I have this new friend in my life who teasingly refers to me as Type A. If I’m being honest, I’ve been a little bit offended.
The Type A image I conjure up in my mind is a little Martha Stewart-esque. Type As use labels and folders, highlighters in every hue. They have calendars with stickers hanging on their fridge and an alphabetized and colour-coded spice rack. They are the list makers. They are the perfectionists. They iron their underwear. None of that is me.
But the one thing that all Type A personalities have in common is… they always have a plan. And that I have. But I didn’t always.
There was a time that I prided myself as the ANTI-planner. I was the “fly by the seat of my pants, type of gal.” Let’s call her Type Z. I’d pack only hours before a flight. I’d book only days prior. I didn’t take an itinerary and preferred to take my travels as they came.
I thrived on adventure and uncertainty. And I convinced myself it sculpted me into a person who is quick on her feet and able to adapt to any circumstance.
For me…day planners were where creativity went to die. Planning was the thief of spontaneity. I wanted to be free to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to follow some scheduling app’s notification trying to drill-sergeant me into doing something simply because the big hand and the little hand happened to coalesce on some arbitrary number on the clock. Ugh. I hated all that.
Of course, every time management guru out there will tell you that if you fail to plan…you plan to fail. It’s so cliché that I swear I’ve seen it embroidered on a pillow in the clearance bin at Walmart.
Until one day, a few years back, I was out walking my dog and listening to podcasts. The topic du jour was “planning.” I was tempted to skip it. Yada, yada, yada, plan, plan, plan…I’d heard it all before. But for whatever reason…I soldiered through.
They say that when the student is ready; the teacher appears. And I guess that was true for me. The argument for planning began to make sense. I decided to give it another go and I have never looked back.
I’ve gotten so good at planning that now some people mistake me for Type A even though I still don’t iron my underwear.
And when it comes to the travel industry, I have found that most successful travel advisors are organized planners. Product knowledge is one thing, but in an industry that requires crazy focus and time juggling, organization skills are a must.
One of my go-to interview questions used to be…” On a scale from one to ten, how organized are you?”
Sounds pretty innocuous, right?
But then I’d follow up with the one-two punch, “So you say you are a 9. Would you mind if I have a look at your day planner?” This was often met with a look similar to 😳. Seven times out of ten, the interviewee would claim not to have their planner on hand. I’d counter…”so you’re not carrying your phone?”
It was all just simple code for, “no planner existed.”
I’ve come to realize that being an organized planner is essential to success.
So I wanted to share with you what I learned in that podcast so many years ago that changed my mind about schedules forever.
Planning removes decision fatigue
Hasn’t the word “overwhelm” become the new buzzword of this decade? She’s overwhelmed. He’s overwhelmed. Zie is overwhelmed. One of the biggest culprits leading to overwhelm is simply having WAY too many choices.
Back in the age of our grandparents, there were just a handful of breakfast cereals to choose from. Did you want Cornflakes or Grape-nuts – which confusingly had neither grapes nor nuts – but not the point. You made your choice, popped it in your cart, and you had your breakfast for the next week sorted. Done.
Today, take a walk down any grocery store breakfast aisle and you will see hundreds upon hundreds of brands. We are bombarded with options. The cereal is a metaphor for all the decisions we have to make today.
From the moment we lose the battle with our alarm clocks in the AM until we turn off the evening news, it is estimated that the average adult makes approximately 35,000 decisions.
Frig! That is a lot of decisions. The result is a phenomenon called, “decision fatigue.”
Making the conscious choice to pre-plan your day drastically reduces the overwhelm caused by decision fatigue. Here’s how…
Sure, you still have to make decisions. But when you make them all at one time, as opposed to multiple times throughout your day, it becomes a stealth war-operation approach. And that is far more effective than the alternative which resembles a scatterbrained Rorschach inkblot.
