Planning and “The Plan”

One of the main pitfalls I seem to fall into over and over again is failing to go beyond planning and actually getting my work done. I plan, plan some more, add planning to my to-do list, do even more planning, finish planning, get back to planning, re-plan and so on. It seems that planning –  for me –  is an end unto itself: I plan for the sake of planning.

To resolve this problem, it’s important to recognize the dual role of planning: planning as a process and as part of a process.

The Process

Planning isn’t simply done to pave the way for the actions that need to be carried out. Planning helps us resolve our own confusion and to manage our own thoughts. We put pen to paper, or mindmap on our computers or use any number of planning methods so we can clarify our own thinking about the project we intend to undertake.

In this respect, planning alone (without doing anything beyond the planning) remains a useful process to go through. It brings us clarity and relief. It helps us make sense of our projects. It helps us manage our own thoughts.

This is when planning can be considered as an end unto itself. We don’t need to do anything else to experience the relief planning, alone, can bring.

But to actually get things done, we need to see planning as part of a greater process.

Part of a Process

Most projects we undertake have a level of complexity that needs to be simplified – or understood – in order to manage the work associated with it, so we can get the desired results.

Planning is an essential step to take in order to bring clarity to any project and to define the action steps to take. The outcome of planning isn’t clarity and mental relief. As part of a process, planning must have a tangible output that gets fed into the next phase of the project. Planning is part of the “Thinking” phase of a project that defines how the project is to be carried out. The next phase would be the “Doing” phase, where the results of planning are put into practice.

What connects the two phases is The Plan.

The Plan

While planning, your intention should be to come up with an outcome that can be used to get work done. This is The Plan. While this may seem obvious, but if you default to seeing planning as a process (and not part of a process), an outcome beside mental relief is unnecessary. In fact, I’ve planned many, many times and simply forgot – or even threw away – my planning papers because I achieved the relief that I desired.

But to make planning effective, it must have a Plan as an output. A plan defines, clearly, what you intend to do in the “Doing” phase. Once you draw up a plan, the planning phase is completed and you can move on to undertake the tasks required.

Without a plan, planning can go on forever (and it usually does). There is always information to take in and alternatives to consider. But once a plan is drawn up, you can conclude the planning phase and actually get things done.


Evaluating My Holiday

Today is the last weekday of my 5-week holiday. I had some very ambitious plans for the holiday (that’s why I took the holiday to begin with!). Some said my plans were overly ambitious and that if this is what my plan looked like, I might as well include “solving world hunger” on the list.

Were they right?

My answer is: “I don’t know.”

How many goals did I achieve?


In fact, I would go so far as to say that I didn’t achieve anything in my holiday. You may have even noticed that I only wrote FOUR posts during my holiday (of FIVE WEEKS), while I was writing an average of one post PER DAY for almost a month before that!

Do I feel bad that my time was wasted without accomplishing anything? Kinda, but not really…


Because I just experienced the effects of a poor approach to getting things done and can now recognize the reasons for why I was unable to accomplish much. This doesn’t make me feel guilty or annoyed. In fact, I find it inspirational.

I took the holiday to find out if I can work productively at home for when I quit my job. The answer is clearly that I couldn’t. Not because it’s impossible, but because I didn’t approach it correctly, and can now pin-point where I went wrong. This is why I can’t answer the question of whether my plans were realistic or not. Had I done everything I could and in the right way, I would then be able to say whether they were overly ambitious or not.

I will hopefully be sharing some of these lessons with you so you can avoid my mistakes and worry about some other mistakes you will make 😛

Success Mindset

Six Men and a Glass

Is the glass half empty or half full?

A very popular question intended to distinguish between Pessimism (who sees the glass half empty) and Optimism (who sees the glass half full).

However, there are actually four more gentlemen gathered around the glass, who are usually not mentioned, even though their points of view are very common and extremely important to understand.

Let me introduce you to these four gentlemen, and let’s see what they have to say about the glass in front of them.


While Optimism and Pessimism can’t see eye to eye because they are looking at different aspects of the glass, Realism is able to appreciate what each of his friends are seeing: he sees the entire glass, both the full half and the empty half.

His attitude isn’t skewed by half the story because he is able to see the full story, both its positive and negative dimensions. He is able to appreciate what there is, as well as to admit what is lacking. He can choose to feel contented with what there is, or aspire to fill the whole glass.

Optimism, Pessimism and Realism share a very important characteristic: they are all seeing the glass for what it is. What distinguishes them from each other is what they choose to focus on.

And this is what differentiates them from their other three friends…

Wishful Thinking

While Optimism, Pessimism and Realism are contemplating the contents of the glass, Wishful Thinking is jumping with joy that the glass is full!

It’s not full, but that’s how Wishful Thinking apparently “sees” it. Wishful Thinking doesn’t care much about reality. Sometimes reality is an inconvenience for human happiness, so he chooses to create the “reality” that makes him happy. In this case, it’s a full glass.

But this doesn’t change the fact that the glass is only half full, no matter how hard Wishful Thinking wants it to be full. From a distance, Wishful Thinking can remain contented that the glass is full, but he will be unpleasantly disappointed when he tries to drink from the glass.

