Planning to optimise life
Last year I posted an article on planning, from a long-term life and ageing journey perspective.
I’m a planner by nature, but I need to periodically reassess my plans along the way. This is to ensure I don’t get overwhelmed, as much as to ensure I’m focusing on the rights things at any point in time.
Ironically, my inspiration for this particular blog came from not knowing what to write about this week. In the first 12 months of the Age Life Balance blog, I had a pretty structured plan and I cycled through the different topics in order. Over time, I started to pick and choose what I wrote about more fluidly. This morning I lay in bed worrying that I didn’t have a clear idea of what to write about.
I just consulted my original spreadsheet, (unopened for almost a year) for some inspiration and also to capture some of my latest ideas for future blogs.
This whole process then served as a useful and timely reminder about the importance of planning!
Too busy to plan?
We sometimes feel we have so much to juggle that we don’t know where to start. This highlights an ideal opportunity for planning.
I’m often asked how I pack so much into my life – I have a busy full-time job, I have a family and a household to manage, I blog, I coach, I study, I network and I find time to exercise, as well as some voluntary commitments. The simple answer is planning.
I use Stephen Covey’s famous 7 Habits of Effective People a lot and, this is Habit 3: “Put first things first”.
I use planning across different dimensions of my life e.g. longer-term, financials, holidays etc. but I also use planning to help me to get through the here and now.
I use a calendar to plot out school terms, holidays and other known events. This gets added to as and when new info crops up and is kept in a visible place for all family members to see.
I typically start each month by looking at the family calendar in conjunction with my diary, to see what’s already listed there and to fill in anything missing. I ensure I consult with my husband on this: I count on his support to help with the kids’ activities and to cover me for some of my activities. I also need to consult him on some items – giving him the option to opt in or out accordingly!
Sunday is my planning day for the week ahead. While I can’t say I relish this task, I have an immense sense of satisfaction and relief when this is done.
I plan across several different dimensions for optimal impact:
Activities, events and commitments
This includes the kids’ regular activities, school events, parties etc. This may also include business travel – mine or my husband’s – and other networking, coaching, training etc.
These go onto the weekly list first, as these are the things that need to happen. It’s also a good opportunity to see if any incidentals are required e.g. packed lunches, birthday presents, lift-shares etc., to accommodate these.
One of my long-standing personal objectives is to provide healthy, homecooked food for my family. Planning is essential to ensure we have a good balance of nutrition across the week as well as having the right food available, at the right times.
I use this in conjunction with two other things – shopping lists and food inventory.
We buy groceries online and don’t have any shops close by, so, as much as possible, we need to batch things up for a weekly shop. There’s a running list in the kitchen for anyone to add to if they a. finish something or b. think of items we need.
I periodically do an inventory of what’s in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. This helps me to plan what we can eat in the coming week(s) and may also highlight any missing items to add to the list. I ‘ve been much more organised on this front in the past. We currently have several house guests, which adds significant complexity in this area.
This is a key one for me. Although I’m not training for anything at right now, it’s still important for me to build in time for exercise. As well as the longer-term benefits, it keeps me fit, healthy and sane in the moment. Planning exercise includes a range of different activities (including swimming, walking, yoga), and also, importantly, it includes rest!
Determining factors include where I’m working (London, local office or home) and what time I have available in mornings, lunchtimes and evenings etc. The weather can also impact the type and timing of my exercise, so I frequently check the forecast and build this into my plans, flexing as necessary.
And then there are all the other many things that I need/want to fit in: study, blogging, coaching etc.
In addition to the weekly plans, I also have daily plans. I typically have one for work and one for non-work tasks. The weekday ones tend to be on Post-its and the weekend days are often on the back of an envelope (for more space).
Where possible, I write my lists the night before as it helps to focus and settle me in equal measure. If not, I do it on the day itself.
Useful planning analogy
I often use this useful analogy to help me with planning.
Imagine a container and some things to put in it, let’s say some apples, berries and wine.
The container represents time and has a limited amount of capacity. The other items are things you want or need to fit in. If you put the wine in first or even the berries, adding even one apple could cause it to overflow or splash at the very least. However, it you put the apples in first (presenting the larger, potentially less flexible commitments) and then the berries and then pour in the wine, the wine will fill up the excess space and you’ll end up fitting in a lot more of everything.
Of course, being organised and having all the elements to hand also plays an important part of planning.
Planning helps me to focus on the right things, in order to achieve my goals and optimise my time. It also enables me to flex plans, as and when new information or opportunities come along. There are many different ways of doing this. I’ve shared what works for me, but you may already have something that works well for you.
Share in the comments below if you’ve got other tools or techniques that work for you, as these may benefit others too.
Thank you for reading! For more of my articles, browse my blog at www.agelifebalance.com to find out more.