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What is Flexible Planning?

A woman in orange dress sat writing in planner

Flexible Planning

Do you find that rigid schedules don’t fit your unique needs? Do you often start a new approach then once the dopamine hit wears off you’re back to wasting time and energy due to a lack of planning?

Flexibility is essential for me, not just because of my fluctuating energy levels, but because I get bored VERY easily and end up rebelling against being “told what to do” – yup, even by myself!

If you’re introverted, neurodiverse, or living with a chronic illness that lowers your energy, embracing flexibility in your planning could be a great solution for you.

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As someone who mentors and supports others to become more focused and productive – whatever that looks like for them, it’s clear that the one-size-fits-all style of planning, doesn’t actually fit everyone.

Flexible planning is about creating a system and way of working that aligns with your life, abilities, limitations, and that helps you thrive in your work each day.

Creating a routine that acknowledges your strengths and accommodates your challenges, will make everyday tasks more manageable and much less overwhelming.

Understanding Flexible Planning

Being in the productivity and time management field as a coach is something that I was very uncertain about because of my own history with struggling to find something that I could work with.

However, in my work with others who experience similar difficulties, it’s clear there is a need to find a way to work that is inclusive of those who find the traditional methods unhelpful.

Flexible planning is something that can both hold me to a structure, with clarity of goals and next steps, but one that I can adapt easily if I need to.  

If you manage low energy, or easily become overwhelmed and freeze when trying to focus, being able to adapt in a moment – often without warning, removes a lot of the pressure felt.

Opting to take a more adaptive approach to planning will acknowledge the different challenges that you face, whilst still providing a much needed framework to support both your productivity and well-being.

Benefits of Flexible Planning

There are many benefits of flexible planning, including:

  • Meets the diverse needs of individuals
  • Easily adaptable
  • Provides a soft framework for accountability
  • Gives clarity of goal and focused work
  • Freedom to adapt in the moment when health / energy levels dip
  • Feels less pressured than a rigid plan
  • Improved task management
  • Supports an improved work / life balance
  • Enables momentum to build without added pressure
  • Increases confidence as progress becomes more consistent
  • Supports motivation and sustainability

Flexible planning offers a range of benefits, in particular the ability to be adapted in a way that meets the specific needs of individuals, including introverts, neurodiverse, and those managing low energy and chronic health conditions.

Working in a way that supports the fluctuating energy levels and ability to focus on tasks will help to lessen the feeling of pressure and stress when working towards goals. In turn, this will improve productivity and support a more balanced work / life focus.

Adapting Planning to Meet Your Needs

We know that some of the traditional planning methods can just lead to overwhelm and feeling stuck. This can be particularly true for those who are introverted, neurodiverse, or manage low energy.

Rigid schedules often don’t take issues like fluctuating energy, hyperfocus, distraction, and overwhelm caused by sensory overload.

The need for more frequent breaks, shorter focus sessions, a way to limit distraction due to managing busy minds, makes rigid plans and schedules less workable.

Not only this, but as someone who lives with chronic health issues and frequent (sometimes extended) periods of low energy, more traditional planning methods just leaves me feeling unmotivated. I often feel like I’m failing when I see a backlog of tasks build up during these periods.

This cycle can lead you feeling like you’re constantly playing catch up. Plus, when you sprinkle in a bit of neurospicy creativity (constantly coming up with new plans and ideas to pursue), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and just freeze – getting nothing done at all.

This more flexible approach to planning and implementation means that it will be much easier to adapt plans, make allowances, and pivot when you need to, without it impacting your motivation or confidence in yourself.

Woman Having Coffee While Using Laptop
Photo by Vlada Karpovich

Flexible planning is about finding what suits you and what you feel good with. I totally understand that something can seem like the holy grail solution to begin with, but then after a few weeks (when the feel good factor from dopamine wears off), it doesn’t seem quite so good and you abandon it as a lost cause.

But trying things on for size, giving them a go, and finding your rhythm is how you’ll work out what’s best for you. Perhaps the flexibility for you will come in the form of changing your approach to things every few months.

As long as your main focus is on improving your productivity and efficiency, and not simply scratching that shiny coin itch – go for it!

Things to Help You Get Started With Flexible Planning

There are a few things you can do to help you explore how you can embrace flexible planning. These include:

Brain dump. Before you begin, get everything out of your mind and onto paper or screen. Add your goals, your daily and weekly tasks, your work / family / social commitments.

