Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thinking About Tomorrow

How much do you dwell on tomorrow? Do you worry about what you need to do for work? Do you pick out your clothes the night before? Pack a bag? Set an alarm? Obsess? Dread? Anticipate?

Since I've been daily planning the day before, I've been extra aware of how I am spending my time - and my life.

I'm not spending enough time having fun.

Oh, I have some weekends with the girls or date nights, sure. (To be fair, date nights have been a little sparse lately.)

But day-to-day, I'm not hanging out with friends, walking in the park with my husband, playing games with my kids, or even reading a great novel. I haven't been writing my novel (a life goal) or riding a bike. Bowling? Disc golf? Skating? Nope.

All this time planning is about achieving my goals (like a paycheck), but it's about more than that.

It's about saving time so that I can be happy. And I haven't worked enough on happy lately. So, tomorrow, I haven't planned anything after work. Instead, I will use that time to have fun.


Leaving The House: Bring More Than A Planner

I can't remember a time in the last year when I left my house without my planner. There are times when my planner stays in the car (like during a wedding), but it is always at least sitting on the passenger seat when I am out and about town. Usually, it's sitting in my handbag or tote.

But I rarely leave the house with just my purse, cell phone, and planner, though those (along with my inhaler) are the essentials.

Instead, I make a list (as part of my daily plan) of items or tote bags that need to leave the house with me. In today's example, the items are crossed off with a highlighter as I packed them into my launch pad area (a dedicated space for things leaving the house with me each day).

At first glance, making a huge list seems like a complete waste of time. In fact, I resisted doing this even when my kids were babies and I had to carry seemingly the whole house with me (clothes for them, backup clothes for me, bottles, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, car seats, blah, blah, blah...thank goodness those days are over).

But let's take a look at what I packed and discover the WHY behind the list of things I bring with me out of the house.

I bring my workout bag daily. That way, I can stop by the YMCA on a break and workout, keeping me fit and healthy. If I don't bring the bag and it rains or gets hot outside, I don't workout. (I actually keep the bag in my car except on Fridays, when I wash my yoga mat and socks and restock spare clothes and towel.)

I list the special stuff my kids need to bring. Sometimes, that includes lunch or a project. Today, it was just water bottles and snacks. If I don't, it's a 30-minute drive each way to pick up whatever we forgot.

I bring my own water bottle and a snack in a reusable container. That way, if I get hungry while on the road, I don't have to waste plastic (Save the Earth, y'all) or money by buying water. Also, I eat much healthier and cheaper if I have sunflower seeds and some fruit to snack on. Sometimes, depending on my schedule, I also bring lunch.

I bring my own coffee. It stays hot for hours in a good thermos. Again, I'm saving money and the planet!

I had to put my cell phone on the list. Yes, I bring it daily. But it plugs in overnight to charge and if I don't have a reminder, I tend to forget it.

I bring my work bag and computer with me if there is any chance at all that I will be working from the library, office, or a coffee shop. If I don't, I inevitably waste time that could be billed.

If I am substitute teaching, I bring my sub tote, with a lanyard and activities for the kids.

Sometimes, I bring a library tote (to return/check out books) or an errands tote (to carry all the little things needed for my errands, like pants to get hemmed, a gift to return to the store with the receipt, and a gift to deliver to a new mom).

TIP: Have a different tote bag for each activity. 

For example, I regularly go to the library, work remotely, write, substitute teach, run assorted errands, and workout/take yoga or pilates classes. I have a designated tote bag, pre-filled, for each activity. Only the bag itself and items that are not already in the tote bag go on my list.

TIP: Make a "found time" tote. Put magazine articles that you want to read, a book, some thank you notes to write, or your knitting in a bag. When you are waiting or stuck somewhere, you'll have something to do.

Speaking of, let's talk about making the list.

First, I list upcoming activities for tomorrow, including both events/appointments and tasks.

Second, I use today's list of things to leave the house to make one for tomorrow.

TIP: If some things repeat daily, a moving sticky note is a good solution.

Third, I check tomorrow's upcoming activities to add anything else that I might need to the list of things to leave the house.

TIP: List the totes that you plan to bring, and under each, list items that you need to add to the totes, as pictured above.

Fourth, I pile everything that I can (usually, everything except hot or cold foods) in the launch area.

Fifth, in the morning, I highlight the list to check off packed items.

TIP: If you have a very routine life and things rarely change for you, you might just post the list in the launch area on a wipe erase board to reuse daily. This tip also works well for kids!

Read more about what is on my prep list here!

If you haven't joined the conversation in the Giftie Etcetera Facebook Group, please consider it. We talk about planners, but we are different than most planner groups in that we also talk about order and organizing.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Update: Weight Loss Planning

About a month ago, I blogged about Planning Project Weight Loss.

Here's an update after 4 weeks...

Lost 4 pounds.

Stayed under calorie goal about 33% of the time.

Only exceeded calorie goal by an average of 200 calories the other 66% of the time, which means I still ate less than calories burned every day.

I exercised 12 times in the past 30 days. That's pretty impressive when you consider that I had bronchitis for two weeks and could barely workout.

I've eaten fruits and veggies and lean proteins (mostly chicken) daily and in generous servings.

