What are you planning for, anyway?

How your weekly spread can help you achieve your dreams

Do you ever get the feeling, as you’re filling out your to-do lists, trackers, dot-journals, and inspirational quotes for the week, that you’re really only tackling what’s directly in front of you? Do you feel that, despite meticulously planning day after day after day, your life is still kind of stuck where it was 6 months or even a year ago?

In the midst of the excitement about creating a beautiful layout we can kind of lose track of why we plan in the first place. I want to note, I’m not talking about scheduling study time so we don’t fail that test, or planning grocery shopping so we don’t eat McDonald’s for the 3rd time that week (yikes). I’m talking about the sort of planning that involves a little bit of soul searching.

Do you know what you want your life to look like 1 year, 5 years, 20 years from now? If you do, you’ll gain a lot more ground when you bring that knowledge into your planner on a weekly or even daily basis. So what does this look like?

Basically, it’s planning the extreme long-term. It’s planning not just for the next assignment or the next class – but for your dream life! And it can be a lot more abstract than planning out a studying routine for the week, although it will involve the simple skills you know and love. You will you need to know how to break down goals into the S.M.A.R.T. goal format. You’ll also need to look long and hard at your priorities in life. What do you truly value? What do you love? Who do you want to be? That’s what you’re planning for – or, at least, you should be.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. I have a pretty good idea of what I want my life to look like ten years from now. Some of my most important values include freedom, quality time with loved ones, security, and integrity and competence in my career. I want to help people, but I don’t want to be a helper who gives so much there is nothing left of me to enjoy life or my loved ones. After I graduated college and realized I couldn’t afford to go to the PhD program that accepted me (I also value being debt-free, so I worked a couple years to save up for a different grad school), I started planning an alternative route that would give me a similar life that I imagined that PhD might give me. (I eventually realized not being able to afford a PhD was a blessing in disguise, but that’s a different story.)

Anyway, I started with my knowledge of myself and of what I needed to plan for. I wanted a way to help people on my own schedule. I wanted a job that would give me the freedom to take time off work when friends were in town, or when my chronic illnesses act up – and not just when it is convenient for the higher ups. Another important aspect of my future life is that I’m able to practice without someone always standing over my shoulder, and without office politics. I love my girlfriend, and I want to live in an area where we don’t have to be afraid of holding hands in public.

Being my mother’s daughter I also find it crucial that my career makes enough money to support myself, pay my medical bills, and let me retire before I drop dead (talk about dreams, right?). Lucky for me, there’s such a thing as a Licensed Practicing Counselor – very similar to a psychologist but with less diagnosing and assessment privileges. That’s ultimately the career I chose to pursue. Now I’m almost done with the first step toward being a private practitioner in the mental health counseling field where I hope to make my own schedule and set my own rates. (P.S. – I graduate with my Master’s degree in May!!)

Once I examined my wants and needs in life it was so much easier to plan day by day because I had my priorities sorted out. Whenever I got on a fitness kick – not in itself a bad thing – I made sure it didn’t displace the things that would make my dream life possible. So, don’t plan for 3 hours at the gym this week when I know a private practitioner is doing a Q & A during my gym time. More importantly, this knowledge helped me plan my free time better because I know that a few minutes here and there can add up to a whole lot over ten years. Watch an episode of Star Trek, or read an article or two about billing practices? Go home after internship, or plan to stick around for an extra 30 min to chat with the newly licensed counselor down the hall?

Anyway, you get my point. It’s hard to plan when you don’t know what you’re planning for. It can be really easy to glide along in life, not examining what you ultimate want, value, and need. It’s amazing that planners and journals are so popular these days! Managing your time is a great way to achieve your goals faster while sparing your me talk health. Occasionally, I hope each of you is taking some time to plan not just for tomorrow, but for all the tomorrows after that.

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