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How many times a day do you wish you had a personal assistant? Not just an au pair or a nanny, but a 360-degree personal assistant?
I’m pretty sure this thought crosses my mind about 536 times a day.
My personal assistant would be a supercharged version of myself. Not just a twin, but a clone. She could handle every obstacle I threw her way.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, I can’t clone myself (the science behind that sounds pretty jacked up anyway) but I can use shortcuts. To do this, I have to think like a Super Planner.
Kind of like channeling my inner Mary Katherine Gallagher…
To save on time, I invest time on the front end. It’s worth it when I can accomplish more without having to clone myself.
I recently wrote How to Immediately Boost Your Focus and Productivity, which lays the foundation for budgeting your time so you’re not spread too thin. Now I’d like to hone in on the concept of planning.
Maybe just the idea of planning something gives you a migraine. Maybe you’re already pretty good at the process, but you’d like to get better. Either way, I’m hoping my Super Planner mentality will help you attack your goals.
Harness Your Inner Creativity
To plan effectively, I get creative. Now this doesn’t mean I go and draw unicorns on all my checklists, but I still try to push my comfort zone.
“But Erin,” you say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body!” That’s okay. You’re only creating thoughts and ideas. Nothing too technical here.
Ideas rarely appear out of thin air. Most of the time I have to force myself to sit down and brainstorm.
I’m finding the more I brainstorm, the easier it becomes.
Brainstorming is like “dead lifting” a muscle in your brain, and with time, you can flex this muscle with greater ease.
Before you know it, you’ll be coming up with ideas in your car, at the grocery store, even while talking to strangers.
I’m smack dab in the middle of a 30-day writing challenge on Medium, a site where writers can self-publish their ideas. I’m also in the middle of a 7-day personal challenge to get more sleep.
Not only am I waking up feeling more refreshed, but I also find the ideas are flowing because I’m forcing myself to do this every single day.
“We now have the secret as to how to build overnight automatic muscle memory.” -Dr. James Maas, sleep expert
Here’s a question: What motivates you to jump out of bed first thing in the morning?
Whatever your answer is – whether it be excelling in your career or being a better mom (or both!) – you’ll benefit from harnessing your creative thoughts. Creativity lends itself to planning, insight and intuition.
Brainstorming → Insight → Planning
If you’d like to take this post to the next level, I’ve incorporated a planning exercise. Pretend you’re in charge of planning an event. For some people, this is really intimidating.
You can plan anything — a kid’s birthday party, a housewarming, a baby shower, etc. Just make sure it’s an event (this will make sense later).
Next, take out a pen and piece of paper. Write down your first couple of details pertaining to date, time and place.
Write Down the Ideas as They Come
Brainstorming will be more effective if you immediately write them down. One of my personal struggles is having pads of paper and lists sprawled everywhere.
Keep a notebook or planner nearby. Or, simply type your ideas into your smartphone or a Word document.
Bullet journals are a great option. I ordered one yesterday and I’m sooo excited to start organizing my thoughts. There are oodles of free printables for planners on the web!
Find a system that works for you, then take a few more minutes to jot down your ideas.
Break Down Your Process into Smaller Pieces
This makes the overall planning process less overwhelming. For example, one week you could be contacting the florist, and the next you could be working on party favors.
In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey suggests setting aside time each week to focus on specific goals. Here’s what that might look like:
The idea here is to map out priorities for the coming week, including what I’ve referred to before as High-Value Activities or HVAs. These are activities you find relevant to deep personal goals.
You can use this same process to plan just about anything. Covey’s advice isn’t just for business executives!
Try setting aside time to plan goals while you’re in a “peak state.” I discovered this term through Ben Hardy, a productivity expert on Medium. You can achieve a peak state at the gym, morning meditation, church, basically anywhere you feel invigorated and inspired.
You’ll choose loftier goals and have a more positive mindset if you do your planning in this state of mind, Hardy says.
Planning doesn’t have to happen all in one sitting, either. I keep my planner in my purse so I can record thoughts on the go 🙂
Consider all the Variables
I was born to be a Super Planner. I get my OCD tendencies from my grandpa (Papa), who likes to nail down every detail of every upcoming gathering with the intensity of a karate sensei.
He probably doesn’t realize it, but he’s my inspiration.
Papa’s really good at thinking on both a micro and macro level. Maybe this is why he chose a career in real estate.
Let’s say you’re a busy mom juggling multiple balls in the air. You can plan out your week using the same process:
Micro vs Macro Planning
You can apply this grid to anything – planning a bachelorette party, an anniversary cruise, a trip to Disney World, and so on.
