It has been difficult to plan very far ahead in the last two years or so. With ever-changing restrictions at a national and local level, we have had to be circumspect and prepared to change plans at the last minute. COVID-19 has been the big interrupter; it has been stressful, both on a personal and a work level, even for those of us who thrive in last-minute planning. However, we seem to have reached a steadier position for a few months now so we can begin to make plans that stretch a bit further into the future. Here are five reasons why this is a good thing to do.
1.Schools often plan six to twelve months ahead
Having a plan for Christmas events or activities at this point in the year means you can approach schools who are already thinking about the next academic year and specifically what they might be putting on at Christmas.
It also means you can coordinate school events with church events at specific times of the year.
You would make a lot of people cross if you suddenly announced at the last minute that you were bringing classes of children into church for a visit in the middle of the Christmas carol events.
(Incidentally, if your church hasn’t realised that the men’s football World Cup final is on the Sunday before Christmas, you might want to tell them now – it could get in the way of many a carol service.)
2. It helps to allocate your resources
Resources include people, equipment, venues and any other paraphernalia. Should you be planning a Prayer Space you’ll need extra volunteers, as well as activities and the associated materials, and a space to operate in.
Planning ahead means you have the time to recruit and train the volunteers, to gather supplies and have a good handle on when and where your event or activity is happening.
If you haven’t come across Prayer Spaces before I recommend their website for information and resourcing.
3. You spend less time and money on resources
Planning ahead allows you to buy craft supplies in bulk and therefore get most value for money, or ask for donations of various items.
It’s great to have an idea that involves using old Christmas cards in December, but if you’ve only come up with the idea 24 to 48 hours before the event it’s unlikely you’ll find too many.
Trust me, I speak from personal experience on this! Getting materials at the last minute is going to be expensive, even when it is possible.
4. Last minute planning isn’t a long-term strategy
We might feel like we are hard-wired to plan everything at the last minute. Maybe you feel that up against the deadline is when you have your best ideas.
While this could be true, at least to an extent (she says, writing this article on deadline day), neurologically speaking this is not a good way to work in the long term. Adrenaline is very useful for getting us out of danger, or for pulling something off on very little sleep.
But it is not healthy for us to rely on the adrenaline entirely, it puts us under too much stress!
5. You suffer less stress
Planning ahead allows us to relax and work more efficiently. We can allow for our tendency to procrastinate as well as accommodate our deadline-seeking brain by creating planning deadlines which are not the day before the activity.
Our adrenaline levels don’t spike in the same way, meaning that we are less stressed and more confident that our plans will actually happen.
For those of us who have been in schools’ work a long time, planning ahead is probably the way you work.
You’ve forgotten what it’s like to only begin thinking about Christmas in November, your craft cupboard / drawer / box is overflowing and you’ve already got a list of people you can call on to volunteer for special events in schools.
But perhaps you’re new to schools’ work, or even to this way of working.
Maybe you’ve relied on caffeine and adrenaline to power the work you’ve been doing so far. This will feel good in the moment, it’s a real buzz to pull something together successfully at the last minute.
But as someone who has been in this game for 30 years now, and as a chronic deadline chaser myself, I can say with confidence that the good feeling will fade and burnout will beckon.
Planning ahead, insofar as one can, is key to long-term work.
If you are new to this way of working then allow me to suggest some questions to ask yourself and your team:
What drives us as a team?
One of the answers to this will be missional, to see the gospel spread or to build relationships for the kingdom. But the question is more about what sustains us, how are you keeping on going? Are you operating from a place of rest or are you chasing the adrenaline rush?
What do we want to achieve in the next year?
Who will we be working with in the coming year? Which schools want us to come back and which others might we reach out to? Are there any new, creative ways of working in schools that you want to explore? What might that look like?
How will we prepare for that?
What resources are you going to need? What is the next step to take to make the new thing work? Who will you need to approach?
Finally, I suggest that you do this sort of planning alongside others, either your team or another interested party. Planning ahead works best when it is part of a wider vision or strategy for the community you are a part of, both inside and outside the church.
You may have a vision and / or a mission statement for the work you are doing – if that’s the case then your planning should be a part of that puzzle.
Planning ahead takes time but will end up saving you and your team time and energy.