Limiting Belief

Our friend, Limiting Belief, is sitting uncomfortably with his friends. He can’t seem to understand how they can see any water in the glass when it’s obviously empty! Obvious only to him. Obviously.

Limiting Belief doesn’t focus on the negative. He denies the positive. He dismisses the existence of a reality and, therefore, cannot come to appreciate it or make use of it. Limiting Belief could very well die of thirst by the side of a river, simply because he denies that the river exists!


While all his friends are facing the glass, Evasion is looking the other way. He’s fearful of what he might discover about the glass. Fearful of what to expect. Fearful of what the content of the glass would mean to him. Fearful of what the content of the glass would require him to do.

He, therefore, chooses not to look at the glass, or listen to what others have to say about it. “Ignorance is bliss,” and by remaining ignorant he doesn’t have to worry whether the glass is empty, half full or full. He believes he can go through life happily unaware of what the glass has to offer, and by directing his attention elsewhere.

While he doesn’t like to admit this, but Evasion sometimes feels compelled to find out what’s in the glass, and he chooses to drown those feelings with distractions. Alcohol is always a convenient choice, though he has sometimes tried out drugs to numb the feeling of curiosity and irritating consciousness.

The Six Men

I’m sure we can all relate to one of these men in different situations in our lives. We are sometimes optimistic, other times we are pessimistic. We sometimes face reality and sometimes choose to ignore it. We sometimes fool ourselves by inventing a new “reality” that brings us happiness, or a “reality” that confines us to what we feel comfortable with, while ignoring all the opportunities that exist for us, and the potential within us.

But for us to achieve happiness, it’s important that we:

  • Accept reality for what it is
  • Appreciate what we have
  • Use what we have to gain what we want

We need to befriend Realism, while being acquainted with his friends, and being aware of what influence they can have on our lives.

Character Development

A Personal Lesson in the Importance of Character Development

Less than a week before the launch of this site, I was feeling worried that I might not meet my deadline (the one I promised my friend Khalid I will finish the site by. He always insists that I work by fixed dates). I was taking my family (wife and twins) to the Scientific Center for them to meet up with my in-laws, and I was going to meet up with my brother to design this site.

When we arrived at the Scientific Center, I had to go through the parking lot to drop my family off. As I took the ticket going in, I told the ticket man that I’m only dropping my family off, and won’t be parking in the parking lot. When I came to leave, he told me that I would have to pay.

The amount wasn’t much, but I was enraged and lost my temper. I told him that I didn’t park, and won’t be paying. He can call the manager for me to talk to. When he called the manager, he said: “There is someone by the gate who doesn’t want to pay,” without explaining why I didn’t want to pay. I got out of the car to grab the phone off him, but he had put the receiver down by the time I got to the window.

He told me that the manager would pay on my behalf, because he wasn’t going to come down to resolve the issue, and opened the gate for me.

Some might see this as a victory. I got my way, and didn’t have to pay. But considering the principles I had to trample on to get to that point, it really wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t how I should have behaved, if I wanted to uphold my principles.

To clarify what I mean, I should mention some of the principles that I abandoned in this single incident.

The Forgotten Principles

Although the entire incident didn’t last more than five minutes, there were a handful of principles involved. Before I list the principles, I should point out that these aren’t universal principles others want me to uphold, which I’m not entirely convinced about. These are principles that I have come to embrace based on my personal research and convictions.

These aren’t principles that I should uphold out of religious obligation or social conventions. These are principles I want to uphold, given my beliefs and values. They are my principles, and I want to live by them.

  • Reason over emotions: The primary principle that I ignored during this incident is the importance of acting appropriately, without being led by my emotions. I gave up control over my decisions to what I was feeling at the moment, which led to me behaving in a way that’s against my principles
  • Being respectful: Regardless of who I’m talking to, I believe people deserve respect. I certainly didn’t show the ticket man the respect he deserved. I expressed my anger, and was very rude in my behavior
  • Welcoming foreigners: Foreigners don’t usually feel they have rights in a foreign country, especially where the nationals feel superior, and would treat them with disrespect. I don’t like the way foreigners are sometimes treated, and I try to show them that I don’t see a difference between me and them. While I would have been equally enraged if the ticket man was a Kuwaiti, and don’t think I would have behaved any differently, this might not be the way the ticket man saw it. I am sure he still felt like an outcast, who is being disrespected because he’s not from this country
  • Being fair: The ticket man was only doing his job. He didn’t have the authority to decide whether I should pay or not. In fact, if he hadn’t spoken to his manager and let me through, he might have gotten into trouble. That’s not what he deserves, and I shouldn’t expect him to shoulder the responsibility of correcting the policies his superiors place
  • Making others happy: It’s very easy to contribute to the happiness or the misery of others. You can mock someone, or praise him, and the results will be drastically different. I want to contribute to people’s happiness, and this can be done by choosing the right words and the right behavior. I certainly didn’t contribute to the ticket man’s happiness, and he would have been much happier if he hadn’t met me

As can be seen, my behavior contradicted my principles. This is enough to signal a problem that I need to work on. It’s very easy to come up with excuses for why I behaved the way I did. In fact, my default thought pattern was directed towards finding excuses to justify my behavior.