I don't know if Project Weight Loss is going to change my medications or medical stats, but it should. Writing all this stuff down in my planner, which is always with me, really seems to be the key to consistent weight loss.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why Daily Plans Should Be Made Daily

I am a monthly and weekly planner by nature. I just need to see an overview of how I am to spend my time.

Using my monthly pages for appointments and time-specific events and my weekly pages for tasks forces me to stay reasonable about the amount of stuff that I plan. If I used daily pages all the time instead, I'd fill them up, over-commit, and never get everything that was written down on the daily pages accomplished.

Instead, I make daily plans only when needed (most weekdays) and only make daily plans one day in advance (usually the night before).

There are many advantages to the system of making daily pages only a day in advance, in addition to the ability to see an overview on my monthly and weekly pages.

*Better Decision Making

I can make better decisions about how to spend my time at the last minute, as the night before is when I have the most information about what is really coming up the next day.

Most of the rescheduling is already done by the time I write my daily page the night before. If I made a daily plan three days in advance, and accepted a job substitute teaching at the last minute, I'd now have to redo the entire daily page. Usually, by the night before, I know what I am doing tomorrow at a pretty reliable level.

Also, I am more aware of my health and energy levels the night before than I would be several days in advance. If I am coming down with a cold, I might schedule yoga class (8 a.m.) instead of my normal step class (10 a.m.). That bit of knowledge changes my entire schedule.

*Refreshed Memory

Recopying the monthly and weekly entries onto my daily plan helps me to solidify my goals for the day in my brain. Right before I do the tasks and follow the schedule, I get a review of what is actually on the agenda. My memory of what needs to be done is refreshed, even if I actually wrote down the appointments or tasks months ago.

*Prepping For Tomorrow

With my daily plan in front of me, it is quick and easy to pack whatever I need for tomorrow. On a busy day, that can include food, workout gear, work tote, and errands totes, in addition to my purse and cell phone.

*Thinner, Lighter Planner

Since I don't carry around months worth of daily pages, my planner is lighter and easier to carry, but still with the advantages of a daily plan.

*Flexibility In Planning

My daily plan set-up can vary a bit from day-to-day since I only make it one day in advance. For example, generally I only have less than five things on my agenda (like 6:45 a.m. carpool, 7:45 a.m. walk with friends, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. substitute teach, and 5 p.m. karate with the kids). I fill in stuff like work hours and when to blog in the open slots. But, sometimes, I have more appointments than that. Instead of putting appointments in the tiny space at the top of my Quo Vadis pages, I might list 10 different appointments in the main space of the page. Or, for my sister's baby shower tomorrow, I can list everything that I need to bring (ice, chairs, foods, gifts, checkbook, etc.) right there on the daily page, where I would usually put the menu.

*Skipping A Daily Plan

On more relaxed days (say a Saturday with nothing on the agenda), I can simply rely on my weeklies and not waste time making a daily plan.

Consider adding a daily plan to your planner, sometimes, but only when needed. That said, daily pages might not be appropriate for you. Instead, use a daily plan made only the morning of or the night before, and maximize your planning.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Simple Planning

People new to planning would probably get overwhelmed by my blog. It's full of fun hints, details, and new ideas, but it's lacking something. 


Honestly, my system is ever-changing, developed over a lifetime, and flexible. But it's not what it was when I had my first planner.

planner, flourish, franklin covey

It's no longer simple. 

So if you are just starting with a planner (any planner, even just a simple notebook) or are just overwhelmed with all the details, remember this simple rule...

Write it down in your planner.

That's it. Have an appointment? Write it down. Want to remember something funny your kid said? Write it down.

But always write it in your planner. That way, you don't lose the thought. You know where to find it. Also, it forces you to open your planner and look in it (and remember about the dentist appointment on Monday afternoon).

If things aren't working for you, or if you are new to planning, or if you just need a clean restart, just write it down in your planner, and you'll be okay.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 5 Minute Task Challenge (Warning: Takes Longer Than 5 Minutes)

Let's take the 5 Minute Task Challenge. Ready?

First, quickly make a list of about 10 things that you would love to accomplish today. (I took mine from my weekly spread for today and tomorrow.)

Second, put a star by each of the tasks that probably takes less than 5 minutes.

Third, start a timer and do ONLY the starred tasks in order from the anticipated quickest task to the anticipated most-time consuming tasks.

Time's up.

How many tasks did you accomplish? How long did it take?

I accomplished all the starred tasks (7). It took, altogether, about 15 minutes. That means that most of the tasks on my list took about 2 minutes each! 2 minutes.

Yet, the list was overwhelming me, because it was long and my brain was stuck on that length instead of being logical and realistic. In fact, several of those items have been recopied, day after day (likely spending more than 2 minutes per task recopying), as I've avoided tackling these 2 minute tasks!

Task lists can paralyze you. Don't let them.
The 5 Minute Task Challenge is meant to remind you not to freak out over a task list. This challenge should show you that you can get stuff done with very little time commitment. 

The goal of planning is not to scare you, but to allow you to be realistic about what you can get done. With only three remaining items on my list, it's clear that I'll be able to get everything done today. Maybe your tasks took more time. If so, consider shorter lists or more specific, broken up tasks. (For example, instead of "plan birthday party," consider "make invite list," "send invites," "create birthday menu," and "buy gift.")

