Don’t Let Urgent Get in the Way of Important

posted by Andrea | 05/22/2019

One thing I have stressed over and over and over again in my own life, with past clients, with my children, and here on my blog is the importance of planning ahead.

If you want your life to be simpler, less stressful, less chaotic, less hectic, less cluttered, and more enjoyable, one of the first things I suggest is to START PLANNING AHEAD!

Everything from end-of-year events and activities at school and summer vacation plans to meal planning and basic home care — it’s all simpler and more enjoyable if you take a few moments to plan in advance so you’re not rushing at the last minute, stressing about everything you “don’t have time to do”, and worrying about the things you might forget in your frenzied state.

Planning ahead might not always be convenient, it might not always be fun, and it might not always be easy; but over the course of my life, the benefits of planning ahead have far outweighed any amount of effort I put into the planning.

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I could talk about planning ahead until I’m blue in the face — but if I had to boil it all down to one single reason why planning ahead helps me to simplify, streamline, and de-stress my entire life, it would be this:

Planning ahead allows me to focus on what’s IMPORTANT to me, instead of dealing with the URGENT.

When I plan ahead, there are very few “urgent” tasks or obligations I need to frantically tend to at the last minute. Instead, I can focus my time and energy on what’s more important to me at any given time.

Example #1 = Planning Our Meals: 

If I don’t plan my meals ahead of time, dinner becomes URGENT right around 4:30pm when the kids get hungry and crabby. By this point in the day, I’m likely to feel extra-annoyed with my crabby kids because I’ve been with them ALL day long and I’m also getting hungry. Add in the fact that without a plan for dinner, I’m now trying to race around the kitchen to frantically whip something up while the kids are still whining and always seem to be right in my way.

I might just give up and ask Dave to pick up a Little Caesars pizza because I’m too tired to care… which means we’re spending extra money on no-so-great food when our refrigerator is bursting with fresh fruits and veggies I simply didn’t take the time to prepare or plan in advance. 

On the flip side, if I have a meal plan and all my ingredients ready to go, I can make dinner during nap time (or even while the kids eat breakfast or lunch), shove it in the oven when Dave gets home from school, and enjoy some IMPORTANT family time or catch up on IMPORTANT work tasks while I wait for dinner to finish cooking. We can eat on time, we eat a much more balanced meal, we avoid overly-hungry (a.k.a. crabby) children, we prevent annoyed, frantic, stressed out feelings, and we save money by eating at home.

Example #2 Planning My Blog Posts: 

If I don’t plan and write my blog posts a full week ahead of time, they become URGENT at 9:00pm the night before — when I’m tired and ready to go to bed. This means I need to stay up really late, force my writing with little time to proofread, produce sub-par content, and feel exhausted the next morning.

But thanks to the fact that I have my blog posts written a full week or more in advance, I can write whenever it’s convenient for my schedule and I can switch between multiple posts to write the content I’m most excited about at that time. It also means I have plenty of time for Dave to proofread my posts, and I don’t need to stay up late to meet a deadline. I can focus on the IMPORTANT tasks throughout the day without stressing about frantically finishing my blog post before I go to bed.

Example #3 Planning for Holidays and Special Events:

If I don’t plan ahead for birthdays, anniversaries, teacher/pastor appreciation week, or other holidays , I suddenly have an URGENT need for a particular gift the day before. I need to frantically make/bake something at the last-minute, or head out to the store to buy a gift or various ingredients to make a gift and probably pay full price and/or end up with something different than what I was looking for. I’d waste time, energy, money, and probably end up pretty grumpy and stressed out (which totally defeats the spirit of these special occasions).

If I simply plan ahead, I alleviate (almost) all the stress, chaos, and urgency that so often comes with these special events! I note upcoming gift needs in my planner, make a plan to buy or make gifts ahead of time, help the kids make hand-made cards in advance, and have everything ready to several days before we actually need it (I often put baked goods in decorative tins in the freezer). The gift-giving is actually fun and enjoyable versus hectic and stressful — imagine that!

Example #4 Planning life with 4 children: 

If I don’t have a written plan for our days, there are often many URGENT things that seem to get in the way of life with 4 children, 3 different school schedules, my work schedule, and a laundry list of home and yard projects. It’s not fun, and if it happens, I usually end up yelling more than I want to, and I’m very grumpy by the end of the day. 

However, when I have a plan for the day, AND when I commit to waking up at 4am to get started on my to-do list, my days at home with the kids are exponentially more fun, light-hearted, and enjoyable. I have huge amounts of time and energy to devote to IMPORTANT things like watching Nora’s new flip on the swings, playing UNO with Simon, listening to James recount every single bug he saw outside, and patiently waiting while Clara gets her shoes and coat off “all by herself”. 

