Today, I want to talk to you about the concept of pre-planning. Pre-planning is a way to help yourself think through what an activity will be like, so you can be as prepared as possible, and make the absolute most of your time.
If you’re like me and worry about not making it through things you want to do, pre-planning can likely help you make the best of anything you want or need to do.
Let me walk you through an example.
Problems getting to the doctor’s
My neurologist was at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I live in central New Jersey, so getting up to the hospital takes some time and effort. For my first several visits, my father drove me to the appointment.
The hospital is only a few blocks from the George Washington Bridge, so it’s very little time doing city driving, and the hospital parking garage is reasonably priced(for New York).
My first few visits I got a little bit of the lay of the land, but that was it.
Less than a year after my diagnosis, my father died.
I wasn’t driving, due to the FND/conversion disorder, and my mother was uncomfortable with the idea of driving to the hospital, even though it was such a short time in city traffic.
So I looked over the information sheet they had sent my first visit.
There were directions for getting there from the subway. An idea began to form.
I looked things up some more and learned that the nearest stop was on a far end of a subway line that went right through Penn station.
I had occasionally gone into the city before by train, but not since my symptoms had started.
I was a bit worried about how I would feel and how other people might react to my symptoms. I also suspected I’d be exhausted and need at least some help getting home.
So I talked to my mother to see if she would accompany me to the city. She did, which relieved some stress.
Preplanning in action
Days before I went to that first appointment, I had gathered up all the information we might need and had a backpack packed with things to help me with the trip and appointment.
I knew where we were going, how to get there, how to get back, and when the appointment was.
I then used the appointment time to count backward to figure out what train we needed to catch and then estimated when we needed to leave for the station.
I knew what subway line we needed to take, the stop for the hospital, and how to get from the subway to his department in the hospital.
Because I knew all these pieces and had planned for so much, I had no unpleasant surprises along the way.
With my mother’s companionship, music to listen to, and games to distract myself with, I made it through the train ride relatively smoothly. Did I rock and shake a bit? Of course.
But we sat in disabled seating on the train, where there were two seats facing one another, which gave me enough space that I could rock without injuring myself.
We talked as much as possible and kept me distracted for the trip. And I had some stuff with me to do in case I wanted a different distraction.
When we got to Penn station, mom was a bit anxious – there are a lot of people, and they all seem to be hurrying off to their destination, acting like they are already late.
It’s a crowded space and a relatively unfamiliar one. But I knew where we were going, so after following the crowd to the main floor of the station, I kept my eye out for the sign pointing to the ACE subway, and then searched out the uptown A.
I knew we were going up to the 168th street station, and from there I was in familiar territory.
By thinking through each step I would need to take, I was able to know how a lot of my trip would go and have a target to aim for each step of the way.
I now always try to pre-plan, especially with the goal of adding in fun activities at minimal cost – especially in terms of time and effort.
Pre-planning to add fun to your day
I have become very comfortable with going to NYC.
I’m usually doing a day in the city at least twice a month. Most times I have a reason to go into the city, I plan things out to make a nice day of it.
I look for events and activities of interest that are occurring before or after my appointment, so I can go to those as well.
I find interesting restaurants in the area near my doctor, and make a point of eating there, since I’ll be up in the city long enough that I would need to buy or bring at least one meal anyway.
Why not have it be a culinary adventure, trying a new style of cooking, or new food, rather than grabbing an overpriced hamburger and soda for a similar cost?
Why not take an extra 20 minutes to visit a park, or see some art, or learn some new history?
By researching a bit ahead of time, I know where the opportunity is, how to get to it, and how to get home afterward.
I know the train schedules so that I can choose to catch a later train if I’m feeling good, or an earlier one if I’m more tired than expected.
My point is that with some careful forethought, I am able to both make my trip easier and add in a new or loved experience.
Improving my state of mind
Thinking “Ooh, today when I go into the city, I’ll get to try out Afghani food!” is much more pleasant than “Wow, today I need to do a two-hour trip to the city, just to get poked and prodded”.
Adding in a treat for yourself is that spoonful of sugar, and it comes at little cost.
With a meal, you’re doing something you’d have to do anyway(eat), and if you are judicious in where you go(which can be challenging), it won’t be that expensive.
If you go to a park or museum, many of these are free or very inexpensive to participate in.
Since you already know the details, you can spend more mental/emotional energy enjoying the activity.
I know sometimes deciding what to do can be draining, and sometimes by the time I’ve decided what to do, I no longer have the energy to do it. Preplanning gets around this, by building it all in together.
By planning ahead, I have a lot less stress and am more likely to be able to do something fun around the appointment or other commitment I have.
Pre-planning can also help make difficult activities easier. For example, there are a lot of people who go grocery shopping in the early evening on a weekday – running to get something on their way home from work, or realizing they need something for dinner.
I always try to do my grocery shopping at a low-traffic time.
By doing that, I can get through quicker, there’s less of a wait in line, and I can more comfortably read the labels and make sure that I am making the best possible choices.
Same activity, but fewer crowds, less pressure, and less waiting!
The more you can plan ahead to make things less stressful or demanding, the more likely you are to be able to handle and do more, and improve your quality of life!
This is especially important if you have mental health conditions like anxiety to manage – with or without additional physical or mental issues.
Mindset is a vital part of self-care and self-management, so please think about what you can pre-plan so that you can be, and stay, in a good frame of mind.
Apply pre-planning to your life!
So, as an exercise, write down whatever activity drains you the most.
It could be taking a shower, or seeing a certain doctor, or your job.
Whatever that activity is, think about why it drains you, and what is the most challenging part of it. Whatever the worst part is, think about a way to make it easier or better.
Keep at it until you think of one concrete thing you can do to help yourself make that draining activity a little easier the next time you do it.
As you have the energy, look at other activities in your life, and think about what else you could do to make them easier, or if there’s a way you can easily reward yourself during or after the task.
Think about things that you want or need to do that have felt like too much to handle.
Are there ways that you could pre-plan to make it more doable?
Start writing out some responsibilities or fun activities that you have wanted to do lately that have seemed just out of reach.
Think about some research or preplanning you could do to make them feasible!
Anytime you are not up to doing physical work, start thinking through other tasks you could pre-plan to make easier.
If you need to do it anyway, you might as well make it as easy on yourself as possible. Try to combine work and fun, and focus on making the best out of everything in your life.
Life is a journey, not a destination, so please enjoy this journey, and even when it’s tough, take time to notice the flowers along the way.