Once your list is made, just start somewhere. You can do like I did, and do the quickest task first. Or you can do the most dreaded or longest task first. Your system doesn't matter. What matters is that you have a plan, that you stick to it (unless there are GOOD reasons for change), and that you take care of business so that you have time left to enjoy your life!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Planners: The Refined Jot

It's only in the past year or two that I've (mostly) broken this bad habit:

Yes, I write things on my hand. (And my thighs. And my feet. And my tummy. Shush. You'd think I would like tattoos, but no.)

I also sometimes write things on the sweaty inside of the palm, which is just STUPID as the notes erase themselves in Louisiana's humid heat.

But lately, in an effort to be more organized (and less ink poisoned), I've made five rules for myself.

(Aside - Is ink poisoning really A THING?!? My mom says it, my husband says it, and my teachers used to say it. But, seriously, if it was A THING, I'd have an extra eyeball or something by now. At the very least, I'd grow a spare toe! Liars!!! Lying liars, the lot of them!)

Anyway...without further ado...

Rules of the Refined Jot

1. Do not write on your body (or a napkin or any other substitute writing surface). You'll lose the message or look silly.

2. If the note is about a document, it's fair game to write it on the document.

For example, if editing a rough draft or noting a telephone call about a bill, the draft or the bill is an appropriate place to jot the note.

3. If the note is time-specific, write it on your schedule in your planner.

Yes, this does mean opening your planner. Yes, opening your planner is tedious. DO IT ANYWAY! (Yes, those are shouty all caps. Not my fault - it's the ink poisoning!)

One reason to open your planner is that you need to check your schedule anyway, to make sure you don't need to move anything around in order to fit the new event. Another reason is that opening your planner, on a regular basis, is the only way to keep it relevant and reliable.

4. If the note is a task, open to the appropriate day or week and write it down.

Choice A: Open planner. Write task. Do task.

Choice B: Don't open planner. Write task on hand. Remember later about task when you see smeared ink. Open planner. Write task. Do task.

Which choice makes more sense to you?

5. If you really do not have time to jot the task on the appropriate page, at least put it on your dashboard.

Refine your jotting and you'll find that fewer things slip through the cracks. Also, ink poisoning. We can't forget about ink poisoning, right, Mom?


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Planning With Context

In David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, he suggests that tasks be tackled by context. Translation? If you are running errands, run all the errands. If you are doing housework, do all the housework at the same time.

I never fully bought into all of Allen's theories as I find them to complicated for all but the most busy executives, but I do steal a lot of his wisdom and apply it in my life (and in my planner). In particular, I use context codes all the time.

I certainly don't believe that I have to have separate lists or get all things done in a particular context at once. Instead, I simply add the codes to my task lists so that, if I happen to be at the computer, I can try to knock out a couple of extra computer tasks. The context codes help me identify computer tasks quickly.

TIP: If you really are doing all your errands in one day, jotting them all on one sticky note is a great idea. Remember, your planner needs to work for you, not mindlessly follow someone else's plan (even if that someone else is me :) ).

Today, I hope to help you set up your own list of context codes and to teach you how to use them.

1. Choose a simple list of context codes that cover LOCATION or TOOL NEEDED to get things done.

Choosing your context codes is the single most important step to help you organize your tasks.

Some people suggest that you choose by role (as in employee, boss, student, parent, etc.). I completely disagree. The reality is that your roles might not coordinate with the locales where you are doing your task or with the tools needed to do your tasks.

For example, I am a parent at work (when I have to return an email to the teacher) or when I am running errands (and need to get uniforms hemmed at the tailor). I am a lawyer at work, but also when signing up for a continuing legal education class at home from my computer. Basing your list on your "roles" will only confuse you about what you should be doing.

Instead, think about where you will do the task and what tools are needed to do the task.

For example, taking out the trash tonight can only be done at my home. Home makes sense as a context code. If I add that task to my list and am working at a coffee shop, I certainly can just ignore that task until I get home. Sometimes, a tool is needed. Most commonly, for me, that means a computer or my cell phone.

Here's the list of context codes that I currently use (typed neatly at the end of this blog entry)...

2. List the context codes in your planner.

I put my context codes in the Notes or Files section, since the list is more of a reference than a working project. I have a Note called "Planner" (which also includes things like measurements, the inserts that I order every year, links to free printables...basically anything used in organizing my planner).

TIP: When first starting with context codes, put them on a sticky note as a reminder to yourself and move it from week to week with your page marker, until you learn them and how to use them.

3. Superscript a context code in front of each task.

Context codes need to jump out at you, but not distract you. I assign my tasks in two lists: Must-Dos (on the left) and Should-Dos (on the right). There is no need to actually divide the list by context. Instead, I simply put a tiny raised context code in front of each task. That way, if I am at my computer, I can do all of my computer work at once...or just do the must-do computer tasks, if pressed for time.

4. Use the most restrictive context code.

My legal work is done, 90% of the time, on my computer. However, I don't do non-work related tasks while on the time clock for work. So, for me, W (work) is a more restrictive code than C (computer). If a work project must be done on the computer, it gets the W code. While working, I try to do all tasks with a W code each day.

5. Have a catch-all code.

A (anywhere) is my code for anything that can be done with no particular tools or locations. Since I always have my planner and my purse with me, most of the A tasks have actually changed to PL (planner) for me lately. I'm still trying to decide between the two.

