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Juggling has been known since antiquity as a trick for entertainment. It seems that only recently this skill has begun to be required in planning … Fragment of Pierre Renoir’s painting “Acrobats in the Fernando Circus”, Art Institute of Chicago.
After many attempts to implement complex planning systems, I concluded that minimalism in planning will solve my problems. In my daily activities, I try to focus on the most important things. I follow the principle of putting priorities first, which Stephen Covey talks about in his classic “7 habits of highly effective people” – see below a video illustrating how this rule works in practice.
I was wondering for a long time why it is so difficult for me to implement the principle of including “big rocks” in the plan. Here are my conclusions.
Necessity to be busy
Firstly, I am not aligned with the assumption that I have to be busy and spend every minute productively. This assumption is in contradiction with the idea of being mindful, living in the presence and following the principles of the art of slow life . A life filled with constant action seems to me extremely exhausting, full of unreasonable pressure and following the false assumption that a productive life is better.
So many roles, so little time
Secondly, Covey’s “big stones” system introduces too many contexts as far as I am concerned. In their book, Covey suggests identifying the most important roles in life and setting up to three most important goals each week for each of them. In the example, he lists his seven most important roles and nineteen most important tasks for the week. Nineteen! Maybe I am impaired planning person, but there is no way I would be able to set that many important goals in each week of the life that I have. I am able to do three or four things each week tops, for nineteen I would have to give up sleeping (I tried: it gets hard after two days).
Fortress under siege
Thirdly, this method insufficiently emphasizes how much energy defending priorities takes. I try to plan the things that really matter to me well in advance. I block the time in the calendar. Then I just have to say “no” to three hundred and fifty people who absolutely need to deal with urgent topics with me at this particular time and I can now take care of this most important task that I scheduled! If you calculate it correctly, defending the plan probably takes me about the same time as the time block I am defending… It is for this reason that I transferred my most important personal tasks to early mornings (which I wrote about in the article about habits), but I am not able to get up earlier.
After failure of my efforts to implement the “big stones” method, I decided to focus on simplification, and that helped me to find many solutions that help me plan well.
Minimalism in planning
I really like the anecdote of Georg McKeown (copied in thousands of articles) about the fact that the priority used to be singular, because there can only be one most important thing, and an idea that you can have many priorities is a mistake and a sign of the modern times. It perfectly illustrates minimalism in planning – priority, not priorities!
If you want to try it, see if any of the methods below work for you.
Georg McKeown described these principles in the great book “Essentialism. The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”. They narrow down to a few of the most important ones:
- Pick 10% of the things that matter most and stop worrying about the other 90%
- Create a routine that will help you focus only on the essentials
- Master the art of saying “no” – you will need it
- Embrace small progress, it leads to big achievements
This rule Warren Buffett allegedly recommended to his associates. I like how simple and with sense of humor it allows you to determine what is most important.
- Make a list of the top 25 things you want to do
- Choose the top 5
- Delete the rest and take care only of the ones you have chosen
Warren Buffett’s formula
I really enjoy Warren Buffett’s maxims and his guiding principles. Therefore, in setting the most important goals in life, this formula helps me a lot:
The key to success is going to bed a little smarter each day.
Applying this formula allows flexibility and helps me think about what I should do on a daily basis. At the same time, it reminds me of a key habit – thinking and reflection, without which the learning process does not take place (you might want to read more about it in the entry about minimalism in personal development).