Tuesday, July 30, 2013

10 Simple Ways To Save Time

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I read silly articles about saving time way too often. "Delegate," they insist. Sure, no problem. I'll get my servants right on that. 

time management, time, planner, save time, time saving tips

"Schedule your day," they proclaim. First of all, my planner does not have room for an entire schedule on the page.

Second, let me introduce you to The Loki:

(Full disclosure: The Loki has an older brother who has not managed to put me in therapy. His name is Ander and he aspires to be a Jeopardy champion.)

Last year, when the school called to inform me that The Loki had kicked his teacher in the shin and was in the office until he apologized, that telephone conversation - held on my cell phone in Target with ice cream melting in the buggy - was noticeably absent from my planner.

While other kids need a change of clothes at school, The Loki exceeded all expectations by needing a change of SHOES. Shoes, people! (He explained that he cannot be expected to use the potty at school. I explained that it was good practice for prison.) I was not even in the same town as the shoes at the time.

The Saints (as we shall appropriately and anonymously refer to his teachers) rarely sent him to the office, but when they did, he informed me with a smile that "the principal likes to talk to the bad kids!"

No carefully crafted minute-by-minute schedule will work for me while The Loki still lives at home. (He graduates in 2026. I am in the market for a personal-sized countdown calendar that goes that far into the future. Oh, and some wine. I'm in the market for wine.)

Instead, I have a lot of tricks that I use to save time. That way, I can be ready when The Loki strikes.


I take showers in a certain order. (I know that sounds silly. But please - do you know what The Loki can do to the house while I'm in the shower?!?) Hair first, so it can start drying while I finish bathing. Always put away each item as I go. If I run out of shampoo, I replace it from the linen closet stash and put it on the running shopping list in my planner immediately. If I am serving dinner, I take the clean dishes directly out of the dishwasher so that no one has to put them away later. If I know I am making leftovers for lunch, I serve the leftovers immediately in a microwaveable dish while serving supper. If I start supper and it's going to take the potatoes ten minutes to boil, I use that time to freeze the ground beef and mop the floor.


I check my planner every night and set up everything (clothes, purse, tote bag, school bags, etc.) for the next day, without fail.  If something cannot be pre-packed (like yogurt for breakfast), a sticky note on the outside of my planner reminds me to pack it in the morning.


I write every timed, nonnegotiable event on my monthly pages in my planner, including carpool. That way, if the morning starts with a fever or some other "incident" (note: people who said my own kids' bodily fluids would not bother me were WRONG), I instantly know what to cancel.


Breakfasts get made the night before in lunch boxes. Each meal is usually a protein, a calcium source, and a fruit. Mostly, that means nuts or peanut butter, yogurt or cheese stick, and fruit. We have a long commute, so the kids eat in the car. (This has the added benefit of keeping The Loki's mouth occupied while I listen to my own music in the car.) We buy lunch.


I write the menu in my planner and check off meals each week as I cook them. I plan five or six meals and we do leftovers on the other days.


Seriously, it takes just as long to make one nights' worth of red beans and sausage as a week's worth. I freeze in individual servings so we can use the meals as fast food.


As I run out of things, I write them down. I coupon, but on weeks where The Loki throws me a curve, I just buy what is on the list. 


Whenever I think of something, I write it down if I cannot do it right away. That's why my planner is with me all the time.


I do my nails while waiting in the carpool line. I keep a tote bag of on-going projects for the dentist's office.


Seriously. Life won't always go smoothly. Be mentally and emotionally prepared for that and keep your planner with you.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why I Write It Down

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"Why don't you just use your phone?"

"Are you really going to write that down?"

"What do you need that for?"

writing, write, pen, planner, planners

I know! I am just as rude and judgmental as the well-meaner, right? 

Writing it down is my coping mechanism. 

It's my cafe' au lait, my blackberry wine, my slow dance. 

Someone who lacks that understanding is as foreign to me as a human being who does not need oxygen. 

