A friend and former co-worker recently asked an interesting question - how do you plan and still stay in the present? This question reflects a common misunderstanding about "being present", an important aspect of traveling the Buddhist path. Being present or living in the now doesn't mean that you never reflect on and learn from the past nor does it mean that you eschew planning, set goals or aspire for better results in the future. Planning is a critical activity for most of us, particularly the ever growing population of knowledge workers.
What is not so skillful (a term Buddhists tend to prefer over "good") is planning during other activities such as execution or spending wasted mental cycles during planning. So, when setting aside a period of time to conduct a planning activity, do that activity fully and mindfully. To do so avoid the following:
- Spending inordinate amounts of time focusing on the execution of any one step in your plan. Execution comes later - just plan.
- Reading emails, taking phone calls, checking Twitter, etc. This advice applies to every mentally intensive activity, but it is important enough to call out.
- Planning in small snippets of time throughout several days. This doesn't suggest that one shouldn't revise a plan. But, it is very difficult to be mindful on a challenging assignment when shifting mental gears too frequently.
Now, mindfulness does not come easy, especially for us Westerners who practically worship multi-tasking and always doing over being. For those who would like to explore mindfulness as a discipline, Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness for Beginners is an excellent resource.