I’m someone who needs to have a certain amount of organization in order to not go twitchy. I don’t think I’m anal about it, but I do need a place to dump everything in my brain so that I can sleep at night. If I don’t, that stuff is running around in there and I’m on the fast track to crazy town, and really, if I’m honest, not very pleasant to be around. When I feel disorganized I get crabby.
Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different planners, day timers and organizers. Some were better for different phases of my life, others not so much. What I’ve learned is that not all planners are created equal, and it’s very rare to find a planner or organizer that will meet all my specific needs. Once we both got smart phones I even thought that the calendar on there would be awesome because we could calendar share, etc. Yeah, hate it. I mean, I do use it to put important dates in because it sends us both reminders, but that’s about it.
I’ve realized over the years that I’m a paper and pen, write it down and cross it off kind of girl. I don’t like time slots because that’s not how I break down my day, and I would just end up using the space for lists. I also don’t need an entire household “binder” system because half of the stuff in a household binder doesn’t apply to life here. BUT, there are things that I need to have near me or I get off track, like meal planning.
Last month one of the blogs that I read regularly posted that their new 2015 planner printables were available. I LOVE bright colors so it caught my attention. What caught my attention more though was what she had the planner IN for some of the pictures. It got my creative juices running and I realized that maybe, just maybe it was a solution to my ongoing planner dissatisfaction.
Going to the end of the post I found out that she was using a “disc bound” notebook system. Basically, instead of having a ring binder you punch your pages with a special hole punch and then the pages slide over the discs. It allows you to pop stuff in and out like a binder, but is more solid.
I realized that with some creativity I could put together the perfect planner for me. I could include bits and pieces from various sources to meet all the needs I had and then fill in the holes by designing my own printables where necessary. For example, there are a ton of great meal planning resources on Pinterest, but most of them don’t work with the way I need to plan and shop because of our life here, so I have my own system already.
I thought through what I needed in a planner that would really work for me, our family and work stuff. I made lists, I broke things into sections and from there was able to get the items I needed ordered to come in with friends, as well as had a better idea about what types of printables I was looking for to fill my needs. I’ll get into that breakdown at the end of the post.
I know, like I said before, that everyone has specific needs. As I flushed out this process for myself I realized things that I didn’t know about me before, and I thought that maybe some of the work I had to do would be helpful for someone else. Isn’t that the way it goes? We see something that another person did, and it’s a jumping off point to meet a need we had.
I’ll start by showing you what I got for the planner itself, as well as some of the basic pieces to put it together. First off, the outside cover!
Typically I’ve bought a cheaper planner and just made do. With a disc bound system you can get vinyl covers (and there are some pretty ones!), faux leather and leather/patent leather. I decided that because this would be something that I would hopefully be using for many years, and because it was going to hold A LOT it was worth it to go with the middle of the road option of getting one of the more substantial faux leather ARC covers. Many of the options available come in the full letter page size, as well as a half page size, so it’s pretty flexible.
I got mine off of Amazon in purple for less than $20. I really liked the aqua blue Martha Stewart one featured in the blog post I mentioned above but sadly they aren’t available any more. Staples is also one of the main retailers of ARC products and they have a good selection too. Levenger is another brand, but they were more pricey from what I saw.
Because the holes for a disc bound system are different than a typical 3 hole punch I needed to get a disc bound punch. There are several options to choose from, and really I think it depends on how much you’ll be doing with it. I knew I wouldn’t be using it heavily, so it wasn’t worth it to me to spend a lot of money. I decided to go with the Leverger portable punch.
I was a bit concerned that the punch placement would be different between the ARC and Leverger brands, but they aren’t. No problems with things lining up at all in case that’s a question that anyone has.
Another thing I got right away was more rings in different sizes. The cover I got came with 1/2″ rings, which would have been fine if I was just using it for the planner/calendar, but because I was adding a bunch of other things in I knew I was going to need more room, but I wasn’t sure how much. I’m glad I did this because I ended up using the 1 1/2″ rings I got and this sucker is thick! But, it has everything I need in it :) At just a few dollars per set it’s an easy upgrade.
Because I’d taken the time to really think through what I needed to have in my planner I knew that I needed some dividers and did think about making my own by laminating heavy paper, but decided that it would be better over the long term to just get the vinyl pre-punched ones because they would hold up better. I went with plain black, though they come in bright colors too and that was tempting…
So those are the practical things, but there are a few fun things I got too!
First off, I love a good pen. I get kind of possessive about them actually. Thankfully I have friends who share this love of writing implements and they support me in my weirdness. We have a club, actually. Okay, no, we don’t, but we could!
Anyway! I love a good Sharpie, and I love their fine tip no bleed pens. They’re amazing. And now they come in fun colors!
I love these pens! I’ll share more below in how I use them, because yes, there is a method to my madness!
I also got these Post It Page Markers. Confession time… I didn’t really know what I was going to use these for when I bought them, I just really liked the colors. At the very least I knew I would use them for those teeny notes where I didn’t need a full size Post It.
The good news is that I figured out what to do with them very quickly and it’s great!
Aside: Wedding planning tip for you – when I did our seating chart for our reception I drew out our tables on a white poster board, then wrote the name of every guest on a Post It Page Marker. When it came time to decide where people were sitting it was really easy to stick the Post It in one place, but move it around until everything worked. Once everything was where it needed to be I taped the Post It’s down so they wouldn’t fall off on the way to the venue and it made the whole process really easy!
The last fun thing I got were these sticky tabs by Semikolon:
The picture doesn’t really do them justice. Anyway, these guys have a fun purpose, which is to act as sub-dividers in each section.
How I Set It Up
I decided that the printable planner from IHeartOrganizing was a good fit for my day to day stuff. It allowed for list format notes for each day, but also had room where I could write down what we’re having for dinner each night rather than having to go and look at a separate place to find it. It comes with a month spread as well as some other stuff in the package. Jennifer Jones also has a variety of other printables in her Etsy shop and some great add ins as freebies on her site. I used one of her contact sheets and downloaded a bunch of other things that I might still incorporate later on.
Here’s a full page spread so you can see the week opened up.
See, I told you I found a use for those little Page Markers! Want me to explain my system? Okay!
This wasn’t something I was being intentional about, but as I was transferring info to the new planner from my old one, and cross referencing important dates with our wall calendar above our desk I realized that I had an interesting system in place that I had sort of paid attention to, but wasn’t hugely intentional about. Turns out, because I’d purchased a pack of bright color fine markers a couple years back I had gotten into the habit of color coding our wall calendar and then making my personal planner follow it.
Without realizing it I had really developed a system in my brain where I could quickly look at the calendar, and depending on what color something was written in I would know which life category it fell in. Family birthday’s and special days – green. Important work dates to remember – hot pink. Holidays – red. School stuff – purple. Staff birthdays – orange. Pay day – light blue. You get the idea. Here’s what it looks like on the calendar, and then in my planner.
Sorry for the bad iPhone pictures, but you get the idea.
I realized that the little Post It’s almost all corresponded with my color scheme, so I put them to work in my daily spread for any activity or to-do item that had the potential to get rescheduled. For example, many of the work projects I have are things that I personally set goals for. If the day that I’ve written a specific task like that down in gets overloaded, that task may move to another day. Things like writing newsletters, blog posts, etc. So, all those things got a small post it and stuck on the page. If it needs to move I just move it rather than scratching it out and rewriting it. Anything that’s more scheduled like pay day, birthdays, regular events, or things that I know won’t move were written in the matching color of what was on the calendar spread. My brain just looks at that and sees light blue, for example, and knows that the end of the week is pay day. I put this little system to work this week and it was great! I had planned on sending out the mission monthly email update on Thursday, but because I needed to do a site visit and get some pictures I bumped it to Friday. It felt so much less chaotic than my old system which was to just continually keep re-writting something until it was done.
