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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Casual Planner

Saturdays are generally light planning days for me.

Today, for example, we are mostly hanging around the house. 
We are truly stuck at home because we are babysitting so that my sister can finish her Christmas shopping. We had holiday events all day yesterday. We are done shopping, but not wrapping or receiving all deliveries. I need to clean up, but that can be done at a leisurely pace over the next couple of days.

There's not a bunch of scheduled stuff or mandatory tasks, but there are tasks that I need to keep track of and get done.

On days like this, I use my planner in a very casual way.

I might make several different kinds of list, like places in the house to clean or things that my husband needs to get done while he is home for the weekend.

I also skip steps in my planning, like context codes. No need to indicate that everything must be done at home when I can only list things that must be done at home. And Loyal Readers know that I try not to do useless things in my planner.

If you are new to planning, or just have a not-so-complicated day planned, try casual planning. It's fun and good enough.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Loading Santa's Sack: A Guide for Good Elves

The worst feeling in the world is arriving at a Christmas party without a gift for a child who is expecting one. Santa has a magical plan to avoid ever forgetting a present!

So I closed my eyes and traveled to the North Pole, to see how the experts in loading Santa's gift sack deal with this problem on a worldwide scale.

The elves had their tiny elf planners snug in their mittens! 

Let's take a peek at their plan for making sure all the gifts arrive at the right place, on time, for Christmas.

1. First, they list all the gifts and check them off as they buy and wrap them.

2. Then they add a code for each household or Christmas party that Father Christmas intends to visit. (B, L, and Z, using family name initials, in the example.)

3. Finally, they count the gifts attached to each code, and note the number of gifts (along with a short list of recipients) headed to each party on the weekly spread in their little green and red planners.

When it's time to pack Santa's big red sacks, the elves simply make sure that the right number of gifts go into each bag. The multiple, shorter lists are worth it because they eliminate stress on the day of the party.

Before I came home from my amazing snowy trip, I ate one of Mrs. Claus's special Christmas cookies. They were amazing, y'all.

Ho ho ho!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Completing Lists: A Sticky Solution

Sometimes, my real life friends make fun of my blog tips. They claim that I state the obvious. 

The truth is that many of the solutions that I share with my Loyal Readers aren't obvious to me until I am desperate for a solution and try them. At that point, I realize that other people might not have thought of them, either.

(Shameless aside - I remember when my oldest was a newborn. I couldn't figure out how to weigh him on my scale. He was too long to be placed on it and he wouldn't stop wiggling anyway. A friend on the internet suggested that I weigh myself, pick him up and weigh the two of us together, and subtract. Brilliant! D'uh!)

Right now, my issue is finishing the Christmas present wrapping.

I have a list and am highlighting each gift as it gets wrapped, but it is messy and crammed at this point, making me nervous that I will forget to wrap something.

So I copied the short list of gifts still-to-be-wrapped onto a sticky note.

Now I have a simple checklist of what still needs to be done.

TIP: Use this tactic with shopping lists or task lists, too.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Planning a Holiday Week

Holidays are strange little days for my planner. 

Not a ton of appointments, but really important ones like Christmas dinner or our traditional Christmas Eve brunch at a breakfast restaurant. 

Not a ton of tasks, but woe is the person who forgets to bring the 2 year old's gift or the dirt cake.

My normal set-up (monthly appointment pages and weekly task pages) aren't quite enough, but I need more flexibility than my usual daily pages provide.

So, for December 22nd - 25th, I put some blank paper between the weekly section. They are folded back to avoid blocking the normal weekly pages.

I still keep appointments on my monthly pages and normal, non-holiday tasks (there aren't that many) on my weekly pages.

But on my holiday lists, I have deadlines, like cooking the dirt cake and wrapping gifts by December 23rd. I have day of holiday task lists (that repeat yearly), like putting out cookies for Santa and reindeer food, or unwrapping Christmas PJs on Christmas Eve. I also put a list of all gifts or items that need to be delivered (to Christmas parties or gatherings over the holidays).

Once the holiday is over, these date specific pages go with the rest of the Christmas project pages for reference for next year.

TIP: If you start a new tradition or want to change something next year, this is a good place to note it.


Planner in Progress

I put a lot of emphasis on entering information into my planner. The hows, whats, whys, whens, and wheres matter!

But I also have a simple system for use of my planner, so that I can track what still needs to be accomplished. The "in progress" marks matter a ton, as they keep me on task and they let me glance quickly at the information in my planner and make fast decisions.

