Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Planning a Planner

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
A few years ago, while my husband and I were browsing at the warehouse club near my parents' home, I came across a spiral-bound planner. It was done in lovely florals and pastels and reeked of optimism. I couldn't help myself. I picked it up. I opened it, and was immediately overcome by one thought.

Are they kidding? If I could fit my life into these skinny little columns, I wouldn't need  a planner!

Nearby, a binder called "the ultimate organizer" (in soothing lower case letters) also called out to me. This one offered to be the tool that put my life in order, but all I could think was that if I had time to file things by category and use all the lovely labels and folders provided in this beautiful, Type A tool, I would have already done so, which would render this system just as useless as the pretty floral planner with the skinny columns.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure these organizers work for someone, and that someone will be overjoyed not only to flip through these tools, but purchase them and take them home. There, they will use them and reap the benefits proclaimed on the front covers.

I'm just not that someone.

Planners are the first step toward organizing our time and, as such, should match our styles just as our organizational systems do. As we set goals and make plans for the new year, the right planner can help us to keep track of not only our appointments, but our goals as well.

If you're still looking for something to suit your styles, here are a few questions to get you thinking before you shop:

Electronic or paper? Do you use your phone for everything? If so, you might already have the perfect planner at your fingertips. Don't like the calendar on your device? Analyzing its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your planning needs can help you figure out what you're looking for....
and what you're not.

As an I need to see it girl, I prefer hard copies, but I like the convenience of entering and keeping track of my appointments on the calendar on my laptop. So, after a great deal of experimentation (and a few missed appointments), I've adopted a system that gives me the best of both worlds. I use the calendar on my laptop, but print updated copies throughout the month, which I review with my family (so I can add things that are on their schedules, but not written down anywhere). Then, I post the printed copy on the bulletin board in our kitchen. We've also tried syncing the various calendars electronically, but haven't always had success with this. Until we do, I'll stick with my paper back-up.
Parked or portable? For most people, having just one planner or calendar is best. That said, I know some I love to be busy folks who keep separate calendars for work and home. If you are one of those people, be honest with yourself about how well it's working for you. How often do you forget something that's in the "other" calendar? Never? Great! Keep up the good work! Sometimes? Maybe you need a plan for combining your calendars.

Whether your two planner system is less efficient than you'd like or you simply prefer to keep your calendar parked, a system for keeping track of appointments you make on the run is essential. You can try a pencil and paper plan, such as jotting them in a notebook that you check regularly so your calendar stays up to date, or something a bit more tech-savvy, such as syncing your calendars or sending yourself an email to remind yourself to add the on-the-fly appointments to the calendar.

Tight shot or panorama? What kind of layout do you like? A page a day? The whole week (or month) at a glance? Do you need space to make lists, room for addresses, phone numbers and future plans? Or do you just need a small calendar with dates that will fit in your purse or pocket?

Although all of our appointments go on the calendar on my laptop/kitchen bulletin board, I love my  6 x 9 page-a-day desktop calendar because it gives me room to make lists and put my appointment reminders right where I can see them. Over time, I've started using inexpensive calendars to track goals, ideas and progress for my writing and a separate calendar to keep track of assignment due dates and what I've covered in the classes I teach. While the calendar on my laptop holds all of my appointments, I find that an inexpensive month-at-a-glance calendar with room in the back for notes is useful for tracking progress. No, I'm not breaking my one calendar rule; I use these calendars as notebooks with date. No appointments go inside.

What's the most important feature of a calendar? Its ease of use. It doesn't matter if your calendar is a clearance bin generic version or an expensive personalized agenda with a monogrammed leather cover.

What matters is whether or not it will make your life easier, and it can't do that if you won't use it.

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