Between school age and entering my first job, I felt a great sense of structure in my life. My days usually involved going to school or work, spending the allotted time at school or work, and then fulfilling obligations in the after-hours. I didn’t think too much about how I was spending my time. At that point, I had some ideas of things I would like to do in my life and if it was something that came easy to me or something that was in my comfort zone, I would most likely get it done. If it was outside of my comfort zone, I would usually procrastinate for a while and occasionally get it done.
The biggest shift came in 2014 when my husband’s job had us relocate to a new city and I found myself unemployed. For the first time in my adult life, I had the whole day to myself with one massive goal: get a job. Getting a job is one of those complex tasks that require a myriad of small steps. For the first time in my life, my problem was not scarcity of time, but rather a lack of structure in my days while trying to remain focused on working towards my one massive goal.
I was determined to not waste my day away. Yet somehow at the end of each day, I felt like I’d got nothing done and after a few months had passed, I felt even more discouraged by the fact that I still did not have a job. I knew that I needed some sort of structure in my day to help me stay focused, stay positive, and stay on track to get all the little things done that I needed to do to increase my chances of getting hired.
It all started with one red notebook. The red notebook was my manual and guide for each day. Before I went to bed at night, I would jot down an outline of how I would spend the next day. This gave me the structure I needed to stay focused, and the ability to reflect each day on what I got done.
In the same red notebook, I asked myself questions for accountability. I needed these questions to help push me and really think about how I was spending my time. In my job search, I was reaching out to a lot of strangers, going out on a limb, and doing things I had never done before. When tasks got challenging, my instinct was to retreat and do something easy (cough, cough, social media) but I had my red notebook to turn to and remind myself about what needed to be done each day.
Months later, after much persistence, I eventually landed a job that was a wonderful fit at a company where I was excited to work. Eventually, I started my position and my working hours of Monday to Friday were filled. Something was missing from my day even though I had more structure. During this season of my life, I was training for a half marathon, adjusting to my new city (still!), and looking to take some professional development courses. I thought back to my red notebook and how well a simple notebook that I reviewed each day had helped me move forward and stay focused on where I spent my time.
It was also at this time that I made an investment and enrolled in an online goal setting class. This taught me about goal setting structure and how to formulate action steps. In this course, I learned that one of the key components to accomplishing the goals that you set is to have a system of regular review. I’d failed miserably at this part in the past since I did not have a good system in place to regularly review and schedule in the tasks I needed to get done for each goal.
I realized my need to have everything together so that I was more likely to regularly review the materials. After making the decision to put my goals, scheduling, and to-do lists in one place, I set myself up for success for making it a no brainer to sit down with my one planner and read through it.
The 30-45 minutes I spent each week during my review made the biggest impact in that I forced myself to review all my pages, make decisions on priorities, and schedule the week. With that idea in mind, my first spiral bound planner was born. I did not (and still don’t) have a graphics design background nor printing experience, but I learned there is a lot you can do on Microsoft Word and a trip to Staples.
Three years later, I am on my 12th custom planner. Each quarter, I recreate my planner depending on what types of pages I want to include, what questions I want to ask myself, and how I am structuring my day. With each planner, I have learned what works for me, and what does not, making me more likely to feel that it is serving me at my current season of life. This experience has taught me some great lessons that I enjoy sharing.