Planning as a Practice
It will change your life
It all started in Middle School…
In the 100° heat, I slogged up the front steps of my middle school, frying under the Texas sun. I dreaded opening the school doors. I couldn’t figure out how to use the combination lock on my locker. I couldn’t keep all of my teachers straight. I went to the wrong classes at the wrong periods. After school I spread all of my books and notebooks out on my bed at home hunting in despair for assignments that seemed to vanish.
I was drowning. And by week three, I gave up.
One day my English teacher said, “Where is your planner?” I stared at her blankly. I didn’t have a planner. She sent me straight to the school store to buy the school planner. I had no idea these magical publications existed, but there it was — pages for each week, gridded for each class, and monthly calendars for longer-term assignments.
My life changed completely.
Using a planner didn’t make middle school any less of a social nightmare, but I earned good grades, always had my assignments done, and I figured out how to use a combination lock -- because I wrote my combination IN my planner! Learning to use a planner was the most important thing I learned in middle school.
While my life has changed a lot since middle school, I still plan on paper. My planning practice -- and it truly is a practice like yoga or meditation or prayer -- has changed over time as my life has changed. When I was teaching in independent schools, I used lesson planning calendars and taught my students how to use paper planners. As the Director of Publications for a large non-profit, I used a planner that had one whole page per day for notetaking. Now as a freelance writer, author, and mom, I use two Passion Planners: one for weekly planning and tracking of travel, events, tasks, and goals; the other serves as editorial calendar and content notebook.
I am very deliberate about my planning practice. Each Sunday afternoon or evening, I spend an hour or so in my office alone with a cup of tea. I start by indulging my inner middle-schooler and decorate my planner pages with stickers and washi tape, markers and colored pens. Then I move on to setting goals, making lists, and getting organized for the week to come. This restful hour each week sets me up for success and lowers any anxiety I may have about getting it all done.
My practice continues all week long. My planner lives open on my desk. I check off tasks as I get them done. I record milestones and great things that happen. And I add tasks as they pop up over time. My weekly planning includes my whole life -- not just work. Swim team practices, travel schedules, meal planning, home maintenance tasks -- they are all part of my weekly planning practice, and communication between our family members about the week’s events ahead often happen over my planner.
I can always tell, too, when I haven’t spent enough time planning. Things start to feel out of control. When I rely too much on my memory, on my phone, I begin to miss details. Suddenly I realize that I have neglected my practice which centers me and brings me back to the intellectual and emotional space I need.
Lest you think I am a neo-Luddite, I also use Google calendars, reminders on my phone, and an online project planning tool. I live online, but I organize my life on paper. Technology has its place, but I stick with paper in part because there is science behind it: paper is better. Study after study has shown that physically writing something down -- not typing it -- improves your long-term learning and memory.
In other words: if you write it down on paper, you are more likely to remember it and more likely to do it!
Any time of year is a good time to start planning, but planners tend to start either in August (academic planners ) or January. They tend to come in both 12 and 18 month versions, so it is possible to switch from academic to annual fairly easily. Each publisher approaches that in different ways. But truly you can begin planning at any time. In fact, the planner I use on a daily basis, the Passion Planner, is available in an undated version so you can start anytime.
Any time is a good time to make a fresh start -- a wonderful time to recommit to writing it all down. Whether you are a parent trying to keep your work and school schedules straight, a student juggling the assignments and schedules of a new year, or a professional working to stay on top of your commitments, look for a planner that’s right for you. It’s not hard to find one in any price range, size, or design. I have several resources collected with different types of planners at all different price ranges.
Fancy or simple, expensive or cheap all planners serve the same purpose: put your life down on paper and take control of your calendar, your obligations, and your commitments.
I am so committed to the life-changing power of planning, that I wrote my own planner: The Nice List. The Nice List is a planner specifically for the Christmas season, and it is designed to help you keep your spending on budget and to help you give better gifts by planning your giving. It also has calendars, shopping planners, a place to track thank you notes, and many more helpful tools. Order your copy of The Nice List, and have the nicest holiday season ever!