Pleasure Through Planning



Can you name any­one who feels that the days are a per­fect length? Almost all of us seem to feel hur­ried, and to car­ry a sense that life itself is too short. Of course we judge “too short” by the stan­dards of our own desires. Want­i­ng more than we get, we actu­al­ly go so far as to claim that fault lies with the uni­verse! “If only” is a wish­ful refrain famil­iar to all of us. Too often, we use “if only” as a gate­way to a fan­ta­sy world where we may con­tin­ue to build dreams of desire with­out being account­able to the laws of mate­r­i­al real­i­ty. To live in these ways is to invite frustration.

We at Mag­ic teach life plan­ning because we employ it with sat­is­fac­tion. While we pay lip ser­vice to the idea that the days are a per­fect length, we have yet to incor­po­rate that real­iza­tion into our every moment. As we move towards this aware­ness, we plan, record, and review in dif­fer­ent ways, aim­ing by each to align one or anoth­er aspect of our lives with our cur­rent inten­tions. The tech­niques we offer are a sam­pling of our prac­tices, intend­ed as an invi­ta­tion to exer­cise your imag­i­na­tion in devis­ing your own ways.

Time and Life

Cen­tral to many con­tem­po­rary social inter­ac­tions is a notion of quan­ti­fied exchange. So ubiq­ui­tous is our atten­tion to exchange that many of us car­ry it into even such inti­mate set­tings as mar­riage or par­ent-child rela­tions. So care­ful are we becom­ing to mea­sure that which we offer and ask of each oth­er that a grow­ing num­ber of us car­ry appoint­ment books in which to sched­ule our lives to the minute. Before con­tin­u­ing to treat our very selves as com­modi­ties to be bought, sold, and trad­ed, we might pause to clar­i­fy our ideas of val­ue, and the means by which we aim to real­ize them.

We apply con­cepts of time to quan­ti­fy cer­tain aspects of life, but life can hard­ly be reduced to mere time. That qual­i­ty can be as impor­tant as quan­ti­ty, is evi­dent in state­ments like “time stood still” or “time flew.” Many peo­ple embark upon one or anoth­er plan­ning reg­i­men with atten­tion pri­mar­i­ly to time. To do so is to risk achiev­ing effi­cien­cy with­out find­ing sat­is­fac­tion. In plan­ning towards sat­is­fac­tion we first iden­ti­fy that which we val­ue. Only then do we select our activ­i­ties and the sched­ule by which we will order them.

How We Plan and Live

On one end of the spec­trum of plan­ning per­son­al­i­ties sit those whom we char­ac­ter­ize as obses­sive, com­pul­sive, tense, and hur­ried, while at the oth­er are those we call lazy, indif­fer­ent, scat­tered, and slow. Most of us feel great­est hap­pi­ness some­where in the mid­dle: aware, pur­pose­ful, relaxed, and balanced.

Some “over-orga­nized” peo­ple plan to such an extreme that they com­pro­mise all else. Per­haps you are acquaint­ed with some­one fig­u­ra­tive­ly chained to the clock, a per­son who seeks to be invari­ably prompt, exact in sched­ul­ing, and fas­tid­i­ous with time records.

Oth­er peo­ple might be termed “over­do­ers” because they stay so busy that they rarely stop to assess their doing. Like any­thing else, life plan­ning can be abused. By being too rigid or too flex­i­ble in plan­ning, act­ing, record­ing, or review­ing we may suffer.

Like each of us, our plan­ning styles and plans them­selves will be unique. The tech­niques pre­sent­ed here are proven by the expe­ri­ence of many oth­ers, yet any­one who learns them will be pru­dent to regard them skep­ti­cal­ly, test­ing them again against the choic­es and cir­cum­stances of yet one more life. Each of these meth­ods may be a tool for increas­ing per­son­al free­dom. Use what you find valu­able, and keep an eye open for pos­si­ble improvements.

Owning Up to the Necessity of Choice

We can’t do it all! With the mobil­i­ty, the infor­ma­tion, and the social change of our times has come a new rela­tion­ship between the imag­in­able and the real­iz­able. Some say that we are increas­ing the diver­si­ty and inten­si­ty of human expe­ri­ence. Whether this is true or false, we are almost cer­tain­ly increas­ing the ratio of that which is pre­sent­ed as oppor­tu­ni­ty to that which is tru­ly possible.

As the pace of change quick­ens, and the cer­tain­ty of the future decreas­es, choos­ing between present and future sat­is­fac­tion becomes steadi­ly more dif­fi­cult. All of us strike some balance.

