10 Tips for Utilizing your Planner & Organizing Your Life

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Twenty-four years ago, my new husband gave me a giant planner for Christmas.

I know. This might be only slightly better than a vacuum.

It wasn’t because he thought I NEEDED one. He really thought I’d LIKE one. He’d started a new job and part of it included using this big planner system. I thought it was ridiculous. He thought it was fantastic, and was fairly confident I would, too, once I used it.

I hauled that big planner out in January of 1996, and I’ve been hooked on a paper planner ever since. Oh sure. I tried to stay organized on my phone in 2008. I remember it vividly because it was the year I forgot everything. So back to paper I went.

With 5 kids playing all kinds of sports at every level and a job that has endless observations and meetings, a planner that is efficient and effective is imperative, and what I do now works for me. Here’s a few pointers on making a planning system that works for you!

1. Whether a paper planner or your phone, invest in it fully. You’re a mom and busy. Assume right now you’ll forget everything if it’s not in your planner, and then write everything in it. You’ll never have to wonder where your list is – it’s in your planner. That invite? You wrote the important info in your planner and threw it away. The “to do” list for the party? Yep – you wrote it in your planner.

2. Make a code that works for you. Each of my boys’ names, conveniently enough, starts with a different letter. So I only use first letters for them. Sports have a code. This keeps my boxes cleaner and neater and much easier to read.

3. To me, a monthly calendar is important, but a weekly layout is essential. I need to know what my month looks like at a glance, but I like to lay out my weekly tasks, errands, thoughts, gifts to buy, and musings on the weekly spread.

4. I get invites through my calendar on my phone. Every Sunday I sit down and make sure everything that I was “invited” to on my phone and work calendar is on my planner.

5. Sunday is also when I plan my clothes for the week, when I’ll workout, and make sure I have things set for the boys’ lives. Uniforms washed? Practice jerseys in the right spot? My clothes are arranged in order in my closet, workouts are scheduled, and things for the boys are arranged at this time, too, or added to my planner for later in the week.

6. I LOVE checking things off my lists. Big checks go by accomplished tasks, lines go through deleted tasks, and an arrow lets me know I’ve moved it.

7. Thursday, I use a highlighter and highlight anything on my weekly planner that must get finished by the end of the week. This helps me prioritize as my week winds down.

8. I keep sticky notes in my planner for added info that might need to move from week to week and notes I take when on the phone. I also have a personalized planner and add extra note pages – I use those for informal meetings.

9. While stickers are cute, I just don’t have any desire to utilize them – they make things complicated and gives me less space to write. I prefer flair pens (the fave of teachers), and am absolutely not beholden to certain colors. I use what I find!

10. I have older kids, and by high school they were monitoring a lot of their activities. I had their games on my calendar, but once they could drive they were in charge of their practices. I knew when they were, but for the most part they took care of their own schedules by age 16. All of them use their phones exclusively for planning now, but they do have a system. I’d like to think seeing my intense planning had something to do with this!

Marcus knows better than to attempt to buy me a planner now. I am VERY particular and super excited when it shows up in the mail. My system works for me, but it took a while to get there. And I’ll add, I’ve been drawing an arrow by “change the shower curtains” for about 13 weeks now, so just because it’s on the planner doesn’t mean it gets off the planner…but it’s a start!


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Michelle is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at WSU and loves spending time with students, teachers, books, and little people. Married to Marcus for 25 years, they have five sons ranging in age from 13-23 and look forward to welcoming a girl into the family in June – when her oldest son gets married. Endless practices and games fill her weekends; her boys plays sports at various levels both locally and in college. Running gets her out of bed in the morning, reading helps her fall into it at night, and QT drinks help close the gap!

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