Thursday, October 30, 2014

Repeating Planner Entry Series: Chores

My friend M does chores daily and weekly, without a list. Her house is always neat and tidy. I love it. But it is not going to happen that way for me. I struggle with chores.

First and foremost, I struggle with actually doing them.


Silence filled with self-recrimination.

It's clear that I need some motivation from my planner to do chores. I need to schedule them. But I struggle with that, too.

Chores don't work on the main pages because they just aren't important enough for that space. And they don't work anywhere else in my planner because I forget about them. Plus, recopying chores everyday just does not make sense. If something important comes up (like take out night or good tv), I need to be able to skip chores. But I cannot skip too often, or Saturdays suck.

So I thought about what works for me.

I workout very regularly and track my calories. I do that well with a combination of a simply reminder (circled, so I know to recopy to tomorrow when it's done or canceled) on my task list in my weeklies and a log. The log is really motivating.

So I did a list of chores and a log on graph paper.

There is a reminder to do chores (and prep for the next day) on my weekly spread each day.

The chores are divided by what I need to do almost daily (like dishes, laundry, a 15 minute quick clean wherever it is most needed, and a sweep around the house putting things in their homes) and monthly goals (one for each room in the house). 
I added codes that I could use on the chart.

So far, it's working okay. I am missing some days (the dash instead of a filled in box), but I was sick this week, so I think I did okay.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Repeating Planner Entries Series: Unscheduled Tasks

Since the 1980s, people have been categorizing tasks. 

Actually, Benjamin Franklin created his own planners, back in the early American days, and surely farmers and homesteaders and even hunters and gatherers probably thought of tasks in categories. But the 80s was really the heyday of plannerds.

For Franklin Covey folks, this means labeling tasks as "urgent and important," "urgent but not important," "important but not urgent," or "not urgent or important." For devoted Getting Things Done fans, tasks are all about "next actions" and "deadlines." (If you aren't familiar with either topic, Google it and enjoy the time suck.)


My personal system for dealing with tasks is a hybrid of the famous systems that I have read about.

*MASTER TASK LIST - This list includes all tasks that are neither urgent nor important, but that I want to separate from the meat of my planner. I just keep this as a stand alone section between my project pages and calendar pages.

*CHORES - Unless a chore is date specific (e.g., make a travel packing list the day before my weekend road trip) or a one-time item (e.g., call a repairman), it is separate from my tasks and goes within my recurring chore system (taught later in this series, so sign up for my email list to find out when I post it).

*SCHEDULED TASKS - Tasks that must be done on/by a certain date (e.g., delivering my brother-in-law's gift before his birthday) generally get scheduled on my weekly spread, on the last day when they could reasonably happen.

*UNSCHEDULED TASKS - Well, this post is about how I deal with those tasks that are important to me, but not on a truly set schedule or upcoming deadline. So let's examine that.


Some things are not worth rewriting every time I don't get to them, but they are worth doing. Either they are too important to just dump on a master task list even though they are not on any deadline or they are on a longer term deadline but need to be done now. They need to stay on my radar (and therefore must be recopied sometimes as a reminder), but they don't need to clutter up my weekly plans, which MUST be done or formally rescheduled.

Some examples of these unscheduled tasks include:

*doing tasks for a committee that has a deadline next spring,

*making a donation to a local charity while I can still find the web link,

*editing an email template so that the next time someone calls for a substitute, I don't have to edit the email on the fly, and

*typing up my handwritten pages for Nanowrimo before it actually starts (but it's no biggie if I do it the first day of Nano).

So I did this:

The yellow sticky note list travels from week to week on my This Week page marker. When it gets full, I recopy it to a new one, keeping the items on my radar. And I don't hesitate to recopy a task or two to my daily plan, if it's a good day to do the task. For example, if I am working at my computer all day, I might add the computer tasks to my daily plan.

TIP: Keep this list short and sweet by making it no longer than the length of the sticky note. If you go beyond 10 to 15 items, some should be scheduled and some should move to your master task list.

TIP: Include context codes (E = errand, C = computer, W = work, etc.) next to each task.

Tune in this week for more tips about dealing with Repeating Planner Entries, including chores, weekly recurring tasks, and yearly recurring tasks.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Repeating Planner Entries: Worthy of A Series

One of the reasons that I am a huge fan of a paper planner is because I have to either do a task, rewrite the task, or delete/delegate the task. The same rule applies to repeating events. I write them down, and they happen - again and again - or I am forced to reschedule.

Unlike a computer, which allows the task to roll over or repeat automatically, paper planning requires a conscious choice about how to handle an incomplete task. I put pen to paper and the combination of the active decision making, the physical sensation, and the visual engage my brain synapses and help me to remember.

Still, the struggle about what to do about repeating planner entries is real.

For example, I need to remember carpool, but, really, am I going to forget to bring my kids to school? On a school day, it's not like I am likely to forget. The kids are home, getting dressed in uniforms, trying to sneak in cartoons. Let's just say there are clues.

However, when a friend calls to see if I can babysit at 8:30, if I forget about carpool next Wednesday, I might double book.

So, over the next few days, I'll share some planner tweaks that deal with often rescheduled tasks that are neither urgent nor important, but should really be done, as well as household chores and recurring weekly and yearly tasks and events.

(I really only have one recurring monthly task - paying the mortgage. Imagine my surprise! I guess it's because my husband pays the bills. My weekly trick would work with monthly tasks, though, if that's what you need.)

So check back in all this week. And if you never share Giftie Etcetera on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, or other social media, now is the time! Just click one of the buttons below to share, show your support, and welcome your friends on our planning journey.


Pain-free Closet Purge

If you are new to organizing obsession, you'll probably find the following tip on day one of your quest:

"Turn all of your hangers around in your closet. When you use an outfit, turn only that hanger the right way. In 6 months, purge all unturned clothes."

It's a good tip.

