Some people think using a planner is a boring, utilitarian activity, one to avoid so that more important things can happen. But mastering the skills of using a planner and making using it a forever habit can be the source of many joys.

Myths about Planners
Before we get into the joys of using planners, let's dispel some false beliefs:

1. Planners are expensive – they don't have to be; many inexpensive planners are quite good. A friend used a tiny spiral notebook as a planner to accomplish many major projects (putting up new buildings and managing complex organizations). What makes any planner work is consistently using it to manage all appointments, information, and to-do’s in one place.
Also, an electronic planner can be as effective as a paper one – if you have a smart phone, you don't have to buy anything new. Just back it up to your computer or the cloud to prevent data loss if it is stolen, lost, or damaged.

2. Planners are a hassle – using a planner requires updating it daily, checking it many times throughout the day, and consulting it before scheduling anything, but these are minor efforts compared to the major hassle of missed deadlines or appointments, falling behind on work, or your life being out of control.

3. Using a planner is too time-consuming – the daily ritual of identifying your top priorities for the day and carrying forward tasks not completed on previous days does take time, but the reality is that updating your planner saves vastly more time than it uses by making you more efficient, effective, and focused. Time spent learning to use and working with your planner is not wasted – it is an investment in making your present and future better!

4. Using a planner requires skills you don't have – no one is ever born knowing cshow to plan or use a planner. We all have to learn these skills, and those who do reap the benefit. As we get older, learning becomes more challenging but also more rewarding by helping to keep our brain cells active and connected; this alone makes learning these skills worth the effort.

5. Planning interferes with spontaneity – some people must follow artistic or other inspiration whenever it arises. When an idea comes to me, I jot it down in my planner immediately; if the inspiration is writing that I need to do, I stop everything else to follow that vision. But these insights usually only last a short while, and when the inspiration runs out, I drop back to my original plan. Planning and self-discipline can increase the frequency of inspirations by keeping you focused on what you want to create.

6. You feel badly about yourself when you see many tasks that have to be carried forward (i.e., moved from one day to the next because not complete) – it’s not the planner that is upsetting but your judgments, expectations, and belief that it is appropriate to judge yourself harshly. Things don’t get done because life intervenes – it’s all just learning. (Also, give yourself credit for every tiny step you take to move each task forward; I put a dot next to every task I started before carrying it forward to allow myself to take credit for what I did.)

7. You never follow your plans anyway – plans may be unrealistic or punitive (giving yourself harsh deadlines to catch up work that has fallen behind). Rather than sabotaging yourself, make plans that are comfortable and easy to do by breaking tasks into small pieces. The bigger and more onerous the task, the smaller the pieces and more frequent the efforts need to be. Consistent, steady effort is the best way to go.
         Every time you plan to do something and don't, use that situation to learn from it: Why did this happen? (Beating yourself up about it is never useful) Was the task too big for the time slot available? Were too many tasks scheduled for the same day? Was there sufficient preparation to make the task feasible? Was the task less important than the priority it was given, and your inner self rebelled from knowing the truth? Do you dislike doing the task so much that you avoid it? (If so, what can be done to reduce your dislike?) Would checking your planner more often help? (Hourly is good but will require long practice to get there) Whatever insights you glean from this analysis, use them to improve your planning skills.

8. You tried to use a planner in the past but couldn’t make it work for you – usually this happens due to difficulties with consistency. One part of the cure is to tie setting up your planner to another dependable activity, such as your morning coffee or tea. Building any new habit requires persistence and patience. If you keep trying, you will master this skill.

Joys and Benefits of Using a Planner
1. Peace of mind from knowing that you will not forget important tasks. The daily ritual of updating your planner creates a calm oasis in the middle of a busy life, reducing distractions and improving concentration. It may also reduce or eliminate the nagging guilt that will always be in the back of your mind when you are not acting in your own best interests.

2. Lower stress from being able to allocate your time. Your planner will show you  opportunities for time savings that you might otherwise miss and help you feel ahead of the curve instead of always behind it.

3. Increased self-respect, confidence, and sanity from knowing that you have mapped out how you will do everything needed.

4. Increased pride and self-esteem from increased accomplishments. A planner can aid making better time use choices, make choosing the most important activities clearer, and make letting go of less important activities easier.

5. Relaxation from being able to easily find important information. Having a planner lets you keep track of dates, information, and tasks without having to turn your house upside down to find it.

