The Joy of Planning

close-up-composition-data-669986I’ll admit that I am a planning geek. Who knew how much joy it would give me to organize my activities by hour, by day, by month or even to break down big goals into little, easily achievable ones?

This is a highly valuable skill at work, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the tools we use to get our personal lives in order. Let me tell you about a few that I really dig. Mine cover the gamut of online and hard copy tools, because I still get a thrill from long-hand planning.

Did I mention I’m a geek? I’ve embraced that aspect of myself, so it’s ok. Loving yourself has gotta start somewhere, right?


Online Planning

Microsoft OneNote

Oh my heavens – I don’t know how I survived before my coworker Travis showed me this little doozy. Now I open it and use it all day long like I do with email. I won’t get into a long description of how it works, but if you have it among the suite of Microsoft applications, use it.

I create a new page for each meeting I attend so I can take notes. I draft simple project plans on new pages. My front page, however, is a to-do list “dashboard”, and I’ve organized it by “Today/Immediate”, “Soon/This Week”, and “Low Urgency/Eventually”.  It’s really easy to add a task and move it around my dashboard and anything you add in is automatically saved.

I have a tab for Work and another, separate tab for Personal, with several pages underneath each. God knows as a mother, stuff just pops into my head at all moments of the day, and I take the time right then and there to write it down or else I’d forget.

For each task, there’s even a little place to put a check-mark in the box which I do to indicate that progress has started (e.g., I have a call out to someone and I’m waiting for their response). Once a task is complete, I remove it from the page altogether. Sometimes, if the item is noteworthy enough, I move it to an entirely different page where I keep track of my major accomplishments throughout the year for performance evaluation and resume-building purposes.

You name it, it’s out there on my OneNote. I keep dibs on Christmas and birthday ideas for the family, home improvement ideas, thank you cards that I should write, and vacation spots I want to visit during the year. I get a certain kick out of putting a check mark next to the places I have visited during the year once the trip has finished, because half of the joy of traveling is anticipating where I’m going and reliving the memories once it’s over.

Let’s just say, my team got a glimpse of my OneNote dashboard and they were frightened, by the number of things that I track. They got a glimpse into how my mind works! But honestly, before I found OneNote, I wasted time recreating endless lists, took notes in tablets, notepads, and Post-It notes that sometimes got lost or disorganized. That simply is no longer a problem. OneNote is far superior.

Google Calendar

In the early days of child-raising, my husband and I struggled to keep our calendars organized and in sync, so we landed on creating a Google calendar. We were able to merge his music studio calendar (online for his students and their parents to see) with our family calendar and we even gave our sitter access to it so everyone would know who needs to be where and when. This way, we can access the calendar while at work, at home, or on the road by iPad or phone. Each family member’s entries are color coded including whole-family activities. Every soccer practice and game, dance rehearsal and competition, doctor appointment, school concert, marching band rehearsal and competition, football game, basketball game, birthday, and trip are captured online for all of us to see. It’s been a challenge to get our kids to consult the calendar but at least we parents and our Godsend-of-a-sitter know it’s there. We’d be lost without it.

iPhone Reminders

Oftentimes I am driving in the car, and the flood of ideas hit me – phone calls to make, prescriptions to pick up, etc. Sometimes as I listen to podcasts on my 30-minute commute to work, I’ll learn the name of an author, book, website, or product I want to check out. Boom! I dictate these entries into my iPhone Reminders and then periodically transfer those into Google Calendar or my OneNote at work.

We’re an Apple family so we’ve created a family-shared Reminder list for needed groceries. This list doesn’t get as much use but still, it’s there if we need it.

Excel

Yes, plain old Excel. I start off every work day with three entries: 1) three contributions, big or small, that I have made to make life better for someone else, 2) three things I’m grateful for, and 3) three intentions for my day. Each one of these is on a separate tab and I like being easily able to scroll through the list as it grows over the year. I also use Excel to write down my big goals for the year. I organize them by category…health, finance, career, spirit, family, recreation, and friends.

Hard Copy Planning

Ink+Volt

This is my second year using this planner. I know there are ton of planners out in the market and maybe one day I’ll gravitate to another but let me tell you what I like about this one.

First of all the size: it is a 6″x8.5″x1″, hard cover book with a cotton texture cover. I bought one in red, my favorite color. It holds up over a year’s use. It’s small enough to pop into my purse and take with me. It’s also big enough that the pages stay open when you want to write in them. (Actually I prefer hard-wire-bound books for that reason, but Ink+Volt doesn’t offer that option.)

