Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wanna take a trip with me?

At the moment, my planner is just a glorified fridge calendar. You know, a list of things to do, a space for each day with things like "Eldest, dentist appointment, 2:40" scribbled in it.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's a darned sight better than having to pay $120 for the dentist appointment you forgot to show up for, I'll tell you that for nothin'.

But an effective planner can do so much more. And I intend to leverage mine for all it's worth.

I'll start with what, exactly, I've got for a planner. Physically, I mean.

I've got a binder. Just a plain old three-ring binder, with one cool feature: it stands up. Cost me $10 for this binder, yessir. I don't wanna confess how much I spent on "specialty" planner holders (leather bound, seven-ten-fifteen rings, had handles, didn't have handles, spaces for the PDA, all that) before I discovered that overall – a plain old three ring binder worked best for me. I like being able to buy cheap old college-ruled paper and put it right into my binder without any fussing.

I buy my fillers in what Franklin Covey refers to as 'Monarch' size and the rest of the world calls "Oh, you mean just regular 8-1/2 x 11?", because I write BIG.

Now, I'm going to put this right up front: all of this stuff, other than a calendar of some kind, is totally optional. There is no reason on earth why you can't draft hand-made daily planning sheets using plain old binder paper instead of shelling out $30 for a year's worth of pre-printed daily planning sheets.

That said, when it comes to the specialty papers inside it, I like the Franklin Covey system. I like the layout, I find it very easy to use, and I find many of their 'patented' tools extremely useful. Also, I like the colors of the Monticello pages. Yes. I am that shallow. I like the blue, and it is worth some extra bucks to me to have the blue.

I bought the monthly tabbed sheets that are two pages per month (see comment about writing BIG, above – I can't stand the dinky little spaces provided by a single page per month calendar), the Daily Planning Pages, and the Weekly Compass cards. I already had from Days of Yore tabs for Values / Missions, Goals, Finances, Key Information, a pouch the weekly compass cards go in that doubles as a page finder, and a bunch of generic numbered tasks.

And, I bought a big old package of binder paper, to be used for everything from taking notes in meetings to doodling memos to myself on the train.

So. I've got all this stuff.

…now what?

I'm going to skip all the motivational pep-talking about values and goals and blah blah blah, and cut right to the chase: there are two kinds of to-do lists. There's the kind that is purely a list of crap you've got to get done, in no particular order. The laundry list, the eternal 'honey do' list. The glorified fridge calendar. It helps keep you on track for those things that are right in front of you, right now.

Fine. But there's another level you can achieve with these things.

It starts by knowing what you really want to achieve on a grander scale. It's really about knowing yourself, what you personally want to have, to do, and be.

It's answering the question: What is 'all this' really about? Once you've got the answer to that, you can start planning your time and tasks with one eye on the here and now, and one on the bigger picture.

It's so easy to get so caught up in the process of life that you forget there is a bigger picture. I know I get very caught up in the process – I've got to make dinner and do the laundry and get the report out and gosh golly I forgot all about those pants I was having altered and then I get a phone call and I've got to remember to pencil my mom in for a visit, which means I have to vacuum up the filth between the door and anywhere she's likely to walk in the house…

Another term would be 'tunnel visioned' – so intense on what is right immediately in front of me that I forget I'm trying to get somewhere.

This, right now, is where we stop. Step away from the processes for a minute. Raise up our eyes and look around at the horizon.

What do you want?

Are there things you want to have? A better (or just different) job, a house of your very own, financial security, a new pair of tennis shoes, an actual lawn instead of a rather seedy weed patch?

Maybe some things you'd like to do? Get that college degree, take a cruise, see Greece, climb a mountain, learn to speak Sanskrit?

Or maybe you've got some areas in the 'be' department, maybe you'd like to have more passion, or compassion, be more generous (or less generous – as a person who sometimes has trouble with the tiny little word 'no', sometimes I wish I could be just a little less giving sometimes).

Don't worry about what's on your list. It isn't graded by anybody else. It doesn't have to please anybody but you – not even your spouse. This is an utterly self-absorbed activity that is all about your personal happiness and success. It doesn't have to be noble and self-sacrificing, nor does it have to be all about greed and avarice. The things don't have to be easy or hard. You don't have to be attempting to build a trampoline you can use to bounce up to the moon; or even the second story, for that matter. But neither do you have to ask yourself, "Is this safe? Is this sensible? Is this something I feel I can actually do?" and limit yourself only to things you think come back 'yes'.

This isn't the time to worry about the how part – that comes later. Right now, we're dreaming up a better life for ourselves, a more purpose-driven life, a life we'll be proud to have led, one that we can look back over and say, "Might not have been perfect, but damn – it sure was good!"

Take your time. I'm probably going to take the whole weekend to tweak around on this stuff. Maybe longer. I'm looking both for things that are near term (like maybe getting a new bleepin' cooktop, since mine has been busted for, oh, what? three YEARS now?!) and far term (maybe…a master's degree? Or even [dare I ponder it] getting one of those million-buck hovels closer to Where The Work Is?), and Supremely Long Term (…I'd love to retire before I'm 92…)

So – think about it. If there were no limits, if you weren't afraid, if you had all the resources in the world and there was nothing to stop you – what would you do? What would you buy for yourself? What would you do with yourself? What kind of person would you want to be?

Go write it down. Have fun. We'll come back and talk about it some more in a few days…


Very Herodotus said...

Thanks for sharing your system! Doesn't the Treo give you lots of task-oriented organizational power? Do you find that given the paper-and-binder system, you don't use your Treo as much?


Mother of Chaos said...

Yes, and no. I don't use my Treo for planning, but I do use it extensively for appointment reminders, recurring tasks and work-related things.

It's funny, because I tried to go pure PDA a while back. It just didn't work as well for me, somehow. I guess...maybe it's the ink. If I grind ink into my left pinkie while writing all this stuff down, the spirit of it all seeps into my bloodstream?

Eh. Probably not. It's probably more of a 'how I'm using my brain' thing. I suspect my brain fires differently when I'm typing vs. writing vs. struggling with a stylus.

21st Century Mom said...

I love the way you both think out loud and share at the same time. What you are saying is so true. People have made zillions of dollars writing this stuff up into books and publishing them (hint, hint).

I need to be more purposeful in my planning. I wing it way too much of the time and that just isn't a good way to go. I might just give your system a shot before I go broke and live my nightmares instead of my dreams

Moira said...

are you going to teach classes???

PipneyJane said...

Excellent advice Tama.

BTW, regarding your answer to Very Herodotus, it was mentioned in a class I did that the brain processes stuff we write down in a different way to when we use keyboards, etc. Aparently, when we write, we are more likely to retain knowledge* AND to turn it into useful outcomes.

- Pam

* I think he said 6 times more likely, but don't have my notes here to check.

Very Herodotus said...

In response to Pam:

That definitely makes sense, because I can type a whole lot faster than I can write. So writing forces my brain to go slower and 'hover' over each thing that's being written. Hmmm...