We are inter­de­pen­dent. Despite the illu­sions of auton­o­my we cre­ate by using mon­ey to medi­ate our demands for the ser­vices of oth­ers, each of us relies upon many mil­lions of oth­er peo­ple each day of our lives. And many rely upon us. Ours is a world in which indi­vid­ual futures are increas­ing­ly joined.

All of us expe­ri­ence bound­ary con­di­tions, cir­cum­stances beyond our con­trol. To fail to acknowl­edge these and to plan with­in them is to squan­der life. These con­di­tions change. We plan best when we are well-apprised of our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, and able to pre­dict with some accu­ra­cy at least the out­line of a future. The sci­ence of ecol­o­gy may be a tool with­out par­al­lel in both these endeavors.

How We Decide

Most of us are habit­u­al in many things, hav­ing decid­ed them far in the past. At times we decide to escape and day­dream, liv­ing in fan­ta­sy. On occa­sion we wait for the requests/demands of oth­ers. Some of us are serendip­i­tous. A fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of life plan­ning is that we find greater hap­pi­ness when we care­ful­ly con­sid­er how we want to live, even if we ulti­mate­ly decide to live large­ly on impulse. By becom­ing more con­scious of the nature of our choic­es we may increase the like­li­hood that we will bring inten­tion and action into con­so­nance, and thus tran­scend many com­mon stress­es and dissatisfactions.

Planning Defined

Plan­ning takes prac­tice. Plan­ning is writ­ing. Plan­ning begins with pos­si­bil­i­ties, and pro­ceeds through pri­or­i­ties and per­for­mance to eval­u­a­tion. Our objec­tive is to enjoy max­i­mum sat­is­fac­tion in each activ­i­ty. To do this, we match import to dura­tion and inten­si­ty. Because we are con­tin­u­ous­ly chang­ing, we plan at reg­u­lar inter­vals. The details we may alter from hour to hour, the life­time goals we may mod­i­fy only every few years or decades.

The basic resource of the human ani­mal is a life. In con­sid­er­ing the future and ide­al­iz­ing how we want to be, we implic­it­ly define life goals. By writ­ing these, we may come to greater aware­ness. Writ­ten goals serve as a record far more accu­rate than mem­o­ry. They are spe­cif­ic. They may be reviewed and shared with others.

The Lakein Method

A gen­er­al method for life plan­ning, use­ful in a vari­ety of cir­cum­stances, is set forth in How to Get Con­trol of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein. That tech­nique is as follows.

Brain­storm for two min­utes, writ­ing as much as you can in response to the ques­tion: What are my life­time goals?” Then take anoth­er two min­utes to clean up your list.

Now brain­storm for two more min­utes: “What are my inter­me­di­ate term (2–5 year) goals?” Take two min­utes to add and clarify.

Final­ly, pre­tend that you will be struck dead by light­en­ing six months from now. Take two min­utes and write goals for the next six months. Then take two min­utes and improve them.

Now rework the answers to all the questions.

The six-month ques­tion is a stim­u­lus to con­sid­er how hap­pi­ly we are liv­ing. If our answers to this ques­tion are very dif­fer­ent from our cur­rent lives, what shall we do?

Most of us dis­cov­er con­flicts in our answers. To resolve them we choose. This is the only way. We live but one life. Choice is essen­tial. To choose, take one minute with each goals list and select the three most impor­tant goals. Then, take one minute more to select the three most impor­tant of these nine. You now have a life­time goals state­ment. The process by which you gen­er­at­ed it may be repeat­ed as often as you like.You may want to rework it sub­stan­tial­ly now, but as you hone more fine­ly, you will prob­a­bly dis­cov­er that you feel lit­tle desire to change it abrupt­ly, unless, of course, the bound­ary con­di­tions of your life are sud­den­ly altered.

The sec­ond step to plan­ning is to list activ­i­ties. Putting each life goal at the top of a page, take three min­utes to write the activ­i­ties by which the goal may be reached. Be cre­ative, imag­i­na­tive, out­ra­geous, speedy, uncen­sored, bold, foolish…whatever you can be to fill each page. Beware the temp­ta­tion to list only obvi­ous, exter­nal­ly evi­dent ‘doing activ­i­ties.’ What about ‘being’ cer­tain ways? To con­sci­en­tious­ly cul­ti­vate par­tic­u­lar aspects of ‘being’ may be at least as impor­tant as doing. Thought and feel­ing under­pin our actions. Human con­scious­ness may well be the crit­i­cal fac­tor in the bios­phere today. Take at least three more min­utes to recon­sid­er what you have writ­ten and refine it to your satisfaction.

