Some of the dreams on your dream list will be simple. Maybe they’ll require more money than you currently have, or more time than you can currently devote, but once you get a handle on these things the actual perusing of the dream itself is easy to execute. But then there those other dreams. You know, the monstrously large ones with multiple facets, where the mere thought of how to accomplish them ties your brain in knots?
Yep, I’ve been there. It’s time to do some planning.
Some people love making lists and spreadsheets and charting out complex game plans. There are plenty of books and resources out there on the topic of planning, as well as programs and techniques to help you get organized. But that isn’t going to be the focus of this post. See, I have yet to find one of these systems that works well for me. If it takes more time to set up the system than it does to complete the items on it I quickly lose interest. The sheer number of things that I need to do to go RVing full-time for instance has required that I set up a few check lists, but it’s a pretty fluid process.
Here’s how it works, using my RVing dream as an example. As I think of things that need to get acquired, accomplished, or even just things I want to look into in greater detail later, I either add them to the appropriate check list if I’m at my computer, or if I’m not at my computer they get written down temporarily in a little spiral notebook that I carry in my purse, and then get added to my computer lists later. Most of these are broad ideas, like: ‘Trade in car for truck’ and ‘set up mail forwarding service’. The trick at this stage is not to get into too great of detail, doing so will take up a lot of time and will probably cause you to feel overwhelmed when you see the huge number of things on your list. Just write down the bare minimum that it’ll take to remind you that this is something that needs to get looked at.
As far as the number of lists you need, that’s depends. For preparing to go RVing, I first have one for things I want to research more. Originally, most of my ideas fell under this category, when I knew very little about RVing and what was and wasn’t necessary to go full-timing. Now that I’m mostly past the researching phase, most of my ideas go straight to one of my other lists.
I have one for things I want/need to buy for the RV (the truck falls in here), one for logistics (mail forwarding falls in here), one for resources (like links to helpful RVing websites), one for packing things I own that I want to make sure I remember to take with me (things get added and removed from this list as their importance to me increases and wanes), and one for things I want to do once I’m on the road. I also have a sub-folder in my RVing folder for reference articles and clips about specific topics. I try my best to label the articles as concisely as possible, so when I go in the folder looking for something in particular it’s easy to find. The more I learn, the more information I end up with in here.
Perhaps now your looking at your lists and realizing that while it’s great having it all written down, you still have no idea where to start.
I know that if I spent too much time mulling over what order to do stuff in that indecision would paralyze me and nothing would end up getting done. I also know that having a huge to-do list for the day would leave me feeling overwhelmed and disappointed when I inevitably don’t get it all done. Instead, for the days that I plan on working on a project, the night before I’ll pick one thing from the list that I feel will be the most immediately helpful in getting me to my goal. Try to find the one thing that is currently the roadblock from getting you to your dream from the point you’re at right now.
For instance, setting up mail forwarding and trading my car for a truck were both things that I needed to do before going full-time, but getting the truck was more immediately helpful because I can’t even purchase my travel trailer until I have a truck capable of towing it home. On the other hand, setting up mail forwarding won’t be necessary until the lease on my apartment is nearly up when I’m just about ready to hit the road.
This may be a tough practice to adopt, but it helps a lot. Often, the one thing we most need to do to move forward right now is hard, and so we’ll waste precious time doing other things that aren’t nearly as urgent to avoid it. If the thing I need to do most is too big of a step to complete in one day, then and only then will I break it down into more manageable pieces (remember, I said above keep it broad until you need to break it down).
The amount of time you have to work with matters. If you only have two hours in a day to work on it, you’ll need to break it down more than you would if you had all day. Typically, if I’m going to have less than two hours a day to devote to a project I opt to not to do anything, since it takes me some time to get into the work I’m doing, anything less than two hours just doesn’t have enough return on the investment.
There are also limits to my attention span, which if you’ve met me, you’d understand is a mild understatement. If the most important thing you need to do involves being on a computer, and you can’t work two hours continuously without losing focus, then do yourself a favor and don’t. It’s time consuming and difficult to make yourself keep going when you need a break. Personally, I go at least 25 minutes before taking a 5 minute break. During that break I’ll get out of my chair, stretch, and move around a little. Doing this will help you maintain your concentration.
Feel free to have back up things to do too, so that if you finish your number one item and still have some time to spare and the will to keep going, you can. Just remember to keep the mindset that you only need to do the number one item, the rest is just icing on the cake.
If you decide to try this for yourself, you’ll find that some tasks on your lists will get completed quickly, while others might be on your list for months at a time. That’s okay though, because as soon as that thing that’s been sitting on your to-do list truly needs to get done to further your dream, you’ll do it.
All of this doesn’t mean you should ruthlessly plan every day for maximum efficiency and never do anything that doesn’t get you one step closer to your more complicated dreams however. Some of the best things that come our way aren’t things that we dreamed up or thought of ahead of time, but are opportunities that present themselves unexpectedly. Don’t get so caught up in checking stuff off your to-do list for the day that you turn a blind eye to these pleasant surprises when they crop up.
I hope this method may may be of use to those of you out there who aren’t as fond of more structured planning.
So, are you a planner or do you prefer to do without? If you are one of those people who uses planning software, what kind do you use and what has your experience been with it?
This post is fourth in a five part series. For part 5, click here.