Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Giftie Planner Posts of 2014

A bonus post, including a simple list of my most popular posts this year:

Productivity 101

Beyond the Calendar

Planner Basics

Where to Write Things

New Year, New Rules

And for extra points, some wise advise from my six year old to his potty-training three year old cousin:

"Don't trust your feelings. Sometimes, you feel like you don't have to potty...then, BOOM! You have to potty."


Essential Parts of a Planner

As a new year begins, many people make resolutions. They plan to workout or eat fewer calories or budget or finally write that novel. But real life makes achieving goals troublesome. Heck, real life makes getting anything done troublesome.

The best way to achieve goals and deal with the overwhelm of life?

A planner. 

No, I'm not talking about a calendar, though a calendar can be part of a planner. No, this post is not about notebooks, but they can also be part of a planner. And while I am a fan of actual writing - a process that encodes the plan in the brain - an e-planner might work for some people.

The key difference between a planner and a calendar is that a planner is for making decisions, mapping out strategies, and tracking information, while a calendar is a simple way to note dates.

There are some parts of a planner that I consider essential in order to distinguish a planner from a calendar. 

TIP: When setting up your 2015 planning system, consider including parts that serve these functions.

Quick Access to Writing Space

A good planner includes a place where you can jot a thought as soon as it enters your head.

Area for Actual Planning

Blank space is not enough. In order to plan effectively, you need a place to organize your thoughts. For me, I call that place my Projects section.


A calendar should be dedicated to time and date sensitive items. 
If you dump everything that you want to do on your calendar, the space gets overwhelming and doesn't do its job very well. 

Some people use a phone or computer as a calendar, so that alarms go off.

Dedicated Space for Lists of Tasks

I use a weekly calendar to list tasks, but you might use a notebook for that purpose.

Dates Beyond the Calendar Area

Set up a Future section if you are using a paper planner, so that you are not confined by the dates in your calendar.


A good system includes a place to file information for reference.

TIP: Put the whole system in one place - like a ring-bound binder from Filofax, Franklin Covey, or Daytimer - for easy access. But if you use different systems (like your calendar on your phone or a notebook for listing tasks), at least don't duplicate the information in two different places.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year, New Planner

Every now and then, everybody needs a planner reset. Some people do one at the beginning of the academic year, but I prefer the end of the calendar year.

When doing a reset, I think about what I like and don't like about my current planner and set-up.

I like that my Franklin Covey Boston is blue, is a compact size, and has a good system of tabs (Dashboard, Projects, Tasks, Calendar, Future, and Notes/A-Z files).

I hate that it is so heavy and that I am not keeping more of the information backed up somewhere. And I miss the beauty of my Franklin Covey Flourish. The Flourish is cheap, but it has a unique look, wipes clean (my Boston is filthy!), and has a small footprint while using the same size pages as my Boston.

So I switched back into my Flourish.

Yes, it's technically not a new planner. But I did do some new things, especially in the field of integrating the information (not the planning) with technology so that I can back it up.

First, I streamlined my Projects

*Completed projects were deleted from the index and filed away or discarded.

*Some projects are well suited to be tracked electronically. Those were moved to my computer.

For example, I always work on my novel on my laptop. Why not keep my notes for the book there, too?

NOTE: I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. With one click of a pen, I can handwrite the notes on my tablet. Writing instead of typing is important to me, so without my particular computer, I'd probably leave this in my planner.

TIP: Take pictures of the old planner pages or scan them and toss the pages. (On my Surface, I can then highlight or write on the images.)

*Other projects are best tracked in the planner. Those stayed there.

If I am planning a baby shower, I am probably more likely to plan that in my planner. And since it is a one-time event, there is no real need to make a record of it.

*Sometimes, a project is best planned in both places. If that is the case, a note that the project is a dual plan (paper and electronic) is included on my project index and there is a clear division between what goes on paper and what goes on-line.

For example, I can track my weight on-line better, but I need a list of workout classes at the local YMCA in my planner.

Second, I took the budget section out of the Calendar and am tracking it with an on-line app instead.

Third, I did the same thing to the Note section that I did to Projects.

By the end, I had removed a lot of bulk from the planner, while leaving the heart of the planner intact.

Here's what I removed:

Finally, I had to cut down the tabs some, as the Flourish is not as wide as the Boston.

My planner is so light now, making it way easier to carry around!

