Sunday, November 30, 2014

Planner Top Ten List: To Do in December

1. Have a planner meltdown. 

Decide, completely based on the business of the holiday season, that your planner is, all at once, too big to carry and too little to write in.

2. Change bags 104 times.

After all, you need your hands free to shop, but your backpack/crossbody/messenger bag is too heavy with your planner in it.

3. Buy planner supplies on a whim, every single time you shop.

I got these at Big Lots for $1 for 160 sheets. I punched them (double punched) myself.

4. Shove so many receipts into your planner, instead of your wallet with the nice pocket just for receipts, that your planner will not close.


5. Have at least one friend/family member ask you to keep track of a receipt because "you have a good filing system." 

Don't have the heart to tell them that, right at this minute, that filing system consists of 2/3s of your kitchen counter.

(That actually happened to me this week.)

6. Buy two gifts for one person because you forgot to write it down the first time. Only realize when said recipient opens the SECOND identical gift.

(Happened to me last year.)

7. Lose your Elf on a Shelf.

8. Find your Elf on a Shelf while unloading the Christmas tree in front of your kids.

9. Get told by many, many Facebook friends how awful Elf on the Shelf really is, as if you didn't already know from the second night you owned him...when he forgot to move because you fell asleep!

Also, yes he is naughty. No, I am not ashamed of that. Yes, I understand that I am scarring my children for life.


10. Spill an eggnog latte on your planner when you place your shopping bags on the table.

(Has not happened to me, thank goodness...yet.)


Planner Simplicity: The Single Digit

Saving time to do the things that you love is the point of planning ahead. A simple hack that saves both time and space is to only use part of a date or time when the rest of the page indicates the rest of the necessary information.

For example, instead of writing that you have a doctor's appointment at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, December 18, 2014, you can write in the monthly calendar square (so that you already KNOW the date from the calendar) "10:15 Dr. Smith." The a.m. is not necessary as doctors generally don't schedule appointments at 10:15 p.m.

Here are some examples from my planner of shortcuts for writing dates and times.

*Drop the ":00" after an on-the-hour appointment and drop the "a.m." or "p.m." if the time obviously refers to one or the other.

*For a checklist of chores for the month,
label the month once at the top, then just use the numbers 1 - 31 (or 30...or 29 for February to account for leap years).

*For temporary lists that are month-specific (like your Christmas gift list) or that repeat the same way every month (like a general bills due list of dates), 
use the numbers 1 - 31 (or 30...or 29 for February to account for leap years).

*When writing in a monthly budget page in your planner, only use one number to indicate the date.

In the example, December 1st and 2nd become 1 and 2.

*On yearly recurring event pages (listing birthdays, anniversaries, etc.), label the month once at the top, then just use the numbers 1 - 31 (or 30...or 29 for February to account for leap years).

*On Future pages that are already labeled with the year and month, write only numbers 1 - 31 (or as needed).

Of course, sometimes you really do need to know the exact date or time, as in my 2016 and beyond Future page. In those cases, write all the information that you need.

The point is to write as little as possible for saving time and space in your planner, but to write enough so that you are sure of the time and date. Sometimes, that means writing 11/30/14 at 12:45 p.m.; sometimes, that means writing 30...12:45.


Friday, November 28, 2014

A Christmas List

Christmas planning goes in my Project section of my planner, since it is an active category this time of year. After Christmas, I'll file the pages with December's weekly spreads and use them to create a new project next year.

The Christmas project contains the following pages:

*Christmas Shopping List
*Bought - a simple running list of each person and gift as I buy it
*From Others - a list of what the kids are expecting from other people so that I don't buy the same things
*Ideas - for my kids, my husband, and other people (as three separate pages)

TIP: I keep my own list on Amazon. That way, my husband can just click and order!

I don't keep a decorations list because all decorations are in the same boxes.

NORTH POLE PRO TIP: Keep Elf on the Shelf with the Santa wrapping paper hidden separate from the decorations. And use only paper with a picture of Santa on it for Santa paper, and all other paper for Christmas wrapping in general.

I keep Elf on the Shelf ideas on Pinterest.

A note on your planner every November, reminding you where you hid the Elf, is quite useful. Guess what Giftie forgot to write in her planner? Awkward! Let the great Elf quest begin!

I also just write parties on the calendar so I don't forget about them and actual tasks on my weekly pages so that I can do them along with everything else.