6. Use the codes for all task entries.

Get into the habit of putting codes to tasks as you write down the tasks in the first place. If you forgot, go back and add them.

7. Be flexible.

If your codes aren't working and need to be tweaked, tweak them!

8. Use the context codes.

If you find you are on the computer anyway, look for a couple of computer tasks that you can knock out quickly while you have wi-fi access.

Sitting in the carpool line? Get those phone tasks done.

At the doctor's office waiting for results? Do those anywhere tasks!


A = anywhere
PL = with planner

PH = with phone
E = errands
C = at computer
W = at work

Bonus Codes (not really context codes, but other codes that I use with planner entries):

@{initials} = waiting on someone else to do
FYI = for my information only
CP = carpool
KAR = karate


Monday, September 22, 2014

Planner Hack: The Reverse Highlight

I have two pen holders in my planner. One holds a pen and the other holds a highlighter. (Yes, I use Frixion highlighters as well as ink pens.)

Mostly, I just write in one color - usually a blue, purple, or green. This week, I've been experimenting with using a highlighter on my task list. But I'm cranky and sickly (seriously, I need some soup), so I decided to be ornery about it and reverse highlight.

A reverse highlight is when I highlight things that are complete instead of highlighting in the usual way of marking things that are important to complete.

Here's how it works...

I make a task list for the day.

As I complete tasks or reschedule them (with an arrow pointing right meaning rescheduled to tomorrow and an arrow pointing down meaning moved to another day in the future), I highlight the complete and rescheduled tasks.

The important benefit of reverse highlighting is that the stuff that still needs to be done jumps out at you.


I got this idea when I was teaching. I would print out a class roll and highlight names as kids turned in a big project or turned in a permission slip. It was a quick and easy way to tell who was missing their assignments.

As a lawyer, I highlight each citation as I Shepardize it. (That meant something to my lawyer friends.)

Happy planning.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

How To Avoid Housework

I hate cleaning the house. I like a clean house, but I am allergic to dust and I get grossed out scrubbing bathrooms. Also, I'd just generally prefer to watch Netflix read go to the dentist do anything else!

So I put some Magic Minimums in my planner that keep my house from getting too filthy. The idea between Magic Minimums is that if they are ALL that you do, it should be enough to get by, as if by magic. (They work, too. Well, as long as 1) you do them at least 4 or 5 times a week and 2) you also erase the evidence of whatever you are doing throughout the day, including swishing toilets with a toilet brush and wiping down the sides of the tub daily.)

I use a sticker on my weeklies, normally, as a checklist, but I am redesigning the sticker, so you get the handwritten version in the meantime. (After all, done is better than perfect.)

Sweep (5 minutes) - This does NOT mean to sweep the floors. This means sweep around your house (every room, every bathroom, every closet) and quickly put away anything out of place.

This should not take more than 5 minutes, if you are erasing the evidence regularly.

Sometimes, if I am really pressed for time, I only sweep the public areas. Another shortcut is to jot down in my planner if I come across a pile o' stuff and schedule to deal with that pile later. (You know you have a pile o' stuff somewhere in your house, right?)

Food Prep (1 to 15 minutes) - Early in the day, I check that we have food for dinner. The important thing here is that I make a decision about what's for dinner and defrost anything needed from the freezer.

If I am going to be around all day, this might mean making some salsa for the fridge, throwing some chicken in the crock pot, and putting some rice cooking on the stove. On a work day, however, this basically means getting some hamburger meat out of the freezer to defrost for dinner.

Laundry (2 - 10 minutes) - I have two goals with laundry. One is to get a load started in the wash. Sometimes, this doesn't happen until right after work.

The other is to put away any laundry lingering from yesterday. That's when laundry takes a full 10 minutes. If you do a batch most days, laundry really doesn't take as long as you think it does.

15 Minute Quick Clean (15 minutes) - Once a day, for fifteen minutes, I clean the house. I set a timer and stop (and put away cleaning supplies) when it goes off.

Obviously, I do not clean the whole house. Instead, based on my sweep, I clean in the following order:

1. the highest impact areas (often, that means wiping down counters in the kitchen or sweeping/mopping the floor),

2. the areas that need cleaning the most (which is how grimy toilets ever get cleaned), and

3. spaces that have gone the longest without cleaning or organizing.

The 15 minute quick clean is not a science, but an art. You only get 15 minutes, so prioritizing matters. But if you do it daily and really do erase the evidence as you go, your house really will stay pretty clean.

Right now, my 15 minute quick clean would likely focus on my kitchen floors, which take the whole 15 minutes to clean. But, tomorrow, I could dust the kitchen and living room. The next day, vacuum all rooms. (It's a tiny house.) On the next day, since the high impact areas (where we mostly live and see the mess) are clean, I'd move to places like bathrooms, that NEED cleaning the most. If the whole house is clean (say, because a house guest is over), I might spend that 15 minutes organizing the junk drawer. 

Dishes (10 minutes) - All dishes should be in the dishwasher (since we usually run it at night) or clean and put away before bed.

It is especially important that handwashed dishes are clean and put away.

Prep (2 minutes) - Take a minute, look at your planner, put things to leave the house in the morning on your launch space (lunchbox, tote bag, purse) and list things that you need to get from other places (like lunch from the fridge or cell phone from the charger) on your planner. Pick out clothes or write down what you plan to wear.

