Monday, March 31, 2014

Weather In My Planner

I try to focus on the details that make a planner work better for my Loyal Readers. Here's a detail that might work for some of you:

You don't see it? Look again, right next to "Thursday, 3."

It's the weather forecast for Thursday. 83 degrees as the high and 67 degrees as the low, plus rain. I also have a repeating task (noted by the circle) to look up the weather for the rest of the week. (I don't like to look more than five days ahead, as the forecast can change in five days.)

It's a simple little task, but by checking the weather in advance, I can glance at my planner at night and pick out tomorrow's outfit without much trouble. On Thursday, I'll throw in an umbrella and raincoat, especially as I'll probably have outside duty at the school where I substitute teach. But I don't have to carry my raincoat every day, saving me lots of space in my tote bag.

Take a minute to look up the weather and put it in your planner. It's a little thing that makes life easier.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dedicated Kids' Chore Areas

I sent my kids into their bedrooms and bathrooms with a single mission: get them ready for my inspection.

It was an act of faith. You see, for eight years now, my husband has guided the children in organizing their rooms and I've been teaching them to do all of their other chores independently.

But to let them attack their rooms alone? Scary.

I put aside my OCD, dangled a carrot (time playing with electronics, which is limited in our home), and promised a consequence if not done (no electronics until it is, even if it takes weeks).

They did a good job. I wouldn't let a guest use the bathroom without a once over by me, obviously, but the 8 year old and the 5 year old did a respectable job and even took care of details that I would not have required.

It's kind of amazing.

From now on, unless we expect company, the kids will take care of cleaning that side of the house. I kind of love this plan.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Order Of Cooking

Yesterday, I shared my recipe for Enchilada Pasta

Sure, cooking it is easy enough. But cooking leaves the kitchen a disaster, right?

It doesn't have to, you know. You can cook more efficiently and have plenty of leftover time to clean up by making some simple changes.

1. Boil the water and preheat the oven 
first. If you are boiling anything (pasta, seafood, potatoes), put the water boiling right at the beginning of cooking. If you are baking something, make step one preheating the oven. That way, they are ready to go when you are.

Note: My husband HATES when I take pictures of my stove, because it looks so dirty. All I can say is that I do clean it regularly - and NEVER buy a white ceramic top. Shrug.

2. Set out ingredients in the order of use, with the first ones nearest the stove. Not having to scramble for ingredients helps ensure that you don't burn anything or let anything boil over while getting the missing ingredient out of the fridge. (In this picture, from left to right: pasta, boiling water, heating pan, veggies, liquid ingredients, and toppings.)

3. Use the vegetable bag or a small plate for scraps when chopping ingredients. It keeps the scraps off of your counter and keeps your counter clean.

4. Use the colander to rinse vegetables and fruits while you are busy cooking. It keeps them off the bottom of the sink (always gross, no matter how much I clean it) and the colander is likely to be clean.

5. Leave the colander in the sink while cooking for collecting chopped ingredients to make room on your cutting board or for draining boiling items. You don't want to hunt for a colander with hot pasta about to over boil.

6. As soon as you run low on an ingredient, add it to the grocery list.

This will save you tons of time later!

7. Dedicate counter space to oil, salt, and pepper (or whatever you use ALL THE TIME). You probably use salt more often than you use that blender, after all, so why does the blender get the most convenient space?

8. Speaking of convenience, put stirring spoons, spatulas, and pot holders right next to the stove.

9. Clean while you are cooking. Sauteing veggies for 10 minutes? Use that time to wipe down the sink or counter or to toss scraps and load dishwasher.

10. Erase the evidence. Actually, assign someone (in my house, I do the stove area and leftovers while hubby and kids do the table) to erase the evidence of the meal. We do this right after we eat as part of of normal routine.

