On life and planners

Yesterday after work I went to Staples and got myself a small planner.  I’m gonna get my life together!  (Well, ok, *sort of* together.)

It has a pretty cover.

In my previous job, I had a google calendar on my work account that other people could see, and I could see theirs.  This made meeting planning more easy.  For personal life, I wrote things on scraps of paper.

In my academic job before that, I had a large paper planner with 1 page per day and I wrote EVERYTHING in there, which was the only way I stayed sane.  Haircuts, office hours, meetings, to-do lists, deadlines, birthdays, everything.

Now, I have too many scraps of paper and work calendars aren’t great.  I was hoping to share an electronic one with my boss, but she has an idiosyncratic system so that’s not gonna work.  So!  For the first time in like FOUR YEARS I am going back to an integrated calendar for work and life.  It’ll be on paper so I don’t have to log into anything to see it wherever I am.  And it’s pretty.  I discovered I needed it when I (finally!) made a haircut appointment and had no good place to write it down.

Isn’t it great how many varieties of little notebooky things there are these days???

It’s really hard to find perfection.  I spent a long time at Staples.  The good news is, they have many customizable and build-your-own options there, so you can put in the types of pages you want.  (task-planning?  to-do list?  month-per-page?  day-per-page?  etc.)

I think there’s some metaphors for life in the above.

#2 has a Moleskine notebook that isn’t perfect, but she’s satisficing.  (Perfect was the free calendars that various professional groups used to give away each year before everyone had online calendars on their phones instead.)  Her DH keeps all the family stuff on Google calendars, but #2 hasn’t switched over yet (plus her work is still on Outlook calendar(!)), though she does have google calendar on her computers and phone.  There’s still something nice about being able to flip through a paper book to see things and to be able to write things down with a pen instead of thumbs (plus I’m bad about keeping my phone on me– I often leave it attached to a charger, whereas my dayplanner generally stays in its dedicated spot in my Binh bag when not in use).

How do you plan your life, your work and everything?  Are you old school paper?  100% electronic?  100% memory?  100% personal assistant?  Do you integrate work and life or have separate systems for separate spheres?  How has your planning changed over the years? 

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35 Responses to “On life and planners”

  1. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    For my personal stuff, I use Todoist, Google Calendar, and my email inbox which functions as a buffer to my to do list when I don’t have it in me to put things in Todoist. For my last job I used Outlook for meetings and had a running list of things to do written on a legal pad that I’d refresh every couple of days. I expect at my next job I’ll mostly be using JIRA for task management.

    My favorite organization system was from when I was in college,: I had everything in iCal, which at the time allowed you to associate tasks with different calendars. So I had everything (tasks and meetings) in one place and could toggle through personal, school work, part time job, extracurriculars, etc. It also made time blocking my schedule (“finish math problem set from 1-3 PM,” for instance) really easy. At some point Apple removed tasks from iCal though, which borked my whole system.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    I am a little bit obsessive about my planner. Okay, way more than “a little bit” obsessive.

    I use Google Calendar because my school does, and because I’ve discovered that it’s been super helpful to get my first-generation students into some kind of a calendar system early — I lead by example, but also give extra credit to students who keep their schedule there and who learn to make appointments through it. A bit of a life skill for them.

    But I also use a paper planner. In 1992, I got totally hooked on Franklin planners (even back before they became “Franklin-Covey”). Over the years, I figured out how to make pages for myself using Excel — each page has devoted space for my schedule, for a to-do list, for notes, and also for the “value” I work on that day (“service”, “gratitude”, “family fun”, etc).

    I start every week by making sure my two calendars are still “synched” and by planning my week. I start every day by organizing my daily to-do list. I go through each day by checking where I am along that list. I really love my planner.

    About two decades ago, my boyfriend teased me for freaking about about losing my planner (it was only lost for a half-hour). He is no longer my boyfriend, needless to say.

    (Thanks for the link love in recent weeks, by the way!)

