Tips on using a calendar and planner

I know. It’s a calendar and planner – how hard can that be? There’s nothing tricky but I’ve seen calendars with so many notes and cross-offs you can’t read them. And I’ve seen planners with nothing in them – so here’s my advice for working with both tools in an efficient manner.

And let me say again that the best part of being organized, besides getting a lot done, is having peace of mind knowing that the most important work will be done. Keeping a calendar, planner pages, and notes in one place is a trust game you play with yourself. Is something important going to be done? If you have it in your planner, you will learn to trust that you can stop worrying about a task – it will get done. I call it Organizational Zen and it’s a nice place to be.

Choosing a calendar
That’s right – you want one calendar, no more, no less. I don’t use different calendars for home and work. I don’t keep a separate calendar in my bag. And while I do have an e-calendar set up in Google, I only use it to keep track of appointments where I am meeting with outside parties and need to send invitations.

The goal to me of being organized isn’t to be organized – it’s to be efficient and to bring peace of mind to my day. When I post to one calendar, I know there is one place I can turn to where I’ll find everything I have planned. Is something scheduled for Tuesday at 2:00? I look on my one calendar and know.

Use only one calendar to help you plan

Tips for using a calendar

  1. Make sure you choose a calendar with enough room to write.
  2. If you are using a paper calendar, write in pencil; calendar dates change and you want to keep your calendar as clean as possible so you can easily scan it. If something gets canceled, don’t cross it out – erase it.
  3. Put a box around things that have a set time, or e-color code them.
  4. Put things in parenthesis, or e-color code them, if it’s something you might do but are not committed to.
  5. Cross off days when you are unavailable – for instance when you travel – so you don’t accidentally book anything on those days.

Choosing a planner
A planner is at the heart of how you stay organized so choose one that speaks to you and fits your needs. If you aren’t sure what a planner is, go to any Staples and head down the row titled “Planners” – you’ll find dozens of sizes, styles, and colors. You may also choose an electronic planner. Do a search on-line and you’ll be amazed at the number of choices you have.

What I like about my printed, large-sized Franklin Covey Planner
I have no affiliation with Franklin-Covey; I just like them and order a new Monarch sized, 8-1/2″ x 11″planner each October. This allows me to add 9-hole-punch pages right from the printer – like flight schedules, meeting notes, password lists, etc. I also like to write and need room! If you plan to keep your planner with you in a bag and don’t write as much, they also have smaller planners. The planner I use has a 2-page spread calendar for each month, and two planning pages for each day.

Here’s a sample day from Franklin-Covey.

Write down what you need to do in a planner

The page on the left has a mini-calendar at the top for quick reference, a column to list your tasks for that day, and a column that shows the hours of the day so you can plot in meetings and scheduled calls.

The page on the right is for notes. I use this space for call or meeting notes, packing lists if I am traveling, and ideas I have for work/blogs. I often have an “out” list for errands. And I’m a foodie – so I track my weight, food, and total calorie intake for the day.

I use the upper right-hand corner of the notes page to keep track of things I am waiting for – like packages due to arrive, phone calls and emails where I am waiting for a return or answer, and meeting requests that have not been confirmed. I track things that are due to me as closely as I track my own tasks. Just because you are organized and have gotten something off your list doesn’t mean it’s done!

Keeping all of your notes in your planner is REALLY important. If you like to write on stickies, fine, just be sure to add them to your notes page so you can find them later. Like to jot down notes in the middle of the night? Perfect. In the morning, tape, staple, or write them into your planner.

The Franklin Covey planners also come with an “index” page at the start of each month. The index is a great place to jot down the date something significant happened along with a brief description. I often refer back to the monthly indexes when I’m looking for a specific day I talked to someone, jotted down a phone number, or brainstormed a specific list of ideas.

Getting tasks into your planner
In my blog post on Getting Started, you brainstormed everything you have to get done and everything you want to get done. In my post on Priortizing, you sorted out what the hottest items were on your list. Now it’s time to get those tasks into your planner.

  1. If you aren’t currently using a calendar and planner, you want to make this a habit. The best way to start a new habit is to tie it to an old habit. What can you tie weekly planning into that you already do? I like to do my planning on Sundays in the hour before or right after 60 Minutes. I’m not a big fan of TV, but 60 Minutes is something I rarely miss and tying quiet time on the couch in with planning works for me.
  2. Look at your calendar for the week ahead and add meeting times to individual planner days. This will show you where you have time this week to get things done.
  3. While you are in your calendar, look at the next few weeks. Is there anything coming up further down the line that you need to start this week?
  4. Now look at your individual planning days for scheduled meetings, lunches, travel, and decide how much time you have each day to get stuff done. If you only have a little time each day, don’t write down a dozen tasks that aren’t going to get done. Your goal is to get things done – not write them down.
  5. Go back to your prioritized list: What needs to happen today? If everything on your list feels like a top priority, you may need to fine-tune your big list before adding anything to your planner. Within the “A” list, what’s A-1? What’s A-2? What can wait till Wednesday? Are there tasks you thought were a top priority that can be added to next week?
  6. Try to get everything off your big messy list into your planner starting with the top priority items. If you have too much planned this week, start adding to next week. Or start taking things off the list. When I first did this exercise, I had A, B, and C priorities. What I found over time was that only A priorities got done, so I stopped saying “yes” to anything that wasn’t an A, moved the “Bs” to a separate “some day” list, and dropped the Cs completely.
  7. If you have big projects that need “make” and “think” time – schedule that in! Getting started on something that is important to you should be a top priority. Only you can make it so.
  8. On individual planner pages, you may want to add tasks in order of top priority so you can work your way down the list from the top to the bottom. Or you may want to group tasks like emails, calls, small tasks, big project tasks, etc.  Or you can plan by time. Are there better times of the day for you to think? Or make calls? To do mundane tasks? It’s your planner. The goal is to figure out what works best for you.
  9. As tasks get done, check them off.

At the end of the day, plan the next day
It’s the end of the day. You’ve gone to your meetings, made your calls, kept your notes in the planner, and try as you might, only about half of your list got checked off. Perfect. Tomorrow is another day. It’s time to wrap up and move forward.

  1. Look at each task you checked off. Is there anything else to that needs to be tackled around that task? No? Then it’s done and you can stop thinking about it.
  2. Now look for anything that’s not checked. Not done but still important? Put an arrow next to the task and move it to a new day.
  3. Was it partly done but not finished? Add a small “dot” and either move the task or write the remainder of work to be done on another day. Also add a dot if you assigned a task to someone else. Note who is working on it and be sure to add a note to the “waiting” area in the top right corner of your planner notes page.
  4. Is an open task something that’s canceled or not worth doing? Put an “x” next to it and don’t think about it again. 🙂
  5. Use the same marks as you review the list of stuff you are waiting for in the upper right-hand corner of your notes page. Is there anything there you need to add back onto your list to make sure it gets done? Or does it all move forward to another day?
  6. Scan the notes page to see if there is anything you want to add to the monthly index page.

That’s it for my Getting Started posts. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any thoughts, questions, or suggestions.

Here’s your Maine photo of the day. These patterns are a regular occurrence on the beaches of Cape Elizabeth. Awesome.

Sand art work from the coast of Maine




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