Happy cooking.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Recipe: Enchilada Pasta

Enchilada Pasta Recipe

*Oil - drizzle of vegetable oil or nonstick spray

*One onion - sliced
*Two bell peppers (preferably red and yellow or orange...can be made green, but changes taste) - sliced
*Two cloves of garlic - minced or chopped roughly
*Two large tablespoons of pickled jalapeno peppers (yes, the kind that you use on nachos)- chopped roughly
*Beef, Chicken, or Veggie stock or broth - 8 to 12 ounces
*Cream cheese - 2 ounces

*Penne pasta  - 12 ounces

*Taco Seasoning (I used Old El Paso, but homemade is fine) - about 1/2 teaspoon

Optional Garnishes (any of these jazz up the pasta nicely):
*Parmesan cheese (my favorite topping)
*Grilled shrimp, chicken, or pork chops (I generally use rotisserie chicken to make it a main meal.)
*Cooked Black Beans
*Shredded Cheese
*Tortilla Strips

*Sliced Pickled Jalapenos

In tomorrow's blog post, I'll discuss some tips for "orderly cooking," so come back tomorrow (March 29, 2014). In the meantime, here's the recipe...

1. Boil water and pasta (while doing everything else) according to directions on package. I usually put the pasta in the boiling water after step 4.

TIP: Start water boiling immediately and just let it keep boiling until you are ready to dump in pasta.

2. Heat 
a large saucepan to medium high. Add a tiny amount of oil (just enough to prevent sticking) to saucepan. 

TIP: Always heat pan before adding oil. Nonstick sprays can leave residue on pans, so consider a drizzle of oil instead.

3. Put vegetables in pan and salt lightly.

4. Saute all vegetables (including pickled jalapenos - don't leave them out) until just soft (about ten to fifteen minutes). Stir occasionally. If they start to stick, pour in a dash or two of the vinegar from the jalapenos to deglaze the pan. (This is the magic step. Do NOT skip it.)

5. Once veggies are soft, put the pasta in the boiling water and set timer. Add half the broth/stock to veggies and lower temp to just barely boiling. Cook for about 7 minutes (to let broth reduce).

6. Add rest of broth and reduce for about 3 1/2 minutes. (It's probably time now to drain the pasta. :) )

7. Season with taco seasoning (but not too much, be careful) and pepper (as much as you want). Turn off heat.

8. Add cream cheese in small chunks and let it melt, stirring constantly, into broth.

(Yes, you could just add cream. But I don't, because I never have cream in my fridge and always have cream cheese.)

9. Add pasta and any pre-cooked meat.

(I won't add meat today, since it's a Lenten Friday and I am Catholic. With cheese, this is a perfect Lenten or vegetarian meal. It'll be even better with freshly grilled shrimp tonight when I eat the yummy leftovers for supper. Yes, this meal is BETTER leftover, because the creamy broth soaks into the pasta.)

Make sure to stir in the pasta well so the penne can get lots of creamy broth in the holes.

10. Garnish and serve.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Two Planner System: An Update

I've been working with two planners for about a month now. One planner is a Franklin Covey Classic-sized (about a half of a letter sized page) and is dedicated to work. The other is my Franklin Covey Boston compact (4 1/4 x 6 3/4 inches) and is for everything else.

I've been busily working on a project for my job during the work day, picking the kids up from afternoon carpool, and doing dinner, childcare, housework, and chauffeuring to karate practice mostly by myself, since it's my husband's overtime season at work. The work project is particularly interesting and tends to absorb my attention to the point that I have to use alarms to remind me to take my medication, eat lunch, put laundry in the dryer, check on dinner, or go to carpool.

Last night, I forgot to look at my personal planner. I did all my work tasks, picked the kids up, made supper...and zoned completely out. I didn't pack the kids' lunches or make sure that they had clean clothes. (I did watch The Voice and read a novel. It was kind of glorious.)

Other than forgetting to check my personal planner yesterday (a major fail), my two planner system is working pretty well. I wanted to shares the things that are working, in case anyone is considering a two planner system.

1. I still schedule all meetings and hard deadlines in my personal planner.

It helps that I have very few meetings and that most of my deadlines are soft. If I had constant hard deadlines, my system would be really complicated.

2. I keep work information confidential by coding meetings and hard deadlines in my personal planner to reference my work planner.

There is NO reason to put any information about my work in my personal planner, and good reason to leave the information OUT of my personal planner. I am a lawyer, and should any court or my employer ask to see my legal work, I don't want to have to give up my personal information, too.

An entry in my personal planner might say, "9 a.m. W - T/C" (which means a work-related telecom, or telephone call, at 9 a.m.). The entry in my work planner would be much more detailed, "9 a.m., T/C with ABC re: Project - Example Name." The work entry might also have goals of the telephone call or questions to get answered noted on it.