TIP: If none of this works for you, just invite a house guest over or throw a party. That'll force you to clean.

BONUS TIP: If you can afford it, hire someone. I can't right now, but when I could afford it, it was such a blessing to my family.

This entire cleaning system takes about 35 to 57 minutes a day, maximum. In barely more than a half hour, you can keep your life in order and avoid EVEN marathoning housework.

And if you really dedicate to this, it will take even less time, since your house will be straightened and cleaned. Do you know how little time it takes to clean a bathroom when NOTHING is out of place and it was cleaned last week? Under 15 minutes!

35 to 57 minutes might seem like a lot, but in order to save time, I generally do a lot of it while cooking supper. So pasta water goes on the stove and onions go in the sauce pan, and I sweep the house. Pasta goes in the water and meat goes in the sauce pan, and I throw laundry in the washer and put away a sweater from yesterday. Pasta gets drained, and, while tomato sauce warms, I spend five minutes cleaning the microwave.

I also do a good bit either first thing in the morning (while the kids eat their breakfast, since I eat after they are at school) or right when arriving home from work. I also clean during tv commercials.

If you have kids, spouses, partners, or roommates, it takes even less time. (My kids do some of the laundry and my husband does a lot of it. My kids do all of the dishes except the cast iron pan. I don't do their rooms, except for a quick check about once a week, so I can spend time sweeping or cleaning other areas.)

Also, as long as I do it pretty regularly, I can skip a day or two (or, lets be realistic, three) and still get by with a fairly clean house.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Five Steps For Dealing With A Messy Situation

Sometimes, it's better not to post pictures in my blog post. 

Oh, I tried. I really did. I sat on the couch, coughing (bronchitis, yippy), and trying to catch a picture of the mess surrounding me. But it's too bad, seriously. And because I've been off of work all week due to my illness, I have to work double hours this upcoming week, so I need to tackle the mess before my house guest arrives on Friday.

Dirty dishes, stacks of clean laundry, gifts and gifts bags from last week's birthday party, tissues, empty coffee mugs, Legos...the list could go on forever.

An overwhelming mess can linger for days or weeks. Often, it's not picking up the mess that is the problem. It's knowing where to start. 

So I thought I'd share my strategy for tackling an overwhelming mess in your living space. The order matters. It is chosen to give you small victories with the least amount of work and the biggest overall effect!

1. Throw out the trash.

Generally, I start by throwing away any trash. The reason I start there is because it's easy to accomplish. Everything else needs a home. But trash just goes away.

2. Bring dishes to the sink and dirty laundry to the hamper.

Note that I don't do the dishes or laundry at this point. I'm just getting them out of the messy areas. (Actually, my eight year old actually does the dishes and the six year old puts laundry in the washer and dryer.) It's sort of the same concept as the trash. You know the home for dirty dishes, so it doesn't take much effort or thinking.

TIP: Assign this task to a partner or your kids to do alongside you while you skip the step 3. It's an easy task, but having help will make everyone accomplish more. It's hard for them to tell you no if you are working alongside them.

3. Pile other people's stuff on their chairs at the kitchen table.

My husband and kids' stuff (and, honestly, sometimes my stuff) can be put away by the responsible parties before they eat dinner. The chair is the really critical part of this tip. If everything is put on the table, it looks messy. On the chair, you can barely see the mess. And they can't sit without putting stuff away. {evil chuckle}

4. Choose the most visual mess and clear that one completely.

For me, the island is the kitchen is generally the cluttered area. But in your case, it might be toys scattered about the living room floor or piles of grocery bags still full on the kitchen table. Whatever is the worst looking mess, deal with that completely. This one small victory will make a visual and psychological difference.

5. Make a choice - finish cleaning or make a list in a planner.

At this point, things should look much better in the space that you've chosen to clean. (For me, with an open floor plan, that means my kitchen and living room. But sometimes, it's the bathroom or a bedroom.) You might want to go ahead and finish clearing out the mess. That is fine!

But if not, as long as you've done steps 1 - 4, just dedicate to yourself that you won't make more mess and make a list of what you still need to do to get the house in order.

For me, the list looks like this today (except all with H in superscript between the circle and the task to show "home" context)...

O Create homes for birthday presents and put them in homes
O Put away pillows
O Fold and store gift bags
O Move files to new box
O Unload clearance Frixion pens into pen holder
O Do 2 loads of laundry

Each item is then assigned a day on my daily (if doing it today) or weekly pages (if during the week).

It's okay not to finish. Knowing that you have that option will make an overwhelming situation doable. The idea is to make things much better so that you can handle it.

Now, remember to erase the evidence, put things in their homes, and do routine upkeep so you can avoid getting into this pickle in the first place.


Friday, September 19, 2014

A Sick Day With A Planner

I'm home sick. I've actually been sick all week and had already mostly rescheduled my paid work for next week, but today it was "get myself to the doctor" time.

I still used my planner a ton.

I used the planner to look up the doctor's name and number and call for an emergency appointment. (If you call the nurse, you get an appointment if you have underlying medical issues, even if no regular appointments are available.)

I used my planner to schedule the appointment. A glance at my calendar told me what times were not okay.

