Are You a Checklist Junkie or a Sailor on the Winds of Chance?
I have a confession to make. I harbour a secret stationary fetish - particularly diaries, journals and weekly planners. Oh the thrill of a new year and the annual hunt for the perfect diary and planner. The frisson of excitement as I open it up. The idea of a whole new year to fill with meaningful activity excites me. Each year is potentially a blank canvas full of possibility. I read through old journals and flip through the previous year’s diary to reflect and appreciate all that happened and what I learnt and accomplished. Journaling explores my inner world, records various events, practices gratitude, documents hopes and dreams and inspirational things learnt from books, podcasts and others. I call mine “My Little Book of Thoughts.”
And then my diary awaits - a knight in shining armour that magically turns dreams into reality. A chalice of potential.
What’s not to like?
I nut out my goals. If you’ve just tuned in to this blog I talked about my process for doing this in my last blog.
People who change the world step out in faith. They are risk takers and innovators. Greta Thunberg, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk. They are doers. Yoga, meditation and contemplation are great but they need to be accompanied by action if we are going to move the planet forward.
I nut out what steps need to be taken to accomplish each goal, mapping them out over the 12 months of the year. Then comes the pleasant task of setting rewards.
The quite affordable OTTO diary from Officeworks has a section in the front that walks you through this whole goal planning process. It gets you to think about where you are in life at the moment, and where you want to be in 5 years time. There space to remember what you have accomplished and what to focus on next. You get to reflect on what is going well and what needs review. You consider what is holding you back and what could motivate you. From here you formulate 3 major goals for the year, work out the steps to achieve them, what’s needed, identify motivators, set achievement dates and rewards. Research suggests taking the time to savour accomplishments and rewarding yourself is important for success but also for building a healthier, more resilient brain.
And wallah! - I am ready for my diary and planner. How thrilling. Time to start organizing my first week. I set aside some time every week to plan the following week consulting my goals and monthly objectives. At the end of each week I write a list of things to do the following week. At the moment I need to do this because I am in a season of change and each week brings me new steps to take. I’ve found that the holy grail of my weekly planning is to set just enough activity each day to satisfy but not overwhelm.
Each day after meditation and before I journal I write the days tasks anew because again new stuff crops up as the week progresses. Apparently we stimulate the feel good brain chemical, dopamine, when we set these small daily, weekly and monthly goals and then achieve them. I am a big “to do” list fan. It is nice to know that the crazy satisfaction I feel each time I tick something off is not OCD but my brain getting a healthy whiff of dopamine. I like diaries that have space to write in things like reminders and notes - the extra jobs you hadn’t thought of that just crop up.
The weekly planner lives on my fridge. My diary seems to go walkabout - bedroom, lounge, study, handbag and car whereas the weekly planner is an ever present little kitchen Yoda that reminds me what I need to do each day. With time, planning and thought a malleable routine is arrived at as I work out the best day/time to do certain recurrent activities.
I love to observe as the year progresses, the rhythm of life that emerges as I hit that sweet spot where I break through the murky mists of chaos and set sail for the calmer waters of order.
Life is more marathon than sprint. Pacing myself by planning and scheduling rewards, rest and recreation all help ensure I make the distance. Of course there are the inevitable storms. There is always a degree of mystery and surprise. Things change and so my plans and sometimes even my goals do too. I’m learning to hold them more lightly. They are a guide, not an obligation. And sometimes I just wing it. Things happen, new opportunities arise, and I have learned to go with the flow when the current of life changes direction.
Perhaps there is a lot of uncertainty in your life right now. There is for me at the moment. Sometimes as we navigate life exploring new things, our goals are just not clear. You might be at school or uni, for example, not sure where you’re headed. I say buckle yourself in and enjoy the ride. Trust that things are moving forward towards something better and keep your eyes and ears open for opportunity.
I have also faced significant hurdles in life when planning a year in advance was just not possible. In seasons of struggle, suffering or hardship I have found it more helpful to just take the next obvious step, and then the next, and so on - living day to day until the way forward becomes clearer. If this is you, please be kind to yourself. Find people who inspire and want the best for you. Get adequate rest and exercise. Eat well. Schedule little moments into your day that bring you joy: read a good book, smell a flower, watch a child play, meditate or pray. Remember that difficult journeys often lead to beautiful destinations.
How do you go about planning your life? Are you a checklist junkie or do you leave life to the winds of chance? What tips and tools do you use? I would love to hear your experiences. Feel free to share in the comment sections below.
In my next blog I will talk about one particular ability neuroscience states that we all have and how it can be strengthened to help us ace our 2020 goals.