3. I schedule work in my personal planner and try to stick to the schedule.

My work schedule is flexible, but in order to get it done, I try to have to schedule certain hours in my planner.

4. All notes, meeting logs, and project planning happens in the dedicated work planner.

5. I always use the smallest planner that works effectively for my tasks.

I use my personal planner everywhere, so it must fit in my purse. For my work planner, it mostly sits at my desk (at home, since I work from a home office). If I do need to go to a meeting, I carry a larger leather bag instead that fits a classic-sized planner. I can afford to have a heavier, bigger planner. The extra space lets me take all of my research notes right there in the planner. If my job required more errands, I'd probably use a smaller planner and a notebook, instead.

So far, the system is working for me. I love having two planners. I just need to remember to keep working BOTH systems.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 7: His Homework, My Planner

I have a second grader. Mostly, he's really great about doing his homework. He writes it in his planner at school. (His planner is one provided by the school.) He packs his bag. He brings it home. He does homework quickly. He brings it back to school.

Except, every now and then, when he forgets to write it in his planner. Then the work doesn't get done. (Like mother, like son, right?)

Mostly, he doesn't write in his planner because something happened to change his routine at school. When we go over what happened, I realize I'm not going to be able to improve his behavior. For example, they have religion class (with a special bag and no time to grab their planner), so he just has to remember that he has religion homework. But he doesn't remember, and he doesn't go straight back to class to write it down immediately.

For a long time, I was looking up his homework on-line every night. That took forever as the on-line homework program the school uses is clunky. So I started writing everything in my planner every week. But I hated it on my daily entries, because it was FYI only and took up valuable space.

So I put the homework in the corner.

Kabooma! It works.

The lesson here is that some things are truly need-to-know, but that doesn't mean they need the important spaces in your planner.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Bonus Post: A Peek Into My Parenting

Loki was chatting with a little girl slightly younger than him during his brother's karate class.

She asked him, "are you a boy or a girl?"

"A boy."

"I'm a girl. Do you know how you tell a boy from a girl?"

"Oh," Loki replied quite seriously, while Mommy held her breath and wished away the word penis, "sure. A girl wears lipstick."

"'Xactly," the little girl said earnestly. "Daddy never even wears lipstick."


Tiny Changes Challenge Day 6: Coffee Brewing Chores

I brew coffee every morning. Usually, I stand in front of the pot, watching it drip, drip, drip.

Instead, in honor of my tiny changes series, I threw a load of laundry in the wash and took out the trash while the coffee brewed this morning.

I already feel way ahead of the day.

Pick a chore or two that you can do while waiting on something regular (like toast or coffee, or even during the first commercial of the Today Show). You won't regret it.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 5: Menu on Weekly Planner Pages

I go back and forth over including a menu in my planner. I like to see the menu, but there doesn't seem to be a good place to put it. I either can't see it on Monday through Thursday or I can't see it over the weekend.

So, for this week's tiny change, I put the first half of the menu on top of the first half of the week.

The second half goes on top of the second half of the week.

It's working nicely so far.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 4: Household on Weekly Planner Pages

I don't use a cleaning checklist of any sort. I try to clean as I go, focusing on the public areas, the areas with the most impact if I clean them or areas where guests will stay as priorities. I also try to do a little each day.

But some things need to go on my radar because they need to be cleaned or organized. I call this my "household" list (since all the things are in the house).

I've started keeping this list in the today marker between the current weeks, on the back of the task list.

I don't see it all the time, since I turn the task list around for the second half of the week (Friday through Sunday), but it's there if I want to work on those special household projects, like getting my hair accessories organized and under control.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 3: Daily Routine on Weekly Planner Pages

To learn new routines, I generally write them down for about a month. By then, I remember them pretty well. If there is a reason why I won't remember (say, when I was sleep-deprived with an infant and had to pack a diaper bag), I'll keep using the checklist, but for true daily stuff with no special circumstances, I just write down the checklist until I memorize it.

But I am struggling with my daily routine of packing up the kids for the next day. I don't know why I'm having so much trouble. After school, they do homework, I supervise chores, and I set out a snack, a water bottle, and clothes for the next day. It's nothing fancy, so I keep telling myself that I will remember to do this stuff daily.

