How to Pick the Perfect Planner

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Ahhh, the beginning of a new year- time to reflect on all the successes and losses of the year gone by, and to plan for the months ahead. It’s bittersweet in a way, but I personally find it to be one of the more exciting times of the year.

Friends, it’s planner time. (Kind of like hammer time, except nerdier.)

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably excited too. Or maybe you’re wary of the whole planner system and are wondering whether it’s worth it to pick out a new one at all.

For those naysayers who claim they don’t need a calendar to keep track of their engagements, I say congratulations to you! I’m much better at committing something to memory if I record it somewhere, and although I’m generally good at remembering where I’m supposed to be at what time, I do have the occasional slip-up.

Consider this as well: your planner isn’t merely to serve as a reminder of all of your deadlines, important occasions and appointments. It’s also a great tool for prioritizing your workflow, and for forming a plan of attack for the weeks ahead of you.

Or maybe your reluctance to start a new planner this year stems from an inability to find a system that you can customize so that it best fits your needs.

Here are some common planner problems:

  1. Smartphones are just that: really smart, and there truly is an app for everything (and probably for some things I’ve never even thought of before.) But your smartphone is as only smart as the person using it, and if you’re finding it hard to keep track of appointments using the calendar function on your phone, it could be that you’re simply a pen and paper person. Just because a certain way of doing things is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
  2. Having said that, you may want to consider the format carefully before committingpeople whose days are packed with appointments may want to use a daily planner, while someone whose work involves taking care of more long-term projects may want to use a calendar with a monthly format to get a bird’s eye view of key events. For the electronic calendar users out there, you may wish to experiment with the view settings in your favorite app to get a feel for which one works best for you.
  3. Once you’ve chosen your favorite format, you have to make your planner’s features work for you. People who use a three-ring planner format often have the advantage of being able to include different sections they can use as resources to help plan their schedules (i.e., church calendars, volunteer schedules, school lunch menus, etc.) Make over a store-bought agenda or simple notebook by typing and printing out similar resources and information and pasting these sheets over the pages you don’t use. Many calendar apps also feature similar add-ons, such as reminder functions and the ability to sync appointments with the contacts in your phone. One last word of advice: Electronic users should not underestimate the usefulness of subscribing to other electronic calendars to co-ordinate anything from birthday parties to play dates with other family members and parents.
  4. Even though the ways to customize your agenda or planner may seem endless, it’s best not to go overboard. Any system that is overloaded with information is often too complicated to use, and you’ll spend half the time organizing the information you have instead of deciding what needs to be done with it. Paring your planner down to only the things you need hones your focus and clears your vision so you can actually get things accomplished. (And hopefully in a timely fashion!)
  5. It may seem simple, but if you don’t use it, your planner is not going to be useful to you. Keeping your planner up-to-date and referring to it often are key components in formulating a strategy for tackling your workload. If you have trouble doing these things, it means you probably haven’t chosen a system that works for you and your lifestyle (see 1-4).

KBwB-BFlower-50Are you excited to get your schedule on track for the new year as much as I am? Tell me some of the favorite ways you’ve organized your planner down below, or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. I may include your tips in an upcoming post!

For more inspiration on getting things more organized and productive, click here and here.

Why A Soft Deadline Will Save Your Life

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I like to think I’m pretty good at editing other people’s work- after all, it’s what I do for a living, and I got a lot of practice editing both the newspaper and yearbook in high school (yes, I know my picture is next to the entry for “nerd” in the encyclopedia). So you may not be surprised when I tell you that I ended up editing a lot of papers for my friends and classmates in high school and university as well. This is for free, mind you. I did it for the sheer joy of editing. (Again, yes. I know I’m in the encyclopedia.)

During this time one of my roommates was going through a rough patch; she was really trying to get her act together and pull up her grades so we sat down one day and went over her agenda. She showed me all of the deadlines on her schedule to see if we could coordinate some editing jobs.

At first she wanted to hand me everything the night beforehand but I told her the strategy didn’t make any sense: after I handed her back the first draft, she was going to need time for rewrites and corrections of her own. Depending on how badly she was struggling with the paper, we might want to pass it back and forth more than once; it was important to allow her the extra time she needed to let the ideas marinate without feeling the pressure of a looming deadline.

That’s when we developed the idea of a “soft” deadline- a concept that I’ve since applied to virtually every writing project I’ve worked on personally ever since its inception. Taking into consideration her workload and the other deadlines she was working towards, we created fake deadlines where she would be responsible for handing me a completed first draft of her paper so I could help her out with the corrections well before the paper was due.

Part of our contract was that I was to hold her accountable; if she didn’t hand me a completed first draft by our deadline, I was to refuse to edit it.

To reward her for her efficiency, we scheduled the fake deadlines for dates that were convenient to my schedule as well so I could ensure that I could turn around my edits promptly.

Scheduling a soft deadline for yourself allows time to let ideas flow and develop; at the very worst, it’s a way to save your own butt from procrastination, unexpected hiccups and all of those little pesky details that always seem to creep up at the end of a project and leave us feeling like we want to pull our hair out.My friend usually scheduled her soft deadlines a week-and-a-half or so before her actual deadlines; meatier projects or other things she anticipated taking longer we pushed the deadlines back to give her a two-week gap.

Based on your own workload or the nature of the project you’re working on, you may want to follow her lead and allow yourself a week or two to clean up the small tasks left over to help get it completed. For longer or more involved projects, you may want to be break larger tasks up into smaller steps, and play with scheduling more frequent, smaller soft deadlines for yourself in order to keep your work on track.

Every good editor knows that sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to catch all the sticky little typos and grammatical errors in a manuscript. When we plug away at a piece of writing, or any project for that matter, it can be difficult to take a step back and look at your work with objectivity. Extra time is often required, even if it’s time to walk away and forget what you’ve been working on for a while in order to come back to it with a new perspective.

As for my friend? Well, I’m pleased to report that did she really well that semester. And she made every single soft deadline we set.

KBwB-BFlower-50Want even more ideas on how to manage your time more efficiently? Hop on over to the Busy section of my blog where I talk about the ways in which I’ve tried to make my life more productive. I hope they can make your life more productive, too.