Planning (and using) my time

Oh my goodness.  Where did October go?  and most of November?  The weeks have slipped past in a blur.

But now I’m back (again), and this time I hope to manage to stay on top of things a bit better.

I usually plan my time in a way that I find gives me some balance between flexibility and structure, and helps me fit a lot in while also preserving some down time.  But over the past few months I chose to give some urgent (and important) pulls on my time and energy priority.  Coupled with depleted energy levels resulting from continuing insomnia, this has resulted in a backlog of other things I had to put to one side.  This was entirely my choice, and I don’t regret a second of it.

So, here I am again, with a post I began writing back in September, around Jewish New Year.  I’ve missed this space, and I’ve missed you!

Yes, the irony of writing a post about planning my time following on immediately from a time when I’ve not been able to achieve that is not lost on me.  But past failure is no reason for present and future failure.  We start from where we are, always.

One thing I love about a new year is reflecting on what I want to do differently with it (and what the same).  I’ve always found the lure of the perfectly organised (and equipped) pencil case hard to resist, and even more so the beautiful notebook or diary or planner.  And that hasn’t diminished since I’ve retired: I’ve maintained some of the habits that stood me in good stead when I was juggling work with many other things that I had or wanted to do.

Back last September (2016) when we were in New York I treated myself to such a diary/planner, and I haven’t regretted it.  This one lasts a full 18 months, so I was able to start using it straight away, and it’s still going strong.  It’s just a simple double-page-to-a-week diary with a front cover that caught my eye, which I’ve adapted to suit my needs.  It takes the place of all sorts of ad hoc lists, diaries and reminders.

Way, way cheaper than some of those (eye-wateringly expensive!) planning journals I’ve seen blogged about and thought sounded great, and this does just the same job.

There’s plenty of spare space in each double spread for notes of things that aren’t necessarily related to a particular day but I want to do some time that week.

As a reminder to myself, I’ve added a slot inside the front cover to hold three postcards – each a memory-jog for things to fit in each month, each week, and each day.  Because even though I’m no longer doing paid work, I still have commitments to others, things I really want to do, and things I really ought to do.

I never wanted to find myself wondering what I could do to fill the time, and I certainly never have yet: there are any number of things I want to do, places I want to go, people I want to spend time with.  Only now, at this time in my life, and who knows for how long or short a time, I have the luxury of choice.  My time is my own, and the only person to whom I’m accountable for how I spend it is myself.

I’ve been fortunate in that for almost all of my working life I’ve had control (mostly) of what I did, when I did it, and how I did it.  Of course I had to report and explain myself to managers or to clients, but it was me who agreed what to put in the diary when.  It was me who decided how to carry out a project, and when to slot things in.

To help me to do that in a controlled (ie not chaotic) way, I developed the habit of having a monthly planning meeting with myself towards the end of the month, to plan the following month, over a nice cup of coffee (preferably somewhere agreeable).  Not for nothing am I known for having a fund of nice cafes all over Wiltshire and Bath.  And I still have that monthly planning meeting.  With myself.

With a month-at-a-view A4 sheet in front of me, I could see what appointments and meetings were coming up.  I had a list of tasks I needed to do, and spent some time figuring out when would be the best time to slot them in to ensure that I completed them in good time before deadlines.  It meant I could, barring unexpected emergencies, avoid the stress of tight deadlines.  It also meant that, most months, if an unexpected emergency arose (as they frequently did in those last few years when we were helping care for two very dependent relatives), I had already made a good start on the urgent stuff.

Which is not to say that I didn’t struggle with the stresses and strains of combining a demanding job with caring responsibilities and normal life – I most certainly did (and I worked part time, not full time).

I struggled to the point that I had twice to take time off sick as a result of being burnt out by stress.  But those experiences were partly what taught me the usefulness of forward planning; of doing things in a timely way, not a rush (where possible).  And once I got into a rhythm of doing the things that helped me, well, it did help ease some very hard situations.

And now I have the luxury of freedom to choose, and the habit of planning ahead.  And I am still finding it helps me fit in most (but never all) of the things I really want to be spending my time on.  And reminding me that we always have to make choices about what we do and what we leave undone, and that life is never, ever predictable.

About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
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6 Responses to Planning (and using) my time

  1. Marian says:

    I’m sorry to hear you’re still having trouble with insomnia, Deborah. I went through a very rough patch of that this summer, and it’s so hard to cope with…

    I love the idea of a monthly planning meeting, with oneself! I have to say there’s something very affirming in hearing you say you’re able to fit in most of the things you want to do, but despite retirement from paid work, you’re still not able to fit in ALL the things you want to do. As a “non-working” mum, I think quite a lot about time (how best to spend it) and work (what constitutes “work”). There are so many things I DO accomplish, and I’m quite efficient, but I still never seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s nice to hear I’m not alone in this.

    (The cover of your planning journal is quite similar to mine, although mine is just a ruled notebook; I haven’t gone for any of the expensive planning systems either 🙂 .)


    • Oh you’re definitely not alone in this Marian! I’ve only relatively recently acknowledged the fact that I always (always!) overestimate what I can achieve in a given amount of time, so that I’m often disappointed that I’ve not achieved more instead of congratulating myself for what I have managed to do. A lifelong habit that’s hard to break, but I’m working on it. I just wish I’d realised that about myself sooner.
      As for the insomnia, it sounds so trivial but it really has been a massive energy drain, and has gone on for most of 17 years or so now, with occasional temporary (but much enjoyed) respite. Which you well know from your own experience.


  2. Sharon says:

    Hello again. I like your approach to forward planning. Up til now, I’ve been able to keep the plan in my head and manage everything in a fairly ordered way but recently it’s feels like much harder work to keep all the plates spinning. I always know it’s going tough when I write a to-do list and tick off the completed actions!


    • Yes I know just what you mean about spinning those plates! And I certainly sometimes make sure that there’s something on the to-do list that I’ve finished or nearly finished, so as to get the morale boost of ticking it off.
      For me, getting things started before they become urgent is the key to it all. Good luck with keeping all your plates spinning!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Deborah,

    Thanks for the inspiration! I love the idea of the 3 postcards, and the meeting with yourself. Such a great article. It’s always so helpful to see how others make the most of the precious time we have.

    Hope you’re well. Thanks so much for the reports for last night – just super. Phil and Jaydean enjoyed it too which is promising.

    See you soon! Arabella


    • Thanks for this Arabella. One of the best things about blogging is that its lovely to get feedback!
      The thing about the ‘meeting with myself’ is to give it the same priority it would have as if it was a meeting with someone else. Time is precious and limited, so all the more reason to try to use it well.


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