When I worked at the insurance company, someone from the office where supplies were inventoried, would send an email near the end of the year reminding us to order our planners for the next year.
I had forgotten all about that, until I began shopping for a planner for myself for 2016.
In my mind, I’m not a planner person. I don’t like structure. I don’t like being told what to do, or when, or how. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. A more accurate explanation is probably that there are certain people from whom I’d rather not take instruction, and there are certain processes that don’t sit well with me. But, that’s a deeper issue than simply saying, “I’m not a planner person,” isn’t it?
Near the end of 2015, I got the notion that I should probably get something in which to write appointments, ideas, upcoming events, and stuff like that. I didn’t want to have the experience of planning to go to yoga one night and then suddenly remembering I was supposed to be at a different event, across town, delivering a keynote address to a room full of women. Not that that actually happened. Ahem.
I do use my iPhone to keep track of my schedule, but I’m not always around when the alarm goes off, reminding me I have to be somewhere. Sometimes, I feel as if I need a backup plan. And, there’s something about actually writing down—with pen and paper— an appointment or to-do that helps that particular something lodge itself in my memory bank. In fact, science backs this up.
Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.
She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.
If you’re like me, you may be resistant to the whole idea of building structure into your day. You may like the feeling of being the master of your own fate and the captain of your soul. But the truth is, we can be in charge of the structure we build into our very own days. And, let’s be honest, we all need at least a little bit of structure.
My friend Deana is a self-described free spirit. When someone begins talking about structure and planning and checklists, Deana tells me her inner rebel begins to rise up in resistance. But, what Deana discovered, and shared with me one afternoon over lunch, is that having a plan is like building the framework for a house. If there’s no frame, there’s no place to attach the walls and windows and floors and plumbing and electrical lines and roof.
We don’t have to build an entire house when we start working on a plan. We can start with the framework, or the foundation, and go from there.
Last week, I encouraged you to spend some time with Tsh Oxenreider’s list of 20 Questions for a New Year’s Eve Reflection (it’s not too late, even though the new year has already begun). One of the questions Tsh asks is this: What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year? Now, I’m all for free, unscheduled time in which to catch my breath and stare out the window. Those are the times that serve me the most. But, that’s not the same as wasted time. When there’s no framework for our days, the winds blow our time right across the plot of land on which we’ve staked our dream, or career, or ministry, and we look at the clock and realize we’ve spent the entire afternoon on Pinterest or BuzzFeed or Facebook, or in front of the television, with nothing to show for it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The pendulum can swing too far in the other direction, too. We can stake so much of our identity in our accomplishments that we stress ourselves out by piling too much into one day and expecting far too much of our one heart, mind, soul, and strength. Trial and error is the remedy for striking the proper balance and, grace and flexibility are the mentors. Over time, we find the right measure of planning and list-making.
So, I bought a planner. I actually bought two. I asked for some advice about my planner purchase, and discovered there are some real, ride-or-die planner people. There are planner Facebook groups for people who love to write things down in their planners. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a planner Facebook group person, but I’m also aware that one should “never say never.” In the end, after doing tons of research, I bought this Nicole Miller planner at Office Depot. I wrote a couple of speaking engagements in it, and then, one afternoon when I was at Target, I stumbled on this planner by Sugar Paper. It was calling my name from the end cap in the stationary aisle. It’s the one I’m using, to write just a few notes to myself about what to focus on, what to remember, and what to enjoy each day. Now, my iPhone is my backup plan, and my planner is my first order of defense against feeling like I’m spinning my wheels.
In the first week, I over-planned for myself. The fact that I didn’t accomplish half the stuff in my planner was almost a source of a major failure complex. But, what I realized, instead, is that—planner or not—I’m still the same person, and I’m only going to do so much in one day. I have my limits.
So, I adjusted my expectations. I’ve written down places I need to be—like a meeting on Monday morning that can’t be missed. And, I’ve written in opportunities—like Zumba on Wednesday night. I’ve also written in writing deadlines, and topics for blog posts. And not one page of my planner feels restrictive. Not at all. Instead, it feels more like a compass, reminding me where to focus my attention, in a world where there is so much to keep me paralyzed with trying to make a decision about which way to go.
Writing things down, with pen and paper, reminded me how much a planner kept me on track in my life at the insurance company. Each day, I cleared something off my plate, and crossed things off that little rectangle on my planner. And, I had a sure idea of what I wanted to focus on the next day, too.
Having a planner doesn’t keep me from being a free spirit. Like Deana, my inner rebel will still rise up when people try to put too many restrictions or expectations on me. Maybe that will change, over time. Maybe not. I imagine I can trust God to continue to shape my character in the way that works best for him. That’s not something I can schedule. But, I can make sure my focus is where it needs to be, so I’m available for the work he desires to do—in me, to me, and through me.
