Life rarely perfectly follows a plan. But that doesn't mean that you should just give up and not make a plan. It means that you should embrace a realistic expectation of what planning can and can not do for you:
- Guarantee everything will go perfectly.
- Make all work fit within the desired estimates.
- Eliminate all unexpected obstacles.
- Give you clarity on your priorities.
- Reassure you that you're not forgetting anything.
- Allow you to get the most important things done on time.
The importance of realistic planning was re-emphasized for me in the completion of my book manuscript, which I turned in last summer. I would like to share a bit with you about this simple yet very powerful secret to dramatically reduce stress:
On Time is Late
I'm a realistic optimist in the sense that I think very positively but I plan very responsibly. A very simple, yet important principle that I've incorporated into my planning is the idea that "on time is late."
This principle resulted from the fact that I used to plan to do things "on time," yet then sometimes ended up super stressed out or slightly missing deadlines whenever something unexpected happened.
To solve that problem and reduce my anxiety, I started setting personal deadlines for myself before the actual deadlines. With short, rather predictable projects, that could look like simply making a goal to get things done the day before they're due. But with larger, more complex projects, like my book, that means pushing myself to try to get everything done far in advance of when it is due.
For instance, I finished writing my manuscript two and a half weeks before my deadline so that I would have a few weeks to go back through and do the style edits and proofreading. And I'm so glad that I did! This is my first book writing project, and I vastly underestimated how long it would take me to do all of the fine tuning and tweaks. But because I gave myself extra time and a personal deadline before my "real" one, I had the time to do what needed to be done and even to delegate some of the work.
This one mental shift in your approach to planning could dramatically decrease your stress levels.
- Prepare for meetings the day before they happen, including reviewing notes, location, and any items you need to bring.
- Before you go to the grocery store, look out over the entire week to see if there are any gatherings like a BBQ or a birthday party that require some special food purchases.
- When you have a special event that requires a gift, like a wedding, put time into your calendar to shop for the gift on the next possible free weekend or evening. You want to avoid that last-minute panic at Bed Bath & Beyond just minutes before the bride walks down the aisle.
- If you have people working for you, delegate projects to them as soon as they come into your inbox instead of waiting until it's too late to pass them off.
- Plan on finishing any large projects like presentations or creative projects at least a couple of days before they are actually due so you have a buffer and time to "sit" on them.
- If you need to leave the house at a certain time, get completely ready first and then work on optional activities.
- When you have a big trip, go through a checklist like this one at least a week before you leave.
- If it's very important you arrive somewhere on time that's very far away, try to arrive the night before. If it's very important you arrive somewhere on time that's near, give yourself at least a 30-minute buffer unless you're in a big city in which you'll want to plan even more time.
Aiming for early will play a dramatic role in helping you to achieve more success with less stress.