It doesn't quite work for me, though, for a few reasons. I sometimes wear clothes that aren't that flattering and am uncomfortable in them all day. But then they are used and get turned around and never purged. I also have favorites that I wear after they are worn out, mostly when I won't see anyone. But they are annoying, because they are pilled or shrunken or otherwise BAD.

Most of all, though, I can't stand having half my hangers backwards!

So I tweaked the tip to fit my needs.

When you wear a piece of clothing, move it to the front of that category of clothes if it worked or, if it didn't work, put it directly in the Goodwill can (a lined garbage can in my laundry closet). At the end of nine months (because Louisiana summers are long and I might not even touch perfectly nice winter clothes in six months), purge the clothes at the BACK of each category.

TIP: Organize your closet by category.

I have pants, long skirts, short skirts, and dresses on one bar of the closet. On the second, I have short sleeved shirts and suits. On the third, I keep long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and coats.

TIP: Put a reminder in your planner every six months to do a Goodwill errand.

TIP: Put a reminder in your planner every nine months to purge your closet.

Using this rule, I purged 21 items today. Most were t-shirts and long-sleeved t-shirts that shrunk to too short, but there were also clothes that no longer fit my life, like many, many blouses that only look good with suits. I no longer wear suits daily (though I kept three - one for interviews, one for funerals, and my favorite), so I just kept my most treasured, best fitting blouses. The ones I tossed were harsh colors, had dated collars (ruffles were really in when I last worked in an office), and were never quite fitted right (but that didn't matter under a suit jacket).

The point of this post, like most of my posts, is NOT that you do this my way. It's that you take all organizing tips with a grain of salt, adopting them for YOUR needs. And if you NEED hangers all in the same direction all the time, that's cool.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Responsible Kids Through Simple Solutions

My kid, age 8, keeps forgetting to wear his belt to school. Each time he forgets, he receives a demerit. (How very Catholic school does that sound? It makes me giggle every time.) Five demerits means a detention. (Back in my school days, I would have gotten detention for carrying my school supplies with these blue nails! That makes me giggle, too.)

As a mom, I support the detention. In fact, I kind of hope that he earns one because then he'll learn a good lesson about remembering his stuff.

But, honestly, as a person, I am going to be so annoyed if he gets a detention, as we live out of town from the school and detention occurs at some ridiculously early hour. I don't want to get up early! It's not like I was the naughty one! Not enough coffee in the world...

I had the option, of course, of adding "belt" to my daily checklist of things to carry with me in the morning, right under water bottles and snacks.

But then I would be remembering the belt and he would learn nothing!

Instead, he has a new rule. When he takes off his shoes (the prompt), he also takes off his belt (the action) and stores it in the shoes (the physical reminder) so that he cannot miss it in the morning. If he forgets to put the belt in the shoes, I can punish him early - before he gets a demerit and before I get a date with the evil sunrise. So far, so good.

This could work for you, too. Take something you already do (the prompt), relate it to an action, and leave a physical reminder.

In the morning, when I make coffee, I also look over my planner. I keep the planner, overnight, in the spot where I always sip coffee.

At night, when I plug in my phone, I take my meds, stored right by the plug.

And have your kids do the same. Maybe it's taking meds when brushing teeth or setting the alarm clock when they pick up their book to read at night.

Prompt. Action. Physical reminder.

It works.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Too Much Order

I am in a lot of organizing groups, read daily blogs about planning and housekeeping, and check Pinterest for ideas for storing my crap in an orderly fashion. So you'd think that I would love color-coded, alphabetized rows of canned food (or CDs or apples or, based on the pictures that I get tagged in on Facebook, virtually any item).

I don't. In fact, I'm here to rant about people who organize that way.

For me, being organized is about aesthetics in the sense that I don't want to be overwhelmed with clutter. But I am not a decorator and never plan to be one. Being organized is about finding my stuff, quickly and efficiently. If that means alphabetizing, cool. But if not, no need to alphabetize.

I do like my closets divided by type of clothes and season, because if I am looking for a sweater, I don't want to dig through t-shirts.

I also put newly cleaned clothes in the front of the closet, so that things that I truly never wear naturally move to the back of the closet for donations later.

I put all gifts in the same big, decorative box in the corner of my bedroom (or a note in the box saying where the big gifts are hidden), so that I don't have to search all over for gifts when the birthday party rolls around.

But I read about moms simply having to organize Legos, and I get ragey. First, Legos are really about shapes. If you must organize by color, organize your gift bags or craft paper or something, anything, where color ACTUALLY matters to you. Second, Legos are your kids' toys. Let them organize it - or not. Third, who wants to play with a building toy if putting it away takes hours? Throw those suckers in a plastic, covered box and be done with it.

I read about putting spices in ABC order and it makes no sense to me (unless you are a chef with WAY TOO MANY spices...I actually understand in those cases). 90% of my cooking involves salt, pepper, Louisiana seasoning, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Those things go on a decorative tray on the kitchen counter. The tray allows me to keep them close when I cook and move them easily to wipe the counter under them. Everything else is just put neatly on the shelf, maybe vaguely divided into sweet (like cinnamon and nutmeg) and spicy (like mustard seed and cumin).

My shoes are not carefully lined up (except boots or very dressy shoes that need to maintain shape), but thrown in pairs in three decorative buckets on the floor of my closet. (I use the buckets for two purposes: to move the shoes for vacuuming and to limit the number of pairs naturally due to limited space.)

I would never fill my whole pantry with baskets labeled with pretty sticker labels. I just put cans with cans and cereal with cereal. But I do label the over-the-door sorter, as I cannot see what is in there and it contains smaller stuff, like condiments and jams.

The point is that you don't have to organize your kids' school projects (how will they learn?!?), your nail polishes, or your books. You can, and you should, if it makes you happy. But if you are running around the internet, begging someone to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE help you figure out how to store Legos so the colors stay together, you don't need the colors together. You need a solution that will work easily and simply and save you time and angst, because if you just needed them "sorted by color," you would have already done it!

