Before the New Year began, I bought a new calendar to hang on the wall in our kitchen and then hunted for a smaller planner to keep in my purse. The wall calendar holds information regarding everyone in the family: school activities, appointments, and schedules go on the kitchen calendar. The planner is supposed to be about me, it’s supposed to be a private place where I can plot out my goals and projects for the week.
Wall calendars are easy to find, but a store-bought day planner that actually works for me and my life…yeah, I’ve never had much luck. I found ones that sort-of have what I’m looking for, but never ones that are flexible enough. They’re all too rigid and too complicated. There isn’t enough room in some areas and too much room in others. I’ve purchased expensive day planners. I’ve bought planners for moms, and writers, and cheap planners at the dollar store. It doesn’t seem to matter how much or little I pay for the beasties. I use the planner for a week, then abandon the thing as useless clutter. Maybe my expectations are too high, but there doesn’t seem to be a magic wand fix in the world of day planners.
However, I do know of a planner that DOES work for me, one that is tried and true. It’s the thing I go back to after all the other planners fail:
A Spiral Notebook
Yup! That’s what I use. It’s not complicated. If you stock up on them at the end of summer, during the Back To School sales, you can usually find the 70-page variety for as little as 10 notebooks for a dollar.
I’m a list maker. I like making lists. I like crossing things off of my lists. Lists work for me. Consistently. Whenever I find myself getting off track, it’s usually because I’ve stopped making lists. It’s like trying to go to the grocery store without a shopping list. Sure it can be done, but I find that I spend WAY more money, and still don’t come home with everything I need. I write shopping lists on 3″x5″ notecards because they’re cheap and easy. The paper is sturdy. There’s not a lot of room on a 3″x5″ card, so the list doesn’t get out of hand. The notecards fit on the fridge without taking up a lot of space. They easily fit in a pocket when you’re at the store. Bonus, notecards come in huge packs, hundreds of cards for a dollar.
When I write out my version of a day planner list, I usually write it out in the evening, as I’m winding down before bed. I try not to get too far ahead of myself. If I have a project that I want to get done by Wednesday, but today’s date is Saturday, I don’t skip ahead to Wednesday’s page. No. I focus on today’s page and maybe the next day’s page, the remainder of my notebook is full pages from the past and empty pages for the future. I keep my to-do list short and manageable, bullet points really.
So what happens to my Wednesday deadline when it’s Saturday? It gets written down as a reminder on Saturday’s page, and Sunday’s page, and Monday’s page, and on and on until I get to my project’s due date. I am a procrastinator at heart. Actively writing out the same reminder each day solidifies the goal in my mind. It’s not some theoretical goal. It’s a conscious one. It’s active. Continuous. The more times I write the goal down, the greater the probability is that this specific task will be completed.
What happens when I get off track and stop using my version of a day planner? Nothing. Yes, I probably don’t get as much accomplished, but also…I still have the notebook sitting there with its blank future pages. Unlike a traditional day planner, a notebook doesn’t mock you with holes and timeslots when they’re not filled in. Did you abandon your notebook for a day? Start again on the next empty page. Abandon it for longer? Same thing. Start where you are, wherever you are, and go from there.
If you find that you can’t complete your tasks, you’re making your list too long. Adjust your list the following day and move on. Move forward.
This year, I decided to treat myself to a nicer notebook than my usual 70-page variety. I’ve had this notebook for awhile, but I was saving it for…I don’t know what. Something special? Well, I’m special and I wanted a nicer looking planner, something more professional in appearance. Something pretty.
So far, I like it a lot. When I’ve filled up the pages, I might get another pretty journal…or go back to the 70-page variety. We’ll see how I feel when the time comes. Neither size fits in my purse, but a smaller notebook would get used up quicker. This red journal has just enough room to write down my to-dos and reminders, plus room at the bottom for a line or two of Closing Thoughts. What worked today? What isn’t working? What would I like to try doing? Not a journal entry, just a sentence or two. Although…with this method, you could journal along as well, as the need/whim strikes you. After all, the pages are there to use and the structure of this type of planner can change and grow with you.