Planning reduces time-wasting
How often have you found yourself staring at your open fridge, looking for snack options? You shuffle your weight from one leg to the next as you peer behind the milk carton hoping to find a hidden gem even though this will be your fourth visit in the past hour and turns out…there is still nothing hiding there except last week’s Chinese food takeout.
What if you pre-planned your snacks and as soon as you felt that gnawing in your stomach, you knew exactly how you’d feed it? It’s on your schedule. The decision has already been made.
It’s the same with To-Do lists. You finish one task only to have to figure out what’s next. Every time, you are re-prioritizing your tasks. The problem is, as the day goes on, and decision fatigue sets in, you start making lousy choices. “Water the cactus,” somehow takes top priority.
And that’s only after you’ve reached for your phone 6 times to count how many more likes you’ve received on the Insta post you added only 10 minutes ago.
You get to the end of the day and even though you “feel” like you’ve been busy doing “all the things”…you’ve made no serious dent in your number one goal.
Pre-scheduling eliminates all the extraneous time-wasting activities that you so easily get lost in. Of course, you’ll still want to schedule time to check your social media, but it’s not haphazard and done multiple times within an hour.
Planning engages the auto-pilot on board
As you begin the planning process, you’ll begin to notice patterns. It’s just easier to plan a morning routine that you can then copy and paste across all the days of the week. It becomes rote.
This is akin to brushing your teeth. It’s typically not a task you have to set a reminder for. You do it at the same time every day. It’s no longer a decision you have to make. The same will become true for any task that becomes a habit, that you do on a regular basis. Auto-pilot tasks are the ninja warriors on the task menu. They take little effort, cause you zero brain drain and cumulatively result in big wins over time.
I use Trello along with Google Calendar as my key planning tools. Here’s how it works.
Trello is a free resource that I can’t recommend enough. It syncs across multiple platforms. Everything that pops into my mind that I have to do gets captured here. I’m 52. If I don’t jot it down immediately, it’s soon forgotten. During the week, Trello’s only job is to cache all the ideas that float in and out of my brain. That’s it.
Then, every Sunday, I plan out my following week. With Trello, each card that you see is like a Post-It note. You can drag the tasks from column to column. Every Sunday, I decide what’s my one critical work project that I want to complete each day and what is my one critical personal project – And I schedule those into Google Calendar. Trello does sync with Google Calendar but I find it easier to keep them separate.
Depending on the breadth of the task, I might schedule one big work project and two smaller ones. It really depends but…
The most crucial piece is that I never over-schedule.
Life is too short and I have no need to have the words, “She got a lot of shit done.” emblazoned on my tombstone.
I allow myself big blocks of time for projects. I leave room for spontaneity. For me…those blocks can be moved around in the day if necessary. It’s a fluid plan, but it works.
And all the auto-pilot tasks… are recurring, so I am just fitting these project tasks around those.
Planning reduces To-Do list bloat
Planning forces you to take a good long and hard look at your to-do list. There are only so many hours in a day and while a good friend suggested I watch the 4 part mini-doc “The Last Narc”, it will sit in my personal capture board until I schedule it or toss in the white towel and admit that I’m never going to watch it. 😞 In which case – Delete.
When faced with my long list of items that I capture throughout the week, I realize I can’t do it all. Maybe it’s time to delegate, eliminate, or maybe the task should just marinate.
The more you plan, the better you get at it
When getting started, it might take you an hour to set up your boards and your calendar, but these days, I spend no longer than 20 minutes every Sunday prepping for the coming week. That’s it.
Proper planning creates more freedom, not less freedom
The old me felt claustrophobic when it came to too much structure. But what’s ended up happening is that I have far more free time now than I’ve ever had before. Just by making these small shifts in planning.
So does that make me Type A? I dunno. I certainly don’t feel like I have a broomstick up my butt. I have a system and it works. And because it works, I have more time to walk my dog, read a book, plan my next adventure, do whatever it is I wish to do, but the word “overwhelm” isn’t part of my lexicon.
What is your best scheduling tip? Share it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.