How to Plan for the Future in Times of Uncertainty

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Reboot WeekReboot WeekWe don’t have to tell you that 2020 was a terrible year. We can’t promise 2021 will be any better, but this week, we’re sharing our best strategies to help you reboot your life and start clean.

The past year has encompassed a series of eradicative historical events. A worldwide pandemic forced the world into isolation, police brutality became more visible than ever, and polarizing political leaders fomented conspiracy theories and invited chaos in the streets. Tumult and unpredictability have rapidly become the norm. And when it feels as though the future will forever be unknown, planning your life feels less and less possible. But there are still ways to prepare for your future, even in times of great uncertainty.

Make a vision board

Although rooted in business practice, it is becoming more commonplace to design a vision for your goals in your private life, too. Vision boarding is a creative way to envision your future based on your overall aims in life. It is a fun, stress-free activity that involves cutting images from magazines and aligning them on poster paper. The board helps you to visualize your general direction in life. It’s even easier to create your vision board digitally—you can cut and paste images to make a collage on your computer using Pages for iOS or Microsoft Word for Windows.

Focus on what you know

As a Virgo, I’m most comfortable if I feel prepared for what lies ahead. And if I cannot predict it, at least I can plan for it. Planning ahead and preparing for what is known can actually relieve the stress of worrying about the unknown. A study by North Carolina State University found that subjects who occupied their minds pre-planning experienced lower levels of daily stresses than those who did not.

First, acknowledge the truth about your current situation. Kristel Van der Elstarchive, with MIT Technology Review, notes that recognizing the uncertainty of the present is critical as you think about your visions for the future:

Take off the blinders. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how quickly the world can change. Such massive disruptions are not as rare as we would like to think. Disruptive change can seem as though it appears suddenly and without warning, but the threat was probably there all along. We may have downplayed its potential magnitude or discounted its odds. Cultivating a broader perspective about what might happen in the future will prompt you to revisit your own deeply held assumptions.

Once you acknowledge the truth about your current and possible future circumstances, take the time to assess your own plans and capabilities. You can’t plan that European vacation you imagined for this year, but you can plan a weekend at a cabin nearby.

Take it slow, and be flexible

Although planning may keep your mind off current stressors, the looming uncertainty can still trigger stress, even before you begin the process. Plan for the next day, and then the week, and then stretch to envision the next month. Start with your vision and define smaller goals for the day-to-day.

I highly recommend using the “Passion Planner” method. After you assess your larger goals, break them down into quarterly goals; then monthly, weekly, and daily goals; and then individual tasks you can work on to meet your daily goals. Breaking your goals down into smaller sections allows you to make changes as a new day presents new challenges.

Don’t run away from the uncertainty, but plan for multiple realities. Strategic operations company the Coraggio group advises, “Rather than locking yourself into plans that would only work in one situation, think of things that can be adapted to different futures.” Play out several situations on paper and be flexible. Try not to get tied to one singular plan or you’ll risk being left adrift if your circumstances change. Be open to pivoting, or even canceling. Keeping this mindset while planning will help you prep for any changes that may come your way.

Acknowledge your limits

Be kind to yourself as you shape your plan. There is already a lot to process in the here and now. Self-motivation is one thing, but being too ambitious with your goals might make them seem overwhelming or unachievable, derailing your efforts.

Incorporate breaks into your planning session. You do not need to orchestrate the many intricate details of your vision in one sitting. Blue Cross Blue Shield encourages, “If you are feeling anxious, take a minute to breathe. Remember that what we know right now might not be true tomorrow.” Schedule your planning over a few days or months.

I do a combination of planning and scheduling. Review your monthly calendar and schedule specific dates for planning. You can structure these mathematically—for instance, every ten days or so. Planning sessions can also make sense ahead of a holiday; a three-day weekend, for example, will allow you more time to focus on yourself. I like to plan regularly, and Sundays are my planning day. Every Sunday morning, I sit down and plan out the week. Create a regular habit for planning that is right for you. And don’t let the planning become all-consumingthe present is overwhelming enough.

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