Failing to plan is planning to fail, or at least not planning to succeed. One of my personal mottos is that our preparation mirrors intent. A plan is like a compass guiding a ship. The essence of planning is to set a destination, decide how to get there and stay the course. Now, the intent isn’t to suck all the spontaneity out of life, but it is to help reduce chaos and instability in the places that cause you stress. You can have a great life without planning, but you get the most out of your life by at least planning parts of it.
Here are just five of the many types of planning that can help you succeed in life.
1. Schedule/Time Management
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Time is nonrenewable, which makes its value extremely high. I personally manage my time via my “catch-all” paper planner, but of course, desk and wall calendars are options, too. In this 21st century, I’d be remiss to ignore the plethora of digital options like Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, and iCalendar, the latter two of which come standard on most phones.
This is another somewhat obvious one. Can’t remember stuff? Write it down or put it in some sort of tasks app. To-do lists are a tale as old as time, really only requiring pen and paper. However, if you want to go to the next level, you can rank your tasks set deadlines, and add digital reminders. I personally record my to-do’s in my catch-all planner.
3. Finance Planning
No matter where you are in life or what income bracket you live in, I think we can agree that we want to run our money, not the other way around. A recent study by Debt.com showed that 67% of American households currently have a budget. This is an increase from 2018, which is awesome. However, that means 33% of us don’t know where our money is going. Around 80% of us are battling the debt monster. Budgeting and debt reduction strategy are two essential types of planning for us to secure financial freedom.
If you’ve never had a budget, you can start as simple as listing your income and your expenses (and their due dates) on a piece of paper, and calculating your net. You can then evaluate what expenses are truly fixed and which can be adjusted to meet your financial goals. If you want more guidance or sophisticated tools, many planner companies such as Happy Planner, Dome, and DayRunner have pre-fabricated home budget materials. You can also accomplish this with a standard excel spreadsheet if you prefer a digital solution.
Debt is also an area that can cause major strife in your life. Just like your budget you can also list your debts and their interest rates on a piece of paper and set goals to knock them out. I personally prefer a digital solution, so that I can compare payoff strategies (snowball, avalanche, etc.) and adjust my calculations on a regular basis. I recommend this one from Vertex 42.
One thing is for sure, it doesn’t matter how much money you start with if you spend it all.
4. Meal Planning
Meal Planning is a close companion to both health and wellness and finances. As I’ve mentioned many times before, food is both a friend and a foe for me in these areas, and I have a goal to put food in its rightful place this year. In looking at the future of our family, we can’t set ourselves up for success if we are eating our money and our bodies into an early grave. In trying to get in better shape and reduce our overhead, my biggest stressor has been a lack of preparation for the unexpected.
Transparent Moment: I’ve long established that it is cheaper and healthier long term for us to cook and eat at home. I struggle to forecast food for my family due to the change in size and wild unpredictability of schedules. And quiet as it’s kept, I’m tired all the time! I get halfway through the week and realize we either don’t have enough food, I’m missing ingredients, or I just don’t feel like cooking. Admittedly, I’ve given up on trying to adjust and we end up eating out way more than I’d like. BUT…if I haven’t thought past Wednesday or haven’t gone to the grocery store at all, I’m already behind the 8-ball.
Once I have a remote idea of our schedule for the week, I use planner sheets to write down what we will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, and what grocery is required. I also have a dry erase calendar (like this one) on the fridge for everyone else to see.
Note: This is simple to overlook, but PLEASE make a list before you go to the grocery store.
5. Event and Project Planning
Are you planning a wedding? Moving into a new house? Trying to get a graduating high school senior through the college admission process? All of these things are worth approaching with a plan. Projects and events often involve a combination of plan types, like the ones listed above. At the simplest level, you’ll want a to-do list of all the things that need to be done, then put that list in the order things need to be accomplished. Once you have the list, you can determine a schedule with due dates, based on the final deadline. For projects and events that have a cost, you’ll want to set a budget. You may also have a meal plan or menu for events that involve food.
If you’re not sure what your particular event or project entails, there are many resources available online for checklists. Pinterest is great for these things. There are also apps available to guide you. For example, I personally used the WeddingWire app to keep our wedding plans on track.
So you have a goal and plan for accomplishing it. What now? Track it! Tracking your progress better allows you to stick with it, see what’s working, and adjust what isn’t. Here are four examples of trackers you can use.
1. Schedules and To-Do Lists
Remember that list you made earlier with your to-do lists? Check them or scratch them off when you’re done. (I know – call me Captain Obvious).
2. Finance – Savings/Debt/Budget
If you’ve set a savings goal, use a tracker to make sure you’re contributing to it at the rate you committed to. In your debt tracker, record your payments and balances, and any adjustments to interest rates. Seeing where you are will allow you to adjust your strategy as you pay things off. Some people just opt to budget, but if you really want to see where your money is going, you can track your actual expenses.
3. Wellness – Food and Exercise Log
Gyms across the country see an influx of “new year, new me” patrons in January, but few people stick with it. If you’re like me, life gets in the way. I get in my way when it comes to changing my diet. Many people that reach their weight loss goals credit food and exercise logs to their success.
Some choose to write down what they’ve eaten or plan their workouts on paper, but the integration of smart gear and apps has changed the game. Most mobile platforms have their own proprietary fitness software, like Google Fit, Samsung Health, and Apple Health. In addition to your inputs, these apps use your phone or other accessories, such as watches, to read biometric data and help you with your wellness goals.
There are also third-party apps that extend the functionality of your built-in apps. My favorite so far is Under Armour’s My Fitness Pal. The free version of My Fitness Pal allows you to set goals and track your food and exercise. It also integrates data from other apps, like steps. For example, you can log your everything you ate that day, pull in your steps and exercise, and get a net calculation of caloric intake. How cool is that? You can also connect with other users and get fitness and nutrition tips.
4. Habit Tracking
It is believed that it takes around 66 days to break an old habit and fully establish a new one. Perhaps you want to start getting up earlier or working out or reading more. There is something therapeutic and encouraging about starting something and completing it. Tracking your progress day by day allows you to see just that – progress. Sometimes waiting until you’ve completed the overall goal to celebrate robs you of the opportunity to relish in the small victories. Don’t do that – count each day as a win until you win them all.
What areas of your life do you plan? How will you improve your planning this year?