Taking Action—with a Plan!


When Tom and Gloria finished unpacking the last box of kitchen odds and ends, they collapsed on the old living room sofa. It seemed strange to be sitting on such a familiar piece of furniture in such an unfamiliar setting. They had purchased the couch ten years earlier when Tom had finished trade school. During those ten years three children were born, Tom had completed a demanding apprenticeship while learning to be a husband and father, and Gloria had occasionally worked part-time before the family came.

Now—a new home, a new city, a new job. The decisions they had made over the past ten years, difficult at times, had brought them to this point in their lives. And they were pleased.

Goals. Plans. We are repeatedly encouraged to prepare. We plan for shortages, famines, and floods. We’re taught to use Saturday to prepare for Sunday, and this life to prepare for the next.

President Spencer W. Kimball has counseled, “To be sure your life will be full and abundant, you must plan your life.” (Ensign, May 1974, p. 86.) Planners like the feeling that they are in control of their lives and making things happen. Making progress also makes them feel good about themselves. Temporary frustrations become more tolerable, and impulses not compatible with the goals become less tempting.

In addition to these positive benefits, perhaps the most significant by-product of planning is that it encourages communication—as husbands and wives and as families. It develops a sense of oneness, of unity. And it allows family members to use the skills of cooperation and consideration needed to make any marriage and family stay alive.

For example, Larry and Cheryl Crenshaw noticed one evening after dinner with their five young children that there was more food on the floor than on the table. “Improve table manners” was immediately placed high on the list of short-range goals and became a discussion topic at family council. Results came—slow and steady—as the kids made and reached the new family etiquette goals.

Seven-year-old Ben learned more than table manners from the experience. With his new goal-setting skills, and with help from his parents, he outlined and worked on specific tasks such as scripture reading, prayer, and fasting to prepare himself for baptism.

“Always have an alternative plan in case the first plan doesn’t work out.” That’s what Anne Nelson’s mother taught her—and it’s been good advice. Divorced and living in Salt Lake City with her daughter Holly, Anne is working to finance her final years of college.

For Anne, being well-organized at home is especially important. Each Saturday she cooks and freezes all their meals for the coming week. Each Sunday she and Holly plan and write together the coming week’s schedule on a calendar and discuss how to accomplish what they need to do.

Don and Shirley Nielson have raised their family and now have only one child left at home. Many of their goals have been fulfilled, but they still feel a need to plan: together they’re working now toward a mission as husband and wife.

Some people choose not to plan because they feel it takes the spontaneity out of life—they feel it makes life too rigid, too mechanical. It is possible to go overboard, lose sight of the plan’s purpose, become a slave to the letter of the law, and feel unable to relax until it’s accomplished. It’s important to learn to be flexible in our planning. Elder Dean L. Larsen has commented:

“Some individuals feel that unless each hour of each day is programmed to achieve specific objectives, life cannot be lived to the full, and personal potential is being cheated. … Setting goals and objectives to guide one’s efforts can be demonstrated to yield positive results. It is a process, however, that can be restricting and limiting when it is distorted or misguided.” (Ensign, Feb. 1981, p. 63.)

So the question isn’t whether planning is valuable, but whether we use planning to help bring about personal and family goals and to improve husband/wife and family communication—or whether we allow it to enslave us. Part of gaining control over our planning is recognizing that there is no “approved method.” Some people use a rather structured approach and find it provides the security and direction they enjoy. Others prefer a much more informal approach because of its adaptability and spontaneity.

The general planning process seems to follow a pattern:

1. Purposes to life are agreed upon.

2. Goals are determined.

3. Plans are considered to bring about goals.

4. Plans are implemented.

5. The process is evaluated.

6. Plans are refined and adjustments made.

7. New plans are made, based on current needs and circumstances.

The specific implementation procedures may be as varied as the number of people and conditions involved.

It’s never too late to start, and there never comes a time when planning is not needed. Elder William H. Bennett of the First Quorum of the Seventy once said, “No matter who we are, no matter what our age or circumstances may be, we all have the same starting point as of right now. And that starting point is now.” (Ensign, May 1975, p. 59.) Especially is this so if we really want in our marriage the happy by-product of planning together—more satisfactory communication, more unity, more cooperation, and more sense of successfully managing life together.

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “Taking Action—with a Plan!” you may wish to discuss the following questions:

1. What value has systematic planning had for you?

2. During times when you make plans to reach a goal, what seems to help ensure success? What seems to work against achieving your goal?

3. Have you experienced too much flexibility or too much rigidity in your plans? How can you keep a balance?

4. Is there something that you’ve always thought would be “nice” to do but that you’ve never actually gotten around to doing? Which suggestions in this article could help you begin?

[photo] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

S. Brent Scharman, a psychologist and training coordinator for LDS Social Services, is a high councilor in the West Jordan Utah East Stake.