Planfest 2018: The anxious trap of time and planning

If I’m about anything, it’s patterns. So the playlist below may sound familiar.
(Reading this by email? Click through to use the music player!)

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In 2007, just before the Great American Recession started in earnest, Tim Ferriss wrote The Four Hour Work Week.

One way or another, all of millennial America was touched by this book. Even those who couldn’t stand the bro-dude culture oozing out of it were influenced by someone else who read it, changed the language/packaging, and implemented it in a way more palatable to folks other than het-normative white men.

This book mattered because it triggered the entrepreneurial imagination of half a generation. It did so at the same time that they (we) learned the whole go-to-work-and-buy-a-house-after-college thing was never going to go down as it did for their (our) parents. We knew then, and we know now, that we have to do things that have never been done before and in new ways. We needed out.

The book idealizes escapism.

Escape is even in the title. The book teaches how to run from the income bracket, country, and version of you that you don’t like. It’s a strategy of avoidance, and I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty damn effective. It teaches you to hack your beliefs about time, money, and work.

One of the less obvious problems with this, and there are many, is that it requires a fixation with the future. Once I realized this approach perpetuates the same old systems and beliefs that cause and intensify suffering, I started referring to it as the Ferris Wheel.

Let’s talk about the Ferris Wheel.

This wheel demands the…

  • photo documentation (of perfection)
  • ballooning business
  • outsourced help from those with less
  • dispassionate and disconnected work (‘cash cow’ business)
  • endless searching for the adventure that makes us feel whole
  • launcheslauncheslaunches

Any of that sound familiar? The wheel is our search for and fear of success. It’s the never-ending hunt for external validation. It’s when we conflate prestige with peace. We are drawn to this wheel for the promise of upward mobility. Going up can be about money, but underneath that, it’s always about mood.

planfest 2018
We, as humans, seek emotional elevation. We aren’t conscious of the seeking, and we usually don’t concern ourselves with the details of what motivates us. As long as we keep feeling how we want to, we don’t mind the inevitable descent. We’ll ride the wheel up and down. We’ll stick to it like rats, because busyness seems like the escape we want.

We compare ourselves and make plans to acquire what others have – all the while perpetuating systems that sabotage the collective ‘us’. This obsession with success can shackle us, lock us into the ride, keep us from real elevation. But the more insidious concern is about consciousness, not physical forms.

Let’s talk about how we have the cultural agreement to wind ourselves up for New Year’s.

Like yo-yos on a string, ever-ready to bounce and wear ourselves out; until we hang on the end of a rope. Even though race, class, and hierarchy often feel central to the stuck feeling, I’m not talking about these. They cause suffering, yes. But they aren’t the string on which we hang. That string is time. Each new year we wind ourselves up like clocks.

Am I about to tell you to forget about planning and success in 2018?

Absolutely not. I love me a good plan. The past few years, in particular, I was gung-ho about what I’ll call “overplanning”. I was using a planner system, and it awakened an empowered and creative part of me. How could it not, with its rainbows and unicorns? It got me to write. It’s the reason you’re reading this now.

It took me a few years to notice that while I used this system, I was still on the Ferris Wheel. Even though the system was free of bro-dude antics, it encouraged time obsession and kept me out of the present moment – the only moment that exists.

Then last year, one of the luckiest things that could happen happened: I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. You know the kind, where you cry over your adorable planner and wonder just what the hell is wrong with you and why it isn’t working.

Then the second luckiest thing that could have happened, happened: The creator of the planner system had a bit of a nervous breakdown, too. And luckiest of lucky things, she did so in the public gaze. She sounded in her posts like I felt. I can’t be grateful enough for this transparency.

It showed me that a system, while useful for someone, might be kryptonite for me. Even if a planning system makes me able to do more things, I want nothing to do with a system that isn’t rooted in a goal of consciousness. Consciousness isn’t something I’m willing to trade for success. Luckily, I had a very fortunate year, and I stumbled on another time management system. I say more about that on my blog, if you’re curious.

planfest 2018

The most dangerous thing to forget is that time is an illusion. Time is dangerous for the same reason that tarot readings can be.

