Over planner or under planner
We had a big shindig for my daughter’s sixth birthday at our place on the weekend. Twenty-two kids, lots of games, lots of decorations, lots of noise. It’s fair to say that I go to a certain amount of trouble for my kids’ birthday parties, but I was quite taken aback when a fellow mum said, “I couldn’t imagine getting something like this together. I’ve got far too much going on and I’m too busy to even make a list!”
There was an implication there that she had lots of important things to do while I faffed around doing incidental things like blowing up balloons and making cupcakes. Perhaps it was the stress of party day, perhaps it was the stress of life, but I didn’t let her throwaway comment go like I ought to have. Instead, I said firmly, “I make time for the things I love doing. It’s all in the planning.”
She was not amused.
Mind you, I’ve come to the conclusion that we busy modern people are never especially amused when it comes to fitting things in. The over-planners like myself are derided for being too rigid, too set in our ways, too inflexible. The under-planners, like my friend, are scoffed at for being too lazy, too careless, too unreliable.
Is there a middle ground? Can you be the kind of careful planner who’s not really organised and routine-based? Probably not. I think there are definitely two camps and I don’t think the two camps necessarily get along as well as we’d like to think.
Two types of people bonded by a gentle truce
“My friends laugh at me a lot,” Claire admits. Claire is one of the most organised people I know. She’s a ridiculously together mum-of-three who runs the school canteen, is a leader at the local scouts, cooks fortnightly for Meals on Wheels and works four days a week as a marketing director for an insurance company. Claire is rather amazing. “It’s like that old saying: ‘Ask a busy person if you want something done’,” she says. “It’s because a busy person generally has systems in place that means they can see a job through to completion.
“The only super thing about me is that I’m super organised,” she adds. “Everyone thinks anyone who can do a few things at once is a superhero, but it just comes down to careful planning and a pretty rigid routine at home. It’s not for everyone, but it allows me to achieve every single thing I’ve ever dreamed of and I’m not tired yet.”
Impressive, yes? Not according to our mutual friend, Anna.
“I feel sorry for Claire and especially sorry for Claire’s kids,” Anna admits. “Claire knows I think this, but we’ve never fully talked about it. I just think her kids miss out because their lives are so scheduled. It’s like a military camp over there!”
“Anna only says that because she’s a bit jealous,” Claire retorts. “She has to tear her house apart most mornings looking for a school jumper. I know she wishes she could have better systems that work.”
“I treasure spontaneity, creativity and allowing my children the space to decide what they would like to do on any given day,” says Anna. “I think life is hard enough without turning my home into a factory, demanding output and constant routine. We like to relax at our place.”
Anna says this, but she is easily just as busy as Claire – she works three days a week as an office manager at a local accountants, has four children under 12, volunteers at the local swim school, does reading groups for three classes at school and has a successful side business making and selling hair clips.
You can see what we’re up against here. Do you have friends like Claire and Anna? They love each other, but they don’t especially get each other. I’m a complete fence-sitter whenever they start on the topic of organisation. Someone needs to play referee and besides, I think they both have some very valid points.
The case for over-planning
If you’re a Claire, it’s fair to say that the logistics of life run fairly smoothly. The benefits of being organised and planning ahead are many.
Greater productivity: As Claire pointed out above, the more organised a person is, the more they will probably be able to fit into their day. “Planners spend less time procrastinating, fussing over small things or worrying about the future,” she says. Claire says that people often make the mistake of “letting things go” in order to fit something else into their calendar. “That’s the worst thing you can do: it will definitely come back to bite you, hard. If you want to get to do more of the things you love, you need to set up a structure that efficiently takes care of everything else in order to free up your time.”
Time to relax: Leading a structured life means you plan time to relax. Clare sets aside time every day to do something that unwinds her and her family. “The more organised I am, the more time I find I have,” Claire confirms. “I don’t feel guilty taking time out for me because I know I’m on top of everything that needs attending to.”
Less stress: Not only is there more time for relaxing, there’s probably less day-to-day stress to deal with in general. “I don’t have many little frustrations,” says Claire. “I’m not the kind that can’t find the scissors or fusses over what to wear each day. I have a system for rotating my outfits, I have a system for keeping track of stationery – I have a system for life, really.”
Ready for anything: It’s rare for small things to upset an organised person. Claire says, “Planning allows me to build in just-in-case contingencies. For example, if I’m too sick to work or look after the children, we have a set plan for dealing with that. It’s rare for me to panic when something is amiss because I know I’ve got a back-up plan.”
Sharing the load: When you have as many systems and routines as Claire does, everyone in the family knows what’s expected of them and generally they pitch in to do their share. “As soon as the kids became old enough, I brought them into the household,” says Claire. “My kids are willing and able helpers and we all get on with helping each other out. Friends find it incredible that my six-year-old’s morning routine means he makes his bed, tidies his room and makes his own breakfast, but it’s what has always been expected so he just gets on with the job.”
Keeping on top of the small things: In a busy household, jobs stack up quickly if they’re not done routinely. Just think of the washing basket. Claire says, “Having daily chores that get done no matter what means that I never have a huge pile of things to deal with. The thing is, when you don’t have to deal too much with the small things, you can get on with achieving big things.”
Feeling in control: “It’s fair to say I feel in control of 95 percent of life,” Claire confirms. “You can’t control everything, but you can control most things. That gives me a huge feeling of peace and satisfaction that is difficult to describe to an unorganised person.”
