Do you wonder how many people stay ahead of the clock? Do you worry they have a secret you haven’t discovered?

For example, we all can name individuals who get Christmas shopping done by September. And we know those who plan every summer vacation by December.

Thinking ahead is the best way to make life easier. Waiting until the last minute to do everything will increase your stress.

It pays to plan your life one full year in advance. Using a yearly planner from a stationery store, you can pencil in everything that’s important to you.

Time management is really honoring this fact: We don’t want to waste time. We want to look for every opportunity to make the most of every second.

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These tips can ignite your imagination:

  • Schedule your annual health appointments by the end of January. Be sure to include those appointments for your spouse and children.
  • Meet with special friends the last Friday of every month. Maybe everyone can’t come every time. That’s OK.
  • Designate three days a week to exercise for at least an hour. Write down the exercise plan before something else steals your time.
  • Schedule a major grocery store run every six weeks. Try to stock up on products you know you’ll need over the entire year. Make a list to buy laundry detergent, bath soap, dog food, trash bags and other items you don’t want to run out of.
  • Plan a date night with your spouse two nights each month. Protect these nights by telling your friends, family and children you’re not flexible on changing them.

“I once planned my life six months ahead,” says a young mom we’ll call Deandria. “It created a rhythm to my schedule that led to new friendships and great family dinners. When I got out of the habit of planning ahead that year, everything went back to the way it was. I need to discipline myself to think ahead again.”

While you don’t want to become a slave to your calendar, you do want to feel important items in your life are receiving attention. Ask yourself, “Who am I neglecting?” or “What am I neglecting?”

A journalist we’ll call Amy says she’s figured out a way to stop neglecting her adult brother. She makes it a point to drive to his hometown in North Carolina every six weeks.

“I stay just one day,” she points out. “I take my brother, his wife and kids out to dinner. I get a hotel room to make it easier to see them. It’s amazing how well this simple plan works!”

During the past year, Amy has visited her brother’s family eight times. If not for her plan, she says she’d likely have visited them only once or twice.

To figure out what will fit into your schedule over the next year, take a hard look at what you’ve been ignoring or neglecting. For example, have you put off a hiking trip way too long? Or would you like to revisit your old childhood neighborhood? Put these activities on your calendar.

“My family has stayed close because of my late grandmother’s Sunday family dinners,” says an executive we’ll call Reed. “Grandma prepared almost the same menu every week, but we never got tired of it. Having those Sundays to touch base with our aunts, uncles and cousins all year was priceless.”

It’s much easier to plan your weekly schedule around your personal goals. It always takes less energy to engage in activities we hold dear. Manipulating time means we have to value it. By planning ahead, we can literally see what we need to do. Not planning means we’re trusting our lives to pure chance.

Judi Light Hopson is author of the stress management book, "Cooling Stress Tips." She is also executive director of USA Wellness Cafe at ©2021 Tribune Content Agency