Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Habits Happen When You Least Expect

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Just in time for a new year, it occurs to me that I mastered some excellent habits in 2013. 

As this achievement - making resolutions and actually accomplishing them - is heretofore unprecedented in my 38 years of life, I thought I would share the habits that I have learned this year before you make a final decision about your resolutions for next year.

This year...

I started carrying my planner everywhere. I bought bags and purses that fit my planner and made almost no exceptions about carrying the planner. If I left the house, the planner left with me.

planner, New Year's Resolutions, computer, blog, blogging

I wrote everything down. Everything. If it needed doing/going/thinking about, and I didn't do/go/think immediately, I made a note of it somewhere in my planner.

I erased the evidence of whatever I did. Took a shower? I wiped down the walls, refilled the empty soap container, and hung up the towels to dry. Cooked supper? I put away the leftovers, wiped off the stove top, and threw the dishes in the dishwasher.

If I was moving from room to room, I grabbed one thing when I left the room and brought it into the next room to put away.

I found, bought, or created homes for the items in my house.

I developed a repertoire of yummy, healthy recipes to cook and freeze for my family.

I decluttered and donated lots of stuff that we never use.

I blogged or drafted my novels almost every day this year.

Here's the thing about these resolutions that I made, kept, and have turned into positive habits - they were NOT made on January 1st.

No, my first day of last year, I planned to lose weight, exercise, and get a full time job. 

I did lose weight, but not until I finally took care of a medical condition that haunted me all year. I did not exercise. And I still don't work full time.

My successful resolutions, instead of being made on January 1st, were made with you, my Loyal Readers, watching and supporting me. 

My resolutions evolved naturally, solving problems that existed in my life and my home.

Let me encourage you to make your own resolutions the same organic way. 

Think about your problems. It's not about improving you. It's about improving the things around you to make life better and easier for you and those that you love.

Don't resolve to lose weight. Resolve to eat healthy fruits and vegetables everyday.

Don't resolve to get organized. Resolve to create a meal plan, write things down, or use a planner.

Don't resolve to be perfect. Resolve to be imperfect and to be okay with that, all the days of your life.


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Monday, December 30, 2013

My 2014 Planner Set-up

Perhaps the most popular question asked among most new (and experienced, sometimes) planners is "what are the sections in your planner?" For those who are new to my blog, my answer might surprise you. My sections are not very specific. Instead, they are general things, like Projects or Notes. This works only because of my cool indexing ABC system that you can explore in detail below. In fact, I give you a chance to explore all sections of my 2014 planner set-up in today's post.

If you are setting up your planner to mirror mine in some ways, I recommend you click the embedded links to find more details on setting up each section. Ultimately, though, remember to only use the parts that work for YOU!

These pictures capture my set-up pretty well, even if the video that I tried to record was a flop. (Know your strengths and weaknesses, right?)

For 2014, I am using a Franklin Covey Boston (compact, which means the same holes as a Filofax personal, but pages measure 1/2 inch wider) in a slate blue leather cover.

My sections:

1. Dashboard
2. Projects

3. Tasks
4. Calendar (Monthly/Weekly)
5. Future
6. Notes
7. Supplies


My dashboard basically consists of the front inside cover (where unprocessed papers are in the smaller pocket and processed, already written in my planner items are in the hidden, deeper pocket) and a blank sheet of paper. Today, that happens to be lined paper, but I mostly print out and cut graph paper instead.

TIP: Don't hide a paper from yourself without noting it in your planner so that you can find it. Party invitation that you need to keep for driving directions? Note by the event entry in your calendar pages that you have directions in the inside pocket.

I use my dashboard for jotting quick things, like tomorrow's grocery list, a list of ladies that I need to Facebook message right now (because I'll forget something if I don't jot down the names, but there is no reason to put the list in my planner), and a note to order my prescriptions in a minute. It's basically a written in-box and brain dump area.

TIP: Whenever possible, write information in the appropriate section of your planner. Only use your dashboard for very temporary notes, brain dumps, or when you are in a time crunch.


Unless you are brand new to my blog (in which case you should subscribe in the right gutter), you've surely learned about my index/ABC system for active projects by now. Make sure you have some way to remember to do your projects in your main pages. I go over my projects during my weekly review.

