Saturday, September 28, 2013

Planners Everywhere: My Mad World

Last night I went to a dinner party with some parents from my kids' school. I had such a wonderful time. Margaritas, enchiladas, laughter, and an adorable waiter. We always get the same waiter. He is only 19 years old, so he says fun, awkward things like, "oh, a Moms' group? Nice. I have a mom."

Anyway, during dinner someone asked when the school field trip was going to be scheduled, so I pulled out my planner and told her the date, two months from now. (
Okay, one of my friends made fun of me at the dinner table. It's okay. I still love her even if she doesn't understand the POWER OF THE PLANNER.) I also had a pen for signing the check tucked into my planner. That became important when the fifteen checks arrived at the table at once.

(Look away while I make a "note to self" - add task in planner to deal with those Cajun eyebrows.)

Then, when I paid the bill, I was able to subtract it immediately from my budget for the month, right there at the table, and see that I am on track to be $1,000 under budget this month. (Woo hoo!)

I also noted my calorie intake immediately in my little black and white Franklin 365 Flourish. (Hey, fashion matters if you are just going to whip it out during a dinner party.) So far, tracking calories has helped me lose two pounds in two weeks. (Double woo hoo!)

Mostly, though, having the planner meant that on my drive home, I could sing "Mad World" (the Adam Lambert version) really loudly the whole way, unconcerned about money, weight, or whether I was missing an important deadline. (I was also unconcerned about fellow drivers seeing me rock it out. Perhaps I should have a bit more shame.) I take my planner everywhere, so that I don't have to keep the details and worries in my head anymore.

You see, my planner is not about feeding my OCD. It's about freeing myself from my OCD.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Spending Time With My Planner: Weekly Reviews

A reader requested that I post a blog about how I do regular weekly reviews and updating of my planner. I love my readers {waves}, so I am obliging.

Once a week, usually on Friday, but if not, on Sunday night or Monday morning, I sit with a hot beverage and my planner for my weekly review. I have my office supplies (kept in a tote bag so that I can do this anywhere), my hot beverage (cafe au lait, cocoa, or mocha), and my laptop at the ready.

My weekly review involves several steps:

1. process my mobile folder and file whatever needs filing. My mobile folder is a simple plastic envelope. Throughout the week, if I deal with something in my planner that needs to be filed at home, or if it is important or thick paperwork that cannot fit in my planner, it goes in this envelope with a post-it telling me what to do with it during my weekly review. If the review takes places outside of my home, I put the task of emptying my mobile folder on my weekly task list.

2. Next, 
I go through my planner in the order in which it is organized, starting by going through the paperwork in the front pocket of my planner to process it. Things that are completed get thrown out. Things that are still pending get put back in the pocket. I deal with other things that have come in during the week. (Examples include coupons to file in my coupon binder, points to enter on the Kellogg's Family Rewards website, and some receipts to mail to someone for reimbursement. None of these were very important or worthy of a calendar or task entry, so they just get tucked into the planner throughout the week.)

3. During my weekly review, I go through any notes on my Capture Page and deal with them. The capture page is the first page of my planner. It acts as a brain dump when that is all that I have time to write down. Today, the only notes were calorie counts that had to be entered on-line.

4. After dealing with the Capture Page, I review my Projects and add any active tasks to my weekly or monthly task lists.

5. I peek at my Master Task List to see if there is anything that can be tackled this month or this week (and therefore moved to the appropriate task list).

6. An important part of my weekly review takes place when I look over the current Monthly page and make sure all past days are crossed off, I remind myself of upcoming events in the next week or two and add any tasks that need to be done for them to the weekly pages (such as wrapping a gift for an upcoming birthday party or packing a lunch on days when I substitute teach), and, if it is near the last week of the month, copy any recurring appointments to the next month (including things like karate lessons or carpool) and copy any dates from the on-line school calendar to next month.

