Stop rushing. Stop. Please, it’s not going to help you. If you’ve procrastinated, trying to make up for lost time and expecting a masterpiece in only a few hours won’t cut it. Not only is it likely that the results won’t be there, you’ll cause yourself stress by going full-fledged “rush job” on yourself. And we all know, stress is a killer.
Many of us are living with stress, anxiety, fear and insecurity about what will come next in our lives. Some of us get so used to it, we may not even realize it. So we start to worry. And when we worry, we either do not commit to action, or we begin to internalize stress, which manifests itself in anxiety. When we do make a move, it’s rushed and feels forced. It feels like we’re not really ourselves. We hurry.
The maxim that I use in the second part of my title comes from the legendary head basketball coach of UCLA, John Wooden. It’s so important that we master the processes and routine that we perform every day. It’s critical for us to become great planners! Once we do, we become more efficient. We get quicker. Then, we don’t need to hurry.
The reality that we need to wake up to is that intelligent, diligent and focused planning is the saving grace for us to live a productive, happy and healthy life. The more prepared you are for each day, the more productive you will be. No magic pill. While a positive, industrious mindset will help you, you’re so much better prepared when you have a plan.
Psychologist Robert Epstein explains according to one of his surveys that planning is our best weapon for managing stress:
“Fighting stress before it even starts, planning things rather than letting them happen, that means planning your day, your year and your life so that stress is minimized.”
Epstein’s survey was also able to track stress management with participants’ overall levels of happiness. “The association was very strong,” says Epstein, “suggesting that nearly 25% of our happiness is related to our ability to manage stress.” Source: Time Magazine
Planning isn’t sexy. Let’s just get that out of the way! It’s not going to give you results now. So as a result, many people don’t do it. We’re so attune as a society to thinking that once we take action, we get a result right away. This instant-gratification thinking clashes with the real world. It’s a lie. Results often come many steps after the first step that we’ve taken.
It’s only when we begin to plan and exercise patience, and couple that with the experience of living — that we understand this. It’s much harder in life to go off memory alone and achieve big results. The problem is that life tends to add on more responsibilities as we go. We’re not wired to be multi-taskers. And multi-tasking simply isn’t efficient.
Multi-tasking leads us down a path where we focus on several activities at once, while not being able to give our 100% full concentration and effort to their completion. Planning gives us the confidence that we need, it helps us prioritize and engenders an affirmative feeling of positivity that we are well organized and structured. Once you start doing this, you’ll realize that multi-tasking only makes things worse.
Root cause analysis
Let’s get back to stress, for a minute. If stress is the cause of our productivity downfall, then some basic root-cause analysis would be helpful. By solving the problem to understand why we’re stressed — which is often associated with a lack of planning! — we’re better able to conquer any worries, fears and obstacles that surround it. This is precisely what clinical psychologist, Susan Heitler believes.
“ My #1 technique for dissipating stress is to solve the problem that is producing the stress. Unlike most stress-reduction methods, solving the problem removes stress at its roots. Problem-solving usually has three steps:
1. Face it
2. Clarify your specific concerns
3. Create a plan of action”
Confront your reality. Get clear about what’s concerning you. PLAN.
Planning is what leads to powerful action!
We’re best when we focus on one thing at a time, in short, powerful bursts of concentrated, focused work. The best way to set us up for this success is through planning. Quite like having a great morning routine will launch our day, planning will enable our brain to do less “busy” work and help us hone-in on the tasks in front of us.
Planning enables quickness and anticipation for what’s to come. It helps us to visualize the activities that will come over the course of the day. It reduces the need to worry, because we understand the activities that will comprise the outcomes that we’re looking to achieve. A well-planned person is someone that is powerfully and boldly equipped to handle each day.
Reverse engineering your plan
Take this from Danny Southwick, a researcher for the High Performance Institute, and University of Pennsylvania research assistant for Grit author, Angela Duckworth:
“Last November, researchers at Korea Business School and the University of Iowa published an article in Psychological Science showing that people are much likely to accomplish goals when they engage in something called “future retrospection.”
What is future retrospection? Simply put, future retrospection is imagining yourself as if you’ve already accomplished your goal, and then planning backwards about all the steps that you had to take to get there. Doing so increases productivity, motivation, and confidence. Backwards planning also reduces the amount of stress people feel as they pursue their goals.”
You won’t find a bigger proponent of reverse engineering than I, namely because it requires deep thought, visualization and positive emotional reinforcement. You see, visualization should be all about you succeeding, doing and winning in thrilling fashion. It’s self-motivating and empowering. Using your imagination, visualizing and planning takes time and effort.
You must be willing to make your planning become a habit. And you should have the right tools to do it. I realize that tools will differ per each individual. Some of us favor one, single instrument. Others combine and integrate multiple apps or programs into one efficient machine. I tend to mix the digital with the old-fashioned paper journal.
I use Todoist, OneNote and Outlook to keep me planned. I also write out big goals and ideas in a simple journal — paper and pen. OneNote is the basis for my ideas. Todoist is about pure execution of tasks. And Outlook helps me manage my schedule and remind me of appointments and meetings. To get to this point of planning wasn’t easy.
It truly was about forming the habits to become successful. I knew that if I didn’t do this, I’d keep getting mediocre results. When I brainstorm, schedule and plan tasks, I become an efficient machine. And the research backs up why this is the case. Planning programs our minds to be more centered and mindful on completing tasks, while also knowing we eventually need to move on to what’s next.
When we have nothing in front of us, we become idle and our minds start to wander. Sometimes toward great ideas! But oftentimes, toward less helpful or virtuous thoughts.
So back to stress and planning. Habits lead to productivity. Simply put — habits help us to get the job done and do so more efficiently. This gives you more creative time, more time to rest and time for leisure with friends and family. Habits form the cornerstone for a productive life, and they fuel the planning that is needed to propel you forward.
Take this from Charles Duhigg, New York Times bestselling author of the book, The Power of Habit:
“When psychologists have looked at quantum changers, what they found is these are people who suddenly became very deliberate about their habits. There’s something almost magical about understanding how habits work, because studies show that once you understand, once you think about the structure of a habit, it becomes easier to change that habit. And once you change that habit, you start making these small, incremental adjustments to your day that over a year or over a decade can add up to a huge difference.” — Charles Duhigg Source: HBR
You’re on your way. If you’re here, reading this, you’re on your way to doing big-time work. Work that will become the backbone and joy of your life. You need a plan. Know that the importance of the plan leads to the future steps of powerful, lasting results. And before you know it, you’ll be living stress-free, more healthy emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.
You’ll be living the life that is rightfully yours.
Start your game plan
This article first appeared on Medium.