Planning is one of my favorite things, but so is getting stuff done. Today I want to share some of my tips that help me plan better so I can get stuff done like nobody’s business. Here are 5 powerful Ways to Plan Better:
Tip #1: Plan even when you think its pointless.
A plan helps even when you end up throwing the plan out the window. The plan sets a direction and helps you start heading there. The most important part of planning is figuring out where we want to go. Once we know the destination, we can work backwards to figure out all the steps to get there. The direction we set while planning helps us even if some of the steps change as we go.
Example 1: I know the kids will need to bring Valentines to school for their class parties. I write a reminder in my planner “send Valentines to school” the day before the party. Working backwards, I know the kids will need a few days to write out all the cards. About a week before their class party I write “Remind kids to fill out their Valentines”. We need to have Valentines to fill out, so I write “Shop for Valentines” a few days before we expect to fill them out. If the timeline is different in actuality, like we spontaneously shop for Valentines earlier or make them instead, that is no big deal. Setting the direction is the important thing, because that helped us take the right steps to be ready before the deadline. Even if the plan changes, the original plan gives us a good start place and takes relieves the burden of the unknown.
Tip #2: Break a large task into tiny bits and plan an individual timeline for each smaller task.
These big things won’t have the power to overwhelm us when we don’t let them stay big. Planning an individual timeline for the smaller tasks avoids the frantic chaos of pulling huge things together last-minute and the resulting procrastination-hangover.
Example 2: On Sunday while I’m planning the week ahead, I write “Cougar’s 2nd Birthday Party” at 5 pm Saturday night. Then I look at my party planning notes and see all the tasks that need to be done the week of his party. I split these tasks up throughout the week. On Monday’s to do section of the planner, I write “Text friends to confirm who is coming”. On Tuesday, I write “order Chick-fil-a catering”. On Wednesday, “wrap presents”. On Friday, “make cupcakes and hang decorations”. On Saturday, on the planner’s schedule section at 4:30 pm, “Pickup Chick-fil-a”.
Tip #3: Keep to do lists a reasonable size.
This tip speaks to the psychology of planning: there is a balance between pushing ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure. A person can only take so much failure, whether real or imagined, before we begin to stop trusting ourselves to really be able to get things done. ~~~ When possible, spread tasks out by looking at our planner schedule and finding a specific day to assign each task. Also, I suggest having a different place to keep comprehensive project/task lists to keep things we want to get done on our radar without crowding our daily to do lists. This way if we find ourselves with extra time on our hands after we do what needs to be done, we know where to look for ideas.
Example 3: You really need to update your address list before you mail baby announcements. You know you this is coming up, so you start writing it on your to do list. Eventually, you update the list after you order the announcements and while you wait for them to arrive. For all the time since you started writing “update addresses” on your to do list, that task has just been dead weight. You started writing it so far in advance that you became desensitized to it and either stopped taking it seriously or let it taunt you. And in each case you still procrastinated until the last-minute. ~~~ A better way to handle this would be: When you first make a plan to do something and you aren’t able to complete it immediately, look at your schedule and assign yourself a timeline and a date to do it, then go ahead and write the task on your planner ON THAT DATE. If you aren’t sure when a good time will be, or if it is more than a month away, write it on your Project Ideas list in your Home Management Section (part of the Home Management Section in the Planner Shop).
If you begin to practice this habit, you won’t feel taunted by all of your upcoming responsibilities. You aren’t putting them off or procrastinating them, you are making reasonable decisions, spreading out big tasks in advance, and planning better.
Tip #4: Focus your mind on the most important task that’s coming next.
I’m not sure about you, but my mind absolutely begins to swirl the longer my to do list grows, and then it is so hard to know where to start. Following Tip #3 is the first important step, but sometimes despite our best efforts, our to do lists can still get long. Sometimes a list full of easy things can be overwhelming just from sheer number. At a job interview in college, they asked me about my biggest weakness. I told the interviewer quite honestly that my weakness was that when I became overwhelmed with too much on my plate, I stalled and had a difficult time doing anything. (Maybe my honesty was refreshing, because I still got the job!) My employer at the time might have been okay with that weakness, but I was not. Though I’ve not found a way to uproot the weakness altogether, I have worked tirelessly to hack my way around it.
