Why is it that we think we can calm an overwhelmed life with an expensive planner that has ten billion areas to fill out? Listen to this truth! If you are overwhelmed by a busy life, the last thing you need is an overcomplicated planner system. What you need is a stupid simple way to plan out your days. One that will help you break down those anxiety-filled to-dos into manageable steps that you can actually succeed at.
Overwhelmed By A Busy Life? Try This Straightforward Planner System
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First Things First I Give Your Permission To NOT follow ALL the steps
There are six steps to this planner system but there doesn’t have to be. I certainly haven’t done all six steps over the years. In fact when my three children were little and I was grieving the death of my mother I often created what I call an ” I did it” list and nothing else. I simply did not have the brain energy to try planning beyond that.
By this point, you are probably thinking, “if you didn’t follow the planning steps this way why write them as you did? ” The answer is that this list below is the order of how I plan things now! And it really works. But if you are overwhelmed a six-point planning system is going to be — well — overwhelming.
So this list shows you the overall framework of a simplified planning system that will put you on the path to a calmer life but you can’t create a calm life in a day! Or a month, or sometimes even a year, it takes time. Implement one step at a time but don’t feel like you have to do my list in order. Pick the step that you think will tame your current chaos best. And when you have that working for you add in another.
Step One: A Brain Dump List
I got this idea from How To Handle 1000 Things at Once: A Fun Guide To Mastering Home & Personal Management which despite being written several decades ago is still my favorite time management book of all time, and I have read dozens. I love the book so much that it has earned a place on my “read over and over again” bookshelf and only a few books make that shelf.
I keep my brain dump list on a clipboard full of paper that has only been used on one side. But you can use what works best for you. I do however recommend you stick to using a paper and a pen list and that if you use a notebook you use one that is spiralbound.
Why not an app-based dump list? To open an app you have to one, locate your device, two activate your device, three open up the app you used for your dump list. Those are three steps that can prevent you from looking at your list on a regular basis and to be effective a brain dump list needs to be glanced at often. Plus paper can’t have its battery die or experience technical difficulties.
Why a spiralbound notebook? There are two major reasons I think that if you are choosing a notebook for your brain dump list it should be spiralbound. One it is easier to keep the notebook open to your list and two it is easier to tear out the pages when you rewrite your list. If you are a huge pretty stationary fan don’t worry there are plenty of beautiful spiralbound notebooks out there (like this one).
Now let’s talk about how to write that brain dump list. Grab whatever it is you decided to write it on and find a quiet -ish place to write it. Let all those ” I really need to” thoughts flow out onto the paper in bullet form style — no editing. Things like, declutter closest, paint the bathroom, repair the dripping faucet, find a new doctor, etc.. All the things to-dos that are taking up valuable space in your mind and causing it to feel like a hurricane is going on up there need to go down on your brain dump list. No task is too small or too big for the brain dump list.
Sometimes I like walking around my home from room to room to see if the tour triggers any more to-do’s I might have forgotten to make sure my current brain dump list is as complete as can be. That walk-thru never fails to add a handful or more to-dos to my list.
Step Two: Create A Yearly Want To List
Now that you have that list of to-do’s I want you to make a list that is a little more fun. I want you to think about what you would like to do in the next twelve months. And not just hard stuff like losing 20 pounds or paying off the credit card debt. I want you to make sure that list is made of at least fifty percent self-care stuff! And another twenty-five percent should include things you want to do with those you love.
For instance, I bought a racing bike over 9 years ago and it has only been out of our shed half a dozen times in all those years even though I LOVE biking. This year I decided to change that and one of my “want to” on my yearly “want to” list was to get my racing bike tuned up and take it out for a bike ride once a week all warm season long ( I live in the midwest).
When my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday in March it was a no-brainer, get my racing bike ready for the upcoming outdoor biking season. And when the warm season finally arrived I put biking once a week on my monthly “want to” list. I have been biking several weeks in a row now and loving the feeling of the wind through my hair (well at least the hair that hangs out from under my helmet) and the sounds of the birds singing. Biking is just the stress reliever I needed for this season of life.
