Saturday, February 11, 2012

Planned Neglect

BathtubImage via Wikipedia
This is one of my all time favorite counselor stories. I was teaching a kindergarten class about safety rules and I asked the students for some examples.  I got the usual; wear your seat belt in the car, stay seated on the bus, don't run in the halls etc.  Then I called on one little girl who told me in her most serious voice that “you should never, ever run in the bathtub." 

I think running in the bathtub though is a great description of the way many of us approach goal setting and goal accomplishment. We’re expending a lot of effort; we're slipping and sliding in constant motion but getting nowhere.  Sometimes it helps just to take a deep breath and refocus.

One of the most useful techniques that I have found for accomplishing goals is planned neglect.  It is certainly not a natural approach for me but it is definitely successful when I use it.  It very simply means that I plan to ignore or neglect those tasks that call so loudly to me but that interfere with achieving my goals for the day.  What sort of things are these?  For me, these are simple, compelling things that on the surface seem seductively quick and easy to do.  For example, checking my email, emptying the dishwasher, putting in a load of clothes and a myriad of other things that I think I will quickly complete before I get on with the big important task at hand.  I can occupy myself endlessly with the little tasks, convincing myself that I am accomplishing much because I am checking so many things off my to do list.  At the end of the day however, when I allow myself to be sucked into this vortex of activity, I have accomplished much of little significance.  Often, one small task leads to another and before I know it the time has disappeared and there is something that I really feel I must do that causes me to put the major goal aside for yet another day.  There is an appointment to make or it is mealtime and I must prepare and eat something.  The day has been lost in a wasted effort.

Here’s how I have tackled this problem.  First thing in the morning I spend some quiet time identifying my primary, gotta-do-it goal.  Often, this is a blog to write, a marketing effort to plan and execute or most recently writing a few chapters of my book.  During days when I am not on my regular day job, I schedule the first block of time in the morning to accomplish this task.  I do not allow myself to even look at email, or begin any household chores first.  These are danger areas for me where time can vanish before I even recognize it and I am left with a wasted day.  Once I have finished about 90 minutes of focused time on my goal, I then take a break and allow myself to do something that is very time limited before I get back to work.  This might be making a cup of tea and starting a load of clothes in the washer.  Things like reading email though are out.  I am easily lost in the vast world of the internet if I allow myself to even peek at one!
I repeat this process until I have accomplished the goals I have set for the day.  Once I have done so, I then can delve into things that may seem urgent but that will overpower my primary goal if I focus on them first.  I have found the technique of planned neglect to be one of my most powerful tools in my arsenal of goal setting.  It certainly keeps me from running in the bathtub!

What about you?  How do you accomplish the most important tasks in your life?


  1. Lynne, I love your concept of "planned neglect". I, too, can become so distracted, especially by Facebook - lol!
    What has helped me to focus on my writing and still get things done is to ruminate about the verse I have chosen to write about while I'm piddling with various chores. As soon as the idea gels, though, I drop what I'm doing and head for the computer. So far, this is working for me with the daily devotions.
    Can't do this, however, when I get focused on the book. :)
    Great advice! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. This really is one of my best techniques for accomplishing anything. Yet it is always a conscious challenge to stay on task1 Thanks for the comment

  3. Hi, Lynne! ~

    I begin each day with quiet contemplation/prayers and move into setting goals and planning my day from that frame of mind.

    If there are 'appt.' or 'deadline' type tasks due that day they are obviously at the front of the goals to be accomplished list. Then, I look at my pre-set guidelines for myself concerning how much time I want to spend each week on various aspects of my life such as career, relationship, health/fitness, spiritual growth, etc. Based on Divine Inspiration from my contemplative prayers combined with a review of where I'm at with my 'balance sheet' of life goals, I choose and schedule the remaining activities of the day.

    Finally, as the day progresses I keep sort of a running journal of how I actually spend my time, compared with how I had planned to spend my time.

  4. Linda, thanks so much for sharing your morning ritual. I to follow something very similar that works so well for me that I miss it when I have to alter it due to a different schedule. I really believe that it has contributed to my ability to accomplish many goals in recent years.

  5. Lynne, I agree on what you say about Planned Neglect. I find I do the same thing you do, where I tell myself, it's okay if I have clean clothes unfolded on the couch, if it means I get to spend valuable time writing my script. I've had to learn it's not the end of the world if my house isn't 100% perfect. What matters is that I'm getting my writing done first. Great blog article!

  6. Often for women, I find that letting the house go is the hardest thing to do... at least it has been for me. Of course it makes it doubly difficult if the work you are doing is at home and the housework keeps calling your name. I too find I must give myself permission to let some things go in order to accomplish the more important. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Thanks again, Lynne. This gave me a lot of food for thought...Planned neglect is something I need to incorporate in to my life and of course more reflective time.

  8. thanks Corinne for the comment... planned neglect is one of the key components of my living intentionally. It has made a huge difference in my life!