How do you organize your life? Do you bounce from calendaring system to calendaring system or planner to planner but eventually come to the conclusion that none of them quite fit your needs? Have you switched completely to a digital calendar but still miss the experience of paper planning? I have the answer for you.
Organize Your Life with a Simple Notebook
You laugh… but stick around. There is so much you can do with a simple, inexpensive notebook to organize your life and focus on the things that matter most to you.
I’ve always kept a calendar, from the time I was a teenager. I used babysitting money to buy a $60 Franklin Planner when I was 16 and I’ve used everything from a paper school agenda to a palm pilot to a cheap day planner from Target. For several years I relied exclusively on my digital calendar but I always found that eventually, I would spiral into a cycle of disorganization.
How to organize your life using a notebook
I need to write things out. On paper. There’s something about the act of physically writing that helps me commit my schedule to memory, that connects me to my goals and plans.
At this point, I’ll always keep a digital calendar and master to-do list as a back-up and to sync up with my family. However, over the past two years, I’ve switched to planning things out daily on paper with just a plain Moleskine notebook.
This notebook doubles as a journal, an idea book, a shopping list, a writing notebook, and so much more. I love it and it’s so nice having everything in one place. I hope it works for you too!
Here are a few things that turn my notebook into a productivity machine:
1. Get the Goods
Find a great notebook and pens you love. You want paper that feels good and won’t bleed through and you want the notebook to be small enough to carry everywhere but big enough to have room to map out your time. Then pick a couple of pens you like in contrasting colors.
2. Plan Your Typical Day
At the front of the notebook, write the things you like to accomplish in a typical day. Think of these as routines for organizing your life. If you were the perfect ideal version of yourself, what would you do from sunup to sundown? We all know that at sundown, you hit the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a middle-grade novel. It’s okay to admit it.
Think of this as your baseline, not a firm schedule that must always be adhered to. In fact, I rarely accomplish all the things on this list in a single day, but having a structure, a goal to shoot for helps me improve.
3. List Your Aspirations
After the “typical day” page, create a list of things you want to be. These are big picture items, not to-do items, things like “be a good listener,” and “stay positive” would be on this list. You can also list things you want to do more of in general, things like “move more” and “focus more on my marriage.”
You will go back and look at this list weekly and can choose to schedule specific tasks to help become the woman you want to be. Another fun idea is to write one of these at the top of each day’s page and read it each time you look at your notebook.
4. Plan Your Typical week
Create a page where you write down all the days of the week and what you typically like to get done on those days. For example, on Tuesdays, I should really prepare for the kids’ Wednesday baseball practices. On Wednesdays, I need to bring in the milk. I like to plan meals and grocery shop on Mondays. You are not locked into any of these but making a list of what weekly tasks you’d like to do each day is an easy start to organizing your life.
5. Weekly Meeting
Choose a time once a week to host a meeting with yourself to plan for the week. Open your notebook to two blank facing pages. On the left page, use your colored pen to write the day names and numbers of the days of the week. I start my week on Monday and have Sunday wrap up the week. You choose. How about starting your week on Wednesday, just because.
On each of the days, copy the event names and times from your digital calendar.
On the right page, create a weekly to-do list with seven headings written in colored pen: Home, Errands, Calls, Conversations, Work, Computer, and Next Week. These categories are for things to do at home, errands you need to run, phone calls you need to make, tasks you need to do that involve other people, tasks to complete for your job, computer tasks and things to do next week.
The “Next Week” category is a great place to write things you want to add to your to-do list soon, but you can’t get to them this week.
Group Like-Items Together
Write down everything you want to accomplish for the week under those headings so you can group like-items together. Be realistic about what you think you can accomplish. Use your calendar items on the opposite page to nudge you along. If you have a PTA meeting on Wednesday, you might want to add “type agenda for PTA meeting” under the Computer heading. Similarly, if your son is attending a birthday party, write “birthday gift” under errands.
If any of these items must be done on a specific day, write the first letter of that day with a circle around it next to the item. However, if it doesn’t have a rock-solid deadline, don’t pin it down to a specific day yet.
This is also a good time to consult your list of aspirations and see if there’s anything you can do this week to further your big picture goals.
6. Organize Your Life Daily Using Time Chunks
This may be the most important tip in this post. Do not start writing a daily to-do list until you’re clear about what your day looks like. Each morning, start a fresh page with the date up top in colored pen. Next, use a colored pen to divide your day into time chunks.
After you’ve written your calendar items down, your day should naturally break itself up into chunks of time. The time after you wake up but before you get the kids out the door to school, the time between getting the kids out the door and getting yourself to work or getting your younger kids down for a nap. There’s a slice of time during your lunch break or after work before dinner. You have another chunk of time after the kids go to bed but before you dissolve into a mush-brain in front of the TV.
So write down those chunks for this specific day. Use your weekly calendar to break this down.
Weekly To-Do List
And be realistic. If you have a doctor’s appointment from 10-11, map out a time chunk from 9-9:30 to get ready and from 9:30-10 to drive to the doctor. You get the idea.
Then, add items with that specific date from your current week’s To-Do list and from your “typical week” list into the time chunks. As you add items, write how many minutes you think they will take to accomplish.
Very quickly you will find that you typically have WAY more items on your weekly to-do list than you can possibly complete. However, when you only add items from your to-do list onto your calendar in specific time chunks, you won’t feel so bad. It’s not your fault that the days are so dang short. You only have a finite amount of time and, with this method, you will only add as many tasks to your day as you can conceivably complete.
If you find that you are unable to complete everything on your list week after week, you’ll need to re-evaluate your expectations. What do you need to drop out of your life so that all the pieces will fall nicely into place?
7. Nightly Check-in and Plan
Hopefully, you’re following along in your notebook throughout the day, re-evaluating and rearranging. At the very least, look over your list at the end of the day, see how you’ve done, transfer items to the page you have set aside for the following day, and look at tomorrow’s schedule.
That’s the basic system. It’s simple and easy and when you do it, you have more peace in your life. Here are a couple of additional things to keep in mind.
If you have a thought that you might possibly need for later, write it down in the notebook so you don’t lose it. I record book ideas, text for emails, journal entries, grocery lists, and much more. Next to each type of entry write a symbol so you can recognize it easily and transfer it to it’s final resting place once the notebook is full. J with a circle around it for journal, EB for e-book content, etc.
I also keep a master task list at the back of the book for all of the things I’d like to do but can’t get to in the current week. If it has a due date, I write that next to it. As I’m planning my week, I refer to this list as well.
Don’t say yes to anything unless you write it down. Keep your notebook handy as you’re responding to email. If you say, I’ll bring a snack tomorrow, add that to your current week to-do list with a date beside it. If you say you’ll bring a snack on a Wednesday three months from now, put a reminder on your digital calendar so you’ll remember it when that date finally rolls around.
Organizing Your Life on Paper
Writing on paper helps you look and feel more engaged in the real world. I spend so much time on the phone and on the computer that I look like a hypocrite when I tell my kids to put the screens away. Writing for a deadline, planning my schedule, playing Minecraft? It all looks the same to my kids. A screen is a screen is a screen. So, planning my day in a notebook is a nice change.
Good luck! I’d love to hear how this goes for you.
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