In unpaid praise of Tiny Change

an article on the Tiny Change Planner

and making life planners work for you

Saurabh Garg gifted me a Tiny Change Planner for the first time in 2018. Like most things SG introduces to me, it was unlike anything I had ever used before. It was not simply a to-do list tracker, which most planners tend to be, but went one step ahead to make you sit down and really introspect into what you want and who you are. I have used them consistently since then, so much that I have now come to believe that unless it goes on the planner, no goal of mine really gets accomplished. To back that, each and everything I have put on the planner – has become a reality to me (#thoothoo). 

What is it about the Tiny Change Planner that works, where other planners don’t? (This is not a paid post lol, I am just trying to understand what good planners do).

  1. Marrying long term thinking with short-term tasks

Most productivity journals focus on short term tasks, but ignore how they tie to your goals and ambitions. It is important to have x glasses of water a day but I would rather not spend my time tracking these things (or automating that) and focus my energy on the bigger picture – and find that relationship between today’s tasks and tomorrow’s goals. If you focus on tasks alone, you over time practice a more myopic way of thinking. 

  1. Reminding you of your goals at every step.

In the Tiny Change, there is a section to track three big yearly goals. Then you plan the month before it begins, and review it at the end. This is mindful, and requires a little patience and effort but it’s worth it. For instance, in 2019, one of my goals was to ‘Go abroad to study’. 

To do that, I had to plan for six months. First month it was to shortlist colleges, second it was to put together documents, third was to apply, fourth was to apply for scholarships. With a system like the one Tiny Change has set up, you don’t just make lofty goals, but you’re prompted to think about the tangible steps you will need to take to achieve them. 

And these monthly goals are not just tied to your yearly targets, but also your whole life. It’s easy for us to say, ‘When I retire, I want to own a yacht.” But the Tiny Change, like a life coach, will ask you – Why do you want to own the yacht? How will it improve your life? What about owning it will make you happy? And what are the steps you have to take today so that you own a yacht when you are x years old? 

  1.   But what if you don’t want to own a yacht? 

The problem with a lot of our dreams is that they are borrowed. That’s probably why George R.R. Martin posed the question, ‘Why do our dreams feel so small when they come true?’ in one of the most moving essays in praise of the genre of fantasy. Most of us do not sit to think about what we truly like and dislike and let our society and circumstance dictate it. And what we truly like is directly dependent on who we are. But how can we start to understand that? 

We can define ourselves as a confused mash; sum parts uniquely us, most parts reflected society – parents, friends, family, lovers. The prompts that comprise the first section of the planner help you comb through this mash and sift the self from others. These prompts help you evaluate who you are as independently as possible, from the rest of what you have been told. The questions are:

What does your dream life look like? (Here you are asked to imagine you are 80, in your old age, and describing what a dream life would be and would have been)

What does your ideal week look like? (You get to plan the ideal week, each day from 5 am to 11 pm) 

What are the qualities you most value and what are the five core values of your life? (You pick from dozens of qualities listed from pride to empathy, ambition to shrewdness)

What are the quotes you live by?

What individuals do you look up to?

How would you rate yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, on parameters like: Health, Wisdom, Wealth, and Happiness?

What are your biggest regrets and fears?

This really opens up a side of you to yourself that may seem alien at first, like a new person is sprouting somewhere in your brain and mind. It’s just a more sincere and authentic you showing its face. 

The Tiny Change has a lot of other things. Year end lists of books you read, movies you watched, interesting people you met, skills you want to learn. There is a year-end review. There are stickers and such to gamify it. All this adds incremental value to the planner, cute embellishments that complete the package. 

But no matter how well-designed, planners don’t work magic by themselves.

There are a few things you should do if you are looking to get planners to become sort of life coaches to you:

1/ Start at the start of the year: I generally like to spend the last week of December and the first week of January in filling up the first two sections of the planner. This helps me visualize my year, so that when office resumes, I have a clarity about what to do and how to prioritise. 

2/ Don’t give up if you miss a few days or a week or two: Keeping up with the planner is a lot of work for sure, especially until you build it as an indispensable habit of your life. You will miss planning a few weeks. Work and routine will be uncertain for others. That is okay. We tend to give up if we see one blank page. But remember to always return to it.

3/ On the point of returning to the planner: No matter how well I define my goals and the paths to my goals at the start of the year, I am a scatterbrained goldfish with the eagerness of a world-traveling butterfly.  I will forget them. I will want to chase different things all the time. And I will feel more lost than in control. But everytime, I just have to read my planner goals, and like the lighthouse of a stormy sea, they will invariably put me back on track. But you have to keep re-reading your goals and hammering them in your head. 

4/ The most important thing: This is the toughest part – being honest to yourself. Perhaps there are things you don’t want to admit – like you value pride over empathy because you think it will make you come across as a certain kind of person. Maybe you want to not admit to yourself that you are not happy. Maybe you want to look cool to yourself. But true change tiny or large cannot happen without an inhibited unfiltered unedited honesty to yourself. You have to start with who you are, no matter how silly naive or unimpressive it sounds to you, and then build up from there. This honestly comes with time. And it does not mean you have to be more ‘realistic’ or ‘practical’. It just means accepting yourself and your dreams and ambitions and values for what they are – no matter how they may seem to others. 

I don’t know about productivity planning – but productivity is of little use if it does not add up towards you living your best life. The Tiny Change has truly helped me centre my life (so much that this year I have put ‘Be in a committed loving romantic relationship’ as a goal :D) and remind me what I need to prioritize and why. 

After all, we live one life. Should we not at least try to build our individual worlds in our individual designs? 

This piece was prompted by a conversation with Dr. Aditya Save (poet, marketer, PhD, consultant, investor and so many other things) on how a planner helps me grow, year on year. 

Want to talk more about it? Tweet to me @pramankapranam or email me at prakrut[at]purplepencilproject[dot]com