I still have plenty of space to write in “to-do’s” as they come up, and cross them off when they’re done. Because there’s space on the daily spread where I can fill in meal plans I can quickly look at it several times per day and be reminded of anything that I need to do to get ready for dinner that night. It’s so nice! Before I would have to go hunting for my plans and sometimes wouldn’t think about it until 4 pm! Defeats the purpose.
I mentioned that I divided my planner into different sections so I could make it work as much as possible for me. The sections I chose to use were Planner, Blog/Work, Meal Planning, Household and Christmas. Within those sections I may have divided them into sub-sections by just sticking one of the sticky dividers on the first page in a sub-section so it was easy to find.
Here’s what’s in each section:
The monthly calendars and daily spread, with sticky tabs to show each month so I can quickly flip through as needed. Also in the back is a Notes section, and Contacts section. I use the notes section to write down important things that I don’t want to misplace, like a list of people or groups interested in training dates. As people contact us I add their info to the list, and when we schedule a training I contact everyone. When people attend I make notes about students and then indicate that they’ve attended so I know not to contact them the next time around. Same thing with our Vision Trips.
This is one section I’m really excited about! In the past I’ve looked at writing on my personal blog, as well as the mission blog, as an “extra” when I have time. In the past couple of weeks I’ve realized that I really do need to carve out time to do this during my week, and was able to fine a great, FREE, blog planner. It has a monthly calendar spread as well as a weekly planning page with room to write down ideas, etc. In order to be really intentional about writing more I need to make it a priority, so I made some goals of how often I want to be writing in each space, and designated a colored pen and Post It to each blog. Now I can quickly look at the monthly calendar and see what days need a post for which blog, and in the weekly planning I have room to be more in depth with plans, make notes of photos that need taking etc. In my planner I put the Post It in the respective color on the day there’s supposed to be a post so I can cross reference the blog planner and see if I’ve written that post, what needs to be done etc. In this section I also have sub-sections to write down post ideas, schedule emails for work stuff and newsletter dates, then work backwards from those and put a Post It in my planner so I can be on top of those things. Let me tell you, this one area has already reduced my stress level. It’s great!
A lot of people work on a weekly meal planning schedule, and there are a ton of great printables on Pinterest set up like this. Because we have a lot going on, and we can only get certain things in certain places I have to be planning a month at a time. In my meal planning section I have a one month calendar. I choose to keep breakfasts during the week pretty basic, and on weekends we do “on your own” aka. Mom’s not cooking unless she feels really excited to do so. This is when the kids will have cereal for breakfast, typically. We eat leftovers for lunch, or rummage around for simple stuff to make. Dinner is where I really put the effort into planning because at the end of the day the last thing I want to do is figure out what we’re eating for supper. I also can’t just run out to the store to pick up whatever I might need. So, I plan.
Each month I write down what we’re going to be eating for dinner. I make note of any visitors we’re having or anything special on the calendar too so I know if I need to make extra on any given day. Once that’s done, I copy the whole thing onto the white board calendar on our fridge too, so everyone can see what the plan is. This has saved me having to answer a lot of questions! :) From here I have everything I need in front of me to make up a shopping list when I know we’ll be making a trip into Port au Prince (once a month big shop) or St. Marc (smaller in-between shops).
In this section I have sub-sections for the meal planning itself, a Favorites where I can list favorite meals so I know to make them again and where to find the recipe, my Master Shopping List (more below) and an Event Menu Plan for when we have something bigger happening where I need to plan for a group.
My Master Shopping List looks like this:
This was born out of necessity. I would make big lists when I knew Chris was going to Port and he would come back with half the stuff and tell me he couldn’t find the rest, yet I knew where he was shopping and that they typically carried the stuff I had written on the list. After several times of this happening he finally admitted that he would just feel overwhelmed at the store and would just leave. I realized it was because I was just writing things down, not breaking it down. So, I sectioned off my list by “zones” in the store and started putting things in categories. He started bringing everything home! If he doesn’t get it now it’s because it’s truly not there or he really couldn’t find it. It’s helped both of us because we can just move through the store and get things done.
