I’m a planner by nature. No, not the super artistic type who can turn a grocery list into a fabulous, doodle-filled work of art, but the type with spreadsheets and planning reminder apps running her life. Do I think this is cool? No. Do I think this is fun? Not really. But do I think this is important for everyone to do? Absolutely! Allow me to explain why.
Do you often find yourself wishing you had more time in the day to focus on things you really care about, rather than getting bogged down by the boring, yet necessary activities that must inevitably be succumbed to, such as feeding yourself (and perhaps your family) a nutritious meal, cleaning your house, or perhaps that one project at work that you just loathe doing? Do you find that you often spend so much time worrying or procrastinating instead of doing these chores or tasks that suddenly you look up and realize that you have a mountain of work that needs to get done, and little to no time to do it? I call this mountain chaos, or the clutter of your life.
You may think that there is nothing you can do about the chaos in your life, but I have good news! No, I don’t have a magic wand that will wave your troubles away, however I do think that there is a way to limit the amount of energy you spend on some of these tasks on a daily basis – by planning ahead.
My friends make fun of me because as soon as we decide to do something together, like a potluck meal, I’ll send a spreadsheet out with details on who is bringing what, so everything is organized and we don’t forget. I make lists and spreadsheets, and I have multiple apps that help put my life in order.
My mom is the opposite – she avoids planning unless it is truly necessary. Before I go any further with this, let me just clarify that my mom is a superhero who gets the job done, and is an extremely reliable person. She is somehow able to juggle the million things she has going on in her life at all times, but not without a lot of chaos involved (at least that’s what it looks like to me!). However…
She’ll write reminders or “to-do’s” down on little scraps of paper here and there, or perhaps in a notebook if she has one handy. She calls this collection of papers her “system”, which holds notes and reminders for everything – her errands, her grocery list, and my brother’s game days, to name a few. Five minutes later, she’ll be frantically raiding her fridge to figure out what she will make for the family for dinner, since they will all be hungry in an hour and she hadn’t thought about what to make yet.
Some people may be just like my mom, who on cursory glance seem to live in complete tumult, yet claiming that there is a “method to their madness”. Perhaps you are like me, to whom more organized planning comes naturally. Or perhaps you are somewhere in the middle. Whoever you are, I argue that you need to have a plan if you want to succeed. In order to turn your dreams into goals, and then into your reality, you need to start with one thing: a plan.
Why does planning matter?
Planning matters because Rome wasn’t built in a day. In order to achieve something beautiful or profound, a plan needs to be made, revised, followed, revised again, and ultimately stuck to and completed. Without planning, life is aimless and can feel scattered. Sure, you can get things done without a plan, but plans provide you with a purpose, or in other words, bring you away from chaos and towards order and direction.
What are you working towards? How will you get there? How will you know when you’ve arrived at your destination? If you hit a bump in the road, are you able to look back at where you’ve been in relation to where you’re going and think to yourself, “I can keep going, look – I’ve already made it this far,” or do you get discouraged and give up?
Planning helps keep productivity levels up.
After you have decided on what your goal is, you need to determine the steps you will take in order to get there, and develop a timeline for the completion of each step. When you break down a larger goal into smaller, more manageable objectives, and then work towards them in pre-determined bits and pieces of your time, you don’t get stuck as often.
Too many times I have thought up something I would love to accomplish, but then tossed out the idea as something that is too difficult or too unattainable. We often spend so much time wondering or worrying about whether we can accomplish something or not that we forget to try. We forget that if we take something one step at a time, it becomes easier. Most people can take one step! Put one foot in front of another, and when you have done that, put your other foot forward. Before you know it, you will have walked a mile without really thinking about it!
Planning holds you accountable.
