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Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

I played baseball in college. During the offseason, my teammates and I would battle through friendly Strongman competitions where we would flip a giant tractor tire, drag a sled full of weights, and generally push, pull, and throw heavy, oddly-shaped things.

Occasionally, there would be an event where someone would complain about “not being built for this” or about “not training for this type of thing.”

Eventually, my roommate responded to the whining with a simple phrase: “Train for chaos.”

“Train for chaos” was a simple way of saying, “Don’t tell me that the circumstances aren’t ideal. Tell me that you’re going to make it your responsibility to be better prepared next time.”

You may not find yourself flipping tractor tires anytime soon, but you can adapt this philosophy from “train for chaos” to “plan for chaos.” I find that this mentality can be incredibly useful when it comes to sticking to your goals and living a healthy life — especially when life gets busy.

Here’s how you can use this idea.

Plan for Chaos

Let’s say that you have a goal that you want to stick to consistently. For example, working out three times per week or meditating for five minutes each morning.

If everything goes as planned, then sticking to your goal isn’t too difficult. If you wake up on time, then you should have the extra five minutes to meditate in the morning. If rush hour traffic isn’t bad, then you should be able to make it to the gym before going to your kid’s performance tonight.

Basically, if there aren’t any unexpected interruptions, then it just comes down to getting started.

But when life gets busy and chaos starts to happen, that’s when we start to come up with excuses. Phrases like “I wasn’t expecting X to happen. ” start creeping into your life and you end up pushing off the goals that you said were important.

The chaos and unpredictability of life is one of the factors that makes sticking to your goals difficult. Which brings us to the important questions.

How can you stay consistent when day-to-day life is so unpredictable? How can you plan for chaos?

Reduce the Scope, Stick to the Schedule

As you probably know, my writing schedule was to publish a new article every Monday and Thursday on JamesClear.com.

One time, I was traveling internationally when I had a terrible case of food poisoning. I wanted to publish a good article that day, but this unexpected sickness made things difficult. So, I told myself, “If I don’t have a post written before 11pm, then I’ll publish one letting people know that it’s coming later this week.”

A few hours later, I published an article that said, “This post is coming!” I hated publishing something that wasn’t useful, but I still proved to myself that I could stick to the schedule even when the circumstances weren’t ideal.

I’ve written previously about adopting the mentality of “reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule.” The basic idea is that on any given day it is more important to stick to your schedule than it is to meet your expectations.

For example, my expectation is to write a useful article every Monday and Thursday. But it’s more important that I stick to the schedule and maintain my habit for the long-term than it is for every post to be incredible.

In my experience, the If-Then Technique is one of the best ways to stick to your schedule when life gets crazy.

The If-Then Technique

The If-Then Technique is the perfect way to plan for chaos and stick to your goals even when life gets crazy. Why? Because it forces you to create a strategy for reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule before you actually need to do so.

All you need to do is complete this phrase: “If [something unexpected], then [your response].”

  • If I don’t wake up in time to run tomorrow morning, then I’ll run after work.
  • If I can’t make it to yoga during my lunch break, then I’ll take a stretching break this afternoon.
  • If I buy something unhealthy for lunch, then I’ll cook a healthy meal for dinner.

The If-Then Technique forces you to consider the unpredictable circumstances that so often enter our daily lives. And that means you have fewer excuses for doing nothing and more options for sticking to your goals.

You can also use this technique as a way to plan for poor performances as well. For example, a basketball player could say, “If I miss 10 free throws at practice, then I’ll visualize myself making 20 free throws before I fall asleep tonight.”

It’s a useful way of forcing yourself to consider how you will practice deliberately rather than just putting your time.

Where to Go From Here

Having a busy day, dealing with unexpected delays, getting sick, and traveling for work are just a few of the thousands of tiny emergencies that prevent most people from sticking to their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

If you choose to plan for chaos and use The If-Then Technique to outline ways that you can “reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule,” then you can find options for staying on-task even when your day gets off-course.

When you can’t do it all, do something small.

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

I played baseball in college. During the offseason, my teammates and I would battle through friendly Strongman competitions where we would flip a giant tractor tire, drag a sled full of weights, and generally push, pull, and throw heavy, oddly-shaped things.

Occasionally, there would be an event where someone would complain about “not being built for this” or about “not training for this type of thing.”

Eventually, my roommate responded to the whining with a simple phrase: “Train for chaos.”