TIP: For projects with a clear end date, go ahead and jot the date next to the project's name on your index. Also, copy the date into the calendar section of your planner. (This is the only time that I recommend a double entry in your planner.)


My task list is truly just for non-time sensitive or someday/maybe tasks. All other tasks go on my weekly pages.

TIP: Never write the same task in two places. It's on the Master List or it is scheduled elsewhere. Keeping track of what is completed can get overwhelming otherwise.


I keep about three months of monthly calendars with weekly pages stored behind each individual month. Appointments go on monthly calendars, while due dates, must do tasks, and want to do tasks go in three separate columns on my weekly pages. Currently, I am using undated 365 pages from Franklin Covey (only available with a cheap binder).

TIP:  Use washi tape to block out days that you won't be using on your monthly calendar.

I only write each entry in one place or the other, forcing me to look in both places daily.


I use a page for every three months of the next nine months, plus a "2015 and Beyond" page.

TIP: Make your future pages now. Put a box around recurring tasks and events (like birthdays) and, once you complete them this year, recopy them to next year.


My notes and files go in this section, using the same indexing system that I use for projects. The key to my files is that I only carry things that I WILL need to reference often or outside of the home. Everything else gets filed in a file cabinet in my closet.

TIP: Schedule a twice a year purge of projects and notes task right now.


My last section is supplies. My friend Misty made this cool bookmark for me that hides my sticky notes and stamps in the plastic zipper pouch. (If you are crafty, you do not want to miss her quilting/crafting blog at Daily Design Wall. Homeschoolers can check out her amazing lessons at School in Kajamas.)

There are some large sticky notes in the very back of my planner, too.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of my 2014 planner set-up. The big changes are the layout of my binder and the use of more detailed future pages.

As always, let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share in social media or pin in Pinterest.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Three At A Time: Cleaning Up After A Big Event

Santa visited our home on Christmas Eve night.

Yes, that pile. And the pile from Mom and Dad. And the pile from Grandma and Maw Maw and Paw Paw. And the aunts. And from friends.

This list does not even include Mommy and Daddy's piles of new presents.

So we made a Rule of Three.

Rule of Three - Three items for each person go into new homes, in their bedrooms, each day until all the piles are reduced to zero items.

It's simple to remember.

It's a concrete action.

It's enough items to make a difference quickly without being overwhelming.

It takes even the five year old only about three minutes.

It's working.

Bonus Tip: If I was cleaning up a bunch of rooms after a party where food was served, I'd do three things in each room, three times a day.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Simple Brilliance: Tick Marks

I am one of those people who knows my own strengths and weaknesses. I consider that knowledge my greatest strength.

I number among my weaknesses my zero sense of direction (seriously, I get lost in my own house sometimes), my inability to sing any song well enough for anyone else to recognize the tune, and my ineptness at holding my tongue. 

My strengths? Keeping my life organized, speaking in front of crowds, writing and editing, and the innate ability to stand up to people who bully other people.

On balance, I think I am a pretty normal person. I'm not perfect, but I am not so imperfect, either. I use the title "Giftie" to refer to the boarding school classmates from LSMSA, a residential high school that I attended where the students were all pretty smart or talented (or both, in many cases). Among those students, I was about average. I use "Etcetera" because I am more than just a "Giftie." I am a mother, a wife, an attorney, a teacher, and a writer. I also use "Etcetera" because I usually have more to say.

But, just for today, I am not just average. I have a stroke of brilliance. A Giftie-worthy idea.

Use tick marks when you recopy something in your planner to note the number of times that you recopied the task.

Brilliant, right?

It's a simple addition to your system that will help you keep on track. If you recopy a task once, put one tick mark. Twice, put two.

Tip: You don't have to reschedule the task on tomorrow. If you know tomorrow is busy, maybe you reschedule to next Wednesday with one tick mark next to the task.

The tick marks simply show you how many times you have rescheduled the task, so that you know if this particular task is a problem that needs to be dealt with now. The tick marks are not intended to load up tomorrow with undone tasks, so schedule the task on a day when you could reasonably get it done.

