Planner Use: The Magic of 5 Tasks at a Time

Planner Use: The Magic of 5 Tasks at a Time

Last week I mentioned that when I’m less than motivated or when I’m overwhelmed, I use a technique for planning that I call 5 Tasks at a Time.  This week I wanted to share a few specifics about how I use it. Continue reading “Planner Use: The Magic of 5 Tasks at a Time”

ADHD Planner Setup

This is probably going to be the strangest planner setup article you’ve ever read.  But maybe the most interesting, too?  Well, it’ll definitely be an experience.  I just hope that when you’re done you don’t think I’m a nut case.

Many of you know that I used a Franklin Covey Compact two pages per day for 20 years.

Franklin Covey Compact Planner

The first 15 years I didn’t realize there were other options so I stuck pretty faithfully with my FC (fewer options is better when you have ADHD).  My recollection is that I used it faithfully.  But my archives and my best friend say different.  My archives show gaps in use.  My best friend says I’ve always struggled with my planner.

Until about 5 years ago, I made it work.  It served me well enough that I was able to keep my ducks in a row, for the most part.  But 5 years ago life started getting crazy.  I won’t bore you with all the details but let’s just say I went from a well-ordered life (at least that’s what I remember) to a crazy one.  Life became very unpredictable and difficult to plan.  And my FC compact started driving me crazy.  I tried anything and everything to get it to work but I just couldn’t.

I started exploring other options – like upgrading to a FC classic size (5-1/2 x 8-1/2).  I liked all the space but I didn’t like carrying that giant planner and looking like a nerd.  I tried Filofax.  I bought a personal Malden and day on two pages inserts.  But it was too small. Are you seeing a pattern here?  I sounded like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – this one’s too small; this one’s too big.  It seemed like the compact was just the right size.  Only it wasn’t.  And I was tired of it.  20 years is a long time.

So I struggled.  I can’t tell you how many nights I sat on the couch with three planners on my lap.  I asked my husband’s advice so many times he can practically recite the speech while asleep:  “Just pick one. What is so hard about a planner setup? Any of them will work.”  And the rest of my family just rolled their eyes when I mentioned my planner struggle.

At the end of every year I started panicking about which planner I’d use starting January 1st.  I desperately wanted to pick one and stick with it.  But then January rolled around and I was no closer to choosing!  I just felt more pressured.  By the time February arrived I was completely depressed because I wanted this to be the year I decided.   Oh, wait.  I did decide. But then I changed my mind.  Sometimes multiple times in the same day.

And here we are again.  I have to decide because I’m driving myself (and my family) crazy and my ducks are NOT in a row!!!

So I analyzed my schedule and my needs and realized that most of what I do every day is the same.  And between my household routine and my blogging routine, I don’t have much time left.  So I created a custom page for my Filofax that included routine tasks with a few lines for extra tasks.  Those few lines were to remind me that I don’t have much extra time so I shouldn’t write much.  I also included things to do sheet on the left side for all the other stuff I think of that needs done sometime.  That sheet travels with the daily page.  Notes about my day go on the back of the page.  I also borrowed an idea from Raine of limetreefruits and added a “De-Brief” page at the end of the week where I can write a summary of my week and a few thoughts about how I can do better the next week.

Filofax personal custom pages

Filofax personal custom pages

Filofax personal custom pages

Filofax personal custom pages
De-Brief is an important part of my planner setup.

I used these pages for a couple of weeks and was very excited about them.  But then I noticed a problem (of course).  Using this planner setup I wasn’t getting the extra things done and some of them were important.  Also, I had several days that fell apart and by the time I had a chance to catch my breath, I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea what to do next (thank you, ADHD).

And that’s when I realized that as much as I love the personal Malden Filofax with my custom pages, they will not work for me.  I need a different planner setup in order to function effectively with a chaotic schedule, ADHD issues and all my responsibilities.

Drum roll please.  And the answer is . . .

