[Guest blog post by Nathan Paul]

The Natural Planning Method is something you’ve been doing your whole life without realizing it. Recently, I’ve been learning to consciously apply it to everything I do — and it’s been a huge relief. In a word, it’s given me a trusted process for dealing with just about anything I need or want to do. Now, instead of dozens of projects flying into my brain at random to tug my attention away from what I’m doing, I can focus on the present, because I know that everything on my to-do list is set to be taken care of. This isn’t anything quasi-mystical, and I’m not going to ask you to buy anything.

The steps

What David Allen (the speaker from the video that was the subject of my last entry) has done is reverse-engineer the process that your brain naturally uses to plan anything:
1. You identify something you want
2. You envision what having it will look and feel like — what will be true once it’s accomplished
3. Everything (information, ideas, actions) associated with getting it floods into your mind
4. You organize those ideas, actions, and info into patterns and steps
5. You determine the very next thing you need to do — and do it

How you’re already doing it

I learned all this from a webinar presented by Mike Williams, CEO of the David Allen Company. Mike used the example of going out to dinner to demonstrate this model:
1. You decide to go out to eat with a friend
2. Your mind immediately leaps (if only briefly) to imagining you and your friend at the restaurant, having quality time and eating good food
3. What do you need to do to accomplish this?
   1. Call your friend to invite him
   2. Decide on a restaurant (if you haven’t already)
   3. Find out whether you’ll need to make a reservation
       1. Get the restaurant’s phone number
   1. Figure out how and when you and your friend will get there
   2. In what order will you do these things?
   3. Take the next step (probably calling your friend)

Feeling good about what you’re doing

Simple, right? Yet when it comes to more complex projects, we tend to start in the middle (trying to come up with ideas with no clear goal in mind) or work backwards (sensing that nothing is getting done, taking action, then trying to organize). Instead, I’ve learned to consciously identify my objective and work from there — whether it’s something that’ll take 10 minutes or 10 years.

I’d encourage you to use this worksheet to see what this method would look like when applied to any project you’re currently working on. Even better would be to do the worksheet while listening to the webinar where I got all this. I did this, just for example, for my blog: identified exactly what I want to do with this whole shebang and how to get there. Just doing so made me feel in control and confident that I’ll get those rave reviews and recommendations that I envisioned in step 2.

Getting it on paper (or, feeling good about what you’re not doing)

Another critical part of this method is getting things out of your head. When you think of something to do but can’t immediately do anything about it, write it down!

After listening to the above webinar, I opened a new Word document and proceeded to type out a list of everything I need and want to do. I’m still adding to it, and currently it’s five and a half single-spaced pages long. It’s divided into “Actions” (things that can be accomplished in one step) and “Projects” (everything else). Externalizing it has given me a great feeling of control: now these things aren’t constantly descending on my unwary brain like monstrous, zoomorphic books (with bat wings and tiny fangs, as I picture them) flying down from their shelves and screaming for my attention.

I now know that everything I want to do is waiting there — safely outside my head until I choose to think about it — and when I pick a project to work on, I have the Natural Planning Model to use on it. Secure in this knowledge, my head is clear, quiet, and focused. In a sense, I know exactly what I’m going to do about everything, from scheduling lunch with a friend to developing ideas for blog posts to becoming an expert on the entire history of Western philosophy.

Try it out. It’ll change the way you think about doing everything and anything — for the better.

[I think I should say that I'm not benefiting financially in any way from making this recommendation, nor am I employed in any way by the David Allen Company or any of its affiliates. I was simply introduced to a fantastic resource by a mentor and wanted to pass it along].

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