Tag Archives: Organization

A Few Additional Dates for Your 2014 Calendar

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Happy New Year! While New Year’s Eve is not my favorite holiday, when I was little, I loved that my parents used to save several fireworks from the Fourth of July so that my best friend and I could launch a few at midnight. Now I live in a town that bans fireworks entirely, and I’d much prefer to get sleep than stay up until midnight. While my celebrations are far more reserved these days, I do like the fresh feeling of a new calendar.

By now, you’ve likely prepared your calendar for 2014. This, in fact, is a ritual I prefer to viewing the Times Square ball drop. Perhaps you input important holidays, travel plans, and birthdays. In this post, I’d like to share a few suggestions for more obscure items to add to your planner. There are a few additional things I like to add to my calendar at the start of a new year. Today I’m sitting down at my laptop and searching several key dates for 2014. Depending on where you live, some of these may not apply, but here are some items to consider adding to your calendar now:

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Launching a New Week, Part Two

My last post discussed how I use a “Weekly Launch” routine to prepare for a new week. Most of what I wrote yesterday wasn’t specific to my Filofax. Today, I will share how I sit down to set up my planner for the week.

I have three paper calendars or agendas, in addition to the dry erase weekly calendar I shared yesterday. Each serves a distinct purpose.

  1. Stapled monthly calendar – This calendar holds every event I need to track for our family. It’s thin, so I can carry it with me easily. Since this is the family calendar, the large size of each calendar square works perfectly for me. I use color to distinguish who does what…
  2. My A5 “Week on 2 Pages” layout – The WO2P tracks my personal schedule for each day. It gives me a chronological plan, and I omit activities that don’t impact what I’m doing or where I need to be. For example, if my husband is taking my daughter to swimming, I don’t include it in my personal schedule; it goes on the family calendar, though. I also include time-specific tasks. In between the two-page spread, I use a piece of lined paper for tasks that can be done at any time during the week. For 2014, I’m trying the layout with boxes, rather than the vertical lined days. Fingers crossed!
  3. My A5 “Month on 2 Pages” layout – I use the MO2P calendar to track my writing tasks for each day. I’m basically my own boss when it comes to working on my dissertation proposal, which is good, but I tend to run into trouble staying on track if I haven’t identified a purpose for my writing sessions. On Sunday, I set different goals for each day of the week to ensure I keep forward momentum. I wrote about this in detail in an earlier post.
  4. The weekly dry erase calendar – This calendar is not really for planning. It’s a communication tool. My husband, kids, and sitter refer to it to see what the day looks like for everyone. While my Filofax and calendar are personal, this is for the family. Plus, when I fill it out with my husband, we note scheduling conflicts and resolve them on Sunday by adjusting plans as needed. There are no unfortunate surprises like me having a late meeting and my husband being at the dentist when one of us needs to take our son to soccer, only to realize it the day of…

On Sunday, I manually “sync” them before I coordinate schedules with my husband or meal plan. It’s important to have a sense of the week before meal planning, because some days are more hectic than others. I plan the easiest meals for those days. Also, if we’ll be out for the evening, I know I don’t need to have food prepared that night.

I begin by making a cup of Jasmine Silver Needle white tea and laying out everything I need. This week, I have to mail a birthday card , so I pulled out my greeting card organizer and stamps as well.

Getting settled

My monthly calendar, A5 Malden, card organizer with stamps and Washi tape, laptop, paper supplies, and tea

Once I’ve hunkered down, I refer to my monthly calendar so I can complete my WO2P personal schedule for the week. I pull out events that need to be done each morning and afternoon/evening. Then I generate a list of tasks for the week that can be done at anytime. I also check my e-mail for any follow-up tasks that I should put on my calendar or task list.

Each night, I review my schedule before bed, making any changes as needed…including tasks that pop into my head. That’s my final “brain dump” (or in GTD terms: “mind sweep”) for the day. Establishing this routine helped eliminate my insomnia, because I no longer have a mental list scrolling through my head once I turn the lights out. I can rest easy because I’ve written down what needs to be done, and I can let it go until tomorrow. I put my Malden on my nightstand and refer to it every morning before I’m even out of bed.

