Who starts a new planner in the middle of social isolation?

I love planners. If you know me, you know this. I like trying new ones to explore how I can organize everything I need to do in a day. I love checking off every to-do I have listed item-by-item. I like to see my week all laid out in one place (color-coded for each person so I know at a glance who needs to be where at what time). It makes me feel like I have control over the constant whirring that is my life right now.

Three things happened in the last few months to change that, though (and none of them are actually the pandemic).

At the beginning of the year as I as setting goals for the year, I decided to revisit my Sabbath practice. There have been times where I’ve strictly observed a day set apart for rest and other times where it’s felt almost no different from any other day. This year I decided I wanted to intentionally think through how keeping Sabbath would work in this season of my life.

A second thing that changed my relationship to my planner came from Tish Warren Harrison’s Liturgy of the Ordinary (one of my favorite books so far this year). She says:

Perceiving time as something that we own and manage, as blocks in a day planner, can drive us to the false belief that time is primarily a force to be tamed, used, and controlled…

For someone who has, at times, carried two planners and maintained a family wall calendar (all color-coded and precisely timed), Harrison forced me to stop and rewind the audiobook multiple times to make sure I had heard her correctly. The more I reflected, the more I began to wonder if my orientation to time was skewed. If time isn’t something I can tame and control, what is it?

Enter the new planner, the third thing that’s changing my orientation to time. I was scrolling through Instagram early one morning and saw a friend’s picture of a book page with a quote and someone else’s comment about using “Sacred Ordinary Days,” too. A quick Google search later, I had found a completely different approach to planning and thinking about time.

My new Sacred Ordinary Days planner

The first thing you should know about this planner is that it makes the radical assumption that time belongs to God and that there’s meaning in observing the church calendar. So, it starts with Advent, with waiting.

For years, I’ve purchased academic year calendars, or I’ve restarted in January. But this planner’s first day is December because that was the first Sunday of Advent. Using this planner has forced me to step outside of the way I have kept time (and tried to control it) and think about the way the Church has kept time for millennia. It starts not more to do but rather with a reminder to wait

It’s not just the year that is oriented differently; the week is, too. In most of the planners I’ve used for the past several decades, the week has started on Monday, with Sunday as some tacked-on last day of the weekend. I understand that for many it makes sense to separate the work week and weekends. I’ve operated that way for years, hardly ever bothering to open my planner on Sundays, because it’s just a placeholder between Saturday and Monday.

But my new Sacred Ordinary Days planner doesn’t work like that.

Instead, it devotes two pages to Sunday that are completely unlike the rest of the week. One page prompts reflection on the previous week and goal setting for the upcoming week on several different domains. It prompts me to reflect with both humility and gratitude. The second page has lots of white space (I currently use it for sermon notes) and very limited space for to-dos. I have been helped by this visual reminder that the Sabbath is different from other days. Although there are things I need to accomplish still, it’s not a day for frantic list checking.

Finally, on a daily basis, I’m reminded to start with Scripture, with readings from the daily office. I love reading the same Scripture as fellow believers around the world, and I’m using the white space at the bottom of each page to copy or reflect on some of the passages that I’m reading.

Another change to my habitual planner use is focusing on just three priorities. I’m forced to ask myself what do I most need to accomplish? What will I be able to look back on and say, “Well done” to myself at the end of the day? This planner also encourages pausing when a task is finished to take a break or treat myself. My old planner encouraged a frenetic pace of trying to accomplish just one more thing (or at least that’s how I used it). But this is building more sustainable patterns and rhythms of work and rest.

I’m three weeks in using this planner. I know it won’t work for everyone, with it’s different approach to thinking about time from the year as a whole to a daily basis. If you’re not a Christian, then I think this planner could be too big a stretch to use easily. But for me? The first week I almost cried as I forced myself to pause and rest at multiple points during the day. And I’ve started to reclaim Sabbath and practice it in a way that doesn’t lead me to legalism and fear. And I’m reminded daily that time isn’t mine to control. It belongs to a faithful and loving God, and so do I.