You need a ‘When-Then’ plan. Here’s why:

When Then Plan, WhenThen, When>>Then

There are few feelings better than the sensation you get when you’re about to explore a new idea. Creativity, of any kind, is a rush unlike any other, and far too many of us are forced to suppress original thinking throughout the majority of the day because our current careers do not fall in line with who or what we aspire to become. Most people find they need to set aside time outside their 9-5 to try exploring any creative endeavor, but following through is much easier said than done.

There is a great and frustrating old saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Maybe you hope to dedicate an hour a day to doing something creative, and perhaps for the first few days or weeks, that goal is reasonably easy to meet. Inevitably, however, a day will come when something happens to break your newly established routine:

  • A late night out causes you to sleep in
  • A child, pet, or loved one falls ill and needs you to help care for them
  • Your job demands you spend more time at the office
  • A family event (birth, death, etc.). unexpectedly occurs
  • That little voice inside that tells you there is no chance you will succeed convinces you not to take a day off
  • Your alarm doesn’t go off

There are countless reasons why our best made plans go awry, both big and small. When those things happen, our new routine of purposefully setting aside time to create is jeopardized, it can be incredibly hard to get ourselves back on the right track. We tell ourselves that people meant to succeed would never allow themselves to slip so easily. We tell ourselves we cannot trust ourselves to chase our dreams. We tell ourselves we are not deserving of aspiring to or becoming something greater than what we war and we are wrong for doing so.

Everyone fails. Everyone has setbacks and unexpected turns that throw their lives into chaos. There is no perfect plan for dealing with life’s ability to spin out of control at any given moment, and there never will be. What separates those who rise above the hurdles of existence and those who do not is something relatively simple: Those who succeed have a when-then plan.

What is a when-then plan?

When-then plans are a system of checks and balances that ensures creative people do not lose focus when life throws them curveballs. Let me give you an example:

“WHEN I am unable to spend an hour writing in the morning (or any time at all), THEN I will spend five minutes reviewing my recent creative output in the evening and deciding how I’ll work the next day.”

Here’s another:

“WHEN I know I will be unable to spend any time being creative in the more the morning of evening THEN I will take 10-minutes out of my lunch to write, draw, or otherwise express myself.”

When-then plans do not make up for the hour of time you lost, but it does keep you connected to your creativity and your goals when you do not have time to work on them. So much of the reasoning behind why we lose connection to our goals when we start becoming increasingly busy is that we allow ourselves to stop thinking about them. We push our future ambitions out of our mind to focus on an immediate need or problem, and in doing so, we make it incredibly hard to pull those thoughts and ideas back into the realm of possibility.

The lost time is still a downer, but by having a then-when system in place, you can still make personal progress on a daily basis. Taking a step back from your work before reviewing it can help you be more reasonably critical of your efforts. These short sessions of review can help you readjust your focus and more precisely plan your future timeline, which will account for the time lost to the demands of the day/week/etc.

New habits are only good intentions until you have a when-then plan in place, and that plan is only good when you put it into use. Do not let life convince you that you will never be more than what you are right now because that is a lie. You can aspire to something greater, and there is a way to get there as long as you’re willing to put in the work.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.