If you are just stumbling upon my blog, welcome! Please feel free to subscribe and share on social media, and follow the journey of planning and organizing our lives.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Daily Planner Page: Step 1

The coolest thing about ring bound planners, for me, is the flexibility. I especially like that I can rely on monthly and weekly pages, but use daily pages when I need to.

Each morning, I sit down at my desk, with my coffee, and make my daily plan. If the day is simple, that might mean just glancing at my monthly and weekly pages, checking work email, and getting started. If the day is more complicated, it means copying the times/dates/tasks from my monthly and weekly pages into my daily plan and checking email.

But, on complicated days, I change the order of my steps. Step 1 becomes do the quick tasks instead of copying them.

Today, that means that I send a quick text BEFORE I make my daily docket. The task takes less than two minutes and it's not distracting because I do not need to leave the desk area. Once it is done, there is no need to recopy it. That saves me time and effort. 

Only then do I complete the creation of my daily plan.

It's a simple step that can make your life a lot easier.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Paper Planner with Electronic Daily Pages in OneNote

As my Loyal Readers surely know, I only use daily pages a few times a week, when I really need them. 

Starting in 2015, I plan to follow that same system, except that I will use electronic daily pages, in OneNote on my Surface Pro 3, when I plan to be plugged in most of the day. (Obviously, on a very mobile day, like grocery shopping/errands day, I don't want to carry around a computer and will be still using my Quo Vadis daily pages.) 

Using an electronic daily page normally would not work, except that 1) my Surface allows handwriting by pen, so my brain gets the reminder of the tasks and appointments, 2) my Surface turns on INSTANTLY with the click of a pen, and 3) the computer backs up to the cloud, should I have any technical difficulties. Basically, the Surface addresses all my complaints about electronic planners.

Monthly and weekly planning will remain in my paper planner. It is much easier to carry around a paper planner. 

To set up my daily page, I found a free downloadable here that I wanted. (Please respect the linked blogger's copyright and go to her blog if you want to download and use her free pages. Never sell or give-away someone else's copyrighted material, or it will discourage people from sharing for free! :) )

For Surface Pro 3 Users

(Don't worry, paper planners...your part is coming up next! Skip this part and read "For Everyone" below.)

On my Surface, I copied in the image into OneNote. (TIP: double-click on the pen to automatically add to OneNote app.) Then, in the desktop OneNote 2013 app (free from Microsoft, but you must download), I set that blank copy as a template that automatically adds to the Calendar section of my Planner notebook.

Now, as long as the Daily Docket is the last thing that I have used, I click the Surface pen once from ANYWHERE (e.g., while computer is asleep, while in Facebook, while surfing the web), and my Daily Docket comes up.

Old ones are archived into an archive folder in my Planner notebook.

For Everyone

Here's an overview of how I am using this layout (that paper planner peeps can always use in their planners):

1. Date the top of the page above the words "Daily Docket"

2. Enter any information from my Monthly and Weekly planner pages that is relevant on the Daily Docket and mark on my paper planner that the information is now on a daily page.

3. Put my Must Dos in the first left square.

4. Put Meal Plan and anything needing to be done for meal (e.g., defrost, crock pot) in the second left square.

5. Put Schedule in the third left square.

6. Put any highlights of Tomorrow in the fourth left square.

7. Put any fun stuff that I want Archived in the first right square.

8. Put a reminder to do Daily stuff (kept on my Surface in my Daily Tasks app or, for paper people, in a chart behind my month) in the second right square.

9. Make my Task list in the third right square.

TIP: For e-planners, if these tasks and your events take you away from your computer a lot, use a daily page in your planner instead that day. If only one or two things need to be done away from your computer, use a sticky note on your weekly paper planner for those things, and note that on this page.

10. Note Goal for the week in the fourth right square.

Something especially nice about this page is that I can write all around the docket, if I need to make notes.

TIP: Highlight any completed stuff!

Happy planning.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

E-Planning: Daily Tasks App

I have always struggled with daily tasks. They NEED to be done, but I never remember to do them. In my planner, I've tried charts (hidden away) and sticky notes (lose their stick and no place to check them off as done).

There are so many ways that paper planners are superior, but repetitive tasks aren't one of the  ways. Solutions for repetitive tasks exist, but aren't optimal.

I found an app called Daily Tasks (from the Microsoft app store) that seems to be working for me. It puts a list of the tasks on the Start screen of my tablet, so that I cannot ignore it.