7. I glance at my Monthly Task List to make sure that everything is getting done. This list is usually rather short. These tasks are month specific things, like scheduling an annual doctor's appointment. If it's the last week of the month, this stuff gets rescheduled to next month (rarely) or moved to this week's task list.

8. I look at this week and next week on my Weekly pages and knock out any tasks that can be done immediately. I cross out any completed tasks (with one line so that I can still see what I accomplished). Usually, knocking out quick tasks means writing checks to pay bills and adding any grocery items to my shopping planner.

That's it. Eight steps and I am done. I have a checklist of what happens at my weekly review in my Files:

My weekly review does take a while. Most weeks, it takes almost an hour to get through everything. But it is an hour well spent, since it means that my bills are paid and nothing fails through the cracks.

My daily review is much more informal. At the end of each day, when I am setting out clothes, food, and backpacks/totes for the next day, I glance at my capture page (to move anything necessary to monthly or weekly pages), my monthly page to see what is coming up tomorrow, and my weekly pages, containing only tasks, to see what needs to be done tomorrow.

I also make sure that I use my planner on an ongoing basis. For example, if a teacher asks me to substitute teach, I whip out my planner, check the date, find out if I have to arrive early for morning duty, and note the teacher's name and work times on my calendar in the monthly pages. (I don't have to add contact information as that is available on my cell phone.) When the mail arrives each evening, I toss, add to my calendar, or add a task immediately. By doing things like that on an ongoing basis whenever possible, I keep my weekly planner review time to a minimum.

I hope this helps you to keep up with your planner and, more importantly, your life.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Planner Rules And How To Break Them

To make my planner work for me, I follow some guidelines. Guidelines are like rules, but we get to break them without guilt - or so I tell my OCD. I don't break them too often, though, or they wouldn't work (and my OCD would revolt).

Here are my top planner rules guidelines and the many ways that I break them.

*Write everything down.

I do write everything down. Mostly. I write down trash day and my plans for Christmas shopping. I write down appointments as soon as they are even tentatively made (with a question mark after them until they are confirmed). I write down my chore schedule and my daily task list.

But I don't write down things that I never forget. I never forget to take my meds (as they are in a little pill case next to my alarm clock and Nook in my bedroom, so I see them when I grab a book for nightly reading). So I don't write that down.

I don't write down things that can be done immediately. I just do them, right away. The lazy incentive to avoid digging out my planner and writing it down is enough to ensure that things get done.

*Use only one planner.

I use only one planner for almost everything. The advantage of this system is that I never lose anything. If I take notes at a meeting, they go in my planner (until they are irrelevant and discarded or put in my permanent files at home). If I need to jot a note to myself, it goes in my planner. Christmas and party planning? All of it is kept in my main planner.

However, I use a different planner for special things that would bulk up the main planner. In my case, it's my coupon planner. I put grocery lists in my planner all week, but when the time comes to plan for grocery shopping each week, I use a separate planner because the coupons that I use, kept together in binder clips, would bulk up my main planner too much. I keep this planner with my reusable grocery bags.

*Keep your planner with you.

I keep my planner with me all the time. I only buy purses big enough for my planner.

The one exception? I don't bring planners to black tie affairs. Instead, I leave it in the car and send my husband to get it, should the need arise. (He grumbles a lot about these situations. I don't know what his problem is with the bonus exercise. {grins innocently})

These three simple rules will help you to get the most positive results from your planner, as long as you are willing to break them.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

When The Crazy Happens

I am a klutz. I can prove it. I broke TWO laptops in two days!

First, I dropped mine and broke the hard drive in half. (Take a moment and write "backup laptop" in your planner every two months. I'm glad I did!) Then I borrowed my husband's laptop and punched a thumb-shaped hole right through the screen! (They don't tell you that laptop screen are made of aluminum foil, do they?) Fortunately, my dad is a techie and used some zombie parts and one $60 screen to fix them. In the meantime, all I had, technology-wise, was my Droid and my son's Kindle. I wasn't exactly unplugged, but I've never been happier that I keep track of my world on paper.