Come visit my Facebook group, Giftie Etcetera, where we talk and rational solutions to your organizing problems that won't stress you out, but will listen and respond to YOUR individual organizing and planning needs. It won't be pretty, necessarily, but it will work for you.


A Hot Beverage For Planning

On Saturday mornings, I usually sit in my living room with my laptop (for Philofaxy web finds), my coffee, and my planner.

I notice that a lot of others use their planners with hot tea or coffee for sipping, too. Maybe it's because of our consumer culture. Maybe it's because we are addicted to caffeine. (Yes. Yes I am.)

But I think it's about something else.

Sipping a hot beverage with my planner open in front of me might just be about slowing down and relaxing.

Yes, grabbing a Starbucks coffee is about speed. Stay awake. Work faster. Get it done. But I rarely grab Starbucks and run.

Instead, I brew a cafe' au lait and sip it at home. I order a mocha at a local coffee shop and relax, watching people in the public place go about their days, eavesdropping on conversations and wondering what each person's story might be. If I do enter a Starbucks, it's never through the drive-through and it always involves taking a seat.

Essentially, I slow down. I sip my hot beverage, carefully and thoughtfully, while I decide on my plan for the day. The heat of the coffee, combined with the dash of caffeine, slows me and makes me thoughtful about what I want to accomplish.

Today, it means cleaning my kitchen (it's a disaster), finishing preparing gifts for some birthdays, and finishing my Nanowrimo outline. All of this should be overwhelming, but it's not, just because I slowed down and thought about it. I want to do more, but can assess the feasibility in the quiet of my routine and rationalize the amount that I can reasonably accomplish without burn out.

So, sip a hot beverage while you plan. Or listen to soft music. Or do whatever slows you down.

Your plan will be better and your planner will work better for you.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Basic Planner Recipe

The components of a planner that work for virtually anyone are actually simpler than you think.

The ingredients include a calendar, task list, paper/idea capture, and a file for information. That's it.

I like my planner on paper, but a computer or smartphone will do, if that is your style. Maybe you have a planning area in your kitchen. Maybe you have a spiral planner or a ring binder. It doesn't matter.

If you have these parts to your system, you can consider yourself a plannerd and can tackle anything.

*Times and Dates

Have a calendar to note dates and times. And then, well, note dates and times.

It's funny how many people fail at this step. They believe that they will remember when the dentist appointment will happen. Or they search all over for that little card, only to discover that the appointment was yesterday and they owe a $50 skipped appointment charge.

Write it down when you schedule or find out about it.

*Task and To Do Lists

Have a place where you write down anything that needs to be done, unless you a) do it anyway regularly or b) are doing it now.

Of course you can be complicated about this. Or you can just designate a legal pad and keep a running list. What matters is that you don't keep it all in your brain. Your brain does NOT have that much room.

*Place for Planning

Have some paper for planning - projects for work, holidays, errand days. Whatever you need to plan, it's easier to think it out on paper (or screen).

*Information on the Go

(You didn't think I was alliterating on purpose, did you?)

Okay, I need a lot of space for things like my medical history (convenient at the doctor's office), exercise class schedule, and blog ideas. But you get the picture. Have a portable place to put that information.

It is important that all of the ingredients are put together in a place that you can easily access and that you love to use. Think of it like using a soup bowl for soup. If you don't have a soup bowl, you'll probably never make soup. I have a beautiful, light blue leather compact planner, but decide what speaks to you. If it's your iPhone, that is alright, as long as you don't mind the input or the layout. Make it fit you and your life.

This is the overview picture of a very simple planner notebook as an example.

But I like something fancier and with more writing space...something more gourmet.

Join the Giftie Etcetera Facebook Group to talk about how you make the recipe work for you.


Partied at: A Little R & R

Goals: Planning Versus Doing

Some of us over plan.

Some people (not me, of course...{cough}) spend more time planning than doing.

If you see yourself in that statement, step back and consider your goals. Are you planning so that...

*you arrive at events and appointments on time?
*you honor commitments?
*you have the right tools to do the job?
*you make more money or find more success?
*you are a better parent/spouse/person?
*you exercise enough?
*you eat better?

I'm not a huge fan of goal-making, actually. I know that scientists have evidence that a clear, measurable goal predicts likely success. I don't disagree with that research. But I cannot always reach my goal and the constant struggle to do so is exhausting.

Still, you need to KNOW your goals in using your planner in order to use it to get things done.

For me, my goals include:

*exercising most weekdays
*working 15 hours a week
*eat less than 2,000 calories and at least 6 fruits/veggies
*be available for my kids and my spouse
*keep my house comfortably livable

My daily plan reflects those goals.

I scheduled work and a workout. I planned my meals and housework (minimally). I made the list of tasks manageable, by starting with the must dos and adding a restrained and appropriate number of want to/should dos.

Therefore, today will be spent working toward those goals.

But that's not all today will be. Because I was careful not to focus so much on planning that there is still time to play, I'll be reading a novel, watching tv, and relaxing some.

That is life. And life is not defined by a plan. It is defined by what you actually do - your choices each day.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When To Use Alarms

As much as I love my planner, I use my cell phone alarm and other alarms constantly.

Alarms don't take the place of a planner. Times are still, first and foremost, written in my planner. But alarms do free my mind to work, undistracted by the clock, until I need to stop.

Useful ways to use alarms include:

*Wake Ups

I set my alarm for 6:15 a.m. M - F, not at all on Saturday, and for 7:15 a.m. for Mass on Sunday.

TIP: Use a cell phone alarm for the features, like different settings for different days, progressive alarms that get louder each time they ring (especially useful in the morning), and different types of sounds for different purposes.

*Unusual Appointments

If I need to do something unusual, like go to the dentist at 1:45 p.m., I set an alarm, in case I am not looking directly at my planner when it's time to leave for the appointment.

TIP: Set the alarm enough in advance to allow you adequate time to get to your appointment. 

