Man Plans. God Laughs. Man Plans Anyway.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. — John Lennon

Whether taking the same route to work or putting together a wedding for 300, there isn’t a thing you do at any given moment without some form of plan in place. That’s a good thing.

Because as appealing as willy-nilly is, there is great wisdom (and infinitely better results) when you look before you leap. That look is called a plan.

This time of year, one set of plans is always trending: the officiously titled New Year’s resolution. These unsanctioned vows to curse less and save more offer us the elusive promise of a clean slate and golden opportunities. We tell ourselves this is the year. But we know deep down our plans and promises are mere poppycock.

Studies have revealed that more than 74 million adults make New Year’s resolutions in the U.S. Of those, more than 68 million never achieve them. Shocking, but not surprising. Setting unrealistic goals, along with the ease of settling back into familiar routines, can blow up virtually any battle plan. And, considering the word resolution means “determined or relentless,” the tradition of New Year’s resolutions seems especially ironic.

Plans can be studied, executed, followed, altered or cancelled, and can include construction, marketing, business, 401k, secret, installment, game, flight and master.

Whether it’s for lunch or life most plans share common threads. And knowing how to create one — and carry one out — can improve the odds that your day, your week and your life will go according to plan.

With a few guidelines on how to build a better to-do list you’ll have a better shot at knowing exactly what to do.

Make a list. Call it your vision. Write down what you’d like to accomplish and the things you’ll need to accomplish them. Contrary to popular belief, it’s ok to skip to the end and work your way backwards, breaking down your long-term goals into short-term assignments.

While you’re at it, ask yourself why? Are your plans meant to simply remember what you need to do today? Or are they loftier goals to improve your health, home, finances, family, career or community? Whatever the reason, it’s important that each “how I’ll do it” comes with a “how come I’m doing it.”

Be detailed. Be precise! You want to lose weight? Fine. Just be specific with the number of pounds you want to lose, your food choices and workout schedule. Give yourself a deadline and keep track of your progress. But stay calm and flexible, ready to assess or alter your plans should they go awry. Because they will always go awry.

Get a village. Going it alone rarely works, so surround yourself with a strong support system. Enlist your spouse, mentor, coach or co-worker. Seek their advice, their encouragement. And remember there is success as well as safety in numbers.

Get your plans in order. Literally. Prioritizing in order of importance gets things organized, stuff done and done on time. If you’ve a dozen places to go today, listing them by proximity to each other is in order. And whether your plan is things to do today or things to do in your lifetime the 1-3-5 Rule is a good plan of action. By placing the one big thing at the top, followed by three medium-sized goals and five small strategies to help achieve that one big thing, you’re making what’s most important your top priority.

Make the plans mean something. Pledging to clean out that junk drawer is admirable, sure. However, plans of climbing the corporate ladder, starting a college fund for your newborn, donating time as a volunteer or fostering animals are not only exciting, life-changing stuff, but they make for a much sweeter victory when you tick that box.

Be realistic. Plans to save a little each month for a home down payment are reachable and reasonable. Plans for splitting the atom or snagging a Pulitzer may take a while longer. Please understand, we’re not here to rain on anyone’s parade plans. It’s great to think big, aim high and move out of your comfort zone. But if you’re determined to reach for the stars, keep in mind the nearest one is 25 trillion miles away. Just saying.

Most important? Stay motivated, focused and upbeat. Some goals take a day, others take decades, so pace yourself. Celebrate each victory at each phase and don’t sweat the small stuff. But make no mistake. Plans equal commitment and commitment equals change. And people fear change. Therefore, depending on what you have planned, your plans will require some level of fearlessness.

With a clear head and clear-cut goals, any plan is possible. And we have faith you’ll achieve them all. If not, there’s always Plan B.

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