A plan is a guide for daily execution.

It’s your reliable system for making progress.

What most people call plans are just wishes. They want to get more work done daily, read more books, start working out, or start a passion project, but they end up procrastinating.

Without a plan, you’re hoping.

You hope you’ll find a way to make progress. Hope is a terrible strategy when you have deadlines. If you really want to achieve anything worthwhile, you will make plans.

“The biggest impediment to maintaining a high output is not being clear on what to work on next. Procrastination is usually a symptom of unclear next steps or insufficiently easy next steps. The latter is solved by good chunking, the former is solved by good planning,” writes Nat Eliason.

The bitter truth is without an action plan, or working system, you will accomplish little in life and career.

A plan helps you commit yourself fully to everything you want to do.

Jim Rohn once said, “Don’t start the day until you have it finished. Don’t start the week until you have it finished. Don’t start the month until you have it finished. Plan your day.”

He is right. It’s the best way to make real progress in life and career.

You can plan time to do high-value tasks every day, exercise, eat healthy, practice gratitude, read, learn a new skill, etc. It helps you stay focused and avoid the many distractions that come your way every day.

Simultaneously you can plan for downtime to take a vacation, go for a walk, spend time with family, etc.

Just imagine what you could achieve if you actually made plans, commit to them and get them done — your life would take a quantum leap forward over the next weeks, months, and years.

When you think of things ahead of time, consider how to get them done, and make plans to do them on a specific day, week or month, you will put yourself in the best position to control your time and actions.

A feeling of control motivates us to act, according to research.

For a productive day, think in advance. It’s the best way to make sure that you don’t overlook anything important.

An action plan can help you know how much time you have in a given day and how much of it you’re going to need to complete your tasks. Once you have an understanding of what you need to do, you can focus on getting your high-priority tasks done.

Successful people schedule their days strategically and maximise their time and energy for peak performance. Planning your day beforehand means you can literally orchestrate a productive day.

Instead of depending on your mood and your circumstances to get you through the day, choose to be proactive and make mood and circumstances respond to your work.

“Either you run the day or the day runs you,” said Jim Rohn.

The alternative is a reactive day that is controlled by actions of others, or a distracted day with little to show for it.

Jocelyn K. Glei, founding editor of 99U, and author of “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done” says, “Kicking off the day without a plan opens you up to the dangers of ‘reactive work,’letting other people’s demands dictate what you do with your day.”

Most people can’t stick to a plan because they don’t take it seriously or have no clear directions. “Moving from “to do” to “in progress” is a big mental barrier, and poor planning can make it even bigger,” says Jason Lengstorf.

Clarity of purpose changes everything.

Instead of rushing to gather your thoughts every morning, aim to start your days with more clarity of purpose.

When you minimise your struggles in the morning, that overwhelmed feeling overwhelmed in the morning (and the rest of the day) will be a thing of the past. If you have an action plan every morning, your focus will change. Even how you respond to the demands of others on your time will be different.

There are thousands of reasons to get up each morning and start your day right. You’ve got to find your reason. Once you find it, do everything in your power to make it happen.

Ian Fleming, who is best known for his James Bond series of spy novels maintained a rigorous morning routine to stay prolific. He once said:

Writing about 2,000 words in three hours every morning, ‘Casino Royale’ dutifully produced itself. I wrote nothing and made no corrections until the book was finished. If I had looked back at what I had written the day before I might have despaired.

By making concrete and realistic plans,

What are your daily or weekly outcomes?

When you review your day or weekly outcomes and plan your actions according to our expectations, your effort for the day will be aligned with the results you expect, and you will make progress towards those outcomes.

Daily or weekly planning is personal.

There is no perfect plan. What works for Tim Ferris may not work for you. You can test and apply different systems for your own circumstance.

You have to build a plan based on how you use your time and energy for maximum performance.

And today’s plan does not necessarily have to be tomorrow’s routine.

While there are certainly benefits to daily routines in general, they don’t have to the same, especially if you are not totally in control of your time.

By all means, plan your day out, but don’t aim for a perfect daily routine. It’s OK to have unique days and still make real progress.

“As a general rule, the more unpredictable your days and the more interruptions and spontaneous tasks show up during your day, the more flexible your day planning method needs to be,” says Christina Willner.

Find your flexibility sweet spot whilst you are still in control of your day.

Planning your day is fairly simple — write down all your pre-determined and high-value activities that you want to be included in your next day, identify the best time of day to get them done, and the drag and drop them into your daily planner. You could even write out why you want to accomplish them.

And most importantly, take it seriously. Commit to your schedule, and defend your time from distractions to get them done.

In less than 10 minutes you can get a head-start tomorrow, knowing exactly how to start and end your day right.

Proper planning doesn’t need to involve hours of your time. It really just boils down to defining what “success” means to you — before the work begins.

To improve anything, build an actionable plan to continuously make progress.

Key takeaway

If you don’t design your own plan for tomorrow, the week, or your life, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.

Don’t throw yourself headlong into projects— working as long as you can manage, hacking and slashing toward the finish line.

If you strategically plan your days, it will snowball into a more successful day.

Originally published on Medium.

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