The case for never-planning or under-planning
Accordingly to Anna, you don’t need to be a planner in order to lead a peaceful, productive life. You just need to care less about being perfect. Here are some of the benefits for under-planners:
Spontaneity: “The joy of life is in going with the flow,” says Anna. “I will gladly look at three overflowing baskets of washing on my kitchen bench for a week if it means I get to spend sunny afternoons playing with my kids.” For the under-planner, if the sun’s out, the washing is off.
More time to relax: Anna estimates that Claire spends about three hours every week just setting up her systems and she’s not far off. Claire says it takes her about two hours a week to menu plan, allocate chores, set up new systems and put everything back where it belongs each day. “I’d much rather read a good book,” says Anna.
Less worry: “I don’t think too much about the future,” Anna admits. “It’s not necessary and living day-to-day suits me and my family. If I can cope with today, I can cope with tomorrow just fine.” It’s true that concern for what’s coming up is often the motivator for planning. Fear that things might ‘get on top of you’ or could‘come undone’ are often a driver for the over-planner. Says Anna, “I’d rather figure out the here and now – what could, might or should happen next week isn’t worth the worry.”
Freedom: Anna doesn’t make a lot of plans or follow any set routine. She says, “I like my children to have the opportunity to make decisions on what they want to do depending on how they feel on any given day.” The family talks about what they want to have happen and agree together the best plan for the day. “I think it gives my children a huge sense of freedom, knowing they are not fixed to a certain routine. They are respectful of the things they need to do (like make their beds or pick up their toys) because they know they’ll be able to do pretty much what they like the rest of the time.”
Less stress: “We are not busy people,” Anna asserts. “We have space to think and breathe every day.” Most people would disagree with Anna – she sounds like a very busy person– but her point is clear: you’re only as busy as you think you are. Anna is a very Zen, laid-back lady who is happy to fit in her various jobs as they fall. “If I had a schedule, I’d have to throw it out the window by 8am every single morning. One area of my life needs attention today, but another will need me tomorrow. I go with the flow and I try not to let small things bother me.”
You won’t sweat the small stuff: A key to Anna’s relaxed approach to life is that she knows herself well and doesn’t worry too much about what other people think of her. “Claire is horrified when she comes over because the house is often a tip, but it’s clean underneath and I think it’s a waste of time trying to keep a house full of young kids neat and tidy. It would exhaust me and for what?”
Learning to let go: Anna maintains that it was having her kids that made her take her foot off the accelerator. “I stopped planning the minute I realised that babies are spontaneous, creative creatures who will sort themselves out if you let them.” Life is pretty much like that in Anna’s world. Things happen when they happen but they always happen eventually. “If things don’t get done for a day or two, it’s not the end of the world,” she maintains. “If anything, it’s generally because a whole new world is starting up in a different area of our life.”
Learning from each other
It’s fair to say that over-planners and under-planners are two very different types of people. Both Claire and Anna seem happy enough, but there are plenty of people in their shoes who are not. Over-planners spend a lot of time on the small stuff– moving things back where they came from, rigidly planning every moment of an upcoming holiday, writing list after list, etc.
Under-planners, ironically, also spend a lot of time on the small stuff– spending time searching for lost things, running forgotten lunch boxes into school, making late-night supermarket raids for milk, calling to apologise for being late, forgetting to turn up, etc.
It would appear that both camps could learn a lot from each other. Indeed, their different approaches to planning is in some ways the glue that bonds Anna and Claire’s friendship.
“I go to Anna’s when I need time out from the strain of being constantly on top of things,” Claire admits.
“Likewise, it’s Claire I turn to when I’m behind in a project and I need some help,” Anna agrees. “If we could morph ourselves into one person, we’d be perfect!”
Tips to calm down the over-planner in you
Start with a junk drawer: It’s unlikely you will ever be able to embrace chaos at home, but starting with a ‘messy drawer’ might help. This is the drawer where everything goes that you want to deal with ‘later’. Having a junk drawer stops you from spending too much time organising life’s little bits and pieces.
Take a night off: Better yet, a whole day if you can let yourself. Don’t plan the evening’s meal, don’t organise the schedule; just allow life to happen as it may. Surprise the family with a meal out on a school night. Go to the park just as the sun starts to set. Take your foot off the accelerator and enjoy the ride.
Say no for a change: Just because you can fit things in, doesn’t mean you should. Say no to the next request for help and use the time to hang out and be lazy for a while. The world will not end if you say no to canteen duty, helping out a friend, or organising the work Christmas party.
Tips to sort out the under-planner in you
Get a loose structure going: A schedule still allows you to be as spontaneous and creative as you like, just after certain other things get done. With a flexible structure, you’ll get the housework done in 15 minutes in the morning before breaking out the play dough. The kids will have a set routine before bed, but the actual bedtime might vary. Work out what you’d like more control over and set up a system that gives you just that.
Plan the important things: Planning a holiday in six months’ time will not break you. Rather, it will give you something to look forward to and talk about with the family in the lead-up. You don’t need to plan every detail of what you’ll be doing on your holiday, but gosh it’s nice to know that it’s coming up and the kids will think so, too. Other things to plan ahead for include entertainment, school events and school holidays.
Go big picture: You don’t need to overthink it, but it does help to have a few organisational systems operating at your place. You may never have a set basket for each child’s school supplies, but one basket to keep everyone’s school stuff together makes sense. You might not be the kind of mum who gets the school lunches ready the night before, but be the kind of mum who has a fair idea of what she’ll be putting into the lunch box from one day to the next. Big picture planning is easy to grasp and will hopefully give you enough structure to at least get where you need to be each day, on time and with minimal chaos.
This article was written by Maxabella for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz