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Overcoming the Cycle of Failed Plans

It is Sunday night and you grab your diary to organize your schedule for the next day. You have thought about this well and decided that you are going to:

  • 𝥷 Wake up the next day at 5 am

  • 𝥷 Go to the gym

  • 𝥷 Start that essay by 8 am

  • 𝥷 Complete 3 experiments in the lab

  • 𝥷 Have a 30-minute lunch break

  • 𝥷 Read research papers

  • 𝥷 Work on your thesis report

  • 𝥷 Meet with your supervisor to tell him how well your research is going so far

  • 𝥷 Join an online seminar

And still, fit in time to do your weekly shop before heading home by 6 pm to complete the essay you started in the morning.

is a full schedule, but you are feeling proud of yourself. You tell yourself that this is the perfect plan and that you are definitely going to stick with it this time. You even post it on Instagram with the perfect aesthetic, determined to smash your goals. You set your alarm and head to bed, excited for the next day. Then the alarm rings not once, not twice, but three times before you finally muster up the strength to get up at… 9 am. And yes, everything goes downhill from here.

As amusing as this is (especially the part about telling your supervisor how well your research is going), this has likely happened to us all. The scenario where our perfect plans do not work out perfectly and we feel discouraged. We then try to silence the gnawing feeling of inadequacy by further complicating our schedules the next day. This, as expected, also fails and before we know it, we are stuck in what seems to be an endless cycle of failed plans that leave us believing that we are ‘lazy’, ‘inadequate’ and ‘undisciplined’. Whereas in reality, the main underlying issue here is simply an inability to plan effectively.

Today’s blog post will provide some clarity on how to better plan and schedule your day, so you can function more efficiently and take a closer step to achieve those goals.

You need to make your daily plans S.M.A.R.T

You may have likely heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals. These are based on the idea that ‘it is easier to succeed when you have clearly defined objectives that are based on reality’ [1]. S.M.A.R.T. stands for having goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

S: Specific

Your goals for the day need to be as specific as possible for them to be effective because vagueness can result in tasks appearing much bigger than they are. In turn, this can cause you to feel overwhelmed and will likely lead to procrastination or spending too much time on the task. The narrower and more specific a goal is, the clearer the steps to achieving it will be. To make your daily goals more specific, you can ask yourself the following questions [2]:

  • What am I trying to accomplish today?

  • Who needs to be involved to achieve this goal?

  • When should I achieve this goal?

  • Where is this goal located?

  • Why is this goal important to accomplish?


In the scenario above, one of the tasks was to complete an essay, which is quite vague. A better goal would be to ‘'complete the introduction section of the essay'

Black woman holding pieces of paper and working
Credit: Pexels/Alexander Suhorucov

M: Measurable

Having a quantifiable goal allows you to track the progress toward achieving your

goals. This allows you to stay focused and remain on track, particularly when it comes to meeting deadlines. To make your goals more measurable, you can consider the following questions [2]:

  • How much?

  • How many?

  • What would indicate that I am making progress?

  • What is the endpoint of the goal, i.e. how will I know that I have met this goal?


An example of a measurable goal is to aim to ‘read two research papers’ or to ''read the Abstract, Results and Discussion sections'

A: Achievable

The best goals are those that are also realistic. Although it is good to aim high and push ourselves beyond our comfort zones at times, it is also crucial that our goals remain healthy and achievable within the time frame we are working with. This is especially important for our physical and mental well-being. Assess how achievable your goals are by considering the following [2]:

  • How realistic is this goal for me?

  • How can I reach this goal?

  • Do I have all the necessary tools to achieve this goal?

  • What will it take for me to do this?

It is also important to note that determining how achievable your goals are is easier when you are the one setting them. When you are given goals (e.g. within your workplace), be sure to communicate any obstacles or restraints that may prevent you from working towards those goals up-front.