Franklin Covey Classic with Two Pages Per Day

Are you disappointed?  Were you expecting something . . . well, different?!  I know.  I was disappointed, too.  But after much analysis, this is what the doctor ordered.

Here’s how I’ve been using it:

Franklin Covey Classic

I divided the to-do section into three parts.

TOP:  Must Do

MIDDLE:  Blog

BOTTOM:  House Dailies

Then when I have one of those days when I go from Plan A to Plan M and I don’t have a clue what to do next, I just look at the Must Do category and pick one.  It doesn’t even matter which one.  If I happen to get all those done, I can choose out of the other sections or not choose.  It doesn’t matter that much since the Must Do’s will be done.

The best part of having the page divided this way is that it’s easier for my ADHD mind to compartmentalize.  That’s the problem I was having with the custom pages in the Filofax – because of the small pages, all the tasks ran together and when I needed to see what to do next, I couldn’t.  That’s not necessarily going to be the case for everyone – that’s just me!

I’m also marking the schedule page so I can see at a glance when I have time to work on my Must Do’s or other tasks.  On this particular day, I was free for a little while in the morning but then I left to pick up the grandkids.  From 11:00 to 1:30 I was either traveling to get them and bring them home or feeding them lunch.  The time from 4:00 to 8:30 was when they would be up and expecting my undivided attention. With my schedule marked this way, I’m able to see exactly when I have time to work on tasks.  In this case, a little time in the morning, a few hours in the afternoon, and after 8:30 when they go to bed.

I might end up using the very bottom section for my menu but for right now I have it up at the very top. Once again this is the planner setup that works for me. It might not work for everyone.

I’ve divided the Notes page into two sections.  The section on the left is for notes – anything and everything that comes up during the day.  The right side is my food journal.  I’ve increased my activity lately and now it’s time to clean up my diet.  The most effective way to keep a food journal for me is to have it right on my planner page where I can see it every time I look at my planner.  If it’s in a section at the back, it’s easy to ignore.  But right there . . . I can’t miss it!

I’m also using the Progress Task List made by Franklin Covey.  It allows me to write all the other tasks I think of directly on the page finder and that also is in clear view so I don’t forget there are other things to do besides the ones on my list.  But they’re in a designated location so they don’t overwhelm me.

Here’s another sample:

Franklin Covey Classic Planner Setup

So this is my planner set-up for 2014.  I hope.  Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted – unless I’m too embarrassed to admit I changed again.  And if I do change again, it’ll probably be right back to my FC Compact . . . which is actually looking pretty good right now . . . you know, just the right size.  Just kidding.  Mostly.

How about you?  Do you struggle choosing a planner setup and/or format?


 More time management/planner articles are available
in the Time Management Index.


ADD/ADHD to the C.O.R.E.

C.O.R.E. Cleaning

I told you in my last post that I would share with you what I call the C.O.R.E. method. It is the method I use more than anything else. I am ADD to the bone. I also struggle with other issues, so finding a homemaking method at this point is a life journey for me. There are very few steps to the C.O.R.E. method and none of those steps will be new to you. If they are it will be easy to catch on. Continue reading “ADD/ADHD to the C.O.R.E.”

5 Homemaking Methods I Have Tried

5 Homemaking Methods I Have Tried*This post contains affiliate links.

The reality is I am not a great homemaker. My house stays just this side of horrible most days. Other days I lose the battle and it becomes like a corn maze – with junk instead of corn. For decades I have sought out books to help me become the homemaker I see in my head. Continue reading “5 Homemaking Methods I Have Tried”

How to Balance Your Time Budget

Franklin Covey

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Planning realistically is tough but it can be done.  The easiest way I’ve found to do it is by using this method.

Get out your planner page for tomorrow.  This is going to work best if you have at least a page per day with a schedule.  If you don’t, you can accomplish the same thing using a blank piece of paper.

