“Plans are worthless,
but planning is everything”
It’s a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower – and it’s one that keeps coming up in my life. Even today, as I sat at my desk working through the day’s plan of activities, I received a message from my wife saying our son fell down at school and I needed to pick him up. He was fine, but he wasn’t able to stay at after school care like he normally would.
And just like that, today’s plans went out the door.
But My Planning Was Not In Vain
In spite of my day being thrown out of whack by this small event, I accomplished everything that was important. I also moved a few things around that were less important. In the end, I know it’s not this one day that makes or breaks my plan. Rather, it is the goals for the week that determine whether or not I am successful.
Plans, themselves, are near worthless because reality hits hard and fast, and out of nowhere. You will almost always end up with something more important or more urgent throwing the plan for a loop. But the process of planning is still critical because it helps you to identify the goals to reach and constraints in which you will be working.
This is really what Eisenhower meant when he said plans are worthless but planning is everything.
Plan For Chaos, If It Happens Regularly
After my last email about planning for 1 week at a time, a friend and former coworker commented,
“I usually plan my tasks with that unknown urgent thing in mind because so far for the past two years that urgent thing has never failed to rear its ugly head.”
I’ve worked in scenarios like this in the past. If you regularly have interruptions in your plan due to production issues or urgent support requests from customers, this has to become part of the plan.
When I worked at my last full time job, for example, the monthly and weekly plan for every engineer on the team included 30% of their time spent on support requests. Sometimes it took more than this, sometimes it took less. But having that as part of the plan set expectations and allowed the engineering time to be planned with this constraint in mind. An individual engineer could not plan to work on a new feature 40 hours a week, for example. They could, at best, plan to work on that new feature 28 hours a week – and that would assume they had no other responsibilities (no email, no meetings, no nothing). The plan accounted for this known constraint.
Do The Planning, But Don’t Die By The Plan
Your planning is tremendously important – not because it produces a plan, but because it identifies all of the constraints that you know of while working on the plan. Planning can also help identify previously unknown constraints, too. Having this knowledge helps to adjust the plan up front. But even when an individual day or week gets thrown off by reality crashing down around you, the planning process will have been worth it. Having a plan that outlines the goals will help you stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish.
Remember that the plan is not an absolute. It is only a guide to help you identify the goals and constraints in which you are working. Adjust the strategies and tactics of reaching the goals, as the constraints change.