I am a liar. I am not going to do all five steps. I will forget something. I wouldn't have, at 22, but at 39...

I needed to see the routine every day, but I didn't want to copy it week-to-week.

So I dedicated the very bottom of my page marker to the daily routine.

A little bitty change from a sticky note on the page, but it works much better!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 2: Chores - Water Bottles

Every night, I refill my family's water bottles for work and school the next day. We live in the South, so this is a critical step in keeping all of us hydrated and saving tons of money on buying water. Also, there's the saving the planet and all. :)

For years, I've been refilling the water pitchers in the refrigerator whenever they run out of water (with two in the rotation, so that we always have cold water) and pouring water from the pitchers into the smaller water bottles each night before bed. The pitcher and water bottles go in the fridge until morning.

It occurred to me Okay, my husband POINTED OUT (dammit) that I would fill a pitcher, then fill the bottles, and the pitcher would be half full and need to be refilled sooner. Instead, I had the brilliant idea he suggested that I fill the water bottles whenever I fill the pitcher each night, at the sink. Then, I have cold water bottles AND two cold pitchers of water in the morning and save time filling the pitcher.

(In my defense, he has never rarely ever had a time-saving tip before. My brain is still trying to wrap itself around this sexy new development in our relationship!)

So, Day 2 of Giftie Etcetera's Tiny Changes Challenge - fill the water bottles from the sink instead of the pitcher!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 1: Planner - Week/Month Tasks

I am excited to issue my Loyal Readers a challenge. For one week, make a tiny change each day in your planner set-up or routine that cuts the time of tasks or makes more sense for the way you are working. I'm not talking about a big overhaul of your planner tabs or a drafting of a spring cleaning list. I'm talking about one thing that makes your life easier.

Designate a decorative bowl for your keys as you walk in the door.

Put a reminder on your planner to get your yearly check-up and circle it, so you recopy it from year to year.

Make an extra serving of supper for lunch the next day.

Put a colorful highlight or square around your important due dates.

Whatever you decide to do, come back here and share your tweaks in the comments, so that other readers can get ideas! Seven days. Seven changes. A huge difference in your life.

My change, day one?

I put my weekly/monthly task list in a Franklin Covey page marker, so it moves from week to week with ease.

Any tasks that are day specific go on the daily list and tasks that must be done this week generally get scheduled on a certain day. But there's lots of other stuff that is too important to go on my master task list (more someday/maybe type tasks) and need to be in my face. For a while, I was hole-punching my task list, but it's a pain to move each week. A reader suggested this page marker that allows you to slip in a piece of paper, I cut paper to size, and it worked perfectly.

A simple solution that saves only seconds each week (moving the tasks from week to week), but makes me happy and does save some time.

Happy problem solving. Remember to sign up for emails whenever I post (left gutter to subscribe), and come back all week for more daily ideas!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Planning The Weekend

If there is one time when things can get out of control, it's the weekend. All that unstructured time means mommy doesn't look at her planner as often, kids take out a million toys, and daddy does "projects" that create mess.

I'm not one of those people who think you should work all weekend. Humans need time to relax, and for so many of us, weekends are our only opportunity. But if you don't want your week to suck (and you don't want your week to suck, right?), there are some things you should do.

1. Guard your weekends. Only schedule things that are important on your weekend. Your weekend entries on your planner should be open and emptier than weekly entries. If you don't need to sign up for a new on-line bank account on Saturday morning, wait until Wednesday.

Note the difference between the Monday - Friday entries (left) and the weekend entries (right).

2. Do your maintenance chores, but don't marathon everything on the weekends.

Even if you are doing a load of laundry every week night, you might still have to do a load or two on the weekend, depending on the size of your family. But unless you have absolutely no other choice, don't plan to do any major, regular chores on the weekend. Otherwise, weekends become too much work.

3. But do double up on stuff better done on weekends.

For some people, weekends are for special chores, like building a deck (not at my house), cleaning the pool (not at my house), or cleaning out the garage (I'm starting to feel like I live in a tiny, tiny house).

For me, weekends are for cooking the things that I don't have time to cook during the week. I find cooking relaxing, so it is the perfect chore to assign to Sundays. But I definitely take advantage of the extra time by cooking double or chopping extra veggies for the freezer. It's a little thing that I usually don't have time to do during the week, but that makes my life so much easier.