  3. CG Says:

    We use and love iCal. The family calendar we set up has helped our marriage. Instead of arguing about can I do this thing or can you do that thing, or you didn’t tell me we had this going on, we just add it to the calendar and then everyone can see it. I have a different color for work stuff, and one for personal stuff that my husband doesn’t need to see (haircuts, for example). My husband travels every week for work on an unpredictable schedule, so his assistant has set up a calendar just for his travel that shows up on our family calendar so I can see when he’s coming and going. This makes me feel a bit spoiled but it actually makes a big difference in our planning (we tried having emailed calendar invites for a while but I had to accept every one and then they would change and it drove me nuts). I also like the ability to set up alerts for things that are weird one-offs I’m likely to forget otherwise (erm, parent-teacher conferences).

    For many years I used (and loved) my Sierra Club spiral bound calendar, but then we had kids and our lives got too complicated and we weren’t communicating well about who had what when (see arguments above) so iCal has worked out really well for us.

    • Leigh Says:

      Family calendar is so key! Whoever creates or accepts a thing is responsible for putting it on the calendar and it is super helpful.

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Today I called my state peeps about the put more guns in schools initiatives that my state government is pushing (isn’t it sad that you can’t tell where I live based on that statement because so many states have these initiatives?). But yesterday I called my members of congress to support Senator Mike Lee’s bill to require Congressional approval of the administration’s new tariffs, and the day before I called again about #EndFamilySeparation. Maybe 5calls has something of interest to you? https://5calls.org/

  5. Anu Says:

    I use a combination of different systems. Work uses Outlook, which I actually don’t mind. It works really well at the stuff it’s meant to do, like figuring out the best time to meet with overscheduled coworkers and booking conference rooms. The actual to do list stuff and planning I do in an old-fashioned notebook, Bullet Journal style. I’ve found it to really work for me.

    For home stuff we use an app – Cozi – that integrates meal planning and recipes, a calendar with alerts and to do and grocery lists, all of which can be shared between my husband and me. My husband also likes to update an old-fashioned wall calendar, but I don’t really rely on that much. We also both tend to use notebooks for generating to do lists and brainstorming.

  6. gwinne Says:

    Paper. Paper. Paper.

    Right now I have a Moleskine professional planner that has a 2 page spread per week, plus 2 extra pages per week for notes/to do list/etc. This is working quite well for me as a combo notebook/planner.

  7. Debbie M Says:

    Your university may give away planners for students–we had an office that made planners for the student athletes and then made extras to give away. They were pretty dang nice.

    I love online calendars for sharing–I have one at work (when I work) and one at home. I like that it can give me reminders. And I like that I can schedule regular events, even donating blood which is every 8 weeks (and then I tweak it from that date on if we’re sick or unavailable after exactly 8 weeks). I *don’t* like that some of the people who accidentally use my e-mail address instead of theirs are also able to add their calendar entries to my calendar. Fortunately, when you delete an event, it gives you the option to delete all the events, so it’s (still) pretty easy to deal with. I feel bad about the flight information those folks are not getting on their calendars.

    But I also have my own thingy that has evolved over the, um, decades. I call it a kaper chart. It has five little charts, each for a different week. (I originally tried to make a thing for one month, but it was wasteful, so now it’s a five-week planner).

    Across the top of each week’s chart are the days of the week. Down the side are various chores. Currently those are:
    * steps/weight – I write down how many steps are on my pedometer and how much I weigh in the morning.
    * dishes/laundry – I write a D for every time I do dishes and and L for every time I do laundry. This is stupidly motivating to me because I can feel all whiny/heroic when I do dishes three times in one day or whatever.
    * water/produce – I tally the glasses of water I drink, and write a V or F for each serving of vegetables or fruit. I also write a v or f for things that shouldn’t count as a serving but are still something, like fries or the vegetables that come on a burger.
    * exercise – I write whatever I do besides walking.
    * brush/floss/sleep – I write B and F for when I brush or floss and I write how many hours of sleep I got the night before. (I don’t wake up in the middle of the night much or take naps, so this one number works for me.)
    * other productive – this is for stuff like going to work, donating blood, fixing stuff, or studying Spanish. (I may make a new row for Spanish at some point.)
    * fun – this is for stuff like movies, video games, parties, etc. Not that I forget to have fun, but I just like to write it for some reason.

