The art of planning: A discussion with teenagers

Yesterday, I volunteered to discuss the art of planning with young people in my church at The Pathfinder Church Manchester, UK. I adopted a discussion approach so that the teenagers would create the knowledge by exploring the topic while I guide, facilitate and moderate.

We started by defining a plan. They kept piecing up the definition until they arrived at this:

A plan is a structured template that is used to achieve an objective.

We then asked what “structured” means. After deliberations, we agreed that structure connotes something created with effort and thinking. One of them even mentioned a building as an example of structure and we extended his thoughts to the architectural plan which gives a building its final beauty.

We talked about a template which we likened to a form. When one completes a form and prints it, the printout resembles the form. So our achievements are shaped by our plan templates. We asked about the last significant word in the definition- objective. One of them said that objective is a goal. I then asked what a goal was? This was to make them reflect deeply on the concept of objective because of its importance. Objective is what one aims to achieve. Without aims, one maybe busy wondering aimlessly. I told them that objective was so important that Jesus would ask people that need help “what they wanted”. With a clear understanding of what a plan is, we delved into the characteristics of a good plan.

We used SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) to discuss the characteristics of a good plan. These were the discussions that ensued.

SPECIFIC: We agreed that the objective of the plan must be specific so that the planner can be sure of what he or she is pursuing. Saying that you want to read books is not specific enough. You can say that “you want to read 5 books in 5 weeks/months/years”. Better still, they suggested that the list if the exact books can be compiled.

MEASURABLE: Plan must be measurable so that the planner can compare the level of achievement at the end of the day. For instance, at the end of 5 weeks/months/years, the person that set the goal to read 5 books can count the number of books read and can even calculate the percentage achievement.

ACHIEVABLE: I asked the teenagers to describe what is not achievable. One of them said that anyone who is not working that said he or she wants to buy a house next month may not achieve it. We agreed that plans should be made achievable to avoid discouragement and self-doubt.

REALISTIC: We observed that the characteristics of being achievable and realistic appears similar but we sought to distinguish them through examples. We asked for an example of a plan that is not realistic. One of them said “going to space by someone who is not prepared to do so”. We agreed that that would be unrealistic. Lack of achievement of goals might be because they were unrealistic. However, we agreed that planning requires being ambitious, thinking big and leaping out in faith. Yet, this does not mean being unrealistic and planning things that are not achievable.

TIME-BOUND: We agreed that the time element is very important. Time helps to fix the starting point and end of a plan. Time is a parameter for measuring achievement and monitoring the plans.

WHY PEOPLE FIND IT HARD TO PLAN

I requested that they outline why people find it hard to plan. These were the answers they gave:

1. Planning is time-consuming. This is true. It takes time, energy and at times resources to plan. However, we considered the consequences of not having a plan at all. We asked if the potential benefits of a having plan do not outweigh the costs. We agreed that creating a plan would provide direction which is worth more than the time used to create it. During the introduction of the session, our Pastor said ” that failure to plan is a plan to fail”. One of the teenagers re-echoed it. So, the cost of planning will always be cheaper than the stress of grooping in the dark.

2. Procrastination: One of them said that Procrastination could make a person not to plan. We agreed and it was added that one will start working on achievements if a plan is put in place. The best time to develop a plan is today. So, we agreed than planning should be a practice, and a habit.

3. Fear of failure: This was mentioned by one of them. We considered if not having a plan in order not to be accountable is better than having a plan so that one can measure their achievements at any point in time. Plan provides direction and if people are deviating, they will know because there is a plan in place. If there are things unachieved at the end of the timeframe of a plan, they can be rolled over to the next period.

4. Self-doubt: It was highlighted that anyone who does not believe that they can do anything worthwhile may not plan. So, believing in oneself is important. Moreover, plan shape our future. So, doubting to the extent of not planning is how people plan to fail. We highlighted a passage where Apostle Paul said that he can do all things through Christ that strengthens him. This was to highlight that God is a planner and he would want his children to plan. Thus, believing in God’s grace to achieve a plan takes away the focus on oneself to God who can do exceedingly abundantly above what we think or imagined according to the power at work within us.

BENEFITS OF PLANNING

We also discussed the benefits of planning. Here are some points raised including that:

1. It helps one to have good outcomes in life. At this point, I showed the teenagers an old notebook which I have been using since 2012 for my annual plan. I joked that the book is so important to me that it needs police escorts when I am moving around with it. I encouraged them to get a notebook to write their plans based on SMART characteristics. Having annual plans as a young person is the best way to shape one’s future.

2. It is biblical. We read from Luke 14: 25-35 and saw that Jesus encouraged people to “sit down to estimate the cost”. This connotes planning within the context of the text. Planning is an exercise of faith. We discussed that prayers and other spiritual or religious activities become properly targeted and effective when we have a SMART plan. If God wants to answer our prayers, do we have plans of what we want him to do and how that fits into our life.

After much deliberations each person spoke on what they learned.

We stopped for the day to watch a new movie!

Our next topic on 23rd October 2021 is “Creativity and Excellence “. I am planning the session to be hands-on. If you are a teenager and you are in Manchester or close to Manchester, feel free to join. Admission is free!

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