How I adapted a whole week’s planning in a flash

Who says that planning is rigid and inflexible? I recently proved this whole assumption false.

This is a question I often address at my workshops. At the end of a workshop on organization and productivity I give, I like to leave plenty of time for questions. One of the questions that almost inevitably comes up is, “How can you respond to sudden demands if you’ve already planned everything?”

While I understand the sentiment, I believe that having already planned things puts me in a good position to respond to unexpected demands.

The reason for this is that the act of planning things in itself means prioritizing. In order to decide what to put on your calendar, you first need to think about what’s important. You need to think about what work project is most important or urgent now and dedicate time to that during your work day. Or you need to decide that moving your body is more important than doing something else, so you schedule time to exercise.

And then when something unexpected comes up, you can compare its importance or urgency to the rest of the things you have planned and decide how to proceed.

How I applied this recently

The previous week was my last week at work; my maternity leave started this past Monday. Yay! Chill time at home doing baby things? Well, not exactly.

I had planned a relaxing last working week for myself. I wanted to do some final work on my new project in order to leave it in such a way that I could easily pick it up when I get back from leave. I also had quite a few admin things to take care of before leaving, which is easy to do.

And then right before my last week started, I got reviews on my paper. (In the field of cognitive neuroscience, when you’d like to publish a paper, you send it to a journal, they send it to reviewers who read it and give you feedback, and then you need to make edits that address the comments.)

In one way, this was great news because I got the reviews before my baby was born, so I could work on them before I get sleep deprived and overwhelmed with baby stuff. In another way, I felt pressure because I knew I should make edits as quickly as possible in order to make progress before the baby comes.

I thought about it and quickly decided to allocate all my working time to making edits that address the comments. All the tasks I had planned for that week had to take a backseat for a bit because the paper was more important and more urgent than the rest of the stuff. It was an easy choice.

Was it pleasant? Yes and no. On the one hand, my relaxed last week became more intense. It wouldn’t usually be a problem, but since I’m nearing the end of my pregnancy, I get tired easily now.

On the other hand, it was very motivating to be working on the edits for my paper. The comments were constructive, so I felt like I was truly improving my work. I was excited to get up each day and work hard on my paper. I was very happy with the progress I made and felt accomplished at the end of the day.

How did planning help me when I had to change my plans?

You may be wondering how planning helped at all in this situation. It seems as though I just did what I had to do and that was it. But that’s far from the whole story.

First of all, I have a very good system of keeping track of what I need to do. Especially in a process like making changes to a paper, there are many small tasks that need to be done, so I often felt like I was trying not to forget stuff. Thus, I wrote things down and then grouped the tasks in order to do them in the most efficient way possible. I also planned which types of tasks I’d do when depending on the task’s difficulty and whether I needed help from someone else.

I find it extremely helpful to come in to work, open my list of tasks, and know exactly what I need to work on. I waste no time wondering, “Oh, what was I doing here? What was I supposed to do with this?” It takes seconds to read through my notes for a particular task and start working on it. Then, when it’s done, I move on to the next task with the same ease and efficiency.

The other really helpful aspect of planning came from managing my time and energy. Especially the first two days, I was so motivated that I felt like I could keep working until late at night. However, I know that that doesn’t work for me in the long term, so I made myself stop at the end of the workday. There were also several things to arrange for the baby that week, so I made sure to make time for those as well and not just drop the ball on that.

Finally, having my planning set up well allowed me to take frequent breaks. This is something I really don’t like to do when I’m immersed in work, but it helps me to maintain my energy throughout the day. Especially with being pregnant and getting tired easily, I couldn’t afford to get too exhausted because then I wouldn’t be able to work as well the next day. So I got up from my chair every hour and walked down the hallway, went for 1-2 brief walks a day, exercised a couple of times a week, and slept enough (somewhat) during the night. I also made sure to do something fun each evening such as watch The Big Bang Theory.

In the end, I can say that this last-minute adaptation of my planning worked rather well. I was able to do my work efficiently and well and felt good about what I got done. It worked so well that I took Friday off to rest and get ready for a weekend of baby stuff. And then the following Monday, even though it was officially the first day of my leave, I went to work to finalize some administrative stuff. I didn’t even mind because I was relaxed and happy with the way my work as well as everything else was coming along.

That’s a the big win with planning! If we get our priorities straight and plan accordingly, we can make progress in multiple areas and feel like we’re accomplishing things simultaneously in different areas such as publishing a paper, taking care of our health, doing laundry, and even doing fun stuff.

Do you plan things in advance, do you prefer to fully go with the flow, or are you somewhere in the middle? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

How we handle buying groceries (does this even require a hack?!)