I've had periods in my life when I did not use a planner. For a while, I used a Palm Pilot. I owned a blackberry and a laptop and Outlook. I still own an Android phone, which serves as a useful coupon source, alarm, and address book. 

But when I reflect back at the darkest, most stressful parts of my life, they happened when I tried to rely only on technology. It sounds exaggerated and insane, but there it is. The truth. 

I need paper.

The moment something occurs to me, I can open my planner and jot it on the capture page.

capture, write, planner, green nail polish

I can manage my obligations (and my stress level) by making sure my appointments are not too numerous and demanding. 

monthly, planner, calendar

If I need to think something out, I have a place to do so. I never lose those thoughts. I do not have to rethink them or, more likely, dwell.

Things that have to get done? They happen. Or I make a conscious decision not to do them. 

But I ultimately have the power to decide what goes on the weekly pages - my task list.

When the tasks are done, I can play. I can sip pina coladas on the beach, holding my husband's hand, knowing things won't fall apart. That kind of calm is inspiring.

weekly, calendar, planner

Maybe, next time I hear the criticisms, I'll just sip my coffee and smile. Cheers.

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Partied at: Small Victories Sunday, Share the Wealth , Happiness Is Homemade, Making Your Home Sing, Over the Moon, Mommy Monday, Monday Madness, Motivation Monday, Inspiration Monday, Mix It Up Monday, Manic Mondays

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Back To School: Launch And Land Zone As A Solution To School Papers

Back to school season is upon us in Louisiana. School starts two weeks from today. If I am going to make a morning and evening checklist, now is the time.  (In fact, I have a rough outline of the checklist from last year, but have not decided how I'm going to post it for the kids.)
Supplies are ordered (through the school), uniforms still need to be tried on and supplemented, and shoes must be bought. Backpacks are purchased and labeled, but everything else needs a sharpie label.  Good thing I have a nice handwriting!

Last year, I did something wonderful.  I did this:

organize, launch pads, back-to-school


The launchpads were the solution to the overwhelming amount of paper that school produces.  All year, whenever a paper came home, I dealt with it.  While the kids sat and did homework, I sat at the same table and did my paperwork for the day and went through their schoolbags.

Permission slips got signed, noted on the calendar, and sent back to school immediately. Things that took more time, like signing up for Cub Scouts, got noted on the task list with the deadline and put in the planner for getting done later.

But two types of papers were a problem.

First, there were papers that I had to keep, but not use unless there was a problem. Examples include the school cafeteria information sheet (complete with payment log-in instructions and password) and the teacher's classroom policies. The second problem was what to do with all the completed, graded assignments that the kids brought home. Dish baskets (cheap at the Dollar Store) were perfect for this.

Last year, I used a cheap dish basket (made for washing dishes) located in the launchpad area to have the kids toss all the papers into. They only kept worthy papers, of course. Most worksheets went straight into the trash. It worked beautifully.

This week, I went through the baskets, culled stuff I didn't want to keep, and reorganized the area. 
The picture below is a full view of the part of the closet that I use for the Launch and Land Zone. (That top shelf is video gaming equipment.)

Each child gets a box.  See the manilla folder at the bottom of the box below?  That's for reference papers, like those teacher policies and cafeteria log-ins that I mentioned.

The rest of the box is for any papers worthy of saving for the future.  I try to keep final report cards, any funny bits of writing, a sampling of their art, and a couple of papers that show their achievements in math and reading.

The older kid gets a backpack hanging from the door.

The younger kid can fit his backpack on his shelf. We also put anything else they are bringing to school here. like snacks and such.

Note that I took the samples of school work from the past years and put them in manilla clasp folders. The folders keep the work together and limit the space so that I only pick the important stuff.

How do you keep track of school papers?


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Planning Complex Projects

As much as I love my planner, I don't plan things very often.

I don't really do goals or schedules.

Working backwards from the goal date?  Not for me!