When you get to five and get to cross out the tick marks, as I did in the example above with the task "C Blog - Tic Marks \\\\," you have to make a decision:

*Do the task immediately.  If the task is important, there is no reason to put it off six times!

*Delegate the task. If you haven't tried to unclog the garbage disposal, maybe it's beyond your skill set and worth paying someone else to do. If you hate washing dishes, time to train the children.

*Delete the task. Maybe it is not so important that you write that letter to the teacher. If you haven't written it by now, change your mind about it.

*Defer the task. I know! I just told you not to put it off again. But, by defer, I mean you should totally remove it from your everyday task list and put it elsewhere. I keep my everyday task list on my weekly pages, so, for me, this means it leaves those pages for another part of my planner.

If I don't write a particular blog five times (maybe because it's a good idea, but I had five better ideas over that week), it goes in my project planning under "Blog" ideas until a day when I can't think of a topic.

If I have something that is more of a Maybe/Someday task, like editing my first novel (which is weaker story than my second novel), it goes on my Master Task List.

If I need to do something, like organize the pantry, but it is just not getting done this month, maybe it goes on my Monthly Task List.

The brilliance of tick marks is not really the simple nature of the idea, but that tick marks put you in control of your planner (instead of letting your planner control you), they appeal to visual learners (those who learn by seeing) and tactile-kinesthetic learners (those who learn by doing, such as writing things down)
, and they nudge you when it is time to finally make a decision.

For all you perfect people out there, I am aware that I misspelled tick marks in my planner. If you noticed, you might be good at editing, too.

(Note: In the interest of publishing quickly, I often don't edit my blog until after I publish. It's one of my quirks. I am happy whenever writing errors are pointed out, so sharpen your red pencils and let me know when you see a typo.)


Friday, December 27, 2013

Future Planning

A paper planner is not just about the future. It is also about the past. Planners write things down both to plan for what is to come and to document what has already happened. 

Think about your planner. Your monthly and weekly sections mostly plan the future, but they also create a record of when you sent out the mortgage check. You probably have a notes section that lists your current medications and a project page for a party that is next month. By their very natures, paper planners are a genius interplay of the past, present, and future.

I used to put a year's worth of dated pages in my planner. But the realization that planning is not just about the future freed me to take some of my daily or weekly sheets out of my planner and carry a lighter load. You see, if my planner was also about the past, I needed a designated archive space in my house. And once there was a home for archived pages, there was room right next to it for future dated pages.

This change left me with a problem, of course, in that I needed to write down upcoming events beyond next month. But a Future Planning page solved that problem. And such a page might be enough for most people.

However, since I only keep three months of dated pages in my planner (last month, this month, and next month), I needed more room for future planning.

I created a section, right behind my dated pages, for Future Planning. 

I find about three months on one page is enough space.

Note the boxed upper right hand corner to make future pages easy to find, the two colors (one for drawing the template and my darker color for writing), and how simple I keep the writing (date and event only or a task indicator, like E for errands).

Many of the events are boxed (meaning that I need to recopy them every year, like a birthday) or circled (meaning they repeat on a different schedule than once a year, like inspecting my engagement ring twice a year).

Because there are so few events in each month that are scheduled this far in advance, I don't put the entries in any particular order.

For events happening a year out from now (it's almost 2014, so this means events occurring 2015 or beyond), I use a simple list. Again, it's in no particular order.

Consider creating a future section, whether one page long or three pages long, when setting up your planner for the new year. Three pieces of paper taking the place of an entire year's calendar is a very efficient use of planner space.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boyfriends and Buckles: My First Leather Planner

I've heard tales of people who smell and stroke their ring-bound binders. "Craziness," I thought. Planners are practical, but who needs real leather? I am fine with my vinyl Franklin Covey compact 365 Flourish. It (not "she") is the perfect size and very pretty.

Still, I put a Boston Compact by Franklin Covey (and these cool owl magnets) on my list. 

boston, Franklin covey, planner, set-up

Others had commented negatively on the buckle closure, but as a buckle sort of person, that appealed to me. (You should see my shoes. Always a little buckle here or there. It really helps out when you have Hobbit feet and need to widen things just a bit.) The Boston is not a Filofax, but I already knew that I need something wider than a Filofax personal size and smaller than an A5, so Filofax was not an option for me.

