How I keep track of my calendar and general to-dos
Here's something I've noticed: managing your calendar, reminders, and to-dos can now be done with a zillion apps yet paper planners seem to be enjoying a resurgence. (A paper planner is even one of the cheapish thing that can change your life.) This makes me think there must be many other people who, like me, are trying to figure out the perfect digital-paper harmony. It's taken a while but I think I've finally settled on an effective system using both digital and paper calendar and task management. The challenge with using both is that they have to work together. Otherwise, and I've been there, it can feel like you're managing two separate calendars.
When I set about figuring all of this out (maybe five years ago?) I was determined to be just digital or just paper. For my full time job it was pretty easy to go all digital. I used Outlook to manage my calendar and Asana for managing tasks and project progress. I did still like to make a written to do list on most days but all important management happened digitally.
Managing general life stuff only digitally did not go so well. I just can't deny the love of writing things down and importantly crossing things off. Perhaps if I wasn't such a list maker I could keep everything digital. And I've tried the apps that let you check things off. It's just not the same! When I tried to keep only a digital personal calendar I would find myself jotting something down or making a list on paper. And then I wouldn't have a good way to integrate that stuff into a calendar. Sometimes I need the physical act of writing to complete my thinking. Also, I often have so many little tasks I want to get done in a day and my calendar felt cluttered if I made several events or reminders.
But going the other way and only maintaining a paper calendar didn't work either. Chris lives by his phone calendar so creating events and sharing them with him on a digital calendar is really helpful so he knows what I'm scheduling. Or Chris would share an event with me. Plus I already maintained digital-only versions of my editorial calendars for my blog and the Girl Next Door Podcast. A digital calendar is also really handy for quickly looking ahead a few months or even to the next year for longer term planning (which I love to do). So I finally had to admit that I couldn't go completely digital or paper. I had to chart a course somewhere in the middle – a daunting task!
Figuring out what I need in a calendar/to-do system
When I quit my full time job this spring I was able to say goodbye to my Outlook calendar. (No tears were shed.) Even though I had always kept work and personal/creative/home calendars completely separate it felt like a good time to reevaluate my personal calendar and to-do management. The first step in identifying the system I currently use was to take a step back and ask, "what kind of things am I managing?" and "how do I want to manage them?" By asking these questions I realized a few things:
+ Usually commitments are set by the week they are happening but prior to that I want to be able to easily move commitments around and not cross things out on a paper calendar
+ I want to be able to easily schedule recurring events (like swim lessons)
+ I have the following categories of dates/commitments that I want to track: personal/family stuff (everything from doctor appointments to weekend plans with friends), writing and creative (scheduled time to write, writing deadlines I give myself), boys' school, blog editorial, Girl Next Door Podcast editorial, travel, and birthdays
+ I like to keep a digital running list of general to-dos on my phone so I can capture to-dos/ideas as I think of them. I like the digital list instead of on paper so that they don't get "lost" by writing them down in my planner and then flipping to the next week
The digital-paper system that's working for me
With all this in mind I arrived at maintaining an integrated paper and digital calendar/to-do list management – and it's going really well! It feels like I have one calendar across my paper planner and Google Calendar. My digital calendar helps me keep track of scheduled commitments and big picture stuff. As things get scheduled I put them into Google Calendar and color code them by assigning them to one of the following calendars: personal/family, writing, school, blog, Girl Next Door Podcast, travel, birthdays. (Side note: Google automatically creates a "birthday" calendar and populates it with information from your contacts but you can't edit it or add to it. So I hide that calendar and created a new calendar also called birthdays that I can edit.) I also love to set events or reminders in my Google Calendar like "start buying Christmas presents" in October or "look into Phoenix restaurant week" a month before next year's will happen.
I use a Get To Work Book academic year calendar as my paper calendar. This is my fourth GTWB and I still really love it. The website has some great video tours if you'd like to see details and I shared how I was using mine waaay back in 2015 (!). I also use the plastic bookmark and book band. My paper planner works really well for keeping me organizing on a day to day basis. It's where I jot down goals for the week and specific tasks to get done. And very important: it's where I cross stuff off. To mark things as complete I use a set of mini multi-color highlighters and it makes me so happy. There's so rhyme or reason to which color I use, I just grab a highlighter. The GTWB is all black and white so I love the splash of color the highlighters provide. Crossing things out with highlighter leaves the pages looking tidy (dare I say festive?) and I can still easily read everything I wrote. Plus, as a little bonus, the more colorful the week turns out, the more productive I was! I keep the mini highlighters and one or two of my favorite pens, the Zebra F-301, in a fun zippered pouch purchased at Toy Joy in Austin.
I manage my general to-do list across the digital-paper line as well. I have a running list in my Google Keep app on my phone to capture tasks as I think of them. I like this app better than the Apple Notes app so if you're only using Notes you might give Keep a whirl. These are things like return library books, look into karate for the boys, or listing something on Craigslist. It's usually stuff that needs to get done but not on a certain day. I'll look at this list a few times a week and write it down in my planner as I can fit it in and check things off if they have been accomplished.
I also maintain digital lists in Google Keep of home projects I want to do, clothes I want to buy, general things I want to buy, things to buy at Target, and things to buy at Home Depot. Separating those categories out from a general to-do list has been helpful. My brain just really likes to categorize things! Plus if we're going to Target or Home Depot I can scan the list to see if there's anything we need to buy.
Usually on Friday Chris and I will have a chat about what the weekend and week ahead looks like. I do meal planning and grocery shopping on Fridays so I like to account for any evening commitments. My GTWB weekly spreads start on Monday so on Sunday or Monday I open up my planner and Google Calendar. I write down in my planner any commitments and scheduled content (like new podcast episodes or blog posts) for the week that appear in my Google Calendar. Then I fill in that week's to-dos and make other notes, like bullet points for an email I need to write, etc. As the week goes on I cross things out and add to-dos and notes as needed. When a commitment in the future gets set I record it in Google Calendar.
Something else I am loving using lately are these rainbow sticky notes . When I have a day with lots of things to get done or I have several errands to run I like to make a to-do list on a rainbow sticky. It helps me to focus on only what I need/can get done and it's easy to take with me on the go.
I think that covers it! If you have questions please ask them in the comments. I'd love to know if you have any tips on what works for you!