Since my earlier post this week was about my writing calendar, I thought I’d just make a week of it and post this ode to planning.
People make fun of me because I’m a planner. They like to laugh over my detailed calendar and extensive to do lists. I like to make sure that nothing goes undone and that, if possible, I can even get ahead. While I’m not so obsessive that I can’t go off-script if the need arises, I like to know generally where my day/week/month/year is heading.
It’s a skill that has served me well over the years, enabling me to accomplish more than would be possible with a more scattered approach. It also means that I’m prepared for almost any eventuality. I’m especially attuned to my long range planning needs. Things like planning for retirement, estate planning, healthcare, and emergency planning top my list. Why am I like this? Why can’t I just go with the flow and give life over to whatever Fate governs these things?
I think the best answer lies in a story I once read about the sinking of the Titanic. If the presence of the iceberg had been known ten miles out, the captain would have only needed to turn the wheel 1/4 turn to avoid impact. Taking that small action so far out would have averted the disaster because the 1/4 turn, compounded over the ten miles, would have led to a great enough distance to miss the iceberg by a wide margin. Since he didn’t know about the iceberg until he was right on top of it, he had to crank the wheel all the way over and it still wasn’t enough. He was just too close for even a large action to make enough of a difference. I’ve often thought that this story is a great lesson in why planning is important. We all know that there are going to be “icebergs” in our lives.
Many of them are avoidable (or at least easier to deal with) if we take action early. Take saving for retirement, for example. If you start young, your contributions + compound interest + an increase in your income over time should leave you with a nice nest egg. Wait to start too late and you can throw more money into the bank and still not achieve the same results.
It’s also true for your health. The younger you are when you make a commitment to exercise, eat right, get good sleep, stay out of the sun, and visit the doctor on a regular basis, the better your chances are of staving off disease for longer. (Of course, you can still get screwed by genetics, but taking action at least improves your odds.) If you wait until you are older, much of the damage has already been done and cannot be reversed, even if you make huge changes in your lifestyle.
The Titanic analogy holds for smaller things, too. You know you’re going to need an emergency fund for when things break. If you start putting away a little every week, by the time you need it you’ll have a decent stash of cash. If you wait until six months before you need that car, or until the fridge starts making noises, you probably won’t be able to save enough in time. At work or school, you usually have some advance notice about when a project is due. If you start working on it immediately, you can tackle it a little at a time and work through any issues or mistakes. Wait until the last minute and you’ll be pulling all-nighters and probably churn out a sub-par effort.
Yes, there are plenty of icebergs in this life that you can’t plan for, but even those can be mitigated a bit if you do some planning. That car accident can go easier on you if you have adequate insurance. A natural disaster is more bearable if you have emergency supplies and a survival plan. Even finding out that you have a short time to live can be made easier if you’ve already done your estate planning. Once you’re in the middle of a disastrous situation, it’s often too late and any action you take is only slightly helpful, if at all.
The benefits of planning don’t apply only to dire situations, either. Having a plan for your life keeps you from hitting middle age and then going on a bender because you suddenly realize that you haven’t done any of the things you wanted to do and now time is running out. Career, education, relationships/family, hobbies, etc. can all benefit from some planning. No, you may not succeed in doing/having everything you plan for, but your odds are better if your goals are in front of you instead of somewhere in the back of your mind.
The point is that small actions taken well before they’re needed lead to bigger and better results than those taken at the last minute and in a panic. Personally, I’d rather turn my wheel 1/4 turn well in advance of any disaster than be constantly cranking it in wild swings throughout my life. Living life without a plan is not only dangerous and self-defeating, it’s downright exhausting. I don’t want to be always playing catch up. I like to stay ahead of my icebergs.