Plus, the Boston comes in blues and greens. I find black boring and browns are never exactly the right shade (either a deep, rich chocolate or a perfectly orangish ochre). My Flourish makes me happy, but it doesn't work well in professional settings. But a nice blue - now that is neutral yet intriguing.

So I put one on my Christmas wish list. Well, I've apparently been mostly nice and just naughty enough {sheepish grin} for Santa to deliver the Boston on Christmas morning.

It smells like my boyfriend.

Yes, I am a happily married woman and have been married for almost two decades. But in 1992, when I first started dating my husband, he had a beat up leather jacket that he wore in the cold. He always smelled like soap, strawberries, and leather.

The Boston has that same, sweet, nostalgic scent. 
Louisiana does not get its autumn leaves until mid-winter. To touch the smooth skin of the ring-bound planner is to be carried instantly back to those days of cuddling and holding hands under the fall trees right before the LSU semester started each January. They were brief, as the blazing Louisiana heat returned by March, but those days made an impression that will last forever. Boyfriend smell. It might be the best part of my new binder.

I've fallen for this planner, hard and fast. But there is a lot more to the binder than just good lucks, a trim but generous figure, and appealing scents.

The Boston binder is slightly wider than my Flourish. Since the rings are the same size, this was a very pleasant surprise.

You can see that the binders are the same thickness.

The closure is a snap. It stays closed very nicely. The strap is pretty long, though tight when closed. I expect, since it is actual leather, that the strap will stretch a bit. The buckle is purely decorative and nonfunctional, so I cannot adjust the length of the strap.

The buckle is a bronze gold, but the inside rings are silver. You'd think that would bother my OCD, but somehow, it doesn't.

You can see the lovely inside front cover with two pockets the the left and a hidden pocket to the right. On the back inside cover, there is a hidden pocket and a place for a notepad (that I won't be using, as I prefer my paper up front in the dashboard).

There are two excellent pen loops, made of leather but with elastic on a part of each so they stretch. The loops are higher enough that they hold Frixion pens (tricky to hold, I sometimes think) very well.

The binder came with these two black, plastic pieces, that I will probably use as templates for custom made pages.

The binder is leather, so some markings on the leather are anticipated. But, for now, it's smooth and blemish free.

Now that I have two inside pockets, I plan to use the big one for stuff that is already noted in my binder.

See how neat and tucked away it looks? (Sorry about the picture quality. My husband got a new camera for Christmas, but he is still learning how to use it.)

Things that are in my "in-box" and not yet processed will go in the smaller flap.

Doctors' cards, reward points, and coupons go in the many credit card slots.

The planner does not lie perfectly flat, but it's close, and I bet a little time and training will help.

Instead of putting a notepad in the back, I am tucking in some large sticky notes.

The back notepad holder pocket goes all the way through the bottom of the planner.

Here's a peek at the hidden pocket.

I am keeping the contents the same, except that I can finally remove and file away the Christmas project. (I fold the bottom edges of projects and file them behind the last month of the project - December in this case - with my archived planner pages. The folds make it easier for me to find projects when searching my archives, like next year when I am setting up for Christmas.)

Note that all my planner pages fit on one side of the one inch rings.

Add a zipper pouch of supplies and it still fits pretty well, with three months of planner pages.

The pen loops are my favorite feature.

The strap does not lie flat when the planner is open, but there is enough room that it doesn't hide anything.

Stuffed full.

My only complaint is that the strap curls up a bit as it kisses the front cover.

I wish we had smell-o-blog, so you could enjoy the boyfriend scent, too. I definitely recommend the Boston binder in compact size (4 1/4 x 6 3/4). I'll do a video tour soon. In the meantime, thank you for following my planning journey. Until tomorrow...


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Toting Presents

Later this week, we'll talk about my new leather planner, my new Rapesco hole punch, and my new organizing board. Santa was sweet.

But just for today, let's talk about totes. I got a new one that coordinates perfectly with my Franklin Covey Flourish, but even if it didn't, I'd still use tons of totes for gift delivery.

