Why you need to Plan like a Pilot to get super organized, laser focussed and insanely productive

Updated to Productivity on December 19, 2022.

If you want to overcome procrastination, don’t read another time management book. Please.

Trust me, I know how complicated time management advice can be. In fact, I wrote a time management book.

The challenge often is that all the great advice in a well-meaning book about time management takes, well, a lot of time.

That’s why I developed a system of planning that takes very little time, doesn’t require learning how to use some fancy software or sync on thingy to talk with another thingy.

In my live presentations, this system is consistently rated as one of the most popular solutions.

Here’s the thing. What I’m about to show you works with whatever kind of work you do, however old you are and whether you’re in school, got a job, or sitting on a deserted island eating coconuts.

At the risk of overselling what you are about to learn, I do think this is a game-changer. In fact, I’m surprised that in over 250 blog posts I haven’t shared this yet.

It’s called Plan Like A Pilot.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s look at the real reason why we all procrastinate.


Many moons ago, before our ancestors had laptops, iTunes, and Fitbits on their wrists, life was simpler. Everyone got up in the morning knowing you were going to work in the factory or in the field or be with your family.

You didn’t have a hundred things on your list all screaming for your attention. You also didn’t have alerts popping up on your phone, multiple calendars, bulging To-Do lists and, on top of it all, self-doubt.

Let’s face it: it’s hard to stay positive and confident when you struggle to stay on top of your responsibilities and achieve all your goals (been to the gym lately?).

So we procrastinate. We all put stuff off – telling ourselves it’s no big deal, or tomorrow’s another day.

[We all put stuff off – telling ourselves it’s no big deal, or tomorrow’s another day.]

That’s why you need to start with the end in mind.


The late Stephen Covey was a genius at using frameworks and models to explain concepts and best practices he wanted to teach. One of his models was to start with the end in mind (His book First Things First is a classic).

It’s a deceptively simple model that says if you want to be more successful you need to map out the route before you start down the path. In other words, invest more time getting clear with your goals before going to work on them.

A quick test is to pull out your goals and match them with what you’re working on this week. Are they aligned?

Years ago, when I was plodding through the writing process of Give me a Break, I added my twist to his model and called it Plan Like A Pilot.


The name “Plan Like A Pilot” came from my days working with my partners to build Adventure Network (now called Antarctic Logistics and a much more impressive enterprise), the world’s only private air service company in Antarctica. One day I asked one of our pilots what it was like to fly in Antarctica. 

His reply surprised me.

The Plan Like A Pilot system was inspired by a conversation with one of my pilots

What I expected was to hear about was the awe-inspiring vast fields of glaciers or iceberg strewn seascapes. Instead, he said, “To tell you the truth, over half the time I’m off course.”

Aaaaah, say again?

What I came to learn (as a non-pilot) was how hard it is for any pilot to fly a straight course – not just in Antarctica – anywhere.  Just like you at work: stuff comes up and throws you off course.

For a pilot, there are wind conditions, air currents and little things you want to avoid, like mountains. For you, it’s interruptions, email, deadlines, and people.

The idea of Plan Like A Pilot is to start with the end in mind. Just like a pilot filing a flight plan before leaving the ground, you write out your Flight Plan before digging in on Monday.

It’s a simple strategy that can have remarkable outcomes, such as being able to overcome procrastination, feeling more focussed, better coaching of staff, clearer decision making – even sleeping better knowing you are on top of your work.

Let me walk you through the process and then I’ll give you a few tips on how to really supercharge your week.


The first change you might need to make is to get rid of lists, sticky notes, pop-up reminders, reminders scribbled on scraps of paper, or apps where you’ve stored reminders. Get your To-Do’s, Must-Do’s and Want-to-do’s in one place.

I call that my Master List.

[The first step to moving projects forward is to get your To-Do’s, Must-Do’s and Want-to-do’s in one place.]

I use Evernote because I like how it sync’s with my desktop, laptop, and phone, but lots of my clients use a word doc, or a single app like Wunderlist.

Your goal is to get every task and goal important to you in one place. This alone can be a huge stress reliever.

Here’s how I organize my Master List:

  • Life Goals
  • This year’s goals
  • Flight Plan
  • This Month
  • Someday

Let’s add a bit of meat to the bones on these:

Life goals – my list includes marriage, my kids, family, legacy, money, travel, money.

