Shortly before my first son was born, I felt a sense of urgency like I had never felt before in my life.
From one day to the next, I went from having little responsibility and a few flimsy goals I wasn’t doing much to accomplish, to having a heavy sense of responsibility and concrete goals that I was working towards every single day.
I was never much for worrying about the future, but perhaps I just wasn’t posed with the challenge yet, because as soon as my son was born I felt like that was all I ever did.
For those of us living “typical” modern lives, planning for the future and enjoying the present seem to be eternally in conflict with one another. How do we juggle our various responsibilities, and everything that comes with planning for the future, and still prioritize enjoying our life in the present?
Learn from the past; live in the present; plan for the future.
– Audrey Farrell
When posed with a problem such as this, I find it important to really break down the issue so that I can understand it more clearly. So let’s do that.
The two major “areas” of our life which make the future an important consideration are:
- Responsibilities: Your job, business, partner, family, children, etc.
- Aspirations: Your dreams and goals.
And there are two important points about looking to the future with regards to both responsibilities and your aspirations:
- Both generally lead to worrying about the future.
- Both are also very useful activities, to a point.
So we need to think about the future, or at least it’s useful to some degree. But too much worrying is bad. Seems pretty simple, right? So then why is it so difficult for us to stop worrying about everything and enjoy ourselves more in the present?
In large part, it’s the insecurity of letting go of it all.
We think our life is this huge house of cards that will fall down as soon as we step away. But the reality is we think about our goals and dreams as well as plans & responsibilities so often that we build them up in our minds, and from that, they become something far more in our mind than they really are.
Creating the optimum balance
Obviously, planning and preparation are critical for a good life. I know this as well as anyone and I’m not knocking it.
But there’s a difference between effective planning and maintenance and mindlessly juggling. Mindless juggling is what takes up ninety percent of our time and gives us ten percent of the benefit.
So how much of your life should really be spent managing your responsibilities, setting goals, and planning for the future? Far less time than we typically spend on a given day. At least less mindless juggling.
The reality is, these issues of managing responsibilities as well as setting and analyzing goals realistically should only take a small portion of our time. But we cycle through the same issues so repeatedly that what ends up happening is we spend our whole day in an elusive future.
So, what should you do? What’s the alternative?
Ready for it?
- Plan for the future.
- Then let it go.
Let me say it again…
Plan for the future….then let it go.
I know, it sounds simplistic, but follow me. There’s much more to this idea.
If you organize your responsibilities and goals in a clean and straightforward way, and stay on top of them with an effective system for tracking the tasks tied to those goals and responsibilities– even if it’s only for a few minutes each day– you give yourself the ability to start stepping away from the endless recycling of it all in your head.
4 steps to planning for (and staying on top of) the future so you can live more fully in the present
These are my simple suggestions for organizing both responsibilities as well as your ambitions in a way that allows you to feel less like you have to cycle through them every five minutes, giving you the ability to step away and live more fully in the present.
One of the most important things I’ve discovered is that you need to write things down and set reminders. We often cycle things through our mind because we feel that we’re going to miss them or forget.
Most of the time, we run things through our head repeatedly because we don’t want to mess something up (we’re unsure of ourselves). The solution for this is to make a decision, stick with it, and then give yourself the permission to modify it afterwards depending on what happens, but sticking with your initial decision at first.
Follow these steps to create an automated system for keeping track of everything so that you can step out of the future and live more in the present:
- Keep a simple to-do list: This is a list of just the 3-4 most important things you have to do for the day, however, if something changes and you have to rearrange something/move a point up to tomorrow, then don’t hurt your head over it. I personally use Trello on my iPhone and MacBook because it’s very simple and straightforward. You can use anything, but I’d highly stress using something with a very simple interface.
2. Set reminders: This is a really important step because it’s reminders which allow you to place things down and not feel as much like you have to recycle them through your head repeatedly. I’ll repeat this often, but preferably use tools that sync across whatever devices you use. Outside of technology, things like wall signs, wristbands, strips of tape over a wristband or on a desk, and anything else that stands out from the ordinary all work as effective physical reminders (although not as effective as an app on a smartphone/computer nowadays).
3. Place everything on a calendar: Place important dates, goals, responsibilities, and plans on a calendar. This is a really important step because it’s this calendar that really acts as the central point for all your future-planning. All to-dos, goals big and small, and reminders should be tied to this list. Ideally, this should be a calendar that syncs with your smartphone as well as desktop/laptop/tablet if you use one and allows for setting reminders (or syncing reminders elsewhere).
4. Do it now: Whatever you have to do for upcoming plans or goals, do them as soon as possible (today, preferably). Don’t wait until the last minute, or even later, to do what you can do today. Notice how when you put things off there’s some form of mental resistance keeping you from acting. This is a good time to become aware of any patterns of excuse-making and procrastination.
Now, I understand, no matter what you do this is easier said than done. But if you just begin to make your best effort you’ll see that you really can realize a great deal of freedom as a result of this simple process. It’s worked wonders for me and can do the same for you if you put in the effort.
Plan for the future, then make your best effort to let it go and be here for your life in the present. Even if your mind is still filled half the day with worrying about the future, with a little effort you’ll have created a significant shift in your state of mind on a day-to-day basis. And that will make you happier and more stress-free.
And as time goes on you can continue that effort, improve your ability to pre-plan and stay organized, and gain more freedom to live peacefully in the present.
All it takes is the willingness to get started.
You’ll never get this moment back. Start making small changes today that allow you to worry less about the future so that you can live more fully in the present.