You see, my world this week consisted of:

a.the first week of room mom and grade level coordinator work for the home and school association,
b.substitute teaching for four days, complete with packed lunches, appropriate clothing, and things to do during planning breaks while stuck at school,
c.the first week of flag football, with my husband coaching,
d.a birthday party for my five year old, LSU game day party at my parents' house, and
f.a five day house guest.

And enough other stuff to complete all the letters of the alphabet, no doubt.

So I broke out my trusty planner and dealt with everything.

Tonight, I got my laptop back, so I can blog, catch up with e-mail, and spend some quality time on Facebook. Tomorrow, I am off of work (for two blissful days) and can actually clean the house and get my world together.

But in the past week, crazy and unplugged, I managed to muddle through on limited technology, both because I had to and because I had my planner to show me the way.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Brain Is Slow, AKA Argument #37,488 In Favor Of Paper Planners - Repetitive Tasks

Critics of paper planners often point to repetitive events and tasks as a main reason to rely solely on technology and avoid paper planners. The point that they say out loud is that they don't want to recopy something AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN.

The part they rarely say out loud, that I believe to be true, is that they are more comfortable with technology and the way it makes you think. It's the natural way to schedule for them. I fully support and respect that. You should plan in a way that works for YOU, not anyone else. But a silly little problem like repetitive entries in a planner is no reason to avoid paper. I know, I know. I sound like this is war, but it isn't. I love my techno peeps. I just think they are a little crazy. But who isn't? :)

Ways to Deal With Repetitive Tasks:

1. Establish routines.

If something happens again and again, many people naturally start to create routines to get those things done. If you struggle with creating routines, though, go ahead and make a list of the routines in the appropriate place in your planner.

I struggle with two routine problems - household daily chores and remembering the morning routine when school restarts every autumn.

Daily chores are an ongoing problem for me, so I took a business card holder and use my frixion pens (which write just fine on the plastic with a tiny bit of pressure and erase completely) to check off chores as I complete them. I keep this reusable page next to my receipts at the end of each month. Since I am constantly shopping and writing down receipt totals, this forces me to look at this page. If the chores are not all checked off by Sunday, I either need to do them on Sunday, delegate them to someone in my family, or actually schedule them to get done during the next week in my weekly pages. (My weekly pages are sacred and, apart from true emergencies, mostly get done.) (Mostly. I didn't add that word in the first draft of this blog, but honesty is important, yes?)

School day routines are hard to remember only because we take a break from them every summer. I made a quick schedule of everything that needs to be done before and after school and just keep the page in my files (filed under OLOM, the school's name). It includes a list of things that need to leave the house with us. (Note the list of chores each kid must do every afternoon. The kids are 4 and 7 years old. Some young spouse will thank me someday.)

2. Circle repeating items.

If an event is going to repeat, I fill out my monthly calendar and circle the event the last time it is listed. For example, I do carpool only on certain days but on the last day of the month, I need to schedule carpool days for the next month.  You can see that CP (for carpool) is circled on the 27th. When I get to a circled item and complete it, I reschedule it for the next time it will occur.

If a task is going to repeat, I circle it on my weekly pages. Next week, I have to check Edline (once per week to find kid's homework), grocery shop (once per week), and take out the trash (every week on Tuesday night). Again, when I get to a circled item and complete it, I reschedule it for the next time it will occur.

3. Box yearly items.

Birthdays and anniversaries get a box around them to remind me to put them on my Future Planning page as they occur. (You do have a future planning page, right? If not, make one immediately. You need it. Just trust me.)

4. Recopy as you go.

You have to teach yourself to recopy repeating information whenever you see a circle or a box in your planner. The value of doing so is that you are forced to learn the pattern. Recopying the trash every week means that even if I don't actually look at my planner on Tuesday night, I tend to remember, spontaneously, to take out the trash. I remind myself, after all, each week when I recopy.

