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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Planner Chores: So The Kids Take Chores Seriously

I don't do a chore chart for my kids. (Read my objection to them here.) But I am tracking their chores in my planner. And, magically, they take them more seriously now that I write it down. Imagine that!

(Actually, we were using a system called Chore Monster on-line. My kids and I love and highly recommend Chore Monster - and am not compensated in any way for saying so - but I am not always on-line and they don't have an Android/Kindle app yet.  When they do, I'll likely go back. Until then, I am using their system to track chores and rewards in my planner.)

The main reason we started tracking is because our kids were watching too much tv and playing too many video games. We don't object to electronics, but we noticed that the kids were not playing, reading, or building. They were plugged in and that was their only recreation. Things had to change.

So I took the chores they were required to do anyway, and started tracking. Now, the chore must be done, regardless. But they can now earn electronics time by doing them voluntarily and without complaining or objection. I also wanted to motivate things like reading or playing outside, so I give points for those things, too.

Here is how I track chores:

The details, for those who care...

1. Chores are an active project, so they go in my project pages.

2. I put a box in the upper right hand corner to name the project and a sticky note to tab the project so I can turn to it easily.

3. I have a list of chore values. They get 75 points (the cost of 1 hour of electronics) for their normal daily chores, and can earn extra by doing things like reading for 30 minutes, trying a new food, eating vegetables, or playing outside for 30 minutes.

4. I sometimes assign special chores (or they can ask for them). Pretty much, weekends and non-school, non-holiday days always get an extra chore. Some examples include cleaning the bathroom, cleaning the bedroom, helping mommy with the laundry, or cleaning out the microwave.

5. I have a list of things privileges that they can earn. E-time, as we call electronic time, costs 75 points an hour. They do get 1 hour free on non-school days. And if company is over or they are watching a show with mom or dad, we don't charge points.

6. I simply keep a running log of how many points they currently have. It looks like a lot right now, but when summer comes, it won't be enough, and they know it, so they are careful to save up points for the summer time.

I see my kids do things, like pick up toys immediately, because they know that they will be the ones dealing with the toys later. I love that! Chore time is pleasant and easy now and I am not so overwhelmed.

How do you handle kids' chores?


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Planning My Cruise Packing List: What To Wear

At any given time, a peek into a planner will generally reveal a laser focus on something - perhaps a big project at work, an upcoming vacation, or a party plan. For me, right now, my planner is all about my upcoming cruise.

I've only been on a cruise once before, for my honeymoon in 1996, so I am really excited to sail away again. In my imagination, I'll sit by the pool all day with pina coladas delivered directly to my upstretched hands. My children will love Camp Carnival, obviously, and want to spend every waking hour there, while my husband and I enjoy three courses every night.

(Obviously, the children will NOT want to be at Camp Carnival whenever dolphins are spotted, during port trips to the beach, or when we are trying to sleep in. Oh no. Surely not. Because this is MY dream and I said so, that's why!)

The truth is that dreaming is not the same thing as good planning. Good planning actually takes work. Excellent planning means that I will carry everything that I need on to the cruise ship, but not lift a single thing that I don't actually have to carry.

I don't need to make a packing list until 2 weeks out, but that didn't stop me from starting one. So far, I just add things as I read about them (like when I read that Carnival Cruises allow two bottles of wine for two adults in our carry-ons) or think of them (I really need to bring sunglasses). But it's started. A couple of weeks before the cruise, I'll add anything from old packing lists that isn't already there.

But I can't wait to plan what I am going to wear. First, I'm a lady, so I need to look nice. Second, I obviously need time to shop for any clothes that are missing from my wardrobe. Silly husband, thinking otherwise! For example, I need to inventory swimsuits and the like and make sure I have enough. I certainly don't want to rewear a wet swimsuit. Yuck!

Here's the link to a PDF of my cruise clothes packing plan. This plan is for a 7-day cruise with 2 elegant nights and 3 port days. But it could easily be revised for a shorter or longer cruise. It's also a nice way to set up clothing plans for other trips, whether camping or going to Disney World.

Some keys to make a clothes packing plan effective and efficient:

1. Choose versatile clothes that you can wear more than once. (I don't wear shirts more than one day in tropical heat, but I wear shorts twice and bathing suits every other day, with a hand wash and hang dry in between.)

2. Mark the first time you wear each piece (for packing).

3. Mark the last time you will wear the piece (for putting them in the dirty clothes bag THAT YOU REMEMBERED to pack, right?).

4. Coordinate everything with your shoes and accessories.

5. Copy the things you need to pack onto the start of your packing list, as in this picture.

I hope to post the whole packing list soon as a PDF. Also, stay tuned for some posts about what stuff to pack for a cruise and a you tube video or two on the process.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Project Unplanned

Sometimes, I do a project without writing much in my planner. {Gasp. Shock. Awe.}

Sometimes, I write down the assignment and the deadline, but just work on the project, without a plan. Yes, I really do that.