“Train for chaos” was a simple way of saying, “Don’t tell me that the circumstances aren’t ideal. Tell me that you’re going to make it your responsibility to be better prepared next time.”

You may not find yourself flipping tractor tires anytime soon, but you can adapt this philosophy from “train for chaos” to “plan for chaos.” I find that this mentality can be incredibly useful when it comes to sticking to your goals and living a healthy life — especially when life gets busy.

Here’s how you can use this idea…

Plan for Chaos

Let’s say that you have a goal that you want to stick to consistently. For example, working out three times per week or meditating for five minutes each morning.

If everything goes as planned, then sticking to your goal isn’t too difficult. If you wake up on time, then you should have the extra five minutes to meditate in the morning. If rush hour traffic isn’t bad, then you should be able to make it to the gym before going to your kid’s performance tonight.

Basically, if there aren’t any unexpected interruptions, then it just comes down to getting started.

But when life gets busy and chaos starts to happen, that’s when we start to come up with excuses. Phrases like “I wasn’t expecting X to happen…” start creeping into your life and you end up pushing off the goals that you said were important.

The chaos and unpredictability of life is one of the factors that makes sticking to your goals difficult. Which brings us to the important questions…

How can you stay consistent when day-to-day life is so unpredictable? How can you plan for chaos?

Reduce the Scope, Stick to the Schedule

As you probably know, my writing schedule is to publish a new article every Monday and Thursday on JamesClear.com.

Last April, I was traveling internationally when I had a terrible case of food poisoning. I wanted to publish a good article that day, but this unexpected sickness made things difficult. So, I told myself, “If I don’t have a post written before 11pm, then I’ll publish one letting people know that it’s coming later this week.”

A few hours later, I published an article that said, “This post is coming!” I hated publishing something that wasn’t useful, but I still proved to myself that I could stick to the schedule even when the circumstances weren’t ideal.

I’ve written previously about adopting the mentality of “reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule.” The basic idea is that on any given day it is more important to stick to your schedule than it is to meet your expectations.

For example, my expectation is to write a useful article every Monday and Thursday. But it’s more important that I stick to the schedule and maintain my habit for the long-term than it is for every post to be incredible.

In my experience, the If-Then Technique is one of the best ways to stick to your schedule when life gets crazy.

The If-Then Technique

The If-Then Technique is the perfect way to plan for chaos and stick to your goals even when life gets crazy. Why? Because it forces you to create a strategy for reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule before you actually need to do so.

All you need to do is complete this phrase: “If [something unexpected], then [your response].”

  • If I don’t wake up in time to run tomorrow morning, then I’ll run after work.
  • If I can’t make it to yoga during my lunch break, then I’ll take a stretching break this afternoon.
  • If I buy something unhealthy for lunch, then I’ll cook a healthy meal for dinner.

The If-Then Technique forces you to consider the unpredictable circumstances that so often enter our daily lives. And that means you have fewer excuses for doing nothing and more options for sticking to your goals.

You can also use this technique as a way to plan for poor performances as well. For example, a basketball player could say, “If I miss 10 free throws at practice, then I’ll visualize myself making 20 free throws before I fall asleep tonight.”

It’s a useful way of forcing yourself to consider how you will practice deliberately rather than just putting your time.

Where to Go From Here

Having a busy day, dealing with unexpected delays, getting sick, and traveling for work are just a few of the thousands of tiny emergencies that prevent most people from sticking to their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

If you choose to plan for chaos and use The If-Then Technique to outline ways that you can “reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule,” then you can find options for staying on-task even when your day gets off-course.

When you can’t do it all, do something small.

I played baseball in college. During the offseason, my teammates and I would battle through friendly Strongman competitions where we would flip a giant tractor tire, drag a sled full of weights, and generally push, pull, and throw heavy, oddly-shaped things.

Occasionally, there would be an event where someone would complain about “not being built for this” or about “not training for this type of thing.”

Eventually, my roommate responded to the whining with a simple phrase: “Train for chaos.”

“Train for chaos” was a simple way of saying, “Don’t tell me that the circumstances aren’t ideal. Tell me that you’re going to make it your responsibility to be better prepared next time.”

You may not find yourself flipping tractor tires anytime soon, but you can adapt this philosophy from “train for chaos” to “plan for chaos.” I find that this mentality can be incredibly useful when it comes to sticking to your goals and living a healthy life — especially when life gets busy.

