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The Power of Good Planning

Imagine setting out on a trip without knowing where you are, where you are going or how you are going to get there. With that kind of planning, you wouldn't make it very far. So why is it that many people go through life without knowing the answers to these questions?

Planning is important for more than just holidays. Some people believe that you can get anything you want from life if you know what you want, make a plan, manage your progress and persist toward your goal.

What do you wish you knew as a high school student? Keith Ellis wrote a book because he wanted to answer that question for himself. Although his book, The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals, was not written for a high school audience, the advice it holds is useful for anyone.

"The real trick is figuring out what you want," Ellis says. "Strangely enough, people don't usually get what they want from life because they don't know what they want."

He stresses the importance of good planning and time management to reach your goals. "Goal setting is really about using something from life that you normally use unconsciously," Ellis says.

Let's use the example of a vacation.

Anyone who has chosen a destination, arranged for accommodations and transportation and made it there and back has gone through a complete planning process. "Most people don't realize that same skill can get them a promotion...or whatever it is they want to do with their lives," Ellis says.

Ask yourself the question: "What would I really want from life if I was absolutely, positively certain I could get it?" Now write down everything that comes to your mind. Don't leave anything out. Ellis says to edit the list afterwards and decide what is a priority for you, then go after it.

"Instead of focusing on what you think you can't do, focus on what you'd like to do. The rest will take care of itself," Ellis says.

Clare Wasteneys is the program head of community economic analysis for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. She helps communities with planning by using economic information to make decisions.

"For students, it's not all that different from why you do planning with communities. It's so that you know where you're starting from, you know where you're heading and you have figured out how you are going to get there," Wasteneys says.

She says you should assess your strengths and weaknesses. This will give you a starting point to help you learn what you need to reach your goal. She encourages students to make a realistic plan of how they can reach their goals, which includes analysis and strategy.

Once you develop planning skills, they can really pay off. "If they (students) develop planning skills, they usually can find a fairly good position in any organization because it's really critical," Wasteneys says.

There are courses in planning available, through colleges or just as workshops. Wasteneys says she and her colleagues still take workshops to upgrade their skills. "One of the things that is important to planning is to be able to think through logically and carefully and thoroughly and to organize yourself well," she says.

Planning can be a focus skill for your career, like Wasteneys, or a means of reaching goals in your career and your life. Sahri Woods Baum is a counselor at the Ryerson Center for Student Development and Counseling. She helps students with their career planning.

She agrees that assessing yourself is the most important step in your planning process. "It's critical in terms of getting to the heart of one's passions...and those are things that you can bring into your life and have satisfied from a life-planning perspective."

Woods Baum says in order to assess yourself and set goals, you should think about your interests, skills, work values, personal characteristics, the working conditions and lifestyle you would like, and what kind of education, training and experiences you have had. "I think goal setting is very important. And I think you need to be able to do all of this in order to set goals for yourself," she says.

Experts agree: to get where you want to go, you must first stop and do some planning. Know where you are (assess yourself), know where you want to go (set goals) and know how you are going to get there (make a plan). This is something that you should keep doing throughout your life so you don't get lost. And if you ever do, don't be afraid to ask for directions.

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