Each day, the tasks are listed on the calendar. For an inexpensive upgrade price, I could add monthly and weekly tasks, too. I may get that upgrade if this keeps working for me.

For each task, I can set a reminder. I do for food, since I need to defrost it early in the day. I also set a reminder for must do tasks. For example, if I skip cleaning one day, the world won't fall apart. But skipping prep for the next day would make my life awful!

I hope  this electronic solution works.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Integrating OneNote and a Planner

I love to hand write, so I got a  Surface Pro 3 for Christmas. Even though I am loving it, it cannot replace a planner in my life. So I need to find away to integrate OneNote with my  planner. As I go on this journey, I'm sure that I will share details here. For now, the first detail...

I set up One Note exactly like my planner. That way, things stay consistent.

My notebook is just like my planner dashboard. It just has blank graph  paper. 

I often add tasks that must be moved to my planner or that have to be done on my computer anyway.

I also have a project section, a files section, a calendar section, and a special work planner.

The project section will be limited to projects better done on-line, like planning a  virtual committee meeting. Shopping lists, on the other hand, are better in my main planner.

I will do the same thing with the files section. Only files better planned on-line, like passwords and computer shortcuts, go in the computer OneNote files.

I will create my entire work planner in One Note, since I do 100% of my work on-line. Also, my work planner does not include any dates except due dates and my timesheet, so I won't miss any events by planning on-line. Mostly, it consists of research and communication logs.

 We shall see how the 2015 experiment goes!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Cookie Jar

Throughout the Christmas season, I wrap gifts whenever I find some time. To keep supplies right at hand, I keep Christmas wrap on top the fridge. And I put tape, scissors, labels, pens, and markers in a cookie jar.

Be nice tonight. You can always be naughty tomorrow.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Effectively Styled Planner Page

Every individual has his or her own style when writing in a planner. After all, making your page look the way that you want it to look is one of the most important aspects of a planner.

When I write freely on a page (as opposed to using a form or custom design), there are three simple tricks that I use to maximize the ease of reading and using my page.

Two Columns

The first (left) column is for MUST DO tasks while the second (right) column is for SHOULD DO tasks.

Clouds for FYIs

I use a simple cloud drawing to indicate information only.

Box for Others' Stuff

I draw a box around things that I expect the kids and my husband to take care of, so that I can track it, but ignore it when deciding on my next tasks.


How to Organize Christmas Presents for Delivery

Over the course of December 23rd through 25th, I have several different sets of Christmas gifts to give out. 

I don't know how Santa does it! There are so many gifts all going to different destinations.

I have to have a plan.

organizing for Christmas; Christmas Tree; Christmas Presents

For example, I'll visit some friends with gifts, go to a bonfire party with my mom's family on Christmas Eve with gifts for the kids' picked name gift exchange and for my godchild, and exchange with my sisters and their kids after lunch at my parents' house on Christmas Day.

Right now, all of the gifts are wrapped and piled haphazardly under the tree. But on December 23rd, we will separate the gifts into piles and get them ready for delivery.

I'm pretty sure the elves must have a great system in place. So I made a call to the North Pole, and asked for some ideas.

I learned that there are several ways to make this process easier.

Gift Wrap Based on Destination

PRO: If you wrap all gifts headed to mom's house in blue, all the gifts headed to Aunt Charlotte's house in red, and all the gifts that stay home in green, you not only can sort them quickly or have the kids sort them, but you will look as if you carefully coordinated your wrapping paper, even if you secretly used whatever was on clearance last year on the day after Christmas.

CON: You have to keep track of the paper and destination as you wrap. Also, you might run out of one color or style of paper and ruin the plan.

Code on Bottom of Gifts

PRO: If you write a code for each destination (M = Mom and C = Charlotte), you can still sort gifts pretty easily, but not worry so much about running out of a particular paper.

I use numbers, like 23, 24, and 25, that correspond to the date of delivery.

CON: People will ask you what the code means. That's fine if you are a blogger ("don't you read my blog, Grandma?!?"), but might be awkward elsewhere.

TIP: Christmas stickers or different color gift tags are a more subtle way to achieve the same goal.

Code the Gift List

PRO: The code on the list of gifts itself is secret and only you know that the gift to Marge goes out on Christmas Eve.