Of course, all those things can go on your project pages, if you would like, but for me, they work much better within my normal system. My project pages are for the thinking and deciding part of planning and the logging of what is accomplished (like writing down which gifts have been purchased). If I need more Christmas wrapping paper, putting it on my regular shopping list assures that I will buy it. If I have a Christmas festival on Saturday, writing it on my monthly calendar makes sure that I don't double book Saturday. Putting any of this stuff on my project pages might mean it does not get accomplished.

But within the Christmas project, the Christmas Shopping List is the real key to making sure that I keep track of Christmas gifts. I used to write a scribbly list, full of notes about what I might get and what I did get and whether it was wrapped or delivered. It got messy and complicated.

I still note all those things, now, but most of it goes elsewhere within the Christmas project. My Christmas Shopping List is quite simple.

On the left column, the day of December when the gift must be given or delivered by is listed. I include December birthdays, parties which require a gift before Christmas, gifts exchanged on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day gifts. I simply write the digit that corresponds to the date, so December 24 is translated as 24.

The next column includes the recipients' names and a note if I am putting in with someone else to buy something.

Next are the bought and wrapped columns. They get a dot if the gift is partially purchased and a check once it is purchased. As I give away each gift, I will highlight the entry.

Keeping the list simple and using other pages for notes and reference means that I don't accidentally forget someone or buy two gifts for one person.

NORTH POLE PRO TIP: Make an unyielding rule that, even if you don't have time to record WHAT you bought at the store, you always check off that you bought something. Otherwise, chaos.

NORTH POLE BONUS TIP: On December 23, each child gets an ornament reminiscent of this year, wrapped under the tree. It lets the kids unwrap a gift early, and when they move out of the house, they can bring them with them to decorate their first tree. On December 24, they unwrap Christmas jammies to wear on Christmas Eve night, so their pictures are adorable in the morning.

Happy shopping!


How to Fold Socks

Socks are evil.

Here's how to conquer them.

1. Pile them on the counter.

2. Sort them by toe design. Do NOT fold them yet.

3. Fold them.

4. Put them in a different pile for each family member.

5. Hide the piles on their kitchen chair for them to put away later.

TIP: Extra socks go in the "extra sock timeout" to be sorted by naughty kids the next time they misbehave!

I used to let the socks sit forever because matching two socks at a time drove me crazy. Now, I just make matched piles first, and problem solved!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Day Cooking Tips: Space Management

I'm no chef, but I am a pretty decent cook. That said, my lack of chef training is really obvious on days like Thanksgiving, when I am cooking more than a meal dish and a side.

The kitchen explodes if I am not careful!

WARNING: Pictures in this post reflect reality. I did not clean the kitchen specifically for the photos, so please excuse the mess. Think of it as an attempt to make you feel better about your own kitchen disasters.

In order to cope, I make good use of timers and an advance plan of what to cook and when to cook it. That stuff definitely helps.

But the most effective tactic that I use is space management while cooking. Here's what I do.

* Recipes and Ingredients Station

I use my island, with my recipes, planner with cooking schedule, and laptop for e-recipes behind the ingredients. This keeps critical stuff away from spills and splashes, but within reading distance.

In addition, the ingredients for each food that I am cooking are grouped together in cooking order from left to right (because that's how Americans read, so that order makes sense to us).

As I get to each item, it's all ready for me to cook.

*Designated "In Progress" Area

For those things that are in the process of cooking, like my pies cooling in this picture or the lemon filling that I was actively stirring when I took the picture, I use the right side of the stove.

TIP: I'm left-handed, so the right is the inactive side for me. Feel free to switch it up if you are right-handed.

*Easy to Clean Spoon/Measuring Cup Rest

I use a thin chopping board as a place for utensils in use while cooking. It's easy to toss in the dishwasher, plus tiny spoon rests are never enough space for me. Also, I have a ton of these cheap cutting boards, so I can just toss and use a new one when company arrives.

TIP: Don't ever put utensils that touched raw meat or were used as a one-time tasting spoon on the rest area.

*Clean Constantly

Seriously, chefs clean as they go. Do the same. Toss the boxes as you open them. Trash the egg shells immediately. Wipe down the counters. (I did. I promise! It's just that I was still cooking.) Put the milk back into the fridge.

TIP: If you have kids or a willing partner, make cleaning as you go their job.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Minute Details: Planning the Day Before a Big Event

'Tis the day before Thanksgiving, 
and all through the house,
I'm thankful this year, 

that we don't have a mouse!

Seriously, y'all, last year there was a mouse and it was very uncool. The little sucker ate all our food and then, no kidding, IT TRIED TO KILL ME. I am apparently deathly allergic to rodents and ended up in the ER with a severe asthma attack.