Today, I'm working on a project that involves summarizing 400 pages on a chart and then doing some comparative analysis of the 400 pages. (Don't you wish you had gone to law school, too?)

Planning the project would have been a complete waste of time.

I do have a vague list of tasks that I need to accomplish: read the pages, create the chart, add the information into the chart, analyze the information, and proofread the chart. But the order creates itself. I have to read the information in order to know what the chart should look like. I have to make the chart before I put information in it.

The order is mandated by the project, so there is no reason to waste time planning.

If something is complicated, plan it.

If something takes up too much of your memory, plan it.

But no matter how much you love your planner, if you plan just because you think you HAVE to, you are wasting time. And isn't the point of the planner to buy you as much time as possible?


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Where To Write Things In A Planner

A Loyal Reader asked me to do a video on planning a project completely, including what goes where. I plan to, but since there are too many people in the house to do a video today, I thought I would go through my decision process about where to write things in my planner.

Perhaps the single most difficult thing about using a planner is deciding where to write things down. I have several sections in my planner - dashboard, projects, tasks, monthly, weekly, future, and notes. (If you are not familiar with my system, and want to learn more, spend some time exploring my older blog entries, mostly from 2013 and early 2014.)

But if you are new to planners, I recommend a more streamlined approach of dashboard (blank paper) and monthly/weekly or monthly/daily or weekly/daily pages (where the first part of the dated set-up is for appointments and the second part is for tasks). The reason I think you should keep a planner so simple at first is because you first need to learn to actually write things down. Appointments (time or day-specific) go on those pages, while everything else, at first, goes on the weekly or daily pages.

But for more experienced planners, a strong system will tell you where to write things down. That's what my system does for me.

The key parts of my system are my monthly and weekly pages, and as much as possible, everything goes there as a default.

Things that go on my appointment (monthly) pages...

*Carpool obligations (on school days, but they vary a bit depending on my husband's work schedule), since it is important that I don't schedule something else during carpool. Yes, I should remember to pick up my kids every day. But no, I don't always remember without writing it down (and setting an alarm on my phone), mostly because I get involved in work or housework and don't notice the time.

*Special events that I will be going to, like the school fair

*Doctors' appointments, wedding showers, and graduations

*Holidays that affect me directly, like Mother's Day, Father's Day, or my anniversary or birthday and my immediate family's birthdays. Things like my adult sisters' birthdays don't, though, since they would rarely cause me to change my schedule. Instead, they go in my weekly area.

If you think of something (or receive an e-mail or invitation or flyer) and don't know where to put it in your planner, first consider whether it is a scheduled item. If so, put it in your appointment section.

Most other things go in your weekly or daily task pages.

*Due dates (for library books, bills, or deadline tasks)

*Things to do today (my short-term plan)

*Things I want to tackle during the week or might do today (longer term plans)

*Weekly homework

*Weekly menu

*FYIs, like "husband working overtime today"

*Reminders to work on projects (which I will talk about later in this post)

I have complicated systems of separating lists spatially, codes for the context of what I am working on (like C for "at computer"), and highlights to remind me of important stuff.

But you don't NEED any of that. What you do need is one place where you can see all your tasks! If you develop subsystems and they work for you, great. If you don't, still great! You need to do what works for YOU, not for anybody else.

So, if almost everything goes in those two places, what goes elsewhere???

Dashboard -

The dashboard captures any thoughts that I don't have time to categorize. If I jot something down in the carpool line or while I am cooking supper, it often goes there. As soon as I have time to sit down with my planner, I go through the dashboard and put items in their proper places.

Projects -

Projects are strange, because they are usually a combination of brainstorming, lists (shopping lists), and action lists.

Sometimes, they are a list of actions that must take place in a particular order, like "1. book hotel (with hotel info.), 2. pack for trip (with packing list), cut hair (with name of stylish and appointment), and get babysitters (with a list of potential sitters), and 3. take trip."

The thing is that projects STILL HAVE TO BE CAPTURED ON MY MONTHLY/WEEKLY PAGES. The details don't, of course, but if some reminder doesn't show up on my main pages, I will forget to do the project.

In the example above, the tasks (book hotel, pack for trip, and get babysitters) would go on my weekly pages, but the "backup information," like the contact information, would go in the project section. The appointments (hair cut and trip) would go in my monthly section.

There is an exception. Some projects, like my books that I am writing, are not on a deadline. Those just go in the projects section for whenever I feel like writing. Of course, if I schedule a day to write, get a publisher and a deadline, or participate in a writing contest, the relevant dates would go in the main part of my planner.

How to tell if something is worthy of project pages?

Well, if it is taking up too much space on the main pages (monthly and weeklies) or if it requires a lot of lists or brainstorming, it's a project.

