Plan your heart out.

It’s been eight months since I started by far the most interesting job I’ve ever had. I never imagined that I’d get to travel to over 35 cities and towns all over the United States, flying about 30,000 miles, but that’s what I did starting in September of last year. I’ve been recruiting students for my alma mater, where I earned my master’s degree, and it’s been an experience like no other. There was a two-month period where I was on the road almost every week, with two to four days in between to recuperate at home with my husband. Looking back, I’m asking myself, how did I do that?

I’m going to try to answer that question over the course of a few posts, but let’s start at the beginning: good planning. I got my first planner in middle school, and have been using paper planners on-and-off ever since. I tend to be a visual thinker, so pen and paper really help me out. I love being able to visualize the whole year, each month, each week, even down to the hour. Looking at my planner, I could answer questions like, what do I need to do now to prepare for next week, or next month? Which months will be the busiest? When during the week will I have time to take care of myself? And when can I make time to spend with my husband and friends?

If I needed to remember something, but I didn’t need to do anything about it for a few weeks, I would put a reminder sticky note on the appropriate week in my planner, and not worry about it until I saw it again. This was a great way to stay on top of things, while freeing up the brain space to focus on other tasks.

Something that is now an important weekly ritual for me is decorating each week. I invested in getting some really wonderful, versatile stickers that I love. Doing the layout each Sunday or Monday night was relaxing. It let me be creative, without feeling pressure to be innovative. It also helped motivate me to check my planner throughout the day. After all, what good is a planner if you don’t look at it? And when I was on the road, the decorated week was something that always cheered me up, even if every day was filled with events and meetings.

I also used a practice from the Passion Planner, which is to set a focus for each week. Here’s a sampling of what I focused on:

  • Show myself patience and kindness.
  • Get back into the habit of working out. Why? Because I love my body!
  • Invest in my relationships.
  • Maintain my space (put stuff away!).
  • Rest and recharge.
  • Write a resume rough draft.
  • Build a morning routine.
  • Take care of your future self.

This helped me to be more intentional about how I thought about and used my time. It’s taken a while for me to let go of the guilt I feel when I’m not being productive, and this was one more way to redefine what productivity means to me.

I love getting to look back on the past eight months and see each of the weeks I carefully sticker-ed, and then lived through. All of the trips and appointments could have overwhelmed me, but my planner gave me a place to map it all out, give myself reminders, and break everything into do-able chunks. It relieved the amount of remembering and processing my brain had to do, and untangled the knot of anxiety in my chest. I can honestly say that this was my biggest travel essential.

 


More details about my planner:

I devoted a lot of time to finding just the right one (anyone else know this struggle?). I wanted something where it would be easy to see each month at a glance, but where I could also do weekly planning, with space for lists and for keeping track of appointments. The planner I ended up going with is the bookfriends folding diary, and I bought it from MochiThings. The center of the planner has a weekly layout, with each day in a column. The top half of the page is lined, perfect for to-do lists and short notes, and the bottom half is a grid with the hours of the day listed down the side. I loved that all of the printed lines on the page are unobtrusive, either in a light gray or a light peach. What makes this planner extra special is that there are two additional books that open up on the sides of the central planner – one is a monthly planner, and the other is a diary or daily planner. I loved being able to flip from month to month so easily, and having space for notes and ideas, without having to worry about running out of pages, because I could buy a refill if necessary.

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