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Should You Make Plans for the Year Ahead?
Every year in January, most of us start thinking about making plans and setting goals for the new year ahead. But this year, it feels different. Why smart planning is important.
by Oxford Biolabs

Every year in January, most of us start thinking about making plans and setting goals for the new year ahead. But this year, it feels different.

2020 took the world by surprise. And not the good kind. It was unfortunate and devastating, affecting people globally. Plans fell apart and our daily lives changed beyond imagination.

Now many of us are wondering — is it even worth making plans and setting goals for 2021? What if things don't go as planned again?

In a time of so many unknowns, it's essential to remain hopeful. In this article, we'll look at whether to make plans for the year ahead and how to do it in a way that embraces hope and reduces anxiety.

Why Planning Ahead Matters

Prolonged uncertainty can lead to feelings of anxiety and cause severe stress. In more severe cases, it can even lead to depression.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to avoid stress whenever possible. Stress can severely weaker our immune response and lead to other health ailments.

One way to tackle that is by setting up plans for the future.

As people, we have a unique trait not found in other species — we can comprehend the future. And because of that, making plans is in our nature.

A recent study from North Carolina State University found that people are happiest when living in the moment while also planning for the future.

It was revealed that even if plans fall through, the process of planning helps us gather our thoughts and set up hopeful things to look forward to.

How to Make Plans in Uncertain Times

Whether you are used to making plans for the future regularly or not, the process doesn't quite feel the same as before. Just like everything else, it needs to be adjusted to the current situation.

It is indeed possible to plan and set goals but now more than ever, it's absolutely key to focus on short-term attainable things.

But what does it mean, exactly?

One way to look at it is by applying the SMART method to goal-setting and planning. SMART is an acronym that is often used in project management and personal development.

SMART stands for:

S - specific

M - measurable

A - assignable

R - realistic

T - time-specific.

For example, planning to "go on holiday" is not exactly a SMART goal. It is too broad. To make it SMART, you can think about each step separately.

Specific - what does "going on holiday" mean to you? Do you want to go on a family trip for several days or spend a quiet weekend in a country B&B with your significant other or perhaps alone?

Measurable - how can you track the progress of making this plan happen? This is an excellent way to break your goal up in smaller steps that can serve as a to-do list. In this case, measurable steps would include picking a destination, booking accommodation, planning activities etc.

Assignable - can you delegate any specific tasks to others? For planning a holiday, this could mean that you take care of some things while your significant other takes care of something else.

Realistic - for now, planning to go abroad is not too realistic. Perhaps, if you pick a local destination, it makes your plan a little more doable?

Time-specific - set up specific dates. This, again, can help you narrow down smaller tasks. For example, set a date by which you need to figure out where you will be going, a date by which you need to have accommodation booked etc.

Of course, you don't need to apply this technique to every single goal and plan, but it can really make you think about plans in a more specific way.

When you set up small, attainable goals, each thing that you get to do and tick off your list fills you with gratitudejoy, and a sense of reward. This can significantly help with feeling more hopeful and inspired for the future.

Small things that you can plan for yourself include getting a haircut, ordering a meal from your favourite take-out place, making a SPA (even if arrange a spa-day at home) or any other treatment appointment.

If you want to spend more quality time with your family but can't go abroad or do much travelling, you can, again, plan small, attainable things. For example, plan a board game night, make a special meal together, explore a neighbourhood in your hometown etc.

Things to Keep in Mind When Planning for 2021

The previous year was a stark reminder that things can change suddenly and this requires the ability to respond quickly. For the new year ahead, it's important to remember this.

When planning ahead, think about adaptability. If necessary, will you be able to have some wiggle room?

Adaptability is an excellent middleman of sorts. Instead of cancelling plans altogether, perhaps you can adapt? Push things further back or scale down to avoid the disappointments.

It can also be helpful to categorize your plans into two groups — plans that you don't want to/can't afford to change and ones that you can temporarily put on hold. In case you do end up having to choose between something, you'll be able to quickly see what are the things that can be temporarily put on hold.

If anything, 2020 made us more resilient. It reminded us that we as people are very adaptable by nature. It also reminded us that people can come together and be there for each other when needed. Thus, there is much to be hopeful about.

When making plans for the year ahead, keep in mind to think in actionable, specific, and attainable steps.

Small-term goals and plans that are easy to realize will give you a higher sense of gratitude and reward than difficult long-term goals. Bigger goals can be broken up in smaller steps using the SMART planning method covered previously.

An uncertain future doesn't mean that you have to give up things to look forward to. Set up attainable goals and plans that fill you with excitement and motivation, but remember to embrace living in the moment.

We wish you a very interesting year and hope all your plans will succeed.