This is where your planner is useful, as it will tell you where you will be when the alarm goes off. Obviously, if you are going to be in school, court, or church, a vibrating alarm might be better.

*Important Unusual Tasks

If I suddenly need to take an antibiotics every morning with breakfast, in addition to writing it on my planner and logging each dose directly on the pill container, I set an alarm. Taking the med is not part of my routine, but is important, and timing is important, so an alarm makes sense.

TIP: Don't use alarms for everything, including unimportant stuff, or you might start to ignore them.

*Developing Habits

When I first start doing something new, I might set a daily alarm until I get into the habit.

*Transitioning From Engrossing Task

I tend to get engrossed in work (I know, weird, right?), so I set an alarm for my end time (or fifteen minutes before end time, to warn me to finish up whatever I am doing). 

Now, while most alarms are on my cell phone, I generally work in the library, in an office, or in a coffee shop, with earbuds from my laptop to my ears. Therefore, instead of a phone alarm, I use Google alarms.

TIP: To set a Google alarm, type "timer 60 minutes" (or whatever length of time applies) in the Google search bar. Then just leave that window open. The timer will begin by itself. Do make sure your volume is turned on.

Here's what happened when I typed "timer 2 hours":

*Motivating Children

I use alarms all the time with my kids. They get to play "beat the alarm" and can earn extra minutes of using electronics with whatever minutes are leftover. For example, I might give them an hour to clean their rooms, but if they are done to my satisfaction in 23 minutes, they get 37 minutes of free electronics time.

Alarms are an important tool in the modern era and should not be overlooked. Teachers have been using them for decades to know when to change classes. They work!

So decide when you will set alarms and start doing so. You won't regret it.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Living Peacefully With The Unplanned

This could be a snapshot of most days in my marriage, but it actually comes from a conversation that happened this morning.

"See you at 9:40 for the parent-teacher conference."






"I can get out my planner. The meeting is at 9:40."

"Oh. See you at 9:35."

(No husbands were harmed in the making of this blog.)

(Okay, no husbands were permanently harmed in the making of this blog.)

It's frustrating when you write down times so that you can show up without making others wait on you, and those around you don't take that step. You can, of course, try to convert them to the Way of the Planner, but the truth is that some people aren't plannerds at heart. So what can you do?

*Send meeting times or reminders via e-mail or text message.

That way, when your beloved argues about a time, you have evidence that will not just prove you correct, but also save the relationship from the strain of an argument. No need to be snotty about it. Just be matter-of-fact. Show them the message.

*Give them sticky note only access to your planner.

Sticky note only access simply means that they can look at your planner to remember dates, and add them to your planner, but only with a sticky note. You write the time in your own planner, and keep the sticky note to prove their communication later. This lets you keep your own planner organized, but also teaches them how great of a tool a planner can be.

Obviously, only do this with people that you trust. But my eight year old does it all the time and it works.

*Make a note in your planner when you convey appointment or task information.

In the note section of my weekly spread, I write down the date and time that I asked my husband to change the windshield wipers. That way, when I bring my car to the shop and pay someone way too much to change them for me months later, he cannot complain about the cost. He slacked, and I have proof.

I still prefer e-mail proof, but sometimes a jotted note has to do.

*Keep a list of what you are waiting on in your planner.

TIP: Keep a "waiting on" sticky note at all times, with a list of things that you are waiting on from others.

I label mine @, which is my code for pending. I move it from week to week, at the bottom of my weekly spread. Right now, it lists some paperwork that I am waiting on, some small amounts of money owed to me (by my sisters, who always pay, but are a bit unplanned and appreciate that I keep track for them), and a movie that I lent to a friend. That @ spot is another great place to post WHEN you assigned something out.

TIP: If you are constantly waiting on things from people - your spouse, your employee, your boss - then consider a Project called "Waiting On" and make a separate list for each person.


*Remember that you have your own quirks, and try to accept theirs as nothing personal.

This last tip is the hardest. It does feel personal when I take the time to plan, communicate, and be on time, and someone else does not show me that courtesy.

But, honestly, my husband of almost 20 years is not likely to change anytime soon. So I have to accept it and work around it, just as he accepts my coffee habit, my moodiness, and my need to socialize in big groups.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Messy Planner

Today's planning spread looks completely normal for me.

But look closer.

Today is Sunday the 19th, and the planner really hasn't been updated since Friday. It's messy and crazy and scattered.

But it has not been neglected.

I had a long weekend, bringing my kids to a sitter, traveling all day Saturday to a meeting, and going to church this morning. I certainly used my calendar and my task list, but I didn't have time to stop and think or make a daily list. I made notes at the meeting and follow up lists for Monday morning. I kept track of my calories. I added to my grocery list (especially after The Great Coffee Panic of worries, the coffee was in the freezer). I did the must dos.

My planner may look disordered and abandoned this weekend, but it's not. That is what a work horse planner looks like!

Some fun aspects of this week's planner spread:

*Things that still need to be taken care of (done, deleted, delegated, or delayed) are unhighlighted and therefore easy to see.

Unhighlighted stuff starts on Friday's daily page (to the left) and on Saturday and Sunday's weekly squares.

*Undone chores are noted for making a Sunday cleaning plan (on the green sticky on the left).

Lots of chores were undone this week, just because we were out of town yesterday.

TIP: A friend at the Giftie Etcetera Facebook Group suggested putting my chore sticker on a sticky note so I can move it from daily page to daily page. Brilliant!

*Things borrowed are listed on the weekly spread (on the green sticky to the right).

That means that when my sister paid me back for a gift that I bought on her behalf, I could just scratch through it.

*Because Saturday was left blank on purpose, due to an all day meeting, I used that space to jot last minute notes.

I am not advocating a messy planner like I have right at this moment. But, I am suggesting that you forgive yourself and accept your planner, however messy or disordered or crazy it happens to be, because it is a living, ever-changing tool, and that's okay.