4. Don't take the weekend completely off. Continue to erase the evidence, or the mess will catch up with you.

5. Do get ready for Monday. It's really easy, on Sunday afternoon, to sit around and be lazy. But check your planner for Monday, load up your briefcase, tote bags, and backpacks, and make sure you have a lunch and dinner plan.

Sadly, tomorrow is Monday.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Secret Habits Of The Organized

How is it that some people have things all together and are so organized, while the rest of us struggle to get through the day?

I have five secrets to share that will help even the most unorganized person get through the day. The truth is that when I do these things, my life stays on track, I show up on time for appointments, and my house is not a disaster. When I don't (like, say, YESTERDAY for example...sigh), things fall apart.

1. Use a planner.

You knew I was going to say that, right?

Seriously, though, yours does NOT need to be as complicated a system as mine.

A small notebook where you write down things you need to remember is fine to start with. Consider using the back of the first page for on-going stuff and the right side for today or this week. When you are done for today or this week, tear out that page (and toss, if you don't have a filing system or need to archive activities), and start tomorrow or next week's page, without having to recopy the on-going stuff, as it is still there on the left!

2. Have a capture board for house only or office only information.

I love my planner. But the list of ideas for extra chores that my kids can do to earn time playing with electronics and my grocery needs don't need to take up valuable planner space, as those things will never leave the house. (I make a grocery list in my coupon binder weekly, but I almost always do that at home.) I do NOT use my fancy dry erase board for planner-appropriate stuff, but for jotting an ingredient that I use the last of while cooking dinner or for noting that my bathroom needs cleaning, the wipe erase board is perfect.

Modify this at the office for those temporary, sometimes reminders that you don't need in your planner. (Lunch with your favorite office mate, anyone? "Lunch with Elle sometime this week!")

3. Do something extra.

When you are wiping up a spill on the counter, go ahead and clean off the top of the stove, the sink, or the knobs on the stove.

While chatting with your spouse as he walks in the door, go ahead and fold those clean towels while you visit.

If you walk from the kitchen to the bathroom, carry the clean towels with you to put away.

Realize you need to take a folder home from work tonight? Put it in your bag.

4. Erase the evidence.

After completing any task, erase the evidence of that task. Teach your family to do this, too.

If I had been erasing the evidence as I got my work done, my desk would not look like this.

You can get rid of the evidence of whatever you are doing. Think about ways you can do this that are not so obvious. 

For example, most people know it's best to clean up after dinner. But what about erasing the evidence of your shower (e.g., wipe down the walls of the shower, put caps back on the shampoo, and hang up your towel)? Make sure no one can tell that you went to karate and ate in your car by putting your karate bag in the trunk, washing your kid's karate uniform, and tossing the fast food bags. After working on a project at work, put the files in the active files, clear away the scraps of paper where you did the math, and backup your work as necessary.

5. Create action prompts.

When I pack lunch for work, I often store it in the fridge. But I put a spoon or fork on top of my work bag, reminding me to grab my lunch before I leave the house.

Last night, I washed the kids' blankets. The blankets are sitting on their chairs in the kitchen, to remind them to put them away before eating supper.

I unloaded the groceries and put my reusable bags by the back door so that I bring it to my car when I leave the house for carpool.

Anything you can do to put things that you will use in activities in a place where they prompt the action (usually, the action to put them away or use them) will help.

Of course, don't let this take the place of doing something extra. It's okay to have a small basket at the bottom of the stairs to prompt you to bring the laundry upstairs the next time you go to the second floor. However, if piles of stuff land at the bottom of the stairs, blocking the stairway, doing something extra and bringing everything upstairs immediately is a better choice for your home.

If you dedicate to doing these five things for a month, I promise it will change your life.

Remember to come back and comment on how you are doing with the five secret habits of the organized!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Time Log Fail

I kept a time log this morning.

What, you thought I was going to show you? :) I was, actually, planning to show you, but as the day wore on, it was clear that the log was a complete failure. It was missing most of what I actually did. Also, it looked like I had accomplished nothing.