Here's what the system looks like in progress:

The In Progress System

*@ = waiting on something or someone before I can do the task (pending)

*O = task ready to be done

*-O = task is started, but not complete (this is particularly useful if I can't continue yet, like laundry in the wash, but not dried and ready to be put away)

*O (checked off) = done

*O (arrow) = moved to another day

*O (X'ed through) = deleted

TIP: Regardless of code, highlight any task that is checked as done, moved, or deleted, so the rest of the tasks jump out to your eyes.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Planner Hack: The Sticky Borrowed List

I have the distinct pleasure of being in charge of everything.

Disclaimer: The above statement was full of sarcasm. And, well, truth.

The practical reality is that I am the one with a planner. If my husband wants to RSVP to a Christmas party, he asks me if it is okay. I check my planner. If my mom owes me money for the gift that I picked up from the store near my house for her to give to my kid, she asks me to remind her when I see her. As the planner in the family, I keep track of things for everybody.

I used to keep track of "Things Borrowed" in a file in my ABC Files. But I never looked at it.

So I moved the tracking of things borrowed to my weekly spread. (The green sticky at the bottom of this picture.)

I talked about this system before, but it has changed everything. I no longer worry about whether or not I paid my sister or who has a copy of a favorite movie. I know. The thoughts - and the anxiety - is off my mind.

When the sticky note gets cluttered, I just make a new one (in pink).

It's a simple trick that has changed things in such a positive way.

If I am expecting something from someone else, it's a pending item, so it is marked "@initials: item/money." If I owe the amount or item, it is a task, so it is marked "O to initials: item/money."


Sunday, December 14, 2014

When To Skip A Daily Planner

Lately, this blog is very focused on creating daily pages. And for very active days, daily pages are an incredible tool.

But I do not have a binder full of daily pages. It would be way too heavy, and frankly, useless.

Some days are not very full, and for those times, just relying on my monthly and weekly spreads makes more sense.

Of course, the Monday and Tuesday of the week above might require a daily page. But my life slows down after that, so my planner can slow down, too.

Last week was busier, and I used a daily page on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.

A planner should be a flexible tool - the right tool for the job. Sometimes, that means a monthly/weekly combination is a better way to go than a daily page.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Quick Packing Plan

Packing can make a quick weekend trip seem not worth the trouble. But there is an easy way to get your stuff together, without a lot of effort.

1. Start a list in your planner of stuff that you need to pack as soon as you schedule the trip. I keep this list in my Project section.

2. The day before the trip, go over the schedule (in your head or your planner) and toss items in a bag as you think of them.

Here's how I do it:

Friday night
Hanging out?

-sleeping bag
-dirty laundry bag
Getting ready for bed?


Notice how I go through the steps of my routine in my head, as if I were actually doing the steps, and pack what I need.

3. Some things (like a toothbrush) may be needed the day of the trip and cannot be packed in advance. Make a list of those items in your planner as you pack.

TIP: Store that list between your weekly pages so that you are forced to look at it in the morning. Or tape it to your keys.

Don't forget to put cell and charger on this list!

4. Once you are packed, check your original list and add anything from that list that you have not packed yet.

5. Then, and this is key, go through an old packing list or two (I file these in the ABC Notes/Files section of my planner) and see if you forgot anything! If so, add it to your suitcase.

Five steps. You can pack quickly and expertly and never forget anything again.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Change One Thing

Pick one thing to change that makes a big difference in your life.

Maybe you start a log of important telephone calls in your planner or in a computer log like this one in OneNote.

Next time they claim you never called them, you have evidence.

Or start defrosting meat the night before.

Put out a basket as a designated area for your purse and planner.

My one thing?

When I take off my jeans, I'm hanging them back in the closet. It saves me the trouble of washing, drying, and hanging again. Don't worry...I spill coffee often enough, and therefore HAVE to clean them, that they never get dingy.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Writing Pending Decisions in a Planner

Sometimes, an event is coming up which requires a decision, but a decision cannot be made yet. Maybe my husband has to figure out if he can get off of work or I need more information before deciding.

I am guilty of leaving these unmade or pending decisions floating around in Facebook messages or in my email inbox.

Bad idea.

I use my planner to plan, and without the pending decisions noted in my planner, I might double book the dates or forget to check on the information that I need.

This time a year, Christmas party invites are plentiful and we cannot make all the events. Also, gifts are ordered and will be arriving at home, so I need to plan to be around, but in between arrivals, I need to get errands done.

Since I use erasable Frixion pens, I "pencil" stuff onto my monthly events/appointments calendar using a question mark.