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Catching on yet?

Planning ahead might not seem like a big deal… but I promise you will be amazed how much simpler your life will feel when you can focus on the IMPORTANT things instead of always stressing about the URGENT tasks that keep getting in the way of everything else you’d rather be doing.

Of course, there will be bad days, last-minute change of plans, and truly urgent tasks that fall on your plate (after all, there are always exceptions to the rule)… but if you’re working hard to plan ahead in most areas of your life, those instances will not be normal.

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Is your “urgent” getting in the way of your “important”?

If so, pick 2 areas of your life to start planning ahead.

Maybe it’s setting out your clothes and packing your lunch the night before.

Maybe it’s planning next week’s menu and making your grocery list every Sunday so you’re ready to do your shopping on Monday (or whenever you like to shop).

Maybe it’s doing a little deep cleaning and purging now so your house is cleaner and more organized before the crazy summer schedule arrives.

Whatever you choose, work at it diligently for a few weeks and see if you notice any difference. It probably won’t be easy or fun, especially in the beginning, but it WILL be worth it! 

A simpler life starts when you can focus on what’s important to you, instead of always worrying about the urgent!

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30 comments

  1. Sarah

    05/31/2019

    This is obviously not the point of the post but… I love the flowers on the window sill in the picture at the top of the post. Do you have anything holding them down or are you just super careful/crossing your fingers? 🙂 And how wide is that ledge? {We’re planning a kitchen reno and I love this look so I’m trying to decide if it’s actually feasible.}

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha thanks!
    The ledge above the sink is pretty “out of the way” so I never have to worry about bumping or knocking anything up there (and the kids can’t reach it). It’s the perfect spot to put flowers or small treasures I’m gifted from the kids 🙂

    It’s about 6″ deep.

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  2. Meghan

    05/23/2019

    Andrea, thanks for putting up this post again! So timely for me. With summer break coming I really struggle with getting my to-dos done and enjoying time with my kids. I’ve decided I’m going to get up at 5:00 (which is so hard for me. Not a morning person. Normally I set my alarm for 5:50) and also require my kids to stay in their rooms until 7:00. That way I can get two hours of projects, tasks, and working out completed. It should make the rest of the day run so much better. Especially since my pre-schooler has given up naps 🙁
    I’m also going to follow your suggestion of doing my to-do list the night before.
    I am excited to make my summer schedule right now, but alas, I have other work to attend to!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I really felt like it was necessary to re-share this post. I’ve been getting SO many emails from people related to this exact subject!

    I’m excited that you’ll be waking up earlier this summer — you won’t regret that decision (especially with the non-napping preschooler!) I find that I am SO much happier if I can start my day on my own terms and get several things accomplished before the kids wake up. Then I have much more time, energy, and stamina to devote to them ALL day long!

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  3. Natalia

    05/22/2019

    I’d like to know how you choose your priorities, when there are too many important tasks to accomplish. It’s my struggle. I know I have too much on my list, but I WANT to get all that done. Today, because yesterday is already gone!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh wow — this is a good questions. I guess it all come back to deciding what my “top 5” are for the day.
    My Top 5 is a concept I’ve been using for YEARS (and first shared on my blog many many years ago!)

    I decide on those top 5 everyday and that helps me prioritize. Obviously, I do more than 5 things every day, but it helps to make sure I’m doing the most important things first!

    [Reply]

    Natalia Reply:

    Thanks for sending me back to that original post. It was a good refresher!

    I make lists. I need to learn to stick to the list, thou! I had 7 items on my “1st Priority List” for today. I accomplished 1 that involved emailing, and then I just “had to” check the rest of my emails AND your blog, ofcourse! 🙂 Distractions, distractions… Learning, learning. And trying again.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    distractions are hard — and basically unavoidable! Just keep plugging away… and try to keep your lists do-able so you don’t get frustrated when you don’t accomplish everything on your mile-long list!

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  4. Debby

    05/22/2019

    I am a procrastinator. At 65 yrs old I am now trying very hard to change that. Over the last two years I have started having anxiety and panic attacks and other health issues all related to stress. It will take a told on your body for sure. Planning ahead and being prepared has helped a lot. Andrea, you have helped so much in so many areas. I look forward to your post everyday, and even though I am much older than you, I always get something out of everyone of them. Thank you

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh my — thank you so much for sharing! I’m thrilled to be able to play a part in helping you being more prepared and less anxious!

    [Reply]

  5. Elizabeth

    11/07/2016

    This is not natural for me. I resisted it for years. Now with 3 little boys that I homeschool it’s the only way I can survive. If I can do it anyone can!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — good to know! Thanks for the encouragement!