Here’s how you can use this idea…

Plan for Chaos

Let’s say that you have a goal that you want to stick to consistently. For example, working out three times per week or meditating for five minutes each morning.

If everything goes as planned, then sticking to your goal isn’t too difficult. If you wake up on time, then you should have the extra five minutes to meditate in the morning. If rush hour traffic isn’t bad, then you should be able to make it to the gym before going to your kid’s performance tonight.

Basically, if there aren’t any unexpected interruptions, then it just comes down to getting started.

But when life gets busy and chaos starts to happen, that’s when we start to come up with excuses. Phrases like “I wasn’t expecting X to happen…” start creeping into your life and you end up pushing off the goals that you said were important.

The chaos and unpredictability of life is one of the factors that makes sticking to your goals difficult. Which brings us to the important questions…

How can you stay consistent when day-to-day life is so unpredictable? How can you plan for chaos?

Reduce the Scope, Stick to the Schedule

As you probably know, my writing schedule is to publish a new article every Monday and Thursday on JamesClear.com.

Last April, I was traveling internationally when I had a terrible case of food poisoning. I wanted to publish a good article that day, but this unexpected sickness made things difficult. So, I told myself, “If I don’t have a post written before 11pm, then I’ll publish one letting people know that it’s coming later this week.”

A few hours later, I published an article that said, “This post is coming!” I hated publishing something that wasn’t useful, but I still proved to myself that I could stick to the schedule even when the circumstances weren’t ideal.

I’ve written previously about adopting the mentality of “reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule.” The basic idea is that on any given day it is more important to stick to your schedule than it is to meet your expectations.

For example, my expectation is to write a useful article every Monday and Thursday. But it’s more important that I stick to the schedule and maintain my habit for the long-term than it is for every post to be incredible.

In my experience, the If-Then Technique is one of the best ways to stick to your schedule when life gets crazy.

The If-Then Technique

The If-Then Technique is the perfect way to plan for chaos and stick to your goals even when life gets crazy. Why? Because it forces you to create a strategy for reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule before you actually need to do so.

All you need to do is complete this phrase: “If [something unexpected], then [your response].”

  • If I don’t wake up in time to run tomorrow morning, then I’ll run after work.
  • If I can’t make it to yoga during my lunch break, then I’ll take a stretching break this afternoon.
  • If I buy something unhealthy for lunch, then I’ll cook a healthy meal for dinner.

The If-Then Technique forces you to consider the unpredictable circumstances that so often enter our daily lives. And that means you have fewer excuses for doing nothing and more options for sticking to your goals.

You can also use this technique as a way to plan for poor performances as well. For example, a basketball player could say, “If I miss 10 free throws at practice, then I’ll visualize myself making 20 free throws before I fall asleep tonight.”

It’s a useful way of forcing yourself to consider how you will practice deliberately rather than just putting your time.

Where to Go From Here

Having a busy day, dealing with unexpected delays, getting sick, and traveling for work are just a few of the thousands of tiny emergencies that prevent most people from sticking to their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

If you choose to plan for chaos and use The If-Then Technique to outline ways that you can “reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule,” then you can find options for staying on-task even when your day gets off-course.

When you can’t do it all, do something small.

Thanks for reading. You can get more actionable ideas in my popular email newsletter. Each week, I share 3 short ideas from me, 2 quotes from others, and 1 question to think about. Over 1,000,000 people subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

A lot of people want to build an exercise habit that sticks. (A 2012 survey analyzed the top 10 habits of thousands of people and found that exercise was number one by a long shot.)

Of course, wanting to make exercise a habit and actually doing it are two different things. Changing your behavior is difficult. Living a new type of lifestyle is hard. This is especially true when you throw in very personal feelings about body image and self-worth.

But there are some strategies that can make it easier to stick with an exercise habit.

I have been using the three strategies below to build my personal exercise routine, which I have stuck to for two years without skipping a workout. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so far and how I have successfully made exercise a habit that am I excited to do each week.

Here are 3 simple ways to make exercise a habit.

1. Develop a ritual to make starting easier.

Habits are behaviors that you repeat over and over again, which means they are also behaviors that you start over and over again. In other words, if you don’t consistently get started, then you won’t have a habit. In many ways, building new habits is simply an exercise in getting started time after time.

This means that if you can find a way to make getting started easier, then you can find a way to make building a habit easier. This is why rituals and routines are so important. If you can develop a ritual that makes starting your workout mindless and automatic, then it will be much easier to follow through.

