Monday, January 2, 2012

Calendars and to-do lists

I'm getting a little giddy about calendars and filing systems right now.  Not only is it the beginning of a new year and new semester (meaning, GREAT time for planning!), but I'm also getting ready to speak about time management at a gathering of women from our church.  Here's the blurb that appears in the bulletin:

We'll talk about how to be exquisitely well-organized people, completely in control of our schedules, our to-do lists, and the information that drives our tasks. And then we'll talk about how we deal with ourselves when we're none of the above.

I can blather on and on about this.  Stop me if I go on too long, okay?

Today's blog topic is calendars and planning systems.  I don't have a favorite kind of calendar that I recommend to people, except that it should be something that suits the way you work.  My husband uses an e-something or an i-something; I use a paper planner.  Neither of us wants to switch, and that's fine.

What IS important about a calendar system is having one system:  not zero, but also not two or three.  If you have one calendar at work and one at home, you're going to be double-booking yourself like crazy.  Or driving yourself crazy by having to check both calendars before committing to anything.  The flip side is that your calendar should be portable enough that you can and do take it places with you, so you can make and remember appointments and commitments easily.  "One calendar" is the main lesson of Calendar 101.

On to Calendar 201.  What makes a system "work"?  I think a good test is how well you could use it to help you in this situation below.
Your friend George calls to say Martha had her baby, Ross.  They're both in the hospital in room 123, phone number 456-7890.  The visiting hours are Saturday 2-4 p.m.  George wants to know, before you come by could you stop at the home of your mutual friend, Betsy, to pick up the car seat she's offered to give Martha?
The first piece of news is a recurring event:  you're going to want to remember Ross's birthday every year.  So a good calendar system should be able to remind you of things that come up on a specific day each year.

A good system should have a way for you to remember once-and-done, time-specific events and tasks, like the visiting hours on Saturday.  You don't want to promise George you'll come, only to remember later that's when you're having tea with the Jeffersons.

It should have a way of reminding you about non-time-specific tasks, like calling Betsy to pick up the car seat -- that is, it should have a way to remind you of "to do" items.  (My own preference is to have a new "to do" list for each day in my calendar.  But I realize that not everyone is as hard core about this as I am).

I'd give your system bonus points if it also lets you store two kinds of information.

The first kind is a "reference" section near/in your calendar that allows to you keep long-term information like your friend Betsy's phone number and address.  Cell phones are an obvious way to store this stuff, which is why I keep calling this set-up a "system" instead of just a "calendar".

The second kind of information is notes that you need for only a little while:  the hospital room and phone number probably don't deserve a permanent spot in the reference section, but it's nice to have that information on a "notes" section of your calendar instead of on a loose scrap of paper or envelope that you're going to have to keep hunting for.

Each of these five aspects of organization -- special days, appointments, to-do lists, reference sections, and notes -- could take up several blog posts to describe.  (In fact, knowing me, they probably will!)  But even just being conscious about these five areas of planning is a good start on being "exquisitely organized."  If you can get a calendar, or planner, or e-thing that does these five things, that you trust, and that you can use easily, you'll have a really good basis for an awesome organizing system.  Calendar 201 -- you'll ace the course.


  1. I get to listen to these posts before they even go up on line. In fact, I suggested adding more to this post just because it is so helpful. I am Miser-Mom's non-miser husband. I just re-read this post. I am sitting at my messy desk in the basement thanking Our Lord that i have such a well-organized wife and regretting the mess my own papers are in.

    But through many years of listening to M-M and the organization gurus she likes at least I know why I am disorganized. I could sort papers today. I am off work. I have time. It is almost 2pm on a very cold blustery day.

    But it is already January 2 and I have not run yet THIS YEAR! I am going running right after I finish this comment. I rode 44 miles yesterday, but one of my top riding buddy's is going out at 4pm, so I will put lights on my bike and ride 27 more miles with him. The run will be to the YMCA and back so I can workout in the gym.

    Time, many of the gurus say, is what we are really organizing. So at least I know why my desk is a mess. . .

  2. I feel like a success! Small victories, right? My planner has all of this stuff. For special days, I put them on the calendar like other appointments, but I draw a box around them so I know to recopy to next year. Appointments go in a section of the weekly planner. To dos either go on the Master List (not date specific or not due for a long time), a weekly context-dependent list (like this weeks errand list, or do at home list), or on the day they need to be done if date dependent. Reference stuff goes in my cell phone. And notes go in a weekly part of my calendar or the red folder in my planner if not date specific. (For example, if it's a list of blog ideas.)

    1. Love the "draw a box around it" for recurring events. I use a different color pencil, myself, but every once in a while I miss something. I also have a computer-generated "yearly events" page -- this allows me to share the list of birthdays in our family with the (ahem) more forgetful members of the clan. Like you, I love my planner hole punch! -- MM

  3. I was anti-mobile until I discovered their planning capabilities.
    All the possibilities you (MM) mention in your post are hold by my 6-years old nokia cell that I bought 2nd-hand 5 years ago (or so) for 15€.
    The only disadvantage that I feel is that there is no way to back up its content, what would be very painful in case I miss it or in broken-down failure (which are most irreversible).
    I guess the new smartphones are very able to sustain all kind of planning but I'm not still into it.