Before we start talking about excuses, we need to understand that “excuses” is the proper term—not “reasons.” Reasons are perhaps the most important part of what makes us tick. They’re based in our values—the underlying principles upon which we base all of our actions. Reasons are the why of our actions, and the why is the beginning step of all that we do. Why is the motivation that propels us forward.
Reasons are beautiful: “I couldn’t attend your wedding because my daughter was having our first grandchild.”
“I worked overtime and missed the neighborhood barbecue because I’m saving money for my son’s science camp. He’s determined to become a top astronaut.”
Excuses aren’t any of those things. Excuses are based in doubt, fear, and uncertainty. They’re motivated by a desire to justify our weaknesses rather than by a sense of accountability to improve upon them. Excuses are dangerous because, if we don’t see them for what they are, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The term self-fulfilling prophecy was coined in 1948 by sociologist Robert K. Merton. He defines it this way:
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior, which makes the original false conception come true.
The trouble is, once this happens, we often look at the fact that our ‘prophecy’ came true as justification that we were right all along. However, if we take a close look at the top six excuses why people don’t plan, we can easily see that all of them are false statements—false statements that many of us have come to believe to be true. If we aren’t careful, we’ll act on these beliefs, and ensure that they do, in fact, come true.
1. “I don’t have time to plan.”
This excuse is probably the most obvious false statement we make. We all have the exact same amount of time—all of it. The issue isn’t about how much time we have, but what we’re choosing to do with it. If we feel like we don’t have enough time, chances are, we aren’t taking enough control of our actions. Rather than choosing what we are going to do, we’re allowing situations, interruptions, habits, and procrastination to steal our time from us.
If you don’t have time to plan, the remedy is to act. Set your alarm clock to ring 15 minutes earlier and plan before you do anything else. Each week, think through the coming events and decide which items need to happen when. Schedule those items into each day of your week. Then go over those items each morning and determine when you will do them. You’ll be surprised at how much time you free up when you give your most important things their own space in the day. Soon you’ll realize that you are accomplishing much more than you were with the same 168 hours each week.
2. “I’m too busy firefighting to plan ahead—I’m constantly in crisis mode.”
Crises are real. Sometimes big, unexpected events dominate our lives. These moments tend to be temporary, but their effects sometimes linger for a lifetime. During these strenuous times, it’s wise to slow down, focus on the present, and carefully navigate through each day. But careful navigation goes much more smoothly when we take time to assess our situation and make a plan to address it. That doesn’t mean that the course of the day will cooperate with the plans we make each morning, but simply thinking through the events of the day and preparing for them will give us a touch more strength to push through, even when things get chaotic.
Here’s the cool part. As we keep planning even when all we can do is put out fires, we’ll improve our ability to put out those fires. We’ll find ourselves anticipating the next flare-up and preparing for it. Over time, we will work through the chaos period of our crisis situation, the smoke will begin to clear, and we’ll start to see farther ahead. That’s when all that frenetic planning will begin to pay off. Because we kept planning even when we couldn’t see a clear picture of the future, we were able to stay somewhat on top of our world. Now that we can see better through the haze, we can move ahead without feeling buried in the debris of the crisis.
If we stop planning because we can only run from flame to flame, we either burn out, or end up buried in ash. Then even after the crisis has passed, we’ll find we’re too buried to move. Perhaps that’s you now. Your world got turned on its ear and even though you have accepted your new normal, you can’t yet move ahead because you’re still dealing with the immediate changes. What do you do? The only thing you can do—you plan.
Start today with a weekly planning session. List the things you need to address the most, break them into manageable pieces, and schedule them throughout your week. Then look at today’s list of things to do, prioritize them, and start working on what matters most. Keep at it until it becomes a habit. The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment is almost immediate. You’ll begin to feel more on top of your world as early as tonight.
3. “I don’t know how to plan.”
It’s OK if you don’t know how to plan. Planning is something we all need to learn, and even skilled planners can find ways to improve.
The best plans start on the inside. Before you get too far into planning your time, first assess what matters most to you. This exercise is vital if you are going to be truly successful. List the things you value most and why. Then as you look through the tasks that dominate your day, ask yourself if the things you’re working on align with your values.
Benjamin Franklin called this list his 13 Virtues, and it may be the most famous list of personal values ever. As he worked each week toward improving those virtues and aligning his actions with his values, he became one of the most successful people in history.
Now, with your list of governing values in hand, write another list of the roles you play each day: Mother/Father, Sister/Brother, Daughter/Son, Neighbor, Friend, Artist, Employee, Musician, Athlete, etc. This list can get quite long, so be sure that the things you list are in line with your values.
Now, with our list of daily or weekly roles in hand, set a goal for each role. What would you like to do to improve as a parent—as an artist—as a friend—as a co-worker—as a neighbor, and so on. If these goals are big, break them down into small steps. Then schedule these goals into your weekly plans, setting aside time each day to work on some aspect of these goals.
Now you aren’t just making a list of things to do. Planning is much more than that. Now you are literally taking control of your hopes, your aspirations, your dreams—your life.
4. “Planning limits my spontaneity.”
Spontaneity takes time. If you don’t plan, you won’t have time to be spontaneous because you’ll be too busy putting out fires, procrastinating, or allowing the events of the day to dictate your actions. If you hope to be spontaneous, you need to take control of a situation and act with certainty. If we’re truthful, the best spontaneous moments happened with at least some forethought.
Planning ensures you have your most important things in line each day so you have time to be spontaneous. And if spontaneity is something you value, proper planning will ensure that you are working to be more spontaneous, not less so.
5. “I hate it when I don’t meet my plan.”
This statement implies that without a plan you’ll somehow avoid the guilt of not reaching your goals. Here’s the truth. We all have hopes for the future. We all have things we want to do better. If we don’t write these things down and plan to accomplish them, we aren’t going to like our result at the end of the day. Whether our goals are staring at us in black and white from our planner pages or gnawing at the back of our mind, we still won’t feel fully satisfied.
The beauty of planning is that we can see the things we didn’t finish and we can move them ahead to the next day. As we continue to do this, we’ll soon realize that those uncompleted plans that bothered us are done.
6. “Planning limits my freedom—plans are too restricting.”
Plans are only restricting when they are based on someone else’s values. Nobody likes working toward someone else’s goals. If your plans are founded in your motivating values and based on the roles that matter most to you, you’ll find that they lift and lighten your life. You’ll develop a sense of accomplishment that is unmatched by any other sensation. Before you realize it you will be accomplishing more than you thought you could. You will find yourself free to do so much more than you were doing. Your talents will improve, your marketable skillset will increase, your budget will grow, your vacations will be better planned and executed. Is not this freedom?
This is the reason FranklinPlanner exists. This is our why. We’re here to provide the tools and teaching you need to accomplish the things that matter most to you—so you can have greater freedom to do and become who you dream of becoming.
So stop with the excuses and start making plans!