By Emily Morrow

How to Start Intentional Planning


Stop playing catch-up and start thinking big picture.

Do you feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up?

Does it seem like you’re always two steps behind? 

Is your day filled with urgent questions and last minute requests?

At the end of the day, do you feel like you’ve just been spinning your wheels and making no progress?

If any of these questions resonate with you, it might be time to take a step back and reimagine how you are approaching your planning. 

Spending your days only doing the things you have to do instead of the things that truly matter is no way to live your life. The solution? Making the plan for your days, weeks, and year intentional instead of reactionary. 

What is intentional planning and why is it important?

Intentional planning means you are looking at the big picture, not just the here and now. It means instead of just making a to-do list every morning with the most urgent and deadline-sensitive tasks on it, you’re planning out weeks, months, and maybe even years in advance to make sure that you are working toward your biggest, most important goals. 

When you start planning your life and your days intentionally, you are no longer going to feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, doing busywork. Instead, you’re going to infuse your days and your work with purpose because you have identified your goals and will begin making steady, incremental progress toward them every single day. 

Intentional planning is how people do things like write a novel while working a full-time job, or pay off that big loan, or get the certifications needed to snag that next big promotion.

And the great thing about intentional planning is, it doesn’t actually take that much time! For as much value as you get from it, you can accomplish it in just a few minutes a week.

All it requires is that you ask yourself some thoughtful questions on a regular basis and make a commitment to making progress as frequently as you can. 

Start by taking stock of your situation

The first step when starting to plan intentionally is to get a sense for where you are now. If you’ve never been a planner before, I’d recommend starting with a tool like the Ink+Volt Priority Pad. It’s based on the Eisenhower Matrix which is an organizational and productivity tool to help you identify what your *real* priorities are and how you’re *actually* spending your time.

When you’re first beginning, write down every single thing that’s on your to-do list for the day. Then it’s time to assess your list: How much of your tasks are fire drills and favors? What percentage are obligations — things that are probably important to keep your job or your family afloat but maybe aren’t your biggest passions? And what portion of your list are things that are goals and endeavors — moving you closer to your biggest dreams? 

If you’re like most people, the majority of your list is probably falling in the first two categories. And that’s okay. It is that way just because you haven’t been planning your days intentionally — yet. 

Now that you have a sense for where your time is going every day, it’s time to take the next step and begin shifting the balance of your work toward the things you actually care about. 

Are there tasks you can delegate? Favors that you can (kindly) say “no” to? And is there any way you can start carving out just 30 minutes to devote to your own priorities?

Look to the future

At the beginning of Ink+Volt annual planners and three-month planners, we ask some big-picture questions like: 

  • What would it look like if this year went perfectly?
  • How will you improve yourself this year?
  • What do you want your life to look like in five years? Where will you be professionally, personally, and socially?

There’s a reason for that: Thinking 5, 10, 15, or even 50 years in the future can help you determine your biggest goals and priorities that can serve as a beacon guiding your path each day toward what you really want to do and accomplish. 

When you’re first starting to plan intentionally, it’s important that you start big and then work down to the day-to-day. Think beyond your to-do list and your daily obligations.

What do you *really* want to be doing 20 years from now? When you’re looking back on your life, what story do you want to tell? 

Now here’s the key to intentional planning: No matter how big or small your goals are — whether you want to start a business, or plant a garden, or learn to salsa — start building small steps toward those goals into your monthly, weekly, and daily plans. 

Infuse your big dreams into the everyday

You’ve identified what your big goals are, now it’s time to break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces and work them into your daily, weekly, and monthly to-dos. No matter how big or outlandish your goal might seem, there is something that you can start doing this week — today, even — to get one step closer.

If you want to climb Mt. Rainier, maybe today you could start researching training programs. Or the best time of year to plan your ascent. Even something as small and easy as doing a quick Google search counts as making progress. 

This is why I love the Ink+Volt Goal Planner. At the start of each month and each week, there are opportunities and prompts to reflect on your progress toward your big-picture goals and recommit to taking steps toward making them a reality. It gives you a framework to begin intentionally planning the way you spend your time each week to make sure that you’re carving out space for the things that matter most to you.

At the beginning of each day, when you sit down at your workspace to write your to-do list, start by quickly referencing your weekly and monthly goals to see what you might be able to work in to your day.

Even the simple act of looking at and acknowledging your big goals each and every day can help you approach your days, your work, and your life with more intention. In turn, that intentional planning will help ensure that you are always making incremental progress toward your biggest goals in work and in life.