In the example below, I penciled in a furniture delivery (waiting on confirmation of morning or afternoon, which is expected tomorrow) and a few Christmas parties (waiting on information about family obligations before RSVP'ing yes or no).

I also add a task to my weekly spread to remind me of either what I need to do, the deadline for the decision, or what/who I am waiting on.

For furniture, I'll write "@AF: delivery time" on Tuesday's entry (translation: @ = pending; AF = the name of the furniture store; delivery time = what information I am waiting on). For the Smith party, I'll write "O^c RSVP Smith" on Thursday's entry (translation: O = task; ^c = context code of "at computer"; RSVP Smith = the task).

That's two steps.

1. Pencil in the event with a question mark.
2. Create the next action task or a pending note.

Pending decisions are now obvious on my planner and ready for me to deal with in a timely manner.


The Food Plan

So many of my readers ask about menu planning. 

In its simplest form, a menu plan consists of deciding in advance what to cook for supper. For a bit more sophistication, a weekly dinner menu can be made and keep in the weekly section of a planner. Depending on the family's needs, breakfast and lunch plans might be helpful.

In my house, I use a hybrid of these methods. I have three or four breakfast staples (cereal, toast, waffles, and oatmeal/fruit) that I always keep on hand. I eat lots of leftovers for lunch, but have some quick backup lunches available all the time. (My favorites are Easy Mac...shush!...and frozen, cooked shrimp for a quick shrimp cocktail.) But I plan dinners, based on sale ingredients, the family's schedule, and how much energy I have.

I've written about this topic, menu and food prep, a lot: here, here, here, here, and here.

But something that needs more focus is scheduling time to deal with food prep.

Generally, cooking at home takes less time than getting in the car, driving to a restaurant, and picking up food. Still, it does take some time.

One of the biggest food planning mistakes is to forget to plan TIME: time for prep, time for cooking, and time for cleaning up.

TIP: Have others clean up for the cook.

For example, today's menu is toast for breakfast, pasta and grilled chicken for lunch, and leftover grilled chicken or hamburger steaks (depending on whether I have hamburger meat in the freezer) with oven fries for dinner.

But, apart from the actual cooking (from recipes that I know or have written down and with ingredients that I keep on hand all the time), I need to freeze some leftover veggies, make a salsa for tomorrow, and defrost the meals. Those steps go in my planner.

Note that defrosting is time sensitive, so that step goes on the schedule, while freezing extra veggies goes on the should do task list.

However you do food planning, consider incorporating the time to prep and cook in your schedule. In the long run, when you are not running to get takeout all the time, it will help you save time and money.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Planner Tip: The Folded Gift List

I'm late with today's blog. It's because I spent the whole weekend Christmas shopping! This elf is tired, but the shopping is almost done.

The worse part of shopping this year is combining in the store shopping by my husband and me with Amazon shopping by my husband. Keeping track of who is buying what, what is bought, how it's getting here, what is wrapped, do the boys have an equal number of gifts, etc. is OVERWHELMING.

My planner helps, but the list in there got crazy and crowded and was not working.

So I recopied it onto a two page spread, but first I had to make columns to check off items bought and items wrapped.

I didn't have graph paper handy, so I improvised.

I folded the paper (lining up edges equally) to make columns.

Once I did that, I recopied the list, neatly. I used the following codes, borrowed from the codes that I normally use for task lists:

*check mark = bought
*circle = to buy (an idea borrowed from my task list circles)
*@AMB = my husband will order/buy (again, @ is pending on my task list)
*@AMAZ = ordered and waiting on Amazon to deliver

Also, again echoing my task lists, I highlighted those things that have been bought or ordered, so the rest would jump out at me.

By using the planner techniques that I already use daily, the list started to make sense to me. Mischief managed!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Lazy Planner: Elf on the Shelf

I don't put ideas for John Henry, our Elf on the Shelf, in my planner.

I don't schedule moving the elf.

I don't worry or stress about the elf.

I just have the elf do something that goes along with our daily plan.

Decorating the tree? Have him hang from the limbs.

Christmas shopping? (The shopping list was written with my nondominant hand, using scratch planner paper.)

Wrapping gifts? Wrap candy canes from John Henry.

Writing letters to Santa? John Henry brings back a response.

I seriously don't think about it. If night comes, and we forget to move him, oh well! Sometimes, he moves during the day. No biggie.

Nothing to do with him? He can hide in the stockings or build a Lego structure. It's fun. It is NOT a chore. If it was a chore, I would not do it.

