Planning is a Multifaceted Model

Part 2: a collection of reflections

Heya Desai
8 min readJan 1, 2023

I’ve made a lot of picture-perfect plans in the past few years. I enjoy being able to see the days and weeks that are ahead of me in one 1680 x 1050 snapshot.

There’s something so soothing about spending hours writing extensive action plans, making schedules, and using an aesthetic color palette to highlight each heading.

Planning can feel like work itself; when a comprehensive, far-reaching plan is all worked out before I start doing anything, there’s a corresponding sense of achievement.

But if I look closer, I’m avoiding the task(s) by stalling. It’s much easier to create the plan than it is to execute it.

When I only want to start step 1 once the plan has reached my standards of perfectionism, I am procrastinating in disguise. This foundational activity creeps into avoidance because of the uncertainty that lies ahead.

The feeling of satisfaction serves as a reward for announcing what I’m setting out to do, bypassing the importance of demanding and rewarding actions.

In the summer of 2021, my friend and I, who had decided to continue into the IB diploma programme, made one of the largest Notion databases that reign my account to this day.

Given we were entering grade 11, we agreed that school had to be within our top 3 non-negotiable priorities. But, we did not want our personal and professional development to become stationary.

So we began scheduling 3-hour weekly sessions where we planned to train various skill sets to accelerate our personal projects and learn about multiple mental models and global problems.

Alongside coming up with the breakdown for each session, we listed out our goals for the next couple of months ahead — hyperlinking relevant documents and links.

We had the right intentions, we wanted to optimize the free time bucket that wouldn’t be tied to obligations during the school year.

However, planning what content we’d produce on the October 23–24 weekend in July might’ve been a sign we were diverting from the goal of our pre-mortem and planning. I now identify this as trying to camouflage dilly-dallying.

The goals we became fixated on were more-so checklist items corresponding to broader goals we should have created, in which progress could be measured through results obtained, and the plan itself could have been revised and amended as needed. — goals, where getting started as soon as possible would be the most fruit-bearing approach.

A friend and I recently discussed the continuous loop of learning and how it can be leveraged during the school year when projects with attached deadlines may not play out in your favor.

My school year was demanding, and the highest-weighted tasks were projects that spanned several months, requiring daily input. These projects, regular assignments, and tests made meeting goals reached when XYZ content was created more challenging.

(Creating content was the goal → eliminated the need to hold myself accountable to work on valuable projects/building depth in desired areas)

If I had set out to build the hard skills I did this summer (2022) and focused on project-based learning, I would have automatically reduced the number of barriers preventing consistency.

Spending 2 hours every morning working on something I care about would be an aspect of personal development which could be shaped into a habit when “starting” every day wouldn’t be mentally taxing.

James Clear describes how all habits proceed through four stages in the same order: cue, craving, response, and reward.

The Four Stages of Habit Summarized

Cue: triggers a behavior by providing a prediction of a reward.

Craving: the motivation behind the behavior, which is driven by a desire to change one’s internal state.

Response: the actual habit performed depends on the motivation and effort required.

Reward: the end goal of the habit, which satisfies the craving and helps the brain to remember which actions are helpful.

  • If any of these steps is insufficient, the behavior will not become a habit.


The Habit Loop

Every goal is doomed to fail if it goes against the grain of human nature. — James Clear

I’ve intentionally built strong relationships with those who can hold me accountable for routinizing behaviors that favor my self-growth. Conversations with ambitious teenagers created a boosting environment, complimented with curiosity-peaking newsletters in my inbox every morning were just some of the cues that triggered the thoughts and feelings that transitioned them into cravings. Hence, I experienced enough motivation to act, especially in the planning stages.

Continuity in the “Response” phase is what my actions didn’t support.

  1. Eventually, my plans (weekly sessions, finishing research articles) required more physical and mental effort than I was willing to expend — because it came at the cost of sacrificing my non-negotiables affiliated with health.
  2. Ability. James Clear uses the example of dunking a basketball. “If you want to dunk a basketball but can’t jump high enough to reach the hoop, well, you’re out of luck .”Since I was aiming to maximize my output, I was subconsciously undermining the importance of the required learning, which increased the actual conflict with my own goals.

I strive to uncap my performance potential, and how could I have been proud of my work if my lack of ability resulted in superficial results?

Revisiting Grade 11

I set expectations for myself before I knew what to expect. The documented promises on my notion pages injured my active flexibility and ability to do what makes sense without extensive forethought.

This induced friction between my perception of productivity and what I should have prioritized during the bulk of my work hours in grade 11. I say “should have” considering my earlier decision to stay in the academic program.

That decision translated into a commitment to put in more input to reap desired results, but my conduct during the school year was not aligned with this responsibility. I ended up prioritizing every task over my academic roles.

