Family, Personal Change, Writing and Blogging

Christmas Lessons, Part 2: Using a Planner (or Old Dog, New Trick)

The Problem

I am notoriously disorganized and messy, but long to corral my creative tendencies to achieve a productive lifestyle.

The Gift

I mentioned previously that I am not a fan of planners (the objects, not the people). Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, my daughter had already purchased by birthday gift when that post was published. It’s a lovely, flowery thing with inspirational quotes throughout; not too big, not too small… just right. She included a set of comfortable, smooth writing pens and an add-on for the planner, pages of moveable lists with the phrase ‘listers gonna list‘ at the top, just to add a welcome splash of hip hop to my day.

My girl is that rare creature, an organized creative. She started using a planner in college to keep track of work, classes, homework, etc. Over the years as her life has evolved, so has her planner. It now includes work, social engagements, general budgeting, and doctor and grooming appointments for herself and her pack of hounds. Her planner is a work of art and a wondrous combination of planner and diary.

I enthusiastically accepted her gift and the promise of coaching. On Christmas morning, we spent about an hour setting up a very basic planning routine. She emphasized to me that the planner is a tool to alleviate stress, not a master or a source of guilt, and that it’s OK if I make mistakes, don’t follow it exactly, or forget to use it for a week. (She knows that perfectionism is one of the hurdles I’m trying to overcome.) That gift, along with her pep talk, have already made a huge difference in my life.

A Solution?

If you are struggling with disorganization, stress, or both, maybe you could try a planner. Here are some tips for getting started.

  1. If you don’t have a planner, get one. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, there are all sorts of free options available online. The Handmade Home has some beautiful free printables, including some stylish covers.
  2. Write out some short- and long-term goals, and whatever steps you can identify to achieve those goals over the next days, weeks, and months. Mine included setting up a thank you card system (cards, pens and stamps in box), exercising regularly, drinking more water, blogging twice a week, and organizing my sewing room.
  3. Go through and plug in annual events like birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions. You can also put in one-time events that you already know about like upcoming graduations, weddings, or vacations.
  4. Next, add monthly events like meetings and standing appointments for the next three months, or whatever horizon seems useful to you. I only did one month because my primary job right now is homemaker and carer for my elderly stepfather, and my schedule is largely dictated by his ever-changing needs. At the end of January, I have a note to remind me to fill in February’s schedule. Don’t forget your goals! This is also a good place to plug in bills you pay and payments you receive on a regular basis.
  5. What weekly and daily things do you want to schedule? Probably your work or class schedule, especially if it varies from day to day or week to week. Again, don’t forget your goals. I placed a legend at the top reminding me to exercise, drink water, and organize my sewing room for a few minutes each day. In theory, I should place an asterisk or a check on the days I complete these tasks, but mainly I just use them as a reminder.
  6. Good start! As you go along, put in new appointments or events, or reminders to make phone calls and follow-up calls if necessary. Whatever will help you accomplish what you want to, but also free up space in your head. If something is stressing you out, think about how your planner can help. For example, I sort my dad’s pills into a pill organizer once a week, but it was always running out on Saturday evening. Every Sunday morning when I really just wanted a cup of coffee and twenty minutes to myself, I would have Dad wanting his coffee, pills, and breakfast, and the dogs wanting walks, attention, and breakfast. It was not the best time to be sorting pills, and I was cranky. I put ‘fill pill organizers’ on my schedule for Friday evening, and now my Sunday mornings are a little less hectic, and I’m quite a bit less resentful.

My daughter recommended that I leave my planner open in a place I would see it several times a day and not carry it with me. I sit down with it in the morning to review the day and the week ahead, and in the evening to add new appointments or make changes. I keep my monthly to-do list under ‘Notes’ on the margin, and use the ‘listers gonna list’ pages for daily and weekly to-do lists and shopping lists.

Results

My stress level has plummeted over the past two weeks or so, and I know a lot of it is that I no longer have to try to keep so much stuff in my head. I’m sleeping better, and I’m seeing results.

Using a tip from an episode of the Clutterbug podcast, I set up a Google calendar. It’s nice because you can access it from just about any device, and you can sync it with Alexa, which I find very helpful to my ADD brain.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Lessons, Part 2: Using a Planner (or Old Dog, New Trick)”

  1. Just discovered this blog and this post is something I really understand. I don’t actually have a planner – just a diary – but I do often look at them in shops and wonder about their usefulness and if I’d actually make a good go at using one or just give up. Seeing that your stress levels have fallen makes me think I should stop feeling so intimidated by their organisation and give them a try. New follower 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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