How Lack of Planning Wastes Chunks of Time

How Lack of Planning Wastes Chunks of Time

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.

Those lines were apparently stated by Abraham Lincoln.

While Mr. Lincoln probably had a lot of trees to cut, I have a lot of articles to write. And like Lincoln, I’ll almost never write an article without some sort of planning. And there’s a reason why.

I write 300-500 articles a year.

If you write one article, you know how much time it takes. And if you write 300 articles, well, that’s a lot of time. And I know, from experience, that ‘sitting down’ to write is a complete waste of time. Instead I take a sheet of paper. I outline the list of articles I intend to write. I outline the core of the article structure. I determine how the structure will flow.

Then I sit down to write the article.

To most people my methodology may seem like a waste of time

After all, who’s got the time to sit and plan? If a job’s got to be done, wouldn’t it be better to just do the job and then fix things along the way?

Planning is priceless but plans are useless …

And that’s why I keep planning. The plans aren’t just ideas. They’re all the things I want to do during the week. And the reason for the plan is because I need to understand the ‘chaos factor.’ I already know that no matter what the plan, it’s going to go haywire. So I have to look at all the time I have, then allocate at least a third of that time to chaos, and then go to the next stage.

Work out the resources

If I’m going to be writing articles, I need to have a list of articles. Then I need to have the outlines. Then I need to put some ‘flesh’ on the outlines. If I’m going to be learning a new software, I need to download the movie files and have them on my computer.

Then I need to find a quiet place (like the library) where I can’t be disturbed. If I need to go to the movies, then I need to buy the tickets and make sure that I’ve worked out where to put my 44 million sheep – ok, so I’m kidding – but you get the point.

The point of planning isn’t just about the to-do list.

It’s about the resources.
It’s about the chaos that will pop up.
It’s about the location.
It’s about all the logistics that will help me execute the plan.

And it’s not just the plan, but how often you evaluate the plan

I plan on the weekend. Then I evaluate and nudge the plan along mid-week. I spend at least 2-3 hours on planning alone in every week.

Why? Because it’s more productive that’s why. And every time I ignore this advice, I waste minutes, then hours. And feel lousy at the end of it all.

So what’s your next step?
1) Outline what you have to do this week.
2) Outline the resources.
3) Outline the location.
4) Allocate at least a third of the time for Chaos.
5) Re-evaluate the plan mid-week and make changes.
6) Avoid doing anything without at least a sketch of a plan – unless you want to waste time, that is!

Is there a way to create outlines, so you don’t drive yourself crazy? And how do you create outlines for products, workshops, etc? Find out How To Double Your Writing Speed (And Overcome The Outline-Barrier). Click to get the audio and transcript.


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  1. says

    Great advice, Sean. Thanks!
    I always end up being more productive when I take the time to plan my week or my day. Oftentimes the “To Do List” items are percolating even before I start working on the plan, so I can dive in even faster.
    One idea: I create the list of tasks that need to be done, then block off time on my calendar to do the work. This is very helpful at keeping me focused.

  2. says

    Once again Sean, your advice is spot on. When I worked for a weekly newspaper with 12-16 articles each week on deadline, I had a simple outline for each one-or else I never would have gotten them written. Now with blogging, I need to gather the photos, pull quotes and other graphics to make it work-the outline makes it all happen.

    As they say when you fail to plan, you plan to fail, right?

    Thank you!

  3. says

    Thanks Sean. Yes, I see now that my moderate level of planning is still holding me back. I need to get a little clearer on my plan each week. Thanks!

    And for anyone who hasn’t read Sean’s Chaos Planning book, it’s a must.

  4. says

    Your article really resonated with me. I use the Big Idea Toolkit with myself, my colleagues, my clients and have made it available to others as well.


  5. Phil Callinan says

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for this great communique. It’s a perfect reminder to appreciate the most important of all our resources “Time”. I keep track of every 15 mins of the day and it is really amazing how chaotic the days can be. Thank you for sharing your insights and quantifying reality into the productive picture.
    Phil Callinan


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