For 5+ years now, my husband and I have blocked a day near the end of the year as our “Annual Planning Day.” Not only do we look forward to the tradition of spending an entire day together (kid-free daylight hours one-on-one in a coffee shop! – unheard of!), but the event has proven to be an invaluable chaos-reduction tool.
I’ve written about this topic before, but given that our annual meeting has evolved, it’s time to do a re-fresh.
Here’s the Idea
You and your partner carve out one or two days per year. It doesn’t matter when you do this, though one day at year-end and another mid-summer is nice. In advance of your planning day (or mid-year check-in), you come up with an agenda of topics you want to be sure you cover and questions you want to be sure you ask.
You send the kids elsewhere (school, daycare, camp, family, babysitter), and you park yourselves somewhere with WiFi. My husband and I enjoy heading to Panera or a coffee shop, to get our heads out of our usual routine. You bring your agenda, a calendar, and your laptops. You order hot cocoa, gaze into one another’s eyes…and get down to the business of setting a vision for your year and mapping out some logistics.
Topics on the Table
Our list of topics has changed over time, but it always involves things like planning travel and talking through money. This year, in light of current events, we’re putting volunteering as a family on the table, too. Here’s our rough outline for this year’s annual planning day:
Set the Stage: Normally we do a wordstorm to describe how last year felt to us and how we want the next year to feel. This year, we added Marie Forleo’s “Three Powerful Year In Review Questions That Will Set You Up for a Great Year Ahead“:
- One thing you did this year that you’re proud of.
- One mistake you made and the lesson you learned.
- One story you’re willing to let go of before 2017.
Pull Out the Calendar: We take this time to look at the year as a whole, rather than be surprised as events and travel creep up on us. Some things we focus on are:
- Marking all daycare/school closure dates and figuring out who will stay home, what backup care we will need, camps we’ll need to schedule, etc.
- Choosing kid birthday party dates, and then communicating those to the family.
- Choosing housecleaning dates for the whole year, and then communicating those to our cleaning service. (For thoughts on other things working mamas can outsource, go here.)
- Scheduling a few date nights, and texting our babysitters to check out their availability.
- Thinking about kid activities – which ones do we want our kids to participate in this year? How many activities? (For some thoughts on mindfully selecting kid activities, go here.)
- New this year, blocking a weekend day on a quarterly basis to engage in a volunteer activity as a family.
Size Up Travel Holistically: After having a year or two of unmanageable travel, we realized we needed to set a limit on how many trips we took per year. We now have a better sense of how much is too much and how much is just right, and we are intentional about staying within our own boundaries.
- Think about family visits. If you went on five long car trips to see family last year, and that felt like too much, make a commitment to going fewer times this year. Pick the dates, and communicate with family about them so there aren’t any surprises.
- Dream about a vacation! And then, of course, start planning. Brainstorm together, think big, think realistically, work out budgets, and get excited.
Money, Money, Money: Yes, I always sing a bit of ABBA in my head at this point in the meeting. It’s time to open those bank account and credit card apps, see what came in and went out this year, and set goals for the coming year.
- Start with savings goals and a rainy day fund. Have you created a separate savings account for each goal? We use CapitalOne360 and have accounts called things like “kid birthday parties” and “holiday money,” to which we contribute every pay period.
- Think about taxes. Did you pay enough as the year went on, so you don’t owe a big chunk at the end of the year? If not, can you make a change for this coming year? Will maternity leave or other time off affect what you owe? Schedule a separate tax-prep day with your partner sometime before April.
- Talk through those longer-term goals, like kids’ college funds (get on top of opening and contributing to a 529 account) and your own retirement. How much are you putting aside? Are you on target?
- Think through your values and decide if there are nonprofit or advocacy organizations you’d like to contribute to. Consider recurring donations to automate the process of giving.
Push the “Reset” Button on Health and Exercise: This is one of those areas where it’s never too late to start again. Wherever we find ourselves in December – whether with healthy eating, weight targets, or exercise – January offers a fresh page.
- Talk through meal planning. Are you happy with how the food scene in your house is going? If not, what might improve things? (Starting to cook Blue Apron meals 2x/week was a game changer for us.)
- Focus on exercise. Block out exercise time on your calendar now for next week. And then next weekend, repeat that exercise. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t happen. (For more thoughts on how to fit in exercise as a working mom, go here.)
- Find accountability partners. Can you and your significant other become one another’s daily or weekly check-in person on where you stand with food or exercise?
As working parents, life – and the most important and beautiful things about it – can get away from us so quickly. Taking the time to reflect on last year and plan out the coming year frees us up to be more mindful and present during the year ahead. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Heading back to work after maternity leave soon? Want advice and a supportive community of new working mamas from all over? Join the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.