Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Life

Last week I shared a glimpse into my homeschool planning system. But, I know many of my readers are not homeschoolers. So, what do I do for the rest of life?

Well, the first system that really seemed to work for me was Franklin Covey. I had a really nice binder, and I ordered planner inserts every year. I used that system for three years, I believe. The biggest problem from me was the size. The binder I used was lovely and sturdy, but it was not incredibly convenient to carry around. It did not fit in my purse, so it had to be carried separately. That got a little awkward. I had tried a variety of pre-bound planners, but I never found anything – even among the Franklin Covey planners – that matched what worked for me through the customized Franklin Covey inserts. That really offered the best layout, but the bulk just got to be too much.

For a while, I tried to to make digital planning my primary go-to system, updating in my Franklin Covey paper planner when I was at home. But, I had trouble keeping up with that. The story was the same when I tried to carry a smaller calendar in my purse, updating my big planner at home. So, my next step was trying to go all digital. I was just not very good at that, either. I’ve tried. Really I have. But, it is so hard for me to see the “big picture” on my phone. It’s also hard to flip to information quickly. And, just about the time I really need something, technology outsmarts itself, something doesn’t sync, and I cannot retrieve my information. Yes, it is inconvenient sometimes when I neglect to carry my planner around (which really isn’t very common) or when a date is beyond the end of my planner. But ultimately, it is so much easier for me to flip open that planner than to try to find what I need on my phone. And, I keep up with it better. I can much more quickly jot notes in the planner than tap them into my phone. So, it didn’t take long for me to give up on the digital planner idea.

About four years ago, as I transitioned from being a volunteer reviewer for Well Planned Gal to being an editor on her staff, I also expanded my usage of her planners and gave On the Go a try. This is a purse-size planner (unless you carry one of those little bitty purses!) that does everything my Franklin Covey system did, but is much easier to carry around! It has spots for to-do lists, time-focused appointments, and extra notes. The monthly view pages are easy to write in, and there is plenty of room for notes for each month.

The only problem with my On the Go planner is that it is a school year planner, and life and church tend to go more on the calendar year. To solve that problem, I have a simple, hardcover Moleskine weekly planner. It has all of the monthly views in the front, and the weekly views follow. On the weekly views, the calendar page is on the left and a note page is on the right. I do not like this layout as a primary planner, but it works so incredibly well for a secondary planner. I use it as my prayer planner and to keep dates and information for July – Dec. Thanks to the combination of these two paper planners, I always have anywhere from nine to eighteen months of planner space available to me!

That’s such a quick overview of my planner organization system, but if you are by some chance trying to figure out a great organizational system, maybe my overview and the links above will help you get a better idea of what you’re looking for! Or perhaps you already have your system working well. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what works for me will not work for everyone. So I’d love to hear what works for you! Will you share it in the comments?

Posted in Homeschooling, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Homeschool

I’m a planner. I’ve always loved calendars and planners and getting things all lined out! Recently, my husband wrote a blog post outlining what he uses for schedule and organization. When I shared it on social media, I mentioned that I would outline my own system soon.

My system actually started with success on the homeschool planning front first. I have tried many, many planners and organizational systems over the years, both for homeschooling and for life. All of them kinda sorta worked, but each one left something to be desired. Then, I ran across a huge discount on a planner that only had a few months of life left in it. That was early 2011; it was also my very first Well Planned Day planner. Later that year I would become a volunteer reviewer for the Well Planned Gal, the creator of the planner. But for the time being, I was just trying out a planner I’d never heard of from a company I was only vaguely familiar with.

And I was hooked.

This gal who had tried one planner after another and rarely been diligent with any single planning system had suddenly found the one homeschool planner that truly worked. And now, six years later, I actually get to help make them! Why yes, I do love my job.

Ahem…back to the task at hand. So, why do I love Well Planned Day so much? Well, it accomplishes what I had always looked for before. It allows me to lay out assignments on a weekly basis in a large, roomy format. For even greater ease of use, I keep a colorful array of Frixion pens on hand. (Yes, they really do erase well – very important for when the schedule needs to be tweaked.) Each child has a color of their own, then there is a separate color for things I do with each child. When each assignment has been graded, I write the grade beside the assignment. Then I highlight the assignment, leaving the grade un-highlighted until I have entered it.

