December 2018 – I remember the breaking waves of the North Pacific tossing our vessel around. Despite the rolling and pounding, my heart was calm. My mind, on the other hand, was restless – avidly planning my upcoming vacation. I had been thinking about the exact place our family would go to, the clothes we would wear, the time we’d leave the house, down to the smallest details like the chips I’d eat for the long trip, and my travel playlist as I enjoy the window seat of a yellow domestic airplane. 

Of course, life—and my vacation—did not go exactly as I had planned in my head. A common happening among us seafarers, much to our frustration. Why? Because we are idealists.

When we’re on board, life takes a pause; that’s our reality. All we can ever do is think about and plan for the future, both distant and near. Then when we disembark, we are not able to accomplish all that we’ve planned, and we get frustrated.

We find it hard to set priorities that we may end up not having the best of anything at all. What can we do to make our planning more effective? I came across some interesting write-ups and videos that have taught me planning hacks.

First, let’s talk about the nature of planning.

It’s not just logic

In his TED Talk, Rory Vaden, author of the book Procrastinate on Purpose, described modern planning as not just logical but also emotional. We often believe that efficient planning means that we must make a to-do list or keep a planner with us on a daily basis (which is still helpful, by the way). However, we tend overlook how emotions take part in deciding our priorities. The distance from our families, for months at a time, give us feelings of longing, excitement, entitlement, and the need to compensate. These get in the way of decision making. We cannot logically manage what we feel. We also cannot manage time – it will continue to run. What we can manage though, according to Vaden, is ourselves.

Know what’s significant

We also need to understand that prioritizing does not give us more time. What prioritizing does is help us order our tasks. Stephen Covey, an award-winning author, introduced to us the two-dimensional concept of logical prioritizing. This helps us decide which should come first according to importance and urgency.

But if we factor in significance, the result changes.

Evaluating significance means checking the longer-term impact of our tasks. For example, during vacation, seafarers usually go through their certificates to see which ones are expiring first, and they will will process those. In another month, the next expiring certificates will then need to be processed.

Now, if we evaluate for significance, we can decide to renew several certificates together, even those that aren’t expiring yet. I did this, and now my certificates have a single expiry date, so I can take just a single day to process and renew all of them next time. This has not only saved me time now, but it is also saving me time in the future.

Maximize technology

There’s more to technology than just gaming and social media. Let’s also use technology to our advantage, paying bills or renewing certificates online, for example.  There are also handy applications such as Trello or Todoist which keep us on track with our daily progress. There’s no need to fall in line in payment centers or bring bulky planners everywhere. I hope we maximize the help it can offer in saving us time.

Stay SMART

Of course, we also don’t do away with the classic. SMART planning means that we have to make our plans specific, measurable, attainable, significant, and time bound.

Specific. Saying that we want to put up a business or meet our friends when we go home is not a good way to start. We have to specify. What business do we want? Who are these friends?

Measurable. Make sure that we have a way to measure our progress. If we want to earn money, how much in pesos are we targeting? How many places do we want to visit? How many certificates are most likely to be renewed?

Attainable. Of course, we don’t want frustrations. Always plan according to resources and capabilities. We can’t decide to buy a Ferrari out of sheer desire.

Relevant. Review long term goals. It will be helpful if all the activities that we do is aligned with what we truly value and where we want to be in the future. If we want a healthy life, eating hamburgers every day because we can is not a good idea.

Time Bound. Set deadlines. Work with an amount of time which you are more likely to finish a task by then and try your best to multiply it.

The challenge for all seafarers is we have so much we want to accomplish with so little time we are granted, both by choice and circumstance. But in this generation of new thinking and technological advancements, all we have to do is to be open to change, maximize developments, and navigate through the waves like what we do best.

Oh, and enjoy!  

Elijah Jose Barrios

Elijah Jose Barrios is a 24-year old Third Officer, Teacher, and Course Developer. He advocates for child literacy and youth empowerment through his involvement in different organizations.  He considers himself an appreciator of any form of art and usually puts all his realizations into writing.