    I sometimes pencil in things like work and parties before I do them so that this can act like a planning calendar as well. (No ink until it’s actually accomplished.)

    Then across the bottom I have one more chart for things I don’t try to do every day. Across the top I list the weeks (week 1, week 2, etc.). Down one side, I list these chores:
    * wash sheets
    * wash shower curtain
    * clean bathroom
    * sweep
    * vacuum
    * mop
    * pull weeds
    * back-up computer
    * organize [something random]
    * water plants

    In the boxes, I just write (an abbreviation for) which day(s) of the week I did the thing.

    Then I fold it in half three times, and on the back side make to-do lists. And when I hear good ideas from people, I’ll write them here until I can record them in some more useful place.

    Related: my grocery list is on a used envelope magneted to the side of the fridge. Inside the envelope is where we store coupons.

    I used to use the little Hallmark annual calendar with a different box for each day of the week. Then I lost access to a Hallmark store. As a summer camp counselor, we got one-week calendars too keep track of all the activities for kids, which I really liked. Then I enjoyed various planners, but they need to at least have a section for notes (non-date-related to-dos) outside the actual calendar part. I’ve tweaked things over the years until I settled on my current system. Now I love that I have my own thing, which gets tweaked the way I want it to rather than borked.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Speaking of letters to keep track of things … I got used to putting the letter P down when I was TTC, so I still do that… I think I probably wouldn’t if I were doing it on an online calendar, but who knows.

    • Matthew D Healy Says:

      When I was an undergrad, the local Mortar Board chapter sold nice planners that of course had all our class periods, University Holidays, major official events, and so forth. If you’re on a campus it’s handy to have all the institutional stuff already filled in.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    For work, I use the Office calendar (Outlook) plus the actions report generated by our docket team, and a month-at-a-glance calendar (currently a National Parks calendar, always one with good pictures of wildlife and/or the outdoors) where I note paydays, any planned absences, etc.

    At home I have another picture calendar (currently Sierra Club) and I note things that the husband and I will or could do together.

    And in my Notebook of Brain I have yet another picture calendar (currently Audubon) whereon is noted every remotely personal plan, event, or obligation to be found on the office and the home calendars.

    I don’t use my phone for to-do’s, at all. I am one of those lucky people with very very few must-do’s aside from going to work, and also I have very firmly entrenched routines such that I typically don’t need to remind myself to do things.

  9. SP Says:

    I love the IDEA of systems to stay organized, but I haven’t found anything that I stick to. Maintaining the systems takes work. So, everything is a bit haphazard right now and it relies a lot on my memory…. I don’t think this is good, but I haven’t had enough problems with it to motivate me to be more disciplined with a simple system.

    I use a few google calendars, and sync everything up with my phone and both of my laptops (so I have it no matter what device I’m using). So, I have separate e-mails/calendars for work/personal, but they all show up in the same place (just different colors) in my iCal. I use paper to-do lists for more short term things at work, and I kind of use my e-mail as a secondary to-do list (mostly just responding to e-mails, which often requires completing tasks). But that means i don’t just let e-mails sit in my inbox, or at least I limit it to about 150 or less (which is still a lot!) and clear it out occasionally.

    I also have some electronic Google Sheets to-do lists for certain personal things, like longer term house projects or everything we need to do & buy before the baby comes. Recurring personal to-do items are ad hoc and not written down.

    I have a big yearly wall calendar to help me visualize longer term things this year (significant travel, deadlines, etc.) because I can’t get the same effect with my google calendar. We also hang a monthly calendar at home, but really only because it has pictures of cute dogs on it. I don’t think we even look at the date parts.

