As I round the corner on my weekend and Sunday begins to creep up on me, so does the overwhelm that comes with staring the upcoming week right in the eye.
Not only do I have to meal prep, but I also have to do the laundry, plan my outfit for the next day, make time to run my business, and plan a week’s worth of content for my clients… all while balancing a fast-paced, high pressure, full-time job.
Maybe you have been there too: to-do lists on every surface, sinking feeling in your stomach, and the insistent worry that you’re forgetting something. The Sunday Scaries are real.
I’ve found that the most effective method for wrangling an intimidating week is to use a few simple systems to streamline my planning process. Here are four exercises that can help alleviate some of your Sunday night anxieties.
1. Clarify your priorities using the Eisenhower box
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, was quoted to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
When life gets hectic, it’s easy to confuse what is urgent with what is important. It may feel urgent that I reply to every message in my inbox, but is it really that important? Is there something more valuable that I should be spending my time on — something that will truly move me forward?
But when I stop to reflect on tasks in this way, I usually come to realize that not every single email in my inbox must demand my immediate attention and that there are more meaningful (if less immediately satisfying) jobs to be done.
From the above quote by Eisenhower originated a handy, simple, and easy-to-use tool called the Eisenhower box, pictured below.
There are four quadrants in the Eisenhower box.
- In the first box above are the tasks that are both urgent and important; these tasks should be taken care of as soon as possible.
- The next box on the right contains items that are important, but not urgent.
- The box on the bottom left contains items that are not important, but are urgent
- The fourth box contains items that are neither urgent or important.
Not sure how to sort your week’s activities and to-do’s into the correct box? Use this guide to help you decide what to do:
- Tasks in box 1 should be completed first and with your close attention. For example, if you are traveling internationally in the near future, renewing your passport is both urgent and important and, thus, should be at the top of your list.
- Tasks in box 2 should be assigned a deadline. Block out time later in your week to complete these tasks. Perhaps you need to make an appointment for your annual dental cleaning; while your dental hygiene is important, it is not often urgent.
- Tasks in box 3 should be delegated, if possible. Tasks in this box are important but do not necessarily demand personalized attention, so look for ways to get the work done elsewhere. For example, if you have an important package that needs to be shipped today, could you ask the office admin to mail it for you?
- Tasks in box 4 are neither urgent or important, so ask yourself if they really need to get done. If you can, eliminate them from your schedule. If they are something you do want to get done eventually, move them to a “someday” or “later” to-do list.
2. Make meal planning part of your routine
While some people do enjoy meal planning, it feels like a chore for a lot of folks. And for a lot of people, the idea of actually planning meals ahead of time might be brand new; are you still flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to mealtime?
Meal planning has a huge amount of benefits. It will save you time and money, and will help you make healthier choices when it comes to your food. Makes sense, right? If you prep a healthy snack to have at your desk at work, you’re far less likely to run out and buy something like a chocolate bar or chips when hunger strikes.
Setting aside a block of time every week to plan and prep your meals is a great time-saver that will reduce pressure in your schedule every single day.
And it doesn’t even have to involve hours of cooking and cleaning and multiple trips to the grocery store.
If you aren’t even sure where to start, introducing a simple structure can make a world of difference. For instance, you can use a pretty, streamlined template like this one from Rifle Paper Co. or this one that I designed, or of course, you can create your own. This worksheet can help you collect all of your ideas and ingredients in one place in a format that you can print and take with you with the grocery store.
If you are a beginner in the kitchen like me, you can stick with things like sandwiches, rice bowls, pre-prepared meals, bagels, and snack boxes; google other people’s sample meal plans (there are tons of blogs with ideas and tips) and opt for things that are low effort but still filling and delicious.
If you want to save even more time, apps like Instacart are handy because they bring the groceries right to your doorstep.
And remember you don’t have to be perfect. You can meal plan for weekdays and still be spontaneous on the weekends, or just meal plan your lunches or dinners for a week. This is about making your week easier, not more stressful.
3. Try a 10×10 challenge and streamline your morning outfit decision-making
The 10×10 challenge is an exercise created by fashion and lifestyle blogger Caroline Proctor. The idea behind it is simple: pick out 10 pieces of clothing and use only these 10 pieces to create outfits for 10 days.
Outside of this one rule, nothing else is hard and fast, so you have a bit of creative freedom to carry out this activity as you please. While the thought of only wearing 10 items of clothing for a week and a half may seem daunting and restrictive, it can actually also have the opposite effect: with enough prior planning, this exercise can actually streamline your morning routine, remove the daily conundrum of “not knowing what to wear,” and encourage you find unexplored ways to style your garments.
Plus, one less choice to make in the morning means a few more minutes you get to spend in bed or doing the things you want to do in the morning. Furthermore, diminishing the number of choices you make early in the morning can reduce the likelihood of decision fatigue. Yes, the 10×10 challenge takes discipline, practice, and a bit of planning to make sure you get the laundry done, but the rewards are plentiful.
4. Make a not-to-do list
Finally, it’s occasionally helpful to remind ourselves: if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
This exercise pairs well with the Eisenhower box above. Once we have narrowed our tasks to focus on those that are both urgent and important, the process of making a “not-to-do” can help us dwindle a seemingly endless task list to only those that are of the utmost importance to us. In other words, it helps you to not take on anything unnecessary as your week moves on — since we all know how easy it is for tasks to get added back onto your list once you’re in the swing of work every day.
What could be on your not-to-do list? When I’m overwhelmed by planning or bogged by a busy week, some of the things I write down on my own “not-to-do” list often include: taking on new projects; taking on the responsibilities of other people; cleaning as a method of procrastination; and window shopping when I’m bored.
The items on your “not-to-do” list can be as specific or as broad as you want them to be. Once I finish writing my “not-to-do” list, I like to fold up the list, and then tuck it away into the back pocket of my planner so that I can visualize the “deletion” of these nonessential tasks and errands from my mental whiteboard.
These four simple systems can help you stay organized, balanced, stress-free, and effective when you are planning for the week ahead. The key to planning with ease is remaining focused on what really matters and then cutting out, or delegating, that which does not immediately demand your personal attention. For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to understanding my values, and then using these values to guide my priorities. I also try to keep my priorities very few and selective. That way, my planning remains streamlined, simple, and laser focused.