HOW I Plan Ahead

posted by Andrea | 02/11/2015

how I plan ahead

I’ve written lots and LOTS of post about planning ahead, making a schedule, why I plan ahead, the benefits of planning ahead, why you should plan ahead, etc. etc. etc.

However, I’m guessing that even if you are the least planned, most go-with-the-flow person on the face of this earth, you are still smart enough to realize WHY so many people (myself included) plan ahead and make schedules.

If you ask me, the “why” is pretty obvious.

Planning ahead saves time, energy, stress, etc.

Planning ahead reduces the likelihood that you are late, that you forget something, that you are unprepared.

Planning ahead helps life run smoother with less ‘hiccups’ and ‘bumps in the road’

I realize that planning ahead can’t completely eliminate the possibility of error or a problem or a bad day, but in my experience, planning ahead can certainly reduce the number of errors, problems, and bad days.

So like I said before… the “WHY” of planning ahead is relatively obvious. It’s the “HOW” of planning ahead that is the road-block for so many people.

Am I right?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a little manual that told us all exactly HOW to plan ahead in every area of our lives?

While I know my methods won’t work for everyone, I thought it might be kind of fun — maybe eye-opening — for some of you to learn HOW I plan ahead in different areas of my life.

Of course, my methods and systems and schedules are constantly changing and evolving to fit my needs and the needs of my family and business. However, I’m a lifelong planner (literally, you should hear stories from my parents) and many of the tips and methods I’ve shared below have been in my “tool box” for years and years… so I know they work!

And even if they don’t work perfectly for you or don’t apply exactly to your season of life, I’m hoping they might spark some ideas or new methods of planning ahead in your own life… because I am almost willing to guarantee that once you start planning ahead, you’ll wonder why on earth you waited so long to start!

how I plan ahead

HOW I Plan Ahead in My Blog and Business:

I’m starting with the easiest category for me — because my blog and business life is most definitely the most structured and “regular” part of my life.

Since I’m essentially my own boss, I rely heavily on setting LOTS of self-imposed deadlines — on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

I have one day a month when I buckle down and do all my invoices and record all my income and expenses using Godaddy Bookkeeping. I don’t particularly love doing this, but it must be done… so I have the set date to do it every month.

I also have 2 days a month when I do a bunch of extra projects for 2 of my VA clients. It usually only takes 3-4 hours of my time — but I’ve found that if I can do it all in one sitting on one day, I’m MUCH more efficient than if I spread it out a little each week. So not only do I save myself a bunch of time, I also save my clients money since they pay me by the hour.

I usually schedule most of my social media posts the night before or the morning of — leaving space for a few spontaneous posts throughout the day.

I draft out a full weeks worth of blog posts on Saturday (for 2 weeks later)… and I write ALLLLLLL my blog posts at least a full week in advance! (this blog post was actually written on February 3). Sometimes I’ll write rough drafts of 3 or 4 posts all in one night, and then for the next few nights, I’ll fine-tune one post per night, include the images, and add all the “finishing touches”. Other times, I’ll simply write one complete post from start to finish each night for several nights. Just as long as all my posts for the following week are completely finished by the previous Friday night.

I realize the fact that I’m writing my posts ahead of time might be shocking to some of you — and maybe you think I’m not being as authentic as I could be. But there is just no way I could legitimately write quality blog posts if I was writing them all the night before I published them. I would feel rushed, stressed out, I wouldn’t have a chance for Dave to proof read them, I wouldn’t have good images, and I honestly know my blog wouldn’t be as clean and organized as it is now.

I spend several hours drafting, writing, editing, adding photos, tagging, categorizing, etc. every single post — and there are many nights I don’t have several hours of brain power left after the kids go to bed, so the fact that I always have at least 5-6 completely finished posts ready to go has been life-saving for me and is one of the most important ways I plan ahead in my blogging life.

And for the record, I DO re-read every post the night before it’s scheduled to go live and I’ll tweak or change any small details to make it as relevant as possible 🙂


HOW I Plan Ahead in the Kitchen:

Planning ahead in the kitchen is probably one of my favorite places to plan ahead — probably because it’s the most rewarding and the most time-saving (not to mention the amount of money I save as well).

Every Sunday afternoon, I plan out our meals for the next week (just dinner, nothing else) and any baked goods I’d like to make. Then I scan our freezer and pantry to see what ingredients are on hand. After that, I make out my grocery list with the attempts of including everything I need for the entire week so I don’t need to go back to the store!