I should mention that this week is pretty light for me since the children and my university are still on break. My son, however, has several projects that are due when he returns next Monday, so I added a Post-It to remind myself to nag him a bit 🙂 In the “this week” section, I’ve also added a few personal goals I’d like to keep front and center.

Once I finish with my daily schedule, I move to planning my academic writing on my MO2P. I don’t have a sitter this week, so it won’t be as productive as when my children are in school.

Jan1 writing

My writing schedule…I only plan one week ahead for this calendar. This allows me to be flexible.

Once I’m done scheduling my week, I’m ready to plan meals and coordinate schedules on the weekly white board I described in Pt. 1). If I am very concerned about remembering an appointment, I may add a reminder into my phone.

All told, this process takes me about an hour. I consider it an investment in the week ahead. It’s not just an exercise on paper; I’m mentally rehearsing for the week ahead. The Sunday routine allows me to strategize how to make the most of my time, and I no longer forget appointments or tasks.

What about you? Do you have a Weekly Review or Routine?

Launching a New Week, Part One

I know some people consider Sunday a day of rest, but for me, it is the day to prepare for a new week. That translate to a busy day, but the effort pays dividends all week long. In this post, I’ll explain how my Sunday routine includes several tasks that prepare our family for a smooth(ish) week. Part One is about the routine itself. On Tuesday, Part Two will focus specifically on my Filofax.

WL1

The first half of my list for the Weekly Launch routine

My Sunday mornings are basically reserved for church and getting the kids to choir practice/youth group (all at different times). Once church and associated activities wrap up, I dive headfirst into planning the week and completing several tasks. I call this my “Weekly Launch” routine. I begin with a list stored on OmniFocus (a task management app). I don’t put the list in my Filofax because they’re set on repeat with reminders in my phone. Personal preference, mainly. I took two screenshots, because the list doesn’t fit all in one screen. 

I don’t necessarily do the list in the order you see. I usually empty my e-mail inboxes while I’m watching TV in the evening. By doing this, I have been able to avoid returning to a ridiculously cluttered inbox (One I remember vividly…who wants to open their e-mail to see the number 1,487 next to their Inbox folder?). I mark messages that have info relevant to my calendar and refer to them as I work with my Filo and calendar later in the day. If I neglected to reply to an e-mail, I take care of it then and there. I also tidy my office, refill my vitamin dispenser, plan meals, and create a shopping list. I post the menu on a dry erase weekly calendar posted on the fridge so the kids know what to expect and Brian can help prep if he gets home before I do.

I write the weekly meal plan on the fridge so that our kids know what's for dinner.  By the way, if you're wondering about the "statistically significant" magnet, it was a gift the professor gave the students at the end of our required stats course. Math humor.

I write the weekly meal plan on the fridge so that our kids know what’s for dinner. If we are eating out or attending a party, I’ll note that on the board, too. By the way, if you’re wondering about the “statistically significant” magnet, it was a gift my professor gave the students at the end of our required stats course. Math humor can be terrible, but I thought the sentiment was sweet…plus, it’s a reminder that I survived grad school stats after not having taken a math course for over fifteen years! 

The calendar review with my husband is very important for our whole family. It doesn’t help to have a great schedule worked out in my Filofax if other people in the family don’t have access to it, so I posted a dry erase weekly calendar in the kitchen above the phone/charger shelf. The central location means we pass by it several times a day. On Sunday, my husband and I pull out our individual calendars (his is on his iPhone, mine on good ol’ paper) and we fill out the board together. The real value of this routine is the conversation we have. If we notice conflicting appointments or meetings that affect childcare, I make a note to tell our sitter or we make other arrangements. We also know when to reschedule appointments. In the past, we used to catch the schedule conflicts halfway through the day of the events, which meant a mad scramble to adjust.

Weekly Calendar

As you can see, I don’t bother color-coding here. I have room for writing things out, and it takes less time to use one color. While I post appointments for my schedule, my husband only posts activities that might affect the family (e.g., early/late meetings or days off).

The second half of my "Weekly Launch" task list.

The second half of my “Weekly Launch” task list.