I pack a different large tote bag (or even suitcase, depending where we are headed and how many gifts we are bringing) for the in-laws, my side of the family, and the extended family gatherings. Everything goes in the totes, including dishes for sharing, gifts, and anything else that must go to that home.

Then, once the bags are empty, I either use them to bring back dirty serving dishes or gifts that we receive.

This simple change in our packing for Christmas and holiday visiting has made an amazing difference in our ability to be organized and unpack presents in a timely manner without cluttering up the house.

Sure, it's easy to just stack presents together. But a tote just makes everything easier. Trust me.


Monday, December 23, 2013

The Grandma Circuit: Cleaning For Visitors

Grandma lives about three hours away. So every Christmas, she drives to our house and spends the week of Christmas visiting our home. It's such a blessing to have her wake up and watch the boys open their gifts on Christmas morning.

Know what is not a blessing? I cannot get that stupid "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" song out of my head. I keep singing it without realizing it. Think my mother-in-law will be offended if I sing it out loud? Eek.

(This is a picture of Maw Maw, not Grandma. Maw Maw lives nearby, so I had a handy picture of her with Loki and my nephew at Loki's school Christmas play.)

I was sick this weekend, so my husband cleaned the house in anticipation of his mom's arrival.

Let me take a second here to remind my readers who live with others that cleaning is NOT your job just because you are a female, wife, or the "neat" one. Sure, if one of the people in the home stays home and the other works outside of the home, the at-home person usually has more time to cook and clean and probably ought to divide the labor accordingly. But please read "The Second Shift." It's an old book, but the sociological theory that it raises has been proven time and time again; couples who work together at blessing the home stay together longer and have stronger relationships. So, if you work outside the home, make a point to help out. If you live in the home, use some of the time to clean, but invite others (and by "invite," I mean "coerce and demand") to help out.

I wonder if the reason that I love to watch Sister Wives so much is because of the way everyone helps out.

{climbs gingerly off my kind of embarrassing soapbox}

Since Grandma is going to be a house guest and since we are taking Christmas morning pictures in the house, simple cleaning on Saturday was not enough by Monday morning. Little things were dirty again or left out on tables and counters.

I did the circuit.

The circuit means that I started in one room and went through the entire house, room by room, taking care of anything that was out of place and noting anything that needed cleaning on my dashboard in my planner.

That's it. It's simple and effective. After doing the circuit, I went back and did or assigned (to the kids, who are home for the holidays) the minimal cleaning left in the public and guest areas and scratched them off of my dashboard. (The dusty corner of my bedroom can wait until next week. That got moved to next week's task list.) There wasn't much to clean, due to my husband's hard work this weekend.

Let's all take a second and applaud my husband, who cleaned on his weekend off without complaint and on his own without nagging! {a great big Loyal Reader round of applause}

In about thirty minutes, my house was ready for company. There is room in the kitchen to make reindeer food, an empty space on the side table for a guest to place a book or a cup of coffee, and a designated spot for my planner for last minute notes, like reminders to send the elf back to the North Pole (and a note of the location of the North Pole on my locations pages in my planner).

On this Night Before the Night Before Christmas, go ahead and try the circuit. If your house is too cluttered, start doing a daily Circuit of Threes. Basically, you do the circuit, but only do the three things in each room that jump out at you. You do it daily until the clutter is all gone.

Now, back to busy, busy, busy being good!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Too Much Stuff?

I got my first set of Christmas presents last night - Frixion pens and a cute little pill sorter (intended for jewelry when I travel, but it might be even better for post-it notes). Perfect for me, right? I thought so.

Lots of organizing sites recommend no gifting for the holidays, regifting whatever you receive, or exchanging consumable gifts. They go on and on about cluttering the house and consumerism and how we don't need more "stuff."

To some extent, I agree. 

I don't exchange gifts with all of my friends. I have one friend who I have traditionally exchanged with since childhood and we still do so every year. (That friend got the presents for me last night.) It's a nice tradition. Otherwise, though, I only get something for friends if the mood strikes or something is just perfect for them. Otherwise, I tend to only buy for and receive gifts from close family.