So, tell me your planner stories. Are you a planner person? What planner do you use, and why? If you’re not a planner person, do you use a different system that works well for you? Do you have an inner rebel? What does she say to you?
I’m definitely a planner person. I generally use my Outlook calendar as my primary planning tool, but I also utilize spreadsheets and scheduling software like MS Project. (I’m an engineer/operations manager, so these are tools we have to live by to make sure we are on track to get things done when they are supposed to be done.)
Yes! I also use my Google Calendar, which, of course, syncs with my iPhone. And Harry and I can view one another’s digital calendars, which makes it easy to plan ahead. At the High Calling, we used Basecamp to help us manage projects. It was kind of like a planner on steroids.
Oh my goodness, yes! Future trips. What a thrill to put those down—in ink—in the planner! Something to look forward to. My planners are weekly. The daily planners, with lines for each hour or half-hour, felt too tight for me, and the monthly view didn’t give me enough space for doodling in the rectangles. 🙂
I want you to know that your question about planners on Facebook helped me so much. I had moved to using my phone, but it was not working for me, and I read about the Spark Notebook from a friend of yours and ended up buying their 12-month Spark Planner. It’s exactly what I needed right now in my life, and I love the sections that it has for goal setting — monthly and weekly. It’s rocking my world.
Yes! I remember looking at the Spark Notebook! For me, it felt too structured, and I was overwhelmed by all of the “assignments.” It’s interesting to see what works well for different people. We are all so unique and there is such beauty in that. So glad you found something that works for you!
I have a paper calendar in my desk by my computer, that I reference doctor appts or other things so I can look daily as to my schedule. I don’t write goals or personal writing challenges in it, but I also carry a small ‘calendar’ in my purse which is for ‘goal keeping’ and writing thoughts. It is by far better than my computer which is used daily but not as a calendar.
I hear you, Sharon. The computer is a beautiful piece of technology, but it doesn’t serve me well for all things. It’s fascinating the way writing something down seems to fuse itself to my brain, more than recording it on my digital calendar. I used to have one of those big desk blotter calendars. I’d forgotten about that until you wrote about your desk calendar.
Sandra Heska King
I first started planning by making creating my own notebook via Anne Ortlund’s Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman. Then followed DayTimers and Franklins and DayRunners… And then I rebelled. I wanted simple. I didn’t want to be so busy I had to write things down. Then s-l-o-w-l-y I turned… I don’t like the calendar on my Mac. I’ve been keeping a Yahoo calendar, but sometimes, when I need to access it quickly, it’s down, or I’m down. I missed some appointments. Basically, I was/am a mess. I’ve gone back to a 2-page-per-day Franklin–one side for to-do’s and appointments, the other side for notes. I like the daily quotes like today’s from good old Abe Lincoln: “Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived.”
And yesterday’s by Andrew Carnegie: “All of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon–instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”
Ah…such good quotes! I used at DayTimer(Runner?) at the insurance company. Somehow, writing the stuff down makes me feel less busy, and more free. I like that. Do you feel that way, too, Sandy?
Sandra Heska King
I think so. And maybe more accomplished. I like having a written record at hand and a place to corral other scribbled bits. Maybe it makes me feel less divided and less cluttered. And if I can glance at my notebook and see that I’ve done at least one thing, I don’t feel like I’ve frittered away the whole day.
Sandra Heska King
And P.S. I just can’t get into Google calendar either…
I have found that using a planner is very freeing. I’m not depending on my brain for the infrastructure of life here. It functions like the piece of paper that I keep handy when I’m trying to pray. Dump random thoughts there for later. STAY FOCUSED NOW.
I did start buying a much smaller planner because it has fewer lines. When the box for a day is full — sorry, can’t do it then. Move it to another box, or decide that it’s not necessary to do ever.
Re-reading, this all sounds much more disciplined and way better than it is in real life, but the point is that I do depend on the planner, but it does not own me.
I think that’s the key for me, Michele. I was afraid the planner would run me, boss me around. But, you’ve described it perfectly. It gets stuff out of my head and makes room for me to focus on the moment at hand.
Several times today I thought about how I used to implode when my schedule was shifted several minutes. And then the decade of darkness where I was sorting out my junk, my kids were tiny, nothing in my life was as planned, and any form of a schedule felt like a straight-jacket. In a car. In the Potomac.
I’m right there with ya! Learning how to be a big girl and not feel choked by a schedule. Loved this-thanks Deidra!
Oh my goodness. When my children were young? That’s when I made a rule for myself: no more than three things on the to-do list. Any more than three was way too much. And, just having three things on the list didn’t mean I got all three things accomplished.