Oh, you didn’t know?

Yea, tarot readings can be problematic. Not in the way that most people talk about, like with scams or demons. Well I mean, there are scams, but we can say no to these if we recognize them. I suppose similar can be said for demons, but that’s a whole other blog… Readings can be dangerous because of our relationship with our beliefs and especially our ideas about time.

When we fixate on either the future or the past, we indulge one of the most ancient addictions that humans have: overthinking. Depending on how we use tarot cards, we can amplify this fixation. It’s considered perfectly normal to do so. It’s even celebrated. Even though it makes us sick with worry, longing, anger, and everything else you can be sick with. Even though we suffer immensely over it.

How many times have you written a to-do list to experience the fleeting bliss that comes with scratching a completed action off? What happens after you achieve the goal? Another one, right? What happens if you don’t complete the list? Despair. Fear. Feelings of inadequacy. We want to be the people that can do things. Success is determined by the longest string of things that get done. We use this criteria to measure our life. This is the standard narrative – the Ferris Wheel.

To complicate matters, the universe responds favorably to plans and intentions, making it look like we’re on the right path as long as we succeed.

No really. This is proven. You make that vision board, you break that big goal down into small pieces, and you experience breakthrough. Depending on your level of consciousness and motivations, you might also experience a breakdown, but that doesn’t negate the likely ‘success’. When we get results, it’s even trickier to remain aware of how we are losing touch. And eventually, we get bogged down with the effort of running on the wheel.

You might ask, how can I get anything done without planning? Without focusing on time?

Time is a lot like food in that we need it every day and there’s plenty of ways to be in a harmful relationship with it. Doesn’t that suck? (I sure think so.) I often say that beliefs should be like hats: You put them on; you take them off. An awareness of time can look like this. Time doesn’t exist. But we make a social agreement to use it to function in society. Just what good does obsessing over the future do? What if we could put this obsession with time down like an old hat? It sounds crazy because it is.

It’s paradoxical to suggest that you can engage time thoughts – of the future and the past – only so far as you need and then put them down. Exit the wheel. Ride with awareness only. Must be this tall. Otherwise, you might die without feeling like you got anywhere that mattered.

Plans are great when you:

  • Want to manage finite resources and deal with debt or having less than you need
  • Want to break down negative beliefs about your life and self that feel bigger than you
  • Are healing trauma or addiction or anything
  • Want to try or get good at something life-affirming or fun
  • Want to help with something that feels bigger than you

planfest 2018

Plans are pointless when they offer:

  • Escape from something painful (like taking action!)
  • Escape from a version of yourself you don’t like
  • To make you enough or worthy
  • Escape

When you buy products and services, support causes or align with groups, look at the leaders. Not everyone is transparent. You might need to read between the lines. Is this action, item, person bringing you closer to the present moment and your purpose? Or just theirs? Is this planner, group, social network leaving you feeling angry and helpless or safe and affirmed?

You’ll know to think twice when you are so impressed with a person, product, or service that you can’t keep up. Just because something’s impressive, doesn’t mean you need it.

Seth Godin said, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Many take this to mean that you should set up a life where you fly all over the world partying and pay other people to do the things you no longer have time for or interest in (like work). Or that you make your escape (money) teaching other people how to escape. And that’s why so many people lately want to sell you something.

Instead of worrying about the future, maybe we could do and buy less, expand our consciousness by noticing what is happening in our lives and bodies. Instead of worrying about the future, maybe we could live now.

If you’re scratching your head looking at all the planners you already bought, fear not. Go ahead and use them. Pay attention to how and why you use them. Use them your way. If they stress you out,

put them down.

And now a meager Planfest link round up, because less is more.

I had a hell of a lot more to say about planning, my experience with it last year, what I’m doing now (and why and how). Part I went up at my blog with part II posting over the next few days. Read part I here or sign up for my newsletter to know when it drops.

