Everyone talks about using planners to boost productivity. Productivity is a good thing, I’m not going to lie, but I think the most powerful thing a planner can be used for is to boost our life balance, not productivity, especially in 2020 when all of our schedules and plans have been thrown into chaos.
I was talking to a good friend, complaining about how little I was getting done and how overwhelming everything was, and she gave me a little tough love. She reminded me that 2020 isn’t like other years. We have more on our plates and to compensate we’re leaving one very important thing off of our to-do lists: ourselves. She reminded me that taking care of ME is just as important as making sure RadioMan has a clean mask for work, that bebe has all of her supplies for a day of virtual schooling, and that I have answered all those blasted emails that keep coming in.
That’s when I decided to change how I used my planner. I took 2 weeks to track how I was using my time – from the biggest to the smallest things. I figured out how long it takes me to clean the kitchen, to answer eleventy emails, to write 1,000 words, to prep bebe’s virtual school supplies and schedule, and countless other tasks using highlighters. In doing this I also found out how much time I was wasting (narrator voice: she wasn’t wasting time she was literally exhausted and zoned out for small bits of the day) but I also saw a huge gap in my planner. I wasn’t working out, I wasn’t reading, I wasn’t taking any time for myself at all. From the time I woke up until I exhausted myself, I was doing for other people. Those two weeks were eye opening, and with all of those to-dos in my I created a new, block schedule.
I’ve been a block schedule fan for a while but…well, pandemic. I got off track, and honestly, my old block schedule needed a bit of an update, anyway. If you aren’t familiar with a block schedule it is literally a block of time dedicated to a specific task for set of tasks. After the allotted time is done, even if there is a task left, you stop and move on to the next set of tasks. That way you don’t get bogged down in emails for a full day or get sucked into Pinterest creating a mood board for your new book for a week (I’ve been there, not gonna lie).
Instead of writing endless to-do lists that never seemed to end and that overwhelmed me at the beginning of the day, I created a block schedule for different types of tasks. I also stopped making to-do lists completely for days when I go into the office (2 days each week), and on weekends I leave ample space for free time. Here’s how my 5 step system works:
First, I completely blocked out my work/dayjob days. For my schedule, I work out of the home on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and a half-day on Fridays. Now, Fridays are a bit different because being a half day I will create home lists or if I’m nearing a book deadline, I’ll work toward that goal. For the most part, however, days that I work out of the home I only schedule in work and ‘me’ time – journaling, playing in my planners (my favorite form of stress relief), reading, watching a movie, or sewing.
Next, I created boxes for the other areas of my life: author box, kid box, husband box, home box, me box, and a host of other boxes. In those boxes I made a master list of things to do: write toward my deadlines, to-dos for virtual school, date night ideas, cleaning schedules.
Next, I created an ideal daily schedule that is more an order that seems to work for me with ample time to wake up (I am not a morning person), workout and get bebe going on school, ample time for admin tasks, home tasks, and writing tasks, but with time built in between all of those to give my brain a break. Sometimes I use those moments to read or play a game on my tablet, but if it’s nice out, I’ll take time out on our deck or even sit down with bebe and talk about 12 year old things.
Next, I created a Saturday/Sunday (whichever feels right that week) planning routine. I look at author deadlines, work deadlines, master cleaning lists (I hate cleaning, if there was no master list I’d never remember to do certain things like moving the furniture to clean behind it) and start filling tasks into my blocked off time zones for admin, author, home, etc., including my ME box. The ME box is a block of time, about 90 minutes, that is just for me – I read, I journal, watch TV, sew, play in my planners. This is time to refill my Kristina well.
Finally, I stick to my blocks of time. If I don’t get an admin task done, it moves to the next day I’m doing admin. If I don’t reach a wordcount goal, the missing words are added to another day, etc. The only box I don’t do that with is the ME box. That box is mine and I hoard it. This is time to be off my phone and computer, not working (or worrying) about the next day, and it has changed how I approach every day. I’m more energized in the morning. I’m less stressed – even when my to-do list is long. I’m more me than I’ve been in a long time. I also created a DONE LIST that is specific to writing. When I meet certain milestones I reward myself, but also when it’s just be a day (you know what I mean!), that DONE LIST reminds me of what I accomplished.
That’s it. That’s how I’m using my planner to not be productive and yet to still get things done…while also feeling more balanced than I have in a long time.