*Book outlines

*Events (like a vacation, a trip, a party, or a volunteer weekend)

*Committee notes (like PTA or room mom notes)

*Anything that is complicated

If something is complicated enough, it may merit it's own, temporary section. For example, wedding planning might merit it's own section.

Tasks -

Tasks is a dumping ground for tasks that might happen, someday or maybe.

*cleaning out the car

*sorting through the medicine cabinet

*making an emergency tote bag

*redoing my planner tabs

Eventually, most tasks either get deleted, completed, or moved into the weekly area. But this dumping ground task list ensures that I don't have to worry about things that are nagging my brain constantly.

Future -

No planner can hold enough pages. It doesn't matter how big and bulky your planner happens to be. Eventually, you will run out of space. The future pages capture those things (appointments, tasks, and FYIs) that happen after your planner's calendar ends.

*Birthdays - coming up next year

*Doctor's appointments

*Reminders to renew my domain name, inspect my car, and do my continuing education requirements timely

Notes -

I suggest that you keep your notes section as trim as possible. It is for carrying information only (not active tasks or scheduled items) that you might need outside of the house.

*meds you currently take (in case of ER visit)

*car and home insurance information (in case of emergency)

*sizes (in case of shopping...sort of an emergency, right?)

*old packing lists (for reference when making new ones, something I tend to do outside of the house)

*ideas for exercising

*logs of spending on tax deductible items

I know this post was long. But it addresses a question that comes up again and again - how to decide where to write things down in your planner.

Bottom line - if in doubt, write it on your page that you look at EVERY SINGLE DAY.

For more planner tips and tricks, subscribe to Giftie Etcetera. And don't forget to share with your friends on social media.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Planning Packing

With holiday travel and at least four summer trips (one Carnival Cruise, one girls' weekend, one graduation weekend, and one service weekend for my amazing high school, Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts) coming up, it's never to early to start planning for packing.

To see a video of my packing tips, visit here.

Fortunately, I have a ton of old packing lists to help me get started on deciding what to pack, stored on my laptop or in the Notes section of my planner. Once my packing list is complete, I check the old packing lists to see if I've missed anything important.

Except for really long trips, I rarely pack earlier than the night before. If I pack too early, I end up needing stuff that I have already packed. I do sometimes dedicate an area for stuff that I am going to take with me and fill that area ahead of time. For example, if the trip includes swimming and I am done with my swimsuits for the week, they might go in that dedicated area.

That said, I plan for packing ahead of time. In fact, I started my Easter packing list right after Christmas. My mother-in-law visited and left an insulated casserole bag at our place. I started the list with the bag as the first item to pack, as we generally visit her house sometime during the Easter holiday.

Some of my favorite packing tips...

*Packing lists are something that can be standardized on a laptop. However, I don't recommend it unless you are taking the same kind of trip (say, for business) over and over or you make a list, all inclusive list. Camping, flying, visiting family, or staying in a hotel (or on a CRUISE!!!) all require different packing lists. The other disadvantage of electronic lists? You can't just add to them quickly when you think of something unique that you need for the trip. If you do use an electronic list, consider putting a reminder to "check custom list in planner" at the bottom and just put custom stuff on the list in the planner as you think of the item.

*Keep packing lists in your project section until after the event, labeled with the name of the event and the date. Don't destroy them after you have packed. That way, when you are ready to repack for the trip home, you can simply check the list again!

*Make your packing lists in categories that make sense to you. I use different areas of the page for different pieces of luggage (like carry-on, backpack, rolling bag). Other great subcategories include by day, by activities or events, by time of day (morning, afternoon, night), or action categories, like hair styling, makeup, or toiletries.

*Don't forget to pack for daytime wear, special activities clothing (like swimming, church, or elegant dinners), night wear, or exercise gear.

*Put dots next to items that you need to inventory before a trip and a task in your weekly pages to do the inventory and shop about a week ahead of time. For example, I need to check on how much sunscreen we have on hand before my cruise.

*Double check old packing lists in your notes or file section of your planner to make sure that you didn't forget something important.

I hope many of you are blessed with at least one trip this summer!

P.S. My friend Donna just wrote an excellent quick packing blog here. Go visit her page!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Planning My Carnival Cruise In My Franklin Covey Paper Planner

I did a you tube video explaining how I am planning my upcoming cruise. Watch it here.

My favorite planner tips...

*Use the system you already have for planning a vacation.

For example, if you read my blog often, you know that I use a Projects section for active projects. Vacation planning is a project.

Dates of travel go on my monthly calendar.

Week or day-specific tasks go on my weekly calendar.

*Keep tasks lists on sticky notes. 

Pre-vacation tasks and things to do while on vacation should be separate. I put them on sticky notes, and whatever is not done by the week before the cruise will simply be moved and stuck to the week before the cruise in my weekly pages.