So, where do I enter the grade? Well, that’s part two of my homeschool planning system. You see, I don’t like to plan on paper more than a week or two in advance because of all of the little things that pop up and require us to change the plan. But, I do like to have a handle on the whole school year. That’s why I also use My Well Planned Day, an online planning software. I lay out the entire school year online, then I can tweak it as needed each week. It saves me a ton of time and allows me to stay on top of where we are. And, it’s a great place to keep grades, which is especially helpful now that I have a high school student who will need a transcript soon. Oh, and the best part is that the girls each have their own login. So, they can get on, pull each day’s assignments, and make notes in their own student and high school planners. In the next couple of years, I’ll teach Steven how to do the same thing.

What’s neat about it all is that I got to spend last weekend showing other homeschool parents what works for me. I helped Rebecca the Well Planned Gal, aka my boss, man her booth at the Ft. Worth Great Homeschool Convention. Yes, I was working. But, the whole time I was also getting to share what works for me (and getting to spend time with my amazing boss!). What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and I was quick to admit that this weekend. It’s fun, though, to know that I get to be a part of sharing the system that I love!

Next week I’ll share what I use for everything beyond homeschooling.

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

A Little Exploration

My oldest loves to explore. If there is a closed door, she wants to know what’s behind it. When she walks into a new place, she wants to check out every single corner.

I, on the other hand, am happy with what is visible. I like to feel comfortable and confident in what I know. When a door opens and I start to realize just how little I know about something, I’d much rather slam that door shut and just be content. I get easily overwhelmed – and easily discouraged by what’s left to learn.

For instance, I’m trying to learn German with my oldest, because that is the foreign language she chose for high school. I have this stigma against learning just for the sake of getting a grade. So, I’m trying hard to really learn the language and help her do the same rather than just do enough to help her get the grade she needs on her transcript. But, it’s hard. It’s overwhelming. And I get lost so easily.

So many other things fall into this category. Take homeschooling, for instance. I was homeschooled. And I am currently in my eleventh year of homeschooling my own children. But every time I turn around, I discover something I did not know before. Whether I am researching for a Family Magazine article, helping keep an eye on the Well Planned Gal Twitter account, or researching to answer a friend’s question, it doesn’t take much to remind me that there is a lot more out there than I realize.

The same is true of writing and editing, of sewing, and of being a pastor’s wife. These are not new things. Rather, these are things I have done for a while now, and some of which I do professionally. Yet, even in these areas I have so much to learn!

What I often feel “works for me” is to stay in my little bubble where I am skilled and knowledgeable and capable. I don’t like to reach out and discover just how much I need to learn. But, every time I get settled into that beautiful complacency, something my mom said years ago rings in my memory with great clarity: “When you stop learning, you start dying.”

Sometimes it is fun to learn something new. But, there is much more to learn in the things that are right in front of us. The skills we have already honed to a degree. The talents that we already possess. All of these still hold opportunities and possibilities for us. We just don’t like to pursue learning in those areas because we don’t want to be shown how little we really know – how many others are so far ahead of us!

I’m trying to get over that. And I’m trying to explore more. Because I do want to be good at what I do. I want to be an accomplished writer, an attentive and interactive editor, a successful homeschooler, a competent seamstress, and a capable pastor’s wife. But I will be none of the above without continual exploration, practice, and stretching of my skills and abilities.

What about you? What do you need to stretch? Come on, my friend, let’s go do a little exploring and find out just how much there really is left to learn!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Prayer, What Works for Me

Intentional

Word of the Year?

Have you ever noticed the people who choose “word” for their year? That word becomes their focus – the thing around which their goals and growth center. Perhaps this is something you do.