There are sections to plan out the year, the month, and the week with thoughtful essay prompts to guide your week. For the planner in me who still love to write out big goals in long-hand and experience the satisfaction of checking them off the list….the really important personal goals for the week…this has been my near-constant companion.

Now I do love me some happy-colored pens, but I don’t have time for stickers…and some women love Erin Condren planners with the colorful boxes and inspirational quotes…but I’m a little more straight-to-the-point. My organizationally-challenged musician husband loves his Ink+Volt planner. His is green, his favorite color and he is lost without it.

Fitlosophy’s http://www.GetFitBook.com

I ❤️ Target, so much so that I have a residential requirement to live within so many miles of that store every time I have moved. Perusing the fitness aisles at some point this past year, I picked up a journal for myself and my sisters as mother’s day gifts.

Man, I love this thing! First of all it has prompts for you to name three things you’re grateful for. There’s a section for you to articulate your health intention for the day and something that you appreciate about your body. There are fitness prompts for free-form essays, a tip of the day, and then a section to rate your movement, nourishment, and mood.

As someone who has been on health auto-pilot for too long, I began using this journal too, to get me attuned to my physical being. I found it incredibly helpful, so much so that I bought another version of this for my daughter who is growing into a health-conscious young lady, courtesy of her holistically healthy dance studio.

Now you might have noticed that I use Excel and Fitlosophy for a gratitude journal. I do both. I haven’t settled on which version I like better, plus I don’t think you can overdo gratitude.

Big Life Journal

Given I have such a love for planning, it would be a crying shame if I didn’t teach my kids how to do the same! For Christmas this year, each of my kids got one of these journals, including the teen version for the oldest, and I gave one as a gift to another child in our extended family.

Still too early to know how it’s going but I want to teach them the power of visualizing a goal and making it a reality.

Ultimate Student Planner

To help our teen son juggle the demands of his school and extracurricular activities, I found this planner on Amazon which reminded me a lot of the very first one I bought in college to help me keep track of various deadlines and obligations. He has always struggled with organization and planning, kinda like my husband has, so it has been a challenge to get him to use it consistently.

However, score one for the win column: I helped my son with cleaning his room just the other day, and it meant purging a lot of kid stuff now that he’s a full-fledged high school teen. I’m proud to say his mama’s organization genes are starting to rub off on him! He tidied up his desk, reorganized all of the drawers, and pointed to his planner on the desk corner. He told me on Sunday night, he logs into the school’s communication system and finds that all of his teachers have the assignments and expectations for the upcoming week posted online. He makes entries in his planner as needed and showed me some examples.

I nearly fell over. There may be hope for him!


Now, I will admit it might be time-consuming to juggle the various tools I use but this process works for me and it really doesn’t take me much time at all because I enjoy it. It’s not to say that some items don’t fall through the cracks as they most certainly do.

These various methods and tools help me stay organized but more importantly, they serve as a kind of mindfulness meditation. Call it prayer in writing, if you want. Call it planning with purpose. It’s become a daily routine and I feel harried when I haven’t referenced any of these tools.

What’s your favorite life planning hack? Care to share?

 

Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

 

 

A Load of Laundry

New Year’s Eve 2013, I believe it was. At this point we had lived in our house eight years and the last conspicuous evidence of the prior owners was the plaid ivory, pink, blue, and turquoise green wallpaper in our laundry room.

I refused to head into a new year staring at this wallpaper any longer. Down it came in big giant sheets, almost as big as the ones originally hung. It was so easy, so satisfying, to do. The whole exercise took no more than twenty minutes. Keep in mind, my laundry room isn’t tiny…it’s more like a giant walk-in pantry. All I wanted to do was remove the plaid…the fuzzy paper residue that remained on the walls could stay for another time, once I had a chance to score and remove it properly.

You see, when we moved into our house, the entire decor was baby blue and pale pink. A couple lived there before us with their three or four daughters. It always struck me as odd that a house decorated entirely in baby blue and pale pink did not have bedroom closets designed to hang dresses, but to each his own! This house did have a separate two-car garage with a woodshop attached, for the lone man of the house. I suspect he spent a lot of time out there over the years. In any event, I’m not a pastels kind of chick. I tend to gravitate toward warmer, richer colors and classic neutrals.