Maybe you aren't an elf person. (Anti-elf?) But there is something that you do at Christmas that can be done only on a whim and is not required. A gift for a co-worker? A craft that you do every year?

This year, take that off you planner and only do it if the urge strikes, for fun!

It will make your Christmas nicer.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Planner Quickie: The Check Off Task List

Planners are quick. You open them, you write, and you close them. Done. 

In the time that it took for me to type that and for you to read it, you could have written three tasks in your planner.

The truth is that serious planners spend a lot of time, writing each task in the correct part of the planner, with the correct context code and in a pretty handwriting. We obsess over how the insides of our planners look and function, sometimes so much that the quick aspect of using the planner gets abandoned.

But there is a time for a quick list, and, if you have a planner, there is a place for it.

A quick list of tasks should be created when tasks will be done immediately or soon, right in a row, but there are enough tasks that it is worth writing them down. 

For me, the magic number of tasks that must be written down is three. I can't help it. Two tasks in - and I forget what I was doing! (I'm older than I look. This is proof of my age.)

I might write a quick list of things to do before I go to bed. 

(Pants, in the example below, mean that my kids must wear long pants with their school uniform tomorrow. I may be getting older, but I do remember to wear pants.) (Um, usually.)

Or maybe I am about to go on some errands, and just jot the order of the errands.

Perhaps I need to proofread the article, email the article, and file the article. A quick list makes sure that, while proofreading, I don't forget to send the article to my boss.

If the day is almost over anyway, the jotted tasks just go in the leftover space on my daily page. Otherwise, they go on my dashboard paper. 

The mess of the rest of the page, combined with the big circles notating tasks, makes the list jump off of the page visually when written on an otherwise complete day.

Planners are an excellent tool. Don't forget to use them for their primary purpose - to get things done that need doing.


Future Pages (Video)

Future pages are important in a paper planner because, unlike an e-planner, calendar pages don't go on forever in a paper planner. Today's video (click here) overviews how I use my future pages.

TIP: If there is no future page in your planner, don't wait to make a complete system of future pages. Get a sheet of paper and make a future page immediately. You can tweak it later!

My Future section is tucked right behind my Calendar section.

Basically, I have three parts to my future pages set-up.

First, I have recurring yearly events/tasks.

Recurring yearly events include birthdays and anniversaries. The tasks include some doctors' appointments or car inspections.

For anything that happens every year, I have six pieces of special paper (the page with the blue strip in the picture above, but you could use washi tape for the same effect) that I divide into twelve months (one on each side of paper) and double punch (so the current month can always be the first thing after the Future tab).

TIP: Next to each birthday, include the year of birth and whether you need to send a card, make a phone call, buy a gift, or throw a party.

Example - Loki's Bday (2008) [gift, party]

Second, I have a yearly calendar for the upcoming year.

All that happens here is that any date where I am booked for something gets highlighted. For example, if I agree to substitute teach the week of February 16 - 20 so a teacher can go to a conference, I highlight that week. This technique lets me check my future calendar for conflicts very quickly.

I have these pages folded (so they only take up half a page of space and work as a natural divider between the recurring future pages and the one-time future pages).

Third, I have one-time future pages.

I simply use hole-punched, lined inserts and divide each into three parts on each side. After the next year, I have one page labeled 2016 and Beyond.

Example -



One-time events and tasks that will happen after my monthly calendar pages end go on those pages. Dividing each page into three sections allows me to visually only copy one month at a time to my new monthly pages as I add those to my planner.

TIP: At the end of each month, have a recurring (i.e., circled) task to check future pages for upcoming dates to be copied into your monthly pages.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adjusting to the New Routine

My daily routine just changed dramatically. I am a creature of habit, so this change has been jarring to my psyche.

Before, my husband left for work. Right after he left, I did morning routine with the kids, carpool (an hour and fifteen minute long event), workout (yoga class or YMCA), work for four hours and/or errands, lunch at home, housework, a short rest period/my downtime, and then the kids arrived home with my husband for us to split up overseeing chores and homework. After homework, my husband had his downtime while I made supper (most nights). If I didn't cook he might pull together something quick for the kids, and then he and the oldest go to karate some days.

Now, my husband does morning carpool instead of me and gets home after homework/chores.


(Yes, intentional screamy caps.)

I can't wake up before they leave, else my mere presence upsets the force. (The force is named Loki. He is six years old. He makes Darth Vader look pretty pleasant when the force is disturbed.) So I wake up but hide under the pillow until they leave, wasting a good 45 minutes of the day. (Okay, I keep sleeping for that full 45 minutes. Still wasted!) 

