We all want more time in our lives. Most of know that planning is a great tool to help us be more productive and efficient, so that we can have more time for what we want. But most of us don’t plan as much as we could. That’s because there’s an important rule to planning that most of us never learned. That rule is: Be nice to your future self when you plan!
Too many of us make overly-ambitious plans that we would never actually enjoy implementing. If you make a plan like that, you’ll likely give up on the plan.
And when you give up on one plan, you’re much more likely to give up on planning altogether, which is a wasted opportunity to make your life more manageable and to create more time for what you enjoy. Here are some ways to be nice to yourself when you plan, so that you can ultimately end up with more time.
Post-It Note Plans
When you want to create a life of your dreams, you have to be intentional about creating that life. The smallest unit of your life that’s important right now is your day. To make the most of your days, plan each day the night before to create what you want ahead of time. This will help your mind gear up and prepare for the next day, even as you sleep.
I like to make my plans on square post-it notes because the small amount of space forces you to constrain to what is really important, manageable, and doable. This is a great way to remember to be nice to yourself when planning. If it can’t fit on a post-it note, it shouldn’t be on the plan for the day.
At night, I make a plan for the following day by writing down what I want to do from when I get up to when I go to bed. I put in a big chunk of “family time” for when I’m with my kids after school and in the evenings. Planning that time reminds me that I’m not checking work emails or doing anything except being with the kids and taking care of dinner.
I also have post-it notes on my refrigerator for the daily morning and evening routines, which do not change.
I do my meal planning on post-it notes, too. Wednesday is leftovers night and Friday is pizza night, so those are already decided. Planning a whole week of meals just requires five decisions, which are made easier by assigning themes for each day of the week: Monday is soup, Tuesday is fish, Thursday is Italian, Saturday is something fast and easy like grilled cheese sandwiches or crepes, and Sunday is chicken with roasted veggies. I write it all down on a post-it note in about 2 minutes and I’m done. I recommend saving any new recipes for the weekends when there’s more time for the unknown or unexpected. That’s to be nice to your future self who isn’t going to want to make an elaborate new meal on a Thursday evening.
Give Yourself A Margin
I’ve already written about Greg McKeown’s excellent book Essentialism, but it contains so much wisdom that I have plenty more to say about it. One of the most useful concepts I’ve learned from that book is the concept of building in margins when planning. In other words, give yourself extra time for everything, so that you don’t feel like you’re always late or on the verge of being behind.
There are many ways to implement this, but I found that just building in 15 minutes to my morning routine makes for a much better, smoother morning. We get up earlier and aim to leave the house 15 minutes earlier than we need to leave. This margin gives us a cushion for last-minute requests from my pre-schoolers and unexpected traffic. It also allows me to let my dominant morning thought be “there’s plenty of time,” which creates the feeling of being calm and relaxed, instead of the stressful thought “there’s no time for this!”
I’ve also started planning more margin into work deadlines. If I want to finish a project by Friday, I’ll make an artificial deadline for Wednesday. This is a concept called “proactivation,” which is kind of like procrastinating ahead of time. Proactivation means that you act as if you have an immediate deadline (even though you still have plenty of time) and so you rush to finish the project. Then, you finish the project early and can build in a little extra time to go back and make any necessary corrections and edits. You’ll be amazed by how much you can increase your efficiency and productivity this way.
The Smallest Possible Unit
Most of the time, just getting started on a task is half the battle. An excellent way to combat this is just get started by spending the smallest possible unit of time on a project.
In his book Time Warrior, Steve Chandler recommends starting projects by just spending three minutes of uninterrupted, focused attention on a task. Sometimes you may want to spend 10 or 15 minutes jotting down ideas for a big presentation or project. The important thing is not how much time you spend on it, but that you spend some time on it. Just getting started will allow you to push through the feeling of overwhelm that sometimes stops us, and is usually enough to give us the momentum to keep going or return to it soon.
If you’ve got unfinished tasks that are building up and stressing you out, be nice to yourself by planning to start them with the smallest possible unit of time and notice how much easier it is to begin.
Have a beautiful, productive week.
P.S. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and could use some help getting more time in your life, schedule a free strategy call here. We’ll explore what’s really holding you back and you’ll leave the call refreshed with the enthusiasm and energy you need to create the results you want.