The last place I ever wanted to be was on a twin-engine propeller plane in an ice storm.
Yet there I was, sitting in seat 2b, listening to the engines labor to keep 20 tons of metal and humanity afloat. Unlike the constant drone of a jet engine, this prop plane had a chant—a repetitive roar intermingled with a gnarly growl—like a lion voicing his displeasure as he tumbled around in an industrial dryer.
In an instant, the growl swelled to a shriek, the plane dipped right, the engine screamed, and a gunshot sound rang through the cabin as something, a sledgehammer for all I knew, hit the outer sidewall as hard as a wild pitch from Max Scherzer.
In an attempt to reduce our blood pressure, the pilot came over the intercom in a calm and confident voice:
"Ahhhh, ladies and gentlemen of the cabin, this is your captain speaking. We had a bit of ice buildup on the propeller here, so we spun it up to throw it off. It sounds like some of it may have hit the side of the plane, but there's nothing to worry about. Everything looks clear now, and we should have smooth sailing ahead."
I didn't believe him until we landed.
And we did. Land that is. We landed and watched the maintenance crew on the tarmac pointing to the dented fuselage. We watched them laugh, and I imagined them joking at how we'd narrowly escaped death.
It was then I realized that the captain, in his thousands of hours of training, had encountered this problem before. He had drilled and exercised this very scenario. He had a plan that kept us on track and got us safely to our destination, albeit rattled.
Prevent Unnecessary Failure
Planning for common failures makes sense.
If ice builds up on your propeller mid-flight, you don't want to be inventing a solution while cruising at 35,000 feet. Panicking and making the wrong decision could mean certain death.
They say, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," so it's best not to die when learning through failure.
But planning for failure is only half of the equation. Planning a path to your destination also makes sense. And not just for flying an airplane.
With all the moving parts, deadlines, stakeholders, and budgets typically found in a big project, creating a plan is fundamental to its success.
Imagine trying to build something as complicated as a house without planning. Even simple things like putting up the drywall before the electrical is strung could set you back an enormous amount of money and time. The drywall team wouldn't notice or care that the electricity wasn't installed; they'd just finish the job as you asked. The electrical team wouldn't care that the drywall was already up; they'd tear down chunks as necessary to make room for their installation.
Save Energy, Breed Excellence
More practically though, planning, whether to prepare for in-flight problems or to take on a big project saves energy and breeds excellence.
When you've planned thoroughly, your end-goal doesn't seem so insurmountable. Having a plan is tantamount to laying stepping stones between where you are and where you want to be.
Should you encounter obstacles along the way, you'll still be ahead of someone who doesn't have a plan. You won't have wasted brainpower on simple expected issues, leaving more of your energy to deal with the unexpected.
Set Yourself on the Right Path Forward
And the unexpected will happen.
You've probably already heard the quote by Mike Tyson, "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth."
This is true, and not just for professional boxers.
Getting punched in the mouth is symbolism for any number of factors that distract, interrupt, or otherwise disrupt our day.
While you may have a plan to, for example, get to zero-inbox by noon, your product could unexpectedly break down causing thousands of angry customers to email you at 11 am.
While you may have a plan to, for example, leave work early and take your family out to eat, your boss could drop a last-minute task on your plate causing you to work later than expected.
That's the equivalent of getting punched in the mouth. And that's okay because it's not your plan that's important, it's the planning it took to get there.
The process of planning helps you anticipate the unexpected.
Planning helps you identify strengths and weaknesses.
Planning helps you identify inefficiencies and make the most of your available resources.
If and when your plan goes to sh*t because you get punched in the mouth or ice builds up on your proverbial propeller, throw your plan out. You won't be flying blind. You'll have all the thoughts from the process of planning to guide you to the right solution.
Plan Today Tomorrow
In answer to the question at hand, you can probably anticipate what I would suggest you do in 20 minutes a day for the next 30 days to make your life better...
But I'm not talking about planning for problems in flight. Nor am I talking about planning to get in the ring with Mike Tyson. I'm not even talking about planning for major projects, big events, or other such activities.