Now, time to complete these Sunday tasks and get my life ready for Monday.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Planner Supplies: What To Carry

I use a pretty small planner (a little bigger than 4 x 6) with moderately sized rings (about an inch). So, despite everything I pack in my planner, there is little room to waste.

I basically have two rules for what I carry: 1) if I use it more than once a month, I carry it and 2)
 unless it takes up too much space.

The only supplies that I have, other than a pen and a highlighter, fit in a small zipper pouch.

I keep a few paperclips, some small magnetic page markers, and a reader arrow bookmark. Honestly, I rarely use these things in my planner. Instead, I use them when I am substitute teaching or processing receipts, to mark the lesson plan or divide up receipts into categories.

I have weekly chore stickers, though I am about to get rid of those in favor of weekly, custom-made post-it notes (which are easier to move around).

I have post-it tabs, perfect for labeling projects or notes.

There are also sticky notes. I use these occasionally in my planner.

Finally, I have stamps.

In the very back, serving as a decoration, a spiritual uplift, and an as needed bookmark, a custom bookmark made by my award-winning quilter friend.

That's all I bring with me. I have lots of other stuff at home, but it would be silly to carry it all around.

What do you carry? Too much? Too little?

Come talk about it at the G
iftie Etcetera Facebook Group.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Case Of The Missing Banana

My car is disgustingly messy.

I didn't type that to make you feel better about your messes. I typed that because it is true. It is so messy, in fact, that I lost an entire banana in it this morning.

An ENTIRE banana.

The guilty party, pictured in his or her complete shame...

You thought I would admit to guilt, right? No way! That banana was the criminal!

You'll notice that I insisted on search and rescue for the banana. Now, I am not some kind of crazy banana fan. But I am a fan of not vomiting, and a rotten banana plus the confines of a car...well, you see why I dug in and cleaned the front seat area of the car.

I didn't clean the entire car, though. Once I found the banana (and my prescription glasses, two hair bands, an umbrella, and my Garth Brooks CDs) and threw out two bags of trash, I vacuumed the front of the car and wiped down surfaces. The whole process took about a half hour. I still need to do the back seats, the trunk, and the outside of the car. (Fat chance of that happening, unless a kid drops an apple.)

Still, there is an organizing/cleaning lesson to be learned here. Finish the task so that the evidence of the task is all put away.

I finished the task of cleaning the front of the car. How? Well, I brought the vacuum cleaner back into the house, put it where it belongs, and wrapped up the cord and hose. I put the dirty rags in the hamper. I refilled the spray bottle with vinegar, water, and soap. I tossed the trash, relined the car trash can, and refilled the supply of trash bags in the car. I put the banana aside for lunch tomorrow.

If you start a task, finish it, even if that means doing less overall than you wanted to originally. You'll never regret putting away the dirty rags. If you just try to clean the whole car, or leave out the stuff so you can "do it later," you'll probably regret it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Organizing Computer Files

I've had some amazing bosses. So when I say that I have had some terrible bosses, please realize that the majority of my professional life has been filled with supportive and inspirational leaders. 

Now, to the juicy part...

One boss, who made me very uncomfortable (imagine, if you will, calling when he KNEW I would be having a mammogram because he figured I was "free to chat about a client" or sitting too close in his truck on a long drive to a deposition), later got arrested for solicitation of a prostitute. Another got fired and had a mental breakdown, complete with hospitalization, a few months after I quit (in excellent standing, I might add). The f-word was a normal part of her screaming rants at support staff. A third also got fired, after lying about everyone else in the office for two years and giving contracts to men that she would later date. Classy folks, these bosses of mine.

But even from these horrible people, I learned stuff. I practiced being a cut-throat attorney, when necessary. I got prepared to deal with craziness. I learned to document everything (in the case of the lying boss), work on relationships with the sane people who were Mrs. F-bomb's victims (most people, truly, are sane and likable), and answer interview questions with class. (Yes, an interviewer once saw the name of the accused felon/former boss on my resume - before I knew about his arrest - and asked what it was like to work with him, giving his current criminal charges. Yikes.)

The most valuable lesson, though, was an organizing one. The accused felon had an amazing system for storing on-line files. The other two bosses did not, and they lost stuff in the dark world of Microsoft Word all the time.

So, here's a peek at my refined and improved approach to organizing my on-line files (mostly Word and Excel documents).

*Use folders, much like you do in your real life files.

The bonus with on-line filing is that the computer makes an alphabetized index for you.

*Within each folder, use subfolders.

In the above example, I divide up the folder for my kids school into the roles that I play there. I am chairperson of the cafeteria volunteers, a room mom, and a substitute teacher. (I actually have other roles, but they have not created on-line documents. For example, notes from the PTA are in my planner.) I also sometimes buy lunch or pay tuition on-line, and I simply "print" receipts to a PDF and store it in receipts.

In the next example (above), I divide work into human resources documents, research projects (later subdivided by name of the project), and templates (for internal memos, letters, and any reports that are routine).

*Name actual documents in a consistent format, starting with sender/receiver.

If I am the sender or receiver of a filed document, I use the other person's name, the date, and the name of the document.

In this example, I filed an offer of employment. The HR person sent it to me, so her last name goes first, followed by the date, and then the title or descriptor of the document.

In my jobs folder, I list cover letters and resumes by the name of the receiver of the document (by the more broad name of the entity, like 4-H), date, and the description of the document.

I don't know why I used the word master for the template, as I usually use template. I'll probably fix that.

For something like a job search, you might want to use subfolders. For example, I am qualified to teach, I am an attorney, and I could also do other administrative jobs. It would make sense, if I were in the middle of a massive job search, to use three separate subfolders for those items, since the resumes and cover letters would be different for each category.

*Where there is no relevant sender/receiver (other than yourself), n
ame actual documents in a consistent format, starting with type of document.

