Planning is a skill that everyone should have. As, a matter of fact we subconsciously do it every day, all day. Anytime we are thinking about the next move we are making a plan. However, a consistent planning routine can help us be way more strategic about it.
Although we all plan to some degree, the practice of planning does not come naturally to everyone. Some people find planning overwhelming. Others think planning is a threat to spontaneity. Most people in the latter category end up winging it and forgoing the exercise of making plans altogether.
And the end result?
Not getting enough done.
Even more overwhelm.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to plan every minute of your day or every square inch of your life, but I am saying you can get more out of your life with a roadmap. If planning is already part of your lifestyle, knowing your “why” can help you improve your routine greatly. If you don’t have a planning routine, now is the perfect time to start.
Here are five reasons you should develop a planning routine today.
5 Benefits of A Consistent Planning Routine
A planning routine gives you mental freedom
I like to think of my brain as if it is a pitcher. There’s only so much it can effectively hold. Once it’s full, the contents start spilling out (forgetfulness), things get messy (ineffectiveness), and you can’t put anything else in. Recording items to a plan makes space for other things to occupy your mind.
It also helps you to remember things without having to focus on it. For my techies out there, planning is like putting things in a cache. If I just keep that to-do or appointment in my mind, I have to rummage through all those files to retrieve it. Once I put it in my planner, it’s hidden away in a place other than the top of my mind for quick access. My focus can then be turned to more urgent matters at hand.
A planning routine can help you better assess your goals
If you’ve never heard of SMART goals, the basic premise is setting parameters for your goals and making sure they are actually doable. This system advises that goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Time-Bound. In my four-step planning process, Mack’s Method, there is a constant feedback loop for these checks and balances. Let’s take a look at how a lack of planning affects that process.
Case Study: Hype Hilda
Meet Hilda, our first case study. Hilda is a happening young adult making her way in the world. Hilda goes about her week living life as it comes. Cool. The constants in her life look something like this:
- Work every week and church on Sunday.
- Clean her home
- go to the grocery store
- pay bills
Hilda also wants to accomplish a few other things this week outside her normal routine:
- Workout 5 times this week
- Declutter her closet
- Get a mani/pedi
On Sunday night, Hilda’s cousin Marcy extends her an invitation to a housewarming party on Thursday; Hilda accepts. Monday morning, Brian, Hilda’s neighbor, asks if she can dog sit this week; Hilda says yes. Marcy calls back and asks if she can bring a charcuterie platter to the party on Thursday. “Sure,” Hilda replies.
What Hilda doesn’t realize is that Brian wants her to dog watch Thursday night – the same Thursday night as the housewarming. Hilda also has to work Monday and Tuesday. The specialty cheese shop she needs to visit for her charcuterie board will be closed when she gets off, so she can only visit it on Wednesday or Thursday (pushing it). Marcy also called Hilda on Tuesday night to tell her that 10 more people had been added to the guest list.
Planning is a safeguard against over-commitment
Ultimately, Hilda had to call Brian at the last minute to tell him she couldn’t dog watch. Also, she ended up missing her Wednesday workout to buy a special breed wheel and prep the charcuterie board for Marcy’s housewarming. Furthermore, she’s gonna be eating ramen all next week, because she didn’t budget for extra groceries, and payday isn’t until next week.
Hilda is in a pickle that could have been avoided if she had at least roughly planned her week and had a monthly budget. This would have given her the opportunity to double-check her schedule for competing engagements. She would have known whether the goals she had set were realistic, based on the time and money she had.
Planning minimizes decision fatigue
Did you know you make about 35,000 decisions every single day? Sara Berg at The American Medical Association defines decision fatigue as “a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.” (Check out her fascinating article about this phenomenon here.) Decision fatigue has always been a thing, but experts have shown that it has gotten worse as life has gotten more complicated.
Berg also notes that on top of feeling exhausted, decision fatigue also encourages “procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance, and indecision.” These are all enemies of leading an efficient and productive life. They rob us of our time, energy, our health, and much more. No one knows those feelings better than Suzy, our second case study.
Case Study: Stressed Out Suzy
Suzy is a wife, soon-to-be mom of two and human to two cats. Suzy is tired and holding it together the best she can. Managing a household with three people already takes a lot, but she’s not sure how things will be when the new baby arrives. Her husband Dave actively shares the physical load of caring for their 2-year, Chase, but almost all of the mental load is still hers to bear. Suzy is excited about baby Kate arriving, but with Dave’s company not offering paternity leave and the brevity of her maternity leave, she’s dreading the moving parts.
What are we gonna eat today?