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  6. Laura D.

    11/05/2016

    Andrea, this might be a new one for you, but I’m serious: you have beautiful teeth! I noticed this in the beautiful photo of you and your kids sitting together outside. How do you keep them so white?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well thanks Laura! I have no secrets, but I don’t ever drink coffee or tea, so I’m sure that helps a little 🙂

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  7. Michelle

    11/05/2016

    I am definitely this kind of person. I pre-plan almost everything….to the point where I have pre-sliced ice cream and had it out on a cookie sheet in the freezer when we have birthday parties. I am uncomfortable with the stress and urgency I feel when I know people are waiting for me to get the ice cream scooped and the cake served. It’s not them…it’s me. I have gotten poked fun at and the guests roll their eyes when I pull it out of the freezer. Then I feel like a weirdo. Is that OCD? I don’t know. But I like how smoothly things run when I “take care” of the things I know ahead of time will make me sweaty crazy later.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    what — How have I never thought to pre-scoop the ice cream??!?! That is genius!
    I completely, 100% understand what you mean about feeling uncomfortable when guests are waiting on you. I almost always have everything 100% finished before guests arrive, with food on warming plates in the oven or in slow cooker. The table is set, everything else is ready to go, we just need to sit and eat whenever it’s “that time”. I always choose make-ahead recipes that are easy to prepare the day before so I can even wash all the dishes ahead of time.
    I’ve read books and blog posts about how it’s better to be more casual and let your guests help you in the kitchen — but I don’t want their help. I want everything to be done before they arrive, and then I want the evening to be simple and stress-free for me.
    I guess I’m just not one of those cool people who serve fancy drinks and various appetizers that I whip up at the last minute for unexpected company 🙂

    [Reply]

    Dawn Reply:

    Scooping ice cream beforehand – what an awesome idea!! Will be doing that for the next birthday party for sure!
    I disagree with those books and posts too about letting everyone help. For me, it’s just not relaxing nor does it feel very organized. I would rather have everything done or about done by the time people start coming. Then I can relax and enjoy the time with the guests. Isn’t that usually the point of having people over lol

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I know. So simple, but it can really save on time and mess during a party!

    [Reply]

    Sherry Reply:

    I always scooped ice cream and put it in paper muffin cups and then put it in the freezer to serve with birthday cake.. So easy and less mess for sure
    The kids also enjoyed having their own little ice ream cup.
    !

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    such a smart idea!!

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  8. Leanne

    11/04/2016

    this is such a good reminder to fine tune areas of my life that I’m not a great planner (meals…. I LOATHE meal planning….) and keep doing the ones I am good at (like cleaning)… and I agree… at times urgent happens, but if I’ve been fairly diligent with planning, meltdowns (by me…) will not occur…
    I’ve learned over the years, frozen pizza and a basket of laundry–or 2, just come with the territory… but by telling myself to just start a new plan, the world will not end, I do everyone a huge favor, myself especially!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Leanne — and no, the world will not end if you eat frozen pizza! We regularly have it on Sunday nights and we’re all still here to tell about it 🙂

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  9. Debbie

    11/04/2016

    Yay, now I can finally articulate the reason why I’m a planner! Thanks Andrea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — thanks Debbie!

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  10. Rachael

    11/04/2016

    Love this post! Do you have any posts on how you manage keeping what YOU want to get done/how you keep productive in your day while balancing playing with the kids/doing what they want to do? Thanks 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Not really anything specific like that — but I usually don’t accomplish too much before Dave gets home from school around 3:30 🙂
    I try to get dinner ready during the boy’s naps and do one “cleaning chore” at some point during the day, but that’s about it! This post shares more detail about our daily life — not specifically what you asked for but it might be helpful.

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  11. Bonnie'sMama

    11/04/2016

    If you don’t plan ahead, you still have to do at least the same amount of work, with less time, fewer resources, under worse conditions, and much more pressure than if you’d planned ahead. It usually means more work, and certainly feels like far more trouble.

    When you don’t plan ahead, you have to live in constant crisis mode.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good point… I guess I had never actually thought of it in the exact way, but you’re completely right. You’ll end up doing the same thing, it will just take you longer and be more stressful!

    [Reply]

  12. Ruth

    11/04/2016

    Such good common sense! 🙂
    But honestly, I think many people these days like urgent and chaotic schedules.
    They like rushing around and having a crazy day.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I actually think you might be right Ruth — as sad as that is!
    I know A LOT of people who seem to thrive on explaining how busy they are and all the many things they are involved in. In fact, I can even remember a time in my life (college time-frame) when I assumed that if I “did more” it meant I was “more productive” when really, I was just doing more for the sake of being busy 🙂

    [Reply]