Other Weekly Launch tasks include cleaning out the car and filling up the gas tank. While I’m out, I’ll stop by the ATM if I need any cash for the week. I try to write one letter to a family member while I’m waiting for my kids at choir practice and/or youth group. This summer, I began writing to nieces and nephews after finding some old letters from my grandmother and realizing how much my kids enjoyed receiving mail at camp. Now that I think about it, doing this on Sunday is a lovely way to reflect on what is happening in our family’s life, as well as connecting with people I care about…Snail mail is a beautiful thing! 

That about wraps up Part One. Part Two – a post about setting up my Filofax for a new week – will be Tuesday.

My Weekly Launch routine brings me a lot of comfort. I’ve been doing this for over a year, and I’d say this is a key component of my organization system. When I go to sleep on Sunday night, I feel better knowing I’ve set our family up for success. Rather than flying by the seat of our pants, we all have a sense of the week ahead. There’s gas in the car, I have empty inboxes, and my husband and I are on the same page. Naturally, we have to make adjustments when the unexpected occurs –as it always does — but this is something that truly works for our whole family. If only my routine for dealing with incoming paperwork ran as smoothly!

 

Prepping for 2014

Belly full of leftovers from our first gluten-free/dairy-free Christmas…time to think about 2014! To be honest, I haven’t given much thought to the new year or the transition to a new planner refill. My life has be consumed by the quest to find as many delicious and healthy food options as possible. We even managed to have my in-laws over for Christmas dinner without anyone feeling like gluten/dairy free holiday meals are “less than” our traditional meals.

Now that we pulled it off and I have one “pajama day” under my belt, I’m ready to catch up on links from Philofaxy and start strategizing.

Some things will stay the same. I have a new 8×10 inch stapled monthly calendar ready to go. This is where I write all family events, appointments, and due dates — color-coded, of course. This year, I bought one with a plastic cover. It’s not the luxury of a leather-bound planner – nor does it tuck inside my A5 – but I love the size of each day’s square. It works for my handwriting and our family’s life, plus it is very slim! I will also stay with the A5 binder. My final experiment with the personal size reminded me not to mess with what works for me. The month on 2 pages (MO2P) format will continue to serve for my writing schedule in a separate section. This has been a lifesaver for my grad school productivity. Finally, I will continue to place a sheet of paper in the middle of my week on 2 pages (WO2P) calendar; this section holds my personal daily schedule and to-do lists. It sounds like a lot of duplication, but each piece has a different function, and it is easy for me to track when I do my Sunday “weekly launch” routine.

Speaking of my Sunday routine, that particular ritual is something I’m not going to tinker with…it’s the heart of my organization system. I plan to write about it this weekend, since it’s a crucial part of what I do.

There are a few changes I’m considering:

  1. Moving away from the lined WO2P layout. I’m thinking that with the larger, blank blocks for each day, I’ll treat them as if they have two columns: AM and PM. As with my earlier layout, these will only include time-specific tasks/appointments. The lined sheet I’ll insert in between the two halves of the week will be tasks without a specific day/time.
  2. Setting monthly goals that I’ll keep on a sticky note on my Today ruler. Tomorrow, I think I’ll brew some Jasmine Silver Needle tea, find a piece of dark chocolate, and think about what I’d like to accomplish in 2014. I’m sure I’ll find some inspiration for this on-line. My fellow paper-planners have written great posts on this annual ritual in the past.
  3. Revisiting how I use the financial section of my planner. I haven’t ever settled on an effective system for tracking finances in my planner. There are some pieces that work, but other parts are a waste of space.
  4. Revisiting how I track health-related info. I’d like to track exercise, but I’m not thrilled with my system. I think I’ll be using the 2014 Vertical Full Year Planner. Maybe track minutes/type of exercise for each day?

I am also considering if there is something I want to do to “pretty up” my planner. I’m definitely not in a position to spend much time on this, but some personalized dividers and a few pieces of artwork might go a long way. It’s too bad most of the people on Etsy who make dividers only do so for the smaller binders.

Now I’m off to visit blogs with people’s year-end/new year posts. If you have some that you’d recommend — including your own — please post a link in the comments below!

Carrying My A5

There are a lot of Filofax users who swear by the Personal size, declaring the A5 too big to lug around when they’re out and about. I’m an A5 girl at heart, so I thought I’d share how I manage to carry my Malden around with very little fuss.

