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Plan Ahead To Get Ahead

I’m a big fan of keeping day to day stress levels to a minimum. I see no reason to run myself ragged through life by over scheduling and over committing. I’ve been there, done that and bought the T-Shirt.

BUT, even though I enjoy a more low-key life these days, I still aspire to be both productive and efficient with my time. I think most people are seeking that balance between a manageable schedule, but also a regular sense of accomplishment and progress towards your goals.

It’s a fine balance, but there is no doubt that a key component to achieving it is to value and master the art of planning ahead.

Planning ahead in order to stay organized and maximize efficiency is not exactly an earth shattering concept. And yet, even though its age old wisdom, people still suck at putting it into practice.

As someone who falls firmly under the category of a planner, this affinity people have for flying through life by the seat of their pants baffles me. Not only is it incredibly inefficient, it’s also extremely stressful. I don’t get the appeal.

Whether it’s trying to stick to a diet, exercise regimen, daily habit, or a budget, having a plan dramatically improves your likelihood of success. Conversely, failing to have a plan is the exact reason why, for most of us, our goal’s end up going off the rails.

Whether it’s waiting until the last minute to book a hotel and being cornered into paying an exorbitant rate, or putting off meal planning until your tired and exhausted from work and don’t even want to think about cooking, let alone what to cook, so you end up eating take-out pizza. Failing to plan is toxic to success, and our wallet. Time and time again it will lay ruin to even the best of intentions.

I have a good friend who embodies the inability to plan. By most people’s standards, she doesn’t have an overly full plate, and yet she struggles to keep afloat with the bare minimum of life demands. Saying she is overwhelmed by day to day life is the understatement of the year. I don’t think her stress levels have fallen below “extremely high” since I’ve known her, and this state of constant stress and feeling as though she’s behind the eight ball only proves to intensify her worry, and compound the issue. Not to mention what it does to her health.

Despite encouragement from many of her friends to take a breath and start planning ahead in order to reduce her daily dilemma’s, her go to reply is that she doesn’t have time. Almost always, she feels as though she is in a state of sheer survival.

It’s painful to watch, especially when the solutions are so readily available. Planning ahead would change her life.

Conversely I have another friend who has an incredible amount of work and home responsibility on her plate, and she manages to consistently manage it all without a detectable trace of stress, AND by all accounts she appears to not only be thriving, but ENJOYING her life rather than just surviving.

The major difference between both women’s approaches is not necessarily about how they manage their stress, it’s about their ability to plan ahead and manage their time. Through mindful planning one is able to prevent much of life’s stressor’s before they even occur. So when life does throw her a curveball, she is approaching it from a state of calm, with plenty of energy in the tank to deal with it. While the other is in a constant state of stress, and the next curveball, no matter how minor, always feel’s like it will be the straw that breaks the camels back.

When you are in that constant state of anxiety and stress it’s hard to see things from a logical perspective, and what my stressed out friend fails to realize is that if she took the time to plan now, it would allow her days to run much more efficiently, save her untold stresses, and she would end up feeling like she has MORE time, not less.

Planning ahead allows you to identify the high demand time periods in your day or week. By identifying those times, you can start to break down the tasks that lie ahead and determine if you can do anything in advance, during a slower point in your day/week, that will alleviate your demands during peak periods.

By looking ahead you will also be able to schedule in your own personal priorities. Priorities that you can then intentionally shield from work demands or other commitments.

Often we aren’t as busy as we’d like to think we are, and if we look really hard we can all find a bit of inefficient “down time ” in our days. And let’s be real – if you watch TV, aimlessly surf the web, or get lost on social media, you have down time, which means you should never be caught uttering the phrase “I don’t have time”.

But often because people don’t plan ahead, they are quickly overwhelmed by the stress that can come along with those peak periods, and then when that down time does arrive, rather than tackling a few extra items on their to do list in order to get ahead of things, they feel the need to do nothing because they are so exhausted. The problem is, the exhaustion tends to be less about the quantity of work done and more a result of the mental anguish of feeling overtaxed and overwhelmed.

It’s also why it’s a good reason to meal plan WITH your weekly schedule in front of you. Maybe there’s a particularly busy day or two in your week and it would be really helpful to have leftovers available for dinner that you can just heat up with no preparation or dishes to clean up afterwards.

If that’s the case, arrange your meal plan to make an extra large dinner the night before, so you have leftovers. Or at the beginning of the week on a slow Sunday morning make up a few freezer meals that you can just pop in the oven on busy days. Doing this alone will ensure you not only eat healthy, but you won’t put the extra strain on your pocket book or waistline by calling for delivery. AND when you are in the thick of things, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you’ve got dinner covered, and you can just waltz into the house and heat it up.

All of which will help you feel organized and on top of things, and will go a long way in preventing those feelings of being overwhelmed and not having enough time in the day.

If you have daily habits that aren’t quite so daily, but you’d like then to be, whether it’s exercise, meditation, reading, you name it, pick consistent times throughout the week, and protect those times. If someone try’s to schedule in a meeting over your work-out time, tell them you are already busy and propose a different time that works with what you want to get done in your day.

If you schedule your work outs around life, you will simply never end up working out, there will always be something “more important” that gets in the way. If it’s not your priority, it certainly isn’t anyone else’s, so schedule it in and stick to your plan.

If you want to save money, the exact same principles apply. Have a clearly set budget so that you can track your outgoing expenses and stay accountable to your limits. If you have a big dinner out with friends planned at the end of the month, you should be adjusting your spending leading up to it in order to ensure the dinner doesn’t put you over budget.

Make a habit of looking ahead at your schedule for the day, week, month and assessing the demands on your time.  Mentally think through what you are going to need to do, and allot sufficient time for those demands. Spread out the workload as much as you can by doing tasks in advance that reduce pressure on your busiest times.

Revisit your schedule every night and review the day that lies ahead. Go through the same mental exercise of planning your day. Make sure to protect the daily rituals that are important to you.

The more stressed out and overwhelmed you feel in life, the more money you will spend, and the worse your overall financial decisions will be. So take control, and plan a schedule that’s feasible, enjoyable AND healthy.

Everyone has 24 hours in the day. No more no less. So if you find yourself wondering how some people fit so much into their days, just remember, they plan ahead to get ahead, and so can you.

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