Focusing my mind on the most important task to accomplish NEXT helps stop the swirling! Look over your to do list and highlight between 1-3 tasks that need to happen next. This is where decisions are made. Pause and give yourself a few minutes to look over the list and think what needs to happen first. I cross those off the list as I finish them, and then move onto highlight the next three. If I need to truly tighten my focus, I will write 1-2 tasks on a small post-it note and stick it on my computer screen, right on my phone, the kitchen counter, my planner, or my purse/wallet — wherever I will be when the tasks need to happen.
Example 4: My To Do list feels overwhelmingly long. An example list:
“Grocery Shop, finish paperwork for school, pickup dry cleaning, reply to urgent emails, take the fish for dinner out of the freezer to thaw, call friend back, towel laundry, clean bathrooms, fill vehicle with gas and vacuum it out, go for a walk, order a birthday gift, sew dresses for girls, schedule family pictures, plan upcoming event for club, send a thank you, fix a healthy snack for the preschool group, prepare Sunday school lesson, pick up kids from school, take girls to dance, prepare dinner … and the list could go on”.
Highlight the first 1-3 things you need to do first. After you complete those things, cross them off and then highlight 1-3 more.
Tip #5: Once something becomes a routine, use shortened phrases to simplify your planner.
Wordy planners over-stimulate the eyes and make it difficult to focus. Wasted space on the planner = wasted brain space used to take it all in. I use nicknames for common tasks and routines.
Example #5: Tidy up for 10 minutes at a fast pace = “Super Tidy”/ Put the towels in the washing machine, change to the dryer, fold and put away = “Towel Laundry” / Go through the inbox, pay bills, schedule appointments, fill out paperwork, filter kids artwork into recycle or keepers = “H.M.Session”
So there you go, 5 tips you can start using today to Plan Better!! If you are looking for a planner to use, I’ve got a pretty big bias towards the ones I created. Check them out here: Creating Mary’s Home Planner Store.
Any of these you already do?
From my home to yours,
I love the idea of breaking things down by highliting the first three things that need to be done!
Great! It really does help me focus! I hope it helps you too. 🙂
When I saw this on Pinterest I wondered if I’d learn anything new…I’m glad I clicked because I DID! Love your “highlight 3 things” tip. I have a feeling that will be a game-changer! Thank you!!!
Highlighting really helps me when I’m feeling a bit “all over the place”! I hope it helps you too!
Jerri Willis says
Hi Mary, I’m an older reader. I now live alone as my kids are all grown and have lives elsewhere and my husband has passed away. Funny thing, when I had kids, i was so organized that I would start shopping at the store furtherest from home and work backwards to home. I would have a hand written list (before computer, cell phones, i pads/pods, kindle etc.etc.) I wrote on the list what I was to get at each store and approximately how long it would take me to get in and out. Mind you I was not stressed, angry,upset, it was just a game I played with myself to see if I could bet my previous month’s times Sometimes I even surprised myself.
I find life really, really hard now that there is no one to cook or clean for or to look or care for. Everyone’s answer is to say to me….”Well, do it for yourself…” That get’s a little old after a while as no one your age can even begin to relate to what we are going through. I let things stack up and say….oh well, I’ll do it “TOMORROW”. Trouble is I’m really becoming a pack rat and it’s easier to sit and read a book or watch a video. I have over 250 DVD’s and know almost all the scripts by heart as I’ve watched them so much. I don’t like all the angry things on t.v. and the violence is way, way too much for me. Any more so I go inward. I also find so many times when people suggest things I am saying to myself…..”BEEN THERE DONE THAT.” cause I have and I don’t want to repeat it.
Just wanted to let you know that there is someone out there reading your blogs and columns that ISN’T a young wippersnapper!! Your information is right on. I just have such a desire to keep everything. I’m not a hoarder ……YET….. but……………… Give me 10 minutes anddddddddddd….maybe..!!
Be safe and keep on keeping on!!
I’ve gotten to know quite a few of my readers that are in a similar season of life. I’m glad you are here! If doing it for yourself isn’t working for you, invite someone over. Yesterday I brought my girls over to the home of a lady in our church. She gave them a tour and showed them all of her quilts she has made over the year (my girls are really interested in sewing). There are a lot of lonely people out there who could use a friend – maybe you could be that friend. Sorry to give more unsolicited advice, but I do care about you so I can’t help it. 😉 -Mary