First Published: January 12, 2021 | Last Updated: January 12, 2021

The gist: After a year like 2020, the Work Brighter-verse has less tolerance than ever for high intensity, pressure-filled goal setting and planning guides for 2021. For expectations to "crush your goals in 2021" and "plan out every minute in advanced."

That kind of productivity pressure has never been what we're about, and especially not in 2021.

That's why I think our Practical Planning mindset and method is what EVERYONE needs for 2021.

The Practical Planning mindset says, "plan just as much as you need to to not feel overwhelmed by what you have to do."

And the Practical Planning method lets you create a manageable, flexible, realistic plan you can stick to, regardless of what life throws at you.

Here's how you can use it.

Listen, if anyone tells you that you should already be crushing your 2021 goals, find me, and I'll crush them. 

We don't have the time, energy, or patience for that ish this year.

Just kidding, because in the Work Brighter-verse we are all about non-violent imagery for success.

So in reality I'll just win them over to our side with witty pop culture references and sarcastic remarks or something.

Today I want to talk to you about planning for 2021, or more specifically, planning for the near future when the near past has been a shitshow.

Changing Up My Planning Process

If you're a member of our community, you know that my whole approach to productivity, planning, and personal development was shaken up around 2016, when my chronic illnesses and mental health were so bad that work became almost impossible.

(And if you're not a part of our community, subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel to join us.)


Back then, I loved planning, I nerded out over it, always have. 🤓

But honestly? I was objectively bad at it. Because I wasn't creating plans that I kept.

They weren't realistic or doable for my reality at the time.

I was physically capable of working maybe 20 hours of week, but creating these elaborate, jam-packed, color coded plans that added up to like 60 hours of work.

Those plans were setting me up for failure, no matter how beautifully color-coded they were.

theyre color coded for gods sake

Discovering Practical Planning

But since I do love planning, and I am Type A all the way, and my deepest dream is to have a planning party with Amy Santiago and Leslie Knope...

When I realized my planning process wasn't working, instead of ditching planning altogether, I found a new approach.

That approach is what's now called the Practical Planning Process, and I firmly believe it's the only planning mindset worth paying attention to this year.

Like, in any old year, I'd obviously recommend my own work, but I would also give credit to other ways.

But this year? Nah, no time for it this year.

After 2020, this year calls for drastically empathetic and realistic planning, and that's what Practical Planning is.

The Practical Planning framework is based off of 4 principles:

  • Creating containers based on your real capacity
  • Building in time for your existing commitments, and
  • Planning just as much as the container fits
  • Breaking big projects down based on Snowman Project Planning

Let's dig into each.

After 2020, this year calls for drastically empathetic and realistic planning, and that's what Practical Planning is.

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This year calls for drastically empathetic, forgiving, and realistic planning and productivity. And that is what practical planning is.

Step 1: Define Your Containers

First, you want to look at your plan as a container. And base the size or capacity of that container based on your ACTUAL capacity for work or other commitments.

A big mistake with planning, especially at the beginning of the year when we're dreaming big and feeling super optimistic and have so many blank calendar tabs or pages ahead of us, is drastically overestimating how much we can do in a given time period.

As a result, we overcommit ourselves and don't pace ourselves and end up burning out by mid-February. I've also talked about this in my video on overplanning.

So the first phase of practical planning is to revisit how much time you actually have for different areas of your life. Like your job and your family and whatnot.

In the Practical Planning workshops we do inside the Work Brighter Clubhouse, everything starts with a Time Audit exercise.

A time audit is basically looking at your past month or so of time and figuring out how much time you spent on different areas of your life.

From taking care of yourself, to taking care of your family, taking care of your house, taking care of your business, and so on. 

Get as specific as you can without forcing your memory too hard.

This helps you see how much of your time is already accounted for or sort of taken when you start planning new projects.

Because it's so easy to overestimate how much free time we have, and then create plans based on that capacity.

Like I said, I used to plan myself 60-hour weeks totally by accident just because I wasn't accounting for how much time I actually had for the things in those plans.

And I'm not the only one.

Clubhouse members almost always realize their estimates were way off base when we do this exercise.

It helps you realize how large or small your container, whether that's a daily or weekly or monthly container, really is.

Once you've done that, you can move onto step 2: building in time for your existing commitments.

Do you know how you REALLY spend your time?

Figure out how much space you have in your time containers with our free Time Audit worksheet!

Step 2: Define Your Existing Commitments

This is where you start building a plan for the future based on your time audit, using those containers as limits for yourself.

And the beauty of Practical Planning is that it can be adapted to use for any time period: annual, quarterly, monthly, or weekly.

But before you start slotting in tasks for new ideas, you want to schedule in existing commitments.

We're creatures of habit, and so much of our lives revolve around routine.

That's not a bad thing if they're enjoyable, intentional routines, so our goal is to have as many of those as possible.

Start thinking about the different routines you can schedule to accomplish recurring tasks.

Take the things like checking email, cleaning your physical space, content creation, ongoing meetings with people, time blocked off for talking to friends and family.

Decide how long you're going to spend doing them over the next quarter or so, and when you're going to do it.

Add those into your containers from step 1, and move onto step 3.

Step 3: Figure Out Your Container's Blank Space

Step 3 is planning as much as your containers fit, and that is all. No more!

This is where you start slotting in new ideas and projects you're going to work on.

And note how different this is from most planning strategies found in Hustle Culture.

A lot of processes have you come up with an arbitrary deadline or due date based on when you WANT to finish something.

But it's more likely than not that that want is totally unrealistic, between how bad we are at estimating time and how prone we are to overwhelming ourselves.

Practical Planning is about being realistic so your plans are actually helpful.

So we start with how much time we have, then figure out a workable project plan and deadline based on that.

You can combine your container, or time limits, from step 1 and your routines from step 2 to figure out how much time you have for new projects.

After that it's time to build a snowman.

Do you know how you REALLY spend your time?

Figure out how much space you have in your time containers with our free Time Audit worksheet!

Step 4: Schedule Tasks with Snowman Project Planning

Step 4 is using Work Brighter's Snowman method of project planning.

(Is it irony that I finally got around to explaining this method in a video once I moved to a city where I will never see snow? I'm recording this like 2 weeks after moving from NYC to LA. It's either irony or the thing we always say is irony but technically isn't.)

Anyway, the Snowman project planning method is about looking at the projects you build as delicate, artful snow sculptures.

Aka snowmen.

The big things you want to accomplish, like starting a business or moving to a new city, are snowmen made up of multiple parts, like different sized snowballs and accessories.

The most essential projects you need to complete to accomplish those big things?

Those are the snow balls.

You won't have the full finished picture without them.

For starting a business, that might be things like creating your first product or launching your website.

For moving, my snow balls so far have been things like finding an apartment, moving, furnishing, and moving admin.

Then those projects, those snowballs, are made up of individual tasks or snowflakes.

Those are the tiny to-dos like filing the form to forward my mail, changing my address in online shopping accounts, and stuff like that for moving admin. 

For creating a product it might be stuff like booking, having, and analyzing customer interviews for research.

Finally, you have the accessories like the carrot nose, twig arms, and top hat. A snow man is so much better with a top hat.

They're not as essential to a snow man as the actual snow, not the most urgent things, but you want to get them done if you have time. They make the finished picture better.

Practical Plans Get Adjusted

Finally, part of Practical Planning and Practical Productivity is knowing that your plans aren't set in stone.

That's why adjusting your plans based on reality is built into the rest of the Practical Productivity process in a cycle of "plan, do, review."

Do you know how you REALLY spend your time?

Figure out how much space you have in your time containers with our free Time Audit worksheet!