Based on the scenario above, working on 3 experiments in a day may not be an achievable feat. However, this depends on the nature of the experiments. Breaking this goal down into more achievable chunks may be a better approach. For example, ‘aim to complete an ELISA assay and the first day of my Immunohistochemistry experiment’ may be more achievable.

R: Relevant

Here is where it is important to have a bigger vision of what you want to accomplish. This will help you to tailor your daily goals in relation to the bigger goal you have.

Black woman writing in a notepad with her laptop open before her
Credit: Pexels/Ono Kosuki

There may be some daily activities that are not as necessary or appropriate to what you want to accomplish, and you can determine this by asking yourself the following [2]:

  • Will achieving this task contribute to or only prolong the bigger vision at hand?

  • Is this the right time to carry out this task?

  • Am I the right person to carry out this task?


Concerning the scenario above, ‘Joining an online seminar’ may not be an important goal to meet that day and may be rescheduled to a less busy day.

T: Time-bound

Your goals should have a time frame in which they are to be achieved and a target end date. This end date can be separate from the general or communal one you have been given in your workplace. This is important because it will help you personally stay on track, especially with tasks that have a deadline that must be met. If the goal is quite large, it may be better to break it down into smaller tasks. Here are some questions to consider when creating time-bound goals [2]:

  • When must this goal be achieved?

  • What stage should I be in a week or a month from now?

  • What can I do today to contribute to the achievement of this goal?


Based on the scenario above, including a time frame to ‘complete the thesis report by the 10th of February’ and then deciding to spend an hour every day on it would be more appropriate. As opposed to simply deciding to ‘work on the Thesis report’ .

Are your daily goals in the right order?

Black woman sitting by a lake and writing in a book
Credit: Pexels/Zen Chung

Making your plans S.M.A.R.T is one thing, but it is another thing to have your to-do list in the right order. For instance, some tasks are not best tackled in the evening. I prefer doing more analytical tasks earlier in the day and I do not have a problem carrying out creative tasks in the evenings.

We all have daily patterns in relation to our energy levels. While some find it easy to begin tackling their daily goals as soon as they wake up, others prefer to have a slower start to their day. This may involve prayer, meditation or allocating an hour to do nothing at all. You may also find that you are most productive in the morning, while others work better in the late hours of the day.

Examining the pattern in your energy levels and tailoring your daily schedule to this may help you to work more effectively.

To determine the best time to work on certain tasks, you may ask yourself the following:

  • What time of the day do I feel the most awake?

  • When do I feel like I need a break?

  • When do I get the most work done?

It is also important to note that when your energy levels are decreasing, it is best to take a break. The main issue in the above scenario is the lack of breaks, so endeavour to schedule frequent breaks in between your tasks.

Scheduling fun activities also give you something to look forward to every day. It also permits you to recover from work stress and it restores your energy levels. It helps you to remember that life is so much more than your studies or career. The reason why it is recommended to add fun activities to your schedule is that most of us will not do them unless they are included as part of our daily activities.

Remember this: “Life is for living. So don’t waste it stuck in the hamster wheel” [3].

A time to reflect

It is normal to not always tick off everything in your schedule. Life happens and occasionally, things will not work out the way we intend. When this happens, do not be discouraged and give yourself some grace. If you find yourself constantly struggling to meet your daily goals, take this as the call to reflect on why this may be the case.

Consider downloading our free SMART goals summary table attached below to help you do this. You can print it out and stick it on your wall as a resource to organise your daily schedules better. I also highly recommend Ali Abdaal’s YouTube channel for more helpful tips on boosting productivity.

Do not worry, you have got this girl!

Until next time.

[1] Boogaard, K. (2022). How to write smart goals (with examples). Work Life by Atlassian. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from

[2] Yasar, K. (2022). What are smart goals? Retrieved November 23, 2022, from

[3] Stanecki, A. (2018). How to add time (and fun) to your busy day. Whole Life Challenge. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from

By Success Fabusoro, Blog Writer

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