This year, I only need to worry about the normal day before Thanksgiving stuff: a house guest (who is NOT a rodent), cooking a few dishes a day ahead (lemon meringue pie, chocolate cupcakes, ham, and cranberry sauce), and Thanksgiving Mass (where my kid is singing in the choir). Oh, right, and my husband needs his car inspected, but he has to work. Oops, and the kids are home from school.

Well, didn't this get too complicated quickly?

The day before an event tends to be a task heavy day, as opposed to a schedule heavy day. These steps allow you to plan for the day's activities without being inflexible.

1. Schedule the timed events.

In the example, choir practice and Mass is 5 p.m - 7 p.m.

TIP: Next to the event, list what needs to leave the house. In this case, we need to bring choir robes.

2. Fill in the rest of the schedule (in the example, the very top of the page) with time sensitive tasks.

I made two cooking lists. "Cook A**" is the pie crust and cupcakes, which both must be baked early and left to cool. It must be done very early in the day. "Cook B***" is the ham and cranberries, along with filling the pie and icing the cooled cupcakes. That can be done later, but must be done before we get dressed for church.

You can see how the timing decisions are made. Mandatory stuff goes first and other time sensitive stuff (to be done "before" or "after" something else) goes next.

TIP: If you cannot fit all the information on the schedule, use an * to indicate where on the page you wrote the list that corresponds to the schedule.

3. Add tentative FYI times.

It's not pictured, but I added the approximate time that my house guest is arriving.

4. Write a mandatory task list.

Under the thick grey bar, I added a short list of things that I need to get to tomorrow in the left column.

5. Add a should do task list.

In this case, the list to the right starting with "RSVP" is stuff that I will regret when I am actually doing them on Thanksgiving day if I don't get them done the day before.

6. Plan your meals.

The day will be busy. Plan out what you are going to eat.

7. Leave empty space.

Things happen. (See last year's mouse as an example.)


Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Santa: A Planner Christmas Letter

Dear Santa,

I can never figure out if I am supposed to be naughty or nice. It's confusing for a girl, you see, since you bring baby diamonds if I'm naughty. Just in case, though, I've been very nice this year.

There was that one time when I, uh...well, nevermind about that! Nice, nice, nice. That's all you have to remember, Mr. Claus.

Here are some of the things that I want for Christmas.

1. A planner that is big enough to write everything I ever think of with lots of space, but small enough to carry anywhere. Think about the bag that Hermoine uses to pack all her books and her tent in during the last Harry Potter book, but maybe in a nice blue color. It should be leather, but lightweight and easy to clean. And no buckle or snap, but a nice tight magnet. It should be professional, but fun!

2. Ink pens that have a perfect "feel" on the paper, but are brightly colored and erasable. Oh, and no bleed through, Santa. Bleed through is the work of the elf that you sent to watch us last year the devil.

3. Magnet page markers strong enough to hold the pages together really well, but weak enough to never stick when I don't want them to stick to other page markers. Oh, and short enough to not cover too much of the page.

4. A pretty, movable Today marker.

5. Task lists with plenty of lines, that move from page to page without leaving residue or losing stickiness. Not yellow!

6. A perfect layout that redesigns itself from day to day. Today, I need room for tasks and lists. But next Monday, I'll be needing a vertical hourly list. And on Tuesday, I want bubbles and chronographs. Your elves can work magic, right, Santa?

7. A menu planner that actually cooks and cleans up, instead of being just 7 empty boxes. I want the meals to be cheap and healthy, but delicious and covered in cheese and chocolate.

8. A zipper on the inside cover, big rings, and lots of storage space. But remember, Santa, I don't want the planner to be too heavy.

9. A personal Filofax, but in Franklin Covey width. Elves are magical! I believe!

10. Lots and lots of planner porn people writing about planners, so I have something to do while the rest of the family plays with their toys.

That's not too much to ask, is it, Santa Claus?


P.S. I am leaving you a bribe some cookies and a coke. Please tell the reindeer that I am leaving extra oatmeal (the spicy cinnamon and sugar kind) for them for getting all my presents safely to me. And don't bother sending an elf to watch for me being naughty. My kids would just touch him and waste all that Christmas magic.

P.S.S. I saw you kissing Mommy under the mistletoe last year, and if you don't bring me everything that I've asked for, I am putting that video on You Tube! 

A Plannerd's To Do List

It's the first day of Thanksgiving break for my kids. For me, this means extra time because I don't have to do a long carpool commute or help with homework!