I write down actual tasks that must be done. (Okay, I write obsessively. Need a bath? If I'm not taking one right now, I probably will write it down.)
I write down appointments, including daily stuff, like carpool. If I don't write it down, I tend to plan things DURING carpool. Fail. I've finally gotten to where I don't write down "take meds" every single day, but it took a long time to form that habit. (Confession: I still write it down when I travel so I don't forget.) 

But sometimes an activity or event comes along that merits more than one little entry in a calendar. Certain things require multiple steps. Basically, these things don't fit in the normal calendar and task list set-up of a planner. The Getting Things Done guy calls them "projects" with "next actions," though I don't like that last term because they are not always just actions and not always actions that come next or sequentially. Also, there is usually, but not always, a deadline. Sometimes, there are multiple deadlines.

Right now, my projects (with that name stolen unabashedly from GTD) include the first day of school for the kids, the book I wrote but still need to edit, an event that I volunteered to coordinate next summer, my current volunteer role overseeing cafeteria visitors at my kids' school, a collection of continuing education credits that must be earned by the end of the year, and an on-going diet. (That last page, sadly, is more aspirational.)

I don't want to hide the project just anywhere because I risk ignoring them.  I don't want every detail recopied from week to week, but letting them disappear in the file portion of my planner does not work either.

To solve this, I use a combination of a special section of my planner (labeled Personal...I should really change that label) and notes on the week-on-two-pages section or calendar monthly section of the planner.

I start with an index, as I do with my home files and most sections of my planner. Note that some of the projects are already completed.

I use sticky notes to label each project, attempting to not cover up any of the labels with another.  This makes each project easy to find.

The format of each page just varies, depending on the project.  Basically, the First Day of School project is a to do list that all needs to be done before August 8th.  If I listed all of this on my weekly task pages, I would have no room for anything else. Some projects do merit mini-deadlines as well.  And some are more a place for active brainstorming, like my Book project.  The Diet project is more of an ongoing journal.

Of course, I need a trigger to make me look at my project pages.  I put due dates on my weekly pages (or event dates on my monthly calendar pages)...

...and a reminder each week to look at my projects and work on them.

Techie Tip: If you use something like Outlook for tasks, put the project title in the tasks list on the next due date of any of the actions, and attach a note with the project details, tasks, and deadlines to the project task itself.

Let me know in the comments what projects you are dealing with in your life and how you manage them.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Organizing A Bottom Drawer Freezer - Revisited

I rarely recopy tasks in my planner.  I have a master task list, for things with no deadline.  I have a monthly task list, for things that are month specific (like turning in my bar forms every June or starting a Christmas plan every October).  My weekly task list contains everything that must be done this week, but if it can be done anytime, it usually goes on my monthly or master task lists.  If something must be done on a certain day (like grocery shopping or taking out the trash), I put it in the day's entry on my week-on-two-pages part of my planner.

But one task NEEDS to be done (because not knowing what is in my freezer makes menu planning impossible) but has been copied from week to week to week in my planner.  I HAD to update my freezer set-up and inventory.

I did this set-up and post originally:

Older Blog Post About Freezer

But after almost a year of use, things were a mess in my bottom drawer freezer.  So I buckled down and fixed the problems.  I even filmed it for you (it's short - under three minutes):

Video of Organized Freezer

Some of my best hints:

1. Use an inventory.  Use it every time you put something new in the freezer and every time you take something out of the freezer.

2. Use labels to show the family where things go in the freezer.  I like to put things that others (the husband and the children use) all in one place so that they don't mess up my set-up.

3.  Put like items with like items.  All raw meat goes with raw meat.  All ground beef goes with ground beef.  Cooked ground beef, for tacos or whatever, goes with cooked items.

4. Use baskets to contain like foods.  I just use cheap plastic storage containers (like ziploc) with no lids on them.

5. Freeze things flat whenever you can so that no one item takes up too much space.

Happy freezer organizing!