    I have a paper planner, but do not stick to using it. Luckily, it is the “fill in the date yourself” kind, so I don’t feel too bad when I pick it up again and try to use it, then drop it for a few moths…

  10. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I used to be 100% paper planner but now I have shifted to 95% GCal for family appointments and some bills, and then 5% is memory / random paper notebook notes to self.

    I would love to go back to 100% paper in the tactile sense but hate to have to worry about toting one more thing and possibly losing the thing, or losing it to a loose capped water bottle like I nearly did a handful of things a few weeks ago. Though it’s very possible to lose it all to a drenched phone as well.

  11. crazy mama, PhD Says:

    I’m 100% old school paper. I have a monthly/weekly planner, where the months are my calendar and the week pages are for taking notes and mapping out the flow of particularly busy days. My wife and I manually sync our planners to the wall calendar in the kitchen.

    Starting last year, I added a larger task notebook that I’ve divided up by subject (kids vs. general household vs. career vs. hobbies) and use for detailed to-do lists. Every big-ish task gets its own page with checkboxes for its subtasks, e.g., there’s a page for “get kid’s passport” with the subtasks “call photo studio,” “print form,” “schedule time at post office,” etc. Anything with a specific time associated gets added to my planner.

  12. bethh Says:

    My work uses outlook so I have that as one calendar on my iphone (I guess I must be using the ical app?). I use google cal for my personal life stuff, and have that also showing on my phone. What I like is that on vacations or weekends I can turn my work calendar off so I don’t have that reminder.

    I tend to want to do ALL the fun things so I put stuff on my calendar right away when I hear about it, then delete it if I don’t do it, so I have a semi-good record of my activities for Posterity (or for as long as gcal sticks around). I have entries back to March 2008!

  13. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I use Google calendar for both work and home scheduling (same calendar). I don’t use the Google calendar forced on me at work (I filled it with “I don’t use this calendar”), because I found that staff assumed that any time that I wasn’t already in a meeting was fair game for scheduling me, and that does not work for me. I want to be asked about availability, because a calendar can’t handle the nuances of different priorities and what things can be rescheduled if absolutely necessary.

    My wife uses a paper calendar hanging in the kitchen.

    My son uses a number of separate Google calendars, some of which he has shared with me.

  14. Leigh Says:

    I loved the agenda books in college so much. But I was too cheap to buy myself one for work, so I had some pretty unorganized paper systems for a while. I eventually bought a big yearly Moleskine daily planner, with pages for each day! It was so great! It was far bigger than I needed though so I switched to a similar version that is their smallest notebook size and came with a different notebook for each month. Those were great because I could easily carry it in my purse! They had so many pages at the beginning that I didn’t care about though so I started replicating the books with blank lined Moleskine books of the same size last fall, more bullet journal esque with exactly what I need and it’s great!

    I like to do yearly and monthly goals. Last year, I did quarterly and weekly goals too. I have a daily habit tracker for water, steps, barre, reading, journaling and misc. and then each day, usually the night before, I write out my to do list for the following day.

    I use google calendar for any time based things outside of the house or with someone else coming to the house. Those go on my paper to do list for the day so that I can plan around them too.

    Being organized is so crucial to me getting things done! I’ve tried phone or web apps before and I’ve found they work best for overall project planning, but not for day to day, these are the pieces I plan to do today. I’m not someone who blocks out 1-3 pm I’m doing this task though – that’s not me.

  15. eemusings Says:

    Imperfect! Work stuff on work Outlook cal, Personal stuff via GCal, unless there is something that crosses over into work/personal hours and then I put it on both… Reminders on iphone i use for mostly personal to dos and occasionally work stuff.

    I have a physical journal I use for, like goal setting, longer term stuff, not the daily stuff but I do try to pop on things like key work achievements or fun things we did, into the calendar section, for posterity! So I can look back and see what happened this month.