What clothes will Chase wear today? Do I have clean clothes to wear today? Who will drop Chase off at daycare? And pick him up? Does the daycare have slots for both Chase and Kate? Which bill can we scale back on to help with the cost…
Suzy and Dave didn’t plan any meals this week, and by the time Dave asked Kate what they were gonna eat, she was too overwhelmed to make a solid decision. She also realized there weren’t any “matching” ingredients to cook at home, so they all ended up eating at McDowell’s for three meals a day, three days in a row. Chase messed up his clothes at daycare, but Suzy had made sure he had an extra set of clean clothes in his daycare bag. Suzy on the other hand, ended up trying to pass her workout leggings off as “skinny stretch slacks” for her big presentation.
Planning allows you “auto-pilot” the small stuff
Because Suzy (and Dave) did not have any decisions premade, it forced her to make them on the fly when she was already fried from doing so all day. By the end of the day, she was too tired and out of time to give them any extra thought or balance them against any criteria beyond convenience. By the time Dave called Tiny Tots about a daycare slot for baby Kate, there weren’t any…which resulted in yet another decision to be made.
Suzy obviously doesn’t have all the time in the world for a complicated planning regimen, but some semblance of a routine and a few minutes a week to make some lists would cut down on the number of choices she has to make on the fly. It might also help her leverage Dave’s abilities a bit more.
This leads us to the fourth benefit of planning:
A planning routine can help to delegate better and more responsibly
Case Study: Overworked Oscar
Oscar is a Director of Operations at a large healthcare company. He leads a team of six people. His department, Data Analytics Department (DAD) was newly created in response to some new business his company won last year. The team is full of exceptionally gifted people, but it isn’t exactly performing at its highest potential. Oscar’s team lacks a lot of the structure that more established units rely on for a smooth workflow. Furthermore, the business is growing faster than the team can handle…in the middle of a hiring freeze. Oscar has just been notified that his team will be leading another major project this fall.
It’s all hands on deck in DAD department. Everyone is pitching in on the work, but there’s no clear plan for how it should be done. For example, some emails are being answered twice, others not at all. Some company meetings have too many team members attending (inefficient use of resources), and others have no one (missing critical information). Also, some team members are at 150% capacity in their workload, while others could stand to help out more. But how would they know that, if everyone thinks someone else is handling – or not handling – the team’s tasks?
Having a solid plan is great for communication
The inability to work smarter instead of harder is straining all the team’s resources – including Oscar. At the end of the day, Oscar is responsible for the team’s performance, and he is sweating bullets to prevent and recover any dropped balls. If Oscar had a firmer grasp of what needs to be done and what resources are available, he would be able to delegate the right tasks to the right people. As a result, his team members will have a more balanced division of labor and a clearer sense of their responsibilities. Having a consistent planning routine with his team can also create a built-in communication loop for status updates and celebrating accomplishments.
Planning can be a great creative outlet
Last but not least, in this day and age, planning can be a great creative outlet. There are so many planners and accessories to choose from that the possibilities are endless. Now, I want to be clear that a planning routine does not HAVE to be a creative exercise, but it can be. As a matter of fact, it can make you more apt to do it consistently.
Case Study: Me!
I’ve literally been planning my whole life. When I was small I was obsessed with lists. I would plan what I was going to wear and eat. Even though I always had a penchant for getting things out of my mind and into some sort of system, I didn’t develop a true planning routine until 2017. I had been using Outlook at work for a number of years, but I realized I needed to systemize my life at home. So, I set out to make my own planner, but I frankly, got tired and quit! I stumbled upon the planner aisle in my local JoAnn, bought my first Happy Planner and a pack of stickers and the rest was history.
Adding decoration into my planning routine helped me to be a bit more excited about sitting down to do it and made me more likely to look at my planner each day. I also find I absorb information better when I decorate my planner. The very process of adding stickers and washi and pen strokes forces me to think about what I’m doing and when. Lastly, some weeks, it’s the only time I get to create strictly for pleasure.
Your planning routine can be whatever you need it to be
Now, I want to be clear that a planning routine does not HAVE to be a creative exercise. The online planner community exploded right before I got into it. There was a big focus on the aesthetics of planners and doing Instagram-worthy spreads. I am in a place where productivity and peace are paramount in my planning process. Decorating multiple planners a week is just not for me or my lifestyle. Having a good balance between form and function is all you need.
A Planning Regimen Is A Form of Insurance
At the end of the day, life happens to the best of us. If you plan for the expected, you have more room to navigate the unexpected. Next up in our series, we will talk more about effective ways to plan and be more productive in life.