Sunday, July 21, 2013

My First Planner Set-up Video

Inspired by some of my friends at Philofaxy, I did a You Tube video of my planner set-up.  If this goes over well, I plan to do more, complete with tips and tricks for being organized.

It's a quick and dirty (but very safe for work ;) ) video.  I already see things that I will change in future videos (like the background...horrible!).  But please comment on anything that you think I should change and let me know what other things you would like to see.

With no further ado:

My Planner Set-up


Friday, July 19, 2013

Conquering Weekly Chores

When I was working outside of the home, weekly chores were an issue.  You work all day, come home, and can barely handle dinner and laundry and dishes.  How in the heck are you supposed to get chores done?

Solution: stay at home.  After all, I'd have all day.  Drop the kids off at school (about a three hour process, including feeding them breakfast, getting them ready, and driving) and I would have six hours left to do whatever needs to be done.




I live out of my planner and tend to do all the things that are listed in my planner for today.  But repetitive, weekly chores only get done sometimes, when I think about it. Laundry occurs to me when I get dressed.  I cook everyday, pretty much, plus my menu is on my monthly planner.  So that gets done.  But lots of other stuff, like vacuuming, is getting neglected.

I tried a list of chores, divided up by days.  But it was hidden and I never looked at it.

I tried a checklist, but I hated printing and rewriting it.

I tried putting chores on my weekly tasks lists, but in addition to constant recopying, it hid important, MUST DO tasks in all the clutter on the page.  And it made it hard to use a personal (Filofax) or compact (Franklin Covey) sized planner.

I think I've found a solution:

I used a clear business card divider to place between the week-on-two-pages sheets with recurring tasks written on slips of paper inside of the card holder.  I use my new (and exciting!) Frixion erasable pens to check off each task as it gets done:

I now have a checklist that is reusable, in a place where I can see it, but not in the way.

Note that there is no Tuesday paper.  That is because I grocery shop and run errands on Tuesdays, so I am barely home.  And when I am, I am unloading groceries, cutting veggies, or portioning out and freezing foods.  I am good about doing this every week, plus I have an entry on my weekly pages to grocery shop.

Also, the week is front-loaded.  By Sunday, I am only in charge of making sure on hallway is free of clutter.  This means that if something comes up on Wednesday, I still have plenty of catch-up time!

I decided to put the chores in three ways.

1. Most days have an area of the house listed, like the kitchen or the kids' bathroom. 

On that day, I make sure nothing is out of place and straighten, plus clean any obvious spills.

If we are disciplined about erasing the evidence as we go about our day, this chore takes less than five minutes.  These areas include all parts of the house.  (You might also add something like the garage or garden, if those things are a problem for you.)

2. Next, I have a catch-up task.

For example, I make my grocery list as we run low on particular items that we use all the time, supplementing with what is on sale.  Today, when I put my Honey Sesame Chicken in the crockpot, I used the last or almost the last of the onions, garlic, and ginger.  Those things went on the list today for next Tuesday.  I did not run out of chicken breasts, so those won't go on the list unless they are on sale this week.

Other catch-up tasks: planner review (in case I haven't looked at it in a while, so I don't miss anything; happens twice a week), putting away ALL DISHES (a continuous task in my house, but at least once a week they are all done and put away), and putting away ALL LAUNDRY (same problem as dishes).

3. Finally, I have actual chores: dust (all porous surfaces), laundry, vacuum (all carpets), clean floors, clean tubs/toilets, and counters (all nonporous surfaces, including in kitchen and bathrooms).  These chores don't take very long each day, as long I the house is orderly.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Found Time: Why Paper Planners Work Better

I am a stay-at-home mom.  I have a Master’s degree in Education and a (currently inactive) teaching certificate, so I often substitute teach at my kids’ school.  But I also have a law degree and, even though I am not currently actively practicing law, I have to attend twelve CLE hours per year in order to keep my law license active.  I lucked out and found a CLE that gives me seven hours of credit.  For some reason (networking?  An ill-conceived notion that lawyers HAVE to work a FULL day?), they schedule these seven hours over the course of about nine hours. 