  16. accm Says:

    iCal, with separate calendars for work and home, plus subscriptions to feeds for collaboration telecons, departmental seminars, and scheduled observations with a telescope that I often use. I still too often end up with overlapping events.

  17. Cloud Says:

    My work calendar is in Outlook. My personal calendar is in Google. I manually transfer personal things I need to block off on my work calendar and I like it that way: It let’s me control work’s visibility into my personal stuff while still putting all the details I want into my Google calendar. Family events go on my Google calendar and an invite gets sent to my husband’s Google calendar. He does the same for events he schedules. (Yeah, I know we could have a shared family Google calendar and both view it, but we like it this way). We also have a paper calendar in the kitchen where we write things- that way the kids can see them, too.

    For task management, I have a three layered system for my personal projects and home tasks: Trello for project specific “deep backlog”- things I might get to some day. A physical kanban board with the current project/publishing things I’m working on (e.g., “promote X book”) and one off home chores that will take more than a day (e.g.: fix storage in the guest room). And then an old-fashioned paper to do list for the actual tasks I plan to do in a specified period of time (e.g., “send contracts to 2019 authors”). The period of time covered by one to do list fluctuates a bit, but right now I tend to have one per week for project work, and then a shared weekend to do list with my husband, where we also note any fun commitments (e.g, the 5th grade end of school party that is happening this weekend).

    At work, I use whatever the team likes. I work in software, so that’s usually JIRA.

    • Cloud Says:

      I will add: work calendar etiquette is one of the biggest cultural differences I see in how academics work vs. how industry works. Academics tend to be horrified by the thought of someone scheduling a meeting by just booking free time on their calendar. Industry types tend to be horrified by the thought of having to check individually with all the people needed in a meeting to get agreement before sending a calendar meeting invitation. I don’t think either way is right or wrong- I just mention it as an FYI for people moving from one environment to the other!

      • Anu Says:

        So true! I have to say though, having moved from academia to industry, the academic method was really tough for those lower on the totem pole like grad students. Nailing down a date for a meeting would usually take upwards of a dozen emails and a Doodle poll. The industry method just is way more efficient and no one’s stopping you from blocking off chunks of time for concentrated work or declining a meeting / proposing a new time if a chunk marked free is not really free.

  18. bogart Says:

    My work uses Outlook, but because it is the academy is mostly resigned to the reality that not everyone uses it, or uses it well — I am in that second category. I do have an Outlook work calendar and use it somewhat, but need to update it if someone wants to use it to schedule stuff for me.

    We have google calendars. I have my work calendar on one, our family calendar on another, and my own private calendar on yet a third that I rarely use but will occasionally put things that no one but me really needs to know about. My husband has one, my mom has one, and our school system creates one (so does my son’s soccer team). It’s really most excellent.

    I’ve used various to-do list systems, currently using Workflowy a bit. I’m not great about using those, or keeping them updated, I’m afraid.

    We have a paper calendar at home and I have one in my office — I like being able quickly to glance and see “What date is the last Friday in June” or whatever, but I don’t use it for anything other than a quick visual reference. We either get them for free or get given them, and there is one (that supports a local non-profit) that I like, so I ask for it for Christmas.

  19. First Gen American Says:

    Work used outlook so that’s what I use. I heavily rely on it for everything. I put my personal stuff in there too. Doctors appts, birthdays, etc. I had franklin covey training once upon a time, then with so much travel, I moved to the thing that came before blackberry, then blackberry, then finally iPhone 4.

    I am still a failure about keeping customer notes electronically and have tried to keep important notes in a leather bound notebook but it would be easier if I could organize them by account not by date….but I have so many accounts I touch. Easily dozens at any given time and hundreds over the years…so still struggling there. Tried iPad apps but they just didn’t work. Some folks have success keeping folders of loose paper but then I have to file stuff and that’s even more disorganized because I hate filing so it just piles up until it’s out of control and have to spend a day cleaning it up.