At the office, I used my planner to give the nurse my updated medication list. I keep it in my Notes section.

I also took notes on my dashboard about what medications I should take.

I made note of follow-ups on my calendar and task list.

Then, I rescheduled or delegated all my previously scheduled appointments and tasks. (The little dash means move it to tomorrow or whenever I am well.)

Planners really can be useful when your brain is fuzzy from illness. And, oh, is it ever fuzzy today!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Planner Hack: Double Punched Planner Inserts (Video)

Anyone who uses a monthly or weekly spread exclusively knows what happens when he or she puts a list or any other paper between the weekly spread. Some of the information disappears from sight (and, in my case, at least, from mind).

There is a simple planner hack that is working for me to solve the problem of out-of-sight out-of-mind weeklies. In particular, it lets me look at my daily insert and the current upcoming days/days of the week. I did a video about the hack with additional examples here.

I simply hole-punch the daily sheet on both sides of the daily page.

That way, no matter if it is the first half of the week (Mon - Thur)...

...or the second half (Fri - Sun)...

I can see the upcoming days.

TIP: Use this same hack with anything in between your pages, including task lists or homework lists.

TIP: To make the holes perfectly even, fold the paper in half vertically and just hole punch the outside edge all at once. Unfold for perfect edges.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cheap Planner Refills #3: Processing Future Pages

In posts #1 and #2 of my Cheap Planner Refills series, I wrote about buying a cheap, undated Plan Ahead planner to provide inexpensive refills for your Franklin Covey compact planner (or as your new planner, if you don't mind fake leather) and about getting the undated pages ready to use.

Today, I'm going to focus on my process for processing my Future section of my planner onto the refills. The Future section is the part of the planner where I write anything coming up in the future, like my cousin's wedding in January 2015, before there is a calendar section for those future dates.

Normally, I process my Future section into my main Calendar section about once a month, keeping the past month, current month, and future month in the Calendar section.

But I make an exception for big upcoming months, like the first month of school (August) and the end of the year holiday season (October, November, and December), because things book up fast and ahead of time at those times of the year.

I use a Quo Vadis planner (cut up) with a yearly calendar to highlight scheduled future dates, while listing them on a blank sheet of planner paper, like so:

10/13 - Dentist 3 p.m.
10/20 - Party, Jean's house, 6 p.m. (bring gift)

10/13 will be written on the blank paper and the date will be highlighted on the yearly planner. That way, if someone calls me to substitute teach or go to a play on 10/13, I can glance and see whether I am available that day, instantly. Not highlighted? Yes, I am available. Highlighted? I need to turn to the written list and search for that date to see if I am available.

TIP: If you don't have a yearly planner, print a list of this and next year's dates off the internet and just cut down for your future planning. As you add a date to your blank future pages, highlight that date on the yearly.

Since it is currently September, I needed to process October - December future pages.

Also, if I want to make any changes in how I am setting up my weeklies/monthlies, when processing future pages is the right time to do that.

Indeed, as I copied (and subsequently scratched out) future dates onto my current pages, I made three critical changes.

1. I changed the way I write tasks from [context code] [task] to [check box] [superscript context code][task].

E Deposit check at bank...


O Deposit check at bank

This gives me a circle to check off a task or X to show that I moved or deleted it. I don't use a box because circles are more efficient to draw.

2. Since the Plan Ahead's highlight column is near the rings (unlike the Flourish, which always has the highlight column to the right), I changed the order of entries on the right side of the page.


DUE---Must Do---FYI/Should Do {RINGS} DUE---Must Do---FYI/Should Do


DUE---Must Do---FYI/Should Do {RINGS} FYI/Should Do---Must Do---DUE

As you can see, the all white area on the Plan Ahead is now due dates and must do tasks, while the grey highlighted area is only for if I get to those tasks.

3. In the monthly calendar, since Plan Ahead has a right hand blank column, I decided to use that column for notes that go along with a scheduled event (instead of putting the notes in the weeklies).

TIP: Put the notes on the column near the same week as the event that needs details. Details can include address, phone number of host, what to bring, or what to wear.

Once my future pages were done, I made another decision to fold the yearly highlighted future calendar, so I can easily peek at my blank future pages and their lists of dates. I simply folded and hole punched both sides of the yearly calendar.

You can see me in the process of highlighting the yearly calendar in the picture above. I suggest you do that AS you write new entries on the blank future pages, but I just started using a yearly calendar recently and had to catch up old entries.

TIP: If something happens yearly (like a birthday), recopy it to the Future section after it happens each year.

For me, birthday entries include a gift reminder about a week in advance (if they are getting a gift or card) and phone call reminder the day of the birthday.

ex. Alan's birthday, Jan. 22


O Buy gift

O Alan Bday

Don't be limited by the dates in your planner. Set yourself free to plan forever with a Future section.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cheap Planner Refills #2: Setting Up Undated Pages

Yesterday, I posted about Plan Ahead planner refills. Today, I wanted to show you how to use the undated refills to plan your life.

The refills comes with a lot of extras, like a page marker, information pages, tabs, and blank pages.

They also come with a year's worth of planner pages, tabbed by month.

The weekly set-up is a lot like the Flourish inserts that you've seen before on my blog.