The “Excuses”

I think it’s very easy to look for triggers we can blame for the way we behave:

  • I had a deadline to meet
  • My brother was waiting for me
  • I was stuck in traffic for a long time, going to a place I didn’t want to go to
  • My son was crying and misbehaving
  • The parking policy is irrational because people are being forced to go through the parking lot to get to the doors
  • The ticket man wasn’t cooperating

Who Am I Kidding?

Let’s assume all these excuses are valid: I wanted to act nicely, but the people and circumstances around me pushed me to behave in the way that I behaved.

Where does that leave my principles? Don’t I want to live by them? Is it really enough to say that others led me to abandon the principles I cherish? And when exactly should I be living by my principles, if I’m willing to abandon them under the slightest pressure?

There’s no amount of excuses in the world that can justify me abandoning my principles. Principles are meant to be practiced fully. And if I’m not living by my principles, then there’s an inconsistency I need to resolve.

The Bigger Picture

This incident didn’t simply reveal the potential I have in giving up my principles when I’m under pressure, but that I am consistently acting against my principles in daily life! Simple gestures can signal different meanings. You might have your eyes fixed on your computer screen while others talk to you, when a simple acknowledgment of their presence can give them a sense of respect you would not have expressed otherwise.

I realized how distant I was from the person I want to be, and how I wasn’t fully conscious of my principles in daily life, or how my principles should be put into practice in the first place. What sort of behaviors show others that they are respected? And how can I consistently act in a way that upholds my principles?

This incident was a powerful lesson for me in the importance of character development. I realized the extent to which I have been overlooking this issue.

What Now?

It’s fortunate for me that I am willing to admit when I’m wrong. After passing through the gate I parked my car and went over to the ticket man to apologize for my behavior. But the fact remains that when it comes to showing respect, it isn’t a characteristic that’s fully ingrained in my character. But I want it to be. I want to act consistently regardless of the circumstances surrounding me.

I would like to be aware of the principles I uphold and how to become a person that upholds these principles consistently in daily life.

This is what character development is about, and I’ll be writing a great deal more about this subject to help myself become the person I want to be, and to help others achieve the same goal for themselves.

Character Development

Reasons for Choosing Character Development

In my previous post on the meaning of character development, I explained how character development is an approach to personal development that I would like to focus on for this year.

In this post I would like to explain my reasons for choosing character development as my approach for the year and when is it a suitable approach to take.

Although I’ve had an interest in personal development for a number of years, and have been shaping and re-shaping my beliefs throughout these years, I haven’t come up with a list of virtues I would really like to possess, and the list of vices that I would like to abandon or avoid.

Why is this important?

Principles, by themselves, can seem abstract, impractical and meaningless. You can have beliefs you feel strongly about, but if you don’t know how they should be translated into personal conduct, you will always live in a contradiction, where your beliefs don’t match your actions. Not because you are lying about your beliefs, but because you haven’t given their practical meaning much thought.

There are people who don’t think on the level of beliefs. In fact, they may even struggle to express their beliefs, simply because they think on the level of behaviors. They accept that some behaviors lead to positive results and others lead to negative results, and their interest in personal development is on how to be able to change their behaviors and to stick to their changes by forming new habits.

The problem with this approach is that their new habits may lack direction, and other habits can sabotage the effort they are putting in to forming their habits. For example, suppose someone wants to be able to build better relationships. He identifies one bad habit he possesses: he doesn’t listen to others when they speak. Therefore, to overcome this bad habit, he decides to not cut people off while they are speaking, to pay attention to what’s being said and to respond with something relevant to what was mentioned.

Now, he may develop this new habit, to the delight of his acquaintances. However, when he responds to what he hears, he speaks sarcastically, and may even mock others for their views. Although he overcame one bad habit, he overlooked another habit that is jeopardizing his relationships!

It is overwhelming to consider habits separately, without grouping them under meaningful principles that relate to different areas of our lives. To “pay attention to what others say” and to “not be sarcastic” are both habits that belong to the principle of treating others with respect in the area of social relations.

Character traits combine a number of habits to represent them. Being patient isn’t tied to a single habit. It’s demonstrated by a number of habits in different situations.

The two main reasons why I want to take the approach of character development are:

  • To put my principles into practice
  • To more clearly recognize the habits that demonstrate the characteristics I wish to possess

I should make one point clear: I will NOT be developing all the characteristics I want to possess, or abandoning all my bad habits this year! This isn’t my aim, and I don’t think it’s a very practical target to aim for.

To make character development my focus for this year will involve me defining the characteristics I want to possess and to identifying the habits that fall under each characteristic, so that I can have a clearer plan for my personal development efforts.

What habits do I need to have in order to be patient? Reliable? Helpful? Attentive? Etc? (Ok, the last one isn’t a habit!)

In my next post I’ll share with you a personal experience that made me realize the importance of character development.