Embracing a visual, decorative approach to planning is absolutely a joy-filled pastime. The trouble is we can spend more time planning than we spend doing. I reject the premise that all of our time needs to be spent productively, every moment tied to an objective or goal. When we overwork our day to day lives to be sure we do ALL THE THINGS, there’s little room for organic inspiration! That leaves little room for joy. Most of all, it leaves little room for what God calls us toward.
On the other hand, some people can tend to crash through task after task after task, responding only to the urgent rather than intentionally discerning where to invest themselves. For me, these are the people who are really productive and accomplish things at a pretty efficient pace. I admire them but I find myself wanting (desperately needing?) to gift them a couple of planners, extra pens, and a few little pocket journals just in case they ever forget to write something down. (How can they remember everything that they want to do in a day? A week??? Are they actually robots???????)
In all things, we should be open to balance. Our planning is no different. Here are my tips for ensuring your planning is conducive to doing and enjoying life without gluttonously falling too far either side of the spectrum!
Before we get too deep in, I’d like to clarify two definitions. In this instance, planning is simply defined as the mental processes we go through as we contemplate where we are and where we’d like to be in the future. Striving is simply defined as the physical, functional, unanalyzed processes we go through in doing necessary or helpful tasks. Planning and striving are both necessary, and while there isn’t maybe such a thing as “too much planning” or “too much striving”, as we move to one side of the spectrum we are neglecting the opposite end which creates risk of failure and a loss of balance.
Connect Your Roles With Your Goals
My first planner, aside from the ones given out in public school, was a Franklin Covey. I was a die hard weekly view wire bound girl, and my favorite planner that still influences me more than any other is the Franklin Covey Five Choices planner. This planner has some gorgeously thoughtful resources inside, one of which is the “Roles and Goals” worksheet series. It’s a fabulous tool. The premise is that you define the key roles in your life, such as daughter of Christ, granddaughter, and childcare volunteer. You define what it would look like to excel in that role, such as devoting your every waking moment to glorifying God, investing in experiences together that’ll affirm your grandmother’s choices in life, and responding promptly and accurately to childrens’ expressed and subconscious needs.
In order to make that vision real, you need to set a few goals. In your faith, you might strive to read the whole New Testament in 12 weeks, tithe 10% of your earnings, and master silent prayer in the midst of daily tasks. With your grandmother, you might set out to interview her over tea about pivotal times in her own life and historically that she experienced, find fun outings that will enable her to reconnect with previous hobbies, and take up an art or hobby with her that she can teach you. With the children you care for, you may opt to teach yourself about attachment theory, earn your CPR certification, and read some childcare blogs.
Sometimes, our goals are a little uninspired. We aren’t excited to do read a self help book or take on a new certification. Not every responsibility entrusted to us is one that fills us with motivation and joy, but we can make these goals less monotonous when we connect them to a key motivation. If we just assign ourselves innumerable things to do, we end up being task masters rather than planners, and we never make meaningful improvements because the things we are doing aren’t based in anything truly meaningful (other than that they need done.) This is an absence of planning.
Sometimes, we yearn deeply to improve in areas of our life but struggle to define any goals or plans that give us the traction required to do so. Working from role to vision to goal can lubricate things, greasing the wheels so it’s easier for us to get rolling toward a life better lived. If we hold in our minds the life dimensions in which we wish to excel but never connect them to tangible courses of action, we never make meaningful improvements because there’s no actual, intentional progress. This is an absence of striving.
I am good at a few things… kicking ass, chewing bubblegum, and grossly overestimating how much I can realistically accomplish in any given time frame. Unfortunately I’m all out of bubblegum, and given the overestimating I sometimes struggle to kick ass! Though I am very much in support of unfailing optimism, it’s vital to be realistic when it comes to planning and striving.
We fall too far on the planning end of the spectrum when we bite off more than we can chew. Do you find yourself paralyzed by the sheer volume of things you want to accomplish in a week? Do you often refer back to previous spreads to consult things that went unfinished? Do you find yourself having to lay out a step by step course of action in the middle of a project, though you already dedicated some strategic time to planning? Do you end up with lots of delayed and rescheduled items on your lists? Are you maybe known for making awesome lists, or known for planning but often getting reminded about certain action items and deliverables? These are a few symptoms of being unrealistic as a planner. A little more time in the striving phase might serve you well!
Put the pen down and reconnect your feet to the ground. You can do this by better benchmarking and breaking down your projects so your planner shows a realistic representation of the efforts laid out ahead of you. You can flag certain tasks as early stage ones that can help you get the ball rolling. And even though it can be restorative and excellent for creative expression, you may benefit from weaning yourself from your planner just a little bit.