But my husband can't handle making lunches for the kids and remembering snack and water bottles (seriously, he does his share, truly, but this managing multiple things at once early in the morning is not in his skill set), so I have to do that the night before instead of in the morning, like I used to.

In order to do lunch at home (the only really affordable choice, since I don't have an office where I can heat something up), I have to skip yoga class and work from home in the morning. I like to work remotely. There is no tv (or bed or even laundry) at the library!

Then, right after I eat, I have to go workout. Yuck. I just ate. Also, the best yoga teacher is in the city at 8 a.m. (but I can't justify an extra trip into the city at 8 a.m., time-wise or gas-wise). So I do the step machine alongside the retirees and the guys who workout all day. (I swear on monkeys that they are there at 8 a.m. AND at 1 p.m.). 

If I grocery shop, I have to bring coolers with me or the stuff melts. Errands are rushed because I have to be at carpool on time, instead of leaving carpool to do errands in a proper leisurely fashion. 

Oh, and morning carpool never has a line, but afternoon carpool takes FOREVER and I have to sit and wait in line. For bonus points, Louisiana changed the law and I can no longer use my cell phone while STOPPED in the carpool line. Ugh.

After school, I have to handle homework and chores alone. I'm used to my husband's help. It's a nightmare when both boys have tests...and when they test me. Plus, I can't start supper until it's all done, pushing supper later.

Notice the lack of downtime in this new, shinier scenario. (Shinier like a bad bald spot or a slimy worm. The sarcasm kind of shiny.)

I can stay up for an extra 45 minutes, I guess. But my husband doesn't, so that means we would go to bed separately. Sometimes, that is the only time we get alone together all day!

I'm doing what I can. I'm planning more portable lunches (with salads and thermoses). I'm researching later yoga and other classes, for after an early lunch. During carpool, I've been trying to do my planning for the next day. (I'm seated, in park, brake locked, in a parking lot.)

But it sucks. My husband doesn't like the new routine. My children don't like the new routine. And I HATE the new routine.

Whine Fest over! Thanks for listening. Back tomorrow with a real blog entry. I swear on monkeys!


A Peek in a Planner - Video Highlights

I recently did a video (click here) reviewing some recent changes that I have made to make my planner my functional.

Highlights from the video:

*I keep temporary tabs in my planner for currently, but not usually, active pages.

*Grocery list includes a checklist of shopping/coupon prep.

*I double-hole punch pages so they can go in the right or left hand sides of my planner.

*I use a project index to make project pages easy to locate.

*I keep the YMCA workout schedule in my planner.

*I use one number to indicate a date, where the month and year are already obvious.

*My Christmas list is simple, with complicated notes kept separately in my planner. That way, I don't miss anyone because the visual is clean.

*Extra tabs are usually on the top of the planner, but work better on as side tabs in the Calendar section only.

*I keep a cheat list of daily events/appointments in my monthly spread.

*Must dos go in a different column than should dos.

*I use context codes (like home = H or computer = C) for tasks.

*A sticky note contains a list of things borrowed to or from me on my weekly spread.

*A daily page works for busy days only. No need to have one every single day.

*A recurring task (circled to indicate recurring) reminds me to do my daily chores.

*Once I make a daily page, I mark out the monthly and weekly entries for that date so that I never miss anything or double book.

*I highlight daily chores and monthly goals as they are done or met.

*My budget planner is a simple subtracting checkbook register-type entry.

*I staple extra weeks in my undated pages so that I never accidentally use them.

*Coming soon: Future Pages video!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Planner Top Ten List: To Do in December

1. Have a planner meltdown. 

Decide, completely based on the business of the holiday season, that your planner is, all at once, too big to carry and too little to write in.

2. Change bags 104 times.

After all, you need your hands free to shop, but your backpack/crossbody/messenger bag is too heavy with your planner in it.

3. Buy planner supplies on a whim, every single time you shop.

I got these at Big Lots for $1 for 160 sheets. I punched them (double punched) myself.

4. Shove so many receipts into your planner, instead of your wallet with the nice pocket just for receipts, that your planner will not close.


5. Have at least one friend/family member ask you to keep track of a receipt because "you have a good filing system." 

Don't have the heart to tell them that, right at this minute, that filing system consists of 2/3s of your kitchen counter.

(That actually happened to me this week.)

6. Buy two gifts for one person because you forgot to write it down the first time. Only realize when said recipient opens the SECOND identical gift.

(Happened to me last year.)