Also, the kids are well-trained in cleaning up after themselves and chores, so I have some help. Other than a few have to dos, like cleaning their own rooms or doing the dishes, I bribe them to do extra chores by paying them in free electronics time. It's a win/win, because it gets them physically active in exchange for any time spent spacing out on video games and naturally limits their e-time.

Some of my free time will be taken up cooking for Thanksgiving, but not all of it, since I am not hosting this year. I am also doing a little more house cleaning, but it's not too bad right now.

This gives me time to play with my planner. 

For any of you cozying up to your planner and a cup of hot beverage, here's a to do list (and some gratuitous planner porn) to help guide you through a lazy morning of planning!

*Process your in-box.

I have inserts that need to be filed in my Projects section and receipts that need to be entered in my Budget section.

*Make a grocery list.

*Do some project planning.

*Redo your master task list.

*Make yearly pages to put in front of each month.

*Make next month's chore log.

*Update your budget/checkbook register.

*Redo your (messy?) future pages.

*Cull your notes/ABC files.

Happy planning!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Great Planner Tab Dilemma

One of the great advantages of a ring bound planner is the ability to use tabs and dividers to organize information. In previous posts, I showed how to make custom tabs for sections of the planner and how to use special planner tabs for frequent access pages in the planner.

I've been using all of these tabs as side tabs, so that they would not block my Today page marker. But all side tabs cluttered up my planner and made my section tabs disappear and become useless.

So I tried the special planner tabs (except for two that are far to the back of my planner and don't get in the way) as top tabs.

I love it.

The tabs don't block my Today or This Week page markers at all, since they are all different heights. (See the arrow above pointing to the Today marker.) And the top tabs don't overhang the bounds of my Franklin Covey Boston compact, probably because a Boston is slightly bigger than most compacts.

Thank you to all who inspired me with their own top tabs. They really do work.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Planner Marks: Dots and Dashes

Loyal Readers will recall that I often use context codes to divide up tasks into times and places where they should get done. Obviously, if I am on the road, I don't even glance at the tasks coded with an H for home. And if I'm working on my computer, I mostly focus on tasks coded with a C.

But when I am swamped, sometimes I need something more visual to help me decide what to do in the immediate future. 

I simply add dots and dashes to task lists to decide what to do first.

Of course, I use my context codes as guidance. So, in the picture above, I used my highlighter to add dashes to things that I need to complete right now, on my laptop in a coffee shop. Then, before I head home, I need to run an errand. So a dot (less significant than a dash) goes beside the errand.

Now, at a quick glance, I can get my critical tasks done.

Another option is to use numbers, but those work better for tasks that need to be done in a certain order.

In my case, today, I can do the computer tasks in any order, but they all must be done before I leave the coffee shop.

This simple tip works with any task list.

TIP: Use the dash/dot technique when grocery shopping. At the beginning of each section of the store, dot the items that are on the list from that section. Before each aisle, dash the items on that aisle.

This technique allows me to stop doubling back because I forget the ketchup. I always forget the ketchup.

Also, since I highlight the items as they are complete, the dots and dashes simply disappear under the highlighter as I mark off tasks, allowing me to dot/dash a second part of the list.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

How To Use A Planner for Newbies

For plannerds, the holiday season is a special time of the year. New planners and calendars for the next year appear on store shelves. There are naughty and nice lists to make, pies to bake, and people to visit. Time and money become rare commodities. A planner can help plannerds allocate scarce resources and enjoy the holiday season with less stress.

But for people new to the idea of using a planner, it's a difficult time to start. Ironically, it also may be the time that most demands a planner. Holidays are stressful and a planner can help to relieve that stress.

Today's post is intended as a guide to using a planner for the beginner, who needs to be off and running without much time to think about how to plan.

Know the Difference Between a Planner and a Calendar

A calendar is only based on dates, maybe with a scribbled task list on a side column.

A planner gives space to think out the day, week, and month, including a place for tasks, lists, notes, and anything else the plannerd might need to make good decisions about what to do with the available time. It can be ring bound or wire bound.

Use Single Planner

Yes, many people use two planners. With experience, managing two planners becomes a seamless process. But at first, stick to one. Otherwise, time will be wasted recopying and ultimately missing appointments that don't quite get recopied.

Map Out Timed Activities

Once a plannerd uses a planner for a while, it becomes second nature to glance at the page and know how much time each item will take, to understand exactly how early to start getting ready for tonight's event, and to plug in daily stuff like carpool into the schedule.

But, at first, it can be daunting to use a planner for time management. Most people do better mapping out time daily and following that plan. With more experience, plannerds can stop putting everything on the calendar.