We fall too far on the striving end of the spectrum when we are disconnected from our purpose and living the life unanalyzed. As we wade through wave after wave of deadline, task, and priority, we risk drifting too far out away from the purposes that ground us. We also miss out on opportunity to become visionaries in our own lives. If we don’t make time to consider where we are and where we want to be, we don’t plan accordingly. We limit ourselves to our current level of excellence, missing out on potential avenues for personal development. We also risk failing to tap into our current resources if we never acknowledge intentionally the blessings laying at our feet. It’s unrealistic to expect to achieve all your goals and dreams if you don’t ever chart the course for doing so.
Get out your calendar and look at how you’ve spent your time. Read back through texts or emails if you don’t have a calendar, scroll back through your social media feeds. Contemplate. Reflect on your time spent, enjoyments had, and achievements. What do you want more of? Less of? Anything you’ve been ascribing to the “someday” category of your mind that you’re sick of not engaging with? Anything that’s important to you that you actually haven’t invested in for a while? Anything important coming up that’s more so looming in the back of your mind rather than being steadily worked toward? These are all things that, if you were to simply record them in a practical way, can be easier accomplished once you commit to breaking them down and putting pen to paper.
Implement Life Dimensions
This is the planning tactic that I might be most passionate about. The visual and kinesthetic way in which I visualize life and time make it impossible for me to view my responsibilities as a linear, chronological series of events starting with now and reaching into any future endpoint. I’d be fascinated to experience that, but trying to do so is like a colorblind person trying to envision the color violet. It simply does not compute!
Like most everyone, I do use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix but at this point it’s more of an automatic mental process than anything I ever record in my planner. It’s a revolutionary decision making tool for those unaccustomed to juggling multiple tasks at once, and it’s one that’ll never go out of style as more and more things are entrusted to us as we advance in life. But this matrix for me just isn’t enough. I’ve got too many plates spinning, and so I qualify those plates with life dimensions.
My life dimensions are:
- Faith- my spiritual practices including bible studies, learning about Christian history, prayer, and charity, to name a few!
- Romance- as a married woman, it’s paramount that I continue investing in my husband and our relationship
- Social- being an extrovert, I need to ensure I am proactively managing my social life on a daily basis
- Work- this dimension’s content ranges from long term projects to professional development
- Domestic- as a homemaker, my role is based on sustaining the processes and comforts within our home
- Beauty- this encompasses both inner and outer beauty, including management of my supplements and mental health to exploring new beauty techniques and staying on top of my various routines
My life isn’t too complicated, I have one full time and one part time job. I’m building a new network of friends, learning to be a wife as well as growing in my faith and own personality. I’ve defined six life categories for myself that require contemplation in advance, and separation of key tasks from my day to day urgencies like phone calls, bills, and meetings to attend. I literally do not understand how people don’t think or plan this way, but I’ll work on explaining establishment of these life dimensions in future posts if this isn’t something you already do in your planning! I sort of monitor these categories like macro-projects and in doing so I find a lot of peace and efficacy. I’m not beholden to the specific restraints of these categories, it’s what I’m doing that supports that life dimension that matters most, not so much how I categorize it. If I one day decide to collapse domestic and beauty due to the overlap involved, I can do that. If I want to separate faith into charity and knowledge, I can do that. I can add femininity and crafting in place of domestic. I can do whatever I want with these dimensions/categorizations as long as I feel all realms of my life are represented, and I am dedicating the right energy to the things that make my life beautiful.
I suspect planners who don’t practice this might feel overwhelmed quite consistently, and like the urgency/importance matrix is not enough to help them prioritize. I suspect they may feel a little detached from certain areas of life, or that they are loyal to one in an exaggerated manner (most commonly work, from my observations) in such a way that they unknowingly suffer.
Sometimes, under each dimension, I’ll have a range of big picture projects and brief tasks that can be accomplished in under an hour. I’m careful to remember that the number of items under each category =/= the amount of effort invested. I could have seventy work tasks that all require less energy and produce less fruit than one item in the faith category. I don’t evaluate quantity in the dimensions, but quality and overall life impact. I enjoy this about my planning process very greatly, and hope there may be something valuable about this approach for you if you elect to try it!
Remember That Time Is Your Only Limitation
Truly, I tell you, time is the only resource that counts. If you had more time, you could become more virtuous, more loving, more connected, more affluent, more cultured, more anything. Do not look at your planner, no matter how preprinted it may be, as a limitation. Do not look at 24 hours as a limitation. These boundaries give us freedom, for without them we’d be more likely to stagnate. A boundary is just as much something to keep us contained as it is a goal post to push toward. Our planners exist not to show us how limited our time and how unlimited our responsibilities, but to empower us to make good use of all our time. If we plan too much, we never do anything with the time given us. If we never plan, we are failing to audit our time invested to look for new boundaries to push against. If we don’t find the true limitations of our time, we don’t have a chance to expand them in order to enlarge our own agency, impact our environment, or become the people we deserve to be.