7. Lose your Elf on a Shelf.

8. Find your Elf on a Shelf while unloading the Christmas tree in front of your kids.

9. Get told by many, many Facebook friends how awful Elf on the Shelf really is, as if you didn't already know from the second night you owned him...when he forgot to move because you fell asleep!

Also, yes he is naughty. No, I am not ashamed of that. Yes, I understand that I am scarring my children for life.


10. Spill an eggnog latte on your planner when you place your shopping bags on the table.

(Has not happened to me, thank goodness...yet.)


Planner Simplicity: The Single Digit

Saving time to do the things that you love is the point of planning ahead. A simple hack that saves both time and space is to only use part of a date or time when the rest of the page indicates the rest of the necessary information.

For example, instead of writing that you have a doctor's appointment at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, December 18, 2014, you can write in the monthly calendar square (so that you already KNOW the date from the calendar) "10:15 Dr. Smith." The a.m. is not necessary as doctors generally don't schedule appointments at 10:15 p.m.

Here are some examples from my planner of shortcuts for writing dates and times.

*Drop the ":00" after an on-the-hour appointment and drop the "a.m." or "p.m." if the time obviously refers to one or the other.

*For a checklist of chores for the month,
label the month once at the top, then just use the numbers 1 - 31 (or 30...or 29 for February to account for leap years).

*For temporary lists that are month-specific (like your Christmas gift list) or that repeat the same way every month (like a general bills due list of dates), 
use the numbers 1 - 31 (or 30...or 29 for February to account for leap years).

*When writing in a monthly budget page in your planner, only use one number to indicate the date.

In the example, December 1st and 2nd become 1 and 2.

*On yearly recurring event pages (listing birthdays, anniversaries, etc.), label the month once at the top, then just use the numbers 1 - 31 (or 30...or 29 for February to account for leap years).

*On Future pages that are already labeled with the year and month, write only numbers 1 - 31 (or as needed).

Of course, sometimes you really do need to know the exact date or time, as in my 2016 and beyond Future page. In those cases, write all the information that you need.

The point is to write as little as possible for saving time and space in your planner, but to write enough so that you are sure of the time and date. Sometimes, that means writing 11/30/14 at 12:45 p.m.; sometimes, that means writing 30...12:45.


Friday, November 28, 2014

A Christmas List

Christmas planning goes in my Project section of my planner, since it is an active category this time of year. After Christmas, I'll file the pages with December's weekly spreads and use them to create a new project next year.

The Christmas project contains the following pages:

*Christmas Shopping List
*Bought - a simple running list of each person and gift as I buy it
*From Others - a list of what the kids are expecting from other people so that I don't buy the same things
*Ideas - for my kids, my husband, and other people (as three separate pages)

TIP: I keep my own list on Amazon. That way, my husband can just click and order!

I don't keep a decorations list because all decorations are in the same boxes.

NORTH POLE PRO TIP: Keep Elf on the Shelf with the Santa wrapping paper hidden separate from the decorations. And use only paper with a picture of Santa on it for Santa paper, and all other paper for Christmas wrapping in general.

I keep Elf on the Shelf ideas on Pinterest.

A note on your planner every November, reminding you where you hid the Elf, is quite useful. Guess what Giftie forgot to write in her planner? Awkward! Let the great Elf quest begin!

I also just write parties on the calendar so I don't forget about them and actual tasks on my weekly pages so that I can do them along with everything else.

Of course, all those things can go on your project pages, if you would like, but for me, they work much better within my normal system. My project pages are for the thinking and deciding part of planning and the logging of what is accomplished (like writing down which gifts have been purchased). If I need more Christmas wrapping paper, putting it on my regular shopping list assures that I will buy it. If I have a Christmas festival on Saturday, writing it on my monthly calendar makes sure that I don't double book Saturday. Putting any of this stuff on my project pages might mean it does not get accomplished.

But within the Christmas project, the Christmas Shopping List is the real key to making sure that I keep track of Christmas gifts. I used to write a scribbly list, full of notes about what I might get and what I did get and whether it was wrapped or delivered. It got messy and complicated.

I still note all those things, now, but most of it goes elsewhere within the Christmas project. My Christmas Shopping List is quite simple.

On the left column, the day of December when the gift must be given or delivered by is listed. I include December birthdays, parties which require a gift before Christmas, gifts exchanged on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day gifts. I simply write the digit that corresponds to the date, so December 24 is translated as 24.

The next column includes the recipients' names and a note if I am putting in with someone else to buy something.

Next are the bought and wrapped columns. They get a dot if the gift is partially purchased and a check once it is purchased. As I give away each gift, I will highlight the entry.