Caution: Don't use circles or boxes to highlight very important items. If I need to remember something that won't repeat, I use doodles instead.

5. If you are recopying without completing the task, it's time to find another way to get it done.

I sometimes find that I am recopying something when I do my planner review and never getting it done. If that happens, I either a) delete it and no longer try to accomplish that (clearly useless since I was never motivated to complete it) task, b) delegate it (putting away laundry eventually got assigned to each family member because it was overwhelming to do alone and the kids were not learning to be responsible), or c) dedicate myself to doing it, usually by "eating the frog," setting an alarm and deadlines, and completing that task first each day until it becomes a habit. I had to do this with my new maintenance asthma inhaler, as not taking the medicine or having someone else take it was not an option. (See, sometimes I use technology!)

People who let Outlook or Google tell them to do repetitive tasks lack the tactile experience of writing the task (and therefore encoding it in their memory), the active decision making of prioritizing or dropping the task if it is not getting done timely, and the visual cue of seeing all normal, routine responsibilities listed when they are planning abnormal or one-time responsibilities (allowing them to plan with balance and reasonableness). That is fine, as long as you don't need those crutches to make your brain work.

My brain is slow. I need the extra input.


Friday, September 13, 2013

How To Solve Silly, But Stressful, Organizing Problems

I have a beautiful new purse. For a couple of weeks, I've been carrying around my (SHINY! HAPPY! PURPLE!) new bag, filled with my medicines, lip gloss, my umbrella (it rains often and at random in Louisiana), my planner, my glasses, my cell phone, and my keys. I adore the outside pockets for my cell phone and keys.

TIP: Consider what is creating an annoyance. 

But since I've owned my new purse, I keep mixing up my keys and cell phone. It's not that I can't tell the difference. (I know you were thinking "dummy!" If you were mom of The Loki, though, you might lose your ability to remember simple noun names, too.)

TIP: Consider how you use the item causing the annoyance. 

I have trouble finding my keys in the purse in the dark when I have to work mostly by feel.

I found a simple solution in the form of a keyring (the beautiful butterfly in the picture) attached to the side of the purse where I keep my keys. I can see it and feel it when I am fumbling for keys in the dark.

I am so excited about this simple (but brilliant, right?) solution. Inspired, I tackled a few other problems that had been little, but stressful, annoyances.

TIP: Consider where you use the item causing the annoyance.

TIP: Consider when you use the item causing the annoyance.

I put a container for Box Tops near the trash can, right over the drawer that holds the scissors. Instead of pulling out an envelope and finding scissors every time I discarded a frozen pizza box, this container placed in the right location made it easy. I collect a lot more Box Tops for my kids' school. 

I also moved the pencil sharpener near the trashcan and that really helps, too, during homework time.

TIP: Consider who uses the item causing the annoyance.

Another constant problem in my house is the little table next to my couch. I do a lot of laptop surfing next to the table and bits of trash get left on it all the time. I tried a trash can near the couch, but it was bulky and things still ended up on the table - gum wrappers, discarded post-it notes, and orange peels, to name a few. Since only one person (me) uses this area, a trashcan was too big for the purpose. I needed something more personal.

I put a pencil cup on the table and simply drop trash into it. I discard the trash whenever I get up to rinse my coffee cup. It's a perfect solution.

If you come across a problem in your daily life, use who, what, when, where, and how to find the simplest solution. Feel free to share your whats in the comment and I'll try to help you solve them.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Planner Peace

When I first started tracking calories, I used a cool app on my cell phone called MyFitnessPal. I loved that it entered the calories for me and tracked calories over time...until I never used it. My phone was charging in the room. Or I couldn't turn it on because I was in court or teaching a class. Or the app stalled, just a little, and I was not happy with it.

I used to put my emails into my Outlook calendar and sync it with my smartphone. I never turned on the phone to find out what I needed to do. There was no way to cross out items that I completed without them either disappearing or staying there, barely checked off, forever. And ask me if I ever looked at that darn list? No. Never.