Write Down Everything

In addition to mapping out time, jot down everything (e.g., tasks and shopping lists) that needs to be remembered. 

Everything does include making a note in the planner when someone-who-will-not-be-named spills coffee all over her shirt at the coffee shop and needs to treat the stain when that same anonymous person gets home.

Writing everything serves a several purposes. It helps with memory. Writing everything also forces one to use the planner on a regular basis, so the habit of opening the planner and looking at it can develop. Finally, for planning, having a realistic picture of the things that must or should be accomplished helps.

As with the calendar portion of the planner, an experienced plannerd can ease off on this rule, once it is clear what needs to be written down.

Bring the Planner Everywhere

Again, with time, an experienced plannerd can learn when to leave the planner in the car. But for now, it goes to the mall, to church, and to dinner. It goes to the zoo and to the opera. Just get a bigger bag.

Become an Expert Plannerd

Eventually, every beginner moves beyond the basics and needs tricks to help write task lists more efficiently or to organize projects.

Giftie Etcetera can help beginners become experts in several ways:

*Join the conversation

*Sign up for emails (right gutter)

*Share this post (on Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus) to start a conversation with friends about planning

*Read archived and popular posts (scroll down right gutter)

Happy planning!

Etcetera (aka Anonymous Coffee Klutz).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Rhythm of Life

Sometimes, an event is so routine that you don't even bother to note it in your planner. For example, my kids currently arrive home around 4 p.m. on weekdays. I don't have to do anything to prepare. My husband simply brings them home. 

At that point, there is supper to cook, homework and chores to oversee, and prepping for the next day to do. But their arrival is quite routine. In fact, it's not even listed in my planner under routine events.

TIP: List routine events on a skinny page between your monthly view instead of recopying every week. Then only note deviations from that routine on your monthly pages.

But, on Wednesdays, there is choir practice and they don't get home until 5:15 p.m.

Doesn't matter. My life is so routine based that, even though I was working very hard on a project for work today and completely absorbed in writing my legal memo, I naturally stopped at two minutes to four. No alarm. No watching the clock. I simply printed out the final document, made a note on my planner to proof it in the morning, and checked the time. 3:58 p.m.

It's funny how, with all the planning that I do, there is still a rhythm in my life that affects my behavior. And now I have an entire hour free to blog and watch "Selling New York" on Netflix.

P.S. New Yorkers pay way too much for real estate! How do you afford it?


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Etiquette of the Coffee Shop

Several times per week, I can be found at a coffee shop, planner and laptop in hand.

The atmosphere of the coffee shop, complete with studying college students, sales people taking meetings, and the chit chat of retirees helps me to focus and feeds my extrovert tendencies.

But, sometimes, I see appalling behavior. In the interest of the coffee drinking public, please keep these coffee shop etiquette rules in mind.

*Don't be a space hog.

If the shop is fairly empty, it's fine to spread out to two table tops. I often use extra chairs to hold my bags and work planner. But in a crowded coffee shop, limit yourself to one small table top and one chair.

*Clean up after yourself.

Yes, someone will eventually come around and collect your dirty dishes. But it's just nice if the rest of us don't have to move your lipstick stained mug in order to claim a table.

*Notice the clues that someone does not want to be disturbed and respect that.

Clues include the wearing of headphones or ear buds, documents spread in an intricate pattern on the table top, or a surly expression.

*Order something.

Patronize your coffee shop. They have to pay for wifi and space. You shouldn't use it for free.

*Use a reusable mug when possible.

Why waste a paper or styrofoam cup if you are going to drink your coffee or tea inside of the coffee shop anyway? If you sometimes bring coffee with you to go, pour it into your own empty travel mug. Save the planet, people.


That one is self-explanatory, right? (And relevant when drinking coffee. Am I right?) Also, wash your hands. You know who you are.

*Talking (even on cell) is allowed, but use your inside voice.

I sometimes see people studying in coffee shops and complaining on Facebook that people are talking. I think that is a little unfair. It's a public place that is designed to be social. But the problem, in reality, isn't the talking, but the use of a boisterous tone. Use a quieter, more appropriate voice level instead.

Don't coffee and a planner make a lovely couple?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Planner Trick: Quick and Dirty Tasks

A planner really helps us with two things - namely, remembering and decision making.

The remembering part is obvious. Of course, some way-smarter-than-I-am people can just remember things. Even if you aren't gifted with a perfect memory, a simple entry on a web calendar, smart phone, or any calendar can help you remember.

Remembering, while useful, isn't WHY I recommend a planner instead of a mere calendar. Decision making is where a planner rocks (or another SYSTEM, but a system is required and I find planners to be the simplest systems to maintain).