Instead, I'll list my accomplishments today:

1. Took five year old to get five cavities filled. (That, alone, people, took all the energy that I had for the day. "Mommy, can I have ice cream?" "Mommy, this ice cream is too cold. I put it back in the freezer." "Mommy, can I play Disney Infinity?" "Mommy, I don't want to play Disney Infinity. Can I watch a movie?" "Mommy, I changed my mind. Can I play Disney Infinity? I don't know how to change the disc." "Mommy." "Mommy." "MOMMY!!!")

2. Wrote the last two pages of a four page legal memo. Need to proofread and it is done!

3. Did a load of laundry.

4. Did a load of dishes.

5. Cooked lunch for me (with leftovers for tomorrow) and FORTY BILLION SOFT SNACKS for the aforementioned five year old.

6. Blogged (once I publish this).

7. Listened to the Louisiana executives drone on and on about the state budget. (For my Louisiana peeps, a friend of mine has a great blog on proposed Louisiana legislation called Unremitted Attention.)

8. Added to the grocery list.

9. Added chores to the boys' optional list (that they use to earn electronics time).

10. Did NOT nap on Day Two of the Great Injustice That Is Daylight Savings Time. (Seriously, for people as far south as the Gulf Coast, sunshine is NOT in demand.)

See? I did a fabulous job today!

But a time log cannot possibly capture my day, because I stopped and started about every five minutes, except during the serious writing part (basically, my "office hours"). I would have spent my whole day logging and getting nothing else done.

I still learned a valuable lesson, though. I get a lot done in little found time. Five minutes here and there is what keeps my house neat, my clothes and dishes clean, and my children almost sane.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

How To Get Ready For Tomorrow

Sometimes I experience organization fail because I am simply too overwhelmed to decide what to do next. Most commonly, this happens at night, during prep for the next day, when the siren call of the couch is just irresistible.

I try to overcome this roadblock in a several ways.

First, I get ready for tomorrow earlier in the day. There is no rule that you have to wait for night time to pack a tote bag, put out clothing, or start lunches. In fact, I leave the tote bag hanging from my desk and add to it as I think of things that I want to take or as I finish with something.

I am substitute teaching tomorrow for part of the day, so I'll take my folder with the teacher's schedule in it. I am reading a paperback, but am also reading a book on my Nook, so I can pack the paperback and just read my Nook at bedtime. As I put away laundry, I'll put out clothes for the kids and me to wear in the morning. I'm cooking chili for supper, so leftovers will be packed for lunch. They will go in the fridge, but I'll put my fork on my bag to remind me to grab lunch in the morning.

Second, I focus on how much benefit derives from preparing for tomorrow today. A simple glance at my planner reminds me that if I don't plan, tomorrow will be overwhelming (particularly as my tomorrow is busy enough to merit a day-on-a-page plan). Mentally reminding myself that planning for tomorrow is a way to take care of me is an important motivator. Over time, planning for tomorrow becomes a habit and the benefits give me positive reinforcement.

Third, I try to schedule something pleasant for the end of the day. Nobody wants to end the day loading up their briefcase. Sundays are particularly hard for me for some reason. I NEED social interaction or something fun at the end of the day. For awhile, that something was Sherlock or Downton Abbey. I am searching for that something this week. As soon as my husband's overtime season is over, I hope to do something with my family on Sundays.

Good luck with time change Monday. Spring forward. Hope this helps Monday suck a little less.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Planners and Lines

In the planner world, lined versus unlined pages are a big deal.

Most newbies to planning don't think about lines much, but it only takes one instance of planner fail to teach about this important, but often overlooked aspect of planners. Whether a planner has lines or not and the size of the lines is something planners should consider before buying a new planner or refills.

Most people find that they pretty much either love and must have lines or hate them.

I don't have lines on my weekly pages. Since I have a naturally neat handwriting (as a leftie, I'm pretty proud of that), I don't really need them.

If you do need lines, though, the size of the lines matter. If they are too small, they are difficult to write on.

If they are too large, the page will not have enough room for planning.

Next time you choose refills, consider the lines. They truly can be the difference between planner success and planner failure.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tasks: The Pending And The Possible

Tasks. I write them down. Then, in theory, I do them. Oh, sometimes I don't, of course. If I really "don't wanna" {pout}, then I sometimes decide not to or assign it out. Usually, though, I just suck it up and get it done.

