It’d be a really odd notion to my younger self, particularly the wild mess of emotions I evolved into temporarily in my teens and early 20s, that I’m a planner.
But these days, I most certainly am. I’m a planner. And not always in ways that are adaptive and serve me. But sometimes illogically. Stubbornly. Oppressively.
It was something my partner Justin had to get used to when I first moved in with him. I liked to start each day with a plan. He’s good at details and planning but didn’t seem to use them much in his personal life before we started dating. When he was on his own, he was used to taking each day as it unfolded naturally. But I tended to get anxious with a situation that was too ad hoc. And he noticed this and adjusted. He learned to let me know each morning when his rough plans were. Even if the rough plan was “I have nothing planned, open to anything” it was helpful for me to have that expectation and have that expressed.
Over the years, I believe he’s rubbed off on me, too. And I do seem to be a little more tolerant of not knowing what the plan is each and every day. But I still crave routine. And I still seem to function best when I have structure — even if it’s self-imposed. And artificially enforced.
I have in normal times tended to do a lot of our meal planning. And therefore to construct grocery lists, which traditionally I stored on a cloud system and could set up on any device and pull down later using my phone while I was in the store. I also maintain a searchable collection of recipes for things we cook routinely and both like. And I have documents whose sole purpose is to answer the question, as quickly as possible, “What should I make for dinner?”
My entire life typically revolves around little to-do lists. Justin and I are diligent about putting things on our individual calendars, which we have full mutual access to at this point, but also maintain special layers for stuff that doesn’t involve each other. (For example, I have one that’s solely writing deadlines and daily word counts for books I’m writing that doesn’t pull down to his calendar.)
For a while, I had a weekly chore schedule/system (which I wrote about in this blog before in this article). I don’t adhere to that strictly anymore because I began to realize that if I linked a lot of the weekly chores to one that was external, obvious, and unavoidable that I’d do them all at once. The chore I picked was cleaning the cat box. Since I do it about once a week, and it absolutely cannot be delayed. (I have a fussy cat that will refuse to use the litter box if it gets too dirty, which causes awful consequences; therefore I always do it on time.) At the same time, I’ll typically clean the human bathrooms as well. And I’ll vacuum and mop floors in the bathroom and also all throughout the rest of my home.
Other than this, I typically do laundry and dishes as needed, which means I’m doing them pretty much continuously. Maybe not running a washing machine or dishwasher every day but checking in on the laundry and dishes and moving them to their appropriate place. And running them when enough needs to be done (or washing individual special things when they need to be washed).
Anyway, my normal week pre-pandemic revolved around doing certain things by certain times. Writing deadlines and quotas and chores basically.
And externally, I’d make plans with Justin. He’s always been good at letting me know what his plans are, whether he’s going out with me, staying home with me, working late, taking a class, or going out on a date with someone else. I’ve tried to be good the same way.
And when I make plans with other people, I mentally make allowances for them. I do know folks that are habitually late. So if I continue to make plans with them, I have to account for that. To expect that they might arrive late. Or they might arrive home much later than they told me they would. That’s always been an important part of planning for me. You can’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you respond to it. And I’ve found that simply understanding what will likely go awry in the future is helpful when planning.
Would I rather someone else be on time? Yeah. Probably.
But it’s unrealistic to expect someone to change overnight, even if they really want to. (Behavioral change takes time.) And a lot of people who are late have underlying reasons that don’t go away quite easily that they’re working around.
So my response is to usually work around them. Unless they’re rude about it and/or it causes major problems, I just plan for it once I know they’re like that. I’m less likely to worry when someone who is habitually late doesn’t check in with me when they said they would. (And especially if they have a history of being that way.)
Does this mean that I might be less likely to know that something has happened to them right away? Yeah.
But that’s the funny thing about planning. You can’t plan for everything.
Being a Planner During a Pandemic Is a Double-Edged Sword
In one sense, planning skills are excellent in a pandemic. Because you’re likely to think ahead of where you are. Anticipate possible problems that others might not yet be aware of. This allows you to make arrangements that will serve you well when everyone else who doesn’t plan very far ahead suddenly goes “holy shit” and rushes in and tries to figure things out.
Tasks like having to plan your groceries and meal plan a few weeks in advance are not that big a deal when you’ve been working ahead for years, long before there was any real practical reason to do so. The same goes for having to change your meal plan on the fly because certain items aren’t available.
Behaviors that once made you seem a little overly cautious — and perhaps obsessive or hyper-anxious — can suddenly be quite helpful.
If you have a tendency to follow trend lines beyond where they currently are and react to what the projections show, you’re likely to benefit from that in times of hardship.
In another sense, being a planner is emotionally hard in a pandemic. Because as you think through those potential challenges, you’re emotionally processing and reacting to them at the same time you’re planning and preparing logistically for them. And often you’re doing a lot of this work all alone, since most folks aren’t even really thinking that way. (And indeed might be in denial about how bad things could possibly get.)
And it doesn’t help that pandemics are riddled with uncertainty. And while plans can be helpful in times of uncertainty, they need to have creativity, patience, and flexibility accompanying them, or it won’t work out well for you.
This is true, whether it’s a small plan — or something large, like a wedding or buying a home. Seriously, this pandemic is messing with people’s lives; not just the current shelter in place but the economic depression that will follow this, regardless of what we do in response to the virus.
Sometimes people will pit it as matter of loss of human life versus damage to the economy. But this isn’t a great way of viewing it. Because this pandemic was always going to affect us badly in economic terms. Yes, shutting stuff down for a bit in order to contain the virus’s spread is horrible for the economy. But its polar alternative, not shutting anything down at all and just letting lots of people physically suffer, become permanently damaged from the disease, and/or die, also sucks economically. Massive numbers of people dying at once is really bad for the economy (for a number of reasons). This pandemic has always been a double bind, with no attractive economic option, and anyone who tells you otherwise is incorrect.
Anyway, I’ve found that it helps to not only plan but to remember that it’s likely — nigh inevitable — that I will be re-planning. And to embrace that reality rather than being upset when it happens.
I will say that my experience planning around folks who are often late has helped with this process. The stakes are much smaller in those situations — but you’re still planning in the face of uncertainty. Because let’s face it, planners always plan in the face of some degree of uncertainty — it’s just a matter of scale.