The decision making comes at more than one point.

The first decision is made when I write something - anything - in my planner. It must be something worth remembering or doing to make the cut. Next, I decide which part of my planner gets the information. An entry on a monthly calendar is different than a dumping of ideas on a master task list. I make yet another decision when I create my daily page. Finally, I make decisions as I complete my daily page.

In the example above, the task list (the right column) is rather long.

So I developed a trick to decide what gets down when I get overwhelmed.

Before I tell you the trick, note that anything REALLY important is already scheduled or done. So I am talking here about what I do at the second level, once appointments are done (or between appointments), deadlines are met, and anything critically important is dealt with.

The Trick: Put a dot next to anything quick and dirty. Then complete the dots.

Quick = can be done in 5 minutes or less.

Dirty = does not require concentration or great skill.

In today's example, I did the following:

*check turkey - glance in the freezer and make sure I bought a turkey on clearance after Easter for Thanksgiving (1 min.)

*edline - go to school webpage and look at notes from the kids' teachers (2 mins.)

*daily pages - trim and hole-punch daily pages for planner (5 mins.)

* clean yoga mat - threw it in the wash with some towels (2 mins.)

*choir practice - checked email to write down choir practice times on planner (2 mins.)

Check out the difference in tasks remaining after that 12 minute task spree.

Remember, if you are stuck with a long list, go quick and dirty! It's an easy and effective decision.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Day of Rest

I'm not particularly good at Sundays. I tend to try and do all sorts of tasks and get worn out. Or I do nothing and get sad in anticipation of Monday. Take solace, Monday. Sundays are truly my least favorite day of the week.

So I'm doing something different lately.

1. I only plan fun appointments on Sundays. We go to Mass, then dinner with friends or a playdate in the park is allowed. A trip to Home Depot for new tile is NOT.

2. I keep my to do list short. If I can do something during the week instead, I move that to a weekday.

Today, that means I make a grocery list for tomorrow, do my daily stuff, and clean my filthy yoga mat before class tomorrow. That's all I'm doing that is not fun. (And, let's be honest, I kind of enjoy making a grocery list.)

3. I find some alone time. It's tempting, with work and errands and school all week for my family, to want to spend all day Sunday together. But I find we all do better if we mix extrovert and introvert type activities. That might mean reading instead of playing a board game, and that is just fine with me!

How do you handle Sundays?


Friday, November 14, 2014

What's Your Number: A Task List Challenge

How many items should go on today's task list?

One (so you are sure you get it done)? Three (maybe possible)? Ten (so you can see everything that needs doing)?

Take a deep breath. We are about to do some math. (Don't worry. It's simple.)

While there are certainly really busy days when you can barely get anything unscheduled done, knowing on average how many tasks you realistically get done in a day would be very valuable information for your planning, right?

I'm presenting the TASK LIST CHALLENGE so that you can figure out your number - how many tasks do you get done on an average day.

TIP: Once you know your task number, you can assign a number of tasks on most days that is realistic. For example, on a busy schedule day, of course, assign fewer tasks. On an empty schedule day, assign more. If you are trying to be less busy, skip a couple. If you are trying to be more productive, work to up your average by one task a day.

The Challenge

1. Decide what will be included as "tasks."

I only include the stuff in the center of my daily spread.

The scheduled stuff, like carpool, work, and yoga class, are happening unless I have a sick day or emergency. The daily, routine stuff doesn't always happen, but it gets tracked elsewhere.

TIP: You are not trying to win with the highest score. You are simply counting your tasks. So if you do something daily without putting it on your task list, don't count it.

2. Use a sticky note to track the actual number of completed daily tasks for a week to three weeks.

3. Calculate your average.

Add up your completed daily tasks and divide by the number of days.

88 tasks divided by 21 days = 4.19

TIP: Only include weekdays if those are busier. You can always calculate a separate weekend number.

Weekday calculation: 69/15 = 4.6

Weekend calculation: 18/6 = 3

4. Round up or down to the nearest number.

I'm rounding down to 4 overall because I want a realistically achievable task list. 

However, I think my weekday/weekend calculation is more accurate for what I can achieve because I do the bulk of my tasks on weekdays. So I'm going with 5 & 3 as my weekday and weekend numbers!

What's your number? Let me know in the comments or come discuss it at Giftie Etcetera on Facebook.


Tired of Being the Planner

Just to clarify, I'm not tired of my planner. But being The Planner is exhausting.