But what about tasks that I can't do yet? Inevitably, there is something that cannot be done until a certain date passes, I do something else first (but there are not enough steps to justify a project), or something else happens. I refer to those tasks as pending tasks. 

I have to write down these pending tasks, because eventually, I'll need to do them. I need to have them on the plan as a trigger for my memory and to make sure I follow-up if someone else doesn't do their part.

When I write those tasks down, instead of using a context code, I use @ to mean "after." So, @date = after a certain date. @AMB = after my husband, noted by his initials, does something. @action = after I do another action, I can do this.

Knowing WHERE to write @ tasks can be tricky. Generally, I write them in the next place where they will need to be scheduled. Today's errand to the library, which cannot happen until after carpool, goes on today's box on my weekly pages. Today's karate payment will be made at karate class.

Tasks that just need to be done sometime, but are waiting on someone or something, go on the general task list. For example, this picture shows that I need 2 adult witnesses before signing an insurance paper, I need my kid around to read a certain book, and I need my husband to book the Easter hotel.

Note that pending tasks are different than POSSIBLE tasks or events. Possible means that I need to know about, but may or may not do, the thing in question.

Possible tasks are noted by a question mark. For example, if I am thinking about baking a cake for a celebration, but am not obliged to bake the cake, I put a question mark behind it. In the picture below, I noted the date of the school auction (for reference and in case I decided to attend) with a question mark. (Sometimes, I mark something FYI, if it needs to stay for information whether I attend/do the task or not.)

This method of noting pending and possible tasks allows me to fully plan my day, without wasting time on things that I can't do yet anyway.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A 40 Day Fast From The Unplanned

Happy Mardi Gras from south Louisiana!

Starting tomorrow, Catholics fast for 40 days during Lent. I'm planning a fast from the unplanned.

I've heard of spending fasts, where you don't spend anything (except by paying old bills as they come due) for 40 days. And clutter fasts, in which families don't create any addition clutter in their homes for 40 days, are great for people getting started or needing a restart to their organizing.

But for those starting to use planners or finding themselves neglecting their planning to the point that they are missing stuff, I recommend a 40 day fast from the unplanned.

For 40 days, don't do anything important without writing it in your planner first. I don't mean to document every second. Nor do I mean that you plan stuff that doesn't require planning.

So if you do the dishes every night, and don't write it down, go ahead and do the dishes. Don't write it down.

But if you write down and then pay bills, and suddenly find yourself just piling bills on the table and trying to remember the deadlines, stop and write them in your planner. Normally, I say that if you are actively doing something (like writing the check and putting the bill in the mail outside), just do it. For 40 days, though, stop and write it in your planner first. Take a fast from the unplanned.

If you find yourself not having quality time with your spouse, children, or friends, plan it! If an opportunity arises, of course, don't skip it. Just take a second to write it in your planner.

Skipping Mass on a regular basis? Write it down on Sundays for the month.

Missing family dinners? Plan a menu and schedule time to cook.

Not cleaning up after dinner? Note the plan to clean up in your planner.

Maybe you are wondering why you still get to partake in the event or action, even though you are fasting. It's because it's the ACT OF WRITING IT DOWN that you are practicing. The real fast is from being spontaneous to the point that your life is not in your control. The real sacrifice is forcing yourself to organize your plans so that your choices are thoughtful.

You don't need to be Catholic (or even Christian) for this to work. My atheist friends should pick things to plan that they value - family, passions, and kind deeds. My Wiccan friends might plan some time with nature. My Christian friends might plan some writing or Bible study. 

This practice is not about religion (though my personal plan will be focused there). It is about learning to prioritize what is important.

1. Make a list of things that must be planned for you to function well. Since this is a project, I am keeping this in my projects section of my binder.

2. Leave room on the list. As you think of things that are missing from your plan (usually, right after you remember that you forgot to do them), add them to the list.

3. Schedule a time, daily for 40 days, to review the list and make a plan. If you are the praying type, this is perfect for right after prayer time.

4. If something isn't on the plan and should be, stop and plan it. This is the MOST important part of the fast. This is where you train your hands to write, your brain to think, and your body to head to the planner to see what needs to be done. This is where decision-making about your priorities is practiced.

