There are three primary ways that people plan their lives.
The first strategy is to live by your options.
All of us have an unlimited number of options available to us. I might say no to someone asking me out for an evening dinner but yes to a more attractive option. When I asked a friend recently about his strategy for planning his week, he said, "I don't have one." When I asked how he made decisions about what he did outside of work, he said, "It depends on the options." In other words, on any given day, the best option wins the prize for how he spends his time.
The problem with living by your options is that it does not consider what is essential to you and does not necessarily contribute to a well-lived life. It is a common strategy but not one designed to help you accomplish what you want to achieve in life. On the upside, it takes little planning or effort.
The second strategy is to live by the expectations of others.
This strategy is a trap that many fall into, especially those who are prone to please others. Everyone has some sort of agenda for our lives: Family, friends, employer, colleagues, church....you name them. These are things that others think should be important to us. They are not things we feel are important to us, but we have a hard time saying no and living our lives by the rules of others rather than our values.
This strategy is obviously not planned. It is reacting. Further, it usually causes an underlying frustration, if not anger, when we realize we do not control our destiny. One of the most liberating skills is the ability to say no and feel good about it. Not to be contrary but to ensure that we live according to what we believe to be most important. To live by the expectations of others is to give others the ability to determine what is essential for us to do - an abdication of our own responsibility.
The third strategy is to live by a planned calendar based on what we believe our priorities are.
There are two caveats here. The first is that we have done the hard work to determine the priorities of our lives. There is no well-lived life that has not first determined what is important and what one wants to accomplish.
This is because all priorities take time, and time is the most precious commodity we have as individuals. Money comes and goes, but time only goes, and you cannot get it back. Every obligation we choose or agree to has a time check attached. Just as we write financial checks, we also write time checks. They are ultimately more important than how we spend our money because they determine what we accomplish in life.
There is a second caveat. You must connect your priorities to your calendar in a proactive way to live them out. If your priorities are the compass for your life, your calendar is the clock. Unless the compass is connected to the clock, those things you value will not have the attention you desire. Thus, your priorities go on your monthly calendar before anything else. This is the only way to plan your life that ultimately works (if you believe in your values and priorities). What one does not reserve time for usually does not get done.
If you look at your calendar today, does it reflect what is truly important to you? Are those essential things actually on the calendar?