Planning for those things is necessary, of course. But there's an often overlooked type of planning that can have a huge impact on your time, your energy, your ability to work on what matters, and getting sh*t done.
I'm talking about planning your day.
Planning your tomorrow at the end of today is a simple activity you can do in 20 minutes or less to prepare you for the battle to come.
Planning for the events of tomorrow before you head to bed tonight will drastically increase your productivity and help you focus on what matters while avoiding distractions that don't.
Planning your day today for tomorrow and every day for the next 30 days will also make your life measurably better in the following ways:
You'll become conscious of your free-time.
You'll schedule important work before distractions (like social media) take control.
You'll better control when you work, when you rest, and when you take off.
You'll begin to recognize how often you need a break and how long those breaks need to last before you can effectively get back to work.
These benefits are why some of the most successful people, living and dead, plan their day in advance.
Successful Planning — Who and How
Benjamin Franklin is well known for his daily plan, which he laid out in advance. Every morning, he'd rise at 5 am to the same daily ritual, work, read, work some more, rest, examine his day, and sleep. He is also well known for saying, "by failing to plan, you are planning to fail."
Good advice from a legend. But he's not the only one.
Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”
And, if you think those two gents are out of touch with modern life, take notice of what former American Express CEO, Kenneth Chenault, does every night before bed--listing three important things he wants to get done the following day so he can wake up and begin working on what matters.
In fact, in a survey of 163 corporate leaders from Fortune 500 companies, the average leader spent 25 minutes on strategy and planning every morning.
Finally, if this anecdotal evidence isn't enough, researchers Bruce Britton and Abraham Tesser studied the effect of time management practices on college students' GPAs. Shockingly, they showed that time management skills were a bigger influence on GPA than their ability to perform in school, as measured by their high school SAT scores. In other words, if you want a higher GPA, your ability to manage your time had a bigger influence than your previous performance.
Planning your day in advance is the single most effective thing you can do to produce measurable results consistently. And the process is dead simple.
If you're the detailed type who likes the idea of scheduling your day down to the last detail, keep reading.
If you'd rather float through your day than plan it, skip Method 2.
Need a little structure but maybe not in great detail, skip to Method 3.
METHOD 1 // 24 Hours in 20 Minutes
From the moment you wake up until the moment you retreat to bed, you're going to block your entire day in 15-minute increments with meetings, administrivia, thinking time, side projects, family obligations, hobbies, and rest.
Still with me?
Good, because if you balk at blocking your entire day, ask yourself if you typically have the luxury of work AND rest. Ask yourself if you typically get to spend time getting things done AND having extra time for family, let alone hobbies.
Unfortunately, the answer is too often, "no."
Though a completely booked calendar looks scary at first, once you realize you're in control of every moment, you find it's a productive and balanced way to work. You won't fall victim to as many distractions. You won't wish you could spend more time with your family, you'll actually block time to do so.
Instead of working relentlessly without time to think, rest, and recharge, you will plan for adequate time to work and AND take breaks. This, by the way, is scientifically shown to boost productivity and focus during working hours.
Step 1 // Open your primary calendar app, even if it's pen and paper (for us vintage and fancy types). With your calendar open, start scheduling your most important activities in free time slots. You are literally booking an appointment with yourself for that which matters to you most. That could be family, your main job, or an exciting side project.
Make sure no single task is scheduled longer than 2 hours. Even if you block out another 2 hours after a break to work on that same task, stopping for a short rest is necessary to continuing on that same task productively after; you'll avoid boring your brain with one task, forcing its attention to wander and losing valuable focus.
Step 2 // Now, with your most important work scheduled, fill in the rest of your day with exercise, breakfast, lunch, dinner, breaks, etc.
Step 3 // Finally, schedule those hobbies and extracurricular activities with the remaining time, filling out your day completely. If and only if you find yourself with an extra time block or two, attend to your todo list, plucking off the most important activities and scheduling them as you did your important work, hobbies, and other activities.
This is the method I use the most, But it's not the only way. If, like me, you enjoy having your day laid out in front of you, completely planned from the moment you wake until the time you go to bed, try it on for size. If this sounds insane, try something like this...
