annual planningMy husband, Jason Levin, and I truly love our annual planning days.  We dream about them in advance, gleefully arrange childcare, map out where we’re going to meet, and then relish the event itself.  I’ve written about them here before and shared our agendas, questions, and plans.

But how can we do that this year?  Where’s the childcare?  Where’s the certainty?  How can we possibly know what 2021 will bring, when timelines always seem to be shifting?  As you all know, 2020 has been a planner’s nightmare.

Here’s a question I recently got from a Mindful Return alum:

Based off your and Jason’s example, my husband and I really enjoyed doing an annual planning day for 2020. Of course by May everything had totally flipped on its head, and we didn’t bother reconnecting for our follow up lunches even though those were on the calendar. I’m curious what your plans are for this coming planning season? How are you approaching the process – same or different? What modifications are you considering for 2021? Have your topics/goals/priorities changed drastically?

I guess I’m interested in your thoughts on “planning during a pandemic.” Even though we know so much more today than we did in March, so much is still unknown about how things will progress even with a vaccine chances are next year’s schooling/daycare options will still be in question. In fact, our daycare never reopened. 

Pandemic-Era Annual Planning

We refuse to give up on annual planning entirely this year.  Perhaps it’s just not in us to admit we have no control over anything.  It also feels like we’ve given up so much this past year, that we are loathe to relinquish yet another longstanding tradition.

We have modified a number of things in our plans for planning this year, though.  (Yes, I know I sound a bit nuts to be talking about making a plan for planning, but there you have it.)


Who Will Watch the Kids?

Annual planning has always been a couples sport for us.  There are things we can plan and work on with our kiddos around, but this isn’t one of them.  This year, we’re planning to use some time when our school tutor is here to do planning on a day when we’d otherwise be working.

We also know that we may have to divide the topics into chunks and work on them over the course of several days.  Whatever we can’t fit in when our tutor is here, we can continue over a few evenings after the kids are in bed.

What Assumptions Are We Making?

Based only on the news we have at the moment, which we recognize may change any day, we’re assuming that at least half of 2021 will look a lot like the quarantined, no-in-person-school, dumpster fire of 2020.  In other words, we’re assuming there’s a possibility of summer camp, and we’re betting schools will be reopened next fall.  But we’re not committing to anything we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in a COVID environment during the first half of the year.

Setting the Stage

There is nothing about COVID that is convincing us to abandon doing a word storm exercise to sum up 2020.  And as usual, we plan to start by asking these 3 questions:

  • What’s one thing you did this year that you’re proud of?
  • What’s one mistake you made and the lessons you learned?
  • And what’s one story you’re willing to let go of before 2021?

These are from Marie Forleo’s Three Powerful Year in Review Questions That Will Set You Up for a Great Year Ahead.

Topics on Our Agenda

We’re not picking in-person kid birthday party dates months in advance like we used to.  But there are still plenty of topics on our planning agenda this year.  Here’s what we’ll be discussing, given the pandemic context:

  • What worked for us in 2020?
  • What didn’t work for us in 2020?
  • How can we function better in this remote environment?
      • What can we do to continue to prioritize our mental health?
      • How can we continue to prioritize our physical health, particularly food and exercise?
  • How can we optimize our home, given we’re here ALL the time?
      • What’s working and not working about our home offices?
      • What’s working and not working about our kids’ school spaces?
      • Are there parts of our home that need repair or improvement, given constant use?
      • What would make our home spaces more enjoyable and cozy to live in?
  • How can we improve our wardrobes so that we can be outside, even during the winter months? (I’ve already bought some very cozy fleece-lined yoga pants, and next on my list is a new winter coat…)
  • Some Scheduling:
      • We’re still going to map out our housecleaning dates for the year as we always do. (We had our cleaning crew start coming back after Fauci gave the green light…)
      • Right now, we are starting to think through some summer vacation options. None of them involves an airplane, but they do involve trying to get away from our house for a chunk of time.
  • Gratitude and Grieving:
      • What are we grateful for from this year?
      • What do we need to remember to take time to grieve from this year?
  • For our businesses and careers, what realistic goals can we set for ourselves? We’ve decided it’s wise to simply pick one big project to focus on achieving for the coming year.  If we wind up doing more, great.

Simply having an agenda feels normalizing.  True, things may shift.  And we’re wise enough after this year to know that anything could change on a dime.  But even planning for our planning meeting has felt like a good exercise for us as a couple already.

Are you planning to do annual planning this year?  What will you explore in this pandemic environment?  Please share in comments below!


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