How to strengthen your planning skills

Depending on how your brain functions, learning how to plan can be frustrating

Learning how to plan – especially if you're new to organising your time – can be a frustrating experience. And for some individuals, the reason could be their brains.

As a time management coach, I’ve seen some incredibly intelligent people struggle to plan. Just as we tend to recognise that skills like creativity, analysis or writing can come much easier to some than to others, ease with planning is something that we’re either born with or we’re not.

But it doesn’t mean that we can’t develop those skills by actively building neuroconnections in our brain through persistent practice.

Here are some key steps for using knowledge of your natural brain strength to build your planning skills.


Recognise your strengths and weaknesses

If you find planning extremely difficult, the back-left part of your brain is probably not dominant. To find out what part of your brain dominates, complete the self-assessment in the book Thriving in Mind, or participate in the more formal Benziger Thinking Styles Assessment. Learning more about your natural thinking style can help you better understand what works best for you.

Accept the difficulty

If we think something should be easy when it’s hard, we tend to get upset and are more likely to give up. But if we set expectations that a task will be difficult, we may still flounder, but we’re more willing to work through any issues, since we understand that challenge is part of the process.

Let go of all-or-nothing thinking

Some people think that they must follow their plans perfectly, or their efforts have been wasted. Instead, try to view learning as a process where improvement counts and every day matters. This will build your resilience because you won’t beat yourself up as much when you deviate from your plan, and in turn, you will find it easier to get back on track.

Find systems that work

Instead of forcing yourself into an established scheduling process, find a system that works for you, whether it’s using sticky notes, whiteboards, spreadsheets or apps on your phone. Experiment until you find the right fit.

Borrow other people’s brains

If you know people who excel in planning or have good organisational skills, ask for their advice and insight. They may be able to offer solutions to problems that overwhelm you.

Keep trying

When you find yourself getting frustrated in the process of planning, have self-compassion when you make mistakes, refocus when you get distracted and adjust your plan when new issues crop up.

Understanding what’s going on in your brain as you acquire time management skills can make a dramatic difference in your ability to plan. When you convince yourself that you can change and accept that you’ll need to work harder than most, you’ll have a much higher chance of improving your planning.

Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is a time coach and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training.