    I used to use the outlook to do list and tried many fancy paid to do list apps but none stuck til I found Minimalist app. It is very simple and I use it for groceries and random errand things. Easy to enter, easy to delete. No frills. I decided the need to categorize and color code just detracted me from using a bigger app when I just need to note something quickly.

    For anything requiring deadlines I try to book a calendar appt.

    • First Gen American Says:

      I will further say that having a bad memory forces me to document a lot of things so meeting minutes are key for actions next steps and general accountability for projects. I mainly do it because of my lack of memory and amount of busyness. Its easy for things to fall through the cracks when you have many tasks to juggle on a daily basis.

      My email is also out of control. Its been years since I’ve been able to keep my inbox empty. Part if it was moving from outlook to google to save money and then back to outlook so i had archives in multiple places. Now i just archive the whole inbox and search by customer or project name. Outlook could improve their search functionality as i still have trouble finding some things i know i have. I try now to download important attachments and still periodically pull things over to folders.

      I should color code emails from my boss again. That was handy. I used to automatically put them in a folder too but then you can’t access from mobile device so i stopped that due to heavy travel.

      I also have reems of technical data and a trick from a colleague was that it is okay to file the same data in two different places or even three, because I was always trying to remember which folder I put things into or what the file was called. So i got into the habit of renaming things with longer more descriptive file names and filing in a few logical spots instead of trying to rememeber which the most logical folder for something to be in.

      I am still a go to person on a lot of stuff and have a reputation of being organized so my cobbled together system seems to work but there is still so much more I could do. I am always looking to learn more so very interested in this topic.

      Last but not least, will i ever get out of the habit of writing things down on literally the backs of envelopes? My piles of notes everywhere are ridiculous. I have a steno pad for throw away one time notes but i dont always have it by my side.

      End rant.

  20. Matthew D Healy Says:

    I’m about to start a new job so right now I use my personal Google Calendar for everything. Probably once at my new job I’ll use whatever other people there use for work-related stuff and continue using Google Calendar for personal stuff.

    One favorite trick of mine, for Online Bill Pay on my bank’s website: whenever I happen to get a monthly statement from a recurring account with a zero or credit balance, upon receipt I will immediately make a payment to them of five dollars. Several times a month I view all my Online Bill Pay accounts, sorted by Last Payment. By making a small payment when I do not owe somebody anything, I make that sort order more useful: if it has been more than 30 days since I paid somebody, then I go over to their website and see whether I missed a bill from them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I use my good credit privilege to beg forgiveness (or point out it was their mistake) whenever there’s a missed bill, which hasn’t happened in several years. Most of my bills go to my credit card now that we no longer have daycare or mortgage, so it’s just a matter of looking over the statement each month to make sure that everything is correct. The CC bills themselves I check on the bank register each time I update for DH’s 2x a month paycheck (there are only 3 CC, sometimes 4, so that’s pretty easy to do). And I check that the piano teacher has gotten a check with DH’s first paycheck of the month. (The violin teacher wanted 12 checks all at once that she deposits monthly.)

      • Matthew D Healy Says:

        When there is no “convenience fee” for autopay with credit card then I use CC, but although I certainly could afford to pay those fees I still resent them enough that I don’t pay by CC when they charge a fee.

        Right now things are unusually complicated because the new job is 1000 miles away and for complicated reasons we had to get out of Old House before moving to New State. So in May I was paying utility and other bills on the house and on a temporary apartment, and now am paying bills on temporary apartment and new townhouse. Looking forward to when I am only dealing with bills for one place!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I pay the fees now! (This is a recent development though.) Congratulations on the new job!

  21. iBourgie Says:

    I am an old school pen and paper kind of girl. I love the ARC planners from Staples. I have three of them and they are totally customizable. The large one also is compatible with the large Happy Planner inserts as they are both disc-bound.


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