Human Programming With If/When-Then Plans

1. a planned series of future events, items, or performances.
1. provide (a computer or other machine) with coded instructions for the automatic performance of a particular task.
2. arrange according to a plan or schedule. 

How many productivity/time management systems can you name? The typical solutions that jump to the forefront: Franklin-Covey dayplanners, GTD, the Bullet Journal, Hobonichi, and the Pomodoro technique.

I was a long time user of Franklin-Covey's (FC) day planners. But, time and technology marched on and while FC was trying to figure out the best way to navigate the cultural shift from paper to digital, Apple was releasing the iPhone. Franklin-Covey is still here and I think doing great, and their business is more than paper filler and high quality planner binders. Still, almost overnight the world went digital and seemingly hundreds of digital applications vied to perform many of the same functions of the paper-based planners and systems. I still wonder why Franklin-Covey has not been able to pull together a really good, viable, software vision of their systems and principles. I see a gaping hole in the solutions that are presently available, and wonder why they don't fill it. But that's another matter.

The point I want to make is that people have long invested in trying to improve their behavior. I think as long as we're mentally and psychologically healthy, we're typically on the lookout for ways to improve. If we're not I imagine that is probably a sign of stagnation.

What does any of this have to do with programming humans? Well, I'm glad I asked. Anyone who has done rudimentary programming recognizes the if/then statement. It turns out there are some very interesting experiments that suggest that If/When-Then statements are an effective tool we humans can leverage in our planning toward our goals and achievements. Apparently it is so effective that it can result in a 2 to 3x increase in the likelihood of achieving our goals.

With If/When-Then planning, rather than relying merely upon the goal statement, such as "I intend to reach X", instead you essentially plant in your mind a trigger or an intention with a statement such as, "If situation Y is encountered, then I will initiate goal‐directed behavior X." As author Robert Cialdini describes the technique, if the goal is to watch your weight, you would pick a cue and link an action to that cue such as, "If/when, after my business lunches, the server asks if I'd like to have dessert, then I will order mint tea."






Todd Hopkinson