How to Balance Your Time Budget

Looking at your schedule, block out what’s already planned.  I don’t just mean appointments – I also mean meals, errands, cooking, etc.  If you know you’re going to do it at a certain time, block out the time!  I almost always sit on the couch around 8:00 pm to quilt and plan tomorrow (or play an iPhone game or two).  Even if I don’t do those things, I know I’m not going to be doing anything noteworthy after 8:00.  I’m brain dead by then.

Also, my planning pages start a lot earlier than I do so I block off the part I don’t use.  I’m a full-time homemaker and not a morning person so I sleep until 8:00 or 8:30 and then stay in bed and check e-mail and read the news.  I start on actual work about 10:00.  I’ve been doing that for years.  I enjoy my morning wake-up time and then I work hard from 10:00 to 8:00.  So block off any times you don’t actually use.

How to Balance Your Time Budget

Count the hours that remain.  This will probably be different every day unless your schedule is always the same.  Mine isn’t.  When I worked full-time, I did have the same schedule every day and I figured out that I had about an hour each evening after the basics were done.  So I planned an hour’s worth of tasks and no more.

But now, every day is different.  So when I’m planning this way, I go through this process daily.

In my example, which was my actual day, I had four hours left.  This is where it gets tricky.  Four hours remaining does not mean you can schedule four hours of tasks and expect to get them all done.  Unfortunately, life is filled with lots of interruptions and complications.  Things rarely go the way you plan.  So plan for three hours – not four.  Then if you have extra time you can do more.  But if not, you’re not stressed or left with important undone tasks.  In fact, if your schedule is really tight, you can review the list and figure out which items could be skipped if you run out of time.  Put a small dot next to the item or items.  Then if you run out of time, you already know what to skip.

If you happen to have more than you can do in the allotted time, planning the night before gives you flexibility that you won’t have if you plan in the morning.  For me, if I have too much to do and can’t skip anything, I can get up earlier or cut into my evening couch time.  I try not to do it, and I definitely don’t want to, but I have that option.  Planning ahead and realistically allows you to be sure you can actually get done what you need to.

How to Balance Your Time Budget

Have a back-up list in case you have extra time.  If you only plan for three hours but you actually end up with four, or you get other tasks done more quickly than you expected, a back-up list can keep you from wasting the extra time.

How to Balance Your Time Budget

And that’s one way to balance your time budget.  Have you ever tried this?  How do you make sure your task list matches your time available?

10 Types of To-Do Lists

To Do List

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There are lots of different ways to make a to-do list. Some of the lists are effective and some of them aren’t.  And whether the list is effective or not doesn’t depend on the type of list it is – but what works for you.  Each of us function differently and need a different kind of list to be effective.  So which of these is your list making style?

  1. The Very Small List of Only Two or Three Things. This list consists of only a few tasks and the tasks are items that must be done that day – not could or should but MUST.  This type of list maker enjoys success nearly every day because the list is short and realistic and the tasks MUST be done.
  1. The Very Long List of Things That Couldn’t Possibly All Be Done in One Day or Even One Week. This list includes anything and everything that pops into the list maker’s mind.  There’s no rhyme or reason to it and the items are done randomly based on time available, motivation and urgency (sometimes).  The list maker doesn’t really expect to get all these things done.  He/she just wants to be sure they aren’t forgotten.
  1. Limited Larger Number – Like 10. I’ve used this method a lot.  I get overwhelmed with a long list but under whelmed with a short one.  So I limit myself to 10 things – including routine things like making dinner or doing laundry.  If I happen to get the list of 10 done, I can make another list of 5.  It helps me keep from getting overwhelmed and helps me stay focused.
  1. Lists by Urgency: Must Do, Should Do, Could Do. This is a very common way of structuring a to-do list and ensures that the most important things are done while the less important things are done only if time allows.
  1. A, B, C. This list maker makes a list of a random number of items and then categorizes them by urgency (A, B or C) and then ranks by importance during each category (A1, A2, A3) and then starts working through the list.
  1. Time Period or Blocks. This type of list is made based on the time period – morning, afternoon and evening, for example.
  1. Schedule. Some people make a list of things that need done and then plug them into time slots.  If an item doesn’t have a time slot, it doesn’t get done.
  1. Category. Some people simply have a list in random or prioritized order but others have a list by category.  Tasks are divided into sections like house, errands, phone calls, paperwork, etc.
  1. List of 5 to Do NOW. This is also one of my favorite methods.  Since my schedule is very unpredictable, I sometimes make a list of 5 things I can do right now.  I do those 5 things (usually very small tasks) and then make a list of 5 more.  I do this on and off all day and by the end of the day, I’ve accomplished a lot.
  1. Post-It Notes. Some people write individual tasks on post-it notes and then stick the notes on the wall where they can see them and where they can arrange them in a meaningful way.  When tasks are complete, they pull the notes off and throw them away.

