It’s almost Q4. And you might be thinking 2 things at once: “Where did the year go?” and “This year can’t be over soon enough”.

2020 has been one crisis after another, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up.

If it feels like we’re just fighting fires, day after day, hour after hour, it’s because we are. Literally.

Sometimes it feels like sleep is the only refuge (and many of us aren’t even getting that, studies show).

The “6th month wall” is hitting us hard.

So I’m going suggest something that might sound silly in the face of well, all that we’re facing, and that is to do some planning.

Why plan when the future seems so uncertain?

Well, because life keeps going. And planning? It’s important not only for our ability to manage our time (which we rarely feel there’s enough of) and to feel like we’re making progress, but it’s also really important for our mental health.  

First, I’m going to share why planning can help, even, and especially, during times of crisis. And then, I’ll share a simple process you can use to plan for Q4, if you’d like to join me in a little forward thinking.

1) Planning saves time 

Yes, you heard that right. The time that you put into planning saves you time in the long run.  People often have a tendency to think that planning is not “real work” or that they don’t have time for it.  But a little bit of planning goes a LONG way in terms of using your time efficiently. When we, in advance, prioritize our workload so that it happens when it needs to happen, what we’re really doing is front-loading our decisions. We’re protecting ourselves from decision-fatigue and we are putting ourselves in a position such that when it comes time to do the doing, less motivation is actually required. We can just execute the (preplanned) list, without thinking about it too much.

Let me give you a micro example of this. You’re about to start work, you grab your coffee, sit down at your desk and open your laptop.  Then you spend 10 minutes looking at your list, or staring at your screen, thinking “hmm, what should I do next?” You decide what to work on, do it, and then the process repeats. Over and over. Planning eliminates all of this. You’ve already made the decisions about when to do what you need to do, so when you sit down to work, all you have to do is start plugging away.  No more wasted moments interrupting your day.  No more mustering up the activation energy to get started.

On a macro level, when you set goals, you can plan out what you need to do to achieve those goals, and you can break it down into the steps you need to do, and when you need to do them.  In the act of planning, you may see some potential pitfalls, and you’ll have the opportunity to course correct before you even start working. You won’t go down as many wrong paths.  You won’t have as many false starts. You are effectively separating the high-level thinking from the doing, which allows you to do the doing more efficiently.

Studies have shown that when you plan, you accomplish the goal, project, etc. about 20% faster than you would have if you didn’t spend that time planning up front.  And you run into fewer obstacles along the way.

2) Planning Reduces Stress

Studies show that planning actually reduces stress and anxiety as much as deep breathing and meditation. At first, this might sound preposterous, but think about it again.

What are we usually anxious about? The future.

What does planning do for us? It provides structure to the future.

One of my client calls her daily planning practice her “planning meditation”. If you’ve been someone who’s always wanted to meditate daily, but for whom it just isn’t happening. Try planning!

3) Planning provides freedom

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think plans lay the groundwork for flexibility and spontaneity. Plans can be flexible. In fact, they are meant to be flexible. Especially right now, they HAVE to be flexible.

Think of a plan as the default to fall back on, to compare the incoming to. The plan provides the direction, but it doesn’t lock us in.

When you have a plan, you are simply better able to decide whether the incoming, the seemingly urgent, IS actually more important than what you’d already planned. If so, then you pivot. New plan. If not, well then you’ve saved yourself wasted time and energy.

A plan provides freedom from anxiety (because you know what you need to do), freedom from time-wasting (because you spend your time acting instead of rehashing), and  freedom from overthinking (because you’ve freed up your brain-space by putting everything you need to do in your plan). Planning is what lets you be flexible and spontaneous without feeling stressed.

So, planning, right now, in Q4, when the world appears to be crumbling?

Yes, I’m going to suggest some planning right now. Will your plans work out 100%? Who knows, but likely not. And that’s not really the point.

The point is to have something to shoot for, something to work towards, even, and especially, when it feels like things are falling apart.

Here’s my pared down, planning in a crisis, process for you:

  1. Block off the time in your calendar to plan. Even if it’s just 15 minutes for now. Planning is important and it’s real work. Make time for it.
  2. Brainstorm streamlined goals
    • Think about picking just one goal in each of the following categories:
      • Self
      • Family
      • Work
  3. Define next steps. What are the actions that need to happen to move this goal forward? Get as specific as possible. Maybe you need to perform certain actions every day to make this goal happen; define those actions. Maybe there are a series of steps you need to take; define those steps. If you’re not sure of the next step, spend some time thinking, or ask for input. There is always a next step.
  4. Make it visible. Defining the goal is just the first step. How will you keep it front and center? Print it out and tape it to the wall? Write it on your bathroom mirror? Add it as a quarter long appointment in your calendar?
  5. Do the work. Now you’ve got to make the time to do what you’ve laid out in your plan. And there’s no better way than to get it on your schedule and into your task system.

And if you’re interested in how non-crisis goal planning differs from crisis goal planning, at least in my book, take a look my post about quarterly planning from this time last year and free free to download my quarterly planning guide here.

(PS. Want a super-pared down version of planning for Q4? Here it is: Vote.

Make a plan for how you’ll vote in November.

Do you need to request a mail in ballot? Will you mail it in, or drop it off?

Will you vote in person? Do you know where your polling location is?

Make a plan. Do something to make this year better. Vote.)