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

 

 

And this concludes our episode of “The Doldrums”

Yeah, I’ve been in a funk. I don’t like it there. No fun whatsoever. I get down in the dumps about the state of the proverbial this, that, and the other…and yes, I have a lot of life to sort through. I have friends who think I live a charmed life, and while I don’t want to necessarily pop that balloon…cuz balloons are happy and who doesn’t like happy?… it’s not the whole truth.

I also don’t often admit when I’m down in the dumps. I mean, my husband knows. The kids know. Oh boy, does the immediate family know! They deserve hazard pay for those days… But I don’t like to talk about it with people because 1) the last thing I need to be is a complainer, 2) I’m embarrassed by that sort of attention, and 3) most people don’t know me well enough to help, anyway. They try to get me to count my blessings, as if I don’t do that every day. I do. Believe me, I know I’m fortunate and blessed beyond what most people could ever hope for.

So I don’t share much with people face to face. Online, however? I’m a little more of an open book. Funny, isn’t it?

But these last few weeks, it’s been a little harder to hide. I mean, I’m talking grief pouring out of me. CRYING. SOBBING. Showing up at work with puffy eyes and a red nose, and no, I’m not Rudolph! I don’t know when was the last time I’ve cried. It’s been YEARS. I’ve gotten so numb about certain life events I can’t even cry about them anymore, but this last month or so of introspection revealed new insights that left some pretty raw, gaping wounds I didn’t even know I had.

I have been thinking about the trajectory of my life, what I hoped for when I was younger, significant heartbreak I’ve had along the way, relationships that died for no apparent reason I could find and others that did because of neglect on my part. The hard work and sacrifice for a career that doesn’t seem to yield the fruit I was trying to grow, and the aspects of my life that were put on hold either because of my career, or maybe it was more like the career was a very helpful distraction from all of the heartbreak. I had my act together at one time…as close as one could, I suppose. And then more life happens and throws your plans all to hell, and along with it goes your confidence.

The reckoning sucks. It does. I don’t know how to sugarcoat that. Not anymore! 20-30-40 years go by and you can see the arc of events, the forks in the road you didn’t know were there at the time you encountered them, the friends, the foes, the frenemies…. I really dislike those kind of people. But let’s not talk about them because today concludes this episode of The Doldrums.

I can tell I may have turned a corner. Last night before falling asleep, I told myself that if my eyes popped open at an early hour, I would get my lazy butt up outta bed and walk outside. The weather has been pleasant. I’ve had a nasty cough that has started to get better, so no more pawning it off on illness. Besides, my inner voice has been telling me to get up and walk in the early morning since, oh, I don’t know…2002? So I made a bet with my tomorrow self and dozed off into la-la-land.

Wouldn’t you know: my eyes voluntarily popped open at 5am. I immediately wanted to bargain with Tuesday night’s Denise that I really didn’t mean it, haha.
By 5:50, I had sneakers on and off I went throughout the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I served as the neighborhood rooster with loud coughing fits every .3 miles or so but I got 2.7 miles in today. It felt so good. Why is it so hard to put sneakers on at 5 am when it otherwise feels so good when you do at 6 am?

I deliberately left the earbuds behind, too. No music today…I just wanted to hear the sounds of the neighborhood and mindfully take in the spring sights. I noticed the nicely manicured lawns, pops of light purple flowers carpeting the ground everywhere, the crabtree-109507-unsplashbirds tweeting (oh, how I love it, no lie), and the houses with overgrown dandelions up to my kneecaps, ready to take flight.

So much thinking, planning, conviction. I ace that stuff.

See, back in 2001 I hatched this idea that I wanted to be a life coach. I liked being a consultant, and I was for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But it drove me a little crazy that I was often part of the public accounting audit team and responsible for providing all manner of information technology evaluations for our audit clients who were not required to correct any of the legitimate errors I pointed out. The lead financial auditors argued that as long as the financial numbers were adjusted to be correct, the systems and processes that produced those numbers could be incredibly crappy and faulty. Their job was to confirm the numbers were a fair representation of the business, period. The auditors would swoop in, find the errors, require that the client plug a number to fix it, and all would be happy. Until Enron happened and the whole 2002 Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) law basically made it clear that not only did the financial numbers need to be right, the systems and processes that were used to create those numbers needed to right as well. SOX was the law that gave my old PwC job total and complete legitimacy it did not have when I worked it.