Keeping the list simple and using other pages for notes and reference means that I don't accidentally forget someone or buy two gifts for one person.

NORTH POLE PRO TIP: Make an unyielding rule that, even if you don't have time to record WHAT you bought at the store, you always check off that you bought something. Otherwise, chaos.

NORTH POLE BONUS TIP: On December 23, each child gets an ornament reminiscent of this year, wrapped under the tree. It lets the kids unwrap a gift early, and when they move out of the house, they can bring them with them to decorate their first tree. On December 24, they unwrap Christmas jammies to wear on Christmas Eve night, so their pictures are adorable in the morning.

Happy shopping!


How to Fold Socks

Socks are evil.

Here's how to conquer them.

1. Pile them on the counter.

2. Sort them by toe design. Do NOT fold them yet.

3. Fold them.

4. Put them in a different pile for each family member.

5. Hide the piles on their kitchen chair for them to put away later.

TIP: Extra socks go in the "extra sock timeout" to be sorted by naughty kids the next time they misbehave!

I used to let the socks sit forever because matching two socks at a time drove me crazy. Now, I just make matched piles first, and problem solved!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Day Cooking Tips: Space Management

I'm no chef, but I am a pretty decent cook. That said, my lack of chef training is really obvious on days like Thanksgiving, when I am cooking more than a meal dish and a side.

The kitchen explodes if I am not careful!

WARNING: Pictures in this post reflect reality. I did not clean the kitchen specifically for the photos, so please excuse the mess. Think of it as an attempt to make you feel better about your own kitchen disasters.

In order to cope, I make good use of timers and an advance plan of what to cook and when to cook it. That stuff definitely helps.

But the most effective tactic that I use is space management while cooking. Here's what I do.

* Recipes and Ingredients Station

I use my island, with my recipes, planner with cooking schedule, and laptop for e-recipes behind the ingredients. This keeps critical stuff away from spills and splashes, but within reading distance.

In addition, the ingredients for each food that I am cooking are grouped together in cooking order from left to right (because that's how Americans read, so that order makes sense to us).

As I get to each item, it's all ready for me to cook.

*Designated "In Progress" Area

For those things that are in the process of cooking, like my pies cooling in this picture or the lemon filling that I was actively stirring when I took the picture, I use the right side of the stove.

TIP: I'm left-handed, so the right is the inactive side for me. Feel free to switch it up if you are right-handed.

*Easy to Clean Spoon/Measuring Cup Rest

I use a thin chopping board as a place for utensils in use while cooking. It's easy to toss in the dishwasher, plus tiny spoon rests are never enough space for me. Also, I have a ton of these cheap cutting boards, so I can just toss and use a new one when company arrives.

TIP: Don't ever put utensils that touched raw meat or were used as a one-time tasting spoon on the rest area.

*Clean Constantly

Seriously, chefs clean as they go. Do the same. Toss the boxes as you open them. Trash the egg shells immediately. Wipe down the counters. (I did. I promise! It's just that I was still cooking.) Put the milk back into the fridge.

TIP: If you have kids or a willing partner, make cleaning as you go their job.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Minute Details: Planning the Day Before a Big Event

'Tis the day before Thanksgiving, 
and all through the house,
I'm thankful this year, 

that we don't have a mouse!

Seriously, y'all, last year there was a mouse and it was very uncool. The little sucker ate all our food and then, no kidding, IT TRIED TO KILL ME. I am apparently deathly allergic to rodents and ended up in the ER with a severe asthma attack.

This year, I only need to worry about the normal day before Thanksgiving stuff: a house guest (who is NOT a rodent), cooking a few dishes a day ahead (lemon meringue pie, chocolate cupcakes, ham, and cranberry sauce), and Thanksgiving Mass (where my kid is singing in the choir). Oh, right, and my husband needs his car inspected, but he has to work. Oops, and the kids are home from school.

Well, didn't this get too complicated quickly?

The day before an event tends to be a task heavy day, as opposed to a schedule heavy day. These steps allow you to plan for the day's activities without being inflexible.

1. Schedule the timed events.

In the example, choir practice and Mass is 5 p.m - 7 p.m.

TIP: Next to the event, list what needs to leave the house. In this case, we need to bring choir robes.

2. Fill in the rest of the schedule (in the example, the very top of the page) with time sensitive tasks.

I made two cooking lists. "Cook A**" is the pie crust and cupcakes, which both must be baked early and left to cool. It must be done very early in the day. "Cook B***" is the ham and cranberries, along with filling the pie and icing the cooled cupcakes. That can be done later, but must be done before we get dressed for church.

