For the first time in a long time, I’ve switched from pocket planners and half-sized planners to a full 8.5×11 planner. I’ve enjoyed having it for a number of reasons, but these are the main ones that have made me notice its benefit lately.

Lie-flat page spreads are huge! I am a big of a sprawling note-taker, so my little planners were already bursting by the time I began taking notes in earnest, necessitating switching to a new page. In the weekly two-page spread, however, I now have room to see how all my thoughts connect and fit together on the same single page, which is pretty great.

People notice a larger planner. I don’t need people to like and compliment my planner, but lately they have been – they love the coloring pages in the Panda Planner and they point out how nice it is to have priorities, goals, and happiness check-ins on each of the days. It makes more of a statement than my smaller ones, and I can write in an actual legibly-large script rather than the tiny letters that fit in some other planners. I don’t mind writing small, but other people seem to be drawn to this one.

Fits with binders and texts I carry. This is a small thing, but I carry a lot of binders and books in my work, and my planner was always the smaller item perched on top of a wider stack. This planner fits perfectly, however, with the size of most of the binders and doesn’t slide around or get shoves to the bottom of my bookbag.

It takes some getting used to since it is a larger item to carry when that is the only thing I need for a meeting, but so far, I love having so much space and getting attention from others who are secretly as passionate about productivity and organization as I am!


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It is now officially that time again: grading season. My first batch of student essays is in and the drafts are staring at me, daring me to read them, add comments, and fill out the rubrics. It isn’t hard work, not really, but it does require every ounce of my concentration, and it isn’t perfectly objective, so I feel like if I’m distracted in any way, it might hinder my judgment.

So I end up delaying grading… like many teachers… for longer than is ideal. It isn’t even ideal for me: the feeling of dreading grading is way worse than actually getting some grading done.

Because this is the case, my Monday Motivation plan today is to layer my work. I’ve decided that for every essay I grade in its entirety, I can work on some organization and writing work that I like much more. I am not allowed to lose myself in the fun work; I get 20 minutes of it, max. Then back for another essay.

This way, I do technically grade about twice as slowly as I usually do, but (and this is important) I make SOME progress on grading. After all, the physical act of grading an essay is not enough to leave me sweating and dizzy – it is doable. But I procrastinate, which isn’t good for anyone. I make progress, and I get rewarded, so I look forward to more progress.

This Monday hasn’t been very easy so far, and I’ve got a major meeting that I’m not much looking forward to, but knowing that I’ll get time for the work I like best in between the bouts of work I like least gets me pumped to work hard. I also am giving myself little incentives, like moving out of my office and sitting in a nice common space that I enjoy, and making myself a yummy cup of coffee as a break, to get through it all.

Hope you are all getting things done this Monday, no matter how many unpleasant tasks are ahead of you!

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The Holidays are upon us! While I am, like all of you, still a goal-oriented person, this is your last post here until next Tuesday arrives; I love blogging but even I need a break while doing a whirlwind Christmas visit to both the in-laws and my family.

That being said, I chose that this last day, a day off work but still a day before I head out to see family, as a big day: on a variety of projects, my goal is to complete 4000 words of writing! I know that technically I don’t have to do that much, but if I do accomplish that goal, I will feel incredibly fine with taking 4 full days off of writing so much and devote all that time to family.

Why can I take four full days off and not feel like I’m lagging on my goals? Easy. One of the goals in my Best Self Journal is to nurture relationships with my friends and family. That isn’t something that is easy to quantify (I cannot make a goal of “speak 4000 words to my family today” like I can about writing). What I’ve chosen to do instead with the next 4 pages in my notebook is to just… journal.

That’s the truth; it’s still a journal. So instead of spending hours each day trying to meet my writing quotas, I’m going to try to take 10 or 15 minutes at the end of each family-filled day to write what I’m grateful for and to process any interactions I had but didn’t think about thoroughly. As we all age, each person in my family needs different things, and sometimes I’m too busy to notice what those things are. I hope that spending just a little bit of time journaling will help me notice how to be the best daughter, sister, friend, and in-law I can be, for the specific people in my life.

I hope that your holidays are full of rest, if that’s what you need, or activity, if that’s what you need. I hope that all of us are able to tell the difference between joyful productivity and drudgery, and choose productivity at the times when it thrills us. See you all next week!

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I have found a gamechanger, everyone. You know that I mentioned that I’ve enjoyed Getting Things Done by David Allen, but one thing has made it possible to start streamlining my to-do lists more than anything else. That thing… is Evernote.

Evernote is a program I’ve known about for a while now; I once got a boss a very cool notebook that allowed you to write on it, take a picture with your phone of your notes, and automatically convert that writing into typed notes inside Evernote. However, when I installed Evernote on my computer (mind you, years ago!), every note I wrote was erased when I closed the program. Not great for utility.

I started using it again this year, and now that I have a smartphone, I discovered one of the best things Evernote does: it syncs my notes between my computer and my phone. I can only use two devices without paying for the premium edition, but I can live with just work computer and phone having access. Just that is amazing.