That’s a two hour time difference during which I cannot leave the seminar.  (This assumes I did my math correctly.  Disclaimer: Lawyers don’t go to law school because they like math.)  (Legal disclaimer: I never give legal advice on this site, I don’t represent you, I am NOT your attorney, and I learned to say that at today’s seminar. J)

Two hours and no wifi or places to recharge a laptop.

For about 794 of the 800 participants, this is a problem.

But for the other six of us, we are getting lots of stuff done in the two hours of wasted found time.  You see, we brought paper planners.

Things that I was able to do today because I had my planner with me:

1. Start my back-to-school list.  (For planning purposes, I treat back-to-school as a PROJECT, since it involves so many different actions, like buying a backpack or inventory and supplement of uniforms.  A note to look at the PROJECT page goes in my WEEKLY pages on the appropriate date to remind me to do the next action.  Things that I need to buy go on my CAPTURE page to be added to the shopping list before my weekly trip.)

Last year’s back-to-school blog.

2. Summarize notes from an event that I planned and oversaw over the weekend.  I put a task in my planner on the WEEKLY pages to email the public relations department tomorrow with the final numbers.  I am in charge of the event again next year, so I needed to note things that can be improved, numbers of attendees, and to finalize the budget.  Those things go in the FILE section of my planner, since they will come back into use within about six months, so filing them in the filing cabinet does not make sense. I need to contact the person in charge of food, so a task goes on the MONTHLY TASK LIST, as it does not have to be done immediately, but just sometime this week.

3. Outlined several blog entries and story ideas.  Some went in my FILE section, but today’s blog went directly on the CAPTURE page so I could type it up today.  A task to post the blog went on my WEEKLY pages (circled because I will repeat the task regularly, and a circle reminds me to schedule another blog entry when this one is posted.)

4. Went through my receipts (tucked into the inside front cover of my planner) and wrote down the amounts spent in my July BUDGET section, put them in the envelope in that section, and pulled out those intended as in-kind gifts for a foundation to submit to that foundation.  A task went on the MONTHLY TASK LIST to submit those receipts.

5. Wrote, addressed, and stamped two cards (a birthday card and a new baby card).  Scratched out that task with a single line for archival purposes.  (In order words, in a week when I panic and say, “OMG, did I send that card?!?,” I can tell myself “yes.”)

6. Noted a Facebook status that I want to post later on my WEEKLY page.

7. Made a note in next month’s MONTHLY TASK PAGE to make sure that I got credit for today’s continuing education class.

8. Used my new page markers to mark the current monthly and weekly pages in my planner.  (I use a clear Today marker for MONTHLY pages and a clear plastic sheet that can hold many sticky notes for the WEEKLY pages.)  The new markers are colored, arrow shaped plastic paper clips and they slide down to where I am on the page.

9. Wrote two checks for upcoming bills (noted as due in my WEEKLY pages).

10. Created a log of CLE credits to date in my FILE section.  (At the end of the year, I will file them in my permanent files.)

That’s ten different things that I accomplished in my found time, just because I had paper, pens, and a planner with me.  I also carry my to-be-filed (permanently) items and to-be-dealt with papers to events like this, so this afternoon I will get my filing done with post-its to note the categories and will throw those papers into my files.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Planning An Event Using Checklists, Signs, And Schedules

I am currently in charge (sharing duties, actually) of a big volunteer event, involving several minor construction projects, four meals, two overnights, and 100 people.  My planner is working overtime.   I have had a project planning page for a long time, but since the event is this weekend, I've done everything on the list or moved it to my weekly task list or monthly calendar.

But lots of organizing happens outside of the planner.

I am carrying my tote bag with a bunch of papers in it.  The papers are held together in groups with binder clips, for those who care about such details.  I know my loyal readers care.  :)  And a post-it on each reminds me what to do with them.  "Post at sign-in."  "Post near stairs."  "Hand out during work assignment meeting."

