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December 6, 2011

Cultivate The Habit of Sticking To Plans

Brian Tracy often remarks that “only 3% of adults have written goals …and the rest of us work for them”. When people come to him for advice (“why is my life so hard? How come I can’t get ahead?”) he asks them “Show me your written goals”. If they don’t have any, he basically tells them to fuck off.

In a similar vein, a former business partner of mine once quipped “The difference between a having a goal and indulging in a daydream is having a plan.” That always stuck with me.

Once upon a time, about a year after I got sober, I was cleaning out a desk drawer and I happened upon an old “todo” list that dated back to my drinking days. It was clear I had plans for that day, whatever day it was…but I never got past the “buy beer” part of the plan.

I realized that that was very typical of my life then, and continued to be even after I sobered up. I would head out from the apartment with the intention of going to the computer store, run into a friend on the way and end up sitting in a coffee shop and putting off my original plan.

The key insight for me, at the time, was that if I could make it a habit to continually make, and stick to, small plans, I could accomplish great things. So every time I roughed out a basic 3 or 4 point plan for my day, or my evening (these days I have a “tonight” list, where I enter things I want to do after we get the kid to bed), I did my best to cover off those points, no matter how insignificant.

Because the valuable skill to be honed is not accomplishing trivial things, but rather that of not allowing oneself to be distracted from his gameplan by anything else, trivial or not.

Once that is ingrained as a habit, then it builds up your tenacity and your commitment to your goals.

There may be people who are perfect at this, but I am not one of them. I still consider myself very much in the “needs improvement” category.

But still, I come up with a lot of ideas. Piles of notebooks and computer files full of them. I execute a fraction of them, many of those extremely belatedly (sometimes years later) and of those, most fail.

Having lots of ideas is good ammo for execution. To me there is no harm is having a notebook full with too many ideas I’ll never get around to (which brings us to the topic of resource allocation and prioritizing, for another post). But once I pick one to act on, it’s time to come up with a plan and execute against it.

A prominent general from some bullshit war or another (General Schwartzkopf perhaps?) once said something along the lines of “no plan, no matter how well crafted, ever survives it’s collision with the enemy intact”. Meaning, that your plan will need to adapt to changing circumstances, but that is far far different being chronically distracted from, and lured away from, what your plan actually is.

Television, substance abuse, eating, gambling, facebooking, whatever. These legions of worldly distractions are put there to separate you from your goals.