Fail to plan and plan to fail? Why I find it hard to think ahead

This week I’ve been having a lot of fun designing colourful spreadsheets and creating calendars of work for the coming year.

I like this kind of planning. I think partly it’s just a complicated, technology based form of procrastination, but it also makes me feel more in control of work, and gives me the confidence to feel I can legitimately claim to be knowing what I’m doing.

Outside of work though, I find planning very difficult, whether it be the ‘what shall I take out of the freezer for dinner tonight’ type planning, or something a little more long-term. I just can’t help but think ‘How do I know?’

How do I know when I’m standing in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning, staring vacantly at rows upon rows of different types of sausage and shapes of pasta, exactly what I’m going to fancy to eat on Thursday?

I just don’t do I?

And if I can’t even say for sure how I’m going to feel about something as simple as shopping a week from now, how on earth can I say with any certainty what my priorities are going to be a year, five or ten years from now?

I just can’t.

It can be quite frustrating. I often wish I was one of those people with clear goals and ambitions, so I could have a colour coded spreadsheet of my future, with the jobs, cars, homes and holidays I wanted clearly set out in nice, neatly formatted boxes. It would be brilliant wouldn’t it? You could have a plan for getting to each target, and a nice warm feeling as you reached each milestone and ticked the box.

My problem is though that I know that by the time I got to each milestone, I probably wouldn’t want it any more. Or I’d tick the box and go ‘is that it?’, expecting something more tangible, more rewarding than just, well, than just a ticked box.

Some might call it fickle. I like to think of it more, when I’m being kind to myself, as living in the moment, of remaining open to whatever exciting possibilities life might throw at me. Although to be honest that makes me sound rather more interesting than I actually am. It conjures up images of spontaneous round the world windsurfing adventures, or all night parties with strangers in abandoned barns, and quite frankly I’d rather be at home with a cup of tea and a biscuit, so maybe I am just fickle.

Or maybe it’s just that as humans we aren’t meant to be so worried about what the future may hold. Cavemen didn’t have spreadsheets or diaries or stakeholder pensions did they? Children don’t waste time worrying about how much money they think should be earning by the time they’re forty, and they seem pretty happy most of the time. (Except for Belle who howls like a dog when I make her switch off the TV).

What do you think about long-term planning? Can it be a useful way to help you realise your goals, or do we risk not noticing the shifting goal posts?



  1. 8 November, 2011 / 5:53 pm

    There is part of me that wants to plan, plan, plan…and that can be really helpful (and cost effective) but it kinda takes the fun outta things, don’t you think? Sometimes you have to slip out of the routine and do something on the spur of the moment or you just go crazy.

    We forward plan a bit but it’s more along the lines of tweaking the rudder a bit so we don’t hit an iceberg rather than plotting a course…

    • 9 November, 2011 / 4:55 pm

      It can definitely take the fun out of some things. That said, sometimes a plan can make things more exciting, because you can look forward to it – the anticipation is better than the actual event often for me.

      I like the idea though of my life being a boat, heading vaguely in the right direction, and me sometimes giving it a bit of a nudge and sometimes just sitting back and seeing where the tide takes me :-)

  2. 8 November, 2011 / 5:57 pm

    Problem with long term planning is the unknown factor, the further you go into the future the harder is to predict …. Planning for a career? Nice idea but ultimately who knows how your career will turn out in 10 years. I had no idea about most of the things I’ve done when I was sixteen. Career advice was next to useless at school so planning was out of my question. I couldn’t even follow my parents, my mother was a seamstress (certainly not my forte) and my father a mathematician (definitely not my forte) so the idea of even following them went out the window. So I decided (for some bizarre reason) I wanted to be a chef, but of course after a few years I realised what an antisocial, unpleasant, dirty and poorly paid job it is and like so many other youngsters just jumped into the first thing I could that came along.

    It’s like picking a car, you decide you want a specific model, in a specific colour and engine size but when it comes to the crunch (unless you’re buying new of course, not that I would know as I’ve never bought a new car in my entire life) you often come home with something different. Life is the same, most of us just muddle along getting what’s available as it comes up. Anyway, must dash, I need to be planning my meteoric rise to PM (not).

    • 9 November, 2011 / 4:56 pm

      You’re right Steve – we just don’t know what the future holds for us do we? We might think we really really want something, and then we get it, and realise it wasn’t what we wanted at all.

  3. 8 November, 2011 / 6:29 pm

    Long-term “plans” I prefer to think of as possible targets, they are useful to have as a guide to where you might like to be in the future, BUT, life throws curveballs, your wishes and needs change with time, and it does pay not to get too hung up on plans that never materialise. Having said that, I have set myself a target that I hope to achieve within the next couple of years, I did this a year ago, and thus far, am no closer to achieving it, nor is it entirely the same target as it was BUT it is a good indicator of where I would like to be, and the “dream ” is constantly being honed and retuned to suit

  4. 8 November, 2011 / 8:56 pm

    The key is short term planning. What would I like to eat this week? What bills really need to be paid this week? Would I like to meet the girls for drinks on Saturday night? What movie shall me and the boyfriend go see tomorrow night? Does my car have enough petrol to get me to work and back for five days?
    Take it day by day or week by week. The big stuff, I find, falls into place when it’s important enough… Or when my bf badgers me enough to think ahead a few months to plan a holiday or buy a car or whatever?!!!

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