While I loved working away at my part-time internship during a traditionally important lesson in class, I lost sight of my long-term goals — which were fuelled by specific performance standards, which consisted of doing well in school.

The commitment and dedication were evident in the projects I was intrinsically passionate about, i.e., making biodiesel (which birthed many laughable memories) in my high school’s chemistry lab for my IA. The nature of the task aligned with MY definition of valuable learning. The reward came forth as instant gratification after the dopamine boosts of reading dozens of research papers and building a long-term knowledge base.

In the end, I did well, but I did not perform to my 100% potential, nor did I obtain the results I theoretically should have with school being placed on the back burner. I was stuck somewhere in the middle — a place I had thought I made impossible to reach through my months of pre-planning.

I planned and scheduled each component of a task in my calendar and the allotted period of the task arrived. Based on external circumstances, It may have seemed less appealing.

So, I procrastinated instead of moving on to a task that might’ve not been a part of the plan yet would be a constructive use of my time, whether it be tackling bits and pieces of projects on pause or reading a book I previously started.

The acts of avoidance transformed into a cycle, and ignorance or deferral by letting myself off the hook only minimized the rationales that could have stopped this loop.

I became physically comfortable with my paradox of a lifestyle, despite my mind experiencing otherwise, as poured out in my daily reflections. The sense of urgency created by tests, exams, and events made it easy to put all but the essential post-it notes in the subconscious region of my cerebellum.

I was definitely uncomfortable, but figuring out how to make my daily life fulfilling amidst what felt like jarring screams from my responsibilities, was even more uncomfortable.

I could not conceptualize the reward of returning to the notion pages and physically re-evaluating my expectations of myself — a straightforward task if viewed discretely.

When juggling multiple non-negotiables, countless nice-to-haves, and a few commitments in a gray area, I optimize to organize my chaos through any form of planning.

Despite the complexity of the tasks at hand, we can have order in our approaches.

As psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Baulch notes, putting your future into a few post-it notes doesn’t reduce uncertainty. In the planning stage of any endeavor, you place yourself in this magical environment where all things remain possible, so it’s crucial to be aware of the tipping point where planning becomes a form of delayed action.

How we fulfill our objectives is by moving forward — action by action. It requires intellectual perseverance, which is a virtue at its foundation.

You hug the intellectual struggle and do not give up on learning when it gets tricky; you encounter obstacles because you’re pursuing greater understanding.

Stay focused, pick your highest priorities, and don’t promote impulsive actions without direction. When we plan in advance (days, weeks, months), it isn’t possible to account for meetings that run over time, personal responsibilities, or weather conditions that can influence your schedule.

Nevertheless, getting things done requires you to act flexibly and quickly — centralizing your attention to the next step that must be done — instead of tackling the whole ladder at once.

I like to think about this in terms of progressive overload. *I’m smiling at the thought of intertwining fitness references*

If your goal is to bench 115 pounds by the end of the year, you’re not going to move from 60 to 115 through one training session; it’ll ideally be done in increments of 5–10 pounds.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy being able to paint the contents of my mind onto a notion page. Each time I click “+Add a new daily update” to create an empty template, I’m filled with sentiments similar to the ones made by eucalyptus candles.

But I’ve learned to move away from having countless items on my to-do list in the hope of reaping the satisfaction of eventually checking the boxes off.

I’m not trying to design a cast of negativity around wanting more for yourself and thus expecting more from yourself, but instead, a sense of realism.

I’m learning to honor the contradictions in life — I’ve shifted my intention from living an idealistic day by setting realistic expectations that challenge me without dismantling the progression toward my long-term goals.

Suppose I believe that being okay with focusing on a bucket that doesn’t address my desired experiences immediately categorizes me as an imposter or hypocrite. In that case, I’ll always question if I’m living life “right,”… wondering if I should stretch myself thin instead of soaking in and claiming the offerings of where I am.

I would also not allow myself to design a routine that discourages a notion of toxic positivity and the binary life approach of right/wrong and good/bad.

At any particular moment, living a life that provides fulfillment through the freedom to explore and experience what I love will only proceed with the day-to-day realities I face. With this objective chaos comes a rich and complex experience.

I’m still accepting that plans don’t always go as planned, contributing to our life’s texture.

I have to be unapologetic about what I will need to thrive.

I have to stop chasing the idealistic picture of what composes a valuable life.

When seeking to build the endurance to sustain personal development, I have to allow myself to [re]-explore the nuances of desire and the coexistence of multiple and potentially contradictory objectives.

I have to implement a p̶e̶r̶f̶e̶c̶t̶ good plan to start today and not delay to an undefined tomorrow.