This year’s goals – I struggle to keep this list short. I’d rather achieve than over-commit, so I’m often culling this list to get to the raw bones. I start with the same suspects as in my Life Goals, whittled down to what I want this year.

Flight Plan – this is the heartbeat of the Plan Like A Pilot system and maybe the hardest list to create. Your Flight Plan is a shortlist of what you will complete by this Friday (more on this below.)

This Month – a holding zone for what I hope to achieve this month.

Someday – an unfiltered holding zone of ideas that need to be explored. I freely delete from this list.

The basic idea is every month you skim through “Someday” and move items that have value or are worth exploring to “This month.” Once a week (I like to do it Fridays, but often it gets pushed to Sunday night) I remove completed work from my Flight Plan and then add what’s important for this week. I’m thinking of current projects that came up in the past week that need my attention as well as items sitting in “This Month.”

To complete the picture: I have my Master Plan, including my Flight Plan (in Evernote) on my laptop/phone etc., my appointments and blocked time on my Google Calendar and every night I create a Day Plan list of tasks and appointments on a notepad that I carry with me.

The Plan Like A Pilot system is deceptively simple but effective at keeping you on track toward your goals for the week.

That’s the trifecta of my organizing system: Calendar, Master Plan and Day Plan.

Now let’s talk about the biggest mistake I have to avoid – the bloated list.


You will be tempted to cram everything you want to do this week into your Flight Plan. Don’t.

Your Flight Plan is not a bloated list of miscellaneous nice-to-do’s—instead, it needs to be a lean version of all you WANT to do, chopped down to what you MUST do. If you must have a rule to make this work – keep your Flight Plan to a dozen, or fewer items.

Your Flight Plan is not a bloated list of miscellaneous nice-to-do’s.

This is hard work.

My routine is to first update my Flight Plan (as I explained above, I am also reviewing my “Someday” and “This month” lists) on Sunday. I check tasks off as I go.

My goal is to get everything on my Flight Plan completed. It never happens.

But (and here’s the secret to this whole method) I get more of what’s important done. And that’s what counts.

During the day I work from my Day Plan and refer to my Flight Plan. And every hour I’m pulling myself off tasty distractions, back to my plans. I know what really counts are on those lists. And sometimes I have to let “small bad things” (hat tip to Tim Ferriss) happen (like cancelling a meeting, deleting an email, or apologizing for not having the time to help someone) but it always pays off.


I have taught the Plan Like A Pilot system to over 10,000 people in my audiences and over 30,000 people have now read about it in my book.

My promise is that if you create your Master Plan and every week work from a Flight Plan you will immediately get better results. This will help you procrastinate less, feel more focussed, create better and more meaningful results 

You might even notice you’re more disciplined and organized and definitely more discretionary with your time. You might even stand taller and smile more…but that’s a bonus.

The good news is if you create the Master Plan, update your Flight Plan every week and mostly follow the system you will still get better results than whatever cobbled-together system you’re using today. So, even if you think you’re not the most disciplined person, or have fallen off the planning wagon before, go for it.

Creating your Master Plan and thinking through your Fight Plan every week is good medicine and you will be smarter and more productive for it.

Here’s how to get started.


There are over 2,000 words in the post and I’m guessing the reason you’re still with me is because YOU KNOW you need to make a change. So, let me lay out the 3 steps I would take to get started:

  1. Create your Master Plan – again, I use Evernote, but a Word doc, Pages doc, or digital notepad will work.
  2. Build your first Flight Plan – this will be awkward, slow, hard and make you hate me, but sooooo worthwhile.
  3. Develop a habit of checking your Flight Plan – I check after every conference call, meeting, break and start/end of the day. My goal is to complete that sucker, so I want to stay on track. As soon as I complete a job I cross it out.

There you have it. Even if you prefer having both feet on the ground you can still Plan Like A Pilot to overcome procrastination, get more stuff done and feel like a million bucks.

You can get the full version of this system and all the related tools designed to boost your life effectiveness and sharpen your productivity in my book Give Me A Break (Plan like a Pilot is on page 82.)

Here are some of my articles that will help you implement your new Plan Like A Pilot system:

The secret to getting sh*t done and 6 ways to get started
Why Working Less Might Make You More Productive
Organize your life with multiple Google calendars
My ultimate productivity hack – do the hardest 50 in the first 90


Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash