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Year-End Review, New Year Planning

December is the month when my planning instinct kicks into overdrive. I flip the calendar page on the first, and it’s as if I’ve opened a new channel in my brain. All the while I’m enjoying holiday preparations and wondering where the gift wrap could possibly have gotten to, I’m also mentally reviewing the year — main happenings, surprises, highlights, and lowlights. What went well? Where were the transcendent moments? What could I have done differently? What do I need to learn? Have I been grateful?

Planning is making time for things that matter.

About midway through the month while holiday preparations are still underway, my mental channel switches from review to planning. I become aware that with <two weeks until the end of the year, January 1 means that there are just about eight weeks until March, and March marks the beginning of the 2020 conference season.

That realization is the equivalent of seeing the lights of a freight train that’s barreling down the track you’re sitting on. It tends to encourage focus. If there were things that didn’t get done after last year’s convention season ended, I’d better hurry up and finish them now. By the time New Year’s Day arrives, I am usually well into the process of detail-planning work for the next eight weeks.

Learning how to review and plan

How does year-end review and planning work for you? Is this something you habitually do, or is it a new idea? A big part of my learning process has been seeing what other people do and how and why they approach planning in a particular way. I read books about planning and productivity, and pay attention to people who seem to be productive without skipping the things that matter most or making others around them miserable (my key requirements).

My grandmother’s housekeeping schedule was supported by a detailed outline of exactly what to do in each room. The first thing was always “Brush walls; spot clean.”

My first planning example was my grandmother, who had meticulous routines for her week as well as a yearly housekeeping plan that explained the sparkling perfection of her little home. The fact that I wasn’t able to make her plan work for my home in the same way (four boys may have had something to do with that) helped me understand that any plan must be designed to fit a specific life and home in order for it to work well. That doesn’t mean that it has to be from-scratch “original,” but that a basic plan can and should be tweaked until it fits.

I began the habit of planning and review during my teen years. It was fairly simple then — just flip back through my little planning calendar (the free month-at-a-glance pocket calendar from Hallmark); add any unfiled photos and memorabilia to my scrapbook or album; and fill in birthdays on my calendar for the new year.

That early start to review and planning was simple, but it established a habit that has been helpful through all of the years since. Now my routine includes a year-at-a-glance wall calendar on my office door, a month-at-a-glance calendar in the kitchen, and my datebook/planner with its time-map and week-at-a-glance pages and a one-year, one-page-per-month calendar. In addition, I write a page each evening in a Moleskine diary.

Create a year-end review and planning routine

  1. Glance back through the current year’s photos and datebooks
    • Tip: this is just a quick scan of the photos on your phone or camera; don’t get sidetracked with tagging and adding to albums (you can probably guess how I learned that).
  2. Review favorite productivity and time-management resources (you’ll see some of the books I’ve found helpful in the picture above and the resources list below).
  3. Review your personal mission — the brief one-sentence “why” that informs the choices you make in daily life. You probably have a big picture mission statement, but it can be helpful to have a planning mission as well.
    • “Make time for things that matter” was the tagline for my Everyday Education business, but it has long been my personal planning mission as well.
  4. On a large year-at-a-glance wall calendar, highlight dates of fixed events — birthdays, anniversaries, conferences, vacations, class start and end dates, major bill due dates, holidays, etc.
  5. Note these fixed events on your personal planner and any other relevant calendars.
  6. With the year-at-a-glance calendar in view, schedule homeschool terms or work projects so that they fit nicely and with margin around the fixed events.
    • It’s important to be realistic when doing this. If you are planning a major work project or road trip, don’t run your homeschool term right up to the project deadline or moment of departure. By the same token, don’t plan to jump straight into a new homeschool term the day after you arrive home from a major trip. Starting a few days after you get home can give you a more solid start without the exhaustion, laundry mountains, and scattered focus that usually happen after a big trip.
  7. Transfer these projected term and project dates to your personal planner.
  8. Pencil in a projected routine on your weekly time map, starting with the things that matter most in light of your overall mission.
    • My overall education mission was to create a nourishing and creative environment in which each person could grow physically, spiritually, and mentally.
    • A guiding mission is never going to be something like “finish math book by June.” Covering material isn’t the point of education — learning is. Therefore, the mission might be to “Help my student understand how multiplication works and when and why it can be used.” A practical goal related to that would be to “memorize and use the multiplication tables through the 12s.”
  9. Every month or school term during the year, revisit your plans and review and plan again as necessary.