Twyla Tharp’s hailing the cab ritual is a good example. You can start building your own ritual by stacking your exercise habit on top of a current habit or by setting a schedule for yourself. For example, you could set your intention to exercise by filling out this sentence:

During the next week, I will exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].

One research study showed that people who filled out this sentence above were 2 to 3 times more likely to exercise over the long run. This is a psychology concept called implementation intentions and there are hundreds of studies to back it up.

2. Start with an exercise that is ridiculously small.

The best way to make exercise a habit is to start with an exercise that is so easy that you can do it even when you are running low on willpower and motivation. In the words of Leo Babauta, start with something that is so easy you can’t say no.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

Here’s one strategy that you can use in the beginning: The 2-Minute Rule.

It’s very simple: focus on finding a way to get started in just 2 minutes rather than worrying about your entire workout.

Struggling to find motivation to go for a run? Just fill up your water bottle and put on your running shoes. That’s all you have to do to consider today’s workout a success. Often, this little 2 minute start will be enough to get your motivation flowing and help you finish the task.

3. Focus on the habit first and the results later.

The typical approach to diet and exercise is to focus on results first. Most people start with some type of goal. “I want to lose 20 pounds in the next 4 months.” Or, “I want to squat 50 pounds more six months from now.”

What matters most in the beginning is establishing a new normal and building a new routine that you will stick to; not the results that you get. In other words, in the first 6 months it is more important to not miss workouts than it is to make progress. Once you become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, then you can worry about making progress and improving.

One member of our community, Mitch, set a rule for himself where he couldn’t stay in the gym for more than 5 minutes at the beginning. He had to go everyday, but he wasn’t allowed to stay for 6 minutes. He was focused on building the habit of not missing workouts. After doing that for a month or two, he had established a routine of going to the gym and he started to focus on doing more difficult workouts. Today, Mitch is over 100 pounds lighter. (Which, to be fair, is not just the result of exercise, but also diet and lifestyle changes.)

Once you build the habit of exercise, you can find thousands of ways to improve. Without the habit, every strategy is useless.

Build the habit first, worry about the results later.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

We always start a new project with the best of intentions, but it’s easy to quickly fall off the wagon. Life gets in the way or we lose that early rush of motivation, and slowly but surely we land back at square one. Whether you want to get more done each day, work out regularly, or shed a few pounds, these small changes will help you hit those major milestones.

1. Visualize yourself achieving it.
Big goals can feel overwhelming — especially if they require real lifestyle changes. There’s a plus side, though: You can be certain you’ll feel radically different (in a good way!) when you achieve them. Whenever your motivation wanes, visualize how accomplished you’ll feel when you reach the finish line.

2. Weigh now against later.
In the moment, it can be tempting to skip an early morning workout in favor of sleeping in, or dig into the chips and dip when you ought to eat a healthy meal. When you’re relying on pure willpower to do (or not do) something, try to consider how much long-term happiness you’ll get out of it. Compare that tempting, yet fleeting satisfaction to the success you’ve visualized (see number 1!), and suddenly it’s far less enticing.

3. Create accountability.
Try talking to a friend about what you need to do to accomplish your goals, then set a deadline and report back on your progress. For many people, it’s important to feel accountable to someone other than yourself — and you can create the same motivation through groups. Want to read more? Join a book club. Need to eat better? Create a healthy eating challenge with colleagues at work.

4. Make it smaller.
No matter what you want to achieve, it can probably be broken down into smaller pieces. Rather than summoning the motivation to work out, just push yourself to get up and put on your workout clothes. Instead of “cleaning the house,” pick up just a few misplaced items. Once you’ve started moving in the right direction, it’s easier to keep up the momentum, making it more likely that you’ll finish the task.

5. Give yourself a day off.
It may be counterintuitive, but you don’t have to commit every day of the week. The dread of doing something difficult (and failing) can be enough to prevent us from even starting. If you’ve got something tough to get done, know that you can give yourself an occasional “get out of jail free” card. A cheat day or meal can be restorative and give you the R&R you need to keep going — as long as you clearly define the start and end and keep them on lock.

6. Take your brain out of it.
Make like Nike and “just do it.” OK, we know sometimes that’s easier said than done, but there are plenty of positive things you do each day without even thinking about them (whether that’s opting for whole wheat over white bread, taking the stairs, or putting on sunscreen). Rather than considering your goal something “extra” you have to add to your day, consider it an integral part of your lifestyle and completely non-optional. And consider this: If you do something daily, it’ll become habit far more quickly than if you do it just a few times a week.