TLDR version: I’m tracking major planetary aspects, moon phases and my goals for the year, sparingly, simply, and in a bullet journal. I share some inspiration below. Remember to take the hats off. You must be this tall to ride. Make your primary goal to get off the time wheel and live now.

Track the stars.
Track the moon.
Track your goals.

Then let go.

planfest 2018

Featured decks: Dust II Onyx by Courtney Alexander Black and Sage 2017, Osho Zen Tarot Padma St. Martin’s 1995

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  1. I absolutely love everything about this post. You’ve successfully described the internal conflict I’ve had…the constant push-and-pull I feel between taking action and letting go and letting things just happen. <3

    • Siobhan says:

      Just seeing these comments! Christine, I feel the same. Both need to happen – planning and letting go. Balance is so key. Glad you loved this post!

  2. Beth says:

    Seconded! Siobhan, you’re talking my language – thank you so much. This is the first time I’ve really consciously NOT made ‘a plan’ for the year (for my business, at least). Am I somehow now accomplishing less? Nope. Am I less anxious? Hell yeah. Here’s to allowing ourselves to ebb and flow and our work to happen more organically in 2018. Love love love <3

    • Siobhan says:

      Biz plans take a long while to implement. If you really dare with them. (And you dare!) I love that you watch how you feel and do what works, when it works, for you! If only everybody would! (like me all the time! lol)

  3. Simone says:

    Thank you – this post is very timely. I’m a very organised and planned person (I made a massive effort to become so after years of procrastination and formlessness), but recently have been feeling quite trapped by my own plans and anxious about scheduling everything and fitting everything in and living up to my own expectations.

    I actually did a two-card tarot reading about this yesterday – how to relax, find calm, escape my anxieties about planning and organising. Here’s a link to my journal write-up of the reading, if anyone’s interested:

    • Siobhan says:

      Your card pull could have been for me! I’m always working with the Devil when I plan. I love the tactile sensation of it. The drawing, writing by hand, feeling in control. And I love earth affiliated cards such as these as a reminder that I need good food too. I’m glad this post was timely for you.

  4. Nathaël says:

    Amazing article. Being a lover of my bullet journal, I am always amazed to see how stressful it can be at some times for people (myself included). Even when planning, our vision should always be in the present moment. What can I do now? How can I spend my energies now? Where is my pleasure? Am I fully living or am I waiting for something to happen in the future? As I’m starting my new business project, I work hard to remember to do at my own pace, without too many planification. Spontaneity is always a great teacher.

    • Siobhan says:

      I actually was afraid of bullet journalling last year for the same reason! I was worried that I’d spend to much time making spreads and not enough time doing things. As it happens, I was quite surprised how my year went with a conventional planner. I say more about this and also mindfulness over at my blog. Presence of mind when dealing with tasks is SO underrated. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  5. Wow, Siobhan, this is something I need to mull over. I’m NOT a plan-every-little-thing person, by virtue of feeling so small that if I ever had dreams, they would never manifest because I didn’t have the resources for them to do so. But I am still taking a lot from this post, especially the re-interpretation of the Godin quote: I can marvel that at the very least I have so much joy in my current schooling, that I don’t need a vacation from my real life, just from my disabilities.

    Time as an illusion is such a fascinating concept. I was thinking about it a bit today as I felt like I was in research hell, but only an hour or two had passed since I started. As if time had stretched to accommodate what I need to figure out. Some days it feels like time runs so fast, and some days it runs so much more slowly than I realize.

    • Siobhan says:

      Once I considered “what if I believed time was an illusion?” it started eroding some painful responses that I’m used to having to reality. I remember feeling like I was going to die while writing papers in college and I would stretch that hell out as if to savor it. (yuck!) I am so grateful that since those years I’ve experienced the flip side of this, where you are so much in “the zone” that time ceases and you feel no dread only momentum.

      My first year planning, I felt similarly, “I can’t do these things, why write them?” On the one hand, I now believe that it’s pointless to write them down on a schedule as if they definitely must happen on a certain day. It takes a certain baseline level of experience and trust before that really serves. But it’s NOT pointless to brainstorm or dream separate from time expectations. You might be surprised at what you can “someday maybe” do.