I suppose that “too big” is a matter of perspective. Be warned, I’ve been a mom for over 14 years and was a teacher before that. Carrying around monstrous totes — or even crates of paper and books for lesson planning and grading – makes my current purse seem almost dainty. I’m sure if you’re 20 and not used to carrying around diaper bags and other parental accessories, this may not qualify as a “small purse.”

Purse & Malden

Purse loaded

I had no idea when I purchased the Malden that it would go so beautifully with my purse (a find from a TJ Maxx). I’m not a matchy-matchy girl, but it’s actually a lovely combination. It works well if I’m at the university, having coffee with a friend, or running errands. Nice, but not fussy.

Now that my kids are older, I don’t have to carry around supplies as if I am a survivalist preparing for the apocalypse; it feels so liberating! It used to take 20 minutes of packing and 15 minutes of kid-wrangling to make a few errands.

Below are the contents of my purse for a typical trip around town. When I’m writing somewhere, I transfer these items over to a tote that holds my laptop. On the rare occasions I want a smaller load to carry, I can just use my separate calendar and my phone. If I’m really living on the edge, my phone case holds a few cards, so that’s as slimmed down a profile as I get. The mom in me would never go out without my ID, a credit/debit card, or my insurance card! All in all, I don’t find the A5  the least bit cumbersome as a planner, though sometimes I prefer to use just my monthly calendar.

Purse contents

My wallet, monthly calendar, travel tissue (a winter-only item), my A5 Malden, pen bag, polka dot makeup bag, lip balm (that’s the weird ball thing), and a reusable grocery bag for when I decide to stop by the store. The side pockets hold my keys and cell phone.

My Filo Storage

You may have noticed that most of my photos are taken on my kitchen table. This is, in part, because I keep my Filo supplies – and currently unused Filos – on an IKEA Expedit shelf next to our dining area. It’s a handy spot to work because I can enjoy a little natural light, and I have a good view if I want to ensure the kids aren’t plotting anything. Actually, my kids are pretty darn good; mostly I just like to have a sense of activity in the house. Well…and this spot is near both an outlet for my laptop, not to mention the electric tea kettle and fridge. It’s the best of all worlds, especially when my dog Scout settles in near my feet.

FF Storage

Left to right, rear of shelf: Boxes holding spare inserts and dividers, my Wine Holborn Zip, Raspberry Finsbury, Purple Malden, Chocolate and Orchid Astons, and Dark Green Panama. In the front are my spare pen bag and Filofax supplies.

The boxes for the Finsbury and Aston A5s hold my extra pages and dividers. I keep a spare pen bag handy, and I have a Martha Stewart box filled with Post-Its, removable file tabs, and stickers.* When I want to work on my Filofax, I just bring those two items down to the table and dig in. At the moment, I’m using my Ochre A5 Malden, so it stays with me…not on the shelf.

As you can see, my collection is confined to a 15-inch cube. Since I’m not currently embellishing my Filofax pages, I don’t need tons of supplies. I may also – cough, cough – make the dubious claim that if I keep my collection contained in one measly cubby, I don’t have too much of a Filofax addiction.

*What you can’t see my is that my supply box also contains several notecards and envelopes, as well as some stickers/temporary tattoos. I write to one of my nieces or nephews each week. On Sundays, I transfer one of the cards/envelopes and a tattoo or sticker into my Filofax for the week. If I have a moment while waiting for carpool or an appointment, I can jot down a quick note and send a little goodie to them.

Using My Filofax to Create My Academic Writing Schedule

I keep my writing schedule on a separate "Month on Two Pages" calendar. The only things on the calendar are my writing goals and any significant events that might mean I won't have time to write that day.

I keep my writing schedule on a separate “Month on Two Pages” calendar. The only things on the calendar are my writing goals and any significant events that might mean I won’t have time to write that day.

I use a planner because my life has a lot of moving pieces right now, and it helps me make the best use of my time. A few years ago, I left my job as an elementary school teacher and entered graduate school. I have completed my coursework, and it’s now time to write my dissertation proposal and prepare for my qualifying exams.