Identify your struggles. Write down the things that you struggle with. This could be “low energy” “inability to focus more than 10 minutes” “Sensory overwhelm / overload” or “Easily distracted and never finish tasks”. Then add how this currently impacts you and your ability to focus.

Planning tools. Think about planning tools that you’ve already tried out. Do any of them have aspects that you found helpful or not so helpful? Write them down in two columns. List what was helpful in one and what you found unhelpful in the other side. This can help you to identify the type of things that have previously worked for you.

Mindset. It’s also important to focus on your mindset. Could some of the reasons why you’re struggling to manage your time and get stuff done, be because of self doubt and a lack of confidence? It’s good to recognise this because when fear drives procrastination, no amount of planning tools or strategies will change that. You need to focus on what is driving the fear and how to resolve this.

Identify Your Unique Planning Style

Once you’ve got this clear idea of things that have helped in the past, and the type of things that you need flexibility with, it’s time to look at your preferences.

Think about how you prefer to organise your projects and tasks. Take into consideration factors like your reactions to stimulus, your strengths, things you find difficult (e.g. noisy environments).

Still using your list of strengths & challenges, think about whether you prefer digital planning tools or good old fashioned pen and paper. Do you prefer colourful prompts or a more minimalist approach?

How much structure do you need and how much structure do you want? This question may be the hardest one for you. For me I know I need a certain level of structure, but the moment I feel restricted I rebel against myself and in my head find all the reasons why doing this other task would be a much better use of my time…!

It’s important to embrace your authentic and unique self – without judgement. Once you are able to accept yourself, it becomes much easier to want to help and support yourself in the best way possible.

Being honest with yourself about your challenges as well as your strengths will help you bring awareness to the things that feel good and help you make the most out of your time and energy each day.

Flexible planning is a concept that is designed to meet you where you are instead of needing to squeeze into boxes that don't fit.

How to Adapt Standard Planning Tools

Don’t panic – you do not have to spend a tonne of money signing up to the next great app – you can adapt the ones you’re already using. Flexible planning is supposed to help you make life easier – so let's not overcomplicate things!

For example, in your calendar, choose different colours to represent different tasks so that it’s a good visual guide. Use them to indicate when during the day you’ll be working on them. This can be used to support time blocking if this is a method that you work well with.

Use the calendar or free apps in your phone as reminders. These can be programmed to remind you of upcoming tasks. The act of removing this list from your mind is a good way to lessen pressure and overwhelm.

Reminders have been a lifesaver for me. With my ME/CFS-related brain fog, on top of menopausal brain fog – I can forget things in seconds…

Getting into the habit of instantly adding things to my digital to-do list and setting reminders, has improved those panicked wake ups in the middle of the night when my brain decides to remind me!

Some useful apps:

  • Google Calendar
  • Google Keep
  • Reminders (on iPhone)
  • Sunsama (paid – but get 6 weeks free!)
  • Evernote
  • Prosper (Google Play) *I have not used this as I have iPhone

Implementing Flexible Planning

Now you’ve got the method and the strategy sorted, it’s time to implement flexible planning into your daily life!

Create a Planning Routine

Keep in mind that this is flexible planning, and anything you decide to do now, does not have to be set in stone and isn’t immovable.

  • Choose the frequency of your planning. Annual plans, quarterly, then monthly and weekly? Or something different to this structure?
  • Decide on the days / times you will plan. WIl you plan every Monday morning or are you a Sunday planner like me?
  • Will you have ‘big’ planning days + smaller sessions? Some people love to spend a day per month working on plans. Others prefer a big annual planning day, followed by quarterly planning ½ days and smaller planning sessions each week (30-60 mins). This is what I tend to do, and is easier as long as you frequently review your plans and progress.
  • How & when will you review your plans and progress? Daily / weekly/ monthly?
  • What will you use to plan? (Digital calendars, task management apps, or traditional planners)
  • How will you ensure that you will implement the plans? The key in making the progress needed lies in taking the action. How will you make sure that you don’t sit in a cycle of endless planning?

Managing unexpected challenges

As good at planning as you may be, there will be times when life just does what it does and interrupts your routines and plans.