Every night, I quickly glance at my meal plan, pull anything out of the freezer that needs to be defrosted, and mentally take note of how early I’ll need to start making dinner. For example, if I’m making a casserole, I know I can get everything ready in the morning and just pop it in the oven 40 minutes before we’re ready to eat. If I’m making a more time-consuming roast, I’ll need to remember to get that in the oven by 2:00 or 3:00. If I’m making breakfast, I know I don’t even need to start thinking about dinner until after Dave is home.

By simply glancing at the meal the night before and taking 30 seconds to think it through, I rarely ever “forget” the following day — which means we can always eat right on time.

Planning ahead also makes it much easier for me to make double or triple batches of specific recipes and freeze the extras — because I knew to buy extra ingredients at the store and then allot a little extra time to make the extra food.


HOW Dave and I Plan Ahead in Life:

Dave and I usually have some type of regular conversation to go over each other’s schedules for the following week and note any special events, nights when Dave needs to stay late at school, family activities, meetings, church events, etc.

We figure out if we’ll need help watching the kids and usually recruit grandparents for the job (if necessary).

We will also do a quick “debrief” the night before for the events of the following day — just to remind ourselves and each other of what’s going to be happening when. This is NOTHING formal and usually takes 3-5 minutes. Sometimes we even wait until we’re laying in bed.

Aside from this daily and weekly planning, Dave and I will regularly have casual (and sometimes serious) discussions about our finances, house projects, yard projects, ideas for my business, etc. Sometimes, these conversations are just 10 minutes to throw out ideas; other times, they are well over an hour of us hashing out details, asking questions, making plans, and coming up with potential solutions.

This combination of weekly and nightly “check-ins” along with occasional in-depth “meetings” has been working really well for us over the past several years — and is essential to managing everything we both do each day.


HOW I Plan Ahead With Kids:

I’ll be totally honest, planning ahead with 2 little kids (with very unpredictable schedules) has been the source of some MAJOR anxiety and stress the past 3 years. In a perfect world, I would plan out a full week at a time, plan appointments and meetings MONTHS in advance, and relish in the fact that I always knew what was going to happen at what time.

However, two small children have made that “perfect world” 100% unattainable for me right now. So instead of stressing myself out over the fact that I might be late or we might have to cancel, I’ve simply resorted to not planning many activities unless they are VERY casual events.

For example, aside from doctor appointments, I honestly will not sign up or agree to attend any event that has a super strict start time or is completely inflexible if I needed to cancel at the last minute.

This means I rarely do any speaking engagements anymore (someday I’ll get back to this). It means we are not involved in group classes or other events that require regular attendance or commitments. It means we don’t participate in paid activities because I get annoyed if we can’t make it but I’ve already paid.

I realize this might sound super boring, but it’s what I need to do to keep my sanity (and I’m not just being silly). I honestly feel panicked and really uptight if we are going to be late for something that I KNOW we should not be late for, or if we have to cancel something that I KNOW will cause issues.

So while I still make my daily to-do lists every night before I go to bed (and yes, I mean EVERY night), those daily to-do lists are often filled with a couple “optional” events or “if time” items that we can choose to do or not to do at the very last minute based on how the day is going, when Simon took his naps, how pleasant my children are, etc.

I realize this will need to change once Nora starts  school — but we still have a while before that happens!

A few ways I do try to plan ahead are:

  • Always making sure the diaper bag is stocked and ready to go (this means re-stocking it whenever we get home)
  • Always bringing snacks and drinks with me whenever we do go out
  • Keeping lots of extra supplies in our car “just in case”
  • Knowing when and where various local activities are in case it works in our schedule at the last minute
  • Dave and I taking turns doing fun activities with Nora while the other person stays home with Simon
  • Trying to keep some sort of a basic schedule each day so my kids know what to expect (you can read more about that here)


HOW I Plan Ahead for Upcoming Events:

As you’ve probably gathered by now… I really love planning ahead! So when there are special events — holidays, a vacation, birthday parties, baby showers, out of town guest staying with us, etc. etc. — I kick my “planning ahead abilities” into high gear.

I’ll mentally think through all the steps and then make a list of everything I need to do, when I need to do it, how I’m planning to do it, etc.

When it comes to food, I will consciously plan my menu based on what foods can be made in advance, foods that won’t stain if they are spilled (a.k.a. white grape juice versus grape juice!) and foods that will taste good as leftovers just in case I make way too much.