Now ask for each activ­i­ty: “Will I devote at least fif­teen min­utes (less if I can com­plete it with less) to this activ­i­ty dur­ing the next week?” Draw a line through any activ­i­ty for which you answer, “No.” Your rea­sons are your own. Just be hon­est. Com­bine the remain­ing activ­i­ties onto a sin­gle list, and rank them in impor­tance from first to last. Then sched­ule them into the com­ing week, and record your actu­al per­for­mance for lat­er review.

To recap:

con­sid­er pos­si­ble goals;
iden­ti­fy cur­rent goals;
con­sid­er pos­si­ble activities;
iden­ti­fy impor­tant activities;
sched­ule activities;
review and evaluate.

Alterations of Focus

After out­lin­ing a life­plan in the method pop­u­lar­ized by Lakein, and liv­ing with it for a peri­od, we com­mon­ly dis­cov­er that our records con­tain some infor­ma­tion we find super­flu­ous and lack oth­er data which we need. Some of us may cul­ti­vate con­scious­ness of a cer­tain aspect of liv­ing, such as the fre­quen­cy with which we think or act in a one or anoth­er way, even though this may be invis­i­ble on a typ­i­cal “dai­ly sched­ule.” Part of the joy of plan­ning lies in devis­ing our own paths to greater aware­ness of how we live.

Each of us may prac­tice sci­ence in every­day life, the­o­riz­ing about the pres­ence of pat­tern in our­selves and our sur­round­ings, and observ­ing and eval­u­at­ing data to con­firm or dis­prove our the­o­ries. If we are to suc­cess­ful­ly pre­dict how we will behave, and what con­se­quences will result from our actions, we will do so on the basis of repeat­ing pattern.

Living as We Plan

What will you do today? Essen­tial activ­i­ties like eat­ing and sleep­ing, rou­tine tasks like main­tain­ing your per­son­al belong­ings, pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments, and unex­pect­ed crises can fill a life. Iron­i­cal­ly, plan­ning is most essen­tial when we feel least able to do it! Plan­ning for a few min­utes each morn­ing and evening can be lib­er­at­ing. The half-hour a day we devote to such activ­i­ties is eas­i­ly off­set by the increased effec­tive­ness we gain by it.

One way to suc­ceed in liv­ing towards life goals is to set aside times in which to do this with­out inter­rup­tion. As we learn to plan bet­ter, we can increase the amount of life in which we feel ful­ly com­mit­ted and ful­ly engaged in liv­ing towards our most deeply held val­ues. Selec­tive record­keep­ing, lim­it­ed in dura­tion and in focus, can be a foun­da­tion for assess­ing our progress.

Be aware of your own and oth­ers’ rhythms. Know when you are best able to do what you do alone, and when you are best able to inter­act. Search for over­lap in rhythm with those around you. Plan for the unex­pect­ed, leav­ing unsched­uled life in each day. Rigid adher­ence to an unvary­ing sched­ule can be unpleas­ant. Learn to bal­ance diver­si­ty and reg­u­lar­i­ty. Doing noth­ing is impos­si­ble. Rec­og­nize the impor­tance of dream­ing, of look­ing inward and ques­tion­ing, of ‘being’ even when appar­ent­ly ‘doing’ very little.

Tran­si­tion times, like lunch, breaks between activ­i­ties, wait­ing in line or for some­one, and com­mut­ing can all be lived to advan­tage. By pos­ing a ques­tion before sleep­ing, we may even learn to give con­sci­u­os direc­tion to this third of life. Every odd minute here or there can be lived well and ful­ly if we have a plan for doing so.

A dai­ly “to-do” list is close to imper­a­tive. Write what is impor­tant. Con­scious choice through­out the day is essen­tial. What is impor­tant? Back-up lists of “to-do some­day” items are a way to fil­ter, noise from the dai­ly list. Group activ­i­ties by func­tion, or work con­tent, or loca­tion, or per­son, or what­ev­er you find use­ful. Stay aware of pri­or­i­ties. Bet­ter three A items com­plet­ed than ten C items. Many undone C’s become Z’s.

The 80/20 rule states that often, eighty per­cent of the cost or ben­e­fit of an activ­i­ty accom­pa­nies the first or last twen­ty per­cent of the effort. “How much val­ue flows from what part of the activ­i­ty?” is the under­ly­ing ques­tion. By care­ful­ly assess­ing this, we learn when to cul­ti­vate per­fec­tion and com­ple­tion and when to set­tle for approx­i­ma­tion and par­tial performance.