So at PwC, I got paid very, very well to identify these errors no one ever had to fix. That was bizarre for a number of reasons but the most important one was it wasn’t fulfilling to me. That was me, collecting a big fat paycheck doing GREAT work, but not making a positive difference in anyone’s life, in all honesty. I’m probably judging myself a little harshly there. I was a very good people manager and coach. I knew and still know information technology risk, governance, and control very well. But back in 2001, I was burnt out. Done with that.

Instead of working with some of the largest public companies who could not have cared less about my advice at the time, I wanted to work with individuals and small businesses on plans that directly impacted their lives in a positive way. Business plans, job searches, life plans…whatever it took.

I took the plunge to start that new line of work, giving up a six figure income to risk it. I helped a former co-worker land a job with Oprah Winfrey, guided another acquaintance as she transitioned her brick and mortar business to online (or maybe it was vice versa…I am writing this late at night and can’t remember of the top of my head), and coached a former PwC client of mine to navigate the path to finishing his PhD. It was meaningful. I long to do meaningful work. But from the age of 19 I was pretty much financially responsible for my life so a earning a great income was not optional. Plus I had the smarts for it, so why waste that sort of talent?

Now as a side note, I hung my shingle in July 2001. My personal business plan did not consider that terrorists would turn our world completely upside down two months later, and the very people I hoped to hire me would struggle to keep afloat themselves. Still, I kept at the coaching until shortly after our first child was born, roughly 2.5 years later. I struggled with making so very little money relatively speaking yet making a difference in my work, having a new mouth to feed, and knowing that I had the skills and once had a job that paid several times what my coaching business was currently bringing in. Who knew when the economy, and post 9/11 life, would be normal again, if it ever would?

Still, I was pretty gun-ho about life coaching and life planning for that matter, and to improve my skills I attended LifeLaunch in September 2001 (two weeks after 9/11), the first class among several offered by The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara to become a certified Life Coach.

It was there I was introduced to The Cycle of Renewal. I will write about this more formally another time, but to keep a long story short, there are four phases and you can move cyclically through them or slosh between a couple for a while: Going For It, The Doldrums, Cocooning, and Getting Ready. You can only imagine the state of mind of the 20-30 of us attending that class that month. It was a hugely enriching experience.

So I’m not kidding when I refer to The Doldrums. I have known it well. A lot of my career at PwC was spent in The Doldrums. It’s an outstanding firm, don’t get me wrong, and working there was absolutely incredible in terms of the scope and quality of learning. I mean, they even tapped me for a 16-week technology training course, full salary and all expenses paid, in Tampa, Florida. Our motto during that 1991 class was, “It sucks to be us” because we KNEW how fortunate we were to acquire the working-world equivalent of a masters in technology.

But I digress. I’m officially all over the place with this post. The point is, The Doldrums are a heck of a place to get stuck. At the Hudson Institute, I learned the characteristics of each phase in the Cycle of Renewal, and what activities help a person through a transition to the next phase of the cycle.

So ta-da! Yesterday, I essentially assessed my current situation and outlined a plan once again for what I could focus on, what I could do that was positive, and by golly, I had already started taking steps in the right direction. I wanted to take credit for the tiny baby steps I had started without even realizing it.

Nope, I’m not gonna outline all of them here in this post, but let’s just say I’m reaching out to people who are incredibly important to me, even if it is briefly to say thank you for the joy, the love, and/or the insight they offered at one point in time. I realize I have knocked off a big home project off my list of to-dos, freeing up some mental capacity to focus on my health. I’ve taken steps to expand my social outreach, which is a big step for this introvert. I’ve decided I’m going to dust off one of my gifts and start singing again…somehow, someway. (Incidentally tonight I heard an 8th grader sing jazz accompanied by an incredible high school big band ensemble and it lit a fire under me not to be outshined by a 13-year-old!) And I’m going to do some serious professional career planning.

Because gosh darn it, I do a great job of visioning and outlining the steps to make it happen. I have a hard time executing, but the planning? That energizes me. Finding obstacles and knowing how to remove them? Yep, I can do that too. DOING IT is of course, much harder. But you know what? I’ve done hard things. I’ve done them very well. 50 years of hard things. And I know reward. Reward rocks. Anything else is just sissy talk. Time to buck up and do it.

Go all Nike. Just do it.

The best thing about this is I recognize The Doldrums enough to know when I’m there, and while it may be inevitable to visit that place now and then, it isn’t ok to take up permanent residence there.

Nice to be back among the living…