I’m sure there are lots more ways to do to-do lists.  In fact, if you do yours differently, I would love to hear about how you do it or see a sample.  I’m always looking for better ways to do things.

In the meantime, remember there’s no right or wrong way to make a to-do list.  The only thing that matters is that the list making method you use works for YOU!

How to Make a To-Do List Using Categories

to-do list

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Time management experts always say to be specific when making a to-do list.  Usually that’s good advice.  But there’s also a place for what I call category planning.

Here’s an example of one of my category  to-do lists:

  • Bible
  • Tidy
  • Sweep
  • Chores
  • Paperwork
  • Dinner
  • Quilt
  • Blog
  • Organize
  • Computer

A couple of these items are general but not necessarily a category – Bible, Tidy, Sweep.  I’ve written before about how sometimes “tidy” takes 10 minutes and sometimes it takes 30 minutes.  Sweep sometimes means the entire house while other times it means a quick clean-up of just the main floor.

The remaining tasks are the category tasks.  The reason I listed categories instead of specific tasks is because I don’t know how much time I’ll have or what I’ll be able to do.  Rather than making a list that’s just a bunch of guesses or hopes, I use the categories.  I know I want to spend time on each of these areas but I don’t know exactly what I’ll be able to do or how much time I’ll have.

Yesterday was a good example.  The grandkids were here so I had a limited amount of time to do anything.  My category list kept me moving forward but didn’t stress me out.

Here’s how it played out:

  • Chores:  The grandkids were making messes right and left so it was hard to get any cleaning done.  The best I could do was freshen up the bathrooms, finish the laundry and put clean towels and rugs in the bathrooms.  I also dumped a couple of trash cans.
  • Paperwork:  I deposited a check, updated the list of bills due, found a file.
  • Dinner:  Because of the schedule, I went with frozen pizza for me and a gluten free pizza for David.  I didn’t decide until the afternoon because I wasn’t sure what was going on.  But I had several options in mind.
  • Quilt:  I’m working on a baby quilt and I try to work on it every day.  My goal is to quilt one hoop a night but if I can’t, I do less.  That was the case last night.
  • Blog:  I like to spend 2 hours a day blogging.  I have a list of daily tasks to complete but sometimes I can’t get through them all.  When that’s the case, I do the most important ones and skip the rest or try to do them another day.  Today all I did was tomorrow’s blog post.
  • Organize:  I have several areas I need to organize.  The most pressing one is my desk.  I need a block of time to get a lot done but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.  So I’m doing it in bits and pieces.  Today I spent about 5 minutes going through papers on my desk and putting them away.
  • Computer:  My computer needs some clean-up so I’ve been trying to spend time on it once a week or so.  I didn’t have a lot of time today so all I got done was to clean out my email inbox.  Hey – it was better than nothing.

I don’t plan like this every day.  It’s simply a strategy I use when I need it.  If I was going to use this method long term, I would create detailed lists for each of the categories.  Then when it was time to work on a category, I would flip to the list for that category and choose an appropriate task.  When it was complete, I’d mark it off.

Have you ever used a category to-do list?  How did you set yours up?