Whether you’re hoping to start a company, write a blog post for your money-making blog, stay focused on homework or get the whole family on board with your vacation itinerary, there’s something to be said for learning how to stick to a plan.
Often, people stop short of this must-do step and instead just make the plan, only for the plan to go completely by the wayside the second it gets hard or they get distracted or outside forces make their plans change.
See, without the ability to follow through with sticking to a plan, making a plan is pretty much pointless.
You can tell the whole football team the plan to make the game winning touchdown, but, when push comes to shove, if everyone is running around all crazy with no regard for the plan, all of that wasted practice and energy goes right down the drain.
I am Queen of sticking to plans, a trait I picked up when I realized how much better life is when you actually do the things you set out to do.
To help you learn how to stick to a plan and have your own success staying focused on goals, I’ve put together a guide to helping you figure out where you go wrong when it comes to sticking to a plan and how to better stick to a plan the next time.
Up next are some essential tips to help you stick to the plans you set, and later on I’ll talk about the instances where you shouldn’t stick to a plan anymore.
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7 Fantastic Tips to Stick to a Plan
1. Create a Practical Plan
Firstly, you need to double check that you plan is at least realistic, ie, can it be obtainable.
I don’t mean this in a, “don’t have dreams” sort of way, but rather in a, if your plan is to blast off to space on a homemade rocketship to go talk to aliens, you might have some problems.
Make sure it’s something that you can follow through on in a practical sense, even if it’s a “reaching for the stars” kind of plan.
2. Make Sure the Plan is Written Down
When it comes to actually making sure your plan goes into action, you need to write that plan down on paper wherever you can.
Getting the plan in your head is not enough to stick to it and follow through because it can leave your head as quickly as it came in with no trace.
If you write it down on the computer, that’s a great idea and a great start, but go the extra step and write it down on paper with a pen or pencil in your hand.
There’s something about this act of writing it down that makes it that much more real to us and helps us stick to a plan.
It makes it seem more permanent, more “real,” even if it’s the same exact plan you just thought in your head or wrote down on a screen.
I love this bullet journal for writing things down.
3. Visualize Your Plan in Action
If you’re going to stick to a plan, you should, in some sense, be able to visualize where it’s headed.
You don’t necessarily need to emotionally connect with it in order to start because sometimes it is very difficult to visualize yourself at the finish line, but think about the individual steps in the plan.
For instance, if I plan to self-publish a book, I should visualize myself doing the actual writing of it.
Picture myself typing away, plotting chapter by chapter.
If my plan is to lose 100 pounds, I don’t necessarily need to picture the final end result of me 100 pounds lighter, but I need to visualize myself in the gym, putting in the work to get there.
I find that visualizing yourself doing the steps to complete the plan is better than visualizing yourself at the end of the plan, as that person can seem so far away, whereas the steps you take can seem much more obtainable and closer.
4. Tell Someone Else Your Plan
Okay, we’re going for the old “tell someone else” method here which helps keep you accountable when you tell a third party what you’re trying to do.
It’s one of my biggest productivity improvement tips.
A lot of people need that external motivation to get started, as there’s this fear of letting other people down and being embarassed if we don’t follow through with the plan.
The person you tell can range from a friend to a family member to a coach, but I would recommend telling somebody who actually is a bit more likely to help keep you accountable and strikes a bit more fear into you!
Choose somebody that you would be ashamed or embarassed to tell that you didn’t follow through with the plan.
Sometimes, choosing someone like your best friend actually isn’t that helpful because you have too much security and they will let you off the hook a bit easier.
But telling someone you admire in your field?
Suddenly the stakes got a lot higher for you to stick to your plan, which can spur you on more.
5. Create a Reward for Yourself for Sticking to the Plan
I don’t deny that humans respond to rewards, and sometimes creating a reward for yourself for sticking to the plan is just what you need to follow through.
Let’s say you plan to lose 100 pounds, but you create the reward that when you do, you’ll book the dream Disney vacation you want.
Or maybe you plan to open a business, and your reward for when you do is to have a nice dinner with your friends and family you don’t get to see often to celebrate.
Whatever motivates you and no matter whether you’re trying to motivate yourself to write an essay, motivate yourself to study or motivate yourself to do homework, make sure you use it in your efforts to stick to your plan.
Obviously you should intrinsically want to follow through with the plan, but wanting to follow through with a plan and actually following through with a plan are two different things.
6. Break the Plan Down into Easy to Follow Steps
When it comes to sticking to a plan, it can be overwhelming to think of it all at once.
For example, “writing a novel” or “losing 100 pounds” are great goals, but the plan to get there involves lots of tiny steps, and those are what you should focus on when helping yourself stick to it.
When you’re writing a novel, you literally write it one word at a time, and so your steps could be as small as “write 200 words.”
When you’re losing weight, it could be as small as “eat 100 calories under your TDEE per day.”
Sure, these don’t seem like drastic measures, but this is what makes up a plan, right?
A good plan is one that you’re able to stick to, as otherwise a plan just stays a plan and never turns into an achievement.
You can use some of the planning tools in this list of tools to get things done to make sure you can keep track of what you’ve chunked it down into.
7. Give Yourself Grace when You Deviate from the Plan
We’ll talk below about instances where you shouldn’t stick to a plan or you can’t stick to a plan, but right now, we’re talking just about those moments where you deviate from a plan because of your own fault or lack of willpower.
These are the moments when you binge eat a pizza when you’re trying to lose weight or spent the whole day watching Netflix when you’re trying to write 1000 words of your novel each day.
These things happen.
No matter how many self-help articles you read, these things will always happen.
But sticking to a plan doesn’t just mean doing everything exactly right.
It means that when you do make a misstep, you give yourself some grace, take a deep breath, and then get right back to what the original plan was.
When You Shouldn’t Stick to a Plan
There are some cases where it doesn’t make sense to stick to your original plan, and in those cases you need to figure out how to create a new plan rather than worrying about sticking to the original.
This could be anything from rain on your wedding day (you can’t make it stop, so how are you going to keep the guests dry?) to if you suffer a personal tragedy that takes you away from your plan to if the plan suddenly becomes dangerous.
Some times, staying positive when bad things happen mean you need to adjust.
For instance, if your plan was to take a lifelong trip to Italy during the coronavirus pandemic, then at some point, your plan would have become dangerous and sticking to it would have been reckless.
Another example would be if you planned to lose weight, but changes in your body meant that the way you were doing it were no longer sufficient and you needed to learn how to lose weight with a new strategy (in particular if you were cutting too many calories or restricting too much).
Don’t stick to a plan just for the sake of sticking to a plan, but do make sure to stick to it when it is still safe, obtainable, and a good idea.