The Anti-Planner

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I’ve never been one to keep a day planner. I’ve never been one to schedule out my life hour by hour. I rarely even make to-do lists. I’ve always wanted to be that person, though. Those people always seem highly organized, motivated and successful and who doesn’t want to be highly organized, motivated and successful?

Even as a kid I used to buy a planner every year before school started with the intention of actually using it. I would say to myself, “This will be my year. I am going to write down all of my homework assignments and their due dates. I’m going to keep track of all of my extracurricular activities. And, all of this is going to make me awesome at life!” Then school would start. I would do a pretty good job of writing everything down the first week of school, then a mediocre job the second week, and by the third week my planner was lost in the depths of my backpack never to be used again.

This pattern continued into my adult life. I would buy day planners and desk calendars which, after a few weeks or sometimes only a few days, would magically morph into space taker uppers and dust collectors. I would try to use the calendar on my smartphone and download apps that promised to help me get my life together. All the while I would think to myself, just like when I was a kid, if I could only be a planner-person then maybe I would be highly organized, motivated, and successful. Maybe I would be awesome at life.

What I didn’t really take into account (which could have saved me a lot of money on planners!) is that I was still pretty good at life even without a planner. When I was a kid I always made good grades. If I didn’t do my homework it was not because I didn’t write it down and, therefore, failed to remember I had an assignment at all. It was because I was a kid who sometimes neglected to do their assignments because TV or playing seemed more important. As an adult, I’ve never been fired for not being organized or failing to complete a project because I always do good work. And, if I am running late it’s not because I didn’t put it on my calendar and forgot I had somewhere to be. It’s because I take really long showers!

Life is tough and it is chaotic and sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we are doing. We hold ourselves up to a standard that is really no standard at all. For some of us, just getting out of bed in the morning means we are awesome at life because sometimes pulling back the covers and putting your feet on the floor takes all of the courage in the world.

I used to think that I wanted to be the day planner person or the iCal person because I thought it meant I was a better person. I thought all of the best people use planners and if I wanted to be the best I needed to write everything down.

The reality is I am not a planner-person and I’m never going to be a planner-person. The reality is I’m trying to be someone I’m not and that is not beneficial to me or anyone else. The world needs me to be the best me I can be and it could care less if I use a planner to get there.

What if all of the time, money and mental energy I’ve spent on trying to be a planner-person had been spent on doing what works for me?

Planners work for some people and they don’t work for others. If it works for you, don’t stop! But, some of the most successful people in the world do not use planners or they use them loosely.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, is considered by many to be a very successful person. When asked about his average day he said this:

“My days almost never look the same…I put very few things in my calendar, as I do not believe most people can do more than four hours of productive work per day at maximum, and I loathe multi-tasking.”

He then proceeded to list out activities he might do over the course of 24 hours, things like eating breakfast, idea generating, jiu-jitsu training, and taking an ice bath. The interesting thing, other than some of the activities themselves, is only three of the activities listed were actually on his calendar. The ones on his calendar primarily dealt with work and the ones not on his calendar were optional:

“I don’t have to do anything in this schedule. I choose to do them because I like them. None of them are financially-driven or unpleasant obligations. If the chance to do something more fun comes up last-minute, I can cancel all of them.”

Lately, I’ve been taking a similar approach. I’m on a quest to get to know myself and become the best possible version of me I can be, so I’ve started what I affectionately call “Anti-Planning.” I do write things down, but in a whole new way that actually works for me.

Every night, right before I go to bed, I pull out my journal and I write “How do I want to spend my Monday (or Tuesday, etc.)?” I write this sentence because it is important for me to connect my activities with my desires. It is a step I take to break myself from my unhealthy people-pleasing habits. This is not about how my boss, significant other, mother, sister, or friend want me to spend my day. It is about how I want to spend my day.

Once I’ve asked myself this question, I make a short list of activities to do the following day, usually five to seven. These activities are truly optional. I don’t list work engagements or essentials like eating. I occasionally list “to-do’s,” but these are still optional and usually motivational (e.g. clean out closet and take clothes to Goodwill). I also do not do these activities in any particular order. I do them when and however they fit in my day. And, most importantly, I don’t beat myself up if I don’t do all of the things on my list because, again, they are optional.

So what is the point of the list, anyway, if everything is optional? Why start an Anti-Planner? It is a guidepost for my day. It keeps me grounded in activities that bring me joy and that move me closer to the person I want to be. It keeps me from mindlessly watching TV or endlessly scrolling through Facebook. It keeps me from the grips of depression and anxiety and allows me to practice grace towards myself. It reminds me I am human and I cannot accomplish everything all of the time.

This was one of my recent Anti-Planners:

How do I want to spend my Friday?

-Practice positive self-affirmations

-Go for a run

Create positive thoughts for 30 minutes

-Write down three things for which you are grateful

-Read a chapter from Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Write a new blog post

On that particular Friday, I only did five of the seven activities on the list and that was great! That was five more character-building activities than I otherwise would have done.

Do I use a calendar at all? Occasionally. When it comes to my calendar, I only put things like friend’s birthdays or dentist appointments. I set calendar alerts on my phone for future engagements that I might actually forget due to the length of time between making the appointment and attending the appointment. That is all.

I’ve been Anti-Planning for three weeks now and have managed to stick with it with relative ease. I’m quite content making my optional lists, and dare I say, more awesome at life!

I’m no longer concerned about being a planner-person. I don’t even want to try anymore. I no longer believe scheduling out my days and weeks has anything to do with my personal success. Anti-planning allows me to invest my time into activities that matter most to me and will improve my overall outlook on life. And that is worth doing over and over again!

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