Sticking to the Plan

It was a Saturday morning, early in our marriage, when I had an epiphany.
In those lazy moments when you first wake up and don’t need to rush off to work, I asked my husband, “So what’s the plan for today?” I thought we’d discuss what needed to get done and then mutually decide how best to accomplish the chores, preferably together.
He answered my question with a groan. Again. And I suddenly realized that every Saturday started like this.
Just then I understood a critical difference between us.
He hated “the plan”. And guess what? I loved “the plan”. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did.
While we were dating, my husband’s spontaneity was appealing and a good balance to my super scheduled and organized life. He took me out of my comfort zone with last minute decisions to go to a baseball game or take a trip into Little Italy for brunch. It was fun and a new way to approach life. And things always seemed to work out, even if we didn’t have tickets or reservations.
But it’s still not my preferred way of doing things. My husband and I are just wired differently. We’ve adjusted by giving each other the room to get things done in the manner that is most comfortable for each of us. Which means I head out on Saturday with my lists in hand, already knowing the order in which I’ll make my stops and when I expect to be home, while my husband does whatever appeals to him in the moment. We both get things done.
I used to think that having a plan made me more productive than him but now I’m not so sure. I’ve watched my husband fit more in one day than seems humanly possible, yet most of the time he’s making it up as he goes.
How do you approach your free time? Are you a planner or do you fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants? Maybe somewhere in between? And if you’re married, or even in a friendship with someone who prefers a different style, how do you negotiate that?
Obviously compromise is the answer, however that becomes easier if we understand the underlying appeal of one approach versus another. With understanding comes appreciation for the needs and desires of the other.
For me, having a plan helps me feel productive and that is a good feeling which I’ve written about before (click here to read).
But if I’m going to be honest, having a plan also makes me feel more in control. Somewhere deep down, having a plan and a list in hand helps me believe I’m the captain of my ship. Of course to a large extent, this is an illusion, but a hard one to shake. I do believe God is in control of the big stuff, but He also wired me to crave organization and efficiency for the little stuff.
My husband, on the other hand, has trouble articulating why he doesn’t like to plan except to say he wants the freedom to orchestrate the day according to his preferences as they evolve. So even though he intends on cutting the grass, he may spend two hours learning a new song on his guitar, and if it starts to rain by the time he’s ready to hop on the mower, then oh well. It can wait for another day. He’s perfectly content to move on to the next activity that appeals to him in that moment. And somehow the grass gets cut and he’s enjoyed his time off in the process.
I like this approach. But it’s not me. I would have checked the weather radar and been sure to cut the grass before the rain rolled in. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy time playing the guitar (or reading a book in my case) knowing the front lawn was overgrown and my responsibility.
I’m reminded of the story in the bible about Jesus visiting the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. Martha extended the invitation to Jesus to join them for a meal but then complained to Him when she found herself running around preparing while Mary sat at His feet. I’m quite sure Martha had a plan and a list in her head for how she wanted the visit to go and Mary wasn’t following the plan. I’d totally be Martha in this story and my husband would be Mary. And Jesus was clear to Martha that He approved of Mary’s choice (Luke 10:38-42). Reality check.
Jesus was making a statement about priorities and I completely agree spending time with God tops any to-do list. But is it so terrible to be a Martha? Let’s consider the pros and cons.
Being a planner increases the likelihood that any task will get completed and in the required time frame. People who depend on those tasks getting done will appreciate that. Planning can also lead to better time management. The downside is that planners often run themselves ragged trying to get more and more done, sometimes neglecting their own well-being in the process. Planning can also lead to disappointment if reality doesn’t live up to expectations. Those of us wedded to planning can also miss opportunities to linger in enjoyable moments, or even have them, while in pursuit of a list with all boxes checked.
Those with a more spontaneous approach to life do seem to live in the moment more. Their heads don’t seem burdened by the should-be-doing-xyz thoughts that planners need to constantly silence. The downside of course is the chaos that can result from a lack of planning. I can’t tell you how many presents we’ve purchased on the way to a party to which we’re already arriving a half an hour late.
Of course the idea is to have a balance and not live our lives on either extreme end of the spectrum. The more we can move to center, the better our chances of reaping the rewards of both approaches. Cultivating a healthy blend of organization and spontaneity requires attention and effort, but is definitely possible.
I’m learning that it’s ok to sit out on the deck and watch the chipmunks chase each other even when there’s a dishwasher to empty. And it’s ok to have omelets for dinner because I didn’t feel like going food shopping, but talked to my friend on the phone for two hours instead.
My husband is learning how to manage time better by engaging in a little planning of his own. We’re not late to events as often as we used to be, and usually arrive with a present that wasn’t wrapped in the backseat of the car with the scissors I’d learned to carry in my purse for such occasions (yes, it happened so often we had a system!)
Where are you on the continuum? What value does your style provide you and what does it cost you? How married are you to your style and do you want, or even think it’s possible, to change?
After finishing this post, I plan to water my plants, catch up on email, and throw in some laundry.
Unless the neighborhood mother deer and her twin baby fawns make another appearance in my backyard, in which case, all the above can wait.
That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences so please leave a comment if this topic speaks to you!

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