First, there is a sign-in checklist.  As each person arrives, they have to go through the checklist.  Give me cell numbers.  Sign indemnity forms.  Pay their fees.  The forms and an envelope for the money are attached.  Checklists are really important because they help you not to miss anything.

Second, there are location signs.  "Put toys for childcare here."  "Please bring ice chests to your room."  Sure, some people will ignore the location signs.  But most people won't.  And those who do still will probably follow the crowd.

Third, there are warning signs.  "Children caught horseplaying on the stairs will be brought directly to their parents."  This sign is to back me up when I fuss at kids for running on the stairs.

Finally, there is an actual schedule, so everyone knows what time lunch will be served and when to check out of the building.  Sure, no one what's to stick to a strict schedule, but I suspect the act of having a schedule will make life easier for those preparing food and such.  I am not giving out the schedule, but am posting it in multiple locations.

I am including tape, highlighters, and blank papers for impromptu signs in my bag.  Hopefully, everything is covered.  If not, though, I will be organized and prepared.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

What Kinds of Stuff Goes In My Planner

I look at all the beautiful planner pictures from the Philofaxy folks (if you don't read Philofaxy, you should...go there now...I'll wait...), and I swoon.  They are truly gorgeous. But I am a practical girl at heart, and I wonder if the people with the beautiful planners (you know, the ones I want to be someday, when I am rich and powerful) actually use the planners to their full potential.

I put everything in my planner.  I mean everything.

The weirdest things I currently have in my planner include:

*the label from my sports' bra.  This is the first time I've found one that is comfortable and fits, so I plan to order more on-line.

*a shopping list for an event I am planning, including 20 tomatoes and 4 watermelons.

*a packing list for the same event that includes several check-in forms and glue, flour, and salt for child care at the event.  I did NOT ask the child care person whether they would be covering the kids' hands with glue and letting them peel it off, but I secretly hope that they will.

*a project page covering the first day of school.  The kids need first day pictures, a surprise treat (usually beignets on the way home), rolling backpacks, enough clean uniforms; it's a ton of stuff to keep track of at all times.

*on my monthly inserts, times for karate, carpool, and meetings in the next few months.  Yes, carpool.  I know I do carpool daily, but if I don't write it down, I inevitably plan a dentist appointment during carpool!

*on my weekly inserts, a reminder to cook chicken stock (before the bones are icky, so it is time-sensitive and can't go on the general task list), a reminder to check with a friend on borrowing a barbeque pit, and lots of little tasks, like delivering a birthday present, paying the lawn guy, and unpacking from Disney (blog post about what I learned at Disney coming soon).

What is the strangest thing you have in your planner?  Do you put in reminders for unimportant stuff (like chicken stock) or stuff that WILL eventually get done (like unpacking) or do you save that space in your planner?


Monday, July 1, 2013

Because I Am Organized...

Coming home from vacation isn't too bad.

I put things in their homes as I brought them into the house.  Pillows, blankets, and kids' toys were handed to the children.  Trash from the car was thrown away.  Drinks from the cooler went into the fridge.

Next, I took care of necessities. I have dishes running (water bottles and stuff from the car) and a batch of laundry in the wash.

I grabbed some homemade chili from my pre-made freezer meals, so we had a real supper in seconds.  (90 seconds, to be precise.)

Since I was organized on my vacation and cleaned the darn house before I left even though it almost killed me (grumble grumble), things should be back to normal by the end of the day tomorrow. We will unload toiletries and such as we need them.  In the meantime, suitcases are stacked in the same corner where I stored them while packing them.

And since I use my planner religiously (seriously, I even bring it to Mass in case of important announcements), I know exactly what is on the agenda tomorrow and all this upcoming week, and what needs to be done TONIGHT (refill meds into weekly container and plug in cell phone and Nook).