When it comes to vacation plans, I WAY over-think everything (which is sometimes kind of annoying, but it’s just how I am). I make checklists of everything we’ll need and pack anything I can super far in advance. So if we’re traveling to a warm climate in the winter, I’ll pack all the summer clothes, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, etc. several weeks in advance since I know we won’t need those items in the winter. This saves the stress of last-minute packing which usually leads to forgetting something or overpacking and taking way more than you actually need.

For holiday parties and events, I try to do most of my shopping online — as far in advance as possible. I often keep a running list of gift ideas I have for people throughout the year, so when it’s time to buy a gift, I can just head to and pull an idea from my list.

I know that with special events, there are always so many last-minute details that take longer than I expect.  So getting the bulk of the preparations finished well in advance means I’m less stressed and usually end up enjoying the event, the party, and the vacation much more!


My Planning Tools:

I’m fairly “old-school” and as those of you who have been reading for a while probably know, I’m a HUGE fan of pen and paper 🙂

My current planning “tools” are quite simple:

  • Sticky Notes and small pads of paper : for my random to-do lists and grocery lists
  • Google Calendar: I honestly don’t use this much, but it’s very helpful when working as a Virtual Assistant for multiple other people and businesses. They put my tasks on a shared Google Calendar so I know when they need to be finished.
  • My Finance-Tracking Workbook: I created my very first finance-tracking workbook back in college to track my spending and allow me to plan ahead for various financial needs. 10 years later, Dave and I are still using a more detailed version of this workbook to help us plan ahead for our house projects, paying down our mortgage, etc. etc.


Obviously, this post does not cover how I plan ahead in every single area of my entire life — you’d be here reading for a long time if you wanted me to list every single thing out 🙂

I hope this post was helpful for any of you who might be wondering HOW to start planning ahead. My suggestion would be to simply pick one area of your life (business, personal, kitchen, kids, special events, etc) and take a few baby steps towards planning ahead in that area. See how it goes for a week or two and then add in a few more steps.

Pretty soon, you’ll be planning like a pro and enjoying the MEGA benefits of planning ahead.

How do YOU plan ahead?


Filed under: WorkTime Management

Leave a comment


  1. Linda


    This is the main area I struggle with. I’ve tried so many systems, but would love to know two things. Where do you write down gift ideas? How do you keep track of longer term plans and things you want to do? Where do you write them down so you don’t lose the ideas without copying things forward from week to week when you know you won’t get them done this week? I am determined to get my life organized this year!


    Andrea Reply:

    Alot of the bigger projects are just in my brain, and I write down gift ideas either in the back of my planner, or I just add the gift to my Amazon list so I can purchase it for the person later.


  2. terri


    As always, I enjoy reading your blog posts. I am currently starting to think about a planner for 2016 and wondered if you are still using the same planner that is mentioned in this post? Planning ahead is something I’ve always done (including what planner I’ll use for the next year) and it has helped me save time, money and sanity over the years! 🙂


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Terri — and yes, I’m still using that same planner!


  3. Alissa W


    This was really interesting to read. I’m definitely a planner and a list maker though my two girls have made me a bit more go with the flow.
    The biggest way I plan ahead is with my monthly tickler files. I open this up at the start of every month and can move the appropriate task to my to-do list or deal with papers that I need. I especially like having a home for items that are for events in the future or for activity ideas such as an article I read about an activity for Easter (that I read last year after Easter). I also have a perpetual birthday calendar that I keep in the folder and then I can make sure I have the appropriate cards.


    Andrea Reply:

    good for you for sending out cards for birthdays and being so prepared for holidays. I’ve never been a big card sender — so that’s actually one area I don’t plan ahead in 🙂


  4. Brooke


    I agree with not over-scheduling ourselves as well, so we don’t have a lot of classes in my house either. However, I do like to keep track of optional activities (my son’s favorite music group is giving a free concert, a festival in a neighboring town, library story time, etc) that could be fun if everyone is well and happy that day. I use Google Calendars to keep track of that. I created a calendar called “Possible Things To Do” and make appts for a the cool goings-on that we *could* attend. It shows up on my calendar in a different color (and it’s really easy to hide/unhide), and I don’t get reminders for them. That way if we need an activity, it’s really easy to find one 🙂


  5. Priyanka


    I think planning is so important, too! With a toddler if I don’t have a framework for the day we would lounge on the sofa all day long,with him watching too much TV and me, well I would just waste away my time doing mindless things. When I plan out my day, I make sure to include activities for him and things for me to do so that he is occupied most of the time. Of course it does not work everyday but I feel so much more accomplished when it does. I can get my work done while also being there for him. That partially also helps with the mommy guilt when I am getting my work done and not actively involved with him.

