Planner for Success
How a four-dollar investment can change your life

Toward the end of my junior year of high school, I had a troubling realization: I was not as serious as I needed to be. I really loved high school, but I treated it lightly. I had dreams for my life after high school. I had an active future planned for myself. And I was going to have to get serious to make any of that happen.

You are at a uniquely awesome time in your life when you are making plans for your future. Everything you are learning is geared to make you a success, but you don’t know exactly where you will end up.

In 1985, I wanted to be a U.S. Marine. I wanted to fly helicopters, and I wanted to be an officer. That was my ambition—my drive. The problem is, I was a 3.0 gpa student. My academic record was unimpressive. You see, in order to achieve my ambition, I wanted to apply for a scholarship from the U.S. military. If I could get that, I would be paid to go to college and learn to fly. But as a high school junior, my academics weren’t good enough to help me do what I wanted to do. I needed to get better grades. It was not a menial scholarship I was aiming for; by today’s reckoning, it would be $140,000. This was no small endeavor, but there was a huge reward. (This was a year before Top Gun came out, so I can say my ambition to be in the military was not motivated by Tom Cruise.)

What I had planned on wasn’t going to happen.

What can you do in that position? How do you change your life to achieve your goals? What do you do when what you really want to achieve is a little beyond what is reflected in your academic record?

What did I do?

I got a 4.0 gpa as a senior. I had to take advanced math and science courses to get where I needed to be. It was hard work, but not that much more effort than I had already been putting in. It was frustrating for me to realize, as a senior, that I could have had these grades much earlier in high school.

I did receive that scholarship. I was able to start down that path, though God had a different direction planned for me.

What do I credit the most for my success? Nothing fancy or expensive—it didn’t cost me more than a few dollars. What changed my life was a daily planner. I was one step away from flying a multi-million-dollar aircraft because I invested four dollars in a daily planner.

That daily planner changed my life. I took that planner with me everywhere.

Imperial Academy department head Joel Hilliker has addressed a trend at the school of students turning in assignments late or not at all. In a letter to parents, he referred to one of the IA rules of conduct: “‘Complete your homework every day. Homework will be turned in on time for each subject by every student with no exceptions.’ This is the Imperial standard. … Pay attention to deadlines and take responsibility to come to each class prepared. … [I’m talking] about preventing habits of laziness, carelessness and complacency regarding daily responsibilities. Students quickly get accustomed to letting things slip if they are allowed to get away with it.”

The IA administration and teachers are trying to push the students. At a certain point, you have to push yourselves. You reach a point in high school when you transition to your ownership. You are progressively having to take more and more responsibility for where you are in life. You have to take responsibility and grow up.

I wasn’t going to get where I wanted to be without making a change. Often, we only make a change if we receive a second chance. You fail a test because you didn’t study, but if you get the chance to retake that test, then you’ll study. Making that change earlier—studying before the first try—would have saved you a lot of time and energy. And what happens if a second chance doesn’t come? In most cases, you can’t afford to make that mistake.

It is not such a remarkable accomplishment to turn in homework you have been assigned. That is only doing exactly what is asked of you. Luke 17:9-10 says in the Revised Standard Version: “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Is merely completing your assignment deserving of the highest level of academic accomplishment? That is expected. That is doing what you are asked to do; there is nothing noteworthy or spectacular about doing your job.

I Corinthians 14:40 reads, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” “All things” means all things—your homework, your job, your personal life, your personal spaces, your sports.

If you get more organized, your grades will improve. If you are organized, you will be successful in school, in college, in your job.

I have to make a confession: I stopped using that planner after I finished college. And it hurt me. I learned a lot by living with that planner as I went through high school and college. I needed that planner to be organized and successful in college, when I worked two jobs and was a full-time student.

Another confession: I recently bought a planner. I plan to live with it just like I did in high school and college. I still need to be more organized and successful.

Proverbs 13:4 reads, “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Don’t you want to be “fat” (meaning prosperous)? I do. I want to be organized and successful.

You know what it means to be diligent. And you probably know what it means to be sluggish as well.

Assignments are due; lessons get moved; schedules change—it can be hard to keep track of it all if you’re not organized and detailed. Your planner can help you stay on top of things. There are a lot of details in your life. Succeeding in those details means you have to be on time. Doing what you are supposed to do is expected; it should not be a remarkable or praiseworthy feat. But if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, then shame on you.

In Proverbs 12, we read another promise from God: “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute” (verse 24). Do you really believe God? Do you want to be a leader, or are you satisfied being a follower?

Following is not very impressive. The military was not offering $140,000 to followers. They were offering it to those who would step forward and lead.

God’s Family today, those who are on fire for God, are leaders. We don’t want to be followers only. We must strive to be leaders.

So, how do you use a planner? There are two super easy steps. First, write things down in your planner.

You want your planner to be organized. You should be able to take a quick look at it and find whatever information you need. You have a lot of things to write down in your planner—projects, homework, tests, sports, music or dance practice. How can you possibly keep all that organized in your head without writing it down?

Another confession: I have not been using a planner in a long time, but I go through one package of sticky notes per week. My office is full of them—reminders everywhere that often only mean something to me. I’m trying to get away from the sticky-note experience, and use one planner that is with me constantly.

The point is: Don’t be afraid to be cryptic, as long as you know what your markings mean. Your planner is for your eyes, not everyone else’s. For example, you could record two numbers—minutes of prayer and study each day—so you can track your progress and see where you may need to grow.

Step two is refer to your planner. It doesn’t take long to look at your planner—maybe 10 seconds. But it prepares you for what is ahead. And it gives you a little sense of accomplishment. We need those little victories—to know that we are accomplishing things.

Take responsibility. Don’t expect others to look after you. Do your own business. Get organized. Keep track of homework. Mark a deadline; don’t put it off. Finish early. Don’t expect extensions. Build the habit of getting things done.

You know what will help you achieve every one of those things? A planner.