Why Call Them “Want To’s” And Not Goals
I am not an A+ personality person. I am more a B+ to B- depending on the day. I love setting goals and even reaching for them, but over the years I started to notice that my goals were mostly serious, leading to BIG endings, and generally work-related.
The older I get the more I realize life is extremely short. Too short to put off those fun moments that make lasting memories for us and the ones we love. By switching to a “want to” list instead of a “goal” list I was able to trick my mind to switch its focus.
My yearly focus went from work and task-oriented items to things I never got around to doing that are good for me those I love. Things like Kayaking with my daughter. Taking trips with my husband. Trying out a new knitting pattern. Fun things that nurture my relationships and me.
Your goal list can go inside the same spiral notebook, or clipboard as your brain-dump list if you want, –but I put mine in what I guess you could call my “life binder”. It is a plain white binder similar to this one.
I like this style because it has a plastic pocket on the front and back allowing you to slip in a piece of paper to personalize the front and back cover. I slip my monthly “want to” list in the front pocket and my yearly “want to” list in the back. This allows me to glance at my lists often reminding myself of things I wanted to get done beyond unpaid household tasks and paid work.
Step Three: Create A Monthly Want To List
Just recently I added step three, a monthly want-to’s list after listening to the book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. If you are discouraged by setting BIG goals only to crash and burn when it comes to reaching them, this book is a must-read.
I take a few moments at the end of the month or the start of a new month to glance over my yearly “want to” list, my brain dump list, and the calendar page for the upcoming month before I create my monthly want-to list.
Just like my yearly want to list I like the list to be light on work tasks and heavy on self-care and relationship building.
These are the things that the busyness of life can swallow up and when it does overwhelm takes over. We need self-care and relationships to refuel our tanks so that we can go on doing all the routine things of life that add up to busy. Things like laundry, checking-home work, preparing food, washing dishes, making appointments, filling in paperwork, etc..
On the monthly list make sure you put down a time you can do the “want to”. Such as go kayaking on Monday two times. Or get back to running before breakfast. Or work on my knitting project for one hour each evening while listening to a podcast. This will help increase the likelihood that your want to’s get done, and give you the self-care and memories with your loved one you crave.
Step Four: Print Out A Free Monthly Calendar Page
I am currently in the all my kids are college-age and up, stage of life. So printing out a simple free monthly calendar page from each month is adequate for me. However, if you are in I have one kid in soccer, another takes piano lessons, and the third is on the swim team stage of life then you need more space, I recommend an oversized desk pad (like this one) that you can hang on a wall that you pass several times a day. If you want to get really organized you can use a different colored pen for each family member –but I never did.
This post is currently under a MAJOR update. Pin it so you can come back later and get the help you need to go from “overwhelmed and drowning” to “I got this” with my simple planning system.
Step Five: Fill In A Week At A Glance Sheet
Step Six: Every Day Pick And Write Out Your Top Four
On the top of my clipboard is my daily goal list, which is laminated so I can use it over and over. Weekday afternoons when I am done with blogging and am moving on to household chores I take time to write down 4 things on post-it notes that I want to get done in my home work part of the day. On weekends I do this in the morning and the to-do squares tend to be more blogging than housework-based. I place each post-it note in its own square and when I finish it I get great satisfaction of pulling it off and seeing white space.
If I get all 4 things done (which is rare) I then go ahead and write out 4 more things on post-it notes from my brain dump sheet and start working through those points.
Looking at just 4 things to do at once helps me from becoming overwhelmed. I should also note if one of the things is a large type project I might break it down further. For instance, if one of my goals the day laundry, I break it down into, washing, drying, and putting away (my kids fold). This is so I get the satisfaction of crossing off each step of the process.
The verse at the bottom of both my daily and weekly goal list sheets is one that keeps me calm when the day or week does not go at all as I planned.
This system is not fancy but it works for me…..and that is what is most important about a planning system: IT HAS TO WORK FOR YOU.
