I’ve written before about my low-key bullet journaling style twice. Over the last year and a half, though, I’ve found bullet journaling to not be sufficient anymore for my needs and I took to finding a new system of keeping myself organized, motivated, and reflective of what it is I’m doing with my time every day.
The bullet journal stopped working for me because, as much as it was useful for assessing task importance, it didn’t give me a way to delegate my time during the day nor plan further ahead. I slowly began to shift over to a digital task management system, then realized that alone wouldn’t be enough for me.
Every Day Organization
Enter: Day Designer.
As I noted in the Instagram post above, whenever I lug this thing around — and lug is the right term, given how substantial it is — I get asked about it. The Day Designer is exactly what it promises to be: a way to design your day around time blocks. Every single day has its own page, except for Saturdays and Sundays which are on the same page, and the days are broken down into hours from 5 AM to 9 PM.
In addition to the time breakdown, though, each page offers a ton of other ways to track what’s important that day. There’s space for a top three of the day, for notes, as well as a space for that day’s to-do list. I don’t use the gratitude space in the planner, since I leave that in another place, but there is room for those who want to see that when they open up their planner.
I get up at 4:30 every morning. Having the chance to start planning my day at 5 AM is a game-changer. So many planners start much later, but I do need to get started early. Sure, “reading” and “meditation,” are things I’d likely do automatically, but the act of slotting those into time boxes prioritizes them and is a reminder of what exactly I did with my time on any given day.
I don’t write down every single thing I want to get done on the to-do list each day because I also use a digital task management system. Things is the one I prefer, as I can set up recurring tasks, can reschedule things easily, and I can keep a running list of “future ideas.”
Under “Today” on Things, you get a check list and can just mark things off as you go. You get a nice view of upcoming tasks like that seen above, and you can keep track of ideas in the “Someday” folder. This is where I often brainstorm post ideas or take notes about trends or topics I want to remember to go back to but that don’t necessarily have any due date associated with them. Often, one of the recurring tasks in Things ends up on the Top 3 priorities in the Day Designer, just because it is. I know I’ll do it, but it’s the most important thing to get done, no matter what else pops up during the course of a day.
The to-do list in my paper planner becomes a bit of a dumping ground for things that are small but need to get done: packages to take to the post office, appointments to make, emails to send or follow up with. When I collect those administrative-like tasks together in that space, I’m able to get an idea of how much time I need to allot in my day to complete them. Will it be an hour? Two hours? Or do I move those to another day and schedule a longer period of time to knock out a lot of things at once?
My last tool is one that isn’t updated daily. I have a monthly calendar planner that has just each month of the year. In it, I write down my planned blog posts, newsletter topics, and other regular writing when it’s scheduled. It’s an old-school content calendar and allows me to see what I’ve got cooking so I don’t repeat myself or find myself being bored by writing the same kinds of things all the time. It also ensures I don’t forget to do something.
Goal Setting and Reflection
In addition to the organization system for my day-to-day life, I keep a similarly-large planner for my goal setting. After reading numerous rave reviews of the PowerSheets system, I decided to splurge on one this year. I’m so glad I did!
The PowerSheets ask for a lot of upfront work, but it’s all good upfront work. You reflect on things going well in your life, then think about what it is you really want to get out of the next year of time. Those are distilled into no more than eight goals for the year, which are then broken down even further. Those micro-steps are transformed into tasks you tend to, either over the course of a month, each week, or every day.
Every week, I review my tending sheet a couple of times and update it. What did I get done from the month’s tasks, the week’s goals, and the daily tasks? It’s a reminder to refocus and also to allow myself space to deviate — an example is that I make it a daily goal not to turn on my laptop until 7 am and use that time to read and meditate. But sometimes things come up and my morning gets compressed and I need to turn on my laptop for some work. When I look at the daily goals and see that 10 out of the last 11 days have been successful in no turning on the laptop, I do not feel an ounce of guilt for doing it once because I can see how good I am at maintaining the goal overall.
I’ve taken this a step further, too, in that I have been creating themes around my goals by month. February, for example, is “renew,” and it’s when I’m trying to take care of overdue tasks. I went and got my Real ID at the DMV, I ordered new glasses, and I am in the midst of figuring out what to do with my hair. I made myself a massage appointment and will be taking my car in for some overdue repairs I’ve put off. Spending time at the start of the month to put all of those things down and look at them in conjunction with my big goals, I see how each of those moves me closer to the bigger picture in some way. It’s incredibly motivating.
Each month’s tending is paired with a reflection page about what went well and what didn’t that month, which is so helpful and grounding.
I don’t stop at the PowerSheets though. The other tool I use for dreaming and goal setting is the Start Today journal. I’ve written before about my complex relationship with Rachel Hollis, in that I see where she has weaknesses but also that there are a lot of things she talks about and shares that are extremely helpful to me (and frankly, I think a lot of the feedback she’s seen has made her a lot more aware of those shortcomings, as I’m finding myself liking her more and more because it’s clear she’s working and is indeed complex and flawed and sees that!).
Start Today is her methodology, and it requires on fancy journals. I do have one, though, that she sells because I grabbed it on discount. The premise is extremely simple: every day, you write down 5 things you’re grateful for, then 10 dreams — written as if they’ve already happened, so it doesn’t read like a to-do list, and then the ONE goal you’re going to achieve first. This fits in SO neatly with the PowerSheets and gives me a roadmap to success in the grander scheme of things while also inviting me to not only dream, but find gratitude every day.
The last tool in my daily regimen for staying organized and grounded is a simple journaling technique I learned from a fellow student while doing my Yoga Life Coach certification.
While all of the above tools are extremely useful, they’re not the best for looking backward. They’re all set in the now or in the future. And while those aren’t bad things, there’s tremendous value in also reflecting and recalling what it is you did in a day.
I use a journal I’ve had at home and answer these four questions every single day:
- What brought me joy?
- What am I grateful for? (Yes, I repeat something from the Start Today list)
- What is it I can let go of?
- What am I most proud of?
On days when I am working, I add a fifth question:
- What did I work on today?
This gives me the chance to reflect on the highs of a day, the things I’m glad I did, and gives me a reminder of what the heck I am doing with my time, so that when I look back on the week, I can acknowledge that I wrote 4 newsletters for work and recorded two podcasts, had a number of phone calls, wrote a couple of posts, and so forth. It’s the “Ta-Done” list, if you will, and writing it out, as opposed to simply checking it off my planner or task list solidifies accomplishment.
So How Long Does It Take You?
Honestly, half an hour on a slow day. After I get up, I make myself a cup of tea, and while it’s brewing, I generally journal from the previous day or work on the Start Today page. By the time my water is hot, I can enjoy my cup of tea while doing the other, and as soon as that finishes, I often still have most of my tea.
That’s when I crack open the Day Designer and plot out my time for the day. I prioritize things that are on my Things task list, as well as things on my Tending list for the month or week. When I see there’s time in a day, I will get cracking either on the tasks on the Day Designer list or poke through my tending list and make some progress.
That half hour is more than worth it weight in gold, especially when I see each way those tiny steps adds up to a much bigger picture and forward movement toward those big, juicy goals and dreams.