Personal Development

The Importance of Preparation – Why You Can't Just Jump Into It

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Have you ever felt good about yourself for making an ambitious to-do list, only to get disappointed as you find out to your surprise that you can't seem to get all the items finished within the allocated time?

I know I have – many times!

I've actually had this happen to me so often that I've taken serious time to stop and reflect why it kept happening to me.

importance_of_preparationI soon found out exactly what it was that I was doing wrong, and I've successfully resolved the issue by using a special strategy:  a framework for how I approach every day.

This strategy is what I will now share with you.

Don't Overestimate Your Abilities to Adapt

A lot of people believe that they can effortlessly jump between two different activities and still perform optimally.

They're wrong. This is a rather common cognitive bias that most people suffer from.

And when I say jumping between two activities I want to clarify that I am NOT talking about multitasking.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

When planning the to-dos for tomorrow or next week, most people tend to be time and efficiency optimists. They think that they can get a lot more things done in the course of a day than they're really capable of doing.

They overestimate their abilities.

For some reason they always think they're going to be much more efficient tomorrow than they were today.

People inaccurately assume that they can just shift from one action point on their to-do list onto the next while retaining their state of optimal productivity.

But that's rarely the case.

The majority of people need micro breaks for approximately 1-15 minutes in between intense work or study sessions in order to stay highly focused; usually longer than that prior to, or after, physical exercise.

This is something you need to take into account when you plan your day, because if you don't you'll end up with an impossible to-do list.

And that inevitably leads to disappointment and irritation.

Don't assume 100 % constant efficiency!

The Strategy That You'll Use to Fix This

Now that you understand the common dilemma of wishful thinking when it comes to planning your day or setting to-do lists, you will crush this obstacle by identifying the key activity of the day and getting into the ideal state for performing this activity.

Here's how you'll do it:

1. Identify Key Activities

The first thing you need to do is to identify the key activity of the day.

There's usually going to be one or two things that are much more important than the rest of the things on your to-do list during one day. These activities are those that will yield the highest investment on time spent doing them, so it makes a lot of sense to do them before you do anything else.

The key activities are those that you will benefit the most from doing, therefore it's imperative that you do whatever is within your control to get yourself to perform them as well as you can.

You do this by figuring out what your ideal state for carrying out the key activity is.

And how do you get into the ideal state?

You do it through preparation and practice.

As a rule of thumb it takes at the very least a couple of minutes to get into a good state if you're not already in it, so don't be disappointed if you find that it takes a while to get into your ideal state.

2. Get into the Ideal State

To prepare for the coming key activity you must use whatever situation you are currently in to your advantage by taking small steps towards your ideal state for performing the key activity.

That was a tough, but very importance sentence. Read it again!

Let's assume that you want to make a sale, give a presentation, or meet a person of the opposite sex later in the day. You've decided that's your key activity for the day.

What is then the ideal state for doing all three of these things?

It's to be socially warmed-up so that you're being warm and friendly to others and can easily establish rapport with them.

How do I prepare and practice for this?

The way to prepare for this is by deliberately setting out to talk to as many people as you can in beforehand.

Can you be a bit more specific?

In the above example where the optimal state was to warm up socially, you could do the following:

  • Speaking to complete strangers. Ask them for the time or some other arbitrary thing. The bolder the better in terms of warming up. Remember, you are using these people as a means of warming up, dare to be a bit vulgar or do things you think are funny, because those are the things that are going to warm you up the most.
  • Start your day by speaking up ASAP to establish a positive pattern. Raise your hand and assert your opinion or ask a question during meetings or lectures. The point isn't to be brilliant or say smart stuff, but to warm up socially!
  • Call someone and speak for a long period of time. It is the easiest and "safest" thing to do, but it is probably the least efficient way as well.
  • Shoot a video log in public. This is guaranteed to give you an adrenaline rush and boost your social muscles for a while.

Mental Rehearsal

Another helpful way for getting into the ideal state is to use mental rehearsal, or visualization if you will.

Let me give you a well-known example.

It has been shown that people who merely think about working out are able to grow the size and strength of their muscles. The muscles grow by an act of thought; no observable physical movement was involved. This proves that the mental process of exercise is more important than the physical process.You may also have heard that elite athletes are trained to visualize themselves running, boxing, jumping – doing whatever sport they do –  before they do it.

You should do this as well, because it is highly efficient.

Trust me, I know from years of experience.

Before you begin doing your key activity of the day, see yourself doing it in your mind's eye with excellence.

Before you rush off to your workout, take five minutes to relax and visualize yourself lifting the weights with some skills.

The same goes for a presentation, closing a sale, or going on a date.

First see yourself succeed in your head, and then proceed to succeed for real.


As you see, to conquer inefficient planning and execution, it's really just a three-stage framework that you need to learn to think in terms of as you plan and then proceed to go about your day:

  • Key activity. Which 1-2 things are most important today?
  • Ideal state. What state will be the most conducive to performing the key activity?
  • Preparation. How can I best prepare and put myself in the ideal state?

Then it becomes a matter of staying focused on this framework and soon you will be able to see any situation you are in as a means of jumpstarting your state in the direction of the ideal state. I recommend writing down this framework on a whiteboard or keeping it on your desktop.

For example, if you're commuting by bus and your key activity requires you to be social you will start talking to the person sitting next to you.

The more you do it, the better you become at taking responsibility for getting into your ideal state, and the easier it becomes for the brain to identify these situations.

But first you must know the key activity.

What are some of the tricks you use to prepare yourself?

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About the author

Ludvig Sunström

Ludvig Sunström runs Start Gaining Momentum where he writes about practical self-development and gives no-nonsense tips for becoming more efficient and stepping up in life. He is also the author of Breaking out of Homeostasis , a book about reclaiming control over your lifeby overcoming the brain's innate mechanism of staying the same. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter and Google+.