  6. Traci Medeiros-Bagan says:

    Not much left praise to offer that hasn’t been said but had to jump on the “amen” train anyways! Thank your insight, holding this whole post as a 2018 affirmation. Hat off and ready to ride <3

  7. Jessica says:

    My 2018 is way too nebulous to make many plans, so this felt especially important to me.

    My goal for the year is to be mindful of the moment, instead of trying to forecast a future. “Real” plans would just frustrate me.

    • Siobhan says:

      Present moment can be hard enough to keep track of. Glad that you know what works for you! Thanks for reading, Jessica. =D

  8. Rebekah says:

    I love this! I’m using the Desire Map planner for the first time this year. It already has all the full and new moons and Mercury retrogrades printed in it, both of which I always track, which is nice. Plus it has me going after how I want to feel and a few main goals instead of a long list of things to do, which feels super awesome.

    Yay for more time spent in the present moment and everyone figuring out what works for them!

  9. I started a bullet journal in late 2017, and I love and hate it in equal measure. Of course, I stick with it (even if it takes time away from “doing”) because Pinterest sucks me in with impossibly beautiful spreads. This blog post is a very welcome and timely reminder to re-evaluate, to do what serves me, REALLY.

    2017 was a year so full of loss, trauma, and flux. I have a million thoughts a minute, a million goals. Simplicity is a goal in itself, and ultimately, of course, peace. I was diagnosed with a chronic health condition in 2016 and my previous perfectionist-self is utterly devastated at not being able to do ALL THE THINGS like I used to. Bullet journalling can become another one of those impossible habits, if one isn’t too careful.

    Thank you so much for this inspiration, I will take it on board and try to remain more in the present!

    • Siobhan says:

      So glad this served, Jenny!
      *makes a note to scan Pinterest a bit for bujo spreads….
      I avoided bullet journals last year because I have a limited store of energy myself and I was afraid I couldn’t keep up with it. Ironically, after my experience last year, I decided the bujo is the better bet for me because it can be anything I need. No more wasted pages on things I’ll never fill out.

      Good luck enjoying the doing-of-things this year. =D

  10. Mairead Kealy says:

    Splat! Just blew my mind open in the most soul-nourishing way. Thanks so much for offering this at the new year. Such a smart and on point perspective. Thank you for existing. Happy new year.

  11. Paige says:

    Great post and a lot of interesting things in here.

    I’m curious if you’re willing to share what planner system you were using? I’ve been trying to use a planner and manage my time better in the last few months; it’s because I thrive on free time and know I have a lot of free time in my day…if I could organize things better. I think it helps me appreciate the “now” much more, at least to some degree. Back when I would just write to-do lists, I would feel what you describe–oh nooo, I didn’t get anything done, etc. Actually planning and allocating time seems to work much better and let me enjoy things more.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this subject <3

    • Siobhan says:

      I used the Shining Life workbook and planners. I blogged at my site about what did and didn’t work in the system at the link above. (here it is for reference: My main issue with it had nothing to do with that particular system and is something I’d encounter in ANY planner that has space for daily activity/tasks. That link goes to part I of a mini-series about how I plan. Part II will discuss what I’m doing/using this year.

      While I can respect those that prefer not to plan. I LOVE planning. I make dreams come true with plans. They satisfy an emotional need for order that I’d rather not deny and, not every plan looks and feels the same. I agree with you that with a good plan helps me be in the now!

      • Paige says:

        Thank you so much! I had bookmarked that link when I saw it in the piece but not read it yet. It looks like a very insightful post too!

        I definitely hear you on that emotional need for order!

        Thanks again & I hope you achieve some dreams and get closer to others this year! <3

  12. As always, Siobhan, your brilliance shines through like a guiding light. I love reading posts where I can both nod along thinking, “Yes!” and welcoming those affirmations of where my own practice had led me but still finishing the read with new ideas and inspirations. So damn good.

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