I remember which day the boys must wear dress uniforms, bring a bag lunch, or turn in their projects. I have the complete family schedule of karate practices, social events, and obligations.

Because I actually know what we are obligated to do this weekend, I am the one who has to schedule (or at least be consulted to schedule) any additional stuff.

Husband wants to go to a movie? He doesn't know what's on the agenda, so he has to call me with movie times. Also, if he wants to invite the kids' friends, he has to call me for the parents' contact information. Then I have to call the friends' parents, because I'm the one who volunteers at school and knows them.

Child wants to play Chopped with family dinner? I have to plan the ingredients, find a night that works for cooking, and come up with the recipes.

Work is having a Thanksgiving potluck? I'm the only one in the house who maintains the recipes and grocery list, knows what the inventory of serving dishes in the kitchen is, and knows what is going on right before the potluck that might mean the dish must be cooked in advance.

All of this is almost okay. (Seriously, though, I would kill for my husband to use a pocket-sized planner, just to write down things like "lunch with friends on Saturday" and "remember to change the ice maker filter." He could slip it in his pocket. And, then, he could STOP ASKING ME to remind him.) (Alright, I'm bitter about being the family secretary. BITTER.) (VERY BITTER. Sigh. I don't like being cranky pants!)

But when others cannot make decisions that affect my planner and cause me to keep checking it, I lose it. Cranky Giftie is not fun to watch, let me tell you.

For example, I want to know when house guests will arrive and leave. To get this information, even if it is my husband's house guest, I have to call myself, because my husband doesn't get how making the decision of days when they are visiting affects my planning. He doesn't see it as important.

From my perspective, an extra day that I didn't plan means that I need: more food in the house than I expected, to get more work done in advance or schedule it after the house guest leaves so I can be a good host, that more towels need to be clean or the soap needs to be refilled, that I need an extra library book to read while the house guest watches tv that is not my thing, refuse girl's nights out because we'll have guests...

I could seriously make this list for three days. (Okay, maybe that is a tiny exaggeration. But don't mess with me. Cranky Giftie, remember?!? Grrr...)

A recent example in our home of me being the sole planner causing issues was when we were choosing the dish for a potluck. I suggested cranberry sauce (around Thanksgiving). I was vetoed. Husband suggested meatballs. Still easy to make ahead of time (important, as potluck is on a Friday evening), easy-to-make, and we have a decent serving container. Cool.

I wrote the date of the potluck in my planner. I wrote the ingredients of the meatballs (large bag meatballs, large jar pineapple in its own juice, and a Sweet Baby Ray's large bottle of barbeque sauce) on this week's grocery list. I looked up a coupon for the fruit and for the barbeque sauce and added it to my e-coupons. I made a note to cook the meatballs on the Thursday before (and decided we would have meatballs for supper that night). I made sure we had hot dog buns in the freezer for Thursday, because my youngest likes a hot dog meatball sandwich.

Then, and this is the most important thing, I quit worrying about it. A plan was in place.

Um, he messed up. Someone was already bringing meatballs. I erased everything. 

He suggested several other things, but he is not aware of prices, serving dish inventory, or the ease/timing of cooking, so lots were discarded as possibilities. No ham - too expensive. No caramel apples - tricky and needs to be made the same night. No dirt cake - the mixer is broken and it's hard to find one of the ingredients. I can't drive around looking for the ingredient because I have a big work project and am getting ready for a Thanksgiving house guest and Thanksgiving.

So I told him he needed to either be okay with cranberry sauce or a duplicate serving of meatballs (at a potluck with almost 100 people and almost definitely a completely different recipe) or take care of it himself, but without taking away from our almost-nonexistent family time.

He found my response threatening (which is strange, because I thought I was totally repressing my urge to harm him - TOTALLY) and freaked out.

If he had to plan the meals, maintain the budget, deal with scheduling, do the shopping, and work and volunteer, he couldn't possibly do it. But when I pointed that out, well, it was not pretty.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked.

ither be okay with cranberry sauce or a duplicate serving of meatballs (at a potluck with almost 100 people and almost definitely a completely different recipe) or take care of it yourself, but without taking away from our almost-nonexistent family time," I replied. 

Hey, I'm consistent! I gave options. I did NOT threaten to harm any husbands in the making of this blog post. I SHOULD earn a freakin' crown for that, don't you think?

I've tried solutions. A family calendar on the fridge. Explaining the importance of big obligations or scheduling being done as far in advance as possible. Asking me what I want BEFORE signing up for/scheduling something. Giving me the final say on things (like cooking) that are going to be my ultimate responsibility.