More Articles To Help You Kick A Life Of Overwhelm To The Curb
- How To Create A Simple Cleaning Routine You Can Stick To
- How To Create A Self-Cleaning Home (Well As Close As You Can Get To One)
- How To Slow Down And Enjoy Life! Embracing Slow Living
If you desire to become more productive with your days you are going to want to check out Crystal Paine’s course Make Over Your Mornings. This course covers so much more than mornings, it helps you transform your entire day so that you can live with intention and purpose. Crystal doesn’t tell you what time to get up she simply instructs you on what to do morning to set yourself up for daily success.
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LOVE THIS!…At work I use clipboards and post its for everything, why I had not thought to do this at home is beyond me. ~shaking head~
Visiting from A Slob Comes Clean
Great post! I love my steno pads but seem to never have it close by when I need it. So I grab another one. Drives me crazy!do you keep everything in the same place or does it follow you around the house?
It goes with me around the house.
Gentle Joy says
Using a list really helps w/ my productivity, but it is so easy to stop using it…….thanks for the reminder to get at it CONSISTENTLY again. 🙂 Gentle Joy
Love this! Thanks for sharing!
Mel @ brokeGIRLrich says
Wow, you are extremely organized! I have a very rough to do list that is essentially a brain dump list on a white board on my fridge. And a scrap of paper somewhere with an idea for each post I plan to write this month… I may adopt some of your ideas to see if it helps with the chaos that usually seems to be my life.
Hi, hopping over from Growing in His Glory! I think the key is finding something (a system) that works for you. As you already said, it may take a while to tweak it so that it suits your needs. This is where I fail. I never stick with it long enough to tweak. lol. Glad you found something that works for you. 😉
I love this concept. I use a planner and a notebook. My goal is to try and put it all in one place so the clipboard idea is perfect. Currently I use the notebook for my time mgmt. and the planner to jot down ideas and appts. Having your goals right before your eyes is a good idea also because usually I have to go look them up.
Dawn Paoletta (@breathoffaith) says
I am a serious crazy planner person so I appreciate the way you think! I do love the 4 square, sticky note page! Brilliant! I have used many different styles and formats, but always I use something. And you are right – it has to work for you, but you also have to make it work for you…at least that is what I have found. The planning habit is primary to the specific planning tool.
This is a great list. I’ve never thought of something so simplistic and visual. I think its a great idea to have it offline hardcopy. Its something I will definitely try.
Thanks for sharing!
Lynnae McCoy says
Love these ideas! I’ve tried to be a high tech planner, but in the end, I think paper works best for me. Visiting from Good Tips Tuesdays and pinning this post for future reference!
[email protected] says
Wow! This was really inspiring. I like the idea of using the post it notes. How creative. I also like the idea of having a brain dump sheet. I am like you.. Love paper and pen. And I love the idea of a clipboard. I definitely will be doing this. Thanks for the great post!
Thank you so much for sharing…I love your ideas! I too am not a high tech kinda girl. My husband doesn’t understand why I still use a notebook planner instead of my phone! I love writing it down and seeing it all together. This post had been a real blessing to me and has made me feel not so crazy with my need for pen and paper obsession!!!
Your welcome! I am glad to know I am not the only one who prefers pen and paper.
Dawn @OhSweetMercy says
Oh my goodness, I think this just might be THE “system” I need. I have tried planners, binders, notebooks, paper scraps, apps…all with varying degrees of success. Never thought of a clipboard, though, and I’m thinking that just might work. I could hang it where I can see it all the time and not have it clutter horizontal spaces (something I’m much better at and desire to maintain and improve). Thank you for sharing this!
Your welcome, hope it works for you as well as it does for me.
Kathy Farmer says
I just love this system! It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for! Thank you so much for sharing it. I can’t wait to give it a try!
A clipboard!! Wow, that sounds like something I need to try!! *gears turning* You are the BEST, Victoria! Every time I read something on here I want to do it!! 🙂
Ah! Thanks for your kind words. I love clipboards. I use them for our chore chart for the kids too.