For me, somewhere in the middle of raising three kids, I put house matters on hold. It took everything I had in me to hold down my job, shuttle the kids around to their activities, deal with schoolwork, pay bills, clean the house, do laundry, you name it. I found that my least favorite activities, and certainly the ones that require a lot of mental energy to start, got put aside. But it was time to make the laundry room beautiful since it felt like I spent all my time there.

I don’t mind doing laundry. Washing, drying, and folding every piece has become a little meditation, a prayer for me. I think of my children wearing these clothes, how much fun they had spilling juice on this shirt or ketchup on that one, how the knees are worn out from playing, which pieces are their favorites such that they show up again and again and again…and eventually there is that last cycle when you realize they’ve outgrown the item in hand, and it’s time to release it to someone else who can use it, someone outside our home.


No kidding, an entire year went by before I got around to cleaning the paper fuzz off the walls, let alone prep them for painting. But eventually I did paint them a cheery peach IMG_4607color, and once I did, I realized I didn’t like the effect. As the mom of three kids, I spend an insane amount of time in that room and it was dreary. It was still crazy dark in that room…it has a whole wall of dark brown cabinets that had been moved from the kitchen and repurposed into the laundry room. The hardware was dusty brass, circa 1980.

I knew it would be a huge effort to pull off, but I decided I had to paint the cabinets white. And if you are shooting for cheery white cabinets, then they need to be cheery white on the side too, especially since that super sticky-tacky contact paper was used to line every last shelf and drawer.

Fast forward. Once in a blue moon I’d have a day free to tackle the paint job. It was tough to pull off because this room was constantly in use, so my painting days had to be full days I could get a lot of it done. Everything had to be hauled out to tackle the painting, and then hauled back in.  Because the laundry room was often in disarray, it became a sort of catch-all room for objects that didn’t have a home. Two years went by before I finally paid someone to paint the cabinets and the walls in a way that I realized I simply didn’t have the time to do. What a relief!

And then it stayed that way for another six months until I could purge my home of all the collected do-dads, reorganize what we would store in the cabinets, paint the trim, hang a shelf and curtains, lay down a rug, and decorate as the final touch. Here are some photos of the finished product.


Over the years, as “incentive” I told myself I could start no new home projects until the laundry room was done. It didn’t really work. Some things just couldn’t wait. Others did, but now I have a massive backlog of stuff that needs repair and updating.

I even took a couple of last-minute vacation days earlier this month to finish the job, once and for all. I posted my photos on Facebook for friends to see, as they had heard about this journey I had been on all these years. Got the requisite oohs and aahs from my photos. I’m proud of my work, my vision for the room, and how it turned out. I love doing laundry in there now. And it has stayed nice and clean ever since.

But the strangest thing about this remodeling journey is this: somewhere along the way of these five years, a load has been taken off my shoulders. I suddenly look at the list of home projects and it doesn’t overwhelm me. I know exactly where all the tools are and whether I have what I need to pull it off, and if I don’t, I head to the hardware store and pickup the few things I need to work the job.

I don’t mind doing the renovation work myself. As a matter of fact, I really love restoring objects to their former beauty or making them better than before. It’s a kind of meditation all unto itself. And believe me, this mom of small kids CRAVED time to meditate.

But now that the load of doing the laundry (room) has been removed, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. The passage of time has hit me a little hard. My children are all five years older. The tiny little knick-knacky toys that are the hallmark of early childhood are slowly being phased out of our house, so they don’t clutter the laundry room anymore. No more bubble stuff, Fisher-Price Little People, lego pieces, Barbie shoes, tempera paint, Play-Doh…. Where did it all go? Wait!? You mean, all that will be left is just….laundry now?

Suddenly doing the laundry is a breeze. There’s tons of counter space to fold and the kids take their clean clothes back to their rooms…and two of the three even do the laundry themselves now.  I need to hang a picture frame? Boom! It’s easy to find the hammer and nail to make it happen. Need an old towel to dry off the patio chairs after a rain? Boom! Easy to spot, easy to grab. Need a dust mop? Same thing.

I can’t figure out whether this room was truly the hub of the house such that whipping it into shape was critical to a well-functioning home or whether the inability to finish the renovation was the giant obstacle getting in the way of other progress in my life. I don’t think this is coincidence.

Who knew that I was really working my way through a load of laundry of a different kind all this time?