Self Improvement Part 2: Planning

  • Planning
    • Make Action Plans
      • When I cleared my schedule so that I controlled 100% of it, I realized I hit around 30% of my productivity goals, and the only things I ever got done were the ones I prioritized and committed to doing, because those were the only things I kept track of and had detailed plans with a time and date and location.  The others, a list of “I want to do this” but with no action plan, did not get done.
      • I also noticed that for my commitments, I would typically overshoot the planned time by 50%.  This is for two reasons, 1. I hadn’t learned to accurately predict how long tasks will take because I only just started, and 2. I never set END times.  I set a start, but no end, because I wanted flexibility.  However, the cost of this flexibility was the schedule was unreliable: depending on mood and chance, I’d get variable amounts of work done.
    • Defeats Laziness
      • People often blame laziness for why they don’t get things done.  This is a red herring that distracts from the truth: you set yourself up to trigger laziness and failure when you fail to plan ahead. In fact, not having a plan, is basically planning to be lazy and fail.
      • Example: I’m hungry, but I’m too lazy to cook, so now I’m going to scramble together a low quality meal, or eat out, or some other short term quick fix that isn’t ideal.  This entire scenario would be avoided if you had defined when you were going to eat, and, since you have that information, planned on when to begin preparing and cooking food so that it would be ready at the time you planned to eat.  Having a plan does two things: 1. If you know when you will eat, and you get hungry before that, you can tolerate the hunger because you know how long you will need to wait–in particular, you don’t let the hunger affect your decision making adversely (you make more rash decisions when hungry).  When you don’t know how long you have to wait because you don’t know what you’ll cook or how long it will take, then you will be uncomfortable from the hunger and try to get food asap.  2. If you know exactly what you need to do to prepare and cook the food, then executing is very easy: no frantic, time constrained, last minute thinking while uncomfortable due to hunger.  Instead, the whole process is smooth and comfortable because you planned well.  Planning weakens laziness.
      • Another way of looking at how effective planning is at solving laziness is as follows: When you don’t plan ahead, then you don’t have a solution when a problem arises, and so you try to come up with an easy, lazy way out because you want to solve your hunger asap, since the longer solution would be too much work and time.   When you do have a plan, then before the problem occurs, you already have the solution.  The problem is solved before it even happens–you cook or prepare the food and meal before you got hungry.  Thus, being too lazy to cook no longer becomes a problem.
      • I hope this lesson teaches you not only how to conquer laziness, but also some self awareness, and awareness of reality and how the world works, so you know to blame the “right” thing: planning, not laziness.
    • Deadlines
      • I used to have the false notion that deadlines imposed by society and school and other people were cruel and unnecessary.  Deadlines were cruel because they caused stress and punishment of some kind when failed to be met. I thought they were unnecessary because who cares when it gets done, can’t we just be more patient–why are we always in a hurry?  Hurry, I thought, is an artificial human creation: it’s just as good later as it is now.
      • However, I have since learned that deadlines are both necessary, and innocuous.  I learned it was necessary when I thought about food and water.  Having grown up poor, I got used to very erratic eating times, and my stomach learned to never be or feel hungry.  However, I took this too far when I would feel hungry, but be too lazy to get food (see planning above), so I’d use my ability to not feel hunger to my advantage and just not eat.  I ended up in the ER and I learned that there is a deadline for hunger.  In the existential sense, that experience taught me that there exists a legitimate reason for a deadline to exist, therefore shattering my prior belief of the contrary.  I thought about it more, and I realized food that I buy from the store has deadlines in the form of expiration dates.  Surely the food did not expire because it was cruel to me.  Therefore, I learned that deadlines are necessary, and innocuous.
        • Furthermore, as I became involved in more complex organizations where people had dependencies on other people, the importance of meeting deadlines became clearer: you are wasting other people’s time when you make them wait.  In business, the window of opportunity may pass if you wait.  This taught me that deadlines again don’t exist for cruelty, but rather for productivity.
      • I also learned that the stress and anxiety I felt surrounding deadlines was an emotional response that I was in control of, and that I should learn to manage.  It was my fault I felt the stress, not the deadline’s fault.
