I don't usually post about this kind of subjects, because I really feel still a lot to learn about this crafty thing called animation, so I don't pretend to teach anyone the "right way" to animate. This post is just a selfremainder of things that works for me if you find it useful, good for you.
Planning: Some people draw, other simple acted out, record him/herself in video. What is the best? well I dunno, I find pretty useful use videoreference you usually find really interesting things happening in real life, things than won't come to your mind, but fell free to reinterpret, enhance and/or discard the information you get from this.
Drawing, well this is really usefull when you are planning a shot too cartoony or dangerous to act it out for yourself. I find this pretty useful too. Programs like Flipbook allow you to make really rough drawings and explore all the possible ideas. The bad thing is that sometime you will find your 3d character is not so flexible to allow you all the cheating you did in your drawings, well be careful with that.
Sometimes you can't use this method and you start from zero in your 3d program, well here you only have your critic and trained eye to know if it is right or wrong. In the end that trained eye is the most important thing to be a good animator, distinguish the right from wrong. How you developed a trained eye? Well for me worked really well my drawing classes, you learn a lot about shape, gesture and well, an appealing pose can sell a whole shot. So you better learn this stuff ( if you already don't own a copy of the Walt Stanchfield two books you are missing raw gold. Also I'm trying to analyze a lot of material, from classic cartoons to clips from movies or reels of great animators) Also like to read other people analisis Jonh K. stuff is a great source of information and detailed analisis about animation. But don't forget the most important thing ANIMATE and THINK. Just don't do what work for you, try new things don't become a robot just working with your bag of tricks.
What keeps me inspired?, Usually masterpieces of animation (like I said classic cartoons, reels, teaser, excerpt from movies). Try to be that good, usually help me to deliver quality material and also help me to improve my skills and my devolope further a trained eye.
Oh I almost forget, How I dare? Feedback a pair of new, trusted fresh eyes is an invaluable tool to raise your level and put you in the right track. So if you have someone around who can give you good feedback don't miss the chance.
My 2 cents