I have a friend who designs and sells FABULOUS planners, but they overwhelm me and I forget to look at them! 🙂 BUT, years ago my husband dragged me kicking and screaming (not literally) over to Google calendar. I is the best thing thing that ever happened to me. I use it for EVERYTHING!
There are some really amazing planners out there! Wow! I had no idea it was such a thing. I kinda feel like I’m in planner preschool! 😉
Lynn D. Morrissey
Ah planners!! I’ve used one since I was in my early twenties, when I read my very first Christian book: Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund (who went home to be w/ the Lord two years ago). Sandy referenced her wonderful book. Anne lived what she taught, and I swear that her planner was really the prototype of ones like Franklin-Covey, but with a Christian emphasis. She called it, simply, her notebook. Everywhere Anne went her notebook went, and she used it to track her rich, full, dynamic life for Christ. Anne was a personal mentor. I have letters she penned, and I stayed with her for two glorious days in her home in CA. She lived what she taught. A great thrill was to ask if I could see her notebook when I visited, and there was my name, in a prayer she wrote to the Lord about our visit. At one time, her and Ray’s ministry sold the notebooks and filler, w/ daily calendar pages for appointments and to do’s, a prayer-journaling section (she greatly influenced me in writing my prayers), a place to list your disciples’ prayer needs, etc., etc. I made my own version until I found Dayrunner. Then I customized my planner accordingly. Eventually I switched to F-C. They have a huge inventory and can fit any lifestyle or budget. For awhile I used a kind of New-Agey planner that allowed me to art-journal and tried to ignore all the NA stuff. I did a pretty good job of that, but in the end, it didn’t allow me enough room to write my appointments. And as far as FC went, eventually, that wore thin, too, because I don’t like storing all the loose-leaf paper. So . . . I graduated to Planner Pad (https://plannerpads.com/) and loved their funnel method. I love being able to see my week at a glance and also to have each day divided into notes, to do’s, and appointments. But this year, despite that I had already purchased by PP, I went ahead, bit the bullet, and bought the iBloom Planner (http://ibloom.co/planner/), which also allowed me to attend their free online retreat. I love this planner! It emulates PP in that it uses the funnel method, but with color, beauty, a Christian emphasis and Bible verses, and other unique features (like a vision-board page, short address book section, place for goal-setting, analysis of what is going well–or not–books to read, conferences to attend, etc.). You can see a little video on it or ck out the pages at the website. It’s extremely high quality–thick paper that doesn’t bleed, sturdy laminated cover, strong spiral, etc. Kelly Gore, the genius behind it, is very accessible, and her staff consider themselves servant. I can’t wait to set up my iBloom (yeah, I’m a bit behind). Harking back to my first planner, I love the principles that Anne taught (you can still get her book), but I would rather put those elements into a 3-ring binder that stays at home or in separate files in a filing cabinet. And if you and your readers read Anne’s book, don’t let its somewhat fluffy start food you; in the end, she has depth in her simplicity. This lady lived to be nearly ninety, and had vim, vigor, and victory in Christ to the end. Her influence is still reverberates this side of heaven. Happy planning, Deidra, and Happy New Year!
I did consider that iBloom planner as I was making my decision. I think I need to grow into that one. I’ve never heard of the Planner Pad. It looks a lot like the DayTimer(Runner?) I used to use.
Anne Ortlund sounds fascinating, and Sandy mentioned her as well. Her name sounds familiar to me and I’m wondering why. Clearly she led a life of significance, and had a great impact on many.
Lynn D. Morrissey
Always love your responses. Thank you. Actually iBloom is based on Planner Pad, and something called Passion Planner is too. They employ the “funnel” method, which PP originated. But I loved iBloom’s Xn emphasis and a couple more bells and whistles. And jus t love *color* period, which it had. The only color I could get w/ PP was aon a smaller student planner. Even though I’d bought my PP for the year, I bit the bullet and bought iBloom. I’ll give PP away. Also, I love the personal attn. that Kelly Gore gives you at iBloom and her free online retreat when I bought her planner. And they pray over each one they pack and mail. Anne Ortlund and her pastor husband, Dr. Ray Ortlund, were extremely well-known as prolific authors and speakers in their day (and he did radio), but they were humble, humble. Very godly, dedicated Christians and amazing mentors. Their son Ray Jr is a pastor too and his wife Jani is an author and speaker. I love their son Gavin’s blog (and it turns out he taught Sheridan bible privately when he attended Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. Anne’s Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman was a kind of go-to book in its day. And she organized her “notebook,” to keep not just her personal life organized, but her spiritual life. As I look back and see how she set it up, it reminds me of DayRunner (and DayTimer is yet another one which uses another method). I know you will use whatever the Lord lays on your heart.