I would grab a post-it note or slip of paper to jot a grocery list, since that was easier than entering all those groceries on my phone or into my laptop. I would lose the list. Every. Single. Time.

I lost all of my receipts and never knew whether we were going into debt each month.

I missed meetings, even though my cell alarm rang, because I had switched my phone to vibrate in church (okay, in a sushi bar for Ladies' Night Out...shush).

I was an anxious, worried, overworked mess.

I quit my job. (Seriously, I figured I'd get a new one within a year. Who knew that I am either underqualified or overqualified for EVERY JOB IN EXISTENCE?!?)

And I started using a planner again.

Planners had worked for me in college and seemed like the way to go to calm my life. I was scared. I had to keep up with the household, job applications, my writing and blogging, my health, and everything else. Could I do it without alarms and repeating tasks and the CRAZY that is technology constantly in my face?

I could. I did. I love technology, but I am a better person sipping mocha and doodling in my planner.

I know where my grocery list is these days. I know what I ate and what triggered my asthma and were I need to be Saturday at 5 p.m. I know what I have to do before I go to bed tonight and what I have to do in the morning. I still enter my calories, but I do it at my laptop, all at once. I track on paper, which is a much better system for me.

Everything is in my planner, so I don't have to carry life's burdens in my soul.


Almost Famous

I'm the guest blogger this week on Philofaxy!

Go read about how many details to put in planner entries. Go on. I'll only be famous for 15 minutes, you know.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Custom Made Planner Pages

I am exceedingly lazy. As a result, while I might drool over others' custom made planner pages, I buy my weekly and monthly planner pages from a store (or a website, if we are being literal). I am boring and rarely change my planners unless there is a change of external circumstances, like a new job. Right now, I'm using Franklin Covey's undated 365 Flourish inserts (they come with the planner), in monthly and week-on-two page versions.

I also have some Plan Ahead 
inserts (also sold with a knock-off FC compact-sized planner) in wait for the next two years after this one.

But what about everything else? The whole point of a ring-bound planner is that you can customize it to your needs, right?

I customize my planner in a couple of ways. One, which you've already seen on my blog, is by using a business card holder to list daily chore goals. Note there is no Tuesday entry, since I grocery shop on Tuesdays.

But mostly, I customize by using lined, pre-hole punched pages and simply drawing whatever I need on the page. 

If I need to plan a project, this page goes in my Project section. Otherwise, they go in ABC order in the File section at the back of the planner. The only exception is my Budget page, which goes behind my weekly inserts:

Tip: Corner Box - put a box around the title of the customized insert using a box in the upper right hand corner of the page.

If it's a Project (on-going), it gets a P with a circle around it in the upper right hand corner and I put a box around the name that will go in the Projects Index. Note that my Projects Index is also my own, hand-customized page.

If it's a File item (for reference only), there is no P.

File items go on my handmade File Index page.

I limit how much info goes in the Corner Box, but will include information like subheadings (for example, where I kept everything pertaining to the boys' schooling in the File section of my planner, but routines are separate from a log of payments to the school) and dates (only if the dates are relevant, like the date of a wreck or hospital stay).

Examples of my customized pages (not already shown) include:

-drafts of blog entries written while waiting at a doctor's appointment
-an accounting of allowance earned by my children (instead of giving them actual money to keep up with)
-a list of exercises that can be done in a quick, indoor, 30-minute workout

-novel ideas and editing notes
-planning for upcoming events and parties
-a log of my required professional development courses as they are completed
-a food log
-notes for a job interview
-notes from any hospital stays (at least until all bills are paid and it can go into my files at home)
-a list of babysitters and other service providers
-insurance information in case of a wreck

-a list of locations of those few items that are not kept with "like" items in the house
-notes from meetings of various groups that I participate in
-packing lists (old ones and a master list)

I listed them all, not because it is exciting, but because it might give you some ideas for ways to use your planner.

Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.