CON: It takes a lot longer to sort gifts by name and destination only using a list.

TIP: Even though it's an inefficient method by itself, coding the gift list with a simple number for the date that the gift leaves the house and an initial for the house it is headed to helps when wrapping in distinct paper and coding on the bottom of the gifts.

Make Separate Gift Lists

PRO: The gifts can be sorted one trip out of the house at a time.

CON: Just like with a coded gift list, it gets confusing if this is the only method that you use.

Containerize the Gifts

PRO: If the gifts are stored together based on destination, it is quick to get out of the house.

CON: The containers take up space and may not fit under the tree.

TIP: For large numbers of gifts, use laundry baskets to transport them.

My best advice? 

Use several of these tips at once!

I code my original gift list, divide it into smaller lists for each day of delivery, write codes underneath gifts, and use containers to separate out the deliveries.

If you are looking for gift ideas, feel free to check out one of these great gift guides:

Gifts for Men

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ask Giftie

If anyone has missed the memo, I do run a Facebook group about planning and organizing. Click here to join.

It doesn't replace my beloved Facebook groups for exploring planners, but is a little different, in that we talk about planners, e-planning, organizing, and time management in general.

Along with the blog comments (which I do read and reply to), it's a place to ask my Loyal Readers and me questions about life management, to share planning wisdom, and to think about the choices that we all make every day.

Join us and post your questions or dilemmas so that we can help you solve them.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Casual Planner

Saturdays are generally light planning days for me.

Today, for example, we are mostly hanging around the house. 
We are truly stuck at home because we are babysitting so that my sister can finish her Christmas shopping. We had holiday events all day yesterday. We are done shopping, but not wrapping or receiving all deliveries. I need to clean up, but that can be done at a leisurely pace over the next couple of days.

There's not a bunch of scheduled stuff or mandatory tasks, but there are tasks that I need to keep track of and get done.

On days like this, I use my planner in a very casual way.

I might make several different kinds of list, like places in the house to clean or things that my husband needs to get done while he is home for the weekend.

I also skip steps in my planning, like context codes. No need to indicate that everything must be done at home when I can only list things that must be done at home. And Loyal Readers know that I try not to do useless things in my planner.

If you are new to planning, or just have a not-so-complicated day planned, try casual planning. It's fun and good enough.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Loading Santa's Sack: A Guide for Good Elves

The worst feeling in the world is arriving at a Christmas party without a gift for a child who is expecting one. Santa has a magical plan to avoid ever forgetting a present!

So I closed my eyes and traveled to the North Pole, to see how the experts in loading Santa's gift sack deal with this problem on a worldwide scale.

The elves had their tiny elf planners snug in their mittens! 

Let's take a peek at their plan for making sure all the gifts arrive at the right place, on time, for Christmas.

1. First, they list all the gifts and check them off as they buy and wrap them.

2. Then they add a code for each household or Christmas party that Father Christmas intends to visit. (B, L, and Z, using family name initials, in the example.)

3. Finally, they count the gifts attached to each code, and note the number of gifts (along with a short list of recipients) headed to each party on the weekly spread in their little green and red planners.

When it's time to pack Santa's big red sacks, the elves simply make sure that the right number of gifts go into each bag. The multiple, shorter lists are worth it because they eliminate stress on the day of the party.

Before I came home from my amazing snowy trip, I ate one of Mrs. Claus's special Christmas cookies. They were amazing, y'all.

Ho ho ho!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Completing Lists: A Sticky Solution

Sometimes, my real life friends make fun of my blog tips. They claim that I state the obvious. 

The truth is that many of the solutions that I share with my Loyal Readers aren't obvious to me until I am desperate for a solution and try them. At that point, I realize that other people might not have thought of them, either.

(Shameless aside - I remember when my oldest was a newborn. I couldn't figure out how to weigh him on my scale. He was too long to be placed on it and he wouldn't stop wiggling anyway. A friend on the internet suggested that I weigh myself, pick him up and weigh the two of us together, and subtract. Brilliant! D'uh!)

Right now, my issue is finishing the Christmas present wrapping.

I have a list and am highlighting each gift as it gets wrapped, but it is messy and crammed at this point, making me nervous that I will forget to wrap something.

So I copied the short list of gifts still-to-be-wrapped onto a sticky note.

Now I have a simple checklist of what still needs to be done.