The biggest differences between Flourish and Plan Ahead inserts are 1) more color in the Flourish inserts and 2) on the Flourish, the highlight area is ALWAYS to the right, while on the Plan Ahead inserts, the highlight area is gray and always to the inside, near the rings.

I like the Flourish highlight area better, since it is more difficult to write near the rings anyway and I use the highlight area only for "should do" tasks.

There are pages between each month, including a graph page (good for tracking goals and household tasks) and a monthly to do list.

To set up the pages, first fill in the dates.

I like to cover unused monthly squares with washi tape.

I just line the tape up with the box and estimate where to cut it.

TIP: Better to cover a bit of the lines than make the piece of tape too short. It will look visually neater.

Note that I use a bit of washi tape to highlight blocked out days with upcoming travel.

Weekly updates will also need to be updated.

I use only black Frixion pens to fill in dates.

TIP: Don't use black for anything else. That way, the dates look more like part of the planner.

If two months will appear in one week (like September 29th and 30th in the picture below, with October 1st through the end of the first week of October), cross out the unused weekly spread and write all dates on the week with the majority of the dates. (In this case, the first week of October should include the two September dates.)

Staple the unused month right at the very edge to keep you from accidentally using that useless weekly spread.

Or, plan ahead and remove one page in the middle of the weekly spread for the carry-over month.

Tomorrow, I'll let you peek at my processing of my Future pages into the new Plan Ahead inserts.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Cheap Planner Refills #1: Plan Ahead Planners

People are always asking me about my planner budget. They assume I spend oodles on planners and accessories every year. A series on setting up a planner on a budget is long overdue!

Simply subscribe to Giftie Etcetera in the sidebar via e-mail to receive updates as I post each part of this three-part series.

Back to budget planners with a confession...I don't spend much on planners and planning supplies at all! 

My husband is a fiscal/budget analyst by trade, and y'all, he is cheap. Plus, we hope to be debt free in a couple of years. And although I have three part-time jobs (lawyer, substitute teacher, and blogger), I definitely don't make what full-time working moms can make in a year.

Though I certainly believe that planners and their insides are an important investment in my life (and in tracking my budget, something that saves enough each week that I practically consider it a fourth job), I try to be budget-conscious when buying planner stuff.

(I make an exception for Frixion pens. I love them. Coffee, chocolate, and Frixion pens are my vices.)

Some of my budget tricks include:

*printing my own blank pages with graph paper only on the back of the page (using refilled ink cartridges and paper bought in bulk),

*buying fun stuff like washi tape on clearance only and using it just for specific reasons (not for decorating),

*asking for anything fancy as gifts (like my Boston planner last Christmas), and,

*getting cheap undated planner refills from cheaper brand planners to fill up my Franklin Covey Boston compact planner.

In the past, I've suggested the Franklin Covey Flourish as a starter planner. For under $25, a new plannerd gets an attractive planner complete with a year's worth of tabs, undated monthly and weekly refills, and some great extras.

But I already own a Flourish (a beautiful non-leather planner) and my Boston (leather and a soft blue color), so I wanted to pay less.

I found these wonderful Plan Ahead Planners that fit Franklin Covey compact planners perfectly, follow the same general design as Flourish refills (just with less color), and are about $12 per planner. (I actually found these, two years ago, at Walgreens for about $6. But I haven't seen them that cheap since!)

TIP: The Plan Ahead planner covers, once the refills are removed to use in your fancier planner, are a cheap way to archive previous years' planner pages neatly.

Flourish planners are only available in compact.

But Plan Ahead planners are available in compact and in a larger size (though reportedly with only three rings).

At $12, a Plan Ahead planner makes more sense for me as a way to order planner refills than most printables, especially since everything is already cut and hole-punched and paper and ink are already included and paid for. My Frixion pens do not bleed through the planner. And since they are undated pages, the planner pages can start anytime.

TIP: These planners also make great Christmas gifts for people new to planning or preteens and teens. They include everything a new planner needs to get started.

If you are a weekly/monthly planner like I am, consider the Plan Ahead for surprisingly good quality refills. Tomorrow, I'll show you how I use the refills.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Routine Clean-up Tricks That Even Work In Chaos

Last night, we had seven kids over for a slumber party. This morning, parents are starting to do pickup and gather up the kiddos, and I am trying to function, pre-coffee and on barely any sleep.

But the house looks okay.

*Clean before each transition.

Sure, the kids took out toys. But we warned them, in advance, that they would have to clean up before taking more out. Then, at each transition (before cake, before movie, etc.) we made sure they cleaned up. My kids will have some little things to straighten up later, but it's not bad.

*Train others to clean up.

My boys were able to guide the other kids in the clean-up - "no, light sabers go there" - because they helped us assign homes for all the toys in advance and are expected, with our guidance, to clean up regularly. Sure, it means that not everything is in it's perfect spot. But I don't have to do it and the kids now have organizational skills that they will take with them as adults.

It's possible that your spouse's claim that he/she doesn't know WHAT to do is true. It's okay to kindly explain what works and work together to find systems that help both of you live in a peaceful, organized environment. But, just as with kids, nobody can expect perfection or force everyone to live by one person's rule.

Note that my kids helped us find homes for their things. They made the decisions, not me. I don't always like their decisions, but by empowering them to make the decisions, I get them on board with cleaning.

*Provide incentives.

My kids know they cannot play with the new birthday gifts until they clean up.

