I don’t like surprises, which is why I’m a planner. I plan my days, my weeks, my months, and my years. So, by December 29, 2019, I had most of 2020 planned out. I knew most of what I was going to do and when I was going to do it. I’d even designed a slate of discipleship classes for my church and scheduled them on exact days from January to the end of December 2020.
But then January came, and I learned a new word that would soon disrupt my careful plans: coronavirus.
In the year of our Lord 2020, I gained a new appreciation for James 4:13: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” I also acquired a new respect for planning in terms of seasons instead of years.
The Bible is not against planning (Prov. 21:5; 16:9, 24:7; Luke 14:28). But a God who tells us to ask for “daily bread” (Matt. 6:11) and tells us life is but “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14) probably doesn’t want us to get too ahead of ourselves. One rotation around the sun—approximately 365 days—may not seem that long, but we are only able to see the sun set at a horizon a little more than 3 miles away. We should set our planning horizon for a similarly shorter duration, which is why I propose scrapping the idea of planning your year and focus instead on planning a season.
For Everything There Is a Season
For the past 700 years, the term season has meant “a period of the year,” usually with reference to weather or work, or to a “proper time, suitable occasion.” (The meaning has also been extended to mean a period of life, as in the favorite evangelical phrase “season of life.” But we’ll focus on the shorter meaning of the term.) For most of human history, weather and work were closely tied and affected seasonal living. The sweltering heat of mid-year, for instance, is the reason both public schools and Congress are out during the summer months.
Technologies such as air conditioning and central heat changed the way we worked, making seasons less relevant in the process. For those who work primarily indoors, a workday in the cold of January is not much different from a workday in the heat of July. A result of such sameness is the tendency to think we can plan our daily schedules far in advance.
The year 2020 showed us that approach doesn’t work.
Rather than attempt to go back to year-long planning in 2021, consider experimenting with scheduling your personal “seasons.” Unless your life revolves around the weather, there’s no reason to tie your planning to spring, summer, fall, and winter. Instead, you’re free to experiment with timeframes that fit your particular circumstances.
An approach I’d recommend is dividing the calendar year into four blocks of roughly 13 weeks. This technique was popularized in the bestselling book The 12 Week Year, in which the authors redefine your “year” to be 12 weeks long. “With the 12 Week Year, a year is now equivalent to 12 weeks, a month is now a week, and a week is now a day,” they write. “When you look at it this way, the importance and power of each day becomes even greater.”
Taken too literally, this method can ramp up your stress and increase your guilt, since a “wasted day” becomes the equivalent of a “wasted week.” But if we treat the 13 weeks as a season (12 weeks of normal activity plus one week of evaluation and planning for the next period), it becomes a more manageable time horizon.
‘Seasonal’ Bible Reading
To see an example of how this method can help you approach your schedule in a more livable manner, let’s consider the resolution to read the Bible in the new year.
Over the past couple of decades I’ve attempted almost every one-year reading plan imaginable—M’Cheyne, Professor Grant Horner’s, the 5x5x5 New Testament—but never stayed with one for 12 consecutive months. The primary reason for my failure is that while every day in my new year appeared the same when I made my resolution on December 31, the rhythms of my actual life caused the days to vary significantly. For instance, when I was a student I’d have times of the year when the reading assignments became overwhelming and I found it difficult to read 10 chapters a day from the Bible (ala Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System). There would also be weeks or months when my spiritual needs would shift my Bible intake preference from “familiarity” to “intimacy,” or vice versa.
Thinking in seasons rather than by calendar year has freed me from having to choose between being stuck in a reading plan I’m consistently falling behind on, or completely abandoning an important commitment I made on the prior New Year’s Day. By focusing on a 13-week “season” I can more accurately predict what sort of Bible reading approach will fit my circumstances at different times of the year. I can also find a better balance between Bible intake that is focused on familiarity (e.g., seeing the wider scope of Scripture) or on intimacy (e.g., focusing intently on shorter passages).
Planning our year is like the modern approach to running a marathon—we plan to move at roughly the same pace for the entire distance. But planning a season is like the ancient (pre-1896) approach to running marathons—alternating periods of walking and running based on how we’re feeling or what we’re able to do at a particular time. If you know you have the space to “run” for the first two seasons of your year, but know the commitments in the last two will require you to “walk,” you can plan in a way that fits with the actual rhythms of your life.
Of course, planning a season rather than a year can’t keep your year from being upended (ala 2020). You can’t know what tomorrow will bring, much less what awaits on December 31, 2021. Yet by focusing on a shorter, more livable time horizon, you can plan in a way that helps you stay flexible and focused while trusting that God knows the plans he has for you (Jer. 29:11).