TIP: Use this tactic with shopping lists or task lists, too.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Planning a Holiday Week

Holidays are strange little days for my planner. 

Not a ton of appointments, but really important ones like Christmas dinner or our traditional Christmas Eve brunch at a breakfast restaurant. 

Not a ton of tasks, but woe is the person who forgets to bring the 2 year old's gift or the dirt cake.

My normal set-up (monthly appointment pages and weekly task pages) aren't quite enough, but I need more flexibility than my usual daily pages provide.

So, for December 22nd - 25th, I put some blank paper between the weekly section. They are folded back to avoid blocking the normal weekly pages.

planner; planner pages; planning projects; Christmas plans

I still keep appointments on my monthly pages and normal, non-holiday tasks (there aren't that many) on my weekly pages.

But on my holiday lists, I have deadlines, like cooking the dirt cake and wrapping gifts by December 23rd. I have day of holiday task lists (that repeat yearly), like putting out cookies for Santa and reindeer food, or unwrapping Christmas PJs on Christmas Eve. 

I also put a list of all gifts or items that need to be delivered (to Christmas parties or gatherings over the holidays).

planner; planner pages; planning projects; Christmas plans; frixion pens

Once the holiday is over, these date specific pages go with the rest of the Christmas project pages for reference for next year.

TIP: If you start a new tradition or want to change something next year, this is a good place to note it.


Planner in Progress

I put a lot of emphasis on entering information into my planner. The hows, whats, whys, whens, and wheres matter!

But I also have a simple system for use of my planner, so that I can track what still needs to be accomplished. The "in progress" marks matter a ton, as they keep me on task and they let me glance quickly at the information in my planner and make fast decisions.

Here's what the system looks like in progress:

The In Progress System

*@ = waiting on something or someone before I can do the task (pending)

*O = task ready to be done

*-O = task is started, but not complete (this is particularly useful if I can't continue yet, like laundry in the wash, but not dried and ready to be put away)

*O (checked off) = done

*O (arrow) = moved to another day

*O (X'ed through) = deleted

TIP: Regardless of code, highlight any task that is checked as done, moved, or deleted, so the rest of the tasks jump out to your eyes.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Planner Hack: The Sticky Borrowed List

I have the distinct pleasure of being in charge of everything.

Disclaimer: The above statement was full of sarcasm. And, well, truth.

The practical reality is that I am the one with a planner. If my husband wants to RSVP to a Christmas party, he asks me if it is okay. I check my planner. If my mom owes me money for the gift that I picked up from the store near my house for her to give to my kid, she asks me to remind her when I see her. As the planner in the family, I keep track of things for everybody.

I used to keep track of "Things Borrowed" in a file in my ABC Files. But I never looked at it.

So I moved the tracking of things borrowed to my weekly spread. (The green sticky at the bottom of this picture.)

I talked about this system before, but it has changed everything. I no longer worry about whether or not I paid my sister or who has a copy of a favorite movie. I know. The thoughts - and the anxiety - is off my mind.

When the sticky note gets cluttered, I just make a new one (in pink).

It's a simple trick that has changed things in such a positive way.

If I am expecting something from someone else, it's a pending item, so it is marked "@initials: item/money." If I owe the amount or item, it is a task, so it is marked "O to initials: item/money."


Sunday, December 14, 2014

When To Skip A Daily Planner

Lately, this blog is very focused on creating daily pages. And for very active days, daily pages are an incredible tool.

But I do not have a binder full of daily pages. It would be way too heavy, and frankly, useless.

Some days are not very full, and for those times, just relying on my monthly and weekly spreads makes more sense.

Of course, the Monday and Tuesday of the week above might require a daily page. But my life slows down after that, so my planner can slow down, too.

Last week was busier, and I used a daily page on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.

A planner should be a flexible tool - the right tool for the job. Sometimes, that means a monthly/weekly combination is a better way to go than a daily page.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Quick Packing Plan

Packing can make a quick weekend trip seem not worth the trouble. But there is an easy way to get your stuff together, without a lot of effort.

1. Start a list in your planner of stuff that you need to pack as soon as you schedule the trip. I keep this list in my Project section.

2. The day before the trip, go over the schedule (in your head or your planner) and toss items in a bag as you think of them.

Here's how I do it:

Friday night
Hanging out?

-sleeping bag
-dirty laundry bag
Getting ready for bed?