*Time-specific tasks go in your regular system for tracking tasks.

For me, that means getting birth certificates goes on my weekly calendar, but making a sign for our door on the cruise ship goes in the task list in the projects area of my planner.

And my favorite cruise planning tips...

*Call your bank, credit card, and cell provider a week or so in advance to let them know you will be out of the country, so they don't stop service when you buy souvenirs in the Bahamas (or so they do pause cell service).

*Empty memory card and recharge all camera and electronic batteries in advance of your trip.

*Order proper travel documents in advance (as in months in advance).

*Teach your kids their middle names (for customs).

*Make a folder for travel, including driving directions, boarding passes, luggage tags, shore excursion documents, and travel documents. For a cruise, throw in a pen and post-its and some highlighters for the daily itinerary.

*Arrange for someone to check your mail and contact you in case of emergency. For a cruise, they can call the cruise line if they have your ship and room number.

*Prepay bills that will come due while you are out of town.

*Make an on-cruise task list, with things like setting your watch to ship time and making sure checked bags are all brought to your room.

*Separate your packing lists by bag - carry-ons versus checked luggage.

*Keep a list of questions for cruise forum (Carnival uses Funville Forums) in your planner as you think of them.

*Have a day before the cruise checklist and a day of the cruise checklist. For example, the day before, I give myself a pedicure and clean out the fridge.

I hope to post more about cruising in the next few weeks.

Bonus Knowledge: My washi tape (put in my planner to protect my privacy in the video) came right off the page without ruining my writing in Frixion pen.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dummy Tags

Yesterday, my husband asked my eight year old, "how do you forget your religion book every day? Didn't Mom put a dummy sticker on your backpack? Do you know what dummy stickers are for?!?"

He paused dramatically.

Then, in unison, my husband and I replied, "for dummies!"

My eight year old laughed and laughed. I suspect that I should regret the bad parenting (because, really, you shouldn't call your kid a dummy OUT LOUD and TO HIS FACE). But, as he just moved on and still forgot his religion book again, there's no point in apologizing, right?

I use dummy tags all the time for my stuff. (Um, does that make me a dummy? I think it might!)

I put a post-it on my purse with a list of things I need to take with me, but can't pre-pack (like lunch sitting in the fridge).

Post-it is now selling these custom made dummy stickers.

I found mine at Target. But, really, any post-it, taped strip of paper, or washi with writing on it would work.

(Aside - my husband asked me yesterday if my Nook cord was "the one with blue washi tape on it." Hmm, he knows what washi tape is? This brings our relationship to a whole new level!)


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Marking Multi-Day Appointments In Planner

As my Loyal Readers know, I only use my monthly calendar for appointments. Notes, tasks, and anything else other than project planner goes on my weekly pages.

But what happens when there is a big conference at work? Or a cruise vacation?

I mark over several squares in my monthly calendar. I want to see the multiple day event for what it is - a big event - but I don't want to recopy the description over and over.

Start with a vertical line, then add the description. Carry a horizontal line over the days. On the last day, write the description and end with a vertical line.

Visually, the vertical lines create a start and stop.

Also, connecting the horizontal line across tricks your eye into reading the description and noticing that those particular days are blocked out.

Start planning those summer vacations!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Weather In My Planner

I try to focus on the details that make a planner work better for my Loyal Readers. Here's a detail that might work for some of you:

You don't see it? Look again, right next to "Thursday, 3."

It's the weather forecast for Thursday. 83 degrees as the high and 67 degrees as the low, plus rain. I also have a repeating task (noted by the circle) to look up the weather for the rest of the week. (I don't like to look more than five days ahead, as the forecast can change in five days.)

It's a simple little task, but by checking the weather in advance, I can glance at my planner at night and pick out tomorrow's outfit without much trouble. On Thursday, I'll throw in an umbrella and raincoat, especially as I'll probably have outside duty at the school where I substitute teach. But I don't have to carry my raincoat every day, saving me lots of space in my tote bag.

Take a minute to look up the weather and put it in your planner. It's a little thing that makes life easier.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dedicated Kids' Chore Areas

I sent my kids into their bedrooms and bathrooms with a single mission: get them ready for my inspection.

It was an act of faith. You see, for eight years now, my husband has guided the children in organizing their rooms and I've been teaching them to do all of their other chores independently.

But to let them attack their rooms alone? Scary.

I put aside my OCD, dangled a carrot (time playing with electronics, which is limited in our home), and promised a consequence if not done (no electronics until it is, even if it takes weeks).

They did a good job. I wouldn't let a guest use the bathroom without a once over by me, obviously, but the 8 year old and the 5 year old did a respectable job and even took care of details that I would not have required.

It's kind of amazing.