METHOD 2 // Float Like a Butterfly
If you made it here, I've maybe convinced you that planning is important, but you're not about to lock in 64 15-minute meetings with yourself for your 16 hours of awake time tomorrow. You want to get more important work done, but you love the flexibility of not following a strict calendar.
Step 1 // Grab a small sheet of paper--index card size will do. Ask yourself, if you could get three things done tomorrow (and only three things) what would they be? Write those three things down.
Step 2 // You can't work on all three at once, so take a look at your list and circle the one you'll work on first.
Step 3 // Flip the card over and list any other small tasks (phone calls to make, errands to run, etc.) that you'd like to work on if you have time.
With your highest priority items on the front and the circled task telling you which task you should tackle first, you can hit the ground running tomorrow. Try to get that circled task done by noon, or whenever the middle of your workday is. Even if that's the only thing you get done, you'll have tackled your most important work first and feel great about your day.
Should you find yourself between major tasks or you need a break, flip the card over and work on one of your smaller actions in between. Anything not done at the end of the day can carry over to your plan for tomorrow.
METHOD 3 // Limited Structure
Maybe detailed 15-minute meetings with yourself sounds too stressful, but floating through your day is too loosey-goosey for your style. Here's an in-between method for blocking your time and creating just enough to structure to thrive.
Step 1 // Choose the top three things you'd like to get done tomorrow. Three tasks or projects that you can realistically complete that would make for an awesome day. Prioritize them.
Step 2 // Make a list of errands, calls, and other administrative tasks you'd like to get done during the day. Prioritize these too.
Step 3 // Open your favorite calendaring app (pen and paper counts) and block off the most productive section of your day first. Schedule a 2- or 3-hour meeting with yourself for that highest priority task.
Step 4 // Rinse and repeat step 4. In other words, for your next highest priority task, scheduling another big block of time for yourself to work. Be sure to leave time in between your time blocks for breaks.
Now, instead of worrying about the clock you can focus on the highest priority task or project and work on it until you need a break. It's important to focus only on that one task and not get distracted by the other tasks on your list, incoming notifications, or other distractions.
30 Days of Daily Planning for a Better Life
Ben Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Mike Tyson, Kenneth Chenault, and 163 other corporate leaders from Fortune 500 companies have done something right, and they all have something to say about planning. They may not be saving our lives in a blistering maneuver to throw ice off their twin-engine propeller--like the captain that saved a few dozen passengers and me from certain death--but they all understood the importance of thinking through what's to come.
The fact of the matter is, if you want to produce consistently measurable and productive results, you can't start flying to your destination in the-ice-storm-that-is-tomorrow and wing it when your propeller freezes up and you plummet towards the ground.
The reality is, you can't head into the-boxing-match-that-is-tomorrow without a plan to win that fight, even after you (inevitably) get punched in the mouth.
Planning your tomorrow today makes you conscious of how to use your time more effectively. It allows you to balance work and rest.
As I said before, planning your day is the single most effective thing you can do to produce consistently measurable results daily; and it only takes 20 minutes.
Whichever method you chose, set your schedule aside and finish out your day. Place it on your dresser so you can pick it up and hit the ground running tomorrow. Plan every day the night before for the next 30 days. Take 20 minutes to open your calendar, schedule your important activities, and block out time for breaks, hobbies and unfulfilled tasks.
What you'll find after 30 days of this single exercise is a path to your goals, a stepping stone to your vision, and a means to live your purpose.
And, should you get proverbially punched in the mouth or find yourself with a frozen propeller in an ice storm, you'll have the means to throw your plan out, adjusting your direction on the fly while everyone else stares dumbfoundedly, wondering what to do and astounded at your agility in the face of an otherwise chaotic day.
About the Author
HUSBAND, FATHER, ENTREPRENEUR, BUSINESS STRATEGIST, AUTHOR, FITNESS NUT, ORGANIZATION FREAK, PRODUCTIVITY JUNKIE
I help high-achieving entrepreneurs organize their brain and schedule so they can organize their life and business.
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