7. Surround yourself with success.
The company we keep can have a huge impact on how we feel and how we spend our time. If you want to accomplish something, surround yourself with people who are working toward (or have accomplished) that same goal. Use their achievements as your motivation, and let the positive vibes sink in.

8. Look back.
It’s easy to get lost in the slog of a major project. Take some time whenever you’re feeling down to look back at how far you’ve come. Try journaling or snapping pics to document your successes. You’ll be grateful when you can look back and recall exactly how you looked or felt then versus now.

9. Prep for success.
Research suggests that the brain can essentially “run out” of patience or self-control, making it important to eliminate opportunities for slip ups. So instead of trusting future-you to do the right thing, make tough choices easier by prepping for them when you’re already feeling motivated. For example, plan your workouts or meals for the week on Sunday afternoon after a weekend of R&R instead of just hoping you’ll make healthy choices after a tough day at the office.

10. Know that you can do it.
While self-control can be depleted, researchers have also found that effect can be counteracted by simply believing that you have the self-control to accomplish your goals. So whenever you feel you “can’t say no” to those brownies, remember that if you think you can, you can!

Originally posted August 2013. Updated June 2015.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

The word “routine” has always sent a shudder down my spine. It makes me think of a strict day with no room for fun, free time, or spontaneity. And yet, as I get older, I’m starting to realize there are so many benefits of a solid daily routine.

In fact, life can even be easy breezy (and fun, and carefree) once you get yourself on a good schedule. That might be hard to wrap your head around, especially if you revolt against too much organization like I do. (I want to be free, damn it!) But take a second and imagine what your work day would be like if there was no routine — no rules, nothing expected of you, no set hours to be there. That might sound kinda fun, but in reality it would be pure chaos. Nothing would ever get done, people would be upset and confused, and the whole thing would fall apart.

That’s sort of how life can get when you don’t have any structure. It sounds good at first, but really it just ends up being a stressful mess. I’ve definitely realized this over the years, and have since adopted a schedule for myself that includes morning and evening routines, and a super organized workday. And you know what? I’ve found myself with more peace and more free-time than I ever did when I let the days run away with me.

If you want to reign in your crazy life, and finally adopt a daily a schedule, then here are some of the other wonderful benefits you’ll see. (I promise, it’s not scary at all.)

1. You’ll Check More Things Off Your To-Do List

Ever wake up with so many things to do it honestly feels like nothing will ever get accomplished? Enter: your routine. When you have a daily routine, you’re much more likely to check things off your to-do list. Why? Because having a schedule means blocking out chunks of your day for specific tasks, such as work, errands, or hitting up the gym. When you set up specific times for things, it’s far less likely you’ll push them off for later — especially once they become habit.

Sure, sometimes emergencies crop up, and you might occasionally run out of hours in the day. But having a schedule, and thus some structure, makes productivity that much more likely.

2. You Mental Health Will Thank You

Have you noticed how anxiety and stress levels go through the roof during chaotic, disorganized days? I mean, how could they not when you’re running around and not getting anything done? A daily routine takes this type of stress away by eliminating the guess work, and therefore all the stress, from even the busiest of days. You’ll feel much more at peace knowing where you need to be, and when.

In fact, a solid daily routine is so good for mental health it has been used to help treat people with bipolar disorder. According to Salynn Boyles on WebMD.com, “Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine report that bipolar patients fared better when their treatment stressed the importance of establishing daily routines for things like sleeping and eating. Social rhythm therapy, as it has been dubbed by the researchers, is based on the idea that irregular sleeping habits and those associated with other daily activities can trigger manic episodes by disturbing the body’s sleep-wake (circadian system) clock.” Bipolar or not, that sounds like something worth avoiding by sticking to a routine.

3. There Will Be More Time To Relax

Remember how I was going on about routines being all anti-relaxation? Well, they’re actually quite the opposite. Not only does a routine mean getting more done (and then having the freedom to truly relax on your highly-accomplished laurels), but it also means you have the opportunity to make free time a priority.

It’s all about setting aside blocks of time for doing whatever you please, whether that means sitting on your butt, hanging out with friends, or partaking in a hobby. As Leo Babauta noted on his website ZenHabits.net, “It’s crucial that you take a blank weekly schedule . and assign blocks for the things you love — the stuff on your essentials list. If you want to exercise, for example, when will you do it? Put the blocks of time on your schedule, and make these blocks the most important appointments of your week. Schedule the rest of your life around these blocks.”

