Why Preparation, Not Planning, is the Key to Success

ADHD Strategies    September 1, 2017

“Planning leads to awareness. Preparation leads to readiness.”

Few people with ADHD plan their day.  Fewer still take the time to prepare.  Let me explain.

When wanting to reach a goal or certain outcome, most of us have been taught to create a plan that includes the steps and milestones needed to reach our goal.  Then when it doesn’t go quite as planned, we are left wondering what happened…why our best laid plans don’t work out quite…well…as planned.

So what happened?  Often with ADHD we have missed an important piece. What’s typically missing is preparation.  Preparation is as important as planning, maybe even more so.  Preparation gets you ready to actually do the work.

You could say that planning is the original step, and preparation is the sequel.

The truth is, you can plan all you want, but if you don’t prepare, you still won’t be ready.

So…what is the difference between planning and preparing?

First let me say, planning is important.  Planning provides a structure with a “To Do” list and context for what we want to happen…in an ideal world (because let’s face it, how often do things go ideally?).  Planning assumes all will go as you think it will without considering what will happen if it doesn’t quite turn out that way…which life has a way of doing.

“If plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet!”

The problem is that we can create a plan, but things happen.  Like the dog literally eating our project, an accident on our route to work, the kids coming down with the flu or the weather changing.  We cannot plan for the things out of our control, we can only anticipate and prepare creatively to handle potential conflicts or frustrations.

Being prepared is essentially about creatively having multiple plans, so if things don’t go as in plan A, it can be replaced by Plan B.  And if that fails, you have Plan C, D…and so on.  The key to being prepared is to consider the options.

There really is no substitute for preparation.  Even though many people with ADHD are talented in their ability to “wing it,” when it comes down to it, those of us who also include the step of preparation are able to get through the inevitable surprises that life throws us.

“Preparation does more than prepare you for what to expect; it puts you in position to handle what you didn’t see coming.”

So how can you make sure to include this critical step of preparation?

Ask yourself, “Whatever happens, do I have what I need?  Am I prepared?”

Unless your answer is “Yes”, it’s likely that any obstacle, change in routine or unforeseen system glitch will see your plans go down the drain.  If the answer is “NO”, then the next question needs to be, “What do I need to do to prepare?”

Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Do it Before – Reviewing your planner for the upcoming day or week helps remind you what you will be doing. It also allows you to notice and change appointments that overlap, tasks that have changed, etc.  For instance, when I checked my calendar last Monday, I noticed a client had booked two appointments back-to-back.  Reviewing my calendar in advanced allowed me to reach out to confirm which time they preferred.
  • Do It at Night – Preparation the “day of” can help, but even better, preparation the night before can help you avoid any “off plan” incidences that may occur. For example, have you ever found yourself scrambling to find an outfit because the clothes you thought were clean were sitting wet in the wash?  Preparing your clothing the night before can help minimize these last minute disasters.
  • Do It in Advance– The further in advance you prepare, the more time you have to fix any unforeseen obstacles.  For instance, gathering the supplies and materials needed for a meeting several days beforehand allows you the time and energy to deal with any unexpected changes.  Or, when planning a trip to the pool, you can avoid any sad faces caused by flat floaties by preparing the week before, inflating the water toys and checking for unexpected holes or leaks (your kids will be glad you did J).
  • Do the (Pre)Work– Preparation is about doing as much of the thinking and gathering in advance.  Sort of like a dry run.  Taking time to calmly read through the specifics of a project, noting due dates, deadlines and meeting times, allows you to add these to your calendar.  Doing a run through on a presentation, will help you to catch typos in the PowerPoint, replace the dead batteries in the remote, and be ready for potential issues during the actual event.
  • Do Take the Time– Taking time to prepare can initially seem like it adds extra time to a task.  And yet, preparing actually saves you time.  Having anticipated and acted on “What can I prepare now?,” reduces errors, prevents re-work, detours and the need for re-dos.  When properly prepared, less energy and time is wasted being stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed.  This is energy and time that can be used for actually enjoying other activities in your day.
  • Do Reduce Your Stress– When you are ready, you are more self-assured, more confident.  When you are prepared, that constant gnawing of worry and stress is reduced and we are more likely to be able to stay focused on the task at hand.  Reviewing, preparing and mentally walking through the party you are hosting on Sunday allows you to relax and for once enjoy the gathering knowing you have prepared as much as possible for mishaps.
  • Do Make It a Habit– Make preparation part of your lifestyle, not something you do once in a blue moon.  Habits take time to create, so to make preparation part of your daily habits, make the intention to add “preparation” time to your day for the next 30 or 60 days.  At the end of your time reevaluate how adding the step of preparation is working for you -where it has made a positive difference and consider what changes, if any, you want to make in your preparation habit.
  • Do Set Time Aside:  Because preparation can feel time-consuming, it makes sense that we might try to avoid it. However, if in advance you set aside a period of time to focus on preparing, you might just find that the feeling of satisfaction when you complete the task earlier is totally worth it.

Preparation is an essential piece of any plan and greatly increases the likelihood the plan will turn out as we want.  However, don’t forget, that even with preparation added as part of your planning system, you will always benefit from continuing to use your innate ADHD creative talent of thinking on your feet!

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