For example, in my law folder, I note the recipient of one document, the FedEasternDis (Federal Eastern District Court in my state), but for bar dues, simply paid on-line instead of "to" someone, I write bar dues. I did the same thing with the trust account confirmation.

Note there is a subfolder in the above image (with the name of the file redacted). I mentored a fellow attorney, so anything I send to her gets copied into the subfolder. (I say mentored, because she is a kick butt attorney and no longer is a mentee. She is a dear friend, instead.)

TIP: Put a recurring task in your planner to back up your files every three months, or more often if you are working on something big or very active.

Now, go and organize your computer files. And if you have a scanner, scan in EVERYTHING and use this system to free yourself from filing ever again. (I do not have a scanner that is quick enough.)


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Video: A Daily Plan

After many requests at the Giftie Etcetera Facebook group, I went ahead and made a video about A Daily Plan. It's nothing new, but listening to it (CLICK HERE) will give you a chance to think about all the things that I have suggested lately about do a daily page and show you exactly how I use my daily page.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Planning Sunday For A Successful Week

I spent many years hating Sundays. I would get sad, knowing that the rat race of the work week loomed ahead. I've done a lot to tackle that weekly bout of depression, including changing jobs (Hallelujah!) and a couple of years of doing nothing on Sundays.

But skipping Sunday chores, while nice on Sundays, made Mondays miserable.

I suspect, however, that I have finally conquered the Sunday blues with a combination of careful planning, a small list of Sunday chores instead of a marathon of tasks, and starting with morning Mass and ending the day with relaxation.

Probably the most important part of the new Sunday routine is that, each night, I find something relaxing to do. Maybe I read a novel or go for a family walk. I find a way to connect with my husband, either over dinner or coffee. (Yesterday, he helped me color my hair. I'm not sure it was fun for him, but it was FUNNY, especially when a piece of hair flew across my eye and cheek and dyed my face brown.)

But planning is also a big part of it.

Instead of feeling like I have to do everything on Sunday, I make a list and do those things that make the most impact on a smooth week.

Yesterday, I did a lot of laundry. (I sort, wash, and fold. Kids put away.) I checked the school lunch menu and scheduled which days the boys get to bring lunches. I had the boys clean their rooms for inspection. I made a list of the chores that most need doing this week and scheduled them for later. I made my menu plan. I prepped my planner and launch spot for Monday morning.

Very few of the tasks that I completed on Sunday were actual housework chores. So, instead of being depressed, I sat in front of my computer with a mocha and did what I love - planning. But I was realistic and careful about making a plan that could succeed.

And so far, a few hours into Monday, Sunday planning is paying off.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

What's In My Bag: The Case For Big Bags

I like big bags and I cannot lie.

I couldn't resist.

But seriously, I never understand tiny little handbags.

If I'm going somewhere formal (in which case single women can certainly bring a little handbag), my husband's coat pockets are perfect for my lip gloss, inhaler, and cell phone. (He disagrees, but he doesn't really get a vote.) If I am going to the zoo, I do use a light cross body bag, but only if I don't have big enough pockets.

For any other purpose, including errands, work, or date nights, I carry a big bag. I used to carry smaller bags, but I realized that there were so many things that I needed with me. I was wasting time and money because I didn't have my meds, or a snack, or a book tucked in there.

Currently, I carry an Urban Expressions Zuma Tote in teal. I think it's only available is Pewter grey right now, though.

It's vegan leather, which is code for fake leather, but it feels and looks like leather, only it is much lighter in weight while remaining sturdy.

It has handles and, a requirement for me, a crossbody strap that can be removed. Mostly, due to how much I carry, I use the handles. But the crossbody strap comes in handy, especially if I am carrying anything else.

The key reason for carrying a big bag is that I am prepared for most things that can crop up in my life.

The outside zipper pocket holds my glasses, keys, and cell phone. Honestly, I mostly wear my glasses. I keep very little in the outside pocket, so that I never have to dig for the phone or keys.

Note the navy blue, flower patterned lining. I won't buy a bag with a black lining, since black makes everything disappear and get lost.

My bag also has three inside pockets. Two are unzippered and hold my easy access, occasional stuff - my inhaler and my lip gloss. The other is zippered and holds "sometimes" stuff, like my current nail polish in case of chips.

Of course, the main plus of a big bag is all the stuff that I can carry. Note that I don't carry all of this stuff every day. Instead, I look at my day the night before, when making my daily planner page, and decide then what I want to carry.

From purple wallet clockwise, I carry my wallet (with coupons and receipts filed neatly in it), sunflower seeds (for maintaining blood sugar levels), a water bottle (save the planet by not buying them), my Nook (only if there is a chance of free time), my planner, and two green mesh bags.

The bags are green so that they are easy to locate inside of the bag. (Any contrast color will do.) They are mesh so that I can see their contents.

The smaller bag carries my medical kit (including headache meds, which are a must have for me).

The larger bag carries everything else - makeup, hairbrush, mints.

Nothing runs amok in my purse. It's all corralled nicely in the purse and stored upright, so nothing sneaks to the bottom of the bag.

Summary of Big Bag Requirements:

*big enough to carry essentials for actual daily life

*crossbody strap

*outside pocket

*non-black lining

*easy access pocket for inhaler

*mesh organizer bags

Come join us with a picture of what's in your bag at the Giftie Etcetera Facebook group.


Friday, October 10, 2014

But I Don't Want To

I don't want to workout today.

For two months, I've been working out most days of the week. I like walking with my girlfriends in the park and taking yoga or Pilates classes at the Y. I don't love using the machines at the Y, but at least they are hooked up to the TV.

But I'm stuck at home today (babysitting), I missed my workout yesterday (asthma issues), and I ate out for lunch and will again tonight for supper. I need to workout.

And, just in case I try to skip out, it's written in my planner.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Planner Secret: The Folded Sticky

Like most plannerds, I occasionally use a post-it or sticky note in my planner. Most notably, I use a sticky with my daily chores (such as laundry, dishes, 15 minutes of cleaning, and a sweep of the house for items out of place) to move from day to day on my daily pages.