4. It’ll Help You Break Bad Habits

One of the things that I find most intriguing about a daily routine is that it has the ability to help break bad habits. Think about it — if you get yourself into a bunch of good habits, and they become your “thing,” then it doesn’t leave much room for your old, bad habits.

It may sound too go to be true, but it’s really as easy as deciding what matters to you, and then making a schedule that revolves around those things. Once you stick with it for a few weeks, the new routine will become your habit, and your old ways will become a thing of the past.

As Melani noted on the health website NaturalQi.com, “Pick the things you don’t want to be doing. Define what the opposite of those are, and start pushing for habits in the opposite direction. Instead of trying to avoid bad habits, its easier to start to create new ones.” Stick to your new schedule, and bad habits will be naturally eradicated from your life. How cool is that?

5. You Get To Choose How The Day Goes

When you don’t have a routine, life just sort of happens to you. The day either gets wasted as you try to decide what to do, or you find yourself tangled up in the wants and needs of everybody else. Having a schedule means having control over your day from the moment you get up until the moment you go to bed. It means doing exactly what you want, focusing on yourself, and accomplishing all those goals. Doesn’t that sound nice?

6. Procrastination Will Be A Thing Of The Past

Procrastination can happen when you have no idea what the heck is going on. I know I often feel this when I’m working on a project, but don’t really have any clear direction. I’ll often stare at my work for hours, dumbfounded, and then frustratedly throw in the towel.

A day without a plan can sort of go in the same direction (i.e., nowhere). But a day with a plan? Well, you get the idea. Sticking to your schedule means getting things done, because it means knowing what’s expected of you. It’s an outline for the day, and all you need to do is follow it.

7. You’ll Get Really Good Sleep

Much like your day will go smoother with a schedule, so will your nighttime hours. That’s because a bedtime ritual means getting the body into a rhythm that can only mean better sleep.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, going to bed at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time each morning (yes, even on weekends) can help regulate the body’s internal clock. Once you’ve fallen into the groove, you’ll have a much easier time falling asleep, and then staying asleep.

It can feel so much easier to just let your days happen as they may — wake up, do whatever, go to the gym if you feel like it, etc. But if you really want an easier life, and if you actually want to get things done, then a structured daily routine is where it’s at. Set your day up to take you where you need to go, and then bask in your long list of accomplishments. See? A little structure is totally worth it.

When you’re trying to make meaningful changes, sometimes even your best plans hit a hiccup. That ambitious early morning workout bumps up against the reality that you didn’t go to bed early. The Sunday prep-for-the-week meal plan gets upended by unexpected family conflicts — and you fall off track indefinitely. Or you find yourself stuck in a rut trying to force yourself to stick to plans that simply are not working.

As a life coach, I like to offer a fun idea that can help you get unstuck when your plans hit a snag. I call it a “temperament to experiment” — a playful approach to reaching a goal by trying out different strategies until you find what works. The key is to be curious. Stop and notice what’s not working, then experiment with some new options and see what happens.

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For example, this week TODAY viewer Chamise will experiment with letting her husband pick up both kids after school rather than just one of them. This will give her two extra hours in the afternoons, which should mean no late-night work hours and an earlier bedtime. More sleep can mean more energy and productivity, and an easier time with weight loss.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

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TODAY viewer Teri, who has been skipping important workouts, will experiment with a new early morning workout routine to see if suits her better. Since she’s not been working out much, something is better than nothing, and this new habit will allow her to build towards a bigger goal.

If you commit to a flawed plan no matter what, you can end up giving up in frustration before you reach your goal. Try your own experiment this week by coaching yourself with a few simple questions.

Ask yourself:

  1. What’s the obstacle or challenge that’s getting in the way of my goal?
  2. What option or idea could I try that might solve this challenge?
  3. How long do I want to try this experiment?

Set a reminder at the end of the time frame to reflect and evaluate it.

Losing weight takes more than desire. It takes commitment and a well-thought-out plan. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started.

Step 1: Make a commitment.

Making the decision to lose weight, change your lifestyle, and become healthier is a big step to take. Start simply by making a commitment to yourself. Many people find it helpful to sign a written contract committing to the process. This contract may include things like the amount of weight you want to lose, the date you’d like to lose the weight by, the dietary changes you’ll make to establish healthy eating habits, and a plan for getting regular physical activity.