After the blog post about the Weekly Review, I was asked for more info on how we handle groceries shopping. At first, I thought our approach is so simple that it’s not particularly interesting. But then I realized that the way we buy groceries is not typical, so it may be helpful if I explained it.

Schedule groceries shopping

I hear from people who go every day after work or every other day. Alternatively, they may be in the middle of cooking when they realize they are missing some ingredient, so they or their partner need to make a quick run to the shop. Unfortunately, this wastes a lot of time, and I’d be annoyed if I had to go buy groceries in a busy supermarket so often.

For that reason, we have groceries shopping on our calendars. We’ve figured out what days and times fit with our schedules, and we mostly keep to those. We go twice a week; we don’t need to go more often, but if we go less often, some of our produce goes bad in the meantime (we tried going once a week at one point, but it didn’t work for us). We buy lots of vegetables, and it’s a waste if some of them go bad before we use them.

Jacob goes shopping on Wednesday or Thursday, and I go on Saturday or Sunday. This works well since we can get all the ingredients before our bigger cook-ups, which are Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Always make a list

One of the most important tips about groceries shopping is to make a list. It makes you more efficient when you’re choosing what groceries to buy, and it also saves you money because it means you’ll be fewer extra items that you don’t in fact need.

Now, it could work to bring a list on paper, but there are better ways to be efficient given that you probably buy similar ingredients every week. I recommend using an app for lists on your phone (there are plenty such apps) where you can set due dates and reminders for each item, can make certain items recurring, and can make multiple lists.

We use an app called Wunderlist, and an extremely helpful feature is that we can share the shopping lists with each other. Each person can put items on the list, they will be synced, and the other person will see them. No need for endless texting: “Hey, can please get lemons and olive oil? Oh, and please also get dishwasher tablets.”

We have one shopping list for each shopping trip, thus, one for Wednesday/Thursday and one for Saturday/Sunday. We also have separate shopping lists per store in case we need to buy something from a specific shop. For instance, we get avocados from Albert Heijn, so I put that item there.

This is a part of our shopping list for this Saturday. All items are recurring and due today because today is Saturday.

We also make our regular purchases into recurring tasks. In other words, I buy carrots every Sunday, and I don’t want to have to add them every time. Thus, I have them be due this Sunday, but once I check them off, they are due again next Sunday. This saves a lot of list-making time.

Consult the Food Planner

As I explained in the previous blog post, we make a food plan for each week. Every Saturday, I check the food planner and see what we’re going to cook. Then, I check the shopping lists for the upcoming week and see if all the ingredients we need are on there. That way, I don’t forget to buy some of the ingredients I’ll need for cooking.

Before I go groceries shopping, I check the fridge and see what we have. Sometimes, for example, we haven’t eaten all our potatoes yet, so I don’t need to buy more. In that case, I just check off the recurring tasks for potatoes and know I don’t need to get them this time.

Ordering groceries online

We order some ingredients online because they may be difficult to find in our nearby stores. We order local meat (grass-fed beef, free-range chicken) and fish (fresh mackerel, wild salmon), which arrive cooled or frozen. We put them in our chest freezer and have them last us a long time. This saves us a good amount of money.

We also order bones from animals such as grass-fed cows or wild deer and make bone broth or bouillon from them. The bones also stay frozen, we make bouillon in batches in the slow cooker, and then freeze that too. We defrost and warm up one jar of bouillon at a time.

In addition, we get some frozen fruit, such as berries. In the summer, we go to a blueberry farm nearby and pick blueberries. We picked around 15 kg this year and froze them all. When we want some berries, we defrost them and enjoy (they’re amazing with honey!).

Lastly, we buy nuts online. We mostly eat macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts, and when we order them in bulk online, we save money.

The approach in sum

Overall, I feel like our approach to groceries is very simple:

  • Make a list (or several) of what we need;
  • Share those lists with each other, so we can both add and check items off;
  • Make separate lists per shopping day and/or store;
  • Schedule when groceries shopping will take place and who will do it;
  • Look for better and cheaper options online for certain ingredients.

How do you handle your groceries? Do you have any comments or questions about our approach? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Matheus Cenali from Pexels

The Home Weekly Review: Why our household is functioning well

In our home, we manage to get quite a lot of stuff done without too much stress, and we also get to relax and do fun stuff together. How do we do this? The key is the Weekly Review.

There are a couple of things we need to keep track of in our household. Both Jacob and I have work obligations that we need to communicate to each other, irregular working hours, and additional projects that need extra coordination. On the home front, we do substantial meal preparation since we cook all our food (each of us eats out about once per week), and we also exercise 3-4 times per week. Not to mention that we’re getting ready for a baby, which (who knew?) means that we’ve had to do more shopping than we’ve done in years.