The other nice thing is that my phone doesn’t come pre-loaded with an audio recorder, and Evernote lets you record audio notes. I do a few interviews a month for articles I write, and it is so nice to not only be able to record the interviews but also be able to transcribe them in one place that is then accessible from phone or computer. Incredibly helpful!

Finally, I like that one of my new soothing activities is going through and consolidating notes. I’ll find old notes, make sure I’ve handled everything I wrote in them, and close them out. I sometimes find old tasks that never got done and I’ll actually add them to the current day’s to-do list. It’s nice to know that I have a record keeping system rather than just a never-ending list (sorry to those of you who really appreciate Allen’s method; I am not so scrupulous as to have only one list!)

If you don’t use Evernote, do you have another favorite list-making application? Feel free to share about it in the comments!

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I would argue that the March Madness has nothing on the December Madness: somehow, people think it’s a good idea to put ALL the parties, all the merriment, and all the travel into this one, ice-slick month and hope that we will still be able to finish up a school semester in our free time. It’s bonkers.

That’s why I am grateful that, in between the goal-setting pages and the gratitude questions, my Self Journal has some regular old monthly calendar pages, and they aren’t labeled. This journal can be started at any time, and let me tell you: having December as the “middle month” of my challenge is nothing if not exciting.

Having the many engagements that are coming up written out makes me a little less frightened that by tomorrow, the month that has Christmas in it will be upon us. I can note which days I have not commitments and thus save them for baking or shopping or wrapping presents. Despite my love for Buy Nothing Day,  I am definitely a holidays participant, and I want to make sure I’m doing my share of giving if I will be receiving from my generous friends and family anyway.

That being said, I also want to be able to focus on my goals, and the only way I seem to be able to fit the writing, the exercising, and the healthy cooking in are by noting the big picture rather than just my daily schedule. Having this wider view on the page helps me note which weeks are worst and make sure that I have a few slow cooker freezer meals at the ready before I get there, rather than approaching each week as if it will be equally busy.

What is your preferred mode of monthly calendar: email, online, physical on the wall, in a planner? Regardless, I think somewhere to put the weeks-out commitments is totally essential to my sanity.

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getting things done david allen

I came to David Allen’s Getting Stuff Done because it came recommended by the editor of the The Billfold, an online site for personal finance. The editor there is incredibly productive (she is a freelance writer full-time, and writes about that life on her site) and I knew that if someone like her thought this system was interesting, it might help me.

Allen’s system is logical and intuitive, but he clearly brings a wealth of experience not just on how people get organized and productive, but also in the many, many ways that people sneakily get “un”productive even in the midst of an attempt to organize their lives. He says that when he consults, it often takes two full work days to get everything in order and ready to use his system.

In many ways, the organization of Allen’s to-do lists and filing systems reminds me of Marie Kondo’s Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up book; the principle is that if you can just get your space to an optimum state, all you have to do is maintain.

Rather than focusing on how to keep your office clean, though, Allen notes that everything needs to be framed in terms of the next task to do, and needs to be re-shuffle-able in order to accommodate new tasks. He also emphasizes that most people need a clear way to find old papers but don’t need to have to see them all the time, like I do when I just leave everything pressing covering different parts of my desk (and raising my blood pressure in the process).

What I took most from the book was that I could save all the important papers that come across my desk without letting them pile up infinitely, and that I needed a more central to do list rather than a million tiny ones that I add to all the time. I actually am “allowed” to write things down anywhere, per this system, but I need to always add tasks to the central to do list or they may, in the end, not get done or get done at a non-optimal time.

I also realized that I tend to write to-do lists with lazy phrasing. For instance, yesterday I made a list of kinds of vegetables I want to grow next summer by just listing the names of the veggies, when really, to make it task-oriented, I needed to write “buy pink bumblebee tomato seeds from High Mowing Seeds,” and “Find zucchini and cucumber seeds in the seed box,” and “ask Husband’s brother for some sweet potato slips in the spring.” Even those tasks could be more time-marked, but just rephrasing little reminder words into actual tasks is one of the big take-aways from this book for me.

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It is time to start a new week. Many of us here in the States are returning from a modified routine, and maybe from a full-blown vacation. We’ve been off our game, but we are ready to really make things happen for the last week of November and into the holiday season.

There are a few extra pounds on our hips, and the looming spectre of Christmas gifts, cards, parties, and cookies are here, whether Christmas is just a cultural phenomenon to you or a religious holiday. What can we do to make sure the overwhelm stays at bay?

The first thing, for me anyway, is to clean my desk.

I see the desk, both at work and at home, as the state of my brain. If it is full of things, I may be happy and healthy but I am also scattered, trying to do too much. My ideal desk space, like my ideal brain, has one, at most two, items of first importance on it, and everything else is filed away, ready to be accessed when needed.

This means also digging through those desk drawers, getting rid of old notes, receipts, candy wrappers (oh hi, Halloween…) and making sure that that space is available to me for really important things that I’ll want to be able to find without searching through a pile.

The way I calm down and get to work on a clean desk is nothing less than awe inspiring. So even if it just means moving the crazy-person pile of papers to another part of the room for a little while, clear that desk. Also put a half-hour on the schedule to “deal with the crazy-person pile of papers,” but that might not be the top priority upon a return to work, even after a weekend. Instead, the desk itself must be ready, just like we have to be ready, for work to even start on the right foot.

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I’ve been thinking for a while that I needed an organization strategy that wasn’t just my pile of to-do list… and I think I’ve found one to try. The Self Journal is my new project, and I’ve already seen some awesome results.

The organization of a Self Journal isn’t about just structuring one’s daily and weekly and monthly schedule. It organizes you toward goals. At the very beginning, I set some major goals for myself: I want to do a better job of keeping in touch with and caring for my friends and family, I want to increase exercise and healthy eating, and I want to up my game in my writing work. The journal helped me identify sub-tasks, motivations, and even rewards for when I accomplish these things!

The journal lasts for 13 weeks, and I plan to make a post every week about what I’m experiencing and seeing from the journal. It is very different from all my past yearly planners, but I hope to pay better attention to the goals of this planner and really try the system.

Already, I’ve noticed that I love having a morning and evening moment for coming up with things to be grateful for. I also love the “lessons learned” and “wins” sections each day. I normally don’t take enough time to focus both on a productive framing of my failures – i.e. what they taught me – or on a moment of my own success. For me, unfortunately, most successes just manifest as a moment of relief before I move on to something else, and already I’m noticing that I am more grateful for my successes and more excited about doing better each day.

I’m also recording more memorable moments – things like my co-workers dressing up as witches and making me smile as they give candy to the rest of the staff today – and that is something I’ve never done well enough. I hope to be able to report more progress on my 3 goals next week because of this experience, but for now, feel free to check out the SELF journal at this link!

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One of my favorite writers is Leo Babauta, of Zen Habits fame. I recently read his piece on productivity and staying focused, and he used a term that I hadn’t used before: Most Important Task, or MIT.

I’ve always been pretty resistant to this kind of thinking, since one of my favorite methods of productivity is what I call the “snowball” – I do something fairly easy, and I ride the wave of my success by getting other, harder things done. However, the truth is quite the opposite: having an MIT selected, and focusing on it for a set amount of time seems to be the best way to start a day well and get going on something difficult.

So how do I identify MITs? I pick based on a few elements. The first one is time sensitivity; if it’s a small or large task, if it is the next thing that needs to be completed, that makes it super important. I tell my students all the time that “good enough and on time” is better than a hypothetical perfect thing that you will turn in late. Expectations go through the roof when you are late, and usually whatever was not ready at the deadline was still not ready after.

My next criteria is how it contributes to something difficult or important: with my writing work, I sometimes have harder assignments that are longer and more complex, as well as assignments that are about topics I really believe in rather than more generic content. I try to prioritize my meaningful, long-form work over my more day-to-day writing tasks; writing blog posts is sometimes my first MIT of the day. This goes for any kind of work, however; we all have those big-picture things that we know will take our strength and problem-solving. Tackling one of those face-on at the beginning of the day does wonders for the rest of the day’s productivity.

So here I am, saying what today’s MIT is: I’m writing a magazine article, and I need to get it finished so I can move on to other work. What’s yours, and how will you make sure you get it done first thing today? (Feel free to read up on Zen Habits for suggestions!)

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You know that I am the Messy Mapmaker when you realize that for my first wedding anniversary last year, Husband’s interpretation of “paper” as an anniversary gift guide was to get me a beautiful, fairly fancy agenda. He purchased me the “Get to Work Book,” which I’d gotten as a gift for a friend but had been reluctant to purchase for myself. It was the perfect mix of practical and extravagant, and I absolutely died when I got it. His family, who were around when I opened the present, thought I was just bonkers.

If you love a planner and have a lot of different goals and projects going on at any given time, you’ll adore this book. As I flip through this year’s pages, there are notes from interviews I did with local leaders, plans I made for work, monthly household budgeting and grocery lists, a training schedule for my recent half marathon, an elimination diet called the Whole30 that we tried and my own schedule for reintroducing foods, and a list of things we hoped to accomplish in 2017 (we’ve done a lot of them!).

The planner gives simple, clear sections but also has endless flexibility, with tabbed month pages that make it easy to turn right to the spot you want to get to. I love the grids on many of the pages that allow you to write or make graphs or draw something… anything you need. So many of my freelance projects have been planned in the margins and accidentally blank columns of the book.

My last favorite feature is a little column on each weekly page that says “action items this week” – it forces you to choose only 3 things that are the big-picture things you want to get done. While the daily columns allow you to focus on the details, these show which pressure points, dreaded tasks, and big finishes do I have coming up this week.

I don’t know if I will try a different planner or get another of these for next year, but I unequivocally recommend it for anyone who wants to feel inspired and ready to literally “get to work” when they see their planner.

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