But if I write something that will SURELY move, I also use a sticky.

For example, my list of things that I need my husband to take care of (in pic - green sticky, lower right hand corner, that starts @AMB) moves, because he rarely gets everything done within the week. Still, I need a list to follow-up (and note each time I send an e-mail or Facebook message to him about the tasks, so when he claims that I never told him, I can go "BOOYAH!" and avoid a fight win the fight).

I also have a list of what to pack for a day trip on Saturday. That list will move and stick to the backpack that I plan to pack in on Friday night or Saturday morning.

The problem, as all true plannerds know, is that the sticky note covers a lot of the page.


...fold the note.

A folded sticky folded so that I can still see the topic (as in the "blog idea" note in the lower left hand corner of the above pic) and know what is inside, but blocking MUCH LESS of the page.

You are quite welcome. :)


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Penmanship In A Planner

I used to be a school teacher. Obviously, such a gig comes with a beautiful handwriting requirement. (Well, it did, pre-smart board era.) Actually, I always had a nice handwriting.

Here, let me translate.

"In college, I sold notes to other students. My handwriting was perfect."

Declining penmanship.

"Then I went to law school."

Awful penmanship.

"At least it's not dr. (sic) scribble."

(Doctors SHOULD be more careful. Lots of medical mistakes happen due to poor penmanship.)

Penmanship actually matters more in your planner than handwriting. Seriously. Handwriting is just about your style. Penmanship is about readability.

My husband has atrocious handwriting. But he prints, and it is neat and easy to read. 

In my planner, I try to be aware of penmanship. I might use all caps for emphasis or print. I might be very fancy or very simple. But I make sure the words are readable.

Every now and then, in a rush, I scribble something thoughtlessly. It NEVER turns out well.

Call Jean? John? Jen? Jon? Josh? Jobs? Jinks? SEE?!? Never turns out well.

Take your time and write something that you can read in your planner or there is no point in writing it down. Practice. Slow down. Think about what you are writing and how you write it.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Type A Personality On A Type B Day

Be gentle with me. Today has been rough.

It started with a six year old child who demanded that I speak to him, at length, during the entire duration of carpool. Yes, that means BEFORE coffee. (He is my spawn, after all. I talk a lot. Just, you know, not before coffee.)

(Tell me that the corner on the wall in that picture doesn't bother your Type A!)

Then, during yoga class, I got really sick to my tummy. After spending some quality time in the bathroom in the YMCA (a feat that involved locking no less than 3 older ladies out of the only women's restroom for 15 minutes), I drove out of town to my great aunt's funeral. I was probably sick enough to miss it, but I had the honor of doing the second reading at Mass.

Parenting, yoga, and a Catholic Mass are all very Type B activities. Type B activities stress me out.

People (and by "people," I mean my Type B know who you are) tell me to relax and enjoy this special time with my little ones. And I do, truly. But I don't get enough sleep these days and I get bored with hours of talk of super heroes and Legos. I like the tone in my arms, legs, and core that I get from yoga. But I never close my eyes in class or focus on my breathing and clear my mind, as those things make me feel trapped and panicky. Mass is restoring for my soul, but my mind wanders. I never truly hear the the readings or the sermon. Instead, during Mass, I was busily outlining the final paragraphs of my current work memo, glancing at the crying great-grandkids (that first relative dying when you are ten years old is so difficult), and dutifully concentrating on getting the new, modern Mass responses correct. (We go to Mass almost every week. But my church has a cheat sheet that I, apparently, rely on very heavily instead of relearning the new responses.)

I feel weird writing this here, for two reasons. First, maybe I should go to confession about the Mass thing. Second, it doesn't, at first glance, seem to relate to this blog's main goal - order.

Only, it does...

I think, sometimes, that Type B people don't understand that for the planned, organized, overachieving Type A sort, Type B behaviors can hurt our psyches and our internal balance as much as our Type A behavior drives them crazy.

A typo in a memo? Makes my heart race and my red pen twitch.

Late for dinner (or, really, anything past 5 minutes early)? I get nervous and assume you hate me.

No schedule? No plan? No driving directions? No list?

I feel my brain try to turn inside out on itself.

So, on this Type B day, I compensate. I sip my coffee, even though it's too hot, while trying to convince my six year old to play rhyming games instead of imagination games. I make (and meet) mini-goals in yoga (and pointedly ignore the "close your eyes and relax" mantra). I memorize the Mass, challenge myself to sing in tune (which is pretty much not going to happen), and read the rules about non-Catholics and Communion at the back of the hymnal. (I have read the Catechism of the Catholic Church cover to cover... because I am Type A.) I check off all the Type B tasks as I complete them. I balance my discomfort with an afternoon diet of memo drafting, blogging, and grocery list making.

So, Type B friends, next time you find yourself wanting to tell me to relax, please realize that knowing my schedule, packing my bag for all eventualities, and having my planner with me at all times IS how I relax. Control of my life is how I achieve relaxed. I'll still do yoga, but only because Pilates class is not until 9:45, and that doesn't work with my schedule.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Components Of A Well-Planned Day

A well-planned Saturday at home basically involves having food in the refrigerator and Netflix. But for the rest of the week, especially on work days, the plan needs to be better in order for my family and me to survive.

Survival basically means that none of us have harmed each other, we all ate and exercised, homework and paid work was done, and we didn't make tomorrow absolutely miserable by piling on mess from today.

There are some components of a well-planned day that help harmonious survival to be possible. The components include schedules, tools, task lists, notes, routines, and a meal plan. In my example below, all of them are written down on one page. But, depending on your real life, you might only need to write some of them.


Scheduling every second of your day is way overrated, time-consuming, and, in my opinion, crazy. (This should not imply in any way that I never choose crazy. I certainly do things that even I know are crazy, pretty much daily. But I am here to help you succeed, not fail. So do as I say and *mostly do* instead of following my questionable bad examples.)