    I have a question for you, do you ever deal with mommy guilt and if so how do you deal with it?


    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Priyanka, thanks for the comment and your thoughts.

    As far as mommy guilt is concerned, while I’m not 100% immune to it, I will say that I don’t have it very often anymore. It was much worse when Nora was a baby and we couldn’t figure out why she was crying all the time and not sleeping; but now that I have SO much more confidence in my mothering abilities, I rarely let what other do (or don’t do) allow me to feel guilty. I will say that in general, I’ve alway been a very confident person, so that probably helps too 🙂

    I have wondered if this will change at all once my kids start school and we’re around other kids and parents all the time — only time will tell I guess 🙂


  6. susie


    One of the reasons why I check your site everyday is because you have a new post every morning- I like that every day I can read something new… good thing you plan ahead otherwise it probably wouldn’t be so predictable. Ashley Ann photography does the same thing, it’s fun to check every morning.


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Susie 🙂


  7. Rebecca@TheFamilyFinder


    I am going to use the blog planning ideas. I am having fun writing and sharing our family but don’t want it turn into something I feel like I HAVE to do. Right now I LIKE to do it. We are super planned in everything else, why wouldn’t I plan this as well. Kind of an AhHa moment!


    Andrea Reply:

    haha yes! I thinking planning for my blogging is essential to it’s growth and success. I wouldn’t even have a blog right now if I didn’t diligently plan every week!! Hope it works well for you too 🙂


  8. Liane


    One thing I have done for grocery shopping is to put the free grocery IQ app on my iPad and iPhone. It allows you to create individual favorites for each store and to customize the aisles. And you can dictate to it. It also syncs with the web app so you can do your planning on your computer. Historical I have always done my planning menus and creating grocery lists on Wednesday the day the ads come in the paper.

    Once my list is on my phone there is no way I can leave it at home or in the car. Big money saver for that reason alone. And since I can order the list by aisles and eliminate aisles we don’t use things from such as baby, tobacco, deli, party goods and laundry and cleaning my grocery list is just food. I have another store list for Target, Walmart etc for household supplies and I get those monthly. The app lets you enter prices also. Good for comparison shopping.

    Recurring apps are on my iCal. I toss appt cards immediately after entering them and I keep track of grandchildren’s school schedules on my phone calendar which syncs with all my other devices as well.

    When I worked full time I had from the time I took my daughter to school until I had to leave for work at 2. So I created a morning schedule and allocated one morning for a group of tasks. It’s never made sense to stop doing it that way so I haven’t. I got home from work at midnight and always put a load of wash in as I made my way past the washer and dryer in the garage. That way I could dry it as soon as I was up and fold it early. Still do that.

    Since the two grocery stores I shop at are 20 miles apart I rotate weeks for them, so week one I go over the hill to Trader Joes and Pet Food Express and the other week I battle endless California freeway traffic construction to go to the cleaners and the other store I like. The last real store here closed a couple years ago and it makes for more planning as a result.

    I use mvelopes for budgeting and direct debits for all the bills that I can automatically have paid. But those that need to be done manually I use my banks online payment feature and I do that the very day the bill arrives if it is here by 2 pm which is when I do my daily bank updating. I used to do it earlier but now I do it after lunch and after walking the dog and retreiving the mail.


  9. Verity@homemakerspectrum


    This is a great post! I want to come back and refer to it because it is so full of great ideas.

    I found personally that one thing that helps with my planning is if I can leave the house, and get away to go plan. (Every couple of months my husband watches the kids and I devote a morning to a coffee shop and evaluating what is and what is not working at home.)

    If I am sitting at home and trying to plan, I feel too overwhelmed with undone business projects or House maintenance to be able to think as clearly.


    Andrea Reply:

    I know A LOT of people who need to leave the house to plan. I guess I’m just a “continual planner” so I’m always doing it in little bits and pieces throughout the day and week and it never seems necessary to leave the house. However, I have thought about using my planning as an excuse to get out and about every once in a while!! Don’t tell Dave 🙂