I don’t know if retro-planning is real word or one I invented, but it has been what I have been known for introducing to single place I ever worked. It means starting as far out as possible from an event date and counting backwards to the current date, scheduling through the steps and tiny details that need to be accomplished to make an event or project a success.
If a wedding was on June 1 and a bride came to me on December 1 to plan her wedding, I would begin a chart that started on June 1 and I would list everything that could only be done on June 1: Flower delivery. Cake delivery. Hair appointment. Then, for the days and weeks preceding, I would detail everything that needed to get done for the wedding to happen on June 1.
May 31: Put suitcase for honeymoon in car. Confirm hair appointment. Wax appointment.
May 30: Confirm with florist, baker
May 29: Confirm total gets with caterer. Pack suitcase for honeymoon.
This would continue all the way back to December 2, the day when I would tell her we would contact caterers for tastings and book ASAP, because, I would scold her, six months isn’t nearly long enough to adequately prepare for a wedding.
I loved doing this kind of thing when it was for other people’s events.
For someone who was once called “inflexible in my perfectionism” with my down-to-the-minute retro-planning of how events would proceed, I certainly do a lousy job of keeping up with my own family’s schedule.
Why can you not just give me an answer!?
If I’ve said it once, I have said it a thousand times, I am a person who needs clarity and rules and firm guardrails to thrive. I get lost when there are no time-constraints, no parameters. This is why I love budgets, love retro-plannings, love plotting out novels. I am obsessively, nay freakishly, on-time.
Somehow, I ended up marrying someone who loves none of those things. I cannot for the life of me figure out how he stays organized, because he is never able to tell me when he has to be where.
This is no small point of friction, believe you me.
When we are going to go, say, a quick trip to his parents’ house for a week, for example. I will start several weeks out by collecting up our bathing suits and pool gear. I will buy extra snacks. I will get out our suitcases. As I wash laundry I will fold certain items and put them aside for the trip. In many ways, this helps build the anticipation, and serves, for me, as a way to live in the future, while we are still in the present. Is that unhealthy? I don’t know. But it works for me.
On the other hand, when my husband has to go somewhere, he may need to be there at 8:00 but he is still in pyjamas and playing little cars on the floor with our scalawags at 7:55. Naturally, he will start to panic when he is late. But for some reason, he just cannot be moved to think ahead.
I love the man. But I just don’t understand him.
So naturally, for twenty-some-odd years, we have sort of flown by the seat of our pants regarding our family schedule. Up until 5 years ago, it didn’t really matter who needed to be where when. Suddenly, with two little people depending on us, it matters. A lot.
I nag constantly now. “When do you need to leave?” or “When will you be home?” I hate myself for it. But in order to plan my days, I need to know the parameters of my day. In order to plan my creative endeavors, I need to know when everything should be cleaned up by, so I know when to stop. In order to write and plan my words per hour goals, I need to know when to expect there to be another person present, because I do not think as clearly or as creatively when there is someone else there.
I do not believe I have ever received a straight answer to my questions.
This kind of frustration puts the onus on me, because I am the one bothered by it. I have tried dozens of solutions. The one that is currently in place is an app called COZI, which functions as our family calendar. We try to put our appointments, dates we serve at church, the boys’ music or circus classes. He usually remembers to add his out-of-the-ordinary events, like school meetings.
We also have tried to do our meal planning in COZI, but it takes forever and usually creates more friction than it is worth. Paper and pencil have ended up being our recourse. I cannot count the number of times we have had arguments over our meal planning and grocery shopping. (I hate to cook and get defensive about it. These arguments are always my fault.)
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- goes with the flow
- manages what she can and trusts others to do their part
- doesn’t arrive too early
- doesn’t stress out about other people’s organization
- plans meals in advance
- makes doctors’ appointments promptly instead of dragging out the inevitable
- doesn’t have to bother people to know what the plan is
- reacts unemotionally to being late
- is faithful about writing down her engagements on the calendar
What is working: Although it happens very very very rarely, I might give myself a shout-out for putting our meal plan in COZI. I hate talking on the phone, so if I finally managed to set up a long-avoided appointment with, say the eye doctor, I will call that a win (yeah right. I will go blind before I ever get that appointment made.)
What isn’t working?: I am sure you don’t need for me to list this out, since clearly this is an entire category filled with contentious and defensive points of order for me.
Things to consider: At one point, I realized that all the arguments in this category were because of me, and I needed to start dissecting why exactly I was so uptight and inflexible about scheduling and planning. I am still trying to figure this out, and trying to let go of the things I cannot change and gain a bit of serenity.
Things to do: If I am feeling particularly motivated, I will try to make a meal plan for the whole month and put it in COZI. I used to do this on that one Wednesday morning every three weeks when this category would come up. Then lockdowns got me out of the routine, and I have been floating painfully since. I know everything went more smoothly when I would do this, and if I wanted to eliminate a ton of stress and arguments, I would just take a half-hour and do this. We shall see if my pride is so great that I cannot even bend my own will to make it happen.
Isn’t it ironic that a character trait which made me a kickass event planner and project manager makes me a miserable wife and mother? Being a wife and mother is not an event to be planned or a project to manage. It is the constant repetition of the same things, of which the lack of clarity or end-date make me physically nauseous. (You think I am exaggerating? Try me.)
I know that my inflexibility is what is at issue here. I know that if I could just be “more cool”, if I could “just relax”, I would find that things aren’t that bad. But as it stands, I often find myself in tears, physically ill over the lack of boundaries and clarity. I genuinely don’t know how to navigate this, and that is why it is one of my Ideal Life categories.
In my Ideal Life, I go with the flow.