Be care­ful in accept­ing com­mit­ments. Often we may post­pone final deci­sion, by agree­ing in the moment only to con­sid­er some­thing. Over-book­ing is easy. The results can be shod­dy per­for­mance, bad feel­ing, or lost perspective.

With a goals state­ment, a sched­ule, and a “to-do” list we are equipped. Yet all of these are but tools for answer­ing the ques­tion, “How shall I live the next minute, hour, week, month, year, decade, life­time, with great­est satisfaction?”

When we feel hes­i­ta­tion, we are wise to ques­tion. Intu­itive reluc­tance to tack­le a task is often well-ground­ed. Bet­ter to clear the way than to rush head­long into dis­com­fort. Rigid­i­ty can car­ry a heavy price in a rapid­ly chang­ing world.

If we feel over­whelmed or find a task unpleas­ant, we can some­times make it man­age­able by break­ing it into pieces or allo­cat­ing small, fixed amounts of life to it. As a gen­er­al rule, the more detailed the plan, the more cer­tain is action. If we feel blocked, to imag­ine that we are plan­ning for some­one else, who shares both our goals and our bound­ary con­di­tions, is a way to move beyond paral­y­sis into action.

Get­ting more infor­ma­tion is anoth­er way to warm up to a task. Infor­ma­tion gath­er­ing is usu­al­ly pret­ty pain­less, and in the process of learn­ing, we become engaged. Select a lead­ing task, one which is pre­req­ui­site to the rest. Begin the appro­pri­ate activ­i­ty, typ­ing, walk­ing, dial­ing the phone, whatever…

Be sen­si­tive to moods. Find­ing a way to accom­mo­date feel­ings while still deal­ing with the impor­tant activ­i­ties we have cho­sen is crit­i­cal to liv­ing well. Is there any aspect of the high-pri­or­i­ty task we can imag­ine tack­ling with plea­sure, or at all? Make promis­es, and keep them. Set times for com­ple­tion, and meet them.

When tired or bored, we may sat­is­fy desires for change with­in the con­text of the task at hand. Beware tan­gents. An activ­i­ty which is oth­er than crit­i­cal to com­ple­tion of pri­or­i­ty tasks, how­ev­er clev­er­ly ratio­nal­ized, is a rel­a­tive waste of life.

If we shrink from a pri­or­i­ty task, we may ben­e­fit by slow­ing down and recon­sid­er­ing our feel­ings. A rapid shift to some­thing else can be a way to obscure impor­tant cues. Once we have begun a task, how­ev­er unpleas­ant, we gain by doing it with joy. Only a fool adds vol­un­tary bad feel­ing to an already dif­fi­cult assign­ment. Remem­ber that fail­ure to act will like­ly result in fail­ure to achieve that which we have labeled impor­tant. We can often gen­er­ate enthu­si­asm for our choic­es by sim­ply decid­ing to do so.

Fear is an under­ly­ing ele­ment of much pro­cras­ti­na­tion. Tech­niques for deal­ing with fears include con­tain­ing them, acknowl­edg­ing them and decid­ing to pro­ceed any­way, extin­guish­ing them, ratio­nal­iz­ing them away, respond­ing to them with pos­i­tive action, and exag­ger­at­ing them to expose their rel­a­tive unimportance.

Con­sid­er the price of delay. Usu­al­ly, in addi­tion to the obvi­ous costs, there will be more sub­tle con­scious­ness costs as we pay the price of wor­ry. Why think about the thing with­out doing it? We can stress the ben­e­fits of action, and learn to act more decisively.

Com­mon escapes include indulging in con­sump­tive activ­i­ties, social­iz­ing, read­ing, rep­e­ti­tion of known inef­fec­tu­al behav­iors, run­ning away, day­dream­ing. If we take one of these, and admit to wast­ing life, we reduce the like­li­hood that we will per­sist in it. We also can learn to cut off escape routes. One alter­na­tive is to sim­ply sit, rather than do any­thing oth­er than the pri­or­i­ty task at hand.

We live on a “dai­ly best” basis. Learn­ing to sal­vage a day after expe­ri­enc­ing fail­ure is impor­tant. Plan­ning, even in the face of over­whelm­ing tasks, act­ing accord­ing to plan, avoid­ing escapes, main­tain­ing a pos­i­tive atti­tude, all of these require deter­mi­na­tion. If we start with easy steps we can build strength and con­fi­dence. Then wen we find the going tough, we’ll be able to per­sist. We can learn to min­i­mize loss­es as well as to max­i­mize gains. We can make plan­ning some­thing which we use, rather than some­thing to which we are a slave. Prac­tice for your­self, you’ll see!