If you can’t work, plan

We’ve all been there — low energy times when you’re having trouble making progress on anything. Maybe it’s the mid-afternoon slump. Maybe it’s a few days of feeling blah after an intense time at work or home.

If you can just take the time off and be gentle to yourself, great. But if that’s not going to happen, here’s another idea. If you can’t work, plan. Using low-energy time to think about what Future You could do can turn what might feel like wasted time into something more fruitful.

This realization is how Friday became my weekly planning day (see Tranquility by Tuesday Rule #2: Plan on Fridays). Many of us who work a Monday to Friday week are pretty much sliding into the weekend by Friday. It can be hard to start anything new, particularly after lunch. But I realized that I might be willing to think about what Future Me should be doing. It takes less effort to write “revise book proposal” on a planner page than it does to actually, you know, revise that book proposal. So I began creating the next week’s plans on Friday, trusting that Monday Morning Me would have more vim and vigor for these things than whatever I’d morphed into by Friday afternoon.

This insight can work for all kinds of planning. If you’re spinning your wheels on Thursday afternoon you could take a stab at a weekend plan. If you’re feeling like you’re banging your head against the wall you could regroup and write a Summer Fun List, or a List of 100 Dreams, or do something random like plan next year’s holiday vacation. Or plan something completely unrelated to your current slump… like next November’s podcast episode topics?

Perhaps the sense of devising a plan will feel energizing. That energy might help you get going on something else. But even if not, now you’ve got a plan for next weekend. Or a Summer Fun List. Or next November’s podcast line-up. Those are things that didn’t exist before, and probably should happen at some point. Productivity is all mental anyway. If you feel like you should be getting something done, and then you do get something done, whatever that something happens to be, that tends to register as a win.

8 thoughts on “If you can’t work, plan

  1. Very interesting! I actually find some types of planning to be higher level thinking than many people think it ‘should be’ and perhaps even harder than completing certain tasks. Though it is definitely true that all planning is not created equal. For me, meal planning for example doesn’t take much brainpower and might be a great downtime activity. But the actual thinking like WHAT should I focus on next week/month/etc actually does take a decent chunk mental energy for me and feels worth doing when I’m on the fresher side!

    (Sorting/organizing is also lower energy work- for me 🙂 So down time might be best used to triage email or go through the physical inboxes on my desk!)

    1. Oh wow – such an ‘ah ha!’ moment from this comment (and others below) – I love Laura’s tips and TBT but I have been really struggling to find a planning timeslot that works for me. I’ve just realised that for me, planning is an activity that takes a lot of energy – managing my emotions in the face of overwhelm, trying to make the pieces fit together, thinking strategically… so perhaps a morning slot instead of afternoon will be better.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! This reframing of time is so helpful for me. A friend told me earlier this year that she tells herself to “Start with the easy stuff”, and it has become a new motto for me when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired or tired. Almost always, I get back to my highish-level of functioning quickly enough that nothing falls through the cracks and I get there faster if I’m gentle to myself. But being gentle doesn’t mean I can’t be productive. Maybe I can’t put together that tricky grant application, but I can set up meeting invites for the week or do a load of laundry.

  3. I love this! During the teaching term, prepping lectures is my default low energy activity, to the point that I won’t let myself write lectures the first half of the week when I tend to be peppier, etc.

    Using Friday PM to plan, clear the decks, tidy up a space, can really help.

    However, I’m currently mentally and physically exhausted and yesterday afternoon, I finished the webinar I was on, got my book, tea, and some chocolate, and went and read in the garden for the rest of the afternoon. And I felt loads better than if I had tried to power through. It was better to read a good book than half heartedly poke through email.

  4. I have fully embraced this TBT tip and often spend time Fridays planning meals, groceries, weekend fun, the next week etc!

  5. I had to return the library copy of your book before I got to the why of planning on Friday. I did read that it could be any day, but I’m glad to know your reasoning. It confirms for me than Sunday afternoon is still my best planning time.

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