Plan: Think Before You Act

By John Jones & Maureen Delaney

“Look before you leap!” This phrase means you should think, pay attention, and have your wits about you — before you make your move. It is important to think ahead and make up your own mind about what to do next so that you don’t wind up with an unwelcome outcome. Even during a pandemic, when life seems so unpredictable, we can make choices that give us some sense of control over our lives.

Of course, we cannot predict the future and calculate the precise consequences of our every decision, but we do need to consider the relationship between what we think and what we do. If you plant apple seeds, don’t be surprised when you grow an apple tree.  

Planning is the thinking stage of taking action

Planning doesn’t always get a good rap, because flying by the seat of one’s pants may be the easier way to go — and may sometimes even be more fun! Take a baseball or softball pitcher: it might be a blast to send some wild throws and dramatic curveballs across the plate. But really, the game depends on the pitcher’s technique and mindfulness in deploying their skill. Nothing is going to happen unless the pitcher crafts a strategy, practices their moves, and throws the ball across the plate with finesse. A keen eye and a sound strategy are both essential to getting the batter out.

And speaking of skill … as an experienced student, you have learned how and when to get your homework done, touch base with your parents as needed, and of course, have fun with friends.

Along the way, you learned the importance of planning: it allows you to enjoy the moment. For example, if you have studied for the test, you are less likely to be stressed or anxious about the results. You are more likely to manage the test with more control and do your best. You have created your present reality one step at a time with a strategic plan and learned that making good decisions will keep you connected and involved. 

Planning: What’s the Scoop?

So, in order to keep doing all of this good stuff, you need to develop and practice the skill of planning. This is where you weigh your options, prep for the unknown, try on several scenarios, and envision yourself succeeding in the future. Planning takes vision: it is looking at the next few days, months, and even years. Managing the movement of your calendar takes slight adjustments in what you see. And you have the power. Just think: what’s due tomorrow? When is the game on Saturday? When is due at the end of the quarter? What am I doing this summer? 

How do you get started planning?

When do you normally talk with Mom or Dad about upcoming events? If there isn’t a regular day or time you do this, perhaps that would be helpful to schedule. Do you know what they have scheduled on their calendars for you? You can begin to shape your own calendar based on that. It is difficult to carry all of your assignments in your head, so mark them down in your calendar. If you don’t already use a calendar app, maybe this is a good time to start.

What skills do you need to practice? As with many activities, there are some core concepts, and then there are some things we can change and make our own. Take a look at the following steps involved in a successful plan. Later, try actually applying these steps first on a low stakes assignment or event, and then on a more important project. Good luck!

Get out of your head and onto the page (or screen)

Any upcoming responsibility can seem more challenging if left to your imagination. Putting the goal down on paper will help to keep it manageable. It is no longer an unbound cloud, but now a limited event that we can take steps to master.

Where is the starting line?

Take an honest look at where you currently are and what you’ll need to do to accomplish your goals. Being aware of potential obstacles, and knowing your true starting point will help you develop a more effective strategy to change. 


As you’ve probably heard before, goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. For example, “clean my room” becomes “Each morning, I will straighten my desk, get the clothes off the floor, and make my bed before classes start.”

Keep it real

As you’re setting up your plan. It’s helpful to take a moment to confirm it’s possible, given your resources, time, and energy. Remember, you can succeed more by taking consistent small steps rather than infrequent, massive moves.

Contingency Time

You can save yourself some stress by building in some time to recover if something goes off track. Put some time in the plan for the unexpected. 

Use time as a tool and not as a crutch

Think about the time you have for your project. When will you try to accomplish each of the individual steps? When will you complete each step? What events do you need to change, move, or drop in order to be successful in the current goal? Connect each task with a specific time that you will devote to completing it.

What can we do today?

Taking a look at how future events rely on previous steps, you’ll want to trace your desired end point back to today. What can you do to move you closer to your goal? What should you stop doing so that you can refocus your efforts? What can you set up for tomorrow so that it can be a productive day for you?  

Check your progress

A traveler will often check their watch or where they are on the journey. Periodically, come back to your plan to see if you are on schedule, ahead of the curve, or need to speed up a bit. Some parts of the process will take longer or shorter than we initially predict. Let’s stay aware of these variations and use them to keep the process on track for success.

A little help doesn’t hurt

Talk with Mom or Dad about how they plan or if they could go over your plan with you. Just as a more experienced athlete, artist, or student can help you, your parents can bring their planning experience to bear to help you achieve your goals. 

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

Before he was President, Dwight D. Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Western Europe and planned the D-Day landing at Normandy …. so he knew a thing or two about planning.

In the end, it is important to remember that a plan is a tool for your success. When conditions change that make that tool less useful, it’s ok to change or even to discard it and to then make a new plan.