From now on, unless we expect company, the kids will take care of cleaning that side of the house. I kind of love this plan.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Order Of Cooking

Yesterday, I shared my recipe for Enchilada Pasta

Sure, cooking it is easy enough. But cooking leaves the kitchen a disaster, right?

It doesn't have to, you know. You can cook more efficiently and have plenty of leftover time to clean up by making some simple changes.

1. Boil the water and preheat the oven 
first. If you are boiling anything (pasta, seafood, potatoes), put the water boiling right at the beginning of cooking. If you are baking something, make step one preheating the oven. That way, they are ready to go when you are.

Note: My husband HATES when I take pictures of my stove, because it looks so dirty. All I can say is that I do clean it regularly - and NEVER buy a white ceramic top. Shrug.

2. Set out ingredients in the order of use, with the first ones nearest the stove. Not having to scramble for ingredients helps ensure that you don't burn anything or let anything boil over while getting the missing ingredient out of the fridge. (In this picture, from left to right: pasta, boiling water, heating pan, veggies, liquid ingredients, and toppings.)

3. Use the vegetable bag or a small plate for scraps when chopping ingredients. It keeps the scraps off of your counter and keeps your counter clean.

4. Use the colander to rinse vegetables and fruits while you are busy cooking. It keeps them off the bottom of the sink (always gross, no matter how much I clean it) and the colander is likely to be clean.

5. Leave the colander in the sink while cooking for collecting chopped ingredients to make room on your cutting board or for draining boiling items. You don't want to hunt for a colander with hot pasta about to over boil.

6. As soon as you run low on an ingredient, add it to the grocery list.

This will save you tons of time later!

7. Dedicate counter space to oil, salt, and pepper (or whatever you use ALL THE TIME). You probably use salt more often than you use that blender, after all, so why does the blender get the most convenient space?

8. Speaking of convenience, put stirring spoons, spatulas, and pot holders right next to the stove.

9. Clean while you are cooking. Sauteing veggies for 10 minutes? Use that time to wipe down the sink or counter or to toss scraps and load dishwasher.

10. Erase the evidence. Actually, assign someone (in my house, I do the stove area and leftovers while hubby and kids do the table) to erase the evidence of the meal. We do this right after we eat as part of of normal routine.

Happy cooking.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Recipe: Enchilada Pasta

Enchilada Pasta Recipe

*Oil - drizzle of vegetable oil or nonstick spray

*One onion - sliced
*Two bell peppers (preferably red and yellow or orange...can be made green, but changes taste) - sliced
*Two cloves of garlic - minced or chopped roughly
*Two large tablespoons of pickled jalapeno peppers (yes, the kind that you use on nachos)- chopped roughly
*Beef, Chicken, or Veggie stock or broth - 8 to 12 ounces
*Cream cheese - 2 ounces

*Penne pasta  - 12 ounces

*Taco Seasoning (I used Old El Paso, but homemade is fine) - about 1/2 teaspoon

Optional Garnishes (any of these jazz up the pasta nicely):
*Parmesan cheese (my favorite topping)
*Grilled shrimp, chicken, or pork chops (I generally use rotisserie chicken to make it a main meal.)
*Cooked Black Beans
*Shredded Cheese
*Tortilla Strips

*Sliced Pickled Jalapenos

In tomorrow's blog post, I'll discuss some tips for "orderly cooking," so come back tomorrow (March 29, 2014). In the meantime, here's the recipe...

1. Boil water and pasta (while doing everything else) according to directions on package. I usually put the pasta in the boiling water after step 4.

TIP: Start water boiling immediately and just let it keep boiling until you are ready to dump in pasta.

2. Heat 
a large saucepan to medium high. Add a tiny amount of oil (just enough to prevent sticking) to saucepan. 

TIP: Always heat pan before adding oil. Nonstick sprays can leave residue on pans, so consider a drizzle of oil instead.

3. Put vegetables in pan and salt lightly.

4. Saute all vegetables (including pickled jalapenos - don't leave them out) until just soft (about ten to fifteen minutes). Stir occasionally. If they start to stick, pour in a dash or two of the vinegar from the jalapenos to deglaze the pan. (This is the magic step. Do NOT skip it.)

5. Once veggies are soft, put the pasta in the boiling water and set timer. Add half the broth/stock to veggies and lower temp to just barely boiling. Cook for about 7 minutes (to let broth reduce).

6. Add rest of broth and reduce for about 3 1/2 minutes. (It's probably time now to drain the pasta. :) )

7. Season with taco seasoning (but not too much, be careful) and pepper (as much as you want). Turn off heat.

8. Add cream cheese in small chunks and let it melt, stirring constantly, into broth.

(Yes, you could just add cream. But I don't, because I never have cream in my fridge and always have cream cheese.)

