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In search of the perfect planner

Trish Olson, associate dean

Happy New Year,
Trish Olson head shot

This year, with changes in my work, I was interested in reassessing what was available in the planner market. In essence I was looking for a “perfect planner.” Amazing how if you conduct a search for something in google all of a sudden your feeds on Instagram and Facebook are full of options on this topic, and planners are no exception. To be clear, I was not looking for a calendar.

Since my search was “being done for me” I would open up the product description and make a list of the features of the planners presented to me. I found many had similar features – but perhaps one feature was emphasized on that particular product line (lots of gratitude planners this year!). Features I noticed were:
  • Reflection on last year.
  • Using this reflection to write down this year’s goals.
  • A place to implement those goals by breaking them down to “do-able tasks” monthly, weekly, daily.
  • Reflection on progress to achieving goals daily, weekly, monthly and a space to write those reflections.
  • An opportunity to conduct monthly 30 day challenges to focus on creating and supporting new behaviors or habits.
  • Reflecting on who has helped you on your journey and sharing gratitude with them for their efforts.
  • Inspirational quotes (I LOVE inspirational quotes!!). 
In my reflection on this process I thought of the similarity to the area of study of behavior economics. How do I reduce barriers or set up systems to reach goals important to me? Setting the yearly goals is not enough. Research has looked at “how do people move from good intentions to implementation?” The Harvard Business Review has a behavioral economics website sharing many articles that have used a tested frame work, the four Ps of behavior change:
  • Process
  • Persuasion
  • Possibilities
  • Person
One article I read shared the following (Chance, Dhar, Hatzis & Bakker 2016)

“Influencing the individual is the most challenging lever of change. Most attempts fail to change behavior even when they succeed in changing attitudes and intentions, because behavior often deviates from intentions. So motivation is not enough — tools are needed. A few well-established interventions can help support people’s best intentions. These include:
  • Goals: Setting and tracking goals is an essential strategy for improving behavior over time. Goals should be personal, motivational, and measurable, and supported with tools to help along the way.
  • Precommitment: Willpower is a depletable mental resource: when people are tired, hungry, stressed, or focused on something else, they are less likely to perform actions requiring willpower. Planning and committing in advance — preplanning healthy meals, for example — allows reasoned decision making and helps prevent impulsive choices that could be regrettable.
  • Habits: The majority of our actions are automatic, which means that habitualizing healthy behaviors is the ideal way to sustain them.”
So fascinating to me is the features I found prevalent in the planners I was researching had the three components above built into the planner to support completion of goals and supporting behavior change to reach those goals.

Sounds a bit like Extension work doesn’t it? We know providing knowledge about nutrition, finances, family communication is not enough – in Extension we provide the tools to support our participants or the community in behavior changes they want to make.

In the blog feature of this communication tool – I would encourage us to have a dialogue about your tools in supporting you reaching your goals this year. I plan that I will utilize the tool I purchased – but also use the year to create “my own planner.” Taking the best of what I have used in the past and putting my own spin on it.

Again, happy new year.

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