Writing down the reasons why you want to lose weight can also help. It might be because you have a family history of heart disease, or because you want to see your kids get married, or simply because you want to feel better in your clothes. Post these reasons where they serve as a daily reminder of why you want to make this change.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

Step 2: Take stock of where you are.

Consider talking to your health care provider. He or she can evaluate your height, weight, and explore other weight-related risk factors you may have. Ask for a follow-up appointment to monitor changes in your weight or any related health conditions.

Keep a food diary pdf icon [PDF-106KB] for a few days in which you write down everything you eat. By doing this, you become more aware of what you are eating and when you are eating. This awareness can help you avoid mindless eating.

Next, examine your current lifestyle. Identify things that might pose challenges to your weight loss efforts. For example, does your work or travel schedule make it difficult to get enough physical activity? Do you find yourself eating sugary foods because that’s what you buy for your kids? Do your coworkers frequently bring high-calorie items, such as doughnuts, to the workplace to share with everyone? Think through things you can do to help overcome these challenges.

Step 3: Set realistic goals.

Set some short-term goals and reward your efforts along the way. If your long-term goal is to lose 40 pounds and to control your high blood pressure, some short-term eating and physical activity goals might be to start eating breakfast, taking a 15 minute walk in the evenings, or having a salad or vegetable with supper.

Focus on two or three goals at a time. Great, effective goals are —

  • Specific
  • Realistic
  • Forgiving (less than perfect)

For example, “Exercise More” is not a specific goal. But if you say, “I will walk 15 minutes, 3 days a week for the first week,” you are setting a specific and realistic goal for the first week.

Remember, small changes every day can lead to big results in the long run. Also remember that realistic goals are achievable goals. By achieving your short-term goals day-by-day, you’ll feel good about your progress and be motivated to continue. Setting unrealistic goals, such as losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks, can leave you feeling defeated and frustrated.

Being realistic also means expecting occasional setbacks. Setbacks happen when you get away from your plan for whatever reason – maybe the holidays, longer work hours, or another life change. When setbacks happen, get back on track as quickly as possible. Also take some time to think about what you would do differently if a similar situation happens, to prevent setbacks.

Keep in mind everyone is different – what works for someone else might not be right for you. Just because your neighbor lost weight by taking up running, doesn’t mean running is the best option for you. Try a variety of activities – walking, swimming, tennis, or group exercise classes to see what you enjoy most and can fit into your life. These activities will be easier to stick with over the long term.

Step 4: Identify resources for information and support.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

Find family members or friends who will support your weight loss efforts. Making lifestyle changes can feel easier when you have others you can talk to and rely on for support. You might have coworkers or neighbors with similar goals, and together you can share healthful recipes and plan group exercise.

Joining a weight loss group or visiting a health care professional such as a registered dietitian can help. Healthcare providers, if they feel it is indicated, may provide you with further information about medications, devices or even surgery to assist you in controlling your weight.

Step 5: Continually “check in” with yourself to monitor your progress.

Revisit the goals you set for yourself (in Step 3) and evaluate your progress regularly. If you set a goal to walk each morning but are having trouble fitting it in before work, see if you can shift your work hours or if you can get your walk in at lunchtime or after work. Evaluate which parts of your plan are working well and which ones need tweaking. Then rewrite your goals and plan accordingly.

If you are consistently achieving a particular goal, add a new goal to help you continue on your pathway to success.

Reward yourself for your successes! Recognize when you’re meeting your goals and be proud of your progress. Use non-food rewards, such as a bouquet of freshly picked flowers, a sports outing with friends, or a relaxing bath. Rewards help keep you motivated on the path to better health.

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

Have you ever considered how many hours of work are wasted on multitasking and refocusing your attention after every email and small task? According to research, it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus on a task after being interrupted. Now, imagine you were distracted about five times each day – resulting in hundreds of wasted hours every year.

Although to-do lists have been hugely popular for years, an increasing number of people have now replaced their lists with more structured weekly plans. Why? The reasons vary but people feel that general to-do lists don’t work for them anymore because:

  • They get overwhelmed by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t have a good system on how to prioritize the items on the list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.

The power of weekly planning, on the other hand, lies in the perspective and control it provides for work. Setting aside around half an hour each week is not that much, but the return on investment is phenomenal. Thus, it might be a good time to switch those to-do lists for a good weekly work plan.

What is a work plan?

