Make Plans for the New Year… or Not
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
- “Is anyone else just so weary of to-do lists?”
- “As I read such admirable paths many take to set goals, define strategies using fancy programs, guides, forms, books and spreadsheets, the only thing that spreads is my confusion.”
- “I find trying to keep to the goals and plans and organizing methods that we’re exhorted to follow simply exhausting a lot of the time.”
These three comments were in response to a social media group discussion about goal planning. I joined the laments.
The final weeks of each year are filled with newsletters, blog posts, and videos about goal setting, planning, and creative to-do lists. Helpful books here. Goal setting templates there. To-do lists printables all around. It doesn’t matter whether in a writers’ group, homeschool group, or the family. We seem to have become compulsive about planning, especially at the beginning of each year.
2020 ended with a new cry of starting new, refreshing, resetting. Last year plans and goals were set aside. Now we set out with not only the beginning of a new year but the hope of returning to the former way of life. All of which needs careful goal planning … maybe.
Don’t get me wrong; I plan things. In fact, my children say I plan spontaneous activities. I keep a calendar with meetings, travel plans, writing deadlines, and birthdays. If I didn’t, I would miss some wonderful experiences. But for me, to plan all aspects of my life creates stress and depression. In fact, just this week “plans” went out the window when the hot water heater quit working, the dog was sick enough to take to the vet, and an ill neighbor needed help.
Goal setting? I’ve set goals in years past. The problem was reaching the goal became so all-consuming relationships were harmed. My work suffered also. I was striving so hard to reach the goal—income goal, words-per-day goal, social media posts goal—I confess, I even forgot God’s part in the goals.
I ran from one method to another. One planner to another. One income-improvement seminar to another social media seminar to one more blogging seminar. I wasn’t meeting my goals. I reasoned I need to spend valuable time with more learning how to do it—whatever it was.
As homeschooling parents, we often feel obliged to have plans. Lesson plans, sport activities, church events, park days, and so on. Even in the age of social distancing, we feel obliged to have a full calendar. Planning is next to godliness.
And still we wonder why we’re “behind” in math, tired most days, and sometimes even a sense of panic. Why? Either the to-do list has too much on it (most do), or the plan hasn’t been completed in the allotted amount of time.
At the end of 2015, two things happened that changed my whole perspective. The first was listening carefully to what God had been trying to tell me for months: He has my goal. Just follow him. (Isn’t that kind of a “Duh?” moment?) The second was a blogger I follow (and I can’t remember who or I’d give credit) said something like “Start the day reviewing my priorities, not my to-do list.” (I wrote it down.)
I was free! Free from agonizing over my yearly, monthly, weekly, daily goals. Free from the stress of not completing a to-do list. Free to say “no,” even to myself.
A friend told me the use of the word “priorities” is only a different word for “goals” or “plans.” I don’t agree.
A goal is “the end toward which effort is directed.” One definition of plan is “a method for achieving an end.” Do you notice a similarity? A goal or a plan has an end. Then you need to start over. The never-ending circle we find ourselves in. Like hamsters on a wheel, we keep chasing the next plan or goal.
On the other hand, a priority is “something given or meriting attention before competing alternatives.” The difference is “meriting attention before.” Before the to-do list. Before the plan. Serving God and caring for my family are primary priorities for me. When I see those two things, which many times become one, I know what I need to do.
Serving God may be praying with one of my children or may be finishing the devotional I’m writing.
I enter into 2021 without a goal—not one. I have priorities, which aren’t much different than pre-COVID—serve God by serving others. Like Jeremiah, I look to God for his clear direction in my work, my relationships, and my life.
How about you? Do you struggle with goals and the resulting to-do lists? If so, what do you do? Please let me know.
Susan K. Stewart, Nonfiction Managing Editor with Elk Lake Publishing, teaches, writes, and edits non-fiction. Susan’s passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Her books include Science in the Kitchen, Preschool: At What Cost?, Harried Homeschoolers Handbook, and the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. Her latest book, Donkey Devos: Listening to you donkey when God speaks, is scheduled to be released spring 2021. You can learn more at her website www.practicalinspirations.com.