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When the Plan Doesn’t Work: Paper Vs. Reality

plan doesn't work

The question I am most often asked about planning and organization is: “What do you do when it all falls apart?” Another way of asking this is, “I try and try and I always find that the plan doesn't work.”

These are broad questions, and there are so many possible reasons for a chasm to grow between the beautiful on-paper schedule and reality. Adequately assessing the reasons for this growing chasm takes time and specific questions. That's why the evaluation process is so important. Let's take a look at how you can evaluate and discover some of the possible reasons your plans might not be working out. Then we'll consider what you can do about it.

I have found in my own life that I can become quickly overwhelmed when the plan doesn’t work or just begins to fall apart and, at that moment, I have two choices. I can either fall further down and allow the day or week to close in around me, or I can take the time to sit and evaluate where the issues are and begin making a plan to adjust or change.

Real Life Evaluation When the Plan Doesn’t Work

Plans are truly useful and helpful. As much as I hate to admit it, when the plan doesn’t work it usually isn’t the plan’s fault. It’s usually that I had grandiose expectations, incomplete information, or unrealistic vision when creating the plan.

Planning is a learning experience, and evaluating the plan (and making adjustments when the plan doesn’t work) is also a learning experience. We don’t automatically fall into knowing how to plan perfectly. So, part of the learning process includes working to figure out how to evaluate and adjust along the way.

Here are some things that help me learn how to plan, learn how to redirect the plan doesn’t work, and learn how to walk through my typical day and evaluate adjustments needed for the plan and real life to coordinate harmoniously.

Accomplished: What It Looks Like When the Plan Does Work

Take a moment to reflect and list the items that make for a productive and accomplished day. This could include housework, meals, homeschooling, work, relationship activities, etc.

At the end of the day, if nothing else gets done but these items, would you feel accomplished? To the right of this column, be sure to add an approximate amount of time that is required to complete each item.

This exercise accomplishes a couple of things. First, it helps you tangibly identify what your definition of success is. This is helpful because sometimes we automatically feel like failures when the plan doesn’t work because we haven’t figured out what success really is.

Second, though, this also helps provide the data that lets us know when our definition of success is actually unrealistic. Right now, you’re just collecting data. You’ll do the actual math on your time slots in a later step. But you can probably figure out pretty quickly if the problem is that the plan doesn’t work because you’ve got to much on the “necessary for success” list!

Interruptions: What Expected Things Can Cause the Plan to Not Work

Next, list the most common interruptions that prevent your “accomplished” list from being completed. This could include children’s attitudes, your attitude, sleeping in too late, sickness, social media, neighbors, unexpected changes in your spouse’s or your own work schedule, unhealthy relationships, doctor appointments, specific commitments, etc.

To the right of this list, write yes or no if this is something that you have the power to change.

Again, recognition is the biggest key here. First of all, if it’s something that happens regularly but you haven’t included it in the plan, it’s not an interruption. It’s normal life. The reason the plan doesn’t work is because it’s not a realistic picture of a typical day or week.

Secondly, this exercise gives you a tangible reminder of the need for space and margin in your plan!

Evaluation: Making Adjustments Based on Your Lists

We’ve already talked about what you’re looking for with the two lists you’ve just made. Now, it’s time to work with that data.

Before going any further, take a moment and calculate if you have enough time in the day to finish your accomplished list. If the answer is yes, then proceed.

If the answer is no, then let’s begin here by adjusting expectations. Take time to reflect and discuss with your spouse the priorities for your family and begin to whittle down this list in order to accomplish it within the timeframe of a day.

Keep in mind that it might be necessary to take a step all the way back and revisit your goals and benchmarks to make sure that you have a realistic foundation for your schedule and daily planning to rest on.

Once you have created a manageable list to work with, you can next begin to work through interruptions.

Change What You Can: Write out each item you have the power to change. Below this, brainstorm and note ways you can implement change in each area. This could be implementing self-discipline, better training with your children, turning off technology, limiting or cancelling community or church involvement, etc.

Navigate the Unchangeable: For items that you have no control over, brainstorm and write out how you can navigate these situations. Navigating the areas of life that are outside of your control often comes down to backing up and revisiting boundaries and priorities. Having solid boundaries in place can guide you to respond well when unexpected and uncontrollable situations arise.

The more you adjust and change, the less you’ll find yourself up against a situation where the plan doesn’t work.

Creating a New Plan of Action

Upon reviewing all that you have written down, this now becomes your new priority, whether that is scaling back on activities, honing in on training children with negative attitudes, or practicing more self-discipline. This could also be the point where you begin a new “accomplished” list based on what you truly can or cannot do.

Once you have all the data in front of you and have had time to reflect on the necessary changes that need to be made, the ball is now in your court.

If we truly want to move from a place where the plan doesn’t work to a place where planning is beneficial, we will wake each day with thoughtfulness to what we need to accomplish, what pitfalls we might run into, and strategies to work through and around these pitfalls.

When the New Plan Doesn’t Work and You’re at Your Wit’s End

Perhaps you’ve been through this whole procedure and the plan STILL doesn’t work.

Or maybe you’re so overwhelmed because the existing plan doesn’t work that you find it difficult to even begin developing your “accomplished” list, much less work through this whole process.

If this is where you are, remember that you are not a failure. You just need a different option. Here’s something to try instead:

Set aside three to five days to keep a journal of where you spend your time. That’s it. Don’t evaluate it. Don’t analyze it. Just write it down every day. It doesn’t even have to be super detailed. Just a basic log of your day is fine.

This exercise will help serve as a beginning to understand what you are currently spending most of your time on, giving you a better understanding of, why your plan doesn’t work, where the problems lie, and how to fix them.

Awareness is key to unraveling why the plan doesn’t work and reducing the distance between the paper plan and your reality. Whether you process through that information using the first four steps or you simply journal everything you’re doing now, you’re bringing awareness to the situation.

That’s the best way to go from a place where the plan doesn’t work to a place of success!

Problem-solving for a plan or schedule might differ depending on your personality type. Take our Planner Personality Quiz to discover your planner personality type and find resources to help you make your schedule work for you!

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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