This week saw the broadcast of the latest season finale of US TV hit “The Walking Dead”. I was watching a scene with a large swarm of mindless zombies creeping across the countryside, groaning, snarling and oblivious to the world around them. As I observed this collection of grey, lifeless corpses with vacant expressions moving slowly in a single direction, driven purely by instinct and a failure of awareness about what was happening, I thought “this must be what people who don’t plan look like!”
Okay, a bit of an exaggeration. But…
If you haven’t seen the show before, it’s a post-apocalyptic drama series about a world
where “something” (purposefully vague) happened that turned the dead (or anyone infected by the dead) into the undead. The show depicts a group of heroes (and some villains) struggling to adapt to a world suddenly filled by grey, decaying bodies who are only motivated by the pursuit and consumption of living flesh. Not one for the kiddies, I would say.
The concept of the zombie has been popular in storytelling terms since Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” although the original term comes from Haiti and refers to a dead body being reanimated through magic or other mystical methods. If you have read Richard Matheson’s classic “I Am Legend” you will recognise the modern take on the zombie concept that is most popular in today’s popular culture. It’s one of those terms that instantly brings you a vivid image.
So my point is, does the concept of “people who don’t plan” equate to a zombie like state?
First of all, let’s be clear what we mean by planning here. The reality is that we all plan to some degree in our everyday lives. We plan what clothes we are going to wear, what food we are going to eat, what words we are going to say, what people we are going to meet, what time we are going to bed…many small, little actions that need a very basic planning ability. Stop and think about how many actions you have taken today that required even just a little bit of planning…
Many people make very successful careers and lives out of planning at a more advanced level, from wedding planners to air traffic controllers to resource managers and so many more. But planning is a basic skill and one we often take for granted. To enjoy the freedom and independence to be able to make your own choices in life is a precious gift.
This is one of those great examples where my three passions (project management, creative writing and mental health) sort of come together because all three involve planning skills.
For Project Management, planning is vital to ensuring that you can achieve the stated aims of your programme or project. Without a Project Manager who has strong planning skills, the project can veer off course, stall completely or worse, deliver the wrong outcomes. Many PPM professionals talk about the importance of planning early on in the project lifecycle but my experience has been that re-planning is just as important. No path is ever smooth and you need to be able to readjust your delivery schedule to meet changing requirements, environment and circumstances.
For creative writing, planning can be the difference between a mess of a story and a highly structured, interconnected plot with detailed characters and engaging twists that keeps you gripped until the very last page. Some writers do prefer to just jump straight in but even they find themselves crafting a plan of some sorts as they move forward with their writing. I personally enjoy sitting down to plan my novels at a high level, getting the ball rolling with the actual writing (the good stuff) then evolving my plans as the whole story takes shape.
For mental health…actually, planning anything can be really challenging if you are suffering from poor mental health. I have heard people with depression express their emotions as “zombie-like” in the past. Doing anything you plan can also be a real test, particularly if you are planning to take a positive step to support your mental health (I have always struggled with things like diets or exercise plans when depression roots you to the spot). I have found the only way I can make my plans become reality is with the support of people around me; they not only help me achieve these plans but they can be great sources of inspiration and motivation. Once I have started and gained momentum, I begin to see how these great plans can lead to success and improvements in my life.
Put yourself in the place of a zombie for a moment and imagine that feeling of having no purpose, no senses, no meaning to your life. Doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? Whatever you are planning and whatever the challenges you face in planning effectively, remember to:
Set clear goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely;
Figure out who or what you need to achieve your plans then get them lined up ready;
Have a means of tracking your progress against your plans (simple is often best);
Think ahead to what could go wrong and have contingencies ready;
Take time to recognise and reward successes especially if you achieve a major milestone.
So do you want to be a planning zombie? Trudging aimlessly through life without meaning or direction, failing to make the most of your potential and ambition, missing opportunities to make things better because you do not see them or you can not react to them in time?
No? Do yourself a favour and get yourself a plan!