Notice how I go through the steps of my routine in my head, as if I were actually doing the steps, and pack what I need.

3. Some things (like a toothbrush) may be needed the day of the trip and cannot be packed in advance. Make a list of those items in your planner as you pack.

TIP: Store that list between your weekly pages so that you are forced to look at it in the morning. Or tape it to your keys.

Don't forget to put cell and charger on this list!

4. Once you are packed, check your original list and add anything from that list that you have not packed yet.

5. Then, and this is key, go through an old packing list or two (I file these in the ABC Notes/Files section of my planner) and see if you forgot anything! If so, add it to your suitcase.

Five steps. You can pack quickly and expertly and never forget anything again.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Change One Thing

Pick one thing to change that makes a big difference in your life.

Maybe you start a log of important telephone calls in your planner or in a computer log like this one in OneNote.

Next time they claim you never called them, you have evidence.

Or start defrosting meat the night before.

Put out a basket as a designated area for your purse and planner.

My one thing?

When I take off my jeans, I'm hanging them back in the closet. It saves me the trouble of washing, drying, and hanging again. Don't worry...I spill coffee often enough, and therefore HAVE to clean them, that they never get dingy.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Writing Pending Decisions in a Planner

Sometimes, an event is coming up which requires a decision, but a decision cannot be made yet. Maybe my husband has to figure out if he can get off of work or I need more information before deciding.

I am guilty of leaving these unmade or pending decisions floating around in Facebook messages or in my email inbox.

Bad idea.

I use my planner to plan, and without the pending decisions noted in my planner, I might double book the dates or forget to check on the information that I need.

This time a year, Christmas party invites are plentiful and we cannot make all the events. Also, gifts are ordered and will be arriving at home, so I need to plan to be around, but in between arrivals, I need to get errands done.

Since I use erasable Frixion pens, I "pencil" stuff onto my monthly events/appointments calendar using a question mark.

In the example below, I penciled in a furniture delivery (waiting on confirmation of morning or afternoon, which is expected tomorrow) and a few Christmas parties (waiting on information about family obligations before RSVP'ing yes or no).

I also add a task to my weekly spread to remind me of either what I need to do, the deadline for the decision, or what/who I am waiting on.

For furniture, I'll write "@AF: delivery time" on Tuesday's entry (translation: @ = pending; AF = the name of the furniture store; delivery time = what information I am waiting on). For the Smith party, I'll write "O^c RSVP Smith" on Thursday's entry (translation: O = task; ^c = context code of "at computer"; RSVP Smith = the task).

That's two steps.

1. Pencil in the event with a question mark.
2. Create the next action task or a pending note.

Pending decisions are now obvious on my planner and ready for me to deal with in a timely manner.


The Food Plan

So many of my readers ask about menu planning. 

In its simplest form, a menu plan consists of deciding in advance what to cook for supper. For a bit more sophistication, a weekly dinner menu can be made and keep in the weekly section of a planner. Depending on the family's needs, breakfast and lunch plans might be helpful.

In my house, I use a hybrid of these methods. I have three or four breakfast staples (cereal, toast, waffles, and oatmeal/fruit) that I always keep on hand. I eat lots of leftovers for lunch, but have some quick backup lunches available all the time. (My favorites are Easy Mac...shush!...and frozen, cooked shrimp for a quick shrimp cocktail.) But I plan dinners, based on sale ingredients, the family's schedule, and how much energy I have.

I've written about this topic, menu and food prep, a lot: here, here, here, here, and here.

But something that needs more focus is scheduling time to deal with food prep.

Generally, cooking at home takes less time than getting in the car, driving to a restaurant, and picking up food. Still, it does take some time.

One of the biggest food planning mistakes is to forget to plan TIME: time for prep, time for cooking, and time for cleaning up.

TIP: Have others clean up for the cook.

For example, today's menu is toast for breakfast, pasta and grilled chicken for lunch, and leftover grilled chicken or hamburger steaks (depending on whether I have hamburger meat in the freezer) with oven fries for dinner.

But, apart from the actual cooking (from recipes that I know or have written down and with ingredients that I keep on hand all the time), I need to freeze some leftover veggies, make a salsa for tomorrow, and defrost the meals. Those steps go in my planner.

Note that defrosting is time sensitive, so that step goes on the schedule, while freezing extra veggies goes on the should do task list.