How we started

Soon after Jacob and I started dating, we needed to coordinate schedules. We’d usually spend the weekends together, and on Sunday evening, when he was dropping me off, we’d talk about when we’d see each other next. Needless to say, this wasn’t the best time to have that conversation because both of us were trying to remember our schedules for next week off the tops of our heads. This led to lots of back-and-forth texting in the beginning of the week and too much logistics for a fresh couple.

One Sunday afternoon, I suggested a simple idea to him:

“Hey, how about we sit down and look at our calendars now to figure out what we’re doing next week?”

It was super quick and easy. We spent maybe 15 minutes comparing our schedules and figuring out when would be a good time to meet up. We kept this up for months until we moved in together. At that point, there were many more things to discuss, so I proposed adding some structure to the Weekly Review. I adapted it from my own weekly review which I do for work, and it was surprisingly effective.

We still do the Weekly Review every Sunday. We usually do it in the afternoon (before our meal prep), and it takes 30-60 minutes depending on how many things we need to discuss. Here’s what our Weekly Review looks like.

What we include in our Weekly Review

  1. What did we do this week?
  2. What went well?
  3. What didn’t go so well?
  4. Did things fit our priorities?
  5. What will we do next week?
  6. Food plan
  7. Financial overview

We sit next to each other with our laptops, and we go over the past week according to our calendars. There are several reasons why this exercise is useful:

  • It reminds you of everything you’ve done that week;
  • You may remember that you need to follow up on something or finish something up, so you can create a reminder or task to reflect that;
  • You can assess what went well during the week, so you may choose to attend an event you liked again, hang out with people you enjoyed, or continue to apply a time management strategy you tried out;
  • You can also assess what didn’t go so well. Maybe you thought you’d be finished with a task in an hour but in fact it took three; maybe you tried to pack in too many tasks in too short a time and felt stressed or overwhelmed; maybe you didn’t spend enough time on something you find important (such as putting together baby furniture…) or you worked hard but didn’t make time to see your friends.

The past week

I assess my week in this way, and then Jacob assesses his. We try to figure out what we’re happy with from the past week and what we can improve. We can also, of course, make suggestions about the other person’s things or share if something the other person did didn’t work for us.

We also ask ourselves whether what we did in the past week fit our priorities. You can have a very productive and perfectly organized week, but if what you did didn’t make you happy or if you missed something and couldn’t fit it into your life, you need to think about making a change. It’s okay if not each week fits our priorities, but we need to watch out for many weeks in a row feeling unsatisfying or draining. This could add up and lead to burn out, unhappiness, or health problems, so it’s much better to catch it early.

The upcoming week

Then, we move on to the next week. Again, we look at our calendars and discuss what we’re going to do. We discuss any logistical issues or things we may need to coordinate (who needs the car when; when we’re going to see which friends; when we’re going to assemble some baby furniture… do you see a pattern here?).

Then, we also check our tasks and projects (Wunderlist lists and Trello boards) and think about when we may do what. This we can often do individually, but we can also ask the other person in case we need some input. Often, we catch time conflicts in this way and manage to resolve them because there’s enough time (instead of it happening the night before).

We also leave some time as ‘couple time.’ We used to make the mistake where we completely booked ourselves with stuff, up till the end of the evening. It’s easy to do when I wanted to finish a little bit of work after dinner or when Jacob was studying for an extra qualification. In the end, we chose to reserve some time for those things but also leave some time for quality time together. A little bit of time like this a couple of times a week allows us to feel connected even when we’re doing a lot and juggling many other responsibilities at the same time.

Other stuff

Then, we look at our food plan for the upcoming week. I usually make the food plan because I care about eating delicious and non-boring food which is also healthy and makes me feel good. Jacob likes his food to be healthy, but he doesn’t care much for variety; he could eat the exact same weekly menu all year round, but I can’t do that. Thus, I look up cool recipes and add them to our weekly menu to spice things up. This also gets us ready for our meal prep session which follows after the Weekly Review.

Finally, we do a financial overview. We track our spending and use You Need a Budget, an app that helps us reflect on our spending and set budgets and financial goals for ourselves. We check this as part of our Weekly Review to see how we’re doing on different budgets, where we need to stop spending, where we can spend more, or what categories we need to transfer more money to. This also makes us more aware of our spending and how we might like to change that to reflect our priorities better.

Until next week!

And that’s it for the Weekly Review! It has both purely administrative and logistical uses such as time management and planning, and it also facilitates reflecting on our priorities. We both really appreciate the Weekly Review for what it does for our household; seriously, Jacob never wants to skip it because it contributes to a much smoother work- and life-flow. And for me that’s great because what could be more fun on a Sunday afternoon that the Weekly Review?! Really, nothing!

Are you tempted to try the Weekly Review? Do you do something similar in your own way? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Janina Pieterse