On Cyclical Planning

Photo © Elena Panizza

Our way of planning today, at least in western countries, is primarily based on the Gregorian calendar. The year begins on January 1. We think in weeks and months, weekdays and weekends. There are holidays (thank god!) and there are times when we’re head-down stuck in our work. We plan projects, measure milestones, and set deadlines. We note it all down in our calendars or project plans and then we get into it. 

Sometimes we get a smooth run. Things just flow. And sometimes, they don’t. It feels like pushing sh*t uphill. We’re not getting anywhere. Perhaps we can’t even get started and are stuck in procrastination mode. We just need to do the work right? So why can’t we? (And balance it with our social life, mental health, fitness, family and oh sure, housework – no worries!) 

We might end up blaming our lack of discipline or focus, or our fried nervous systems (fair enough) or perhaps Mercury retrograde (also fair), but really, how often do we take into account that there might indeed be some natural forces that make certain parts of certain processes easier or harder at certain times? 

And who got taught to do that in the first place? Not me anyways. So here’s what I’ve learned. 

I like to think of cyclical planning as checking the tides before going surfing. We can get up in the morning, grab our board, and just go for it. We might be lucky and ride some epic waves. Or we could end up in the whitewash, not catching a single one. Now, we can blame ourselves for our lacking surf skills– and if you’ve just started that might very well be the reason–but actually, the tides might have a thing or two to do with it too. If you’ve ever set a foot on a surfboard or swam in an ocean, checking the tides probably seems like a fairly logical thing to do for you. 

Now let’s extend this idea for a moment. The ocean tides are caused by the cyclical rhythms of our moon, impacting the planet through gravitation and luminance. The sun impacts us in similar ways: depending on its relative positioning to our planet it creates night and day and different seasons, which change over the year. No matter if that’s the four seasons of winter, spring, summer and autumn closer to the poles, or dry and rainy seasons near the equator. There are times for planting and times for harvesting, times for being out there, doing the work and times to let the fields lay fallow while we rest and tend to other matters.

 Creative projects follow the same four phases: an initiation phase, followed by a time of work and implementation, which then needs to be edited and refined as we ‘harvest the results’. Finally, we need to step away from whatever we’ve been working on to rest and reflect, before starting either a new project or a new cycle of iteration. 

Our menstrual cycles too, mirror the patterns of the seasons and phases of the moon–our energy waxing and waning over the course of a month. There are times when we feel more outward-focused and social, while other parts of the cycle require slowing down and tuning in. 

Knowing how to read these rhythms–daily, seasonal, lunar, and menstrual–in the same way, we’d check the tides, enables us to plan accordingly and make life a lot easier. However, planning in this way is an act of balance. We don’t want to let the idea of the ‘right timing’ get in the way of actually getting started. The good thing is that once you’ve identified where you are in a cycle, there’s always an action you can consciously take. It just happens that sometimes that action is resting. 

In this way, cyclical planning can help us make life easier by adjusting our planning based on the energies that are available to us and preempt some of the challenges we might encounter. When we do encounter them, simply bringing awareness to what part of the cycle we’re in enables us to meet the challenge appropriately, and get back into the flow of life.