. The goal of planning should be to get just the right level of clarity, so you know where to focus your attention and how to evaluate opportunities that arise. Set a limit on how much time you invest in planning. For most individuals, an hour is the maximum time for weekly planning. Daily planning should take 15 minutes, tops.


Consider plans a road map

Your plan for the day, the week, or even the year, is a road map that gives you an overview of the various paths you could take. Just as you may find yourself on a detour while driving and need to turn back to your map, having a plan to come back to after an interruption gives you insight to reroute your schedule. Instead of checking e-mail after an unplanned meeting or phone call, go back to your daily plan and if necessary, move items on your calendar or renumber your to-do list.

Expect the unexpected

One of the greatest powers of planning is it gives you the ability to respond to the unexpected without massive stress. When you plan correctly, you’re looking ahead and moving along activities ahead of deadline. When something comes up, you can address it without causing other complications because you have a margin. When you don’t plan, you end up being so close to the edge that anything going slightly off kilter can create major problems. To dramatically reduce stress, complete items at least one day ahead of schedule.

This is not a test

If your plans — and then the accuracy of their implementation — form the basis of your self-worth, you’re on shaky ground. We can’t control life. We instead need to embrace it. When you find yourself becoming critical of what you did or didn’t do, stop and ask, “What happened?” and “Is there anything I could do differently next time?” Then use your answers to inform your decisions moving forward.


Be open to creativity

Some artists sketch their scene before beginning, but that sketch on canvas is temporary — a guide — which should not be too detailed as to reduce a painter’s spontaneity and hinder creativity in the moment.

So in short . . . relax. Set your sails and adjust with the currents and winds. Life is to be lived and enjoyed, not just “done.”

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review.