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2024 Planning

I rise to a challenge; I wilt in the face of an endless commitment.

Planner page month layout with plans sketched out for the first two weeks, illustrating the ideal month concept.

As a writer who works full time as not-a-writer, I need to be able to plan both my work and my life, and that process changes every year. This last year, I finally used a planner that really worked for me, and it was life changing. Ahead, you’ll find the tools I’ve used and plan to use, my mindset, my challenges, and what I’m trying in 2024.

Tools

My tools are simple. I don’t do well with complex systems that require a lot of setup or maintenance. On the other hand, I really enjoy being introspective, and I’m willing to put in a little extra effort at year end, so the Year Compass is a great tool for me to reflect.

Year Compass
Word tracking worksheet
Planner pages: daily pages, monthly pages, blank pages

2023 Paper Planner

2023 was the first year I used a planner consistently, and having a binder where I could add and remove and rearrange pages turned out to be the key for me. There are five million people out there talking planners, so I’ll let you look them up. I will only say: having a planner changed things, because it helped me step back and see the year holistically.

I used my planner every day for work, and filled out the month view with personal things:

  • Plans
  • Daily habits
  • What I did in the evening
  • High level accomplishments

I shredded the daily pages every few months, but the monthly views I hung on to. They helped me understand my struggles and successes. I was able to see that I accomplished more than I thought I did, but that I have a limited ability to control my energy and focus and need to account for that going forward.

Mindset: from goals to habits

My mindset last year was very much about getting specific things done. As much as possible, as efficiently as possible. I started off with a list of seven things to do in the first quarter of the year, and I got three or four of them done in that time. I forgot to set new quarterly goals, and was heartily discouraged when I found my list in the third quarter of the year, still incomplete.

In addition to just forgetting, I have an issue with understanding my own limits and how long things take, so I consistently take on more than I can do, both at work and at home. I end up frustrated and feeling like I didn’t do anything.

This year, because I have better information, and because I’m older and wiser, I can see that I’ve been trying to make myself into someone I’m not. While planning did improve some organization issues, like remembering plans and avoiding double booking, most of my lofty goals involved a level of consistency and single-minded focus that isn’t natural to me. So, this year, I’m not going to demand changes to the fundamental way I function. Instead, I’ll work on routines, habits, and short-term areas of focus that will work with the idiosyncrasies of my brain.

Limitations

I recognize that:

  • I cannot count on maintaining focus or passion for more than a few months at a time
  • I won’t do logging or tracking that takes a lot of effort
  • I won’t reliably do anything on a standard timeline (monthly reviews, etc)
  • If it doesn’t have a specific, solid deadline, I will not have urgency I need to complete it in a timely manner

Going forward

Habits that are good for my body and brain are good for every other thing. These habits are the foundation I build every other effort on.

With the limitations in mind, I’ll be doing the following:

Morning routine: my morning is set aside for my physical and mental health, and will not be used for any external agenda. Having this time defined assuages any guilt for not cleaning or writing or doing other ‘productive’ things. This time is for me. Within the definition, though, the specifics are very flexible. I know the focus of the morning routine, but I don’t have specific habits defined. They will change because that’s how I work. As long as the focus is on my health, that’s good enough. Right now, these things include: enough sleep, 16 ounces of water, walk outside as soon as I wake up, journal morning pages.

It is easy for me to gloss over things I do only for myself, that cannot be used to impress other people or gain social capital. I have to be very firm in the time I set aside for them because they’re the first thing I ignore when I get into a crunch. What I continually forget is that habits that are good for my body and brain are good for every other thing. These habits are the foundation I build every other effort on.

Evening routine: my evening will be for my monthly focus, social engagements, and recuperation. I need to be careful and flexible with this time, I cannot book something every night because there are times I just need to stare at a wall. But, generally speaking, evenings will be the time for working toward external goals. It’s also vital that I go to bed at the same time every night, to get at least 7 hours of sleep – the most important habit, upon which all else hinges.

Weekends: I always need one weekend day with no plans. No get-togethers, no must-do’s, nothing. One day of two to just recuperate, where nothing is required of me. If I have bigger plans for a weekend, I need to take a day off work to recuperate.

Ideal month: The planner page pictured at the top of the page is my ideal month layout. This is a layout at the start of my planner that has an outline of recurring events, some days blocked off for quiet times, a cadence for social meetups, etc. Every month, for example, I want to review my finances. I want to see friends at least twice, meet with my writer’s group weekly, and get together with my family once. Having this set up ahead means I have some aspirations to refer back to, but they aren’t set in stone.

Back on track plans: I have a few states of being that cause problems. Two of these are: brain fog and my house becoming a disaster. For these, and any other things that I know have a big impact on my quality of life and happen regularly, I have step-by-step plans to make progress on them. With brain fog, especially, it’s hard to know where to start when I’m in it. So, I have a plan written down, I start with step 1 and continue until I’m feeling better. It removes decision fatigue and gives me an immediate plan of attack.

Monthly challenges: This is where the goal setting comes in. There are things I want to accomplish in the next year, a lot of them are writing and editing related. Rather than setting myself a goal for consistency, I will set an overarching goal for a given month based on my energy and interests at the time. I’ve made a list of potential challenges, but they’ll be decided as I come into each month. Examples: editing, visual art, writing original fiction, home improvement, writing blog posts, decluttering, reading, hygge, reset, reading, etc. I have previously done well with monthly challenges because it’s exciting and engaging and the timeframe is short enough to feel doable. I rise to a challenge; I wilt in the face of an endless commitment.

Commitments

As previously noted, I do not enjoy or stick to commitments. This is a real detriment in some areas of my life. So, I’m easing into commitments this year, rather than slathering them on and trying to brute-force my way through them.

Tracking my writing

Writing is a passion, but it is not the passion. I don’t feel comfortable committing to a regular habit or a number of words for the year, but I am committing to tracking my words with Tris Lawrence’s word tracker google sheet (see link above), which I plan to use to see how much I write, how often. I’ve always done this by looking at how many words I publish, but that doesn’t cover all the writing I do. There’s a lot that doesn’t go into the final product, or that doesn’t ever get finished. If my planner has taught me anything, it’s that tracking is the first step to understanding and change. I don’t know how much I write, so I can’t make useful plans for writing in the future. The only goal here is to end the year knowing more. The goal is tracking, not writing, which makes it feel much more attainable.

Blogging

I am making a terrifying commitment to post a blog here once a month. This is the sort of commitment that’s gotten me into trouble in the past. A whole year of blogging. A schedule. The bane of my creative existence! But I do think consistency is something I need to work on and understand better – what are my limitations, how do I get through them, and what is a reasonable expectation for me going forward? My thought is that, if I commit a month to writing blog posts, I can have enough written ahead to be able to post even when I’m not in a blog writing season of life. This is the goal, let’s hope that I’m more successful than I have been in the past!

Here’s to 2024!

I’m excited about the new year. I always am. I love that I’m working with myself to try to do more of what excites me, in ways that excite me, rather than trying to force myself to work in a way that isn’t natural. It’s exciting to have a plan with flexibility built in, and to know that I’ll have even more information to work with next year when it comes to planning.

I hope you have a good year and a good plan, and that it involves being kind to yourself!

Happy New Year!

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