When I was a teacher, my day was very structured. My day was dictated by a bell schedule and lesson plans. As a graduate student, I work the same number of hours, but there is no bell to tell me when to sit at the computer. No curriculum dictates how I move forward…My first two years, I struggled to use that flexibility wisely. Somehow, I conflated “more flexibility” with “more time to do other things.”

I know. Trust me, I know. It was a naïve mistake. I have done well in school, but I would have liked to have started my dissertation by now. Something had to change, and like the Type A person I am, I just knew that lists and a schedule could get me back on track!

I learned — through trial and error, along with some helpful reading — that I need a writing schedule if I’m going to get my own grad school work done. Family and my employer’s work tend to come first. When I shuffled pieces around, I deferred work on my own research and writing. No more! Now I use the Pomodoro technique (funny name, I know) to help me get in a minimum of two hours per day on my own writing. I often get in more, but the minimum helps me stay consistent and write every weekday. I read (part of my research, naturally), go to meetings and seminars, and work on paid research for my adviser the rest of the time. Well, that and the whole raising two children, managing a household with my husband, and living a life thing 🙂 But that goes in my other calendar!

My Dissertation Proposal Task List

OmniFocus on my phone – My dissertation proposal task list

Putting Together My Weekly Writing Schedule  

  1. Every Sunday, when I do my weekly review, I put two hours (minimum) of writing time onto the schedule for each day of the week. It goes into my weekly agenda simply as “Writing.”
  2. Next, I think about what writing tasks I hope to accomplish during the week ahead. I use the OmniFocus app to store specific tasks (e.g., “Write about sample selection.”). Yes, I’m a Filo girl at heart, but I love to mix it up with a few digital helpers. The plan is only for one week. It’s best to be flexible in case something happens. My son, for instance, had some unplanned doctors visits and medical tests yesterday, so I fell a bit behind schedule. I’m going to try and catch up, but if I need to, I can move tasks to next week once Sunday comes around.
  3. I enter daily goals for my writing time onto a dedicated “Month on Two Pages” (MO2P) calendar. This has its own section in my Malden, and it speaks to how important this aspect of my work is to my life as a graduate student. I’m sure this system could work for people tackling other large projects.
  4. Each day, when it’s time to start writing, I open up my binder and review my goals are for the day. No time wasted on wondering what I should be doing; that was decided on Sunday. Just dive right in! Since I’m easily distracted, I should also add that I disable my internet during these sessions. It’s the only way for me to get the work done!
Each writing task goes into the square for the day I plan to complete it.

Each writing task goes into the square for the day I plan to complete it. The notes may not make sense to others, but I know, for instance that today I need to plot out different options for my research design. I also need to write my research questions and read an article by Judith Warren Little, one of the members of my dissertation committee!

My goal now is to use the list on the side to record my total writing time each day. The two hours is a minimum, and I want to be accountable for meeting that goal. Perhaps I’ll identify patterns of when I’m most (and least) productive.

Some might wonder why I dedicate an entire A5 MO2P calendar just to tasks related to one part of my life. First, my research is an important part of my life. Before I gave it its own “space,” I found myself putting it to the side when family or work tasks demanded my attention. I probably added an extra year on to my doctoral program because of overcommitments in other areas.

It also helps take a big project and break it down into manageable pieces, all while allowing me to see the bigger picture. Adding family or other work events would be visually distracting, and it would be difficult to quickly gauge if I’m making appropriate progress toward my qualifying exams. It doesn’t clutter up my family calendar with tasks. The tactile and visual nature of writing in on the MO2P format helps orient my work for the week.

I’ve been a lot more productive since starting this system. The 2 hour minimum is a big factor, and the calendar allows me to avoid getting bogged down in planning what to write each day I sit down in front of the computer. This mix of paper and digital works well for me. Navigating between the two formats allows me to do the real “thinking” about what I want to accomplish before the start of the week, and it sets a productive tone for my writing sessions.

I add my writing schedule one week at a time. This is part of my weekly review each Sunday, so I have an idea about what my week looks like.

I add my writing schedule one week at a time. This is part of my weekly review each Sunday, so I have an idea about what my week looks like. Disregard the pink and blue stickers. I repurposed this calendar, and I struggled to cover some old entries.