9. Add pasta and any pre-cooked meat.

(I won't add meat today, since it's a Lenten Friday and I am Catholic. With cheese, this is a perfect Lenten or vegetarian meal. It'll be even better with freshly grilled shrimp tonight when I eat the yummy leftovers for supper. Yes, this meal is BETTER leftover, because the creamy broth soaks into the pasta.)

Make sure to stir in the pasta well so the penne can get lots of creamy broth in the holes.

10. Garnish and serve.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Two Planner System: An Update

I've been working with two planners for about a month now. One planner is a Franklin Covey Classic-sized (about a half of a letter sized page) and is dedicated to work. The other is my Franklin Covey Boston compact (4 1/4 x 6 3/4 inches) and is for everything else.

I've been busily working on a project for my job during the work day, picking the kids up from afternoon carpool, and doing dinner, childcare, housework, and chauffeuring to karate practice mostly by myself, since it's my husband's overtime season at work. The work project is particularly interesting and tends to absorb my attention to the point that I have to use alarms to remind me to take my medication, eat lunch, put laundry in the dryer, check on dinner, or go to carpool.

Last night, I forgot to look at my personal planner. I did all my work tasks, picked the kids up, made supper...and zoned completely out. I didn't pack the kids' lunches or make sure that they had clean clothes. (I did watch The Voice and read a novel. It was kind of glorious.)

Other than forgetting to check my personal planner yesterday (a major fail), my two planner system is working pretty well. I wanted to shares the things that are working, in case anyone is considering a two planner system.

1. I still schedule all meetings and hard deadlines in my personal planner.

It helps that I have very few meetings and that most of my deadlines are soft. If I had constant hard deadlines, my system would be really complicated.

2. I keep work information confidential by coding meetings and hard deadlines in my personal planner to reference my work planner.

There is NO reason to put any information about my work in my personal planner, and good reason to leave the information OUT of my personal planner. I am a lawyer, and should any court or my employer ask to see my legal work, I don't want to have to give up my personal information, too.

An entry in my personal planner might say, "9 a.m. W - T/C" (which means a work-related telecom, or telephone call, at 9 a.m.). The entry in my work planner would be much more detailed, "9 a.m., T/C with ABC re: Project - Example Name." The work entry might also have goals of the telephone call or questions to get answered noted on it.

3. I schedule work in my personal planner and try to stick to the schedule.

My work schedule is flexible, but in order to get it done, I try to have to schedule certain hours in my planner.

4. All notes, meeting logs, and project planning happens in the dedicated work planner.

5. I always use the smallest planner that works effectively for my tasks.

I use my personal planner everywhere, so it must fit in my purse. For my work planner, it mostly sits at my desk (at home, since I work from a home office). If I do need to go to a meeting, I carry a larger leather bag instead that fits a classic-sized planner. I can afford to have a heavier, bigger planner. The extra space lets me take all of my research notes right there in the planner. If my job required more errands, I'd probably use a smaller planner and a notebook, instead.

So far, the system is working for me. I love having two planners. I just need to remember to keep working BOTH systems.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 7: His Homework, My Planner

I have a second grader. Mostly, he's really great about doing his homework. He writes it in his planner at school. (His planner is one provided by the school.) He packs his bag. He brings it home. He does homework quickly. He brings it back to school.

Except, every now and then, when he forgets to write it in his planner. Then the work doesn't get done. (Like mother, like son, right?)

Mostly, he doesn't write in his planner because something happened to change his routine at school. When we go over what happened, I realize I'm not going to be able to improve his behavior. For example, they have religion class (with a special bag and no time to grab their planner), so he just has to remember that he has religion homework. But he doesn't remember, and he doesn't go straight back to class to write it down immediately.

For a long time, I was looking up his homework on-line every night. That took forever as the on-line homework program the school uses is clunky. So I started writing everything in my planner every week. But I hated it on my daily entries, because it was FYI only and took up valuable space.

So I put the homework in the corner.

Kabooma! It works.

The lesson here is that some things are truly need-to-know, but that doesn't mean they need the important spaces in your planner.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Bonus Post: A Peek Into My Parenting

Loki was chatting with a little girl slightly younger than him during his brother's karate class.

She asked him, "are you a boy or a girl?"

"A boy."

"I'm a girl. Do you know how you tell a boy from a girl?"

"Oh," Loki replied quite seriously, while Mommy held her breath and wished away the word penis, "sure. A girl wears lipstick."

"'Xactly," the little girl said earnestly. "Daddy never even wears lipstick."


Tiny Changes Challenge Day 6: Coffee Brewing Chores

I brew coffee every morning. Usually, I stand in front of the pot, watching it drip, drip, drip.

Instead, in honor of my tiny changes series, I threw a load of laundry in the wash and took out the trash while the coffee brewed this morning.

I already feel way ahead of the day.

