How to plan for the unplannable

A "2020 calendar" sounds like an oxymoron at this point

Illustration: Léo Hamelin

There’s a 1m-wide 2020 calendar on the wall in my office. It’s directly behind me, so any time I’m on a Zoom call it looms over us like a spectre of the year that never was. 

People often comment on the calendar when they see it pop up on their screen. Often, it’s to joke about what an oxymoron a “2020 calendar” is at this point. Sometimes, however, they voice out loud something that’s lurking in those blank squares, how, since lockdown, I’ve given up on planning altogether.

I used to be a meticulous organiser. My boringly practical reason for tacking a giant calendar to my wall was needing a visual way to organise my year. I’d plan my days out in my Google calendar but that wasn’t cutting it for the big projects that I couldn’t easily see at a glance. I also wanted to have something “worky” on the office wall that inspired productivity but actually looked cute. All the yearly calendars I found on Amazon looked too corporate, so I decided to just DIY the project. 

And so at the beginning of the year, I rolled out a sheet of heavy-duty paper across my kitchen island and went to work making a personalised yearly planner. It took about four hours to measure all the boxes out and then line over them with a Sharpie. I then developed a pastel highlighter colour-coding system to demarcate the different projects I wanted to track. I stuck it proudly on the wall with Command strips.

When my podcast co-host was in my office to record an episode of the show before lockdown and first saw the calendar, she remarked on its limitations. Once something is committed with a pen, it’s not impossible to remove, but it’s going to look a mess. But I wasn’t put off by its permanency; if anything I found it comforting. I work well to a hard, immovable deadline so I leaned into the pressure of my giant paper calendar.   

And then came lockdown and I abruptly stopped putting anything on it. Except for a couple of birthdays, the markings end in April at a family holiday highlighted in green that we never took.

For weeks, not only did the giant calendar sit blank, so did all my other organisational systems. I stripped my digital diary of its time blocks and deleted my to-do lists. I saw no point in making plans. Recently, however, my planning itch has started gnawing at me once again. I’ve found myself taking baby steps lately by making mini-plans. It started small, with daily work schedules and then socially distanced gatherings pencilled in a whole week out.

I’m relearning the art of planning. I hold a new mantra now that plans should be about finding a sense of direction rather than trying to exert a misguided illusion of control. Now, I plan what I can and just leave the rest be. 

I don’t know what to do with the wall calendar, though. Some days I think about tearing it down because it bums me out too much to be reminded of a time when I could make big plans without a second thought. Then, on other days, it gives me a muddled sense of hope that someday planning will be easy again. For now, though, I have no plans for my calendar and I’m ok with that.

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