A work plan is a visual map of your to-do list that helps you stay much more organized while working on your tasks. It encourages you to think through what you want to achieve and break the week into smaller parts. You can think of it as a game plan in sports, where managers put together a well-thought-out strategy for achieving their objective – in their case winning.

Why do we need a work plan?

A short answer – it gives you more structure. With a good weekly plan, you’re able to use your time more efficiently and spend less time on regaining focus after being distracted. Further, visualizing your whole week at once also enables you to spread out and prioritize work in a manner that significantly increases how much you can accomplish. In all aspects – weekly planning gets you more work done.

“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution.” – Brian Tracy, Author & Motivational Speaker

Creating a work plan

Now, are you ready to save hundreds of hours and loads of energy by working smarter? Follow these 6 steps to set up your personal weekly time management plan. We’ve done our best to keep it as straightforward and actionable as possible. Naturally, once you have become the master of planning you might feel the need to add steps that best work for you.

1. Choose your planning tool

Everyone has their own preference for what tools to use for work planning. Some still prefer using pencil and paper but more and more people are now looking for digital tools that enable them to access work from anywhere.

With so many different options available, from very simple planning tools to comprehensive all-in-one solutions, everyone can find the best tool for their work. Thus, take some time to test and see what works best for you.

Check out this list of best time management software on the market!

2. Plan your work regularly

Your weekly planning ritual won’t make a difference if you do it once a year, or even once a month. It’s called weekly for a reason and you’ve got to make that a habit to make it work.

First, pick a day that you’ll use to establish your weekly work plan. Friday afternoon is a good day for this – you can review your weekly accomplishments and plan ahead for the next.

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3. Get planning

Start by listing your big-picture goals. Then decide what you need to accomplish next week to meet those goals. Keep in mind that ideally, the tasks you add to your weekly plan should only be the ones that bring you closer to those big-picture goals – anything else is a distraction.

TIP 1. When first starting out with work plans, set aside at least 30 minutes of planning time. It will take time before you get a handle on it. Eventually, it will only take you about 10 minutes every week.

4. Schedule everything

After deciding what you want to accomplish next week, schedule the time you need to carry out those tasks. The best way to make sure you planned a realistic amount of work for the week – add it to your calendar and see if there’s time for everything. If your calendar looks overwhelming, see whether you can schedule some of the lower priority tasks for the following week.

It’s important that you plan time to complete a task, not a project – for instance updating the website is a project, not a task that can be completed in two hours. Make sure you break projects down into smaller tasks such as “writing a blog post” or “finding new photos and artwork” and then schedule blocks of time to do each.

TIP 2. Be careful not to over-schedule your time – leave at least 10% of your calendar open for unexpected meetings and activities, as well as for time to reflect and think, or just to have a break. The scheduled breaks also leave a buffer zone between tasks, so it’s okay if you cross the planned time frame a little.

5. Stick to the plan

All of this planning goes to waste if you don’t follow your plan – thus eliminate distractions and stick to the plan. Of course, sometimes even the best-laid plans need adjusting and that’s where daily planning comes in.

Every morning, before getting to work, go over your daily plan and make adjustments if needed – when a meeting gets canceled or there were tasks left uncompleted from the day before. This way you will always have a clear understanding of your daily priorities.

TIP 3. To make sure nothing important falls through the cracks, immediately reschedule the tasks that weren’t completed. If you see that the same tasks are rescheduled week after week, delegate the task to someone else.

6. Reflect and repeat

At the end of each week, take a look at your weekly plan. Feel the rewarding sense of accomplishment when looking at all the ticked boxes in front of the tasks.

Were there any tasks left uncompleted or meetings that were canceled? Reflect on why did that happen – did you underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a task or did just the unexpected happen? Based on these reflections it’s easier to plan for the following weeks.

Planning your weekly work is an ongoing process of learning. The longer you do it the better you get at predicting your energy levels, following productivity tips, and planning accordingly. Along the way, you will also learn to let go of inefficient tasks and projects.

Once you get into the habit of weekly work planning, it becomes something you enjoy and look forward to. As you consistently plan out your week, you’ll find yourself with more motivation, direction, and productive time.

Read on:

Plan for chaos how to stick to your health goals when life gets crazy

Helena Parmask

Helena is part of the Marketing Team at Scoro since 2017. She is well-versed in the world of advertising, digital projects management, and time management, having worked in both in-house and agency environments. When Helena is not at work you will often find her travelling, hiking, jogging, and walking her spaniel Ruben.