However you do food planning, consider incorporating the time to prep and cook in your schedule. In the long run, when you are not running to get takeout all the time, it will help you save time and money.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Planner Tip: The Folded Gift List

I'm late with today's blog. It's because I spent the whole weekend Christmas shopping! This elf is tired, but the shopping is almost done.

The worse part of shopping this year is combining in the store shopping by my husband and me with Amazon shopping by my husband. Keeping track of who is buying what, what is bought, how it's getting here, what is wrapped, do the boys have an equal number of gifts, etc. is OVERWHELMING.

My planner helps, but the list in there got crazy and crowded and was not working.

So I recopied it onto a two page spread, but first I had to make columns to check off items bought and items wrapped.

I didn't have graph paper handy, so I improvised.

I folded the paper (lining up edges equally) to make columns.

Once I did that, I recopied the list, neatly. I used the following codes, borrowed from the codes that I normally use for task lists:

*check mark = bought
*circle = to buy (an idea borrowed from my task list circles)
*@AMB = my husband will order/buy (again, @ is pending on my task list)
*@AMAZ = ordered and waiting on Amazon to deliver

Also, again echoing my task lists, I highlighted those things that have been bought or ordered, so the rest would jump out at me.

By using the planner techniques that I already use daily, the list started to make sense to me. Mischief managed!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Lazy Planner: Elf on the Shelf

I don't put ideas for John Henry, our Elf on the Shelf, in my planner.

I don't schedule moving the elf.

I don't worry or stress about the elf.

I just have the elf do something that goes along with our daily plan.

Decorating the tree? Have him hang from the limbs.

Christmas shopping? (The shopping list was written with my nondominant hand, using scratch planner paper.)

Wrapping gifts? Wrap candy canes from John Henry.

Writing letters to Santa? John Henry brings back a response.

I seriously don't think about it. If night comes, and we forget to move him, oh well! Sometimes, he moves during the day. No biggie.

Nothing to do with him? He can hide in the stockings or build a Lego structure. It's fun. It is NOT a chore. If it was a chore, I would not do it.

Maybe you aren't an elf person. (Anti-elf?) But there is something that you do at Christmas that can be done only on a whim and is not required. A gift for a co-worker? A craft that you do every year?

This year, take that off you planner and only do it if the urge strikes, for fun!

It will make your Christmas nicer.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Planner Quickie: The Check Off Task List

Planners are quick. You open them, you write, and you close them. Done. 

In the time that it took for me to type that and for you to read it, you could have written three tasks in your planner.

The truth is that serious planners spend a lot of time, writing each task in the correct part of the planner, with the correct context code and in a pretty handwriting. We obsess over how the insides of our planners look and function, sometimes so much that the quick aspect of using the planner gets abandoned.

But there is a time for a quick list, and, if you have a planner, there is a place for it.

A quick list of tasks should be created when tasks will be done immediately or soon, right in a row, but there are enough tasks that it is worth writing them down. 

For me, the magic number of tasks that must be written down is three. I can't help it. Two tasks in - and I forget what I was doing! (I'm older than I look. This is proof of my age.)

I might write a quick list of things to do before I go to bed. 

(Pants, in the example below, mean that my kids must wear long pants with their school uniform tomorrow. I may be getting older, but I do remember to wear pants.) (Um, usually.)

Or maybe I am about to go on some errands, and just jot the order of the errands.

Perhaps I need to proofread the article, email the article, and file the article. A quick list makes sure that, while proofreading, I don't forget to send the article to my boss.

If the day is almost over anyway, the jotted tasks just go in the leftover space on my daily page. Otherwise, they go on my dashboard paper. 

The mess of the rest of the page, combined with the big circles notating tasks, makes the list jump off of the page visually when written on an otherwise complete day.

Planners are an excellent tool. Don't forget to use them for their primary purpose - to get things done that need doing.


Future Pages (Video)

Future pages are important in a paper planner because, unlike an e-planner, calendar pages don't go on forever in a paper planner. Today's video (click here) overviews how I use my future pages.

TIP: If there is no future page in your planner, don't wait to make a complete system of future pages. Get a sheet of paper and make a future page immediately. You can tweak it later!

My Future section is tucked right behind my Calendar section.

Basically, I have three parts to my future pages set-up.

First, I have recurring yearly events/tasks.

Recurring yearly events include birthdays and anniversaries. The tasks include some doctors' appointments or car inspections.

