I think we’ve all experienced the confusion and frustration of trying to get our lives organized and under control, but feeling like we’re missing a piece somewhere.

I personally can’t stand feeling that way, so I set out to determine what the essential pieces were and how I’d handle them. Then if it didn’t work, I’d know the problem was me and not the plan.

It was time for me to stop creating new planning routines and methods and stick with what worked, but first I had to know I had the parts I needed so I could focus on the actual doing without allowing myself to blame the system and return to the drawing board. Being at the drawing board with a plan is fun for me, but the real progress and leverage happens in the implementation of the plan, not the creating of the plan.

So, yes, thinking all that through and writing it all out became Work the Plan, which is now available!

But as I researched and thought and worked it out, I also landed on three characteristics of a plan that can work, if we just do it. That’s what I want to share today, whether or not you buy my program.

What's the difference between a plan that works and a plan that frustrates? Discover the 3 characteristics of a plan that works! Get organized so you can get more done with less stress.

A plan that works is complete

The biggest obstacle we have in working a plan is actually trust. When we get our head clear with a brain dump, it’s only going to stay clear if we have places to put the information we’ll need and we trust we’ll see it when we need it.

If we are unsure about whether or not what we need will come in front of our eyes when we need it, then our minds will take it back and try keeping track of it all internally again and the brain dump will have been wasted effort. The key to letting it go so our minds can do what they are good at – creative problem-solving and in-the-moment noticing – is having a complete system that we trust.

Before we can trust the system, we have to have a complete system. A complete system entails a calendar, appropriate inboxes, task management, a place for notes, and weekly routines. Five things. We can do this.

Five components go into a complete system, and then there are two practices that keep it complete and make it trustworthy: clearing & reviewing.

Clearing is putting away the gathered information – ideas, notes, dates, whatever came at us – in their right place in the system. You can allow it to gather in the inboxes, and you’ll probably have both physical and digital inboxes, but regularly that stuff needs to go into the calendar, notes, or task manager as appropriate. Whether it’s mail, email, permission slips, blog posts, sticky notes you left yourself, or receipts to enter into a budget, you need to know where to set it so you don’t lose it (your inboxes) and then have regular times of clearing those inboxes out so nothing is lost or forgotten.

Reviewing is looking over your plans at appropriate intervals so, again, nothing is forgotten. Reviewing is looking at your calendar so you know what’s coming, looking at your task management system so you know what you should be working on, looking at your routines so you know what to do next, and so forth. Lists do you no good if you don’t ever look at them.

But if you gather stuff directly into inboxes, process those inboxes so everything is in one of the five homes, and then look at those five homes regularly, you will have a trustworthy system so your mind can relax and simply do the next thing without suppressed worry or vague guilt.

A plan that works manages expectations

Shakespeare wrote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

What we expect our plans to do for us and how we expect them to affect our homes and lives matters. How we are oriented to them, how we treat them, how we think about them will change how they work for us.

Plans do not control outcomes. God controls the future and nothing we do can wrest that control from His hands. We can’t earn our desired outcome by trying hard enough or figuring out the right formula.

Rather, planning is a way of stewarding our gifts and our situations, presenting an offering of service and thanksgiving to God. He then may do what He sees fit and we can trust that it will work out to the good.

Plans do not change other people. I don’t know how many times I made a plan for our week or our day and then plowed into Monday assuming everyone would fall in line with my idea of how things should go – without me even telling them I’d made a new plan! That never went over very well.

Rather, plans remind us what we are supposed to be doing and we should allow them to direct us without expecting everyone else around us to fall into place. “Worry about yourself first, not what other people should be doing,” I tell my kids. Turns out, I need to tell that to myself also.

Plans don’t necessarily make the work easier. The work is still work. The mental load should be lighter, but plans are not magic that makes us float undisturbed on a tranquil sea. People are still people. Dirt is still dirt. The plan makes it clear what we ought to do so we don’t have to spin our wheels in blank dismay at what is before us, but they don’t make the problems go away. They allow us to more directly and quickly roll up our sleeves and dig in.

A plan that works is used

And digging in is exactly what we have to do after we have a complete system and a plan. Plans are only preliminary work, not the real work. That doesn’t make it unimportant or a waste of time, but it does mean that we can’t sigh, sit back, and think we’ve done the hard part once we have our lists in order. Having our stuff in order is only getting us to the starting line with running shoes and a water bottle. Next comes the actual race.

We’re better equipped to run the race, but the race is there to be run.

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