Pick a chore or two that you can do while waiting on something regular (like toast or coffee, or even during the first commercial of the Today Show). You won't regret it.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 5: Menu on Weekly Planner Pages

I go back and forth over including a menu in my planner. I like to see the menu, but there doesn't seem to be a good place to put it. I either can't see it on Monday through Thursday or I can't see it over the weekend.

So, for this week's tiny change, I put the first half of the menu on top of the first half of the week.

The second half goes on top of the second half of the week.

It's working nicely so far.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 4: Household on Weekly Planner Pages

I don't use a cleaning checklist of any sort. I try to clean as I go, focusing on the public areas, the areas with the most impact if I clean them or areas where guests will stay as priorities. I also try to do a little each day.

But some things need to go on my radar because they need to be cleaned or organized. I call this my "household" list (since all the things are in the house).

I've started keeping this list in the today marker between the current weeks, on the back of the task list.

I don't see it all the time, since I turn the task list around for the second half of the week (Friday through Sunday), but it's there if I want to work on those special household projects, like getting my hair accessories organized and under control.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 3: Daily Routine on Weekly Planner Pages

To learn new routines, I generally write them down for about a month. By then, I remember them pretty well. If there is a reason why I won't remember (say, when I was sleep-deprived with an infant and had to pack a diaper bag), I'll keep using the checklist, but for true daily stuff with no special circumstances, I just write down the checklist until I memorize it.

But I am struggling with my daily routine of packing up the kids for the next day. I don't know why I'm having so much trouble. After school, they do homework, I supervise chores, and I set out a snack, a water bottle, and clothes for the next day. It's nothing fancy, so I keep telling myself that I will remember to do this stuff daily.

I am a liar. I am not going to do all five steps. I will forget something. I wouldn't have, at 22, but at 39...

I needed to see the routine every day, but I didn't want to copy it week-to-week.

So I dedicated the very bottom of my page marker to the daily routine.

A little bitty change from a sticky note on the page, but it works much better!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 2: Chores - Water Bottles

Every night, I refill my family's water bottles for work and school the next day. We live in the South, so this is a critical step in keeping all of us hydrated and saving tons of money on buying water. Also, there's the saving the planet and all. :)

For years, I've been refilling the water pitchers in the refrigerator whenever they run out of water (with two in the rotation, so that we always have cold water) and pouring water from the pitchers into the smaller water bottles each night before bed. The pitcher and water bottles go in the fridge until morning.

It occurred to me Okay, my husband POINTED OUT (dammit) that I would fill a pitcher, then fill the bottles, and the pitcher would be half full and need to be refilled sooner. Instead, I had the brilliant idea he suggested that I fill the water bottles whenever I fill the pitcher each night, at the sink. Then, I have cold water bottles AND two cold pitchers of water in the morning and save time filling the pitcher.

(In my defense, he has never rarely ever had a time-saving tip before. My brain is still trying to wrap itself around this sexy new development in our relationship!)

So, Day 2 of Giftie Etcetera's Tiny Changes Challenge - fill the water bottles from the sink instead of the pitcher!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Tiny Changes Challenge Day 1: Planner - Week/Month Tasks

I am excited to issue my Loyal Readers a challenge. For one week, make a tiny change each day in your planner set-up or routine that cuts the time of tasks or makes more sense for the way you are working. I'm not talking about a big overhaul of your planner tabs or a drafting of a spring cleaning list. I'm talking about one thing that makes your life easier.

Designate a decorative bowl for your keys as you walk in the door.

Put a reminder on your planner to get your yearly check-up and circle it, so you recopy it from year to year.

Make an extra serving of supper for lunch the next day.

Put a colorful highlight or square around your important due dates.

Whatever you decide to do, come back here and share your tweaks in the comments, so that other readers can get ideas! Seven days. Seven changes. A huge difference in your life.

My change, day one?

I put my weekly/monthly task list in a Franklin Covey page marker, so it moves from week to week with ease.

Any tasks that are day specific go on the daily list and tasks that must be done this week generally get scheduled on a certain day. But there's lots of other stuff that is too important to go on my master task list (more someday/maybe type tasks) and need to be in my face. For a while, I was hole-punching my task list, but it's a pain to move each week. A reader suggested this page marker that allows you to slip in a piece of paper, I cut paper to size, and it worked perfectly.

A simple solution that saves only seconds each week (moving the tasks from week to week), but makes me happy and does save some time.

Happy problem solving. Remember to sign up for emails whenever I post (left gutter to subscribe), and come back all week for more daily ideas!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Planning The Weekend

If there is one time when things can get out of control, it's the weekend. All that unstructured time means mommy doesn't look at her planner as often, kids take out a million toys, and daddy does "projects" that create mess.

I'm not one of those people who think you should work all weekend. Humans need time to relax, and for so many of us, weekends are our only opportunity. But if you don't want your week to suck (and you don't want your week to suck, right?), there are some things you should do.