5. If you mess up, forgive yourself and move forward. That's right. Just forgive yourself and start again when you realize. While not the most important part, this is probably the HARDEST part for most of us. But it is critical. A fast means that you keep trying, not that you always succeed.

I know this isn't the traditional fast, but fasts are supposed to be challenging and to transform you. This fast has a lot of chance to do just that.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Menu Hacks For Your Planner

This week, foodwise, is complicated.

We are Catholic, so no meat (seafood is acceptable) on Ash Wednesday or Friday during Lent. Plus, the kids are off school all week and the husband is working overtime all week. So I have to cook a lot more food than usual.

We are going to stay under budget by defrosting meat and sides that I've frozen when on sale and by cooking beans and pasta. I still will need to do lots of shopping, though, in order to feed my boys (who've suddenly started eating like growing teenagers, despite being in kindergarten and second grade) all week. In order to stay under budget, careful planning is required.

I advise that people keep their menus in their planner. Sure, a quick list of dinners can go on a wipe board on the fridge. (Clearly, I am over that. Sure, the family knew what to expect. But that just gave them time to complain in advance!)

The problem is that a simple wipe board is not about planning. It's about advertising my plan. I don't need advertising. I am not a restaurant. (I am a good cook. And since I've stopped advertising, they've stopped complaining and started requesting instead.)

I need a plan.

The details, for those borrow such things as their own...

1. List the tasks to be done ahead of time on the day they must be done. For example, on Monday, over the red line, is a reminder to defrost the shrimp for Wednesday.

2. Divide tasks from menu. This is important, since the tasks are an action and the menu is informational. The red line reminds me to do the tasks. I also put a little reminder, with a circle around it to tell me to copy it from day to day, on my weekly planner that says, "menu."

3. List breakfast and lunch if they are complicated. For example, I list breakfast when it involves cooking instead of just cereal or something quick. I list lunch on days where it is meatless or must be taken out of the home.

4. Create meals around meat on sale or in the freezer.

5. Once you have created your menu, check for ingredients, such as condiments and side dishes.

6. If you need to add an ingredient to the grocery list, put a little mark by the item. This is important because it not only allows me to create my grocery list, but it allows me to substitute at the grocery store. Roasting veggies look withered? Check the see that you are roasting a chicken and consider a baked dish in the same oven instead.

7. Use the menu to make your grocery list. You don't need to buy much else. We'll get milk, bread, some lunch meat, and a couple of snacks.

8. Be flexible. If you find steaks on sale, maybe you don't roast a chicken this week.

9. Make your menu for next week as you go. There's no reason to make it all at once. Craving Mexican? Google a recipe and add it to next week's menu.

10. Have a list of things you know how to cook and love to eat, in case you are stumped about what to put on the menu.

I am looking forward to dinner this week.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Planning Selfishly

Each individual is unique, with a special style of getting things accomplished. In the world of planners, many of us (guilty!!!) run with the trend of the month, the week, the day.

Don't do it.

It's okay to study tips and planning styles. Watch you tube and read and learn about how to plan.

But when it comes down to putting pen to paper, think selfishly.

If watching Downton Abbey is important, write that down. Write it in your priority area. And write it with exclamation!

I make a point to not worry about what people see in my planner (and I do that, notably, knowing that you will see most of it). I only worry about what I will see. (And confidentiality of other people's information, hence all the carefully positioned ink pens.) I scratch out. 
One day, I schedule chores. The next, they don't land on my paper. I doodle. I don't doodle. I divide things into categories that don't make sense to anyone else. I plan for me.

Understand, I don't plan to do only selfish things. In fact, most of my plans are about caring for others. But the way I plan - my method - is selfish. I think planners would be happier, as a group, if they did the same. Plan selfishly. Plan for you. Plan in your style.

But, whatever you do, make a plan.

You will be rewarded.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Planning Vacations

In the southern part of Louisiana, the kids are out of school this upcoming week for Mardi Gras.

All of my friends are traveling the Disney World.

Okay, not all.

Most? Yes, most. All the lucky ones, anyway.

We can't travel during Mardi Gras, since it's my husband's busy season at work, so we generally do vacations during the blazing hot summer. That means, of course, that it's time to start planning.

But, as usual, we are too busy right now to plan vacation.

You see the problem, right?