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I plan ahead. It is my disaster-preparedness approach to setting myself up for a positive day. I started to plan ahead because I could no longer stand the disorganized chaos my life had become.
If there is anything that we’ve become familiar with this year, it’s disorganized chaos.
I spent much of the past decade in a chronic state of rushing and reaction. Not only was I exhausted and unhappy, I felt like I was existing in the shadow of my life, constantly chasing moments I could never catch up to or fully enjoy. But if we anticipate what the future may hold, we can create more resources for ourselves to be flexible, mindful, and accepting of our experiences.
This is equally important (possibly more) if your life doesn’t have a normal daily routine. If you’re working from home (or out of work) or experiencing some other kind of ongoing disruption to your life as you knew it, creating and inserting routines into your day can be the difference between sanity and chaos.
I developed my daily planning practice last fall as I was attempting to sleep-train myself to leap out of bed at the crack of dawn. This plan was not working, because I was not planning ahead at all. I was setting my alarm and then kicking my butt for not wanting to get up. I had to start from scratch and lay a strong foundation in order to build my perfect day.
My 4 Daily Planning Mantras:
1. I am committed to reviewing tomorrow’s schedule in advance.
“In advance” is the key phrase here. I review tomorrow’s calendar throughout the day and adjust as new deadlines and events come up. Do you need to call and reserve your spot for a fitness class at the gym? Is your spouse traveling for work this week? You know your kid’s soccer practice is tomorrow — but is it your turn to drive the carpool? If we know what’s coming, we can be proactive in our planning and schedule adequate time for the events in our day, reducing a last-minute scramble or a stressful surprise.
2. I use tools to help me stay organized.
One benefit to being attached to our technological devices is that we have zero excuses for not organizing our time. We cannot possibly remember everything on our plates, but if you can embrace some process to keep your schedule organized, it will reduce stress in your life.
Finding these resources to help us power through our responsibilities is essential. My iCalendar is synced to my Outlook work calendar; I get constant reminders on my phone of deadlines coming up and can avoid double booking appointments. I keep my ongoing grocery list in my phone, that way I can add “cat food” to my Costco list in the middle of my lunch break and feel like the most responsible cat owner on the block.
If technology isn’t your jam, no worries. The goal is to get the “to do” list and calendars out of your head, where we have too much information floating around. Find that perfect planner or notebook you can depend on — and then carry it everywhere. Try out what works for you and what doesn’t. Stick with what works for you.
3. Planning ahead allows me to enjoy the moment.
Less rush, less stress. I know the thought of “getting organized” can seem daunting, and can even keep us from getting started because we think it will take more time. But once you start a systematic routine of looking ahead, it will actually free up time because you will be less reactive. You will have allowed time in your schedule to reduce the rush between activities, and you will be prepared and streamlined for your daily tasks.
I am more thoughtful when I plan ahead. I relax and enjoy the things I have committed to. We have the ability to choose the process that makes us feel best. When we are rested, organized, and ready for our day, we are better able to roll with the punches, adapt to last minute changes, and react more positively to stressful situations. Plus, you feel like the rock star that you are.
4. I deserve to set myself up for a positive day.
Planning ahead does not give us magical power to control things — because we cannot control things. We cannot protect against unforeseen events and disasters. But planning ahead increases our flexibility. Committing to being organized does give us a more positive outlook on our lives. It gives us confidence that not only will we survive the many things on our plates, we can do many things very well. We deserve to feel happy and balanced. We deserve to create a life for ourselves that we enjoy.
The 90-Minute Countdown Checklist
If you believe the concepts above, my 90-Minute Countdown can work for you. This nightly routine provides a quiet shutdown of my current evening with mindful anticipation of the following day to come. Ideally, these steps take place during the final ninety minutes of your waking day. The 90-Minute Countdown is my formula for putting planning ahead into action. It paves the way for a wonderful tomorrow.
1. Set your bedtime (and go to bed).
What time does tomorrow start? This is a great opportunity to be realistic about going to sleep. If I have a 5:45am workout, falling asleep at midnight and then hearing the alarm blaring five and half hours later is going to feel brutal, because it is brutal. And probably not enjoyable or motivating to stick with that workout schedule if you are pulling yourself out of bed by your hair.
We all know we need more sleep; this is how we can get on track. I aim for eight hours of sleep per night during the week. If I’m waking up at 6:00am to teach spin class, I know I need to be asleep by 10:00pm. Which means I really need to be getting into bed by 9:30pm. Your bedtime may vary from night to night, depending on when you have to wake up.
Don’t view your bedtime as a punishment or regulation. See it as a cozy reward for your busy day and active body. Allow yourself the space to relax and unwind.
2. Pack your bags.
Make time to sort out any and all of the equipment that tomorrow requires. Tomorrow’s necessary packaging may include your briefcase, your lunch (meal prep for the win), lunch for the entire household, your gym bag, laundry for the dry cleaner drop off, etc. I often pick out my outfit for work the night before, especially if I have an important presentation or meeting.
If you work out in the morning, I highly recommend setting out your workout clothes the night before. I used to think that was (somehow) double work and a waste of time to plan out my outfits. I also used to tear around my house looking for sports bra pad inserts or headphones while my running partners were ready to take off jogging down the street without me. I actually ran one of my half marathons with only one compression stocking. Get organized and take the five to ten minutes to pack up.
3. Devices down.
I start shutting down all technology thirty minutes before getting into bed. I had to set an alarm on my phone as a reminder when I first started this routine. At 9:00pm, my alarm would go off and I would put down my iPad or turn off the TV.
Start your process of heading to bed and give yourself time to wind down. Set your alarms for the morning. I like to silence my phone at night so I don’t hear any text messages or email alerts pinging in the night. If you have a television in your bedroom, try out turning off your show thirty minutes before you go to sleep and replace it with ambient music or reading a book. If you have a meditation practice, this would be a great time to meditate and slow down your mind before sleep. Release the day and welcome in the sleep.
4. Rise and shine.
When the alarm goes off, try sitting up instead of hitting snooze. Express gratitude for that rock star that prepped all your goodies for an amazing day ahead. You are loved and you got this.
Sometimes simple actions are the most powerful. Creating routines like this doesn’t have to be a complex affair. Adopting straightforward actions, some that only take minutes a day, can help to steer your day (and your life) into greater levels of freedom, clarity, and well-being.