I rarely regift, but that is probably because people who know me well are the only ones who give me gifts. If there is a gift exchange at work or something, I feel free to regift, particularly if the original giver will never know and the gift is far more appropriate for someone else.

I do give some consumable gifts. In particular, I will sometimes get gift cards for experiences, like coffee shops or yummy restaurants.

But, if I am to be quite honest (and I always try to be in this blog), I don't think Christmas involves too much stuff.

I know. I know. Saying this is against the Organizer's Code and I should be fired! (I don't have a job. Ha! Also, I made up that whole Organizer's Code thing. But if there was one, I'd break it!)

Maybe it's because the Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus.

Maybe it's because we don't buy very much stuff the rest of the year, so Christmas is special.

Maybe it's because it's fun.

Maybe it's because it's a way to create a dream.

Maybe it's because I love gift wrap organizers, lists, and the cold.

Instead of lamenting all the stuff this year, appreciate it. Think about the time and love that went into picking out the gifts that you give and that you receive. Find a home for each item. Enjoy the stuff.

The critics are somewhat right; Christmas is not about consumerism. It's about love, family, and celebration. Gifts are simply a physical sign of that, and as long as you stay within your budget, that is a wonderful thing.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Checking Off Your Lists: A How-To Guide

If you are a Loyal Reader, you probably like to make lists. I'm just guessing here, but fans of my blog seem like they would be list makers.

Personally, I rarely make a list that isn't meant to be completed. Sure, I have a wish list. (Truth be told, I want that one completed. Buy me presents, I say!) And I keep a running list of the CLEs (continuing education for lawyers) that I complete each year and a list of my accomplishments at jobs and such. These are all practical lists, but not really what I am talking about today.

Today, I'm focusing on the kind of list that you check off or complete.

There are some things to keep in mind to improve your lists so that you are more likely to get them done and check them off.

*Choose the subject matter of the list carefully.

Even though I use my weekly planner pages for planning most tasks, I occasionally make lists of things that need to be done together. For example, I might list errands to run on errand day or household chores that must be done before company arrives. 

Note that the subject matter of the list is discrete. A list is a tool, not a brain dump, and does not need to include every single thing that you ever want to accomplish. Instead, define parameters that make sense by having a subject matter that is logical and limited in scope and context.

*Limit the list to a reasonable length.

The length that is reasonable depends on the nature of the list, of course, but a grocery list might be a full page of items, while a task list should stay short and sweet.

I like the rule of ten. No more than ten things to do that take less than ten minutes each and no more than ten lists a month. That way, you can adjust fairly realistically. For example, say "vacuuming the floors" actually takes twenty minutes and "wrapping Christmas presents" takes thirty minutes. Fifty of your one hundred minutes (ten times ten) are gone, so limit the housekeeping list to five more ten minute or less items.

Check out my Christmas Eve delivery list. Seven people to deliver to, but a total of ten items to deliver. It is discrete and achievable.

*Select a location in your planner that works well for the list.

Some lists need to be on your weekly pages, either as a hole-punched list or a sticky hot list. Some should be in the front of your planner. I'll be making a grocery list today, so my list of meals for Christmas week needs to be readily available. Right now, it is sitting on my dashboard, waiting to be processed. Once I make the grocery list, I will move it to my weekly pages.

*Use a logical order for the list.

My grocery list is written based on the layout of the store where I shop.

My housekeeping list for this week puts processing Christmas lists to check for items not yet received first (since I might need to follow-up), followed by cleaning private areas of the house, and then cleaning public areas. The truth is that I will clean the public areas before company arrives, so getting the private areas done first is my trick for getting all of the house clean.

*Be dedicated to the list.

Frankly, if I don't want to do something, making a list is not going to change that. The list is a tool for remembering what must be done and for not having to think about what to do next. Treat it as such.

*Check off, scratch out, or highlight.

When making a list, consider skipping lines. It makes the list easier to read.

Also, be aware of your style of marking items complete, and consider whether you are doing what works best for your brain. Personally, I cross out. But a check mark or an X in a box might work better for you. Consider highlighting completed items. The incomplete items will pop out at you.

Understand, as of Monday, I am on Christmas break and not working on any lists at all until the New Year!