I am a Planning Geek
There is an opinion that planning creates restrictions. Reduces fluidity, spontaneity. I firmly hold the opposite view. Like budgets, I find planning empowering. Planning gives you a framework, a methodology, an approach. The mistake people make, myself sometimes included, is that the plan becomes the end game. My mantra is: the plan is subject to change without notice, but you’ve got to have one.
After multiple requests, here’s the one planning tool that has literally changed my life and my relationships. With some tweaking, it can be applied to an individual just as easily as a couple or household. This is what works for us. I’d love your thoughts on what you do.
Sunday Night Family Council
My husband and I created a mission statement several years ago. Nice, right? You put down some inspiring words on a piece of paper. Maybe even frame it and put it on a wall or a drawer? And that’s that. We wanted something more dynamic and meaningful. So we started the Sunday Night Family Council.
Here’s the agenda that works for us:
1. Mission statement
3. Focus and priorities for the week
6. Date night
7. Children and extended family
8. Budgets and finance
An agenda helps me make sure we hit all the important points. It is usually a far more fluid conversation than such a list might suggest. But we have found it important to have this framework. We read our mission statement to remind ourselves of our ‘big picture’. Then we review the top two or three family goals and key personal goals. We do these two agenda items first, to make sure that before we dive into the minutia of weekly planning, we have reminded ourselves of who we are, what we are striving for and who we want to become.
Focus and priorities, calendar and entertaining are intertwined and often end up merging as one discussion. But all three elements are important for us. We include our professional and personal roles in this part of the conversation. I want to know what his big issues are for work that week, so I can be more empathic and in tune with his needs (sometimes that works). And he wants to know what I am working on as well as what my top items are for household management and of course the children so that he can support me and more easily slot into the family rhythms. My husband is extremely proactive and involved in kids and home management, which I recognize is not the case for all. The calendar is detailed for the week as well as highlights for the coming month. Actions are translated into to-do’s or calendar items and recorded on the spot.
Date night is critical. Time to smell the flowers. If you are on your own, set aside a date night with yourself each week. For rest, pampering, relaxation and dreaming. For couples or singles with children, dates take planning – the babysitter, the location, the budget. Often date night for us is dinner together at home once the children are in bed and a movie or something. But we try to make sure that one night a week we are “off” and just focused on each other. It doesn’t always happen, especially because a large portion of my work happens at night. But it would happen even less if we didn’t schedule it.
Have you ever fought over child-rearing issues? Or some conflict within your extended family? This is the place to talk about any concerns we have with our children. “I didn’t really like how you handled “x” with our daughter and this is why.” or “I’ve been trying “y” and it’s really working.” Not when you are both in front of the child and undermining each other with your issues. We have a looooong way to go in this area, but it is helping our parenting to be more aligned and less contentious. We’ve even found ourselves slipping in some praise, “You handled that tantrum with Fred beautifully.”
We remind each other whose birthdays are coming up and download information about siblings, parents, nieces and nephews to each other. It is a chance to note, “Annie needs a phone call, Auntie Mame told me she’s having a really hard time” – you get the gist. One of our goals is to be more connected to our young adult and teenage nieces and nephews and this is helping us to do that.
Finally, the financial review: I am a firm believer in the adage that if you can’t talk about money and sex with your beloved (or be honest about those things with yourself), you’re on the path to trouble. Here’s where talking about money at least, becomes routine and comfortable. You are accountable to each other. There are seasons where we’ve tracked all spending and updated each other in this meeting. Other times it’s just a general “this is where we are on the budget” kind of a conversation. We also identify big items coming up, holidays, special events, unexpected expenses and figure out together what has to be shuffled around. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia here. The details are important, but make sure you also take time to get above the subsistence of the budget and talk about goals like special trips, giving and the big dreams.
Planning Gives You the Freedom to Fly
As you approach the week, there is perspective, knowledge and empowerment. If you’re planning with your spouse, then you’ve got a powerful tool in keeping your marriage strong. Our Sunday night planning has opened the door to some incredible conversations about what is important to us. More significantly, it has helped us truly understand what is important to each other. When I’ve enacted variations of this process on my own at different seasons in my life, it’s helped me stay focused and behave more authentically (at least more than I would have without it).
I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, consultant, adviser, coach, teacher and sometimes even my very best super-self. Evaluating the priorities and planning helps me make sure all of those elements are being touched on – different roles get the focus at varying times. But none of my roles are completely forgotten. This framework helps me cast aside the guilt and know that at least one thing is being done in each of the most important areas.
Work. Life. Balance. It’s a conscious choice. And a never ending work in progress.
These are the things that are important to me and my family. What’s your secret? What works in your household? What are your priorities? I am hungry to learn from you.
Photo “Planner” – iStockphoto.com, “Dandelion Toes – Chrysula Winegar”