Back in December, on one of Dennis and my many trips to Target, I picked up a 2016 planner. I hesitated and debated this purchase. Was I ready for a planner again? Would the presence of this simple item in my life trigger a relapse to my ultra-planning ways? Could I be trusted with it?
I decided that I could.
“I’ve come so far,” I reasoned. “I know that planning doesn’t mean that I ultimately control my life. Plus, I’m happier living in the moment. I won’t return to living disconnected from my family and friends, living just to plan the next moment.”
Three weeks into January, I just threw that planner in the trash. Turns out, I can’t be trusted with a physical paper planner.
Let me set the context a bit better…
Back in college, I started keeping a planner. I LOVED it. The feeling of comfort, peace, and security that would accompany my planning sessions – entering dates and events, looking forward to upcoming activities, and generally organizing my time – was addicting. If something didn’t feel good in the present, I could easily pull out my planner and think about future events, times, and places where I imagine I would be happy. Also, the act of putting something in my planner and then fulfilling that task, activity, or commitment would bring me a sense of control.
Throughout my early 20s, I had Suzy’s Zoo planners. I still have 3 of them stashed away for nostalgia. They’re cute and they now provide a diary of sorts. Moving to San Diego, dating Dennis, and planning our wedding are all documented in those annual planners.
Okay, so what’s the big deal about keeping a planner??
First of all, being organized and having a “plan” for the day is generally productive and good. However, I have lots of other methods for keeping track of dates, events, and “to-dos”. My work and life are well integrated, so I have everything on my Outlook calendar. I keep a very detailed Task List in Outlook too. Also, we have a family calendar on the side of the refrigerator for all the activities we need to track together. Actually, when I got this planner and started adding events and activities, it felt incredibly redundant. I already had many of the items on both my Outlook and home calendars.
Another thing is, my life is fairly disciplined and we have well established family routines. I’m going to exercise most days of the week, cook healthy meals, keep my kids bathed, Sienna will do her homework, we’ll clean things that need it, etc. I don’t need a planner to remind me to do these basics.
Okay, so the problem is: there’s a mindset that accompanies the keeping of a planner, for me. My daily life begins to be too structured, too theoretical, too “in my head”. Once I put something down in the planner, it takes on a sense of importance that is disproportionately high. I begin to think of each day as a series of tasks to accomplish or items to cross off the list. Then, when my husband or children don’t fall into line with my “plan” I feel frustrated, irritated, and life feels out of control.
This weekend, a subtle feeling of anxiety lingered over me. I felt irritated with things not going “to plan.” I hated feeling disconnected from the present moment. Through prayer and reflection, it occurred to me that the planner was part of the problem. I missed the sense of unknowingness and wonder that goes with not knowing what the day ahead holds. I have come to love spontaneity and letting my loved ones dictate what we do and enjoy the feelings that come from surprises and new experiences.
For example, with exercise, what is enjoyable, healthy, and balanced can become unenjoyable and imbalanced when I focus in a very specific plan. In looking towards running a marathon, I started planning days to run, days to swim, days for strength training. My runs were less fun and I trudged through the miles. I was running to check something off my list, not because I felt inspired and excited to get out and move. I know I’m going to work out several times a week (and actually, the long run on Saturday mornings have become a cherished habit, so that’s probably around to stay). But, overall, I’m happier when I let myself do what my mind and body feel like doing that day, rather than force myself to stick to a program. Does that mean I may not meet my marathon goal? Maybe. But, I’m okay with that. If I go out and enjoy running on a regular basis instead of diligently following a plan, I’ll be more likely to run 26.2 miles this summer. For that matter, I’ll be more likely to stick with running long term, not just meet the marathon goal and hang up my running shoes.
I’m sure many (maybe most?) people can have a daily planner and not notice these ill effects. But, I’m apparently not one of them. Remember, I once drafted an “ideal day plan” document. The logical extension of planning “a day” lead me to try to control my happiness by repeating that same day over and over again. I now cringe at the thought.
When I decided that the planner needed to go, I felt relief… peace… freedom.