This is where flexible planning comes into its own. The whole point of flexible planning is that it helps you to adapt in the moment when things crop up.

A few different ways you can manage these include:

  • Take a moment to catch your breath. Coming from a calm place will help you work out how to handle things in a more proactive way.
  • What are the implications? Figure out if you need to stop everything, or if it just means your time to work has been shrunk. If you need to drop everything – do it. You can come back to your plans and review progress once you are able to. From there, adapt, move things and plan the next steps.
  • Have your back up plan ready. For me this tends to be related to an energy crash. It may be a slow burner, where I have a little time to prepare when I sense I need to stop soon. But sometimes it can come out of nowhere and I have to just leave my desk and go and rest. My back up plan has a list of activities I can manage during these periods. Not only does this help me feel less stressed, but it gives me the confidence that I can still work towards my goals despite my unpredictable health.

Making Time for Self Care and Rest

I wanted to end this post on flexible planning with self care and planned rest. If you’ve read this post through to the end, my guess is that you’ve struggled with traditional, rigid planning methods.

Perhaps like me you have low or inconsistent energy levels, or you’re easily overwhelmed with big goals and managing / prioritising your time.

One of the hardest things for me to do is rest. It can be SO triggering for me because it’s linked to the trauma of the sudden onset of my chronic health issues.

Resting was forced on me for very long periods of time when I was bed and housebound, so choosing to rest has been a battle!

But, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make a date for rest and taking care of yourself. If you’re introverted, manage health / energy issues or are neurodiverse, the chances are you work in a boom / bust cycle.

When you’re hyper focused on something, or when you feel like you have a little bit more energy – you go all in.

The problem with this is though, it’s the most direct route to burning out and needing to take even more time away from work to recover.

As part of your flexible planning, add in rest breaks. Schedule them into your calendar / app just like you would a meeting, and take the break! 

With flexible planning you can make this work for you. Some may need two long breaks during the day to recharge. Others may need smaller and more frequent breaks. Whatever helps you – add it in!

Writing blog posts is where I slack with this and I always experience payback because of it. So this past week I’ve been challenging myself to writing in no more than 30 – 45 minute sessions.

I’m clear on my daily and weekly goals, and I make sure that whilst they do still challenge me, there is enough leeway if I need to lose 5+ hours of the working week. I always add in rest breaks, and don’t get hung up if I need to move a task to the next day in Sunsama

Final Thoughts

Embracing flexible planning can transform the way that you work. It can help you feel more in control of your working week, and become more energised and productive.

Everyone is unique, we all do things differently, so sticking to a more rigid way of working that makes you feel stressed or miserable each day isn’t going to help you work efficiently.

Flexible planning can be whatever it means to you. You may have a Plan A and a Plan B if you manage unpredictable health issues. Or, you may choose to only work in short periods, focusing on a single goal each time.

Flexible planning is simply a way to help you feel confident in what you are doing, by embracing your unique strengths, preferences, learning styles and challenges.

If this post helped or you enjoyed reading it, please share one of the images below as it really helps my blog – Thank You!

Image of a desk with planners. Text in front reads - Simple Steps to Flexible Planning. For Introverts & Low Energy Entrepreneurs
A woman relaxed working. The text reads - Flexible Planning: Is This The Perfect Solution When You Manage Low Energy?
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Meet Lynsey

Lynsey Wall, Coach & Mentor at Coach Writes. About me - A headshot of Lynsey smiling. Wearing a black t-shirt, blue framed glasses. Office walls behind her.

Hey there! I'm Lynsey, a coach, counsellor, and mentor for low energy, introverted or low confident female coaches & small business owners. With over 5 years’ experience of running businesses, and over a decade as a tutor and trainer, I've learned the value of effective time management that energises you through working with your energy.

I've lived with chronic illness – ME/CFS since 2011 and since then I re-trained as a counsellor, and achieved a distinction for my MA in Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice; all while running 4 businesses! I want that for you as well & it is possible with the right support and pathway to success.

Improving your mindset, finding acceptance and developing a solution-focused approach to achieving your goals is my passion. Blending mental health support where needed, as well as a supportive space and methods to manage your work more effectively.

If you'd like to know more about working with me, you can email [email protected] or find me on socials (links in the menu)

Have you seen my online store Your Coach Tools? Find DFY templates & more!

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