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Productivity, Frugal Girl Style | Plan Ahead

How To Be Productive | Plan Ahead

You knew this one was coming, didn’t you?

Before you schedule/plan haters tune me out entirely, let me promise that I am not going to trot out a bunch of fancy worksheets for you or make you fill out a detailed schedule.

Complicated planning is, well, too complicated for me, so I keep my planning fairly simple (and frugal, of course!).

Before we talk about that, I suppose I should talk about why I think planning is important.

I know there are people out there who seem to manage their lives in a delightful fashion with no planning at all (if you’re one of those, you won’t find this post to be even faintly helpful!), but I am not one of those people. If I don’t plan my life, I usually feel overwhelmed, disorganized and stressed, and I am not nearly as productive.

Planning helps me to

  • manage my life more efficiently
  • have a more cheerful attitude (being less stressed makes me much more happy!)
  • live my life in a way that reflects my priorities (when I fly by the seat of my pants, the tyranny of the urgent takes over, and my theoretical priorities sometimes fall to the wayside).

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, disorganized, stressed, and behind, I highly recommend investing some time in planning.

And it is an investment. A while back, I read about the 15:4 rule from the business world, which is the idea that 15 minutes of planning can save you 4 hours over the course of a day. If that’s true, then planning is an awfully fabulous investment. Where else can you get a rate of return like that??

So, make some time to plan! I think you’ll be glad you did.

To show you how this works in my life, I’ll share a few ways that I invest time into planning.

Menu Planning

I’ve talked about this at length before (there’s a whole category for posts about menu planning!), but I really cannot say it enough: Menu planning is one of the most important and helpful types of planning I do.

When I don’t plan a menu, I waste way, way, way too much time trying figure out what to have for dinner (time thinking of a meal, time searching through the pantry trying to find something to make, time making a run to the grocery store to get ingredients, and so on).

I feel stressed out (needing to decide what to eat for dinner is like a black cloud hanging over me all day!), and I am much, much more prone to giving in to takeout temptation. I’m also much more likely to overspend at the grocery store because I overestimate what we need. Of course, this leads to food waste, which is money waste.

This is a topic that’s too long for this post, so I’ll just point to you my posts about why I plan my menu and how I plan my menu. I post my menu plans each Saturday, and there are weeks and weeks of archived menu plan posts you can browse if you like.

Even if you do no other kind of planning, do give meal planning a try! You can always stop if you find that it doesn’t work for you, but odds are good that you’ll be hooked once you try it.

To-Do Lists

My day-to-day planning method is very, very simple and very, very free.

I just find a piece of scratch paper (the back of junk mail letters, a paper my kids cut up, the back of a drawing my kids don’t want, etc) and list the things I need to do that day.

I usually start by listing the high-priority things (school with the kids, making dinner, supervising piano practice, daily blogging work, supervising my kids’ room cleaning), then the medium-priority things (edit photos, clean out email inbox, make a phone call) and then round the list out with other things I’d like to get done (write an extra blog post, do a sewing project, organize a closet).

Having a list each day helps me not to forget things, but it also helps me to use my time more efficiently. When I finish a task, I don’t have to waste time wondering what I should do next…I can just consult my list.

And you should never underestimate the mental health benefits of being able to cross things off of your list. I find that to be quite euphoric, myself…a list with crossed-off things helps me to see that I really did get something done!

Longer Term Planning

Day-to-day to do lists are great, but I also feel like I need more of an overview type of planning (the credit for this idea goes to the Mahaneys, from Sovereign Grace Ministries).

For that type of need, I leave the kids and Mr. FG at home and head to my local Atlanta Bread Company. I bring a notebook (the paper kind!) or the laptop and I plot out a plan to help me fulfill my various roles. I think about how I can better bless my husband, how I can serve and train my kids better, how I can grow in my walk with God, and so on. I write down my ideas and plans and come home refreshed, inspired, and equipped with a plan to live out my priorities.

Other Planning

I do several other types of planning as well….lately I’ve been planning my blog posts instead of blogging by the seat of my pants, and that’s been very helpful (I haven’t missed a single Wednesday Baking post since I started doing this!).

I also plan for Christmas by jotting down gift ideas in an Outlook document, and I plan our finances by putting together a monthly document for Mr. FG. There are a number of other ways I plan too, but I’m sure you get the gist of this by now.

Getting Started

If you’re inspired now and want to hop on the planning wagon with me, there are two bits of advice I want to leave with you.

Worry less about the system and more about the actual planning. You don’t need special notebooks, a pile of forms, or an electronic personal planning device…you just need to think about life ahead of time. Devices won’t do the planning for you, so don’t get hung up on choosing a complicated, time-consuming method. A piece of paper and a pen will do just fine.

Start small. If you’ve never planned a thing in your life before, pick one type of planning to start with. If you try to make a menu plan, a monthly to-do list, a daily to-do list and a Christmas gift idea list all at once, you’ll be overwhelmed and will want to quit. If you take it slow and gradually incorporate more planning, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.

P.S. Please keep in mind that this post and the others in this series are about what works for me. If you have another way of managing your life, stick with it! You need to do what works for you*. I am simply sharing the things that help me to manage my life in the hope that these ideas will help someone who is struggling.

*See also: You Don’t Have to Make Yogurt

Today’s 365 post: Mother and Daughter

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Amanda G

Friday 27th of January 2012

Thanks for the great post. I'm new to your blog, so I'm reading bunches of old posts. It sounds like what you are describing is not just list making but also strategic planning. Very impressive! Companies pay big bucks for skills like yours. No wonder you are such a great wife and mom!


Friday 19th of November 2010

That is not too bad. I only wasted a piece of candy that fell down. I use post it notes to date things now and that works really well.

Maknitoba Momma

Friday 19th of November 2010

I am not a born planner or list maker. I have to fight with myself to do it and organization is not a strong suit for me. My best advice to those with the same tendencies towards disorganization is to start slowly. If you have never heard of her, Google "FlyLady". She's got a great system to help people who are prone to be scatterbrained procrastinators. I don't follow everything, but there's a lot of great advice and inspiration there. Great post!

Kristen @ JoyfullyThriving

Thursday 18th of November 2010

I, also, like crossing things off my list and seeing what I've accomplished! What a great picture for your post / series, too!


Thursday 18th of November 2010

I love the listmaking and planning; it's the actual follow through with which I have trouble!

Re. the euphoria you feel from crossing things off your list, as I recall, I read someplace that research has shown we actually do experience a shot of endorphins from doing so. Which is why if you do something that wasn't on your list you should add it so you can cross it off! Unfortunately, I don't recall where I read that so that I can give the reference.

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