When you write a plan down, you are taking a big step towards committing to it. If a plan is only a vague idea in your head, it is easy to give up on or discard it and move on with your life, since there was no tangible evidence that it even existed. I would recommend that you not only write your plan down into actionable steps, but that you also share your plan with someone close to you, so they can help hold you accountable. For your everyday goals, such as a plan to eat healthier or work out more, make those public. It’s harder to skip out on taking steps towards your goals when everyone knows your plan and is going to be asking you about it the next time you speak with them. Go on, get it over with, and you’ll feel so much better!
Spending a few minutes to plan now could save more time later.
I meal plan a lot. When I tell people that, some of them scratch their heads and say things like, “wow, I could never do that, I just don’t have the time or the energy”. I completely disagree with this – I don’t know how I would ever find the time to not meal plan! I know this because sometimes I don’t have the opportunity to make a weekly plan, like when I’ve just returned from a vacation.
When I have to make a meal and I don’t know what I’m making ahead of time, I spend so much time looking around the pantry and the fridge, looking at what we have, considering what I feel for, and just wasting a lot of time! But when I have a ready-to-go weekly plan that I can just glance at and then start cooking, I save myself a ton of time. Spending about half an hour on my menu once a week sure beats doing the “what do I feel for” dance every single day!
Planning helps you stay within budget and reduces waste.
You could be prepping for a long road trip, or just have your kid tagging along at the grocery store. If you don’t have a planned list of what you need to do or get when you start out, you are almost guaranteed to end up spending more than you hoped to (although I know for many of us, it doesn’t really matter if you have a neat little list when you go to Target, you will always spend too much there!). But when you know what you need and only buy those items, you end up with a lot less waste later on, and fewer emergency trips for a single item (that would inevitably turn into a purchase of that necessary item plus five other, non-essential items that catch your attention in the store).
Planning also helps you to have a budget in the first place, and to know what you are spending all your money on. That alone will help you, since when you know how you are spending your money as compared to what you earn, you can make a much more informed decision on whether you really need that venti frappuccino, when you just had one yesterday (and the day before that…).
Planning helps you look towards your future & mentally prepare for the road ahead.
I don’t know about you, but I am definitely not the type of person who can do a twenty-minute presentation on the fly. I need to know exactly what I’m going to say, and how I’m going to say it, beforehand. Otherwise, I just become a nervous wreck and worry about the presentation the entire day leading up to it. I need to do research, jot down notes, consider what questions may be asked at the end, and even consider what I’m going to wear before I can feel like I’m well-prepared.
Planning causes you to be forward-looking, thinking about what you will need to do next week, next month, and sometimes even next year if you are really hard-core or working towards a big goal. Looking towards the future not only helps you get to where you want to go, but it also helps mentally prepare you for what comes next. Finding mental peace, or an inner calm, is definitely a big help in reducing the chaos of your life!
When you plan ahead, you have more time to be creative.
Once you’ve got your planning in order, you may realize that all that time you used to spend worrying or last-minute-strategizing is now available for you to spend doing other things. Things such as what you really want to do with your time, whether that’s working towards your goals, spending time with family or friends, or being creative. I find that when I am worried about something, I can’t seem to get the creative juices flowing. My mind is just focused elsewhere. But when my stress levels are low, that’s when I can really focus and lose myself in my craft.
So, even if you consider yourself to be the world’s most spontaneous person and think that planning is for squares, I hope that I was able to at least convince you to start planning in one small area of your life. Go ahead, I dare you. Make a plan, and then stick to it. It’s okay if you need to edit and tweak it along the way – that’s perfectly normal. We never really know how something is going to turn out, and plans go sideways all the time. Knowing what’s coming is not really the point of making a plan.
The point of planning is that you need to have something to focus on and work towards for the big things, and a strategy that will allow you to not spend more time than is necessary sweating the small stuff. It’s getting rid of the chaos that comes along with our feelings towards the unknown future, and the burden of the unwanted tasks. We need to have direction in our lives, and planning can help give us that, even though we don’t truly know for certain where we will end up. When we need to twist and pivot our plan along the way, that’s just what makes life interesting and unexpected. So go forth and make a plan, but also embrace the unanticipated.