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The Art of Making and Breaking Plans

As the end of the semester approaches, schedules are busier than ever. As final projects and exams loom and winter break draws closer, time, patience, motivation, and brainpower are all at all-time lows. But something else is probably running low as well: your free time.

In fact, your level of that elusive “me time” may even be lower than your level of motivation (if that even seems humanly possible). At this time of year, planners are absolutely filled, not only with assignments, but also with club meetings, work obligations, holiday parties, family events, and countless other tasks. Almost inevitably, overbooking like this will lead to cancellations.

A quick Google search will turn up dozens of “how to” guides to successfully avoid or cancel plans. On Buzzfeed alone you can find articles such as “22 Things Only People Who Love Canceled Plans Will Understand”, “The Ultimate Guide to Canceling Plans” , or “35 Very Real Reasons for Cancelling your Plans”. You can even take quizzes like “Let’s See How Flaky You Are” and “How Should You Get Out of Your Plans Tonight?” .

Plan making and breaking have become somewhat of epidemics in an overcommitted society. We all know how it goes. You make a lot of plans that sound great at the time, or don’t even sound great at the time but you’re too polite to say no, and then as each one approaches, you start to get cold feet.

You would rather stay in and Netflix, attend something more appealing has that come up, or just get to bed at a reasonable hour for once than fulfill the plans you made a week ago. You’re torn between canceling and dreading your prior commitment.

However, there may be an alternative to dreading all your free time. A NY Times article suggests that the best way to avoid dreading and canceling plans, is to simply not make any.

On the surface, this may sound ridiculous. As a student, it would probably seem like a waste of your limited time in college if you never made any plans at all. Not to mention, the FOMO would likely be unbearable on Friday and Saturday nights. The article is not suggesting that you remain holed up in your dorm room, however. It simply recommends what it calls a mindfulness approach to planning.

The mindfulness approach has several important components. First, you make a deal with yourself not to overcommit. It may even be useful to set a definitive number of plans that you are willing to make in one week (the author’s limit is two plans per week).

This doesn’t mean that you have to spend the rest of your time on your own, on Pinterest, or on Netflix. This just means that there is ample time left over in your week for spontaneous plans. The time left over when you eliminate excessive plans is still free time, and now you’re allowed to use it however you feel like it in the moment.

study has found that scheduling all of your free time out into plans with friends and families makes those activities feel like chores, simply because they are so set and rigid. Rather than planning your fun out to the point where it isn’t fun anymore, leave some time for spontaneity by only making a couple plans. That way, you have the freedom to do whatever sounds sounds fun at the time, not whatever you promised you’d do two weeks ago.

Additionally, when you’re making those couple plans a week, really consider the plan before you commit to it. Ask yourself, “Is there any reason that I really should attend?” and “Do I really want to go?” If the answer to each of those questions is no, then perhaps you should not make the commitment. It’ll save you the time it would take to cancel later.

Not making plans that you’re not interested in will not only save you time, but it will also spare the feelings of the person you will otherwise be canceling on. Another article from the NY Times discusses the harmful effects that canceling plans can have on relationships.

Naturally, people are often upset when they are canceled on, and may even use the opportunity to take a closer look at the canceler, to evaluate if they are a good and trustworthy person. Relationships can become strained when they suffer too many cancellations. No amount of politeness or excuses can make up for being flaky; just say no to plans that you are not totally on board with.

The urge to plan out every moment of our time can be pressing, especially at the end of the semester when time is so finite. There are so many events, shows, parties, and games that you want to go to, that you just don’t want to say no to anything.

But every time you consider committing to a definite plan, especially when you’re not particularly excited about said plan, remember the stress you will go through when it comes time to cancel, and the feelings that may be hurt when you do.

Don’t put yourself in a position that you need to call upon the thousands of “how to cancel plans” articles out there. Leave yourself the freedom to stay in and get a good night’s rest, watch a Christmas movie with your roommate, or embark on a spontaneous trip into Boston one last time before the semester ends. Don’t overschedule your limited free time so extensively that it no longer feels free. Be mindful with your plans.