Maybe you are among those who actively choose their words. These people spend time in thought and prayer, trying to determine a direction and a focus. I’ve never done that before. I know me – it would be too forced. I second guess myself too much, and this approach would stress me out. Better for me to work on my routine and focus on productivity than to try to choose a focus.

For the longest time, I thought that was the only approach to choosing a word or focus for the year. But, more recently I’ve noticed a different pattern among some of my friends, so I avoided it. These are the people whose words have chosen them. A lesson or idea or thought just keeps presenting itself until they finally latch onto it, determined to see where the Holy Spirit is leading.

And now I know how that feels.

Intentionality Everywhere

Everywhere I’ve turned lately, intentional has been on the tip of my tongue. I cannot describe my sense of direction, urgency of action, or areas of growth without using that word or some variation of it.

  • When I think of my routine and productivity (or lack thereof!), I realize that I’m so often just floating through life. I bounce from this to that, randomly walking through my to-do list, focusing on whatever seems to pop up next. I have been convicted of the need to be intentional with every moment of my day – whether in work, play, or rest.
  • When I think of my reading goals, I see that I have stacks of books with no plan for reading them. I’ll get around to it, eventually. I know I won’t. Not without being intentional.
  • When I see the resources I have acquired for this project or that, only to never get them done due to lack of whatever, I feel the frustration and discouragement rise. If I want to ever make progress, I have to make time. Intentionally.
  • When my brain fills with the larger ideas I have for writing, I jot down notes only to forget what I was thinking. I desire to do more – to actually write a book. But, all I ever get around to are random blog posts about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time. I will never truly become what I want to become as a writer unless I intentionally make and work toward goals.

But the biggest area is my spiritual life. I know I’m growing. I see it. But, there are many ways in which my spiritual growth is just as haphazard as my growth in other areas. I’m random, and I don’t always follow through, turning thoughts and convictions into actions. I have to become intentional about spiritual growth by making a plan for action as soon as the Holy Spirit nudges my thoughts.

Staying Open

I know how my brain works, and I know that it’s not a good idea for me to say that 2017 will be my intentional year because I’ll become more fixated on the word than the general sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit needs to do in and through me. Maybe I’ll be a slow learner, and it will be with me for several years (like rest and sabbath have been focus thoughts for two or three years!). Maybe I’ll establish a habit and pattern of intentionality in a few months, and it will be time to push forward again. I do not want to miss the Lord’s direction just because I am stuck on a word. But, for now, intentionality is my overarching focus as this year begins. Already I have seen it impact my time and energy. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me from here!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Listening & Obeying

Last week, I introduced the idea of being intentional about my time blocks. But, I’m somewhat saddened by the fact that it took me a while to figure out that the time blocks are not the key component. Time blocks are a great tool, but they do not automatically solve the problem of what to spend my time doing. That is where my relationship with the Lord comes into play. Shocking, I know.

Tools for Listening

God knows what He wants to do through me each day. In my floundering, I neglect – and sometimes refuse – to be a fully surrendered vessel to Him. I believe He uses me anyway, because that is a large component of who He is. He can and does work through those whose hearts are completely hostile to Him (the Bible is replete with examples), so I know He can use me even when I’m not focused. But, oh how much better it is to actively let Him guide each day!

The abstract concept of obedience becomes this in real life practicality: seek and accept God’s guidance for every time block. If I prayerfully ask Him to point me to the task for each time block, He can use it as He wishes.

Restricting God?

Some will say this restricts Him to the clock. The opposite is actually true, at least in my situation. The timer reminds me to stop and seek Him frequently instead of plunging through my day with a meager prayer for guidance in the morning but no real listening to that guidance throughout the day. If I finish a task seven minutes into my time block, I must seek Him for the best way to finish the block. Or, it might be that the 25 minute timer ends, only for Him to say that I need to continue what I’m doing. Or walk away for a few minutes only to come back and continue. Or even to pursue something that takes me away from the time blocks altogether!

The point is not to confine Him, but instead to focus me. I’m not always diligent to use my time blocks, and even when I am, I am not always diligent to seek His plan for each block – or His guidance away from them. But, I cannot begin to express the sense of peace and productivity I feel at the end of a day when I am obedient and diligent to do both!

