By Megan Dreyer

Benjamin Franklin said ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ however, life is also about spontaneity and living in the moment. So how should we go about planning our lives? Especially during such an uncertain time.

Whether your view is that we should plan everything or not plan at all - we all have a complex relationship with planning. In our modern society, life is fast paced and as a culture, we can become consumed with new things, desire quick results and not easily commit to things. So perhaps you can use this situation we are currently facing to your advantage by reviewing how you plan and whether there are any useful changes you can make.

The current situation has got me, like many others I'm sure, questioning how far ahead I should plan? Being an organised person, I like to have a 5 year vision, 1 year goals, 6 month plans and breaking it down further, I like to plan my week. But what happens when these plans are interrupted or changed? How do we react and how does it make us feel?

The benefits of planning

Planning can help to manage our expectations and motivate us. It improves our time management by helping us to prioritize our time and energy on what matters most. It also helps us balance the many aspects of our lives and to co-ordinate with those around us. Planning ahead can help us to go into situations a little more prepared and can direct our actions and focus toward a desired outcome more effectively. It can give us a great sense of achievement and satisfaction when we accomplish a goal or task that we planned to do.

The disadvantages of planning

Sometimes, making plans can cause us to be short sighted and inflexible. Planning every minute, phase, vision, action, or word can sometimes seem necessary to us. However, by sticking rigidly to our plans, we can feel as though if everything doesn’t go accordingly to plan, we have failed, lost control or will have a miserable time. Being this calculated and routined can often stop us from letting go, enjoying the moment and having fun. It can also hinder the development of creativity and experiencing or achieving new things. Furthermore, excessive planning can be a symptom of unhealthy perfectionism. Sometimes we become infatuated with the idea of making plans, thinking through every scenario, situation, outcome… but due to over-analyzing, critiquing, holding out for perfection, we don’t actually allow ourselves the time to carry out our plans or the space to ‘make mistakes’ or change course within our detailed plans.

Something which is important to remember is that planning can help us feel excited about life but can also leave us feeling apprehensive since it's thinking about our lives in a future tense. It’s important not to dwell on our future, or indeed our past, too much, but instead to focus on the present moment and be grateful for where we currently are and engage with what’s around us.

Here are a few questions which might be helpful to ask yourself:

  • Does planning stop you being spontaneous?

  • Does planning help you feel less stressed and overwhelmed?

  • Does planning help you commit to positive things you would otherwise back out of?

  • Does planning overwhelm you and over fill your diary and to do list?

  • Does planning help you to react in a better way to unexpected situations?

  • Does planning make you feel that you've lost control if a situation changes?

Planning is an essential part of everyday life. Plans can help us to focus, work towards something and have a sense of purpose and direction in our lives. However, when life inevitably throws us curve balls, it’s important to allow ourselves flexibility, an open mind, reflection and spontaneity. Last minute decisions can bring much joy and excitement. If we are invited on an exciting day out, or given tickets to a dream event – we don’t want to feel held back by our set-in-stone plans of ‘unfortunately I planned to do xyz today and work on my goals’. It defeats the point of doing what makes us happy.

Before the pandemic, many people may have felt stuck in a rut and were simply going through the motions of everyday life. This is when living spontaneously or making exciting plans can change the gear we’re in and positively affect our mood. Going through the motions from Monday to Friday, 9-5, can too often deplete our energy, dampen our mood, and result in a weekend whereby we are simply trying to recover and recuperate emotionally and physically. It can therefore sometimes be helpful to introduce new activities and opportunities into our week that will invigorate us. This can help us to get more energy, feel passionate and enthusiastic, form new friendships, discover new joys and most importantly, breaks the mundane cycle.

Often change can bring an array of negative emotions and feelings as with change, comes uncertainty. It seems far safer, easier and more comforting to stick with what we know and feel more in control. But if you look back over the past 6-12 months, are there things in your life that made you feel nervous, on edge, uncomfortable where you thought ‘I could never do that’ or ‘that’s out of my comfort zone’? How did you feel when you went for it anyway or accomplished it? It can be helpful to name our successes however small they may be; new experiences, day trips, different food, new relationships, interesting conversations…

What other things would you like to achieve? What experiences or circumstances would bring you joy? Consider how you can succeed in some of the things on your list. What do you need? When would be the best time? Who will support you? Try to then make a commitment with some of these goals by incorporating them into your plans and diary over the next few months.

During a time where it’s so difficult to make plans given the uncertainty around us, we can practice the opposite side by letting go and being more flexible and spontaneous. But we can also map out plans for the future which will give us hope and excitement. The key is balance and variety. Planning can be a helpful tool in organizing thoughts, ideas, and adventures. But planning is not a one-time process. Our plans must be continually adjusted as they are implemented. It’s important to trust our gut feelings, use our initiative and allow ourselves the freedom to embrace change by sometimes planning not to plan.

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