6. Freedom from anxiety over what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Being conscious of and following your own specific, concrete plan for using your time eliminates much self-doubt and recrimination.

7. Easier identification of priorities and the most effective, efficient, comfortable time slot for doing tasks – you do not have to schedule or do everything all at once. List tasks for subsequent days, relieving pressure on your plan for the present day.
A planner also relieves pressure by making it easier to see how to break tasks into tiny pieces so that they will be more bearable, doable, and realistic. Chunking tasks into small pieces also reduces the likelihood of triggering the inner rebel that many of us have, causing us to disregard our own plans, even when doing so harms our best interest. All actions to reduce pressure increase your capacity to feel joy.

8. Increased self-confidence from knowing what you need and plan to do. Being able to trust yourself to follow your plans (comes with practice) increases self-esteem and ability to tackle new projects.

9. Easier development of constructive new habits. Building a new habit is made easier by posting the new behavior as a daily to-do on every date until it is firmly established. Your planner is also a good place to keep your motivators list for why you want to establish the new behavior in the first place.

10. Simple pleasures are often the deepest. Having a consistent, daily ritual of setting up your to-do list for the coming day can create the satisfying feeling of knowing what is in front of you, of being able to choose your priorities, and to relax while accomplishing what matters most.

Tips For Using a Planner
* Be patient with yourself while building this skill. It takes time to learn to use a planner, there are many composite skills to learn, and you have to expect bumps in the road. Just don't give up – if you need help, e-mail me and I will help you figure it out (I do not charge for answering questions or thinking things through).

* Give your planner its own specific spot in your home where you always put it and never put anything else there so that finding it will always be easy. My planner either lives in my purse or on my desk. Sometimes I carry it around the house with me while exercising or cleaning so that I can jot down any new ideas, tasks, or items to purchase. But I am careful to always return my planner to its ‘home’.

* Jot down ideas, new tasks, or shopping list items as soon as they pop into your mind. There are better things to keep in your mind than shopping lists or to-do’s.

* Use only one planner. Having multiple lists in different places is a recipe for not getting things done, not being able to make good decisions, for being confused, and for feeling badly about yourself. This is perhaps the most important piece of time management self-discipline you can ever create.

* Treat your daily planning session as sacred time – it is. Use it to reflect on what matters to you, changes you want in life and how to make them happen, and how you want to use this precious, all-too-short amount of time that our lives really are in the best possible way.

* Goals should be grand, should make us yearn, stretch, and grow, but daily to- do’s should be tiny – 15 minute or so chunks that move you step-by-step closer to your goal. For any big goal to happen, you must identify what are you willing to do in whatever size chunk is required, every single day. This is how to achieve huge goals, whether it be winning an Olympic medal or clearing out your house (clearly, the bigger and more difficult the goal, the more you must invest in it to make it happen, but then the sweeter the victory).

* Don’t schedule to-do’s for specific hours unless you really must (electronic planners may give you no choice, so the Memo or Note functions might be better for to-do’s than the calendar). Working people may need to schedule self-care time, such as scheduling time to go to the gym, but generally to-do’s must fit in whenever possible amidst the inevitable interruptions, distractions, and emergencies of daily life. Planning tasks for specific times often leads to feeling defeated before you even get started. It doesn't help. Artificial (i.e., self-imposed) deadlines are a similar phenomenon and best avoided.

* Keep your planner open to the current date where you can easily see it (a prime spot on your desk or by your computer is good) and check it many times during the day. Every time you finish one task or reach a stopping point, check your planner to see what needs to come next. This keeps you focused on your priorities. The first task you do each day should be the most important one, the one that will make the most difference if you get it done, then do the next most important task. Do less important tasks when you are mentally or physically stretched by the big ones – this gives a chance to recover.

* Be kind to yourself when scheduling to-do’s. When you have one or more appointments scheduled on a given day, don't list as many to-do’s for that day, as doing so will only lead to disappointment and lower self-esteem. You can't make the impossible happen by telling yourself you just have to do it. This will only make you crazy unnecessarily. Give yourself a break and put unreasonable tasks on more realistic dates.

Having control over your life is priceless – well worth any effort required to achieve it. Life doesn’t need to be one preventable distress or emergency after another: you can make things happen when they need to and events in your life can result from your decisions and actions rather than events outside your control (mostly).

© Gloria Valoris, 2014

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