Room for Growth

In all of this, I realize something that makes my heart ache. I have been a Christian for over three decades, yet I am still so very weak in the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for every single act of my day. Perhaps that’s why I need the time blocks. Maybe a year from now my story will be very different. But for now, this is where I am. I am determined to be intentional. Not every now and then. Not only when the stress builds and the incomplete list is phenomenally overwhelming. But daily. When the productivity flows on its own and when it falters. When I’m in a good mood and in a bad. When I feel well and energized and when I am barely functioning. Intentional surrender.

I love what this has looked like so far, and I am excited to see where God takes me in the coming year!

What About You?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. How does the Lord help you intentionally work in obedience through each day?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Intentionality

Earlier this year, I wrote about utilizing time blocks to help with my productivity. As I have progressed through the year, I have waffled in the discipline of utilizing those time blocks. But I have also learned something about myself and my productivity from the times I have been diligent to use the time blocks well.

Still Can’t Do It All

When I first determined to set timers, it was so I could progress through my to-do list better. I wanted to get everything done. I wanted to be able to answer the “How do you do it all?” question with, “Well, I use these nifty little time blocks, and…” Instead, I am still stuck with my old answer: I don’t do it all. Some things just get left undone.
My first inclination is to believe that I have failed because I still do not get it all done. I am a completer. A finisher. Incomplete projects leave me frustrated, and sometimes I want to put everything else aside so I can just finish one thing.

Unfortunately, life is a never-ending flow of the incomplete. I will never be done this side of heaven. Accepting that reality has been half of my battle. I have had to become okay with the fact that few things in my life can be completed. The to-do list will never be cleared.

That thought is enough to make me want to throw up my hands, give up the time blocks idea as just another failed attempt at making progress, and decide that I’m just going to be under stress for the rest of my life. But, honestly, that sounds awful. In fact, it sounds downright disobedient to the Savior or commanded me to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6, NASB).

So, what is the alternative?

I’m learning that intentionality is the real solution, and the time blocks are my best tool to get there.

You see, without time blocks, I flounder all day, putting too much time into this task and too little into another. Wasting a great deal of time staring off into space. Getting distracted. And, ultimately, letting the clock boss me around.

With time blocks, though, I have a focus. Before I start my 25-minute productivity timer, I evaluate what needs to be focused on in that time block. Not what needs to be completed. Just where I need to put my focus. (Just as an example, I might not complete this post in my 25-minute slot, but I’m not doing anything else until I’m either done or my timer dings!)

There is a spiritual side to this too, but that would take another 500+ words to walk through! So, come back next week and we’ll explore part two!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Looking Back

I forget things. Quite easily, in fact. So, I need a lot of reminders. That’s part of why I started blogging – as a sort of online scrapbook for family events and online journal for thoughts I’ve processed and lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes I look back just to remember the sweet things I’ve experienced.

Other times I need to look back in order to progress forward. Old ideas and experience spur new ones. Tips I shared at a time when things were going smoothly for me (at least in that one area!) help me get over humps when my own road is not so smooth.

I also need to look back sometimes to see how far I’ve come. Recently, I went back and reread some of my earliest blog posts. Wow! There are some I’m tempted to unpublish! But, they remind me of how much I have learned. How practice does bring improvement – at least, I hope I’ve improved!

Finally, looking back motivates me to start new things. It reminds me that, once upon a time, I got started on something that is now a natural part of life. I have several things on my “want to accomplish eventually” list, and right now they seem to be rather daunting. But, so was blogging, once upon a time. So was knitting. Teaching. Editing. Homeschooling. Some of them are still daunting. But, I’m doing them, and they have become a part of normal life – because at some point along the way, I just started.

So, I choose to look back.

My sweet husband handed me a couple of sheets of paper this week. They are all about looking back in order to progress forward. They guide me through finding the good things that happened over the course of 2016. They are helping me look back.

And by taking the time to look back, my hope is that I will be spurred to progress, improve, and begin in 2017.
What helps you move forward?