None of these work if the other person is not on the same page, and without knowing all the things that go into running a family's calendar, the other person will struggle with that understanding.

May I suggest that you ask them to read Giftie's blog? I can go all Giftie Smash on them, too!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Planner Balance: Schedules and Tasks

Newsflash: plannerds tend to over plan. 

Sure, there are folks who under plan, barely getting important stuff written down, missing appointments, and stressing at the last minute without a to do list to help with memory and decision making. But those folks don't make up the majority of my Loyal Readers. (Some of you are out there, reading anyway, and I do appreciate the love!)

Over planning is much more common among my readers. It makes sense. Once you realize that writing things down helps you remember things and make better decisions about how to spend your time, the urge is to write everything down.

I don't have a problem with that. My philosophy is to write as much or as little as works for you.

But my philosophy for actual planning of your day is different. The goal is balance between your actual schedule and your task list.

For example, today was really busy, schedule wise, so I keep the task list short. 

(Schedule is at the very top on Quo Vadis Textagenda planners. Task list is below the first thick blue line.)

Tomorrow is a much more flexible day, with a pretty empty schedule, so you'll see things like working 5 hours or other time-consuming tasks on my much longer task list.

Humans can only do so much in a given day. Remember that when you make your daily plan.

TIP: Each item should only go on your task list OR your schedule - not both -so that you can realistically judge the volume of items on your list.


Monday, November 10, 2014

'Tis The Season For A Planner Purge

There are two times per year when I work my planner to death - the beginning of the school year and the holiday season. Early November has become a traditional time to thin out my planner, since it is fat from school and I add so many pages into it for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

If your planner is getting fat, put it on a diet!

*Delete any projects that are no longer active.

*Remove all months except November and December.

*Purge notes/files.

TIP: When you remove a file, cross out and highlight the file name. That way, only the active files will jump out at you.

I decided which files to purge by looking at the information. If I hadn't touched the file in a year or so or if the information was outdated, I threw it out. A couple of files had information that I need to store, but not in a movable, remotely-accessible format.

Real Life Details: Deleted or removed files included locations, notes from a car wreck over a year ago, notes on how to use You Tube (as I am now an expert), diet (since replaced by a log in projects), addresses (all on Facebook now), old Thanksgiving plans (except last year's, which went in projects), allowance tracker (we now reward chores with electronics time), inventory (blank and I have no idea what it was), and borrowed (I now use a sticky note on my weeklies).

Give your planner a quick purge before the holiday season is upon us.


All The Info, All In One Place

I have the great honor of helping my baby sister with her new baby this morning. I just put BOTH of them down for a nap, got the laundry going, and now it's time for me to get some work done.

I noticed that the first item on my sister's shopping list (ready for sending her husband to the store the moment he arrives home) is a notebook.

Pre-baby, she didn't really need one. Work was always regular hours, she had Outlook at the office, and her cell phone for any other reminders. Plenty of free time at home meant that she had time to check the pantry and fridge to make grocery lists lists, no need to arrange childcare for workouts, and a spotlessly clean house.

Now, with a half week old baby, notes have become a necessity.

And keeping track of those notes is where the notebook comes in. I use a planner, but it is the same theory.

There is a place to note feedings and changings and when the baby last got a bath. (That all seems simple, until you add in the complete lack of sleep, recovery from delivery, and rotating caregivers helping out who don't know what has already been done.) There is a place to note doctor's appointments and medications and schedules of who is helping out when. There's a place to list immediate shopping needs, like more picture frames or foods that can be eaten without requiring cooking or dirty dishes. (Picture frames don't seem important until pictures are cluttering up all your surfaces and getting spilled on.)

Of course, it's not only moms of newborns who need a place for information and planning. My school aged kids have karate, playdates, school holidays, and other activities. I'm also a writer, substitute teacher, and an attorney. We are busy.

I could do lists all over the house. But they get lost and scattered.

Having one place for everything (planner, notebook, Evernote - whatever works for you) is a lifesaver.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Power Of A Plan

I have a big work project that I WILL finish before the week of Thanksgiving, company coming for Thanksgiving, a novel to write by November 30 (Nanowrimo rocks!), and a new nephew to spoil!

My life is a bit crazy right now.

So I made this...

...into this.

The simple act of making a plan lifted the stress off of my shoulders.

Plan components include:


*list of items that must leave the house

*task list


*reminder to do daily tasks

Take a second and make a plan for tomorrow. It's worth the time and effort.

What are the components of your daily plan? 

Blog about it and link back to me! Or visit the Giftie Etcetera Facebook group to discuss it. Happy planning.