      • I hope this lesson teaches you awareness about reality: there’s no avoiding deadlines, so it’s time to learn to deal with them successfully (plan) and stress-free (Handle Emotions and Problems section below).
    • Procrastination
      • Is often caused by the stress and anxiety associated with work.  Let’s understand what’s going on if that’s the case: stress and anxiety prevents me from doing work, so I procrastinate.  Then, when the deadline approaches, I am legitimately stressed and anxious about finishing in time, classically conditioning stress and anxiety with working.  The cycle repeats.  (http://attemptedliving.com/2014/02/17/the-habits-you-will-form-in-life/)
      • Time Management
        • Solution: Plan ahead.  (See Planning:Defeats Laziness above)
        • I used to be someone who crammed as much as possible, up to the day of the test. I thought that was a sign of intelligence: that I was making the best use of the most amount of time compared with my competitors.  However, I now know it’s just a sign of poor time management–should have scheduled all my studying beforehand to reduce pressure on the day of the test, so that I can perform without stress and therefore perform more successfully.
      • (Decision Making: Limited Energy)
    • Commitments
      • Not only is this a signal of priority, but it is also how you ensure get things done, ensure reliability, security, comfort and peace of mind. It is easy to make commitments, but hard to keep them.
        • People often derive too much pleasure from the act of making a commitment, feeling a sense of responsibility and the success that comes with the commitment before they have followed through with it.  While it is nice to anticipate success, don’t let it distract you from the truth: you haven’t actually committed until push comes to shove, the time for action arises, and you stay true to your commitment.  “80% of life is showing up” – Woody Allen; similarly, we can say 80% of a commitment is actually doing it, 20% is making the commitment.
        • Often times you will write down items on a TODO list or a planner, and end up with a mighty long list.  You could rank them by priority, but there’s no certainty as to how far down the list you’ll get.  Making a commitment to a reasonable and realistic number of items ensures that those items will get done for sure, allowing you and those who are depending on you, some peace of mind.
      • Another impressive benefit gained from making commitments is that you manage and reduce your time wasted being indecisive and having self doubt.  Example: An activity is offered once a week for 10 weeks.
        • 1. If you commit to only one week at a time, you have to spend time thinking about the decision to commit, 10 times.  If you commit to all 10 weeks, then you spend 10 times less time thinking about the decision.
        • 2. If you commit to only one week at a time, every week you might question whether this commitment was a good idea or not, and this self doubt will waste time and energy you could spend on better things like improving your life or being happy.
          • This is particularly important because when you’re embarking on long term projects or goals, the incremental progress that you make during the execution is difficult to notice.  For the same reason you don’t notice your friend’s hair growing if you see them every day, but you do notice a change if you see them months apart with a new hairstyle, you won’t notice your skill or project improvements until after many weeks.  Thus, you must commit and follow through with the full 10 weeks, or else you will have quit because you felt like you haven’t made any progress, even though you were actually on the path to achieving your goal.
        • 3. Also, when you only commit one week at a time, it becomes very easy to not finish the activity, because you can stop anytime.  If you’ve committed to 10 weeks, then the risk of quitting is lower than before.
      • When you think about things at a larger timescale, on the order of weeks or months instead of days, you can plan for and achieve bigger things, which is exciting.
    • Habits
      • Committing to a habit is the most powerful and timeless commitment you can make.  Committing to a habit means you develop a habit, and consciously don’t let it be changed.  3 advantages are
        • 1. You get it done, even when you don’t feel like it, because you automatically do it out of habit.
        • 2. You waste less time being indecisive: the decision was made when you built the habit.
        • 3. You worry less about quitting, because it will take more effort to quit than to continue.
      • http://attemptedliving.com/2014/02/26/build-a-habit-app-android

This post is part of AttemptedLiving’s Life Education Curriculum, a collection of core knowledge everyone should have.

Self Improvement: Part 1: Mindset and Logic and Part 3: Decision Making

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