A Circular Approach to Planning

John Doe
4 min readDec 20, 2022

The purpose of planning is to help you get what you want. Planning helps you get what you want by helping you make better decisions and spend your time in a more effective way.

Most of what I’m going to talk about relates to personal planning, but it definitely can be applied to planning in group settings as well.

The circular planning approach has five concepts: Values, Desires, Goals, Plans, and Updates.

  • Values are what you value the most
  • Desires are what you want, i.e. what you think will net you the most value
  • Goals are a more concrete specification of what you want
  • Plans outline how you’re going to achieve your goals
  • Updates are specific, concrete changes to your decision-making process and how you spend your time. Essentially the implementation of your plans

This approach is circular because any updates you make will impact what you end up doing and the resulting experience you gain in turn informs what you value.

The first step is to list out all things you value, all the things you want, your goals, plans, and current updates you’ve made to your routine that are related to any of the above. Order the items in each category from most to least important and connect items in adjacent categories that are related. For example, if I want to buy a car next year (desire) and I have a goal to save $20k by the end of the year, I would connect the two because saving $20k will help me buy the car. You’ll end up with a directed acyclic graph like the one below:

As you go about your life and come across new values, desires, goals, etc you can add them to the system and draw the relevant connections. The objective here is maximize the efficiency of your actions by maximizing the number connections between items and minimizing the number of desires, goals, plans and updates you are working with. Mapping it out like this will help you see connections that you previously weren’t aware of and will also help you cut less important items.

Planning things like this also helps you make incremental updates and adapt as things change instead of relying on life-changing epiphanies to realize “what is really important in life” and that “I’ve been wasting my time all along”.

Implementation Details

I keep track of values, desires, goals, etc and the connections between them in Notion by creating a table for each category and tracking the connections between items via columns of type Relation. You can also track second-order connections using a column of type Rollup. Here are the columns for my Desires table (I haven’t created a Values table yet):

Goals, plans and updates have additional columns that track additional attributes.

For my Goals table, I track the time frame and type of the goal in question. The time frame is simply the relevant time frame for the goal (1y, 5y, Long Term), with goals being ordered from shortest time frame to longest. As for types, a goal can be a Rate-Limited Long Lead Time (RLLLT) goal, an Avoidance goal, and/or a Directive. An RLLLT goal is one that needs a small, consistent commitment of time every day or week in order to achieve the desired effect. An Avoidance goal is a goal to avoid something as opposed to the usual goal of getting something. A Directive is a goal that specifies a desired direction with no concrete milestones or deadlines. Directives are useful when you don’t care how fast you make progress you make as long as you’re making progress.

For my Plans table, I also track time frame and type attributes. The time frames are the same as my goal time frames, but in the case of plans, there are only two types: RLLLT and Opportunistic. Opportunistic plans are ones that require you to wait for an opportunity to arise before you can take action. This is in contrast to RLLLT plans which require small, consistent time commitments.

For my Updates table, I track Type and Subtype attributes. There are two types of updates: systemic and decision. Systemic updates are updates to the system that you use to run your day-to-day operations. Decision updates are updates that change the decisions you will make in the future.

This is the best way I’ve found to implement the circular approach to planning. If you have a better way, let me know. I was thinking of writing some custom software for this, but it would likely take too much time to be worth it.

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John Doe

Processing information, stacking concepts. Writing this down so I don’t keep thinking about the same things over and over again