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Plan, Plan Well, and Plan to Fail

This autumn I will begin my 54th year of starting school. (My overtaxed mother sent me, her firstborn, out to half-day nursery school when I was three. I’ll leave the rest of the math to you.) As a long-time student and even longer-time professor, here are three key counsels I’d like to offer parents and pupils as another academic year is about to dawn.

  1. Plan.

Lists and calendars are not only for the obsessive-compulsive, but for any of us who do not live in Wayne Manor and have an omnicompetent Alfred to manage our lives.

True, lists and calendars become oppressive when we feel we must make every move according to them. They become what the Bible calls “idolatrous” when we judge the success of our days and weeks solely by what we check off.

But lists and calendars provide freedom and peace of mind when we set them up prudently. For by them we can know, hour by hour and day by day, that we’re on track toward our main goals. And, trusting them, we don’t have to keep Remembering Everything All The Time.

I therefore recommend David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and the life management software by OmniFocus that implements his principles.

(Full disclosure: The author is not being paid to endorse these products…although he would fervently like to be.)

  1. Plan according to your hierarchy of values.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow outlined his famous “hierarchy of needs” decades ago. You’ve probably seen one of the pyramids based on his famous 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.”

Significantly, however, it turns out that we need every item on that pyramid. It also turns out that the ranking of needs is highly controversial. Even people in concentration camps, for instance, make art, make love, and make themselves and others matter.

Still, we cannot pursue every good goal at once. And some things do matter more than others.

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