This morning someone in a Facebook group I follow asked about planning out tasks in a way that’s not overwhelming. For once, it was a question I had an answer to. Or at least, I had a system that mostly works for me. (I still get overwhelmed now and then, but it’s usually a result of me not following my own rules, my depression creeping up on me again, or technical problems that have put me behind schedule.)
I find that if I break up my to-dos, I get less overwhelmed. And this method works with a lot of traditional planners, bullet journaling, blank notebooks, printable inserts, etc., so it doesn’t have a lot of barriers to entry. I’m also not selling you anything.
1) Empty your brain. Get a sheet of paper or a white board, anything, and list out all the stuff you think you need to get done next week. Don’t overanalyze. Just list. (I don’t do this step anymore because I’m in the habit of adding the thing when I think of the thing, but to start out, definitely this.)
2) Look through your list and figure out which things are too big to do in a week and need to be broken down. Break them down enough that the items you add to your daily and weekly to do are things that could reasonably get done. No, you’re not going to write 50,000 words this week unless you’ve built up a habit of doing that. No, you’re not going to build six websites from scratch unless they’re simple, that’s all you do, and it’s something you’ve been doing long enough it’s automatic.
Identify the things you’re going to do that week and mark any that have to happen on a particular day. If your daughter’s play is Wednesday afternoon, you can’t do it Monday morning. If you have to move the files from last quarter to your archive drawer, you can do that anytime during the week you have a few minutes.
3) Start with days. If it must be done Monday, it goes under Monday, but each day only gets 1-5 things, depending on how big the things are. (Check PO Box is a small thing unless your box is four towns and a ferry ride away. Update website pricing is a big thing.)
If your must-dos on a day are things like “pick up almond milk and hummus; send Steve an email; call Jill about Sunday; schedule vet appointment; shred last month’s checks” then 5 is fine. If your must-dos are “rewrite budget for 2017” sticking with one might be best. You can get almond milk on your way home, but don’t also decide you need to “update all Etsy pricing” for 198 items and “bake wedding cake from scratch.” That way lies madness. And crying into an empty wine glass at four am because you can’t decide if yellow is yellow enough.
If it’s something that’s too big for one day, write the task you’re doing that day, not the whole project. (eg “Update bio copy” v “redo website”)
4) Stuff that’s ongoing or that can be done anytime during the week when you can fit it in goes on a weekly list and you knock stuff off it as you have time. (Say you need to check that PO Box but instead of having to do it Monday, you can do it anytime you’re on that side of town.) Again, one task at a time. (Overall project can go in parentheses after if you want.)
Let’s say I need to update a spreadsheet with last week’s royalties, candle sales, expenses, etc. I can do it Monday, but it doesn’t have to be done Monday. I can do it Tuesday or Thursday when I have the day off. That goes on my weekly to do list.
On the other hand, most days I have trouble getting out of work early enough to make it to the post office, so I plan to do that on Thursdays when I have the day off or get out early.
One of my ongoing things is word count, which I try to track separately. Most of the time, my planner has a neat little box for it, but this week seems to have been a design failure, so I drew it in.
5) Schedule appointments, meetings, etc. in a way that works for you. If you know you have a meeting that’s going to take the whole morning, maybe you use a daily planner with hourly blocking to mark it off, or maybe you add it to your day’s to-dos (if not, factor it in some way). Electronic, spirodex… whatever works.
6) Schedule your time and play time–block it off on your calendar if you have to. Again, ever how you manage meetings, that’s how you manage you time.
This summer, Thursday has been beach day for me. For my friend, her beach day is Monday. You have a standing massage on Sunday afternoon? Saturday night bubble bath? Wine with the girls Wednesday? Happy Hour with the boys Friday? Whatever recharges you and makes you happy, whether it’s painting stick figures in a row on your kitchen cabinets, lying in the middle of your fuzzy rug watching the ceiling fan spin, or dancing your feet off with a dude half your age at 2am.
7) If you want to decorate now, go nuts. Keep in mind, though, that if the decoration is hindering progress (distracting, taking up too much time, etc.), it’s not worth it. If decorating is your “you time” but it’s too distracting, get a second planner for decorating. At the end of the week, when you’re plotting your plan for the next one, go back and add the highlights of the previous week onto your decorated spread so you create a living scrapbook (vs that scrapbook project you have in the closet from when your teenager was a toddler).