Planning tips and resources

There are a lot of “how to plan” books that describe the mechanics of a planning method in the time management section of a bookstore. I have found some of these helpful, and have included a few in the list below. However, the books that have most influenced my approach toward review and planning have been books that explore the bigger ideas that undergird the effort to use time wisely. I’ll list some resources of both kinds below. Some of the books are specifically geared toward entrepreneurs or writers, but the principles discussed can be applied to home and homeschooling.

NOTE: All Amazon links are affiliate links (there’s no extra cost to you, but we get a few cents to support this blog).

Nuts and bolts of planning

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is a character-focused study on how to build virtuous habits. One quote: “Our character . . . is a composite of our habits.”

Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern has been on my shelf for many years, and was one of the first time-management books that equipped me to focus my time on things that matter most. It was the first place I read about time maps, and each time I’ve read it I’ve felt more capable of using time with integrity.

Start Finishing by Charlie Gilkey: One takeaway from this review and planning resource was that we have time for only five projects at a time in our lives, and a project is “anything that takes time, energy, and attention to complete.” Projects relate to things that matter, and can be anything from raising a family to starting a small business to volunteering in your community.

Deep Work by Cal Newport: Newport offers four rules that aid focus and productivity in an age of distraction. You can read more about this helpful book in my visual notes review from a couple of years ago.

Finish by Jon Acuff is a lighthearted yet practical look at what it takes to do the things that matter in your life. He addresses perfectionism and the practical limitations of how many things can be done well and the necessity for delegating and/or neglecting some things in particular seasons of life. If you prefer a light read and lean toward overoptimism about what can be done, this may be the book for you.

My Doing What Matters Printable Planner comes with a brief introduction to weekly planning that you might find helpful. This link is to my Etsy store, Soulcraft Printables, but the planner is also available at my Everyday Education site.

A more philosophical look at the use of time

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris changed the way I saw the endless must-dos of a busy household.  “When considered in terms of their enormous life-giving importance, the feeding and clothing of a family and maintaining of a household can be undertaken in the contemplative spirit. They become, like prayer and worship, acts of love that transform us and, in turn, the larger world around us” (from a review in Library Journal, quoted on Amazon).

Home Education by Charlotte Mason, along with the other books in her Home Education series, was the book I turned to most often when trying to help my boys (and me) develop good habits. Charlotte Mason’s ideas lead to a well-balanced, healthy life, and consequently to wiser use of time.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Joseph Pieper: “Leisure . . . is a mental and spiritual attitude — it is not simply the result of external factors, it not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is, in the the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul . . .” (p. 46). There’s a lot in this profound little book, and it continues to inspire conversations about how life should be spent. Modern philosopher Andrew J. Taggart refers to it extensively in his Total Work blog series and TedX talk, which highlight the hazards inherent in the modern obsession with educating, training, and being “workers” above all else.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: In this brief, meditative little book, Lindbergh muses on “how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” She writes, “I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher explores the idea that “your life is the sum of what you focus on” (p. 27). Gallagher, a behavioral scientist, argues that “much of the quality of your life depends not on fame or fortune, beauty or brains, fate or coincidence, but on what you choose to pay attention to” and illustrates how the principle works in all areas of life.

The Crosswicks Journals: A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, The Irrational Season, and Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle have nothing specific to do with time management, but they are a look at a life of faith lived in the home and in the larger world. Somehow I found them helpful in imagining what a wisely lived, creative life could look like.

Other planning and time management resources

More planning articles on this blog

Peaceful Planning booklets at Everyday Education

SWOT Analysis for homeschools or for entrepreneurs

How to Conduct an Annual Review” by Srinivas Rao from the Unmistakable Creative Podcast. He offers a very useful free four-part work-booklet for conducting an annual review in his Unmistakable Creative Tribe group.

The Flylady Plus app  is a free app from the inimitable Flylady. It has all of the zones, routines, and Morning Musings that Flylady teaches for home management. I love it because once I’ve edited the routines to fit our home, I don’t have re-plan any housekeeping tasks. If you’ve struggled with keeping the house livable while homeschooling, Flylady can help.


NOTE: We plan to move the Everyday Education store to a different store platform in the near future — the current site keeps marking our books as out of stock when they are not out of stock. This isn’t the only issue, but it is both weird and annoying and we haven’t been able to fix it. There are so many moving parts when doing this — I hope you’ll visit and test it when the new site is up and running! We’ll be hosting it at EverydayEducation.com instead of Everyday-Education.com, but we’ll make sure all the old links redirect to the new pages.

SoulCraft Printables offers printable quotes from my commonplace books.SoulCraft Printables: In a second bit of news, I opened an Etsy shop for my printables. There are some posters with quotes from my commonplace books and an undated version of my weekly planner there, and I have more that I’m working on.

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