That said, a schedule is necessary. It tells you WHEN you need to be doing WHAT and WHERE. If any of those components are in doubt or unusual, write them down.

I can just jot CP and know that I need to leave for carpool to the kids' school, without writing the where. But an appointment across town might require an address.

My schedule includes set time events. In the example above, that includes carpool and a funeral.

It also includes unusual changes in the routine. Because I am reading at the funeral, I need to get dressed for it in the middle of the day. That is unusual, as I would usually wear the same clothes all day.

Finally, the schedule includes very important tasks that need to be scheduled. Yoga class has to be scheduled because it is only offered a couple of times a day. Exercise is worth planning and scheduling. Work has to be scheduled because, even though my schedule is not set, I have to work a certain number of hours a week and, without scheduling, they wouldn't get done.

For some people, the schedule is so routine that only deviations need to be written down. For example, people who work every week day from 9 - 5 need not write that down. Back when that was the case for me, I did not use a daily page for my schedule.

For others, like those who have client appointments all day, the schedule might be extremely detailed. They might need an entirely separate page just for the daily schedule.


Tools basically refers to my list of what needs to leave the house. (See the blue stripe in the pic below.) My yoga bag, my laptop case, my work tote, snacks, water, changes of clothes...if it needs to leave the house, it goes on the list.

Again, if you always bring the same things, you only need to write the unusual. My days really vary, with three part-time jobs, volunteering, and work out groups. So I always list everything.

*Task Lists

You need to know what MUST be accomplished.

I add things that I want to accomplish, but that isn't required. I like having it all on the same page with schedule, but when my life was less insane, I used different pages.


Notes aren't always necessary. But, sometimes, you need notes about what is happening.


Routines only need to be on your planner if you are starting (and learning) new ones or forgetful about them. I am the latter.

*Meal Plan

If you are a chef who can whip something up from whatever you have on hand, or single and eat in the cafeteria, don't bother. But for the rest of us, a vague idea of what we are going to eat really does help.


Beyond A Calendar: New Ways To Use Your Planner

***This post may contain affiliate links. See my "Disclaimer" link for additional details.***

Yesterday I was stuck in a dollar store, browsing to kill time while my husband and children got hair cuts next door. The store had a display of calendars. Understand, none of the calendars were anything that I would actually purchase. But I like to examine the features.

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For example, "mom" calendars these days have separate little squares for each family member. This confuses me. 

Mom either needs to know because she is driving/cooking/chaperoning/dressing the kids or she only needs an FYI - in my mind that means two columns are needed, not a random five columns. And what if she has more or less than three kids? I used a Daytimer Family Plus for a while, but the squares were a waste for me. (I loved the layout otherwise.)

What I really focused on, though, were the little pocket calendars. They are about the size of a checkbook and have little sayings or designs on the outside. Inside, they are simply a monthly calendar.

Honestly, for a person who has no stressful planner needs - doesn't input appointments on their cell phone, isn't running a household, isn't a student, and uses something like Outlook at work - one of these would likely succeed in keeping track of a schedule. Add a pretty, tiny notebook, and you might survive the world with a pocket calendar. Maybe. 

But a pocket calendar, or a wall calendar, for that matter, simply cannot do what a planner can do for you.

This is my favorite pocket calendar (not like the ones in the dollar store).

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A smart phone might work, if you use it in all the ways that a person can use a planner and if you aren't a person who learns from writing things down. But it would take a lot of work, strategy, and input. I, personally, don't like a lot of work.

A planner, on the other hand, is a tool instead of a mere calendar.

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With a planner, you can go so far beyond a calendar.

*Mind Dump

Experienced planners know what a mind dump is - taking everything that is bothering you or keeping you worried or awake and dumping it onto a piece of paper. Mind dumps are not a new idea. Counselors have suggested for decades that you write down your problems before bed (or at 3 a.m. when you wake in a panic). But instead of their silly notepad next to your pillow idea, try your planner.

Valuable ideas, thoughts, and reminders have been lost on random sheets of paper. If you dump your thoughts, but fail to dump them in a place where you can process them later, they are gone. How can you rely on that?

I brain dump directly onto my dashboard (a blank page at the very front of my planner).

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Brainstorming is different than a brain dump. Brainstorming is purposeful and generally limited to a particular topic.

If I am thinking of ideas for a blog, I might brainstorm.

At the beginning of setting up any project, I brainstorm. 

For example, for Christmas, I need to think of everything that I need to plan. Gifts, Santa, wrapping paper, parties, travel, decorations...everything gets brain dumped, but it's a topic-specific dump, without much filtering. Then, I organize the ideas and create a project.


Sometimes, you need a visual of a project. How long will each step take? What order should the outline of the legal memo take? A planner gives you an instant notebook, available to you whenever and wherever you are.


A smart phone doesn't let you draw a picture of what you are envisioning. Now, I know that many of you are not artists. But for those who need a visual, paper has a strong advantage over technology.

I don't draw beyond a rogue doodle, but I sketch charts for goals, to visualize progress.

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At a meeting? Meeting with the teacher?

A planner is an excellent place to take notes. I suggest a two-column approach.

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A planner allows you to put initial tasks, subsequent tasks, and follow-ups in that order.

That's pretty hard to do on a smartphone.


A planner lets you separate appointments, tasks, notes, and projects.

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I'm been trying to lose weight for a long time. The only thing that is helping me achieve that goal and actually working? My planner. 

I open it to log calorie intake and exercise. I make notes about what I can do to burn calories in limited time and which snacks are yummy and low-cal.


A planner gives you a place to record the confirmation number when you book a hotel, that you owe your sister $10, and that it's time to get your hair colored.


Finally, unlike mindlessly entering tasks or appointments on a cell phone, and planner, by its nature, helps you actually think about and plan what you will do. You have limited space and have to make decisions on the front end, when you are thoughtful, instead of in a rush later.

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