• FMG

How to Plan Without Going Insane

A big part of my job (Jenn) is planning. It is important to have a plan and think ahead so you can anticipate opportunities and challenges. If you are not doing so, you will quickly find yourself putting out fires, being "busy" all day, but not making a whole lot of forward progress.

The challenge planners have is that always planning makes is easy miss the moment right in front of you. You can get so caught up in the future you are not able to enjoy the fruits of your labor now.

In talks with business owners, balancing planning with presence is indeed a challenge. Business owners, managers, executives out there, how often do you find yourself up at night worrying about the next week, the next month, the next quarter? How often do you find yourself worrying about the success of a project to the point where you have trouble beginning the initial planning and delivery?

How to plan without losing the ability to be present?

Well, let me (Jenn) start by explaining how I learned. One of the first things you learn as a wilderness guide is trip planning. You research forests, rivers, weather patterns, topography and use the information to plan a trip. Many organizations will have guides put in writing what the group will be doing nearly hour by hour through a trip. Why? One, it helps guides make decisions about food, equipment, and other logistics. Even more important though, should everything go terribly wrong (ala 127 Hours) search and rescue groups can have a starting point for trying to find you (morbid but helpful).

Just as quickly as you learn to make these plans, you learn how to let go of the plans. There are millions of factors that can affect outdoor trips, from travel delays, to illness, animals, weather, equipment failures, to unforeseen changes to the landscape (ask me about the time 500 head of sheep recreated an entire trail system right in front of my eyes).

An anecdote. 

In 2005, my team was all set to guide a trip into the Wind River Range in Wyoming. The participants had arrived safely in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We had gear, food, maps, and great weather. Things were looking pretty good. The morning we were scheduled to drive the two hours down to the trailhead, something happened.

Everyone was just about packed up. We were having a yummy trail breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, and jam. Next thing I know, one of the participants slit her hand wide open with her pocket knife. She was trying to cut a bagel (I now only bring pre cut bagels). She went white, then green. Blood was running because she cut right down to the muscle. Now, instead of all of us driving to the trailhead, the group and the other guide packed up and started toward the trailhead and I drove to the hospital.

We had a great trip even with the hospital visit. The doctors got the participant stitched up and ready for backpacking. I never could have foreseen the bagel thing, but we made it work. Until just now, it would have been the last thing I remembered about that trip.

Ways to stay present and be prepared

Here it is, the short list of ways to stay present and be prepared.

(1) Make a list and let it go

Go to grocery store, pick up kids, exercise . . .

Overwhelmed by what you have to do? Make a list. How? Write down the big things (not piddly little stuff that takes two seconds). Then, put a time that you are going to have a the task completed by on the list.


10 AM - Call Jonas Re flowers for office and confirm delivery and payment

11 AM - Finish Wakefield proposal (he wants a box full of our toys)

12 PM - Eat something, even if it is that granola bar in my desk

Then, let it go. If the biggest client of your career walks into your office at 11:15am, adapt. Use your problem solving skills to adjust and re-calibrate.

Plans are made as a guide, not commandments set in stone. Be flexible and be prepared.

(2) Be realistic

Make a stupid plan, and that is just what you will have. If it has always taken you at least 4 hours to complete a project, saying you will have it done in 2 hours and booking a bunch of stuff right after it is a recipe for failure and stress. Be realistic in your planning. You hope something will only take 30 minutes, but give yourself a little time for the unexpected.

(3) Enjoy the process

Once you have a plan, enjoy the process of completing the plan. Remember you made the plan as a guide to help you navigate your day, your week, your trip. Things are going to happen, they always do. Rather than see it as an inconvenience or a threat, meet each opportunity or challenge as it comes and roll with the process.

Two days ago, I said I was going to build a website, then a super awesome opportunity for a meeting with some important people appeared. Guess what? I took the meeting, and handed the web project off to an able and ready colleague (we had talked about the possibility). Website was amazing, the meeting was very productive and the plan was completely thrown out.

(4) You can't control time or people

You cannot control time or people. The more you understand and embrace this reality, the easier your planning process, as well as your day to day living, will be. Remember a plan is a guide, not a commandment. Even when people know and agree to the plan, it can still change course (see the bagel incident). Don't freak out, I repeat, do not freak out.