*Always carry something from room to room.

As I walk from room to room, helping kids with hairbrushes or breakfast, I carry stuff that is out of place (like empty cups) to the next room. It doesn't really take any extra effort, since I was walking there anyway.

*Clean as you go.

I spend a few minutes cleaning before my own transitions. Maybe I gather all the empty paper plates for the trash can or put away the sundae toppings before making breakfast or after blogging.

*Clean high impact areas first.

This trick is perhaps the least well know, but it really does help. I clean areas that are most easily seen, most used, and most bothersome first.

For example, I always clean the island in the kitchen (which I use for guests to sit at, for cooking, for putting out bowls of food at parties, for folding laundry, and for many other on-going activities) first. An empty island gives me a place to sort out-of-place items to go to their homes, set up breakfast plates for seven slumber party kids with donuts and milk, and place all sleeping bags and pillows for parent pick-up.

I hope at least one of these rules helps you keep your home livable. To discuss planners, organizing, and finding order in your life, join our conversation on Facebook.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Planning For A Flexible Schedule

Plenty of people have "normal" schedules during the week.

Monday through Friday, they start work at 8 a.m. and leave work at 4:30 p.m. They have staff meetings every Tuesday at 9 a.m. and weekly reports due on Thursdays.

Then there's the rest of us! Some of us, like me, work ever-changing and flexible hours. Others work normal hours, but the set-up of their day is always changing.

Time management people have known for a long time that having a plan, or a schedule, helps us to get things accomplished. But how to make that plan, when your schedule really does vary from day to day?

TIP: Do your schedule for the next day as part of the end of your workday or as part of your nightly prep. That way, you can use it to pack your lunches, totes, gym bags, or whatever else you need for the next day.

1. Put in anchors.

Anchors are those times that pretty much stay the same every week and are difficult to reschedule.

For me, carpool happens every morning (assuming there is school). Even though it's a regular, repetitive event, it goes on my schedule because I can't schedule anything else at morning carpool time unless I find a substitute driver.

My husband arrives home with the kids (from afternoon carpool) at the same time four days a week. (On the fifth day, they stay for an after school activity.) His arrival home (when I take over supervision of homework and chores and start cooking supper) marks another anchor.

So far, a typical day looks like this:

6:45 a.m. Carpool
4 p.m. {DH Home}/Homework/Chores

I draw those squiggly lines around someone else's event that affects my day.

TIP: If you use two-colors to plan, the highlight color could be used instead of the squiggly lines.

2. Fill in nonflexibles.

Nonflexibles (yes, I made up that word :) ) are things that MUST happen today AND must happen at a certain time.

Today, for me, that means a walking date with the moms from my kids' school. I also have to know about my kid's karate class, because that means I need to be home with the younger child while the older one goes to karate with dad.

Updated schedule:

6:45 a.m. - 7:45 a.m. Carpool
7:45 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. Mercy Moms Walking Group
4 p.m. {DH Home}/Homework/Chores
6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. {Karate}

3. Fill in flexibles.

Flexibles are those things that are important or must be done today, but the times can vary.

Today, I need to work (at my paid job) for three hours and I must grocery shop. I will work first because the walking group is near the library and it's a beautiful day to work in the library, with its huge, sunny windows. After work, I'll grocery shop. That way, I can go straight home and put away the ice cream.

This is my office today, at a library near the kids' school:

(Yes, that is my coffee cup. In honor of Gilmore Girls hitting Netflix this week, it seems appropriate, don't you think?)

Updated schedule:

6:45 a.m. - 7:45 a.m. Carpool
7:45 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. Mercy Moms Walking Group
8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Work
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Groceries
4 p.m. {DH Home}/Homework/Chores
6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. {Karate}

4. Fill in VITs (very important tasks).

Obviously, at this point, you already know when you need to be places and about how much free time you will have to accomplish your actual to do list or tasks. Looking at my schedule, and accounting for the fact that I rarely accomplish anything once the kids get home, I have about three hours (1 p.m. until 4 p.m.) to get my task list done.

At this point, I reassess my task list. Is it too long? Too short? Do I need to delete, defer, or delegate any tasks?

Sometimes, though, there are time critical tasks that need to be fit into the schedule. My youngest kid has a birthday this weekend, so one of those critical things is to go to the bakery and order a cake. Today is my last chance to do it before the party on Saturday.

It's a Very Important Task and merits going on my schedule, instead of the task list below the schedule.

Updated schedule:

6:45 a.m. - 7:45 a.m. Carpool
7:45 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. Mercy Moms Walking Group
8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Work
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Groceries

O E Order cake
4 p.m. {DH Home}/Homework/Chores
6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. {Karate}

Note that the task is still written like a task, with a check box (I use circles), a context code (E for errand), and the description.

5. Toss the schedule.

Unless there is a reason to archive (for example, if I get in a wreck on the way home and need to save the page for insurance purposes), I toss the daily schedules. I archive my monthly pages (timed events) and my weekly pages (tasks), but this daily schedule is simply a working document to help me achieve my goals.

TIP: Holiday or weekend? Don't bother with a daily schedule unless you have a big party or a bunch of time sensitive stuff!

I hope this helps you to set up your daily schedule. Remember, anchors, nonflexibles, flexibles, VITs, and toss!