1. Guard your weekends. Only schedule things that are important on your weekend. Your weekend entries on your planner should be open and emptier than weekly entries. If you don't need to sign up for a new on-line bank account on Saturday morning, wait until Wednesday.

Note the difference between the Monday - Friday entries (left) and the weekend entries (right).

2. Do your maintenance chores, but don't marathon everything on the weekends.

Even if you are doing a load of laundry every week night, you might still have to do a load or two on the weekend, depending on the size of your family. But unless you have absolutely no other choice, don't plan to do any major, regular chores on the weekend. Otherwise, weekends become too much work.

3. But do double up on stuff better done on weekends.

For some people, weekends are for special chores, like building a deck (not at my house), cleaning the pool (not at my house), or cleaning out the garage (I'm starting to feel like I live in a tiny, tiny house).

For me, weekends are for cooking the things that I don't have time to cook during the week. I find cooking relaxing, so it is the perfect chore to assign to Sundays. But I definitely take advantage of the extra time by cooking double or chopping extra veggies for the freezer. It's a little thing that I usually don't have time to do during the week, but that makes my life so much easier.

4. Don't take the weekend completely off. Continue to erase the evidence, or the mess will catch up with you.

5. Do get ready for Monday. It's really easy, on Sunday afternoon, to sit around and be lazy. But check your planner for Monday, load up your briefcase, tote bags, and backpacks, and make sure you have a lunch and dinner plan.

Sadly, tomorrow is Monday.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Secret Habits Of The Organized

How is it that some people have things all together and are so organized, while the rest of us struggle to get through the day?

I have five secrets to share that will help even the most unorganized person get through the day. The truth is that when I do these things, my life stays on track, I show up on time for appointments, and my house is not a disaster. When I don't (like, say, YESTERDAY for example...sigh), things fall apart.

1. Use a planner.

You knew I was going to say that, right?

Seriously, though, yours does NOT need to be as complicated a system as mine.

A small notebook where you write down things you need to remember is fine to start with. Consider using the back of the first page for on-going stuff and the right side for today or this week. When you are done for today or this week, tear out that page (and toss, if you don't have a filing system or need to archive activities), and start tomorrow or next week's page, without having to recopy the on-going stuff, as it is still there on the left!

2. Have a capture board for house only or office only information.

I love my planner. But the list of ideas for extra chores that my kids can do to earn time playing with electronics and my grocery needs don't need to take up valuable planner space, as those things will never leave the house. (I make a grocery list in my coupon binder weekly, but I almost always do that at home.) I do NOT use my fancy dry erase board for planner-appropriate stuff, but for jotting an ingredient that I use the last of while cooking dinner or for noting that my bathroom needs cleaning, the wipe erase board is perfect.

Modify this at the office for those temporary, sometimes reminders that you don't need in your planner. (Lunch with your favorite office mate, anyone? "Lunch with Elle sometime this week!")

3. Do something extra.

When you are wiping up a spill on the counter, go ahead and clean off the top of the stove, the sink, or the knobs on the stove.

While chatting with your spouse as he walks in the door, go ahead and fold those clean towels while you visit.

If you walk from the kitchen to the bathroom, carry the clean towels with you to put away.

Realize you need to take a folder home from work tonight? Put it in your bag.

4. Erase the evidence.

After completing any task, erase the evidence of that task. Teach your family to do this, too.

If I had been erasing the evidence as I got my work done, my desk would not look like this.

You can get rid of the evidence of whatever you are doing. Think about ways you can do this that are not so obvious. 

For example, most people know it's best to clean up after dinner. But what about erasing the evidence of your shower (e.g., wipe down the walls of the shower, put caps back on the shampoo, and hang up your towel)? Make sure no one can tell that you went to karate and ate in your car by putting your karate bag in the trunk, washing your kid's karate uniform, and tossing the fast food bags. After working on a project at work, put the files in the active files, clear away the scraps of paper where you did the math, and backup your work as necessary.

5. Create action prompts.

When I pack lunch for work, I often store it in the fridge. But I put a spoon or fork on top of my work bag, reminding me to grab my lunch before I leave the house.

Last night, I washed the kids' blankets. The blankets are sitting on their chairs in the kitchen, to remind them to put them away before eating supper.

I unloaded the groceries and put my reusable bags by the back door so that I bring it to my car when I leave the house for carpool.

Anything you can do to put things that you will use in activities in a place where they prompt the action (usually, the action to put them away or use them) will help.

Of course, don't let this take the place of doing something extra. It's okay to have a small basket at the bottom of the stairs to prompt you to bring the laundry upstairs the next time you go to the second floor. However, if piles of stuff land at the bottom of the stairs, blocking the stairway, doing something extra and bringing everything upstairs immediately is a better choice for your home.

If you dedicate to doing these five things for a month, I promise it will change your life.

Remember to come back and comment on how you are doing with the five secret habits of the organized!