Let’s say you need to plan a bachelorette party. Here’s how I would approach the process with my little business grid:
Start with a framework and then fill in the rest of the details. Pretty nifty, eh?
Now try this at home: Draw a diagram similar to what’s shown above, and make the boxes as large as you need. This will be your planning reference for the fictional event you’re planning.
In case you’d like more inspiration in the party-planning department, you can read 8 Components of a Successful Bachelorette Party for more ideas. I include a planning worksheet in this post, which can be adapted to any kind of brainstorming process.
While you’re considering all the variables, keep writing, even if half of what you’ve jotted down is crap. Don’t stop – just go with your stream of consciousness.
Doing a “brain/data dump” of all possible scenarios is a good thing, as your free-flowing thoughts may tell you something you never would have considered otherwise!
Stay Focused, but Flexible
Sometimes I think if I could plan out the next five years and know exactly what’s going to happen, I’d be very content.
But then who wants to know when and how they’re going to die? Yikes!
The element of surprise is a wonderful thing. But it can also be a stressful thing.
While you’re in the planning stages, make room for a Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D. You’ll likely go through most of the alternates if something gets thrown off course…like your kiddo ending up in urgent care with hand-foot-and-mouth disease right in the middle of your sister’s baby shower!!
The beauty of planning ahead is that you won’t be focused so much on how it’s affected your plans because you’ve already braced yourself for the worst case scenario.
Murphy’s Law tells us if something can go wrong, it will, and that all-knowing bastard Murphy is usually right.
As much as we want to scream, the last thing we should do when things go wrong is freak out.
Other than maybe helping you vent, freaking out is unproductive because it takes time and attention away from the true problem.
Two things have really helped me in this department – working on a hospital unit where you’re literally dealing with life and death situations, and growing up under the discipleship of my mother’s “tough love” program.
Here’s my thought process when dealing with a crisis. Imagine this happening in 30 milliseconds:
- Is someone hurt, dying or will be hurt/dead in the next five minutes?
- No? Okay, good. What do I need to do to fix this?
In the words of my mother, “Just get it done.”
It sounds kind of harsh, but it’s an incredibly effective approach. My aunt’s band failed to show up for her wedding reception back in 1996, long before the days of smart phones and Google. My mom was able to find a replacement after scouring the yellow pages and using the hotel phone to pin someone down!
Use Your Resources (aka “Sharpen Your Butcher Knife”)
Okay, the saying is actually “sharpen your saw,” but knives are more fun…
Stephen Covey talks a lot about building PC, or production capability. It’s a combination of building your mind and taking care of yourself. When it comes to renewing your body and gearing up for a productive day, there are few things more important than sleep.
There are many resources to help you become a great planner! I’m going to assume you’re interested in developing this skill or you wouldn’t still be reading this post!
If you’d like weekly tips from me, you can subscribe to my newsletter for helpful mom-specific productivity hacks!!
You don’t need any fancy tools to pursue your planning ambitions. I already mentioned the option of a bullet journal, which is essentially a planner combined with a do-to-list. The most popular brand is the Leuchtturm 1917.
I’m a big fan of Google Docs. I planned my entire wedding in Google Docs. I used a grid spreadsheet containing multiple “sheets,” or categories (guest list, gift registry, vendor contacts, etc). From there I could “share” it with my fiancé and mom so they could contribute to it in real time.
Getting better at anything happens like this:
Curiosity → Intention → Focus → Practice
I can’t stress the last one enough. Practice is the essence of getting better at anything and everything. If you want to be a better planner, just start doing it often!
Self-improvement author Tim Ferriss squashed the 10,000-hour rule when it comes to mastering a new skill. You can learn any new skill in about six months with deliberate practice, he argues, since it accelerates the learning process.
Take It One Day at a Time
Sometimes I think to myself, “If only I could convert myself to a droid…”
Then I wouldn’t need to do basic human things like eat, sleep, and deal with my emotions, right?
Yeah, that’s not happening anytime soon. I may as well accept my human flaws and do the best I can. Also, I like having emotions. It allows me to appreciate the beauty in a sunset, or those warm fuzzy feelings I get when I go pick up my son from day care.
One final point: while reading this article you probably noticed a lot of things you already do to set yourself up for success. For example, before going to bed, do you tidy up the kitchen and lay out things you’re going to need when you wake up?
See, you’re already doing it!
Hold on to those good feelings of having a grip on your day. The rest of your planning process will flow from those intentions.
By the way, how did your event-planning scenario go? Are you feeling a little more confident and ready to attack the next project?
Keep rocking, ladies!