This section doesn’t have a ton in it, which is probably funny because a lot of people would have the most stuff in this section. Like I mentioned, I tried having a household binder, but it just didn’t work for me. Part of it is that we don’t have much of the same stuff to deal with here that we would back home. Yonese comes in 5 days a week and does a really good job of staying on top of most housework, so I don’t need to have a cleaning schedule or system. All of our babysitters are people we see weekly, so I don’t need a section for them. We’re almost completely off the grid and have pre-paid phone plans so we don’t have utilities and bills to worry about… You get the idea.
In this section what I do have are three sub-sections with Wish Lists, Packing Lists and a Before You Go To Do List. Those are the things I DO have to put time and energy into. The Wish list is actually one of my favorite things that I’ve put together. Because there are a lot of things we can’t get here, or that are really expensive, we do a lot of ordering online and have people bring things in, or buy stuff when we’re home on holidays. I got tired of having notes all through my planner of things to buy, so I put together a printable that has three columns on each side. The first side, the one I use the most, has Mission, Household and Leslie columns. The back side has Chris, Alex and Olivia columns. As I think of things that need to be ordered, or that I would like to get, I write it on the Wish List in the designated column. When someone is coming in or we’re going to be coming back I know what to order.
Okay, you might think it’s funny that I would put a Christmas section in my planner, but again, it’s because of life here. Now that our family is staying in Haiti for most Christmases, it takes a lot more planning, waaaayyy in advance on my part. For example, in 2013 when I knew we would be staying in Haiti for the holidays I picked up stocking stuffers in July while we were home on holidays. We have enough people coming in through the fall, typically, that will bring stuff we order in so bigger gifts aren’t the issue. It’s the small stuff. And, other things like wrapping paper. Having a place to write down lists of what we have and need, as well as ideas for things like stocking stuffers throughout the year will mean that I can take care of those things as opportunities arise through the year. I also have a place to keep an inventory of what we have for decorations, and every Christmas as stuff is going back in the tote I can write down any new additions or make notes of stuff that I want to get.
How I Like It So Far
I’m a week into having my whole planner put together for the most part and so far I love it. Being able to have everything in one place rather than daily stuff here, and meal planning there and blog stuff floating in the abyss, is wonderful. I can flip through things and really noticed a difference in my productivity in the last half of this week as I got back into work. Being able to move things around was great and took that sense of not meeting the mark off my shoulders. It was more a sense of things working for me, rather than feeling like there was no flexibility.
I love the cover itself because it feels substantial. The pages slide nicely over the rings and there isn’t that catch that typically happens when papers move over three ring binder rings. You know what I mean? Where the rings clamp together. I was curious to see how the pages stayed on the rings in comparison to a binder. I think they’re better. With a binder I feel like pages are always ripping out. With the disc rings stuff can pop off but it doesn’t rip, and because there are 11 discs (in the full page size like I have) there’s a lot more holding it together. I like that the cover is solid too. Because I got the faux leather one it’s more substantial than just the vinyl cover. It’s actually a hard surface. I was at a parents meeting yesterday and was able to write notes without my planner flopping everywhere.
Do you want to know what my very favorite thing is?
I can do this with it:
I have exactly three feet of desk space. I know this for certain because I built the desk myself and it’s 6 feet long, and Chris and I share it. When I say that I’m really looking forward to the new office at the new property, this is why. I’m going to have almost half of a 15×15′ room to myself as a work space when we move. It, will be bliss. But, until then, I have my corner, and I need to have a planner that can be there in front of me at all times, work hard and be really usable. This one reason was the main reason a binder system never worked for me. You have to open those up, and I just didn’t have room. Binders feel cumbersome to me, this doesn’t.
So far, so good!
What’s your organizing method of choice? Or, are you not really a planner. I would love to know what works for others.