The Planning Paradox

"...I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

photo of note pad and pencilIs Planning Worth It?

“The best-laid plans… often go awry.”¹ What looks good on paper doesn’t always work out as envisioned. So why bother planning at all? I used to think that the point of planning was the satisfaction I got by checking off completed tasks. While this still makes me feel good, I now see that the main reason for planning is to get you into purposeful action and to make progress.

The Power of Three

Here is a planning approach I invite you to try for the next several weeks. Each week, identify three focus areas for your personal life and three relating to work. Different than a detailed task list, these Top Three focus areas do not encompass all your to do’s. Rather, they are the items you have selected as most important to drive forward that week.

Example #1:

1. Research kickboxing classes.
2. Call Jim.
3. Shop for Tanya’s gift.

graphic of the number threeBusiness
1. Prep for presentation.
2. Contact Martin.
3. Draft budget proposal.

Example #2:

1. Healthy dinner choices.
2. Time with Alex.
3. Make appointment with financial planner.

1. Update marketing plan.
2. Decision on spring campaign.
3. Set up client interviews.

Notice in these examples that some of the items are task oriented (e.g., contact Martin), some are projects (e.g., research kickboxing classes), and others are reminding you of an intention (e.g., healthy dinner choices). Keeping these areas to three gives you a clean focus so that you are not overwhelmed. Remember to take into account other appointments and activities already scheduled when selecting your Top Three for the week.

Once you have established your weekly focus, view it as a worksheet, something that you can edit as the week moves along. Striking the right balance between planning and leaving room is a key to success.

Plan and Go

chalk board diagram of football playThe planning paradox is that as soon as you attempt to take control, you will be required to be flexible and keep loose. To use a football metaphor, the team has a game plan, but can’t know exactly what will happen until they’re on the field. Trusting their instincts, they react skillfully, and adjust the game plan accordingly.

The desire to plan is inherent in being human. Even as far back as ~100 BC, Publilius Syrus provided the maxim: “It is a bad plan that admits of no modification.”

Plan and go. Allow your plans to be edited…because they will be anyway! Deviating from the plan is okay, as long as you do so consciously and keep your main priorities at the forefront.

Here's to you,

¹“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This saying is adapted from a poem by Robert Burns entitled “To a Mouse”.

© 2008, Virginia M. Kravitz and In the Current®. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to reproduce this article provided it is without any alteration, includes the copyright above, and if distributing electronically includes a link to

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