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In the last couple of years, I have taken on a few new projects. Some were small and temporary. Others were larger, long-term commitments. Regardless of their size or length of time, each new project comes with new tasks and responsibilities. On their own, these items don’t necessarily take up a ton of time. When added to an already busy schedule, you have a potential recipe for disaster and overwhelm.
Over the summer I wrote about being overwhelmed by my schedule and realizing that due to the stress of it all I was becoming quite unfocused. I tend to be an all-or-nothing person so when it starts to feel like it’s too much I go for nothing. Rather than working within my time frame, I chose to avoid those tasks that could not be quickly and easily completed. The obvious problem here is that avoiding the larger tasks doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it compounds the problem making it snowball.
Creating A Better System
It took some time, but I eventually set out to create a better system. I worked on streamlining task and said goodbye to things that could be done away with or were time wasters. I worked on improving my days and looked for better ways to accomplish the items that were left. Slowly, I evaluated each task, each commitment. I need to determine which ones were worthy of my time and which ones I needed to take a break from. Eventually, I was able to streamline my schedule and my activities.
What I saw was that the mountain wasn’t quite as large and daunting as it seemed. Sure, I still wondered if it was too much, if it was more than I could handle. But without cutting out those things that I hold most important, I didn’t see a way to cut anymore. What I did see though was that I need a better way to manage my time. A more effective way to make sure I used my time wisely and effectively. I needed a way to start telling my time what it was going to do for me. So I set out on a journey to keep it all organized in one place.
I set out to purchase a planner.
Now I have had planners before. Always purchased with great intentions, they just never last long. The layout doesn’t work well or the format, and often times it feels silly to take the time to write out weekly commitments. The problem with all of those old planners though wasn’t the planner itself. The problem rather, was the person filling them in. I wasn’t utilizing them fully and because of that, I didn’t see the value.
Learning From My Past Mistakes
This time though, I needed it to be different. I needed to figure out what I wanted a planner for, how I was going to use it, and the features that were most important for me. Just any old planner though, I realized, wasn’t going to do. I wanted one that could handle a busy schedule with lots of commitments. A central location to keep track of it all. One that allowed me to see each month at a glance, but also each day. It needed to have plenty of space for writing down dates, times, obligations, and reminders. I wanted something that was customizable, fun, and sturdy. I contemplated different sizes, asked for opinions from others, and started searching online.I knew that it was time to make planning a priority because I didn't have the time to not plan. Click To Tweet
What I found was that planners are a big business. There are hundreds, if not thousands of options, and that in and of itself can be overwhelming. But I kept going because I knew this was the direction I needed to go. I knew that it was time to make planning a priority. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time to plan out my days and activities, it was now that I didn’t have the time to not plan.
After narrowing it down to my two favorite planners I waited though. I didn’t want this to be an impulse purchase, something quickly abandoned.
It just so happened that one of my favorites was launching a new, updated version in a few weeks. So I signed up for the waitlist and just waited. While waiting I just started using pen and paper and keeping tracking of things the old-fashioned way. Started creating the habit of setting up a schedule, started learning how long I needed to accomplish things like writing, teaching, and even making dinner. I began to learn about time management techniques, changes to implement, and tips from the experts.
Once the planners I liked the best were both available for purchase, it was time to make a decision. For me, the feature that tipped the scaled was the binding. One planner was bound and stationary. The other, however, allowed me to add, remove, and reorganize the format. For me, that was the feature cinched it. It seems like such a silly thing, but for me, the layout was vital. I had abandoned plenty of other planners in the past because they layout did not work for me.This one did not allow me to decide the layout no longer worked and set it aside.
Enter The World of The Happy Planner
So I entered the world of the Happy Planner – and let me tell you, it’s a world of its own. This planner and its company have a huge following. Entire websites and even online groups are devoted to the planner, the accessories, and creating printable additions for them. It’s a surreal little world. One that’s both exciting due to the momentum and intriguing to those stuck feeling dwarfed by their daily demands.
At first, I used it like I used all my other planners. Even with the best of intentions, I guess old habits die hard. I wrote in it things like doctors appointments and once in a while obligations. And you know what happened? Not much. It was quickly left by the wayside and abandoned like all the other planners.
Then I hit a breaking point. A point where I realized that once again I was quickly heading down the same path. Yet again I was falling behind on my days and the things that I needed to get done. I was juggling one too many tasks, and even the things I was completing were being done substandard. Not an ideal situation, and not a path I wanted to go down again so soon.
So I dusted off planner and got busy. I grabbed all those websites I had bookmarked and the notes I had taken from the last time, determined that I was going to change.
A Change For The Better
At this point, I have been using my Happy Planner for a few months now, and I love it. It’s simple enough that I can tweak and customize it for me. Large enough to cover the many different items of my day-to-day. Yet small enough (I chose with the classic size) that I can cart it around with me. This way, when a new commitment or function comes us I can easily add it to my schedule or say no if it’s going to conflict. I have also gotten into the habit of taking pictures of things that need to be added if the planner is not with me.
It still seems silly to write down some weekly tasks, but I have now learned that I am not writing them down to make sure I remember them. I am writing them down as a visual reminder that that time slot is taken. That I need to be ready for it and account for travel and any planning or preparations that need to be made for them.
Recently I have started blocking my days out by time slots. Literally writing out every hour of the day starting at 6 am and going until 8 pm. It has been quite eye-opening in terms of seeing where my time goes. It has also helped me to further tweak both my obligations and my distractions. It’s a vital new piece to staying on track and keeping up with the myriad of tasks I have to complete during the day.
Overall, I love my Happy Planner. Is it perfect, no, but I don’t think any planner will truly be. For me though, it’s close enough. It has the space I need to plan out school and work and volunteer obligations, room for notes and things to remember, and it is just the right size to be portable.
The biggest thing that I have learned though, is I am only as productive as I choose to be. It doesn’t matter how well I plan out my day, if I don’t choose to stay focused and work my day, the planner I use is irrelevant. All a planner does is allow me to organize and plan my time, it doesn’t make me actually accomplish the items on the list. It’s simply a tool.
For me though, it’s a pretty valuable tool. One that keeps me focused, keeps me organized, and keeps me motivated. Which is good, because it’s part of the hope in managing the chaos of a super busy life.
How do you stay organized? Comment below and let me know your best planner, organization, and staying on track secrets!