For anything that happens every year, I have six pieces of special paper (the page with the blue strip in the picture above, but you could use washi tape for the same effect) that I divide into twelve months (one on each side of paper) and double punch (so the current month can always be the first thing after the Future tab).

TIP: Next to each birthday, include the year of birth and whether you need to send a card, make a phone call, buy a gift, or throw a party.

Example - Loki's Bday (2008) [gift, party]

Second, I have a yearly calendar for the upcoming year.

All that happens here is that any date where I am booked for something gets highlighted. For example, if I agree to substitute teach the week of February 16 - 20 so a teacher can go to a conference, I highlight that week. This technique lets me check my future calendar for conflicts very quickly.

I have these pages folded (so they only take up half a page of space and work as a natural divider between the recurring future pages and the one-time future pages).

Third, I have one-time future pages.

I simply use hole-punched, lined inserts and divide each into three parts on each side. After the next year, I have one page labeled 2016 and Beyond.

Example -



One-time events and tasks that will happen after my monthly calendar pages end go on those pages. Dividing each page into three sections allows me to visually only copy one month at a time to my new monthly pages as I add those to my planner.

TIP: At the end of each month, have a recurring (i.e., circled) task to check future pages for upcoming dates to be copied into your monthly pages.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adjusting to the New Routine

My daily routine just changed dramatically. I am a creature of habit, so this change has been jarring to my psyche.

Before, my husband left for work. Right after he left, I did morning routine with the kids, carpool (an hour and fifteen minute long event), workout (yoga class or YMCA), work for four hours and/or errands, lunch at home, housework, a short rest period/my downtime, and then the kids arrived home with my husband for us to split up overseeing chores and homework. After homework, my husband had his downtime while I made supper (most nights). If I didn't cook he might pull together something quick for the kids, and then he and the oldest go to karate some days.

Now, my husband does morning carpool instead of me and gets home after homework/chores.


(Yes, intentional screamy caps.)

I can't wake up before they leave, else my mere presence upsets the force. (The force is named Loki. He is six years old. He makes Darth Vader look pretty pleasant when the force is disturbed.) So I wake up but hide under the pillow until they leave, wasting a good 45 minutes of the day. (Okay, I keep sleeping for that full 45 minutes. Still wasted!) 

But my husband can't handle making lunches for the kids and remembering snack and water bottles (seriously, he does his share, truly, but this managing multiple things at once early in the morning is not in his skill set), so I have to do that the night before instead of in the morning, like I used to.

In order to do lunch at home (the only really affordable choice, since I don't have an office where I can heat something up), I have to skip yoga class and work from home in the morning. I like to work remotely. There is no tv (or bed or even laundry) at the library!

Then, right after I eat, I have to go workout. Yuck. I just ate. Also, the best yoga teacher is in the city at 8 a.m. (but I can't justify an extra trip into the city at 8 a.m., time-wise or gas-wise). So I do the step machine alongside the retirees and the guys who workout all day. (I swear on monkeys that they are there at 8 a.m. AND at 1 p.m.). 

If I grocery shop, I have to bring coolers with me or the stuff melts. Errands are rushed because I have to be at carpool on time, instead of leaving carpool to do errands in a proper leisurely fashion. 

Oh, and morning carpool never has a line, but afternoon carpool takes FOREVER and I have to sit and wait in line. For bonus points, Louisiana changed the law and I can no longer use my cell phone while STOPPED in the carpool line. Ugh.

After school, I have to handle homework and chores alone. I'm used to my husband's help. It's a nightmare when both boys have tests...and when they test me. Plus, I can't start supper until it's all done, pushing supper later.

Notice the lack of downtime in this new, shinier scenario. (Shinier like a bad bald spot or a slimy worm. The sarcasm kind of shiny.)

I can stay up for an extra 45 minutes, I guess. But my husband doesn't, so that means we would go to bed separately. Sometimes, that is the only time we get alone together all day!

I'm doing what I can. I'm planning more portable lunches (with salads and thermoses). I'm researching later yoga and other classes, for after an early lunch. During carpool, I've been trying to do my planning for the next day. (I'm seated, in park, brake locked, in a parking lot.)

But it sucks. My husband doesn't like the new routine. My children don't like the new routine. And I HATE the new routine.

Whine Fest over! Thanks for listening. Back tomorrow with a real blog entry. I swear on monkeys!