All my life I have rebelled against life organizing tools. Whether it was the assignment books they gave us in school or the pocket calendar my parents would not-so-subtly give me for Christmas every year, I wanted nothing to do with organizing tools. For me, the time it took to write out to-do lists was time away from writing or something much more important. Besides, I was really good at storing it all in my head.
Until I wasn’t.
Grad school was when my “in-brain” organizer got overwhelmed. It was constantly full and when I tried to cram more things into it, cracks formed. Things I was supposed to be getting done leaked out. It frustrated the hell out of me. I beat myself up a lot for being forgetful. I realized self-hate was a useless waste of energy, I set out to find a more reliable system.
First, there was the traditional to-do list. That worked okay–when I didn’t lose the list, ignore it, or when I was able to remember everything I was supposed to put on it. The problem with daily to-do lists is it’s easy to lose sight of things you’re supposed to be doing for long-term projects. Plus, writing everything down you need to do for a big project can make you feel like you have to climb Mt. Everest in a day, leading to multiple to-do lists that were equally easy to lose or ignore.
I persisted with various versions of this folly for several years. I tried keeping the list in my email manager. I tried dividing it up across numerous sticky notes clinging to my computer. I tried a dry erase board. I even tried timed popups that would spring onto my computer screen and assaulting me with flashing graphics and 90s pop music. When I got my iPhone, I tried Apple’s tasks app, a notification app, an app that synced with my Gmail account, and even an app that “gamified” my to-do list by giving me points, loot, and praise for each task I completed.
None of it stuck.
Enter the Planner Pad. My friend and freelance writer Helen Fields gushed about in a blog post for The Science Writers’ Handbook. I was put off by the website a bit, but after Helen’s enthusiastic recommendation, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try. I bought myself the Executive Size undated planner as an early Christmas gift.
I’ve been using it every day ever since. The reason why I think it works is it gives me a big space at the top for an overall big to-do list where all of my long-term and short-term goals can live. I use the columns to break them down into manageable steps, then move those steps to the daily to-do list column in the second row. When I finish something, I cross it out. There may not be as much crossing out on the big to-do list as there is on the daily ones, but the crossed out lines on the daily lists make me feel more productive. They serve as a good reminder to celebrate the small victories just as much as the big ones.
I think the Planner Pad works so well for me because I’ve been taking notes by hand all my life. My synapses are primed for a knowledge-to-brain-to-paper connection. Deviating from that pattern hasn’t worked well. For example, I tried using a computer for my notes in grad school, but found I wasn’t absorbing the class material as well. Within a week, I was back to taking notes by hand. I love technology, but when it comes to organizing my life, it seems nothing will replace pen and paper. That works just fine for me.
Planner Pad, you can count on me to be a loyal lifelong customer. You are officially not allowed to go out of business. Ever.
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