You can see how the timing decisions are made. Mandatory stuff goes first and other time sensitive stuff (to be done "before" or "after" something else) goes next.

TIP: If you cannot fit all the information on the schedule, use an * to indicate where on the page you wrote the list that corresponds to the schedule.

3. Add tentative FYI times.

It's not pictured, but I added the approximate time that my house guest is arriving.

4. Write a mandatory task list.

Under the thick grey bar, I added a short list of things that I need to get to tomorrow in the left column.

5. Add a should do task list.

In this case, the list to the right starting with "RSVP" is stuff that I will regret when I am actually doing them on Thanksgiving day if I don't get them done the day before.

6. Plan your meals.

The day will be busy. Plan out what you are going to eat.

7. Leave empty space.

Things happen. (See last year's mouse as an example.)


Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Santa: A Planner Christmas Letter

Dear Santa,

I can never figure out if I am supposed to be naughty or nice. It's confusing for a girl, you see, since you bring baby diamonds if I'm naughty. Just in case, though, I've been very nice this year.

There was that one time when I, uh...well, nevermind about that! Nice, nice, nice. That's all you have to remember, Mr. Claus.

Here are some of the things that I want for Christmas.

1. A planner that is big enough to write everything I ever think of with lots of space, but small enough to carry anywhere. Think about the bag that Hermoine uses to pack all her books and her tent in during the last Harry Potter book, but maybe in a nice blue color. It should be leather, but lightweight and easy to clean. And no buckle or snap, but a nice tight magnet. It should be professional, but fun!

2. Ink pens that have a perfect "feel" on the paper, but are brightly colored and erasable. Oh, and no bleed through, Santa. Bleed through is the work of the elf that you sent to watch us last year the devil.

3. Magnet page markers strong enough to hold the pages together really well, but weak enough to never stick when I don't want them to stick to other page markers. Oh, and short enough to not cover too much of the page.

4. A pretty, movable Today marker.

5. Task lists with plenty of lines, that move from page to page without leaving residue or losing stickiness. Not yellow!

6. A perfect layout that redesigns itself from day to day. Today, I need room for tasks and lists. But next Monday, I'll be needing a vertical hourly list. And on Tuesday, I want bubbles and chronographs. Your elves can work magic, right, Santa?

7. A menu planner that actually cooks and cleans up, instead of being just 7 empty boxes. I want the meals to be cheap and healthy, but delicious and covered in cheese and chocolate.

8. A zipper on the inside cover, big rings, and lots of storage space. But remember, Santa, I don't want the planner to be too heavy.

9. A personal Filofax, but in Franklin Covey width. Elves are magical! I believe!

10. Lots and lots of planner porn people writing about planners, so I have something to do while the rest of the family plays with their toys.

That's not too much to ask, is it, Santa Claus?


P.S. I am leaving you a bribe some cookies and a coke. Please tell the reindeer that I am leaving extra oatmeal (the spicy cinnamon and sugar kind) for them for getting all my presents safely to me. And don't bother sending an elf to watch for me being naughty. My kids would just touch him and waste all that Christmas magic.

P.S.S. I saw you kissing Mommy under the mistletoe last year, and if you don't bring me everything that I've asked for, I am putting that video on You Tube! 

A Plannerd's To Do List

It's the first day of Thanksgiving break for my kids. For me, this means extra time because I don't have to do a long carpool commute or help with homework!

Also, the kids are well-trained in cleaning up after themselves and chores, so I have some help. Other than a few have to dos, like cleaning their own rooms or doing the dishes, I bribe them to do extra chores by paying them in free electronics time. It's a win/win, because it gets them physically active in exchange for any time spent spacing out on video games and naturally limits their e-time.

Some of my free time will be taken up cooking for Thanksgiving, but not all of it, since I am not hosting this year. I am also doing a little more house cleaning, but it's not too bad right now.

This gives me time to play with my planner. 

For any of you cozying up to your planner and a cup of hot beverage, here's a to do list (and some gratuitous planner porn) to help guide you through a lazy morning of planning!

*Process your in-box.

I have inserts that need to be filed in my Projects section and receipts that need to be entered in my Budget section.

*Make a grocery list.

*Do some project planning.

*Redo your master task list.

*Make yearly pages